NY Times publishes readers’ selections of life-changing books (mine didn’t make it)

January 19, 2020 • 10:00 am

On January 9, the New York Times “Letters” section requested that readers write in describing, in 200 words or fewer, a book that had changed their life. Here’s what they posted:

What book — new or old, fiction or nonfiction — has influenced how you think, act or look at the world? Tell us how it did, in no more than 200 words. The deadline is Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 10 a.m., Eastern time.

Well, that was a challenge to me, but I forgot to alert readers to it. But did send in my own submission, which didn’t make the published cut. But I invite readers—nay, implore them—to add their own life-changing book. Here’s mine (199 words):

I was well on the road to becoming a scientist, living a cramped and monastic college life, when I read Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek, the tale of a life well lived. I identified with the unnamed narrator who, like me, spent all his days working and scribbling. Meeting Zorba changed his life—as it changed mine. I still worked, of course, but was captivated by Zorba’s total engagement with the beauty and squalor of existence, and by his love of conversation, dancing, eating, playing the santouri, and, of course, women. Inspired by his enthusiasm and life’s finitude, I resolved to live more fully, working hard but not neglecting the passions beyond science. As Zorba said on his deathbed, “I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years.”

One scene sticks with me. As the narrator and Zorba sail to Crete to start an ill-fated lignite mine, Zorba sits on the deck sniffing a lemon. His whole being is caught up in that moment, immersed in the perfume of the fruit. And this produced my mantra: “When life gives you lemons, smell them.”

Since I ‘fessed up, you can, too.

And yesterday the Times published the selection its editors liked (click on the screenshot below):

I won’t show an excerpt of submissions, but will list the books chosen as life-changers. I’ve put asterisks next to the ones I’ve read

Middlemarch*
Mastering the Art of French Cooking* (I have both volumes and have cooked from them.)
Go, Dog. Go!
The Color Purple*
Atlas Shrugged*
On Beyond Zebra*

The Meditations
The Feminine Mystique
The Stranger
Catch-22*
When Breath Becomes Air
A Gentleman in Moscow
Eloise
Recollections of a Picture Dealer
The Violent Bear It Away
Look Homeward, Angel*
(JAC: One of my favorites!)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull*
Be Here Now
Infinite Jest*
A Circle of Quiet
Walden*
The Road* 
(Reading now.)
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays*
(I read just the title essay.)
Little Women
Wherever You Go, There You Are
Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
Fast Food Nation
Johnny Got His Gun
Scaredy Squirrel
Calling on Dragons
Welcome to the Monkey House*
The Little Engine that Could
Animal Farm*
Being Mortal
The Overstory
An Unknown Woman
Peace Like a River
The Diary of Anne Frank*
A Prayer for Owen Meany*
Great Expectations*
Charlotte’s Web*
Normal People
Remembrance of Things Past*
(Half of volume 1, then gave up)

Go over and see how these books changed people’s lives.

155 thoughts on “NY Times publishes readers’ selections of life-changing books (mine didn’t make it)

    1. For me, WEIT is an important book but not life changing. It helped be better formulate my arguments for evolution. If you follow Jerry’s logic, it should help you better formulate your arguments for anything. Very well organized and laid out. But WEIT did not change my views on anything.

      1. The God Delusion solidified my atheism. WEIT gave me the arguments to support that. As you stated, it also helped solidify a way of thinking.

  1. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Not joking. Made me realize that the “behavior” and thoughts of 14 year old me was OK, normal even. Made me interested in the University of Chicago. Led to Saul Bellow.

  2. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Not joking. Made me realize that the “behavior” and thoughts of 14 year old me was OK, normal even. Made me interested in the University of Chicago. Led to Saul Bellow.

      1. We did not eat liver growing up. More generally, I did not abuse any cuts of meat. I usually took matters into my own hands.

      2. We did not eat liver growing up. More generally, I did not abuse any cuts of meat. I usually took matters into my own hands.

          1. We did not eat liver growing up because my mother didn’t like it. I learned to kind of like it (if there were enough onions or bacon with it) as an adult, though it kind of made my hands itch as I prepared it. I hate to think what it did to ol’ Portnoy🙀

            1. My mom made liver. I dunno. It tasted sort of crumbly to me. Usually it was liver & onions. Not really a fan.

  3. I’m going to bring it all down to the low brow level and say Dune for me mostly I think because I read it when I was around 11 or 12 and it was a time when you’re very lonely and isolated and starting to question things and that book gave me comfort. My aunt had visited and left it at our place because she couldn’t get into it. I think I still have that worn out original copy.

    1. I read Dune for the first time around the same age. It had a significant impact on me in a variety of ways too. It was a top five favorite of mine for years.

      Unfortunately it did not age well for me, or perhaps I didn’t age well for it. Hoping to re-experience the magic I reread it for the first time in decades earlier this year. I shouldn’t have. Should have just left the memories as they were.

    2. I read the entire Dune series when I was 17 or so. Dune was by far the best, but I enjoyed all of them. I love sci-fi novels that put you into a realistic “universe”. The universe of Dune is the science-fiction equivalent of Middle Earth imo. Asimov’s Foundation series is also set in a wonderful universe: The Pebble in the Sky.

      1. I read up to Chapterhouse Dune then couldn’t take it anymore as I thought it had become silky. God Emperor Dune has already pushed it too far for me.

        I’m reading the Expanse series now. I liked the TV series so started the books and they are quite good. I think the politics, human nature, and science are realistically portrayed.

        1. Yes, it did get a bid silly…I wouldn’t like those later novels now.

          I’m glad you gave a positive nod to Corey’s Expanse novels. I too liked the HBO series and recently bought Leviathan Wakes, but haven’t started yet.

          1. I was sick throughout the holidays (and I had saved all my vacation and taken 3 weeks off so it was extra annoying) with what I realize now was a flu. I had a sinus infection as well which meant it hurt to read. So, I downloaded Leviathan Wakes for my Kindle and the Audible book with it. I like this feature because you can play the book and your kindle will highlight the words as you go. You can also sync between the Audible and the Kindle if you consume them separately which means you can listen when you drive, sync with your Kindle & read when you get home. So, when I couldn’t look at the screen because of headaches, I played the Audible file. It’s well narrated even though the narrator can’t properly pronounce a few things, including Latin words, which aggravated me but otherwise a great narrator. When I could read it, I played the Audible and let the Kindle highlight the words. It’s an oddly satisfying experience. I’m reading but it’s like my eyes don’t have to work that hard for some reason or at least I don’t get as distracted. I burned through that book, as I didn’t have much else I could do. I now downloaded the second one, Caliban’s War. The first book is very accurate to the series and I actually find it better – for example the sequence where the Canterbury gets nuked is longer and more realistic in showing a space battle.

            1. Reading the synopsis on the back cover was a summation of Season 1 (as far as the characters are concerned). I’m looking forward to reading it. Still don’t do Kindle, but you have an interesting description of how to utilize this high-tech reading + listening. I’m aware that you get migraines and it’s cool to know you’ve gotten around migraine discomfort by this dual audible/visual mash up.

              Sucks about losing Holiday pay to being sick…that is soooo lame. Too bad you can’t switch Holiday pay to sick pay after the fact.

              1. I can listen during sinus headaches but not migraines – that’s whole neurological disruption that requires me to do nothing until at least the head pain part is knocked down by the medication. I did have a lot of visual aura while I was off though and listening was nice during that since looking at screen or paper wasn’t going to happen.

            2. I should mention that you can’t do this on the Kindle but need to use a tablet like an iPad. So weird. Maybe the later Kindles allow this but mine doesn’t and it is only a year or so old.

  4. For me the best ever written is Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’… 830 delicious pages, especially if you like women. And here’s a hint. There are 128 main characters, so keep a pencil handy and write them in the front cover as you meet them, just to keep track of them.

  5. I’ve only read 7 of the books on the NYT list.

    My book is The Phantom Tollbooth. Life as the search for rhyme and reason.

      1. As a kid this is what I thought they did in concentration camps because you had to think really hard to do algebra.

  6. Enjoy The Road, Jerry. The religious parts are weird and differ from the movie. It’s one of my favourite apocalypse stories because it seems quite plausible.

    1. I concur. I really liked the last paragraph…haunting. McCarthy is great at those last thoughts and epilogues. I probably read the epilogue for Blood Meridian 10 times. Was it about building the railroad west? Still not sure, but have never googled it as I like the mystery.

      Jerry, if you end up liking The Road, you would probably like Blood Meridian as well. It is also a harrowing tale about a boy and his encounters in the wild west, and if anything, it will surely expand your vocabulary. And Judge Holden is one of the most interesting characters in fiction.

          1. Part of McCarthy’s “Border Trilogy.” While driving back and forth to Orlando during the longest trial in Florida federal court history, I listened to a lot of books on tape, including a very good version of another volume of the trilogy, The Crossing, read by Brad Pitt.

            1. Yeah, and I’m sure I’ll like it and have to read the other two in the trilogy. Did you listen to The Crossing (I stopped italicizing titles in this thread) after reading All the Pretty Horses? Just wondering if the trilogy should or shouldn’t be read in chronological order…or maybe it doesn’t matter.

              1. Doesn’t matter, the order. What makes them a trilogy are the themes and setting, not any overlap in the story lines.

              1. It was great, I was happily surprised to find (although I’m usually partial to top professional book readers like Frank Muller and Will Patton).

          2. There is No Country for Old Men. That’s depressing as hell too. It’s sort of Road like in that way. I always said that no one does depressing/apocalypse like the English but Cormac McCarthy is so good I could mistake him for an Englishman.

            1. I think I’m the only person I know who did not like The Road or No Country for Old Men ( books or movies), but loved Blood Meridian and The Orchard Keeper(?).

              1. No Country is depressing….it might as well be apocalyptic. I have a strange affinity for apocalypse tales. I think it’s because it scares me so much I become obsessed with it….like looking at an accident even though you don’t want to. It’s like I think I can glean something about surviving an apocalypse by watching the movies. The Road taught me to stay off the the road. My dad and I both still have nightmares about the Road.

              2. All of McCarthy is pretty depressing. I am just somehow allergic to post-apocalyptic stuff, magical realism, and most sci-fi except for Douglas Adams.

  7. I am going to have to look into several of them.

    A persons’ most influential books should include a number of children’s’ books since then we are more impressionable. So here I will include a children’s book called Pagoo. It is the story of a little hermit crab, and his struggle to survive. Along the way we learn a lot about tide pool life, and it was completely exotic to a nature nut living in the midwest. The story was good, but the illustrations blew me away. I read it over and over.

    1. The book I read in my childhood was Solo: The Story of an African Wild Dog by Hugo van Lawick. I so liked it, even though it’s not a kid’s book, that I recently bought a used copy. I didn’t know at the time that Hugo was Jane Goodall’s husband.

  8. I must be doing something wrong. I am not sure that I can say any book changed my life. There have been books that I’ve loved, and books that have changed my opinions, but none that was life-changing. It’s been rather more of a continuum.

  9. A.J.Ayer’s, “Language, Truth, and Logic”. “The trouble with Freddie Ayer, as Wittgenstein is alleged to have said, “is that he’s clever All the time.” This book taught me how, and how not to do philosophy.

  10. I can remember books that made me think or opened up my thoughts to new insights, but 50, 40, 30 or 20 years on those books have overtaken by new insights and experiences. I still remember them fondly though.

  11. “squalor” – squalor? Just checking….

    For a book to choose :

    I’ve lately been rejecting the idea that I have books that “changed my life” – I know what that is intended to mean, but, like free will, doesn’t make sense to me. I present Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance as an example- sure it hit me in my breadbasket, I read it a few times, and it seemed to open my awareness- but it’s got flaws and embarrassing elements that I’ve outgrown or outright reject and more books have come along that made quantitative changes to my life, viz. Presto! by Penn Jillette – not an elegant writer, more of a rambler, and more of a road scholar than a lettered intellectual but dammit I can measure the changes this book made, and it’s led to grand new views and productive insights, latest being Ray Cronise’s The Healthspan Solution – also not a page turner, not a Pulitzer Prize winner. Sorry it’s not 200 words but for me personally, I needed to stop letting works of fiction hold me in a Fantasyland…

    Oh -Fantasyland- Kurt Andersen. Awesome book.

    1. A better example of a book that illustrates my curmudgeonly rant is Lord of the Rings. I love this story. There is powerful wisdom that I frequently use and never wears out. The writing is at times challenging but worth the effort (much more so for The Silmarillion) – but excellent. The philological insight is fascinating. And so on. But I found I was letting itrestrict me somehow, I don’t know – almost as if I was fitting my life to it – that’s a complex thing to bring up, but there it is. I mention it because there’s some Tolkien fans here – I emphasize I am a Tolkien fan (but not a good one).

    2. Yes, I too have fond memories of Zen and the Art of… – probably my first introduction to philosophy. It was heart breaking to come across a friend’s later edition and find out what had since happened to Pursig’s son Chris.

      1. I thought that was in the original- actually I’ll need to look at it again… how do I know ? He actually wrote more and added it years later?

        1. Mention of it was added in a later edition, and then in I think the 30 year anniversary edition he added the letter and wrote a bit more about it.

          I read it more than a dozen times, and one more time last year. I still haven’t outgrown it! He acknowledged a few flaws in the most recent one, like Phaedrus not meaning ‘wolf’, and using a different font to show that the final passages were written in the voice of ‘Phaedrus’, now present again and healed.

          I think he was too hard on Aristotle, and I probably took it too literally back in my spiritual days, but I still think as a thought provoking look at conscious experience it’s first class.

    1. Yeah, I think it’s a great book for young people seeking other ways of knowing other than organized religion. I wasn’t an atheist then, but a skeptical, half-baked Christian, so I was more prone to woo. It definitely helped me loosen the tethers of Christianity and I thank Mr. Bach for that.

      1. Years back, my dad was briefly involved with some people in the US who took Bach’s later book Illusions pretty literally, which didn’t do his mental health any good. The same author’s The Bridge Across Forever suggests that Bach has done pretty well selling immortality etc. to susceptible people who have rejected orthodox religions.

        1. Yeah, he’s made a lot of dosh abandoning organized religion but embracing immortality, the soul’s existence (including soul-mates), Eastern philosophy and the like…basically espousing religion’s “comforting bits”.

  12. Reading this post I immediately had the same inclination Mark related in his post. A book that changed my was Brighty Of The Grand Canyon.

    This book changed my life in that prior to this book I was not a reader and after reading this book I became a voracious reader. I was given the book as a present, can’t remember whether it was Christmas or my birthday. I was about 7 years old and had no interest in reading though my parents were trying hard. I’m not sure why I even started the book rather than simply tossing it in a draw for the rest of its life. But once I started it was all over. After that book I began working my way through my father’s bookshelves and by the time I was 12 had read pretty much his entire library, and much more from school libraries. I still have that original copy of Brighty.

  13. “Nature and Man’s Fate” by Garrett Hardin. It was assigned reading for an environmental science course. Everyone hated it except for me. This book introduced me to a scientific way of thinking about the world, including evolution, statistics, and logical thinking. My enjoyment of this book led me to other non-fiction science writing (Lewis Thomas, Loren Eiseley, Gould, etc.) and ultimately to WEIT.

    Larry Smith

  14. Jerry, you haven’t read The Little Engine that Could???🙀 (I think I can, I think I can🎶).
    I’ve read 21 on the list, but not sure any of these really changed my life. Gotta think about this.

  15. Interesting, but about as useful as trying to list the best movies or best songs. There will be a little consensus but impossible to ever make a definitive list agreed upon by all.

    The very definition of a good book is that it sparks a thought or realization you hadn’t had before, and there are so many good books, far more than on that list.

    1. I didn’t say it was “useful”, but I thought it was entertaining, and I’m surprised that people are carping about the NY Time’s interesting “contest”. And surely we can all get some suggestions here about interesting books to read.

  16. The Selfish Gene.

    When I started reading it, I was a Christian. By the time I finished, I was an atheist. In fact, I can pinpoint the precise paragraph that administered the coup de grace.

    Another member of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we shall admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.

    Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene (Oxford Landmark Science) (p. 257). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

    1. That book is my top choice for “changed my life”, although perhaps not as profound a change as your’s… I was already a non-believer. But I was stunned by the gene’s-eye view. Life made much more sense after reading that book.

    2. The one that finally zapped away the last vestiges of my spiritual beliefs was The Ancestors’ Tale. That book is really a hamburger with the lot!

      1. My friends bought me that book in hard cover for my birthday when it first came out. Of course I damaged the stupid binding and it really is a beautiful book in hard cover too.

  17. It would be interesting to see the responses to the question if it was published in Christianity Today or the Baptist News Global 🙂 As our host has pointed out often, actually reading the Hebrew bible and the New Testament should be life changing.

  18. Every time I pick up a “life changing book” I put it down disappointed. I guess some of us aren’t meant to have our lives changed by literature. Maybe the closest I’ve come is with In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin.

      1. I just bought it…I always end up buying more books when Jerry puts up a “book post”- adding to my unread pile that keeps getting taller, not smaller.

        1. Let’s just hope that fellow WEIT reader Dominic missed this post – the only thing holding up his ceilings at home are stacks of books and he doesn’t have space for any more. (I am kidding much less than you can possibly imagine.) Though he bought another four yesterday when we were in a bookshop together, so I suspect he’s not planning to stop expanding his collection any time soon…!

          1. It’s part of the reason I buy a lot of Kindle books now (that and the technical features they offer).

          2. Yes, I did! 🙁

            Insufficient factual books on the list. How can a novel change your life & a factual book not?!

            My book below…

          1. Isn’t it funny how I wrote “I just bought it” and didn’t mention Amazon? You assumed and assumed correctly. Deadly indeed, but at least this time I had Discover cash back points and got it for “free”.

  19. OK, I will finally read “Look Homeward, Angel”. I really should, since one of the Angels is less than a mile from my house [Oakdale Cemetery, Hendersonville, NC], and I drive by it several times a week. Yes, it is looking homeward – towards Asheville.

    1. I like all of Wolfe’s books, as he really wrote only one gook in his life: a thinly-veiled autobiography. “Of Time and The River” and “You Can’t Go Home Again” are, in my view, masterpieces, though somewhat marred by overwriting.

  20. “My Cuddly Bunny” was life-changing for me. It was the first book I read all by myself, without parental help. From there, I went on to read stuff like

    ‘The Selfish Gene’
    ‘The Executioners Song’
    ‘Catch-22’
    ‘The Washing Of The Spears’
    ‘Biggles Does Dallas’
    and so on.

    A book not worth reading twice is not worth reading once – C.S. Lewis

  21. It turns out that I’ve read 9 of the books on the list. But one of them is PD Eastman’s classic Go, Dog. Go!, so less impressive than might be thought. (I include a link for the uninitiated:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go,_Dog._Go!)

    And I had to read Great Expectations for my English Literature O-level, so I probably shouldn’t get too much credit for that either. (My mother is a major Dickens aficionado and a former (joint) General Secretary of the international Dickens Fellowship, which probably explains why I dislike his books so intensely despite being able to enjoy other Victorian authors such as Trollope and Wilkie Collins.)

    I can’t claim to have finished Proust’s In Remembrance of …, so don’t include it in my tally, although I have got somewhat further than our esteemed host. Again, I can’t take any credit – I just hate starting something and not finishing it. It’s still on my Kindle, so I’m not admitting defeat yet – although if I had had the physical volumes stacked up in front of me it’s entirely possible that I might not have set off on the attempt in the first place.

    1. Just an annoying edit (of sorts): Proust’s work is now referred to as “In Search of Lost Time.” It’s better than the old title because the new one is active; the old one is passive.

  22. I just can’t stand to read fiction. The most recent book that changed my world view is David Deutsch’s ‘The Beginning of Infinity’.
    Hopefully for the better.

    rz

  23. It has belatedly occurred to me that in terms of being literally life-changing, I would have to go with Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. (As far as I can tell, he has rather confusingly published different works under the same title several times since.) In the very early 1980s my sister had just started a Philosophy degree and I was also a student (at a less prestigious institution, naturally) in the same city. One of her classmates, Stuart, had dutifully bought all of the set texts for the year, of which said book was one. Visiting Stuart’s room, I was intrigued by the book’s title, borrowed it, and read it before he did. I haven’t eaten meat since. For the record, my sister and Stuart both became vegetarians shortly afterwards and remain so today.

  24. It wasn’t a book, but a poem that changed my life in that it transformed the way I looked at reading altogether. When I was about 12 years old I read Richard Corey by Edwin Arlington Robinson. Although I’d read a lot of books by that point, this author finally reached out and shook me awake on a visceral level. That’s when the real seduction began. 📚 💕. Thanks, I’ve added Look Homeward, Angel to my TBR list.

  25. When I was in college I read Godel, Escher, Bach by Doug Hofstrader and somewhere around the middle of the book I thought I was experiencing some kind of epiphany. I got all excited like the universe was opening itself up to me, but by the time I finished the book I couldn’t remember why I had felt that way or which concepts had intrigued me so much. In fact my overall impression of the book wasn’t that great.

    1. “ … but by the time I finished the book I couldn’t remember why I had felt that way or which concepts had intrigued me so much“

      I’d say that’s what I thought but I never “finished” it

      That book has wicked fun stuff in it – interesting connections, interesting parallels – good pictures too – it’s worth it for that alone, perhaps…

      BTW – Shepard Tone fans should look in the back…

    2. I still intend to finish Gödel, Escher, and Bach one of these days. Just bought Hofstadter’s exciting-sounding book on language. I’m currently almost finished with Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland which, though very “dense”, has a lot of really fun word-play. (I’ll bet Ken would like it.). The crazy Mexican-American DEA agent talking about all the “estupidasses”, par exemple…

      Typo ergo sum Merilee

      >

      1. Thanks for reminding me of Pynchon. I was reading this thread and trying to think of what book changed my life. I was an English major, so lots of books have been important. Gravity’s Rainbow ranks right up there. It took several rereads for me to feel I might be getting most of it. It would be a good time to reread again.

        Go Dog Go–two years ago I spent a couple of months helping with child care of my then 3 year old granddaughter. She has a couple of full bookcases of all kinds and levels of children’s books but insisted on Go Dog Go at least 4 or 5 times a day. Whew! When we talk on the phone now we exchange some dialog from it I ask “Do you like my hat?” and she answers “No, I do not like your hat.” I guess that is not quite “Do I dare to eat a peach” quality of writing but it joins us together.

        1. My almost 4-yr.-old granddaughtercan almost read individual animal names now and match them with the critters. Her favorite joke is: Guess what?
          Answer: Chicken butt…

          1. LOL I learned that from Al Franken when he was on Saturday Night Live & his character, Stuart Smalley used to say it.

              1. I think it was a thing before Al said it but I’m just not hip enough to have learned it before SNL.

  26. So, Zorba the Greek. I must say I am gratified to learn of its impact on your life.
    Greetings from the lignite mine!

  27. I’ve read pretty much the same ones off the list as our host (minus On Beyond Zebra and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, plus The Stranger, Be Here Now, Fast Food Nation, and Johnny Got His Gun, and parts of The Feminine Mystique). I’ve also read about the same amount of In Search of Lost Time, though not all of it in Swann’s Way.

    1. Only “parts of The Feminine Mystique? We’ll just have to guess which parts you weren’t mystified about, then.

  28. If “changing your life” means strongly influencing how you look at your life and see yourself, and how you perceive others, then Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe, and Robert Ardrey are certainly in the running. However, the biggest influence on me by far was Stendhal. I was hooked when I read “The Red and the Black.” It told me so much about myself. If been obsessed with Stendhal ever since.

    1. If we’re goin’ with Frenchman of Standahl’s generation, I have to give a shout-out to Balzac and (for the perfection of his prose) Flaubert. And, for youthful impact, Hugo and Dumas père.

      1. Mais bien sûr. Speaking of Flaubert, there’s a wonderfully whimsical take-off (movie) of Madame B. called Gemma Bovary.

      2. You’re right about “youthful impact” and Dumas. I discovered “The Count of Monte Christo” in high school, and could hardly put it down. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite so fascinating today.

  29. I never looked at the cover of the book that changed my life. I was brought up in a very religious family and at the age of 17 or 18 was studying for my A levels. One of which was Religious Studies. On one quiet afternoon, the teacher brought in a pile of more advanced textbooks and invited us to have a leaf through.
    I picked up a commentary by Bultmann and by chance the page it opened on considered the book of Isaiah, and particularly the verse generally translated as saying that a virgin would give birth to a child. Bultmann noted that in Hebrew, the word actually means young woman – it is a fairly famous translation error. It suddenly dawned on me that I had been misled.

    1. Didn’t change my life, but I loved that novel. When King Arthur became different animals re. Merlin’s magic are some of my favorite bits in literature.

      Professor X and Magneto are also fans. Sorry for the nerd reference, couldn’t help it. 😉

      1. I loved that book! I kept getting in trouble in 9th or 10th grade study hall for laughing out loud while reading it😂

        1. There should be a list of the most humorous (good) novels as well. I LOVE books that make me LOL! Confederacy of Dunces! Douglas Adams. Henry Miller is pretty f’n funny at times too. And then there is the weird-funny like O’Brien’s (O’Nolan’s) The Third Policeman.

          Correction on my post that King Arthur wasn’t yet “King” when he had his animal experiences.

        1. Will be looking for it. Thanks for the head’s up.

          Merilee: Yes, he was the Wart. So great. Merlyn (White’s spelling) called him by his “true” name at the end iirc.

    2. I really hated it. I hated to mediaevalisation of Arthur – much prefer the Arthur we see in ace children’s novelist, Rosemary Sutcliffe…

  30. The Hofstadter language book:
    Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language
    Someone here recommended it. Was it Jenny? Maybe that’s who my earlier “Thanks” was aimed at?
    WP and I aren’t in synch today.

  31. Mine was –

    The Hamlyn Children’s Animal World Encyclopedia in Colour, circa 1968 edition. What a brilliant book – it opened my eyes to the variety of life, imbued me with an understanding of Nature & the ‘web of life’, AND evolution, & I spent HOURS reading the entries & drawing pictures from it.

    Wonderful book…
    A slightly later edition… http://angolkonyvek.com/product_info.php/konyv/the_hamlyn_children_s_animal_world_encyclopedia_in_colour/products_id/28310

    1. The family encyclopedia in my childhood was an eight-volume one published by Arthur Mee in the 1930s. Beautiful full page colour plate illustrations. It was incredibly out of date and slightly bonkers – I can still remember the map of Mars showing the locations of the canals and areas of vegetation.

  32. I immediately thought of “Le mythe de Sisyphe”, which made the list.

    Story: My wife-to-be and I were separated by the Atlantic for the greater part of a year because of our jobs. We both read the book and corresponded to discuss our understanding — or misunderstanding — of the book. In 1971, that was with paper and ink — no Internet then.

    We’re still together. Camus swings!

    1. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

      Camus is definitely a “life changer”. The Plague f’d me up as a young man, and bolstered my atheism which I’m thankful for. I’ve always wondered what else he would have written had he not died so young.

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