Mighty Red Pen

February 3, 2008


Filed under: Lit review — mighty red pen @ 10:11 am
Tags: , , ,

Happenstance led MRP to check out The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen.

It’s a spotty collection of essays by a an impressive group of writers on an interesting topic. A few wrote really compelling pieces reflecting on a book or books that actually changed their lives. On the other hand, a number of essays start with some variation of “A book that changed my life? How could I choose?” and some just ignored the assignment altogether and wrote about their favorite books.

Of note were was Linda Greenlaw’s essay about how The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger — a story in which she had a role — changed her life. There’s Tracy Kidder’s essay about Ernest Hemingway, which summed up in a few paragraphs everything I love about Hemingway myself. And there’s Frank McCourt’s essay — which is really more like a short story about himself — which reveals how the works of Shakespeare changed his life.

There was also Harold Bloom, who pontificated for an entire paragraph about how well-read he is (in case anyone was wondering) before he got to the <insert that> book changed his life (which turned out to be Little, Big by John Crowley):

As I am now seventy-five and still a nonstop reader, I cannot nominate any single book as the one that changed my life. If only one, it would have to be the complete Shakespeare, with the Hebrew Bible a near rival, and a group of poets hovering not far away: John Milton, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Robert Browning, among others.

Blah blah blah. No one’s impressed.

As so often happens, it got me to thinking. I was amused to realize that one of the books that earned the title “Book That Changed MRP’s Life” was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

Immediately upon reading Harriet the Spy, I started to — like Harriet — keep a notebook in which I wrote down observations about my classmates, my family, my teachers. I would say that this marked the beginning of the development of my skills of observation and attention to detail that make me the writer and editor I am today.

So I’m not so much recommending you go out and read this book, but I would be interested to hear what book changed your life and why.


Go Pats!



  1. “…essays by a impressive group…” an
    “Of note were Linda Greenlaw’s essay…” was
    “…got to the book changed his life…” ^that

    Comment by Hoping to be helpful — February 4, 2008 @ 11:10 am | Reply

  2. Oops, how dreadfully sloppy. Thnx.

    Comment by mightyredpen — February 4, 2008 @ 11:12 am | Reply

  3. Books that changed my life?

    The Trouble with Harry Hay was very influential when, like a good little nerd, I ran to the library to figure out what one does when one discovers one is gay. Starting a revolution turns out to be the correct answer.

    The Book of Common Prayer has influenced my love of language greatly. I was raised as an Episcopalian in a very liberal, very high church parish and there are certain turns of phrase and images from the good ol’ 1979 BCP that will always be a part of me.

    “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord,trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.. ”

    Yeah, okay, the theology is probably not in line with my current thinking, but the language moves me anyway. In an odd way, my love of language comes from theology. No group of people are more attached to careful parsing of language than Episcopalians, I think.

    Comment by David — February 4, 2008 @ 11:26 am | Reply

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