A truly good book teaches me better than to read it

August 20th, 2012

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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The Library of Congress is currently housing an exhibit titled “Books that Shaped America.” These books ( http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2012/12-123.html) “shaped Americans’ views of the world and the world’s views of America.” While the list is not meant to signify the greatest works of American literature, they do provide a glimpse of our history, culture, and ideals.

Working in a library, I naturally have a profound admiration for books and the effects they can have on an individual’s life. I encourage you to take a moment to think about the books that affected you: are you a different person because you read a certain book? Can you remember exactly where you were – the sights, the smells, the emotions – when you devoured your favorite work of literature? In celebration of Indiana University East’s “One Book, Many Voices” project launching this fall, we encourage you to write about your experiences and share them with others. Perhaps those books that moved you so deeply may have a similar effect on someone else!

Looking back, I tried to pinpoint those books that taught me something about the world or about myself. Unlike the Library of Congress list, I have highlighted just four books of the many that have influenced me in various ways. They are:

The Giver by Lois Lowry

This book taught me a lot about reading. I read it for the first time in 5th grade, and up to that point I believe I had taken everything I read quite literally. However, I still remember the moment in class when we were discussing some passages from the book: the main character, Jonas, sees flashes of something unexplainable when he looks at a girl’s hair, and he sees it again when he looks at an apple. These passages had been completely lost on me until my teacher asked the class what we thought Jonas was looking at. We all stared at her blankly until she suggested, “the color red.” I was floored! I was dazzled by my brilliant teacher and her deduction of this mystery. I was also ashamed that I had not thought of something which, to the teacher, probably seemed so obvious. I never read a book the same way again – I began looking for clues, reading between the lines, and contemplating all the beautifully hidden meanings behind even the deceptively simple passages.

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988)

I remember learning about the Holocaust in the 5th and 6th grades. I heard the stories, but it all seemed distant and unreal until I read The Devil’s Arithmetic. This is one of the first books I remember crying over, and I remember my shock over how real and how terrible the Holocaust was. I also recall wondering why my family didn’t have a Passover Seder (everyone I knew at the time was Catholic)!

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)

I read this book as a teenager – a time in many young women’s lives when they are confused and looking for someone they can admire. I really related to the protagonist, Cassandra Mortmain, and respected her strength and her resolve. Though Cassandra comes to terms with her sexuality, this book is not about finding a boyfriend or even the love of one’s life, as so many books geared toward teenage girls seem to be. It is about a young girl coming of age and finding her own voice through her writing.

Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy by Sugata Bose and Ayesha Jalal (2003)

Perhaps this is a strange selection. It’s not the type of book you sit down and read cover-to-cover, but it did have a profound impact on my interests and the direction I took with my undergraduate degree. As a history major, I was looking for interesting courses to take and, on a whim, signed up for a South Asian history course taught by Dr. Arpana Sircar. At the time, I knew very little about South Asia, but under the guidance of Dr. Sircar and Modern South Asia, I became enamored with India. British India became the topic of my undergraduate thesis, and to this day I still absorb everything I can relating to the history and culture of India.

We’d love to know what books shaped..or even changed..your life. Please message us your book-impact stories!: https://www.facebook.com/iuelibrary