The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People. Regan Arts. Mar. 2016. 304p. ed. by Bethanne Patrick. ISBN 9781941393659. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781942872290. LIT
When asked to name the book that changed their life, readers might offer a blank stare, or respond with, “Just one?” Here editor Patrick (coauthor, An Uncommon History of Common Things) collects an admirable group of essays from 100 writers, actors, musicians, singers, comedians, and elected officials who address the question. Author Jodi Picoult cites Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind to describe how a novel that influenced a person’s life during the teenage years is read differently at age 30 or 40. Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy is cited by several authors and selected by novelist Celeste Ng as the title that teaches readers how to become writers by observing and crafting honest notes. The most memorable entry is by Lt. Gen. Flora Darpino, U.S. Army Judge Advocate General, who acknowledges the “Best American Short Stories” series as a comfort to her during long, continuous deployments; the stories helping her to see the end of something in sight. Fran Lebowitz dodges the life-changing aspect but explains how she is happy to be a book gazillionaire with money to purchase all the tomes she reads, while Fay Weldon notes that only the books she writes transform her life. VERDICT This valuable anthology will guide readers toward the books to read next, and/or those to reread now.
The House That Made Me: Writers Reflect on the Places and People That Defined Them. SparkPress: BookSparks. Apr. 2016. 178p. ed. by Grant Jarrett. ISBN 9781940716312. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781940716329. LIT
Many have searched their childhood home address using Google Earth. You will, too, after reading this exceptional collection of 19 essays by writers who located the satellite images of their dwellings, found anywhere from Iowa to Liberia. Editor Jarrett introduces the anthology as a “hodgepodge of thoughts, sensations, and emotions an image brings.” A thread of sadness runs through the accounts as memories emerge of loud arguments, disappearing fathers, family violence, and whispers about not enough money. The charm of each piece is how the author balances that raw stress with recollections of the joys of youth. Antonya Nelson revisits her mazelike childhood home with her siblings, who, after a few bottles of wine, decide to venture into their favorite nooks and crannies. Roof climbing is a particular passion recalled by Ru Freeman and Roy Kesey. What matters today is not the feat, but the dreams realized up on the roof. Porochista Khakpour, born in Tehran and raised in Los Angles, recalls “the dingbats,” the two-story apartment complexes with cheap rents and fancy names. VERDICT Slim and succinct, this exquisite compilation shows how the universal nature of childhood experiences trump both cultural and geographical differences.