Before the holiday, @DuttonBooks tweeted, “Why give a book? Because a scented candle never changed anyone’s life.”
Ever since then I’ve been thinking about the books that have changed my life. Huck Finn was the first real chapter book I ever read. I was so enamored by Of Mice and Men that I read it twice in one sitting. Travels with Charlie. Little Women. Anne of Green Gables. The Basil and Josephine Stories. Invisible Man. Song of the Lark. The Lords of Discipline. The Bean Trees. Where The Heart Is. Bridget Jones. If you’re a reader, you have your own list – the books you read under the covers with a flashlight because you couldn’t stop reading at bedtime, the books that made you cry in the break room at work when you tried to sneak in a few chapters in at lunch, the books you read so many times that the binding turned to pulp, the books that had characters you still think about years later.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius changed my life in the hugest way. I used to spend so much time and energy trying to appear like I had it all together all the time. Since I’m no where close to perfect, it was exhausting, and really hard on the ego to be in a constant state of failure.
But in AHWOSG, Dave Eggers admitted to being human on a very basic level. He admitted to failing. He admitted to being selfish sometimes. And he admitted to being weird. This was back before blogging was the norm, before people shared their daily foibles publicly. Through blogging, I think we have so much more insight into what other people think and feel now than we did even just ten years ago. I think we’re more open. I think we’re more approachable. Blogging has changed our culture and the way we talk about ourselves in amazing ways, but back then, for me at least, this book was revolutionary. I had never seen/heard/read anyone talking about themselves that way before.
I remember reading the scene where Dave is singing Journey in the car and he says he’s the greatest singer in the entire world, and I know it sounds silly, but it was like a lightbulb went on in my head – other people have moments of thinking they are way more awesome than they really are too. And as I kept reading, I had more little light bulb moments. Other people have bizarre elaborate daydreams. Other people concoct ridiculous expectations for situations in their head and are disappointed when they don’t happen even though they knew deep down there’s no way they ever would.
Reading that book gave me a big shove in the direction of celebrating my imagination, instead of doing everything I could to hide it. And I really needed that shove, because when you’re a daydreamy kid who constantly gets scolded during long division lessons for looking out the window and imagining there’s a castle in the school yard, or teased when you completely zone out in gym class, because wondering about the logistics of becoming a mermaid is way more interesting than dodging a smelly red rubber ball, you learn to stop telling people the details of your overactive imagination, and you learn that it’s important to put energy into pretending to be like everyone else (or the way you think everyone else is). And by the time you get to be an adult, you can start to see your creative thoughts as a liability instead of a talent.
Without that book, I’m not sure I’d be a writer now. And I’d probably be working on an ulcer or two from the stress of trying very hard to be the person I thought I was supposed to be instead of the person I am.
Because of that book, I took risks. Because of that book, I decided to take all the energy I put into trying to be perfect into learning to accept myself. I am flawed, and that’s part of what I love about myself. I make mistakes. I work hard. My socks don’t always match, and sometimes I still think about what it would be like to be a mermaid. I am clumsy and geeky and goofy and kind and smart and dreamy and conscientious and flaky and weird. I care too much and don’t always show it enough. I have fallen on my face both literally and figuratively, and I will again many times in the future. I learn from my mistakes, but sometimes I make the same ones again anyway. I will always try my best, and I always approach things with good intentions. I love to celebrate that crazy strange combination of things that makes us all human, and I love to sing Journey songs at the top of my lungs in my car, too (although Boston is better).
So, I very much agree with @DuttonBooks (and not just because they are my publisher). AHWOSG changed my life, but all a scented candle does is smell good. Sometimes.
What books have changed your life?