This book is a wonderful way for readers to understand themselves, if they don't already. Quindlen shows that we're NOT weird because we read, we're NOT escapists who can't handle the real world, and we're NOT anti-social. We're just in love with words and the power of stories. In only 84 pages, Quindlen tackles the reasons why we read, reading and technology, why classics should not be crammed down our kids' throats, and much more. Her Top Ten lists alone are worth the price of the book. As great as this book is for readers, it makes an even better gift for friends and family members who DON'T understand our need to read. A must read, a must-have.
Anna Quindlen's "How Reading Changed My Life" is a charming and inspiring blend of autobiography and informal cultural criticism. In the book Quindlen reflects on books, reading, and readers.
Quindlen notes, "While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading, the truth is that there is in our culture something that suspects those who read too much, whatever reading too much means, of being lazy, aimless dreamers [...]." These, and many other insights in this book, really resonated with me. Throughout the book, Quindlen celebrates what she calls a "lively subculture" of truly serious readers.
Quindlen reflects on differences in men's and women's reading practices, on book groups, on skirmishes over "The Canon" of great books, on banned books, and on other topics. She tells how reading helped her keep her sanity during the "year of disarray" after the birth of her second child, and recalls how she fell in love with John Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga." Ultimately, she explains why she believes that new technologies will not make old-fashioned books (versus online books) obsolete.
HRCML is full of wonderful passages, such as a remembered epiphany over D.H. Lawrence. This short book concludes with a few reading lists: "10 Nonfiction Books That Help Us Understand the World," "The 10 Books I Would Save in a Fire (If I Could Save Only 10)," etc. If you are a serious reader, I predict that, like me, you will recognize a kindred spirit in these pages, and will rejoice.
on October 17, 1998
I hesitated to shell out $8.95 plus tax for such a slim volume, but I am glad I did. I had recently skimmed an old copy of Mortimer Adler's How To Read A Book and found it utterly utilitarian. Ms. Quindlen's short but insightful book, on the other hand, succeeds in conveying the pleasure of reading for no particular reason other than the pleasure of reading. She gives a heart-warming account of her own history and experiences as a reader. This part of her book makes a wonderful story for young readers. (Her thoughts on technology are less convincing. Kids today are so much more at ease with computers than we are that it won't be hard for them to make the switch to electronic books-the size of which will shrink while their capacity expands within the next few years.) Definitely recommended by this reader.
on July 6, 2006
Thus, Anna Quindlen quotes Charles Dickens' biographer, John Forster, in this slim and wonderful book. Apparently, Dickens, Quindlen, and I would all rather read than play or do almost anything else.
I adore this book because it reminds me that there are other people for whom reading goes way beyond a pass-time or even something that we "love" to do. In addition to life's other milestones, we can mark the phases of life with the books that we have read, devoured, and assimilated. Like Quindlen, I remember a childhood influenced by writers like Ogden Nash, Carl Sandburg, Lore Segal, Irene Smith, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Johanna Spyri, Carolyn Keene, Judy Blume, Betty Smith, and many others who are less clear in my memory but who shaped who I have become and what I have loved to read.
Quindlen reminded me that I am not the only one who is often biding time until my next chance to read. Of course, I read in line at the post office, in a doctor's waiting room, in airports, and at professional sporting events. More telling is that from age 11 or so, I regularly took a novel to church. I sat in the back pew, out of my family's sight, so that I could read the book instead of listen to sermons and hymns. Quindlen knows that many of us have eased the tedium and discomfort of the here and now by going wherever a book will take us.
I suppose that I love this book because she puts my understanding of books, as guidance, sustenance and salvation, into words. I feel validated. My way of being in this world has been endorsed and upheld. I feel good.
Quindlen writes about her experiences with being a bibliophile, ranging from discussing why fiction is worthwhile to what makes banned books so interesting to a critique of the snobbery of the literary critics. Her tangents are insightful and resonate with the trends I see in reading; for example, she characterizes the shift from reading for pleasure to reading for purpose: "whereas an executive might learn far more from Moby Dick ..., the book he was expected to have read might be The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People [sic]". I loved and identified with her descriptions of growing up obsessed with reading, having spent most childhood afternoons among the stacks of the local public library.
This isn't as good as Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris (on the same topic), but it's thoughtful and quick. (I read it in about two hours.) She specifically deals with why she believes women read more than men. She also provides a number of interesting book lists at the end, ranging from "The 10 Books I Would Save in a Fire (If I Could Save Only 10)" to "10 Mystery Novels I'd Most Like to Find in a Summer Rental."
on June 13, 2001
For this reader, who is currently wading through Henry Miller's dense, challenging THE BOOKS IN MY LIFE, the short HOW READING CHANGED MY LIFE is more the comfortable touchstone for a middle-class, baby boomer whom Miller would have quickly dismissed if he had met her. Quindlen validates our common habits.
Unlike many, including the nasty new breed known as aliterates, who struggle with the fear that reading might be a replacement for life and experience, she argues that reading IS experience. It amplifies life's other experiences, it helps make meaning of them. Thank you, Anna Quindlen, for settling that one once and for all. I agree wholeheartedly with her appreciation of middlebrow beginnings. As she points out, we get to the worthy stuff when we're ready and a young person struggling with MIDDLEMARCH will not easily turn into an adult who enjoys serious reading. Think of it this way: there are quite a few professional musicians out there who as eight-year-olds never played a sophisticated scherzo at their first piano recital, they played "The Old Mill Song".
Yes, Quindlen includes lists but they are not haughty absolutes. This is a slim book, an extended essay really, and it could be argued that she has only begun to scrape the surface. Look at it this way, though: she lets us out of class early so we can go out and enjoy reading on our own.
on November 30, 2004
This delightful short book (or perhaps long essay) is filled with the insight and wisdom that characterizes Quindlen's work - touchingly personal while articulate and accessible, so much of her reminiscences resonate with the experiences of booklovers and writers. Her heartfelt adoration of the distinct pleasures reading can bring - as a child reading Nancy Drew while friends are out playing, or as an adult on an airplane traveling for business - were right on. Her praise of reading "for pleasure," not for "advancement or superiority," were especially refreshing to hear from someone so highly respected, insightful, and intelligent. I'm often sheepishly hiding my latest Jane Green novels from the faculty at the college where I work, so it was nice to feel unashamed about the sheer delight I enjoy when reading, regardless of whether I'm reading Jane Austen or Helen Fielding.
Don't expect a direct answer to the question inherent in the title - the book is a celebration of the act of reading and is much more universal than the particular ways that reading shaped or changed the life of the author. Instead, the book prompts a personal reflection on how reading affected one's own life, guided along by Quindlen's wise words. For those of you who love reading but don't always agree with Quindlen's politics, fear not: this book is much more about reading and with the exception of concerns and criticisms about book banning and burning, the focus of the book is largely elsewhere.
This book would make a great gift for the booklovers in your life - I'm giving it to my mother-in-law, an elementary school teacher who adores children's books and participates in multiple book clubs. It's a wonderful reminder of the joys of reading, and Quindlen's writing skill makes this particular read (as with all her work) that much more enjoyable.
Why does a reader read? How does one become a reader? How does a book change one's life? From where does our passion spring? How does one define "literature?"
Upon reading this short book, I knew Quindlen was right. Reading is an amazing experience. I've been reading since I was old enough to remember; reading for me was a means of escape, as a way to relieve stress. It still is. Here, Quindlen explores why reading is special to her. Many of us have been "seduced" by books, in much the same way that Quindlen and I have. We all have "friends" within the books we read, who make us feel at home, who we can return to time and again. Reading for many people is as necessary as breathing. We do it because it sustains us, gives us life.
Quindlen also reveals to us why she became a writer. Many writers start out as readers, and this is certainly true of our author. This thought-provoking little book will remind you of why you read, or how you decided to become a writer.
on November 7, 2004
While this book can at times be a bit defensive, Quindlen has a right to be. Readers, she points out, have been belittled, called stuck up, and tracked down in police states. We're almost an endangered species. At times, I celebrated with her the joys of discovering a book sure to become a lifelong friend; at other moments, I found myself sniffling and holding back tears at encounters with people who do not, and never will, understand and so must belittle those of us who read.
At some points, the memoir crawls, but there isn't any part of it that isn't vital to Quindlen's overall message. This, along with Fadiman's "Ex Libris," is book I lend out with the knowledge that the borrower will insist in keeping it.
on July 2, 2000
This book should be in every American public library. It should appeal to every librarian, teacher, student, parent and book lover. This small non-fiction book identifies what propels people to brake for the book store, library and even scan the bookshelves of our friends and families. This is not just a book for the bibliophiles of this country.