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How Reading Changed My Life Paperback – August 25, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

A recurring theme throughout Anna Quindlen's How Reading Changed My Life is the comforting premise that readers are never alone. "There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books," she writes, "a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but never really a stranger. My real, true world." Later, she quotes editor Hazel Rochman: "Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere." Indeed, Quindlen's essays are full of the names of "friends," real or fictional--Anne of Green Gables and Heidi; Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen, to name just a few--who have comforted, inspired, educated, and delighted her throughout her life. In four short essays Quindlen shares her thoughts on the act of reading itself ("It is like the rubbing of two sticks together to make a fire, the act of reading, an improbable pedestrian task that leads to heat and light"); analyzes the difference between how men and women read ("there are very few books in which male characters, much less boys, are portrayed as devoted readers"); and cheerfully defends middlebrow literature:
Most of those so-called middlebrow readers would have readily admitted that the Iliad set a standard that could not be matched by What Makes Sammy Run? or Exodus. But any reader with common sense would also understand intuitively, immediately, that such comparisons are false, that the uses of reading are vast and variegated and that some of them are not addressed by Homer.
The Canon, censorship, and the future of publishing, not to mention that of reading itself, are all subjects Quindlen addresses with intelligence and optimism in a book that may not change your life, but will no doubt remind you of other books that did. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

In this pithy celebration of the power and joys of reading, Quindlen emphasizes that books are not simply a means of imparting knowledge, but also a way to strengthen emotional connectedness, to lessen isolation, to explore alternate realities and to challenge the established order. To these ends much of the book forms a plea for intellectual freedom as well as a personal paean to reading. Quindlen (One True Thing) recalls her own early love affair with reading; writes with unabashed fervor of books that shaped her psychosexual maturation (John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, Mary McCarthy's The Group); and discusses the books that made her a liberal committed to fighting social injustice (Dickens, the Bible). She compares reading books to intimate friendship?both activities enable us to deconstruct the underpinnings of interpersonal problems and relationships. Her analysis of the limitations of the computer screen is another rebuttal of those who predict the imminent demise of the book. In order to further inspire potential readers, she includes her own admittedly "arbitrary and capricious" reading lists? "The 10 books I would save in a fire," "10 modern novels that made me proud to be a writer," "10 books that will help a teenager feel more human" and various other categories. But most of all, like the columns she used to write for the New York Times, this essay is tart, smart, full of quirky insights, lapidary and a pleasure to read. (Sept.) FYI: This is the latest in Ballantine's Library of Contemporary Thought.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 25, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345422783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345422781
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anna Quindlen is the author of three bestselling novels, Object Lessons, One True Thing and Black and Blue, and three non-fiction books, Living Out Loud, Thinking Out Loud and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Her New York Times column 'Public and Private' won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. She is currently a columnist for Newsweek and lives with her husband and children in New York.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on January 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
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.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
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.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Joan C. Frank on July 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
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.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on May 31, 2005
Format: Paperback
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."
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