The Book That Changed My Life: 71 remarkable writers celebrate the books that matter most to them, edited by Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen
We love to know who influenced our favourite authors. Coady and Johannessen asked 71 writers which books matter to them the most, not necessarily the best books ever written, but the ones that had the greatest impact on that writer's life. The usual suspects are there: The Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare, A Room of One's Own, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Bible, Jane Eyre ....
And some surprises: Nancy Drew, A Stranger is Watching and the Sears Catalogue. Surprises, but totally reasonable when explained.
Amongst these mini-essays, the one that struck me as the most profound was Da Chen on Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Novelist Da Chen, who now lives in the US, received best book awards for his 2006 Brothers which tells the story of tow half-brothers, sharing the same powerful father, grow up in ignorance of each other's existence, with one enjoying a life of privilege and the other poor and alone. Da Chen's essay reflects on growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution when the only books allowed were ones written by Mao. An ex-convict smuggled books into his village and they were able to rent time to read them for one hard-to-come-by penny. Eventually the little library was burned down, and they had to wait until another book turned up in their village for them to copy and share. As I sit here in our library surrounded by tens of thousands of books at my disposal and the means to access whatever I might like to read, it is hard to imagine that this was Da Chen's experience in the 1970s.