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Author Archive: "Roxanne Coady"

Robert Kurson and Benjamin Cheever on The Denial of Death

(Roxanne's Note: Two treats in reading this pair of essays. First, having had the pleasure to meet both authors, their choices were unexpected. I was so taken with both contributions that I promptly read the book they suggested. The Denial of Death has profoundly changed my thinking, and I imagine I will read it again and again.

It reinforced for me the notion Italo Calvino expresses in a line I cite at the end of The Book that Changed My Life (introducing the books on my own list): "The Classics are books which exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual's or the collective unconscious."

Ernst Becker's The Denial of Death will most assuredly hide in the layers of my memory and be part of my unconscious — guiding how I live and think. Not bad from one little book.)

The Denial of Death
by Ernest Becker

Robert Kurson

During a series of insomniac nights as a college sophomore, I pondered what it meant to be dead. The idea of not existing, and ...

Billy Collins on The Yearling and Lolita

(Roxanne's Note: Billy Collins' wit, as evidenced by his poetry and his persona, is in full display in his essay. Who would have thought you could analogize The Yearling and Lolita — yet you read the essay and wonder why you never saw the connection before. Plus, I utterly agree with his introduction — every book in some way changes you.)

The Yearling
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

by Vladimir Nabokov

The opportunity to single out a book that "changed my life" makes me realize that no book leaves us unchanged, for better or worse. Why read otherwise? Even to be bored is to be changed. Sven Birkerts points out that the act of reading (especially fiction) posits an Elsewhere, another place beyond the present reality we inhabit. We read in order to travel, or be borne, to that other place and thus interrupt the curse of having only one life to lead.

Strange to say, but Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling (1938) finds itself in competition with Nabokov's Lolita (1955) for first prize in my life-changing category. As far as geographical tourism goes, The Yearling, which my mother first read to me, lifted ...

Harold Bloom on Little, Big

(Editor's Note: The following text is an excerpt from The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them, edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen.)

Little, Big
by John Crowley

As I am now seventy-five and still a nonstop reader, I cannot nominate any single book as the one that changed my life. If only one, it would have to be the complete Shakespeare, with the Hebrew Bible a near rival, and a group of poets hovering not far away: John Milton, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Butler Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Robert Browning, among others.

But I have written extensively about everything so far mentioned, and desire to recommend strongly a fantasy novel much too little known, though it was first published a quarter century ago, John Crowley's Little, Big (1981). I have read and reread Little, Big at least a dozen times, and always am startled and refreshed. It seems to me the best book of its kind since Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland ...

Wally Lamb on To Kill a Mockingbird

(Editor's Note: The following text is an excerpt from The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them, edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen.)

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

I knew from the time I was eight that I wanted to be a teacher, but not that I wanted to be a writer. In third grade, my lowest marks were in reading ("Walter needs to check out more library books") and writing ("Walter needs to practice his penmanship and be less sloppy"). If you'd suggested to my teacher, prim Miss Comstock, that I'd grow up to be a novelist, she might have thrown back her head and guffawed.

My eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Cramer, took us outside to write about nature (which I liked) and made us memorize her favorite poems (which I didn't). Longfellow's "Evangeline," Joyce Kilmer's "Trees," Vachel Lindsay's "The Potato's Dance": none of these works spoke to me, and anyway, what kind of men had first names like Vachel and Joyce? At a schoolwide assembly, our class was made to mount the gymnasium stage and recite, in unison, "The Potato's Dance." I'd been ...

Anne Perry on The Man Who Was Thursday

(Editor's Note: The following text is an excerpt from The Book That Changed My Life: 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books That Matter Most to Them, edited by Roxanne Coady and Joy Johannessen.)

The Man Who Was Thursday
by G. K. Chesterton

A good book changes you, even if it is only to add a little to the furniture of your mind. It will make you laugh and perhaps cry; it should certainly make you think. A great book will make you dream in regions you have never dared to before, and ultimately it will spur you to create or achieve something new yourself.

For me G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is a book to light fires in my mind, uplift my heart, tell me truths I had only glimpsed before. It makes me feel wonderfully unique, and at the same time part of all mankind. If you think that is too much for one book, read it, and see if it doesn't do the same for you. Read it again a few years later, and find it does so even more powerfully.

It seems an absurd title. What sort of a book is it? ...

Small Gifts

Over the years, many many people have asked why the bookstore I founded fifteen years ago in Madison, Connecticut, is named R.J. Julia. The short answer is that it is named after my father's mother. But this year, I've been telling people the long story, because this is the year my beloved, exuberant, wise, hard-working, curious, complicated, loving father died.

My father was born and lived in Hungary. As World War II approached, my grandmother — recently widowed — resolved that her son would finish high school. This was not easy at that place and time for a Jewish family without resources. But my grandmother was determined. She made the humbling decision to ask for help — to accept charity for my dad to finish school. Her commitment to my dad's education, and her respect and awe for books and learning were her motivations.

She accomplished her dream. My dad finished high school in 1942, despite the odds. His life-long love of books and his insatiable desire to read were launched. But within a year he was imprisoned in a labor camp and was a minesweeper for the Germans. My grandmother was deported to Bergen-Belsen and killed. ...

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