I stumbled across the book that changed my life in an English-class assignment during my junior year of high school. The assignment was to pick a random short story from our textbook, read it, and then tell the class about it. The one I chose was a story about a girl named Elaine, taunted by her bullying friend Cordelia into retrieving her hat from a snowy ravine during a snowstorm.
The tale haunted me, partly for the story itself but more for the way the writer told it. The language seemed spare, pared down of all but the most essential descriptions, and yet I found myself caught in the cold with Elaine.
When I discussed the story with the class, the teacher told me that the writer, Margaret Atwood, had expanded the story and it had recently been released as a novel, titled Cat’s Eye. The first book I ever bought for myself, it was the one that changed my life.
I had always been a voracious reader, so I was no stranger to the power books have to engulf you in a story, but this was something different. I’d never read writing that felt as clear, direct, and moving as what I found there. The structure of words and sentences made me reread passages just to appreciate the quality of the writing. The book felt akin to other “classic” writers I’d begun reading—Steinbeck and Hemingway, mostly—but, centered in women’s experiences, it showed me that women’s stories are valid literary topics.
When I finished it I decided I needed to always read books that inspire that same awe.
Wanting to learn how to find all the books like Cat’s Eye and how to write like Margaret Atwood (not, it turned out, a skill I possess) led me to pursue a degree in English, to become a high school English teacher, and eventually to work in libraries, where I get to help patrons find their own life-changing books.
What book changed your life?
Written by Amy S. (Outreach)