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The Life-Giving Power of Literature

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When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young. — Maya Angelou

I’ve been thinking about re-reading this week. Maybe that comes from reflecting on my reading roots and reviewing a book that’s all about the process of re-reading, I’m not sure. All these thoughts haven’t really come together in any coherent way, but I did come across this particular quote and I wanted to share it with all of you.

What’s a book you’ve read that helped give you a sense of yourself in the world?

Photo Credit: Tom Martin via Fickr

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  • Kailana February 24, 2011, 10:40 am

    I really should reread more than I do. There are just so many new to me books I want to read!

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:15 am

      Kailana: I know! Re-reading feels somehow self-indulgent, although I suppose that reading in general can be that. But somehow re-reading feels more like a guilty pleasure than reading new books (especially review copies).

  • Cass February 24, 2011, 10:44 am

    Ooh, what an interesting question! One of the most important books I read that helped “give me a sense of myself” was an anthology edited by Michelle Tea, “Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class.” I had a tough time when I was growing up because my mom was a single parent and she was sick and couldn’t work much, and we struggled frequently. It’s not something I talk about much, especially since now I have moved up quite a bit class-wise, but reading Without a Net helped me with my struggle of dealing with my roots and helping with my embarrassment over my younger-days.

    I think this is what you mean, at least. 🙂

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:16 am

      Cass: Thank you for sharing that; I think that’s exactly what the quote means. I think I copped out by not including my answer to the question, but I couldn’t really think of a book that had done that for me right away. I’m still pondering.

  • Ruchi February 24, 2011, 3:48 pm

    First of all let me tell you something that you must be knowing already. Your blog is great. I enjoy reading.

    Now, the book that give me sense of myself in this crowded world is “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse as many a times I wonder about myself.

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:17 am

      Rushi: Thank you, and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment! I haven’t heard of Siddhartha, but I am going to look it up.

  • Jeanne February 24, 2011, 4:40 pm

    When I was a teenager, reading Rilke’s Duino Elegies helped give me a sense of myself in the world. Someone else felt like I did. And I’ve never found the translation that I read then that spoke to me that way–or else I didn’t recognize it when I came across it as an older person!

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:17 am

      Jeanne: I think reading as a teenager has more of a chance of doing that, since even though we feel sort of confident about ourselves I think all teenagers are afraid. I hope you are able to find the book eventually 🙂

  • Jenny February 24, 2011, 7:56 pm

    The Chronicles of Narnia for me. I know people have complained about the inconsistency of Lewis’s worldbuilding, but for me all the different elements in his stories mean a zillion things remind me of Narnia. I’ve never forgotten the thing CS Lewis said in one of his nonfiction books, that reading about enchanted woods makes all woods a little bit enchanted. True story.

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:19 am

      Jenny: That’s a great C.S. Lewis quote! And it’s totally true, once the idea of something being special is there, it’s almost too easy to see the magic there too.

  • Ash February 24, 2011, 10:50 pm

    Jane Eyre is one I return to frequently. Since I’ve read it so many times I think I’m more aware of how I have changed since I last read it than the actual story. used to reread quite a bit, but since I’ve starting blogging I’ve done very little.

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:20 am

      Ash: I’ve read Jane Eyre several times too, and I read it differently every time. I haven’t re-read it in a few years, maybe three, but will probably do that soon. The copy I have is full of notes from when I last read it, as part of my senior seminar in English.

  • Maphead February 26, 2011, 12:16 pm

    Wow, that IS a very cool question. As I look back, I think there’s several books that for whatever reason or reasons seemed to have struck a powerful chord with me, or at least addressed something I might have been going through at the time I read them. Around my sophomore year in college I was dealing with a lot of “love and loss”-related issues and I remember Judith Guest’s Ordinary People, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Padgett Powell’s Edisto and Tolstoy’s War and Peace all providing some sort of comfort or catharsis to me. Later on Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible would do much the same.

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:21 am

      Maphead: Comfort from War and Peace? Apparently I haven’t gotten that far with it yet, but I’m glad to hear it can be a meaningful read. I tried to read The Poisonwood Bible when I was much younger and didn’t enjoy it, but maybe it was just an age thing.

  • BuriedInPrint February 26, 2011, 2:32 pm

    Not a response to the question you’ve asked (which is a great question however!) but just to say that if you’re hooked on the idea of re-reading, you might enjoy Wendy Lesser’s book on the subject. Ironically, I enjoyed it far more when I re-read it; I think I was expecting something more like Anne Fadiman’s work when I first read it a few years ago, and it’s quite different, though still very bookish (my expectations often get in the way of my reading).

    • Kim February 27, 2011, 9:22 am

      BuriedinPrint: Thanks for the recommendation! I’m going to look into that one as soon as the TBR Dare is over and reading library books isn’t cheating 🙂