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28 Authors on the Books That Changed Their Lives

Image: Vulture

Have you ever looked up after reading a book and felt as if the contents so moved you that the act of reading the text was a life- or mind-altering experience? Such a feeling doesn't strike very often in readers' lives, but when it does, they don't soon forget it. 

In part as inspiration for 2016 reading list titles, the staff at Vulture asked a number of noted authors to name titles that felt like life changers for them. Some examples follow; see the list in its entirety here.

Erik Larson, author of Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City
“In a very concrete sense, it was the novel The Alienist, by Caleb Carr, because it put me so viscerally into the streets of old New York that I decided to see if I could conjure an equally rich sense of the past, but in a work of nonfiction. Originally I planned to write about a historical murder but got sidetracked, and wrote Isaac’s Storm, about a giant hurricane. It’s still all Caleb Carr’s fault.” 

Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings
“A book that changed my life is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Before reading it, I had not encountered a piece of writing about living an authentic life that could engage the emotions with such power and purity of purpose. It was incendiary, transcendent, and made me yearn to be a writer — a dream that would take more than 20 years to accomplish.” 

Elizabeth Hand, author of Wylding Hall and Generation Loss
Man's Search for Meaningby Viktor E. Frankl. I first encountered this as a high-school senior, when it was assigned reading. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who specialized in studying and treating suicidal patients, then spent three years in German concentration camps during the war. His parents and brother died in the camps, as did his pregnant wife, who died at Bergen-Belsen. After liberation in 1945, Frankl developed logotherapy, which aims to help an individual find meaning in her/his life, even in the face of almost unendurable loss and suffering. The first half of this book recounts his experience in the camps; the second is a step-by-step discussion of what logotherapy is and how it works. The German title roughly translates to 'Saying Yes to Life in Spite of Everything: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp,' and that pretty much sums it up. It's a remarkable testament to human resilience, and a remarkable guidebook for surviving despair. ‘What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaninglessness in rational terms,’ Frankl said.”

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I remember listening to an interview in which Richard Adams (Watership Down) said that if he hadn't read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he never would have written anything.
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