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Kafka said, “a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

I love this quote; it appeared in Anna Quindlen ‘s 1998 essay called “How Reading Changed My Life,” which I just read yesterday; it’s a keeper for my bookshelf. Reading it reminded me that I do have a passion in life: reading. It may never lead to what it lead to for her (becoming a best-selling author), but it is a worthwhile passion none-the-less.

The essay is short enough to read in one sitting, but full of food for thought to be savored. It is broken up into four sections each preceded by a quote about reading, so you don’t HAVE to read it in one sitting if you don’t have the time (but you’ll WANT to read it all at once).

The first section presents a picture of a young girl feeling “alone” in her love of books and likens the passion to read to the urge to run away from home, a driving need to be somewhere else. I related completely when she talked about her mother chastising her for not going out to play like other kids.

The second section intersperses history with a story about the person who affected her reading life most as a child. She also has theories about why women in particular read and comments on the existence of book clubs.

In the third section she names the book that really made an impression on her as a child, interspersed with more history and a discussion of banned books. She touches on the personal and subjective nature of defining an “important” or “great” book. I love that she provides some digs against literary critics and college English department chairmen.

Finally, the fourth section touches on the importance of reading in general, whether it is “literature” or “fiction.” I have always lamented spending so many years reading Nancy Drew books because I didn’t know any better; she made me feel okay with that. She also talks about the future of reading as technology moves us forward. I found this REALLY fascinating, given that it was written almost 15 years ago! The same things are still being said in 2012 about hardcover books going away, but they haven’t yet!

She finishes with a few reading lists, always fun. This essay is timeless and is worth a reread.

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I just started reading a book I purchased at a yard sale over the summer, a true bargain at two for a quarter. (The other book I picked was “Must Love Dogs”.)  Its title is “The Pull of the Moon” by Elizabeth Berg. It is the story of a 50-year-old woman going through menopause who goes on a trip to “find herself.”  The format is composed of “letters” to the character’s husband alternating with journal entries. The writing is vibrant and introspectively emotional; the images detailed and beautiful. As I read it I feel the bittersweet pang of writing envy, the not-unpleasant feeling of admiring the writing to the point that I wish I had written it: the ultimate compliment.

The book was published 15 years ago, but for me, it is as if its character/author was sitting down and having lunch with me right now, and I feel blessed. I feel as if she is giving me a much-needed hug, reassurance, and laughter; it is a wonderful relief and joy. The author may be 10 years older than me, but for right now, she is the same age. She is telling me that I’m okay and there’s nothing wrong with me. For this moment in time, she is my friend. For someone else picking up the book 10 years from now, she will once again be the perfect age and a perfect friend. I SO love books!!

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