Wednesday 4 May 2011

REVIEW: How Reading Changed My Life, by Anna Quindlen (4*)

(The Library of Contemporary Thought, 1998)

When I picked this book up, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Was it going to be a serious discourse on certain key books, like Francis Spufford's The Child that Books Built? Perhaps a few bookish essays in the vein of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, or a sentimental autobiography about hardship and bookish redemption? Actually, it is none of those things.

Instead, what Quindlen offers us is an extended essay on books and reading, split into sections and garnished with bookish quotes from the likes of Thoreau and Whitman. In delicious prose that exudes enthusiasm, Quindlen meanders skilfully across a range of topics including the feeling of a being a book-lover in the midst of others who just don't 'get it', book snobbishness, academic elitism, book clubs, libraries, how men and women read differently, banned books and coming-of-age reading. Perhaps the most telling part is that on the future of the book and the rise of modern technology. This book was published in 1998, and Quindlen seems to find the idea of e-readers and online reading a bit of a curiosity, comparing it to the old fantasy films in which we were all eating capsule meals by the year 2000. I guess it just goes to show how quickly technology is leaping forward these days...

Though the final result bears little resemblance to what I'd expected from the rather self-centred title, this was even better than I'd hoped - a marvellous, well-reasoned look at the world of books, with enough of an 'every woman' feel to the anecdotes and examples to make it more inclusive and therefore more enjoyable to read. There is also a section at the back of the book with 'top ten' reading lists like '10 Books That Will Help a Teenager Feel More Human' and '10 Mystery Novels I'd Most Like to Find in a Summer Rental', which is a nice touch and added a few more titles to my wishlist... Highly recommended!

Source: I bought this book from a seller on Amazon Marketplace.