Maybe, after most of what you read, of novels or poems, you walk away unchanged. Sure, great scenes or lovely lines may stay in your mind, but overall, the reading was just a pleasant diversion.
And that’s alright. Most of my own “literary” (as opposed to “practical”) reading has been like that too. But then there are the oeuvres which, if only in some small way, changed the course of my life.
My great love of travel was born partly by reading Jules Verne novels as a child.
In high school, after reading Ayn Rand’s We the Living, I went to the Art and Music Department of the Beverly Hills Public Library, where I worked, to learn if Kira’s “Song of Broken Glass” really existed. This was before the Internet became prevalent, and we didn’t find it. But that search was a small part in that librarian’s eventually becoming my friend Stefan.
At Bryn Mawr College, I chose to take Physics for my lab science requirement—and not Geology, which most English majors took—not just to be contrarian, but also influenced by a character in Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s novel Greensleeves.
And then there was William Butler Yeats. Starting my last year of high school, I read his poem, “A Deep Sworn Vow:”
“Others, because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow, have been friends of mine:
Yet always, when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.”
It was love at first read. I was smitten. I continued to read Yeats, and a bit of other Irish poetry. Because I fell in love with Yeats’ poetry, I spent the summer before starting at Bryn Mawr in Ireland. There, in Galway, sometime during the June Bank Holiday weekend, I became a Christian for myself. I knew about God from having grown up in a Christian family. So maybe, possibly, I’d have taken this big step elsewhere, at another time. But I always remember that I made the most important decision of my life in Ireland. And what prompted my being there in the first place was a small poem by Yeats.
It’s your turn. What’s something you read—poem, novel, or play—that affected the course of your life?