Alumni crowded a lecture room in Jadwin HallFridaymorning to hear an alumni-faculty forum titled “Books That Changed Your Life,” in which panelists discussed the works that had lasting impressions on them and considered the changing world of reading in the age of tablets and e-books.
Edwards is a novelist and former private school headmaster. Having recently published two books, “The Little Book” and “The Lost Prince,” after several years of submitting drafts, Edwards cited “Wittgenstein’s Vienna,” by Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, and “Fin-de-Siecle Vienna,” by Princeton professor emeritus CarlSchorske, as the books that changed his life because they served as inspiration for his own novels.
“That one book became an example and a symbol of how a book can change one’s life,” Edwards said specifically about Schorske’s book. “Having my own successful novel has changed my life in wonderful ways, for certain. The road to that improbable success was paved with all those classic novels I sort of read and truly loved in my youth, but my journey began in earnest that summer of 1974 with ‘Wittgenstein’s Vienna’ and then a few years later with Carl Schorske.”
Kirn is a national correspondent for The New Republic and author of the book “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever.” He said he was inspired by books such as “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” when he was young, and by “The Norton Anthology of English Literature” when he was in college.
Gordinier is a staff writer for The New York Times and author of the book “X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking.” He described several books from different genres as having shaped his life, including the works of Ray Bradbury, the beat poetry of Allen Ginsburg and LawrenceFerlinghettiand Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems.”
“The books that changed my life were in large part the books that you weren’t supposed to read – they were not the books on the curriculum; they weren’t the books that my teachers were telling me to read,” Gordinier said.
Lathrop is the managing editor of Fresh Dirt magazine. She mentioned many anthologies of short stories and poetry as having changed her life, especially James Joyce’s “Dubliners” because, she said, “it both blew my mind and knocked me out in quick succession.”
After the initial introductions, each of the panelists went on to list other important stories and works of poetry in their lives – like “Landing Light” by Don Paterson for Gordinier and “The Anthologist” by Nicholson Baker for Lathrop – and the ways in which reading has changed over the years.
“The only thing that scares me personally about the move to tablets and the move to everything being delivered electronically is the way in which it prohibits browsing, the way in which it prohibits the beauty of randomness and arbitrariness,” Gordinier said, adding that his favorite books were found by chance in independent bookstores.
Amid other fears that younger people are not as interested in reading, Kirn said he believes “we’re reading more than ever” because we spend so much time on our electronic devices. Though these distractions can turn younger people away from reading, Edwards said he still believes in the power of storytelling.
“People love to tell stories and people love to hear stories,” Edwards said. “I’m afraid maybe in the age of digital texting, maybe the sustained storytelling is lost. But I don’t think young people are going to lose that interest in finding good stories, no matter how they come to us.”