71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate
The Books that Matter Most to Them
Roxanne J. Coady
Wally Lamb reveals that he did not want to be a writer at all, until he got "kidnapped" by To Kill a Mockingbird. He even admits --- bravely we think --- his reading habits and that he made it through Sister Carrie and My Ántonia without passing out.
Improbably, Billy Collins manages to yoke together --- as the two novels that "changed my life" --- The Yearling and Lolita: "The plight of the deer and the fate of Lo arouse pity; but the doomed attempts to capture and control two essentially wild creatures elicit sympathy."
No fence, however high, will contain the growing deer; and no amount of scheming and cajoling will keep the girl from growing into a woman.
As far as change goes, Collins reflects wisely, reminding us of our catechisms, that "to be bored is to be changed." Let us refer you back to Cather and Dreiser, above.
Michael Stern chooses The Sears Catalogue as his life-changer, and Linda Greenlaw says that she first considered nominating The Perricone Weight-Loss Diet, which "had a staggering effect on my consumption." (She finally settles on The Perfect Storm.)
Claire Cook calls up the Nancy Drew mysteries: "Nancy's world was fair and predictable. Though she had lost her own mother, she seemed to be doing just fine. She even had a boyfriend. And a roadster." Edward Sorel's favorite was Stendal's The Red and the Black, and the protagonist, his namesake, Julien Sorel. "Like me, Julien hated his father, distrusted all authority, and thought religion was for the mentally handicapped." The elder Sorel was also, unlike himself, like "catnip to women."
Maureen Corrigan, while extolling David Copperfield, admits, without shame, that her earliest literary experience was "writing an anthem to my parochial school, St. Raphael's ... to the tune of Petula Clark's 'Downtown.'"
About the most fetching mini-essay here is by Da Chen. We've praised him, and praised him lavishly, for his wonderful Colors of the Mountain. He is, apparently, unafraid to admit to The Count of Monte Cristo as his all-time fave, but we forgive him because he concludes, winningly, "I write because my heart demands so ... waiting for words to pour from the tips of my fingers and compose the melody of life from the faded tapestry of my past."There is a touch of Wolkenkukusheim in The Book that Changed My Life. The editors have, by some divine fiat we cannot comprehend, decided that Joe Lieberman (of Connecticut), John McCain (of Arizona), and Liz Smith (of the awful New York Post) are all "remarkable writers." James Atlas, founding editor of the Penguin Lives Series (Penguin owns Bantam --- publishers of this volume), turns up as another auteur remarquable. Who knows why.--- Lolita Lark