When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher read to us everyday after lunch. She'd read a chapter or so--or if it was a long chapter, just a scene--and usually read the-Where the Redfern Grows-and-Old Yeller-age-appropriate stuff...until late winter, when she began a grown-up book, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.
We 11 and 12 year olds were bored at first and moaned and groaned about it among ourselves...for a very brief time. Then we became engrossed. When she reached the third part of the book, (Book the Third, Dickens called it) it was a beautiful day in the early spring. I remember looking at the sunny expanse of playground outside as she read and feeling a surreal sense of displacement that it could be so wonderfully warm and bright and yet I felt like I was in a city's dingy shops and visiting dark and dank prisons and creeping through alleyways and places that made me feel cold and shivery for the characters I cared about so much.
She read the normal chapter and we all begged for more. Since we begged most days, through most books--hey, the longer she read, the less work we had to do--I'm not sure what was different about our begging on this day. But she continued. Every time she started to put the book away, we pleaded with her not to quit. When it was time for afternoon recess, she put the book down and we offered to give up recess if she would just keep reading. (We took a bathroom break and hurried back to class for more.)
When it was almost time for the closing bell, we were into the part where Sydney Carton was about to enter the jail to visit Charles Darnay and only a few chapters from the end. Mrs. Hinshaw, definitely one of the teachers who most influenced my life, quit long enough to go to the office and have them call our parents to tell them we would be late. She promised to make arrangements to get those who rode the bus home. Then, as the time for school to be out came and went, as the buses rolled for home, she continued reading. By the time she reached the part where Sydney Carton gave up his life so the woman he loved could have the man she loved, I--and most of the girls--were sobbing uncontrollably. (I don't remember what the boys were doing, which is amazing in itself and should tell you exactly how dramatic the experience was for me since I was boy crazy at the time and always paid attention to what they were doing.)
Mrs. Hinshaw was hoarse by the time she closed the book. And we were all stunned into silence by the experience.
And my life was changed.
I'd always been a reader but from then on, I was an avid one. I couldn't imagine not having a book around and each time I opened one, I hoped and expected and craved some kind of emotional or exciting or renewing or exhilerating and wondrous trip. Though it was a long time later that I realized I wanted to be a writer, I know Mrs. Hinshaw's reading of A Tale Of Two Cities planted the seed. That book and the whole experience made me realize the power of stories and words.
I've read lots of books since then that have affected me and my life in varying ways. (Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you about them all.) But I would like to know, what books have had an impact on you? What books have made you different in some way? What books have you read that have somehow changed your life?