Friday, August 01, 2008
Listening to the monumentally clunky Radio 4 show Open Book while driving yesterday - not wise this, narcolepsy can ensue - I heard someone say a book had 'changed their life'. People say this a lot. Today, for example, I note that Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's curious earthly span was changed by Brideshead Revisited. It happens, I suppose, but I'm sure 99 per cent of these claims are meaningless. I can think of three books that changed my life - The Book of Common Prayer, Macbeth and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The first changed the course of my sublunary journey because it exposed me to great English as a child, the second because, at the age of thirteen, it made me turn against the science and technology legacy of my family and the third because, at seventeen, it thrilled me. (This last influence was partly bad in that it hampered my ability to read different kinds of novels for years to come.) I have read equally great works since, but it would be absurd to say they have altered the character of my stay on this planet. I suspect that, unless there is some simple, direct influence - 'Sir Ranulph Wibbley-Wobbley's book on exploring the outer reaches of Dollis Hll inspired me to take up goat-herding and I have never looked back.' - nobody's material existence is changed by a book after the age of about eighteen. This is a good thing. A fool who kept performing an existential U-turn every time he passed Waterstone's staff picks would be a monster.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:09 am