Thursday, July 1, 2010

#thebookthatchangedmyworld--A True Story

It's late on the Thursday prior to the 4th of July weekend, and all I can think about is the impending pleasures of the weekend: warm weather, good food, and the company of friends and loved ones. In the name of urging you onward to embracing all the happy aspects of this holiday weekend, let me tell you a love story about a book that changed my life.

As your resident Twitter manager, I get to follow a lot of fantastic trending topics, everything from the race to sell the cheapest e-reader to the coverage of the New Yorker's 20 under 40 list. Some Twitter coverage is extremely thoughtful and shows the intelligence of the book tweeters out there (see this fantastic list for feeds to follow), but also the humor that pervades through the book-reading community. What other community would have a member called @LitCritHulk, whose request for galley copies reads "HULK KEEP SEEING DAMNABLE "QUIRK CLASSICS" BOOKS ON NIGHTSTAND SOMEONE NEED TO HAVE A TALK WITH BRUCE BANNER"? And what other community would start the trending topic #swapawordinafilmforMartinAmis, making way for such entries as "Buena Vista Martin Amis Club" and "The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a Martin Amis"? I have such love for this band of misfit toys, so keep it coming, folks...

But my favorite book trend to come out of Twitter thus far has been, without question, the hashtag #booksthatchangedmyworld, a list that inspires so many immediate book desires it should like directly to some kind of Netflix for literature... The tag originated with author Susan Orlean (whose tweets you should start reading ASAP), and quickly spread to over 2,000 people in just two weeks. Some of the books people mentioned are meant to be inspirational--Eat, Pray, Love showed up at least a few times, as did Angela's Ashes--but so too did novels like The Poisonwood Bible, A Clockwork Orange, even children's books like Amelia Bedelia and Madeline. All over the site, people had stopped talking about Justin Bieber, and instead were talking about books that had profoundly influenced and impacted their lives. I didn't respond to the stream, but I spent a good amount of time reading through it, and now, I'm sharing my story with you here:

November 2007: I had recently moved to Brooklyn, and though the new place was lovely, it was definitely not the same thing as my old place of the Upper West Side, especially when it came to good bookstores. So I took the 1 train all the way up to the Columbia campus, the first place I had lived when I moved to New York, and disembarked with nothing on my mind but the hope of reconnecting with the neighborhood I so desperately missed. I got off at the 116th stop, walked a few blocks down, and entered the great independent store Book Culture (at that time it was called Labyrinth Books, but I'll accept the new name if it means you go visit it now). I browsed for a bit, looking for someone's birthday present, but mainly just let myself sink into the wonderful feeling of browsing in a great store in my old community. I went to exit the store, when I heard a guy behind me talking to a store employee about a beautiful new translation of War and Peace...

"Yeah, I really want to buy this...but it's almost $40.00, so I probably shouldn't. Still, it's a pretty beautiful book..."

I turned, glowing with the happiness that can only come with being able to bridge the gap between potential reader and well-loved book, and said, "You know, I agree with you--it's a bit too expensive for a translation. Do you want my free copy?"


"Sure... I mean, I'm not sure I'm going to read it, so give me your address and I'll send you a copy."

The man in question--who I would later learn was a San Francisco native working on his PhD in chemical engineering, who loved good food, silly movies, and Battlestar Galactica--laughed, took out a notepad and pen, and wrote down his address. A few days later, I sent him the copy. A week later, we started emailing. A little while after that, he treated me to a milkshake, my "payback" for the free book. And almost three years later, we're still together, and have both finished and loved War and Peace. Maybe it was chance, or maybe it was, as Tolstoy said in that beautiful book, "that every action is in the historical sense not free at all but is bound up with the whole course of history," but it is, without a doubt, #thebookthatchangedmyworld.

Happy 4th, everybody.


  1. AWWWWW. Happy fourth!

    I don't know if I quite even remember when Ian and I met. (Or at least when I first saw him, since he was my high school friend's roommate at college, and we all lived on the same hallway freshman year.) I think I may have noticed him for the first time at our first hall meeting, the day we moved in, when we had to say something interesting about ourselves.

    I revealed that I stalked Garrison Keillor in Sacramento.

    Ian discussed his obsession with the gay penguins in the Central Park Zoo.

    Love at first sight! (Well, not quite.)

  2. This is beautiful, Jess! Books brought me love, too. I met my Significant Other in the hallways of the publishing company where I interned after college. Our eyes locked over the photocopier. It took us a while to get it together, but I'll never look at a book with that logo in the same way again.

  3. That is the best book-related love story I've heard yet.
    I unfortunately do not have one of my own...but I can appreciate yours!