I find Twitter to be a waste of consciousness, but the Redhead still frequents it. She does it with certain Sicilian tendencies: “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Occasionally she will read aloud a post that I find interesting.
Last night she asked me “What was the first book you read that changed your life? The Bible excluded.”
I thought some about that. Looked at the ceiling. Stared into space. A couple of minutes went by.
“I didn’t mean it to be that serious of a question.”
But it was a very serious question, at least to me. I have read a lot of good books. But the first that changed my life? I struggled to recall them all, working backward to childhood.
My first impulse was The Catcher in the Rye. I read that one in twelfth grade at the urging of my rather eccentric English teacher Mrs. Hammonds. It is a book that was (and still is) banned in many public schools. It was on the RESTRICTED list in my school library, which meant it was behind the counter and my momma had to sign a permission slip for me to read it.
Thank God I have a good momma.
And thank God she never read The Catcher in the Rye.
I can’t say that book changed my life, but it certainly changed my outlook on life. I knew a lot of characters in that story, especially the narrator.
But I digress. Read it yourself — but only if your momma allows it.
I knew there had to be a book before that one. It took another ten minutes or so and I had my answer.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles.
“What? I have never even heard of it. Why?”
I had to admit that I did not recall much about the story, so many years later. I do remember that it was about a young man who went to a war and came out a very different person. He had to declare a “separate peace” – a peace with himself.
But that’s not how it changed my life. It wasn’t the story per se, it was the type – the first “adult” book I remember reading.
If you were properly educated in the English language, you know that all the best childhood stories begin and end with two simple phrases:
“Once upon a time…”
“They lived happily ever after.”
There is beauty in that by design. It is comforting when momma is about to put out the light and you are pretty sure there is a monster under your bed.
But we soon come to realize that those stories aren’t representative of life in mortal flesh. At least not the “happily ever after part.”
I had not forgotten how I came to read A Separate Peace. Miss Klinner, my seventh-grade English teacher, gave our class the book as an assignment. As incentive, she offered to give a copy to the first student who read it. I got to keep mine two days later. It is still in my personal library. I can put my hands on it right now, with or without the mysterious electrical construct that is “The Cloud.”
Perhaps it was not the book that changed my life so much as it was the teacher. She taught me the nuts and bolts of a complicated language through diagrammed sentences and conjugated verbs, but she also showed me how to love and appreciate the never-ending pleasure of reading good books.
I have always loved her for that, as I continue to love the written word that imitates life.
And that may be about as close to as “happily ever after” as a man can get.