How a Book Changes a Life – by Ellery Bruns. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
Sometimes, when you pick up a book and stare at the cover, feel the weight of the crisp pages, you know in the way your ribs expand with deep, measured breaths that it will change you in unexplainable ways; only after an in-depth reading will you know why. At that moment, the temptation to put this book down and select a lighter book that does not make your shoulders tense, and, instead, pick a book that will make your life easier because it does not immediately connect another piece of your puzzle-like-soul with a terrifying ease is natural. This more comfortable choice means you are unchanged, unaffected, and, maybe, safer…supposedly. Without the book that clicks into your soul by exposing a weakness within you, you do not feel an uncomfortable steel barricade develop around you to protect against this book’s ability to rummage through your heart and evolve it. It may seem fine to avoid these powerful books, but to do so would be a grievous mistake; one that will make your capacity to learn about yourself and others unreachable. This error, even after all the hundreds of books I have read, visits me like an annual drought.
George Dilnot’s book Sister Satan has been annoying me for a few years now; it has had enough time to sew a jacket made of dust while it sits on my bookshelf. Frankly, I do not sure why I feel an unbreakable barricade defend against the powerful urge to read the browned pages. Perhaps it is my bodies flight or fight response to the title or its mysterious nature; the book’s description avoids any online search I have done and was conveniently left out of the book—thanks, Dilnot. My need to read this book has no tangible evidence that clarifies why I feel my shoulders tighten if I stare at the front cover. I only know that the tightness in my throat, lower back, and shoulders tell me my soul will be changed after I read this book, in a reverse psychological sense, but I avoid it because of those exact tensions; quite a mental curly-Q that does not seem to have a solution beyond reading the book. I do not know what I will gain out of Sister Satan, nor do I know why it bursts out of the storage shelves lining the back of my mind and prowls across my vision. I only know I need to read the thing, just do not know why yet (and, yes, I realize how nutty all of this may seem).
Nevertheless, I know how other books carve themselves to click into a vacant space in the evolving puzzle that is my mind, even if it is in a more trivial manner. One of the first books that radically changed the way I thought was Tithe by Holly Black. In sixth grade, I was slightly sheltered and slightly afraid of swear words. And, boy, there were a lot of swear words in that book. Today, I laugh at myself because if I thumb through the pages I can barely find one per page, so my aversion seems silly, but back then I was genuinely nervous around those four letter words. Somehow, a book about a swearing teenager who learns she is a fairy and then deals with all the chaos that ensues from that sparkling bit of knowledge helped me get over my childhood fear. This may sound strange, but I read Tithe because of a subconscious need to get over a fear that was holding me back, and once I read Sister Satan I will uncover the message I need find.
Maybe I am reaching, and creating explanations for coincidences, but I truly believe books are here to help you through life and reveal aspects of yourself that you could change to be a better version of yourself. It does not necessarily need to be profound; I think my fear of swear words demonstrates that pretty well. The change could be a simple thing that you recall thirty years from now or something that completely flips the perspective with which you view the world. Books that present themselves to you will grow up with you, and as you reread the pages, the messages that stand out will probably parallel things about which you unconsciously worry. Books are passageways to learn about yourself and the world through fictional or nonfictional stories and no matter how much the thought of reading a book unnerves you, do it any way.
Ellery Bruns serves as an assistant editor for The North Star Reports
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34 responses to “How a Book Changes a Life – by Ellery Bruns. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Thank you, Ellery, for this excellent report on the power of literature in ones life. While I was reading your report, I could not help but be transported into my past where I remember the exact day I read a page in a book that continues to stick with me today. Books are incredibly beautiful for the development of the mind and one’s identity. Books allow us to live as if we were in parallel universes that allows us to see the world from a completely different perspective. Through these different perspectives, we as humans can take these worldly understandings and, in fact, find personal identities. Like you said, books can connect to the parts of our souls we didn’t even know existed. We can experience such personal connections with characters in books that we can simply close and place them on a shelf. I completely understand where you are coming from Ellery! You did such a fantastic report that explains the connections we experience with books that are sometimes simply indescribable.
I appreciate your insights in this article. I don’t think you are reaching at all when you say that books are here to guide people through life and reveal aspects of the self and change you for better – there’s a definite reason that we rely on books so much for education. Books have the power to convey objective facts while offering opportunity for subjective reflection. Of course, books don’t necessarily need to provide facts to convey truths.
Professor Tom Morgan always talks about the power of fiction to teach about justice. In every one of my peace and justice classes, we have read a number of fictional books. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those works of nonfiction that I have learned the most from. It is one of those books in which you tremor when you look at the cover. Have you read it? Was it a book that changed you?
Beautiful writing Ellery, thank you. As someone with an affinity for buying books faster than any human could possibly read them, I very much relate to the daunting feeling of unread literature. If anything it makes me feel guilty, as if I am inherently disrespecting these inanimate objects by not fulfilling their purpose. Books truly are the cheapest way to escape everyday life and emerge yourself in something new completely. I love books and their effect on my mind, so thank you again for articulating what it feels to read them.
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on books and their effects on people. I think you captured the essence of what books are supposed to make people feel and think about very well. Does this happen with all the books you read? I wish that in our day to day lives we had more time to do reading that is “for fun”. I know myself, and I like to stay busy. But, even with my busy life, I never have much time to do reading that I want. During the summer is the only time I really have to sit down and enjoy a book for myself. Should we be required to read more books “for fun” when considering the wonderful effects it can have? Books have the ability for writers to express themselves and their thoughts, but also for readers to identify with the characters and experiences. Thank you!
I really connect with the way you describe the power of books. Just looking at a book and knowing the power of the knowledge that is inside is incredibly daunting. I think that those are the best types of books, the ones that change who you are as a person or change your perspective on issues. The words flowing off the pages as you piece together mental images that are much more vivid than any movie. The power of literature is more powerful than any type of speech or visual effect in my opinion. This is why so many people in history have targeted books, literacy and education as their enemy because one book that gives the people a different perspective could be the end of their reign. This was a great article and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I definitely agree with how you describe what a book can do to someone. When I was younger I used to read everything, but I’ve gotten away from that as I’ve gotten older. I can still think of a few certain books that I’ve read that have really changed my perspective on things. Books have the power to totally transform people unlike any other medium in my opinion. There seems to be books about everything and anything with an unthinkable amount of knowledge. I wish I would get into the habit of reading more and learning rather than wasting my time doing mindless things like using social media or things like that. I believe people benefit exponentially with technology, but there is just something about reading an actual book that seems so special. Thanks for your article.
This is beautifully written and oh so eerily relatable. I too love how books can transport a person and make them empathize with people they have never met and people who are merely fictional characters that can represent real people for us in life. Although I do not think that everyone feels this way about books, but perhaps they feel it from another type of art. Art in general has a way of speaking to the human condition and breaking down our defenses. That is why I am drawn to many forms of art as a way to understand and learn about humans, culture, and history. I personally have a deep attachment to books and it took me over a year to finish a book because I had to keep stopping because the message and narrative was tearing me apart inside. By the end of the book my throat felt tight and my eyes were watery, but even though I hated the ended it was still perfect and a story I needed to be told. Lovely job capturing the raw emotion that can be caused through reading and the empathy it provokes in a reader (this ties nicely to the first chapter of Professor Hunt’s book).
I think your article is not only relatable but incredibly relevant. Reading books is becoming an almost arcane and forgotten art. Reading even simple fiction books influences our innermost thoughts and shapes our consciousness. This society is so obsessed with instant gratification in our entertainment that young kids do not understand the impact and power that slow buildup and character development. I have been profoundly affected by fiction and will continue to read fantasy until the day that I die. Authors like Brandon Sanderson, Piers Anthony and even Tolkien have given words to the feelings that I didn’t even know I really felt.
I totally understand where you are coming from with the power of books. There are certain books I have read that have changed my life, completely and utterly, and I am so thankful for their influence in my life. My favorite book is one of those- it’s called The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty, and I discovered it in fourth grade. I found it at the library’s book sale in my hometown, and every year since I have read it and taken something new from it. It’s just a piece of realistic fiction, but the characters resonate so strongly with me that I cannot seem to escape its power. Another book I have read that changed my life was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I read it for my Women and Religion class last year and I don’t think a book has ever been that successful in transporting me to a new world and falling in love with characters. I sobbed through most of the book, but it taught me so many lessons about love and life and sisterhood that I cannot help but gush about it at every possible opportunity. Thank you for a wonderful piece that reminded me of the power of books.
I found this article to be quite moving. I could envision myself picking up such a large book and having these same exact feelings rush through my mind. However through reading your perspective on the topic this has completely altered mine. Before I could see such a large book as an obstacle of life, something to overcome merely to get over it. However, your perspective is much more of this being a challenge to overcome, and ultimately learn and gain experience from. Thanks for the read and the change of perspective when it comes to daunting literature.
Ellery, this is a great article. This reminds me of something I was told by a Lit professor, and she said how authors write because the character can be anything they want it to be. Their story begins once their pencil hits the paper and from there anything can happen. It is sort of a dream world. I agree that books can open up a new part of your mind and help you understand yourself better.
What an eloquent article! I understand completely what you mean when you say that a book can change you in profound ways. After all, it gives you a chance of diving into both the mind the author and the web of characters and stories he or she creates for us. Maybe we find a character we identify ourselves with, an idea that resonates in our core our presents us with facts that changes how we view things that we previously were certain of. In any event, it gives us the opportunity of receiving a long, interrupted message from someone who probably has put in a lot of thought into what they want to tell us. I’m grateful for living in a time where good literature is to be found in abundance and at the same time being easy to access.
I felt a substantial connection to your description of the impact books can make on all of our lives. I think the shadowy mystique that can surround many books may let this idea fester in our head. I do believe that there is merit to the levels of self that books can unlock and is rarely talked about meaningfully. It may sound corny to say that “a book changed who I am” but I would argue that is why many authors devout their professional lives to their work. Thank you for sharing your opinion, I credit you for sharing this part of you since most people would not.
Thanks for sharing this, Ellery.
This is quite a rare feeling for me, but it is one that I am still familiar with. I haven’t completely read a fiction novel since early highschool, but I find that nonfiction always brings me to questions about human behavior, presenting me with a great takeaway in any case. My most recent book is one that did, in fact, leave me feeling a little jarred, but I must agree with your assessment; that the scary books are the ones truly worth reading.
Thank you for sharing this article. I have to agree with the power of books. I am an avid reader from the genre of politics, to classics, and even Greek mythology. I love books and think they are an important part of how we learn and grow today. I especially like the books based on parts of this worlds history. It gives us the power to look into the things that have happened and gives us ideas on how to avoid the bad things that have happened. It gives us an idea of how to grow make this world a better place by learning from our mistakes. There is nothing like a great book.
Thank you for opening your mind so freely, Ellery.
I think that the need to read is ingrained in some from a young age, usually passed down from family members. When I was young, I know that I was always curious, always ready to open another book or create one of my own. Now, however, I am scared. I find myself anxious that I won’t get everything out of the text that I want, because my reading comprehension has decreased since middle school (no doubt due to my mental health). Another fear I have presently, is that I will open something so radically different from my views that I’ll succumb to sadness, that people can be against things that are to me, core beliefs, things that I can’t comprehend when challenged. This isn’t to say that being challenged is bad, quite the opposite as you’ve explained, however there are some challenges we may not be ready to face (this is probably the case with your book). With regards to reading as a whole, I think one of our world’s problems is that so many people don’t have access to the materials to learn to read. So while we so trivially struggle with what is too hard or too emotionally challenging, others are probably seeking any piece that can expand their ideas. I hope that you will be able to tackle your book whenever it suits you. I hope that I will be able to approach challenging ideas and be critical without facing moral panic at every turn (something that seems to be very difficult these days).
Thanks again for posing your questions and sharing these thoughts.
Thanks for sharing! This is a very interesting insight about books. I can’t quite say I’ve ever had the exact experience you described, but I do have plenty of books collecting dust on my shelves that I intend to read but keep not reading.
I do agree with you in that books shape our views of the world. It reminded me of the first few chapters of Hunt we read in Human Rights—about how novels shaped people’s understanding of empathy.
I hope you finally gain the courage to crack open the cover of Sister Satan!
This article was really moving and showed how the power of books makes a deep impact on your life. Books have played a big part of my life and they have guided through life’s problems. As a little kid, I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes and I could easily relate to the experiences that Calvin faced. I probably read all the Calvin and Hobbes books over 20 times and they gave me meaning to my young chaotic life. After getting older, I moved onto to Goosebumps, the Percy Jackson series, and World War 2 books. Personally, there is no better feeling than opening up a new book and feeling the pages for the first time.
Finally! It has been explained. The power of books is absolutely amazing. There are some books I read as a child, and I still remember the storyline or lines from the book perfectly, almost like I read the book yesterday. Literature is such a powerful tool, in influencing our mindsets, changing our outlooks about certain topics, and connecting memories. I really enjoyed that you were able to put some of that into words.
I love to read, I think because I love to learn. I completely agree that books can change us, as they teach us new things about the world and ourselves. I have plenty of books that previously have sat on my bookshelf that I never got around to reading. I’m not sure how I acquired all of them, but they’re still unread. I don’t think I’ve experienced quite what you have with your mysterious book, but the unread books I own definitely haunt me when I pick up a new one to read instead. Also, you mentioned the feeling of physically holding a book–I think this is a good point too, as I still prefer reading an actual book over an ebook. There is something about actually turning the pages myself and being able to see the progress by a bookmark that is rewarding. Thank you for sharing!
This was a great article to read and I really enjoyed it. Books are so great whether they are fictional or nonfiction because in so many ways they can be related to real life. Also, there is no better feeling then reading a book and not being able to put it down because you want to know where it is going to lead you. Over my college years my book collection has gotten much bigger as I have seen the importance in books and reading. Many of he books I read are assigned for class and so many of them have either been informational or they have been great stories relating to real life issues. After college I look forward to being able to read more books of my choosing and can’t wait for more free time to read.
I really enjoyed reading this article. I completely relate to the feeling of being afraid of a book. Some books have been sitting on my shelf for years waiting for me to take the time to read. I feel that books are incredible tools in our lives. We can learn so much from reading a book the expands our minds. I agree that books area guide or can be a lighthouse that shows us new things or ideas.
Thank you for writing this and never stop reading!
Wow. Truly a great article you have written. Books have been one of the defining aspects of my life since childhood. Even today I find myself struggling with discerning between memory and what I experienced through literature. Books truly have a powerful ability to change your life. I was the student that read books far more than I socialized; the genre of book didn’t matter, and still does not (although I prefer not to read about sports). I rebuilt my bedroom last year to include a wall of bookshelves for my growing collection. At night I find myself just staring at my beautiful collection as I fall asleep, and my first date with my boyfriend was a day spent at Barnes and Nobles. Although, in recent years things have changed. Like the fear you described I am almost scared to read at times. Contrary to your experience, my fear stems from a lack of time. I have so many books to read, but a great lack of time in my over-scheduled life. Therefore, I am forced to rate the books that are more important than others, and I can’t. And, when I want to read non-fiction I am faced with an uncertainty regarding what is legitimate and relatively unbiased. Books have always been my greatest joy, as well as a source of anxiety. Thank you for writing this beautifully article that I have been grateful to have a connection with.
I was expecting just another article, but instead from your first sentence i was up in my seat. The way that you describe how a book can make you feel is amazing. I have always loved reading and have felt this way a few times, i just never had the worlds that you clearly have. I hope that the book was everything that you thought it was going to be. Reading opens so many doors that are closed and allow us to travel in our own homes. It makes it hard to think about how 600 years ago people didn’t read. i know they didn’t even think about it but i have no idea how i would have lived with out books to give me an escape.
Your words on this article are very captivating, I admire the way you vividly describe what you feel and how your body reacts once you pick up a book. The last time I read a fiction book as an enjoyment was the summer of 2016 before I came to college. Since then being in college has exposed me to a new insight on books. Personally, I have never been a non-fiction type of person but my classes have exposed me to non-fictional books to a point that I struggle to read fictional books. My professors have shared ways how the information in books is eye-opening. So rather than reading a book for completion, one should take some time to think about why is it that a professor chooses the book that they did. How is it important to the topic that will be discussed in the semester? Nonetheless, I think both fiction and non-fiction are important for it provides the necessary information for a certain topic. Hence, once I have more time on my hands there are multiple recommended books that I would love to explore. Thank you for sharing and I do hope that soon enough you will pick up “Sister Satan” and explore it.
I loved this article about books and reading. I especially thought it was powerful for you to use such descriptive language. It really brought out a kind of glimpse to how great books are. I have been tied to books my whole life. Be it religious, fictional, scientific etc. books have always had an extreme impact on my life and the way I live. The thing it makes me think of however is the unfortunate circumstance of being illiterate. Not being able to experience such an important aspect of most of our life is a great loss, I think. Thank you for such a great article!
Hello Ellery, I enjoyed reading your reflection and I think you raise a good point. When I was in middle school I read a lot, but once I got to high school for some reason my habit of reading in my free time stopped. In middle school, it got to the point where my parents had to take away my books at night, because I would stay up all night reading. I wonder if me getting an iPod and discovering gaming applications my freshmen year of high school changed my habit of reading. Since my high school years, I have taken up reading for pleasure consistently again. I recently read a book where the author stated: Interesting people read books. I would agree with this theory wholeheartedly. Now a days, I often start a conversation with friends by asking: So, what book are you reading right now? I have seen many of my own friends pick up reading again for pleasure and this has been a delight to see and learn about new genres, topics, and authors. I also want to thank you for urging in your closing paragraph that states: “Books are passageways to learn about yourself and the world through fictional or nonfictional stories and no matter how much the thought of reading a book unnerves you, do it any way.”
Thank you for this very relatable insight on reading. I for one as you know, am not the biggest reader. However, I do understand the importance and power that different pieces of literature can provide. Whether it be to better our perspective of the world or find better insight about who we are in the development of our identity. I haven’t read many books in my life, but whenever I really get into a book it leaves its mark on me, pulls me in and leaves a profound impact or joy on me. Thank you for your insight on the power books can have.
Thank you so much for sharing such a complementing article about reading. I use to think that reading books was pointless and boring ,but nothing relaxes me more than reading a book. I love the feeling of finding a really good book that I cannot stop reading. Reading helps me escape from reality and find peace in my own mind. It took me a long time to become interested in reading since I was so distracted with tv and social media. I realized that books offer me so much more than mainstream tv shows ans movies. Great post!
I found this article to be very interesting! I have always had a hard time reading, especially larger books, because of the condition of my eyes. However, your perspective was very admirable. Reading for me is probably going to be an indefinite challenge, however, I strive to continue doing what I love. I agree with you about books being passageways through nonfictional and fictional stories to help you learn about yourself and the world. Thank you again for sharing.
This was so beautifully written. I truly do believe that a book can change something about you after you read it. It definitely can be scary to think of the power a book can have over you. I think that as humans, we are wired to resist change. In Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, Tignor details the resistance against the Hellenistic movement and says that those opposed felt Hellenism was “…threatening to their beliefs” (Tignor, 210). A book has the power to challenge everything you believe in. However, you have the power to let it change you, much unlike those challenging Hellenism which threatened to strip them of everything they believed in, in favor of assimilation.
I loved reading your illustration about the experience of reading life-changing books; you write beautifully! I am an avid reader myself, and there are a few books that came to mind as I related to your experiences. Humans naturally crave learning new things, and reading books often satisfy the need. I appreciate it when learning is encouraged, and the Han Dynasty in China did just that. In the second century BCE, its Imperial University for classical scholars “boasted 30,000 students and faculty”. These students studied the classics, and they were also naturalists and inventors (Tignor, 2018, p. 246). I wonder if these early students studied anything that helped them through life or taught them more about themselves. Great article!
Thank you for your wonderful article! When I was younger I used to read all the time and would borrow so many books from the library. However, as I grew up and got busier I lost the time and the passion for reading. I am lucky to get around to reading one book for pleasure per year. I think reading is an incredibly important way to learn and to grow your mind. I wish I could find more time or at least prioritize more time to dedicate myself to reading more books. I miss how excited I got to read an intimidating story. I think your passion for reading is admirable and I hope you get around to reading that book!