3 Ways Books Change Lives (+ Writing Mentorship Program Opens)
Sometimes a book can rattle open such deep recognition that the door remains ajar for the rest of your life. It’s taken me a long time to realize that simple truth.
I’ve always been slow to the take, at least that is how grown-ups such as my father, an otherwise friendly and pot-bellied man with skinny legs who later would challenge my older sister’s teenage boyfriends to barefoot races, perceived me.
“Come on, Turtle,” he would nudge me when he and I might walk toward a football stadium entrance or play word games. My mother would tell me years later my father feared I might be a bit dim-witted.
Maybe it was that fear that led her (although I honestly doubt fear drove her) to take me to Fort Worth’s Ridglea Public Library each week to take home a stack of books.
And it was on one such morning the door opened.
A librarian led me to a shelf and pulled out and put in my hands The Book.
Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak. I opened the first pages and must have felt a kinship. How did she know?
Did she see a fellow Max-like rebel in my six-year-old head of hair that grew to my shoulders when no other boy around was allowed to do so?
Or in the fact that I covered my own skinny legs with psychedelic paisley pants that would make Jim Morrison envious?
Maybe she simply knew slowness didn’t equal dimness.
That book was the first one I recall that drew me in and held me. It gave me sanctuary where my feeble mind could rest and wander.
And it lit up possibility. I could enter other worlds. I could imagine other worlds. I soon started drawing animated stories.
My life would become a richly imagined wild rumpus.
I could create. It was that simple.
Although of course, that quiet beaded-necklace boy who wore smiley face t-shirts and Dingo boots would not realize that anything special was happening.
I just created. First, drawings on the pads my printer-grandfather made for me. Songs in my head. Animated movies in my head before I went to sleep. Whole worlds in the woods down the road. A few years later, stories on my father’s typewriter.
The world teemed with metaphors, and if grown ups saw me as slow it was likely because
there was a transmission gap between the ships I sailed and the errands they ran.
Books that matter change lives.
We know that, corny as it may sound to say it out loud or write it here. But the truth bears repeating.
Books that matter change us in three ways.
1. They open our hearts and eyes.
The books of Morrison, Kingsolver, Faulkner, Smiley, Strayed, and other novelists and memoirists have cracked open my heart.
Books make us intimate with characters and establish empathy with characters we would never know on the streets or on Facebook. They help us feel more deeply and shift our attention away from our own desperation to the suffering of others.
The extraordinary fact is you can create a book that matters. A book that will open a heart, change a mind, ignite an imagination. A book that could come into the life of someone at just the right time. Someone you will never meet. People who will spread your book, share your book, gift your book.
That’s a wonder.
I’m grateful to lead a life that – though not always a wild rumpus – daily involves helping people create the worlds they’ve deeply imagined for themselves and for the patch of the planet they engage.
And for all the open doors, thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Grand-Dad. Thanks, Maurice. And thanks, Max. I used to try to catch up. Now I live in and live out my own pace.
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