Let me qualify at the outset that the Bible has far and away been the most transforming book in my life. So, with that out of the way, let me clarify my point here.
Robert Benson’s Admonition
Years ago at one of the PIW (Professionalism in Writing) conferences (of which I was the coordinator), a fellow author on staff named Robert Benson gave a presentation regarding what we read and how we read.
“Some books we read informationally,” he told us. “We read the material to gain needed information. Other books, we read formationally. These particular works,” Robert explained, “form us and transform us.”
As coordinator I was privileged to have a full set of tapes of every session of each conference. (Yes, girls and boys – tapes – as in cassette tapes. Back in the old days.) I was fascinated with this concept and played and replayed that tape of Robert’s message till I nearly wore out the tape.
Teachers Who Read Aloud
So at my having set that scene, you may already be far ahead of me thinking of the books that have formed you and even transformed you. I could cite a number of them myself, but let me share one that came into my life when I was only in the sixth grade. (And yes I really can remember that far back – just in case you’re wondering.)
I grew up in a home sans books. Can you believe that? A budding writer in a house with no books. Ghastly! Fortunately, from my first grade year through my sixth grade year, all of my teachers used the first half hour of the day as the time to read aloud to us. (After pledge to the American flag and prayers. I told you it was in the old days!)
Miss White’s Selection
My teacher in sixth grade was a spinster (better word than old maid, right?) lady named Pearl White. I am not kidding. That really was her name. She was also my piano teacher, but that’s another story altogether.
Miss White in her selection of books to read aloud that year was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s difficult to explain what happened as that story was read aloud to me, but as I look back today, I know it was an epiphany.
As Miss White read that book, I could smell the rich soil in the secret garden of Misselthwaite Manor. I inhaled the fragrance of the blossoms. I watched as Mary and Dickon worked to clear the garden, to nurture each tender plant and vine, and how they brought the neglected garden back to life.
Every detail of the book sprang into vivid images. Deep within me I suddenly realized the power of words on paper. Of course I could never have expressed my feelings at the time, but it was an unforgettable experience.
Reunited with My Old Friend
Years later browsing in a public library with my two then-in-grade-school children, I came upon a copy of The Secret Garden. My overwhelming excitement was no doubt embarrassing to the two of them. We checked it out and I read The Secret Garden aloud to them as Miss White had done for me all those years before.
One of those read-aloud evenings – after the two had gone to bed — I sat up and finished the book on my own. (I just couldn’t put it down.) As I finished the book, I sat there all alone in the quiet of my living room and wept and wept. And wept.
Why? I don’t know. Not really. (Believe me, I’m not a person who cries easily.) All I can say is that my “friend” that had transformed me as a small child was back in my life and the emotion of that moment of being reunited was overwhelming. And reliving the experience of the book was overwhelming as well.
Savor the Experience; Let it Transform
Some of you reading this will closely relate. It’s not because one book is so much better than another. (It’s obvious some are.) It’s because it so deeply and personally resonates within YOU! It is YOUR experience. And no one can take that away from you. But you can savor it. And you can allow it to work to transform you into a more sensitive and perceptive and skilled craftsman in your art of writing.
Thank you Robert Benson for helping me to articulate this powerful experience!
I would love to hear what book(s) have affected you in your reading experience. Leave a comment and let me know.
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