January 30, 2020

Books and libraries transforming readers together

What book has changed the way you think, act, or look at the world? People responded to that question in a recent NYT article, "The Book That Changed My Life" and the answers are delightful.

Here are a few snippets (out of the more than 1300 responses):

  • “By the time I finished the book I was a different person... No book I’ve read since, and there have been thousands, has had such a profound effect on me.”
  • “The book laid it all out for me, put into words what I had only sensed.”
  • “My careers have all been inspired by that novel.”
  • "I go back to [this book] every year and have done so for 25 years. Rereading the book makes me a better, kinder and less judgmental person. "

I don't know about you, but I'd like every single person in the world to read a book if it meant that we'd get a world full of kinder, less judgmental people! Those stories are an incredible testament to the power of reading.

You might be wondering what the actual titles of those books were, that they were able to inspire such strong feelings for their readers. But it almost doesn’t matter because not everyone will have the same experience from the same book. In fact, many of the readers say that it took multiple readings — and maybe a different stage of life too — for them to really connect with the message of the book they that changed their life.

This is evidence that some MYSTERIOUS thing happens when we read. The book itself and our own experience come together, and sometimes they transform into something else, sparking a new understanding that wasn’t in the words on the page or our previous worldview. Perhaps we learn a lesson we really needed to learn, or get inspired start on something new, or feel the confidence we need to keep going, or maybe it's just that we get reassurance that someone understands what we're going through. Whatever the mysterious transformation of the text and our mind is, it creates our special experience with and connection to that book.

Making this magic happen is the work libraries are engaged in every day. They put books in front of people and hope that they find just the right one that will give them what they need in that moment. Sometimes the magic takes YEARS to happen. So, we need to keep in mind that we're in this for the long game. The impact might not be known for a while.

That’s both reassuring and scary. Reassuring because it’s great to think that we CAN make a difference through our work. And scary because we might not ever KNOW that we made a difference. But the key is to keep on working at it and to keep that far-off goal — of transforming lives — top of mind.

I am grateful to be part of a profession that does such meaningful work and proud to be part of the NoveList team, which focuses on the idea of transforming lives through reading. We support libraries with curated book recommendations and tools for engaging readers because we see the power of reading. By creating and inspiring readers, libraries make us all better.

We’d love to hear your stories. Is there a book that has changed your life? Or, have you been lucky enough to have that magical experience of a patron coming back to tell you that you changed THEIR life by putting the right book in their hands? Share with us


This post has been modified from its original use at the 2020 RUSA Book and Media Awards at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Danielle Borasky is the Vice President of NoveList. She is currently reading Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. 


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