Have you ever heard the expression: “You are what you eat?”
Well, I’m beginning to believe that I am what I read.
I came to this conclusion last week when I decided to stop reading Charles Ives: A Life with Music by Jan Swafford. It’s a gorgeous book, magnificent prose, but it depressed the hell out of me. To say Ives was ahead of his time is about as obvious as saying the sun sets in the east. In spite of almost constant rejection, this American composer kept trying, kept beating his head against the wall, kept putting up with musicians and audiences that reviled his creative viewpoint.
Perhaps some of you would find inspiration in his story.
Each night I read and felt bleaker and bleaker about creativity, the creative urge. In the mornings, I’d carry that despair around without even realizing its source. Then it hit me: the book, no matter how wonderful, was making me bluer than blue.
So I returned it to my cello teacher and began reading The Soul of Money.
Ah . . . much better.
Up until that point, I’d never thought about how much books influence me while I’m reading them. And it’s not always the message; it can be the feel of the work or what I know about the author.
My first year in college, I was almost incapacitated when I had to read four Russian classics in a week. I remember sitting at a table in the student union and staring at my hand, curled around a glass of water, and getting caught up in this extraordinarily deep contemplation about the meaning of hands, of water, of life . . .
In grad school, it was St. Francis of Assisi by Nikos Kazantzakis. . . and I couldn’t get enough feta cheese, Kalamata olives, pita bread and Retsina. Obviously I was responding to the author here and the gusto of his storytelling.
Alice Hoffman’s writing makes me see magic in the world. Jenny Crusie helps me find the humor. Thomas Eisner makes me look closely at the smallest creatures on the planet with awe and fascination. (Click on Eisner’s photos of butterfly wings; you can look at his bio later. I’ll wait.)
So . . . am I a murderer because I read so many mysteries? Am I hero? Not exactly. But when I’ve connected with a book, it absolutely affects my day-to-day experience while I’m reading it.
Right now, I’m in a very interesting place; here are the books on my bedside table:
The Soul of Money – Lynne Twist
A little bit of this, a little bit of that . . . and I’m in a pretty good mood.
How about you?
Do the books you read influence your daily experience of life while you’re reading them?
Can you track similar responses?
Or am I utterly mad?