What Book Changed Your Story?

Happy end of Pride Month, everyone! We celebrated with you this June at PrideFest by making a community quilt, and now I want to share what a wonderful experience we had. We asked PrideFest attendees to write a title of “A Book That Changed Your Story” on a quilt square, and the finished quilt will start to travel around our 19 branches in the fall. Here’s a teaser:

Photo taken by the author.

Photo taken by the author.

So, “What book changed your story?” I love this question for a few reasons. First, reading is a highly personal activity. We pick what we read, and we read what we love, which makes bookshelves probably the second window into the soul. (Raise your hand if you, too, make a beeline to someone’s bookshelf as soon as you spot it.)

Second, I like that this question makes us think about the profound effect reading has on our lives. There’s probably that one line you’ve read that you never came back from — that changed how you saw yourself, the world and your place in the world.

And then I like this question because, at PrideFest, it became abundantly clear that a concomitant joy of reading is living in the company of readers. There’s the thrill of excitement and sense of affirmation seeing someone read a book that’s dear to you as they wait for the bus and the fun of talking to someone about that book, or them asking you about it.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

Photo by Maggie McFalls.

At PrideFest, some of you knew right away what book changed you. Others left the table, thought about the books they’d read and themselves, and came back hours later to answer the question. And when you answered, some shared stories about those books: reading Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love in the early nineties after the AIDS crisis, naming a beloved daughter with some clever wordplay from the The Velveteen Rabbit (which is read by Meryl Streep on OverDrive). Many people answered that Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues changed your story, but almost all of you had different reasons why. One person praised Winnie the Pooh’s values and the character’s disregard for “gender role or size”. (It’s all about that honey!) We talked about children’s novels (Mommy, Mama, and Me), YA (I Am J, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, The Miseducation of Cameron Post), fiction (Rubyfruit Jungle, The Front Runner) and non-fiction (Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, anyone?).

Another reason I love this question is because we identify ourselves in so many different ways. Identifying and claiming a title is empowering. Sometimes, we find community, and we find ourselves when we do so. The only thing I know for sure is that on a fundamental level I am a reader, and I’ve always loved meeting my own people. Pittsburgh makes a lot of best-of lists, but one thing that isn’t mentioned explicitly is the people. So let me say explicitly that the best thing about Pittsburgh is yinz. Thank you to all who shared, thanks for being… my neighbor.



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9 responses to “What Book Changed Your Story?

  1. Great article, Isabelle. I know exactly what you’re talking about in ‘making a beeline’ to someone else’s bookshelf! I was happy to see The Fountainhead included on the community quilt. That novel was one of my college memories. I checked out the hardcover from the library and read it in two or three days along with Anthem. Thanks for writing!

  2. Reblogged this on FloridaFilmGuy and commented:
    A positive glimpse in a reading community.

  3. Hi Isabelle . The book that changed my story is “The Swimming Pool Library” by British author Alan Hollinghurst (1988). It probably was one of the first UK books to have gay life as a central theme within a literary framework and it still has the power to draw the reader in, to shock, to surprise and to entertain. And it is so well written. If you don’t know it, it’s well worth seeking out!

  4. I love the idea of a community reading quilt. Reading is a personal experience but it also does so much to build a positive community. That’s one of the many reasons why libraries are such a wonderful place to come together and share what you love with the people around you!

  5. “Wild Magic”, by Tamora Pierce.
    I’m so glad I found the Tortall books one summer at my local library when I was a kid. They made me realize that there were other girls like me, who were stubborn and idealistic but also liked math, strategizing, animals and pretty clothes. There’s no feeling like realizing someone out there likes you for who you are.

  6. Pingback: June 2015 Recap | Eleventh Stack

  7. The Color of Water was a good book.

  8. I love the quilt idea. Its always great to see some of the effect books have had on people’s lives.

    As to which book has changed my story, that is a hard one. I have read so many good books over the years.

    One of my favorites is the combined hitchhikers guide to the galaxy. There is so much imagination and silliness in that book (those books) that is just wonderful. As much as I enjoy a book that makes me think, there is something special about a book that is just down right fun to read.

  9. Suzi W.

    The book that changed my story was “Dicey’s Song.” (Or rather, “Homecoming,” the first book, which I thought was going to be about a dance.) I still love “Homecoming,” but Dicey in “Dicey’s song” really was such a fighter (which I wasn’t, outwardly at least, in my teen years) and I know that a lot of my stubbornness comes from reading about her, clinging to her fight. I have probably read the book eighty million times. (Well, it’s a tie with “The Help,” which I’ve read on and off since the movie tie-in edition was published in 2011.) Scrappy. Stubborn. Never Giving UP.

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