Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Book

Author Shiloh Walker asked me some interesting questions the other day (and my answers will be appearing on her blog tomorrow.) Among them was one I didn't want to answer because I thought it couldn't be answered: What's the one book you think everybody, writer or not, should read?

Like saying you want world peace at a beauty pageant, the Holy Bible seems to be the default answer. But the Bible and I have our issues, and I feel it's simply not appropriate for everyone. So back to the drawing board. Shakespeare was next on my list, but he wrote plays, not books, and he can be difficult to understand. I came close to saying Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer because I do think that illustrates the human character from soup to nuts, plus it's funny -- but also, not an easy read.

I finally turned around the question and thought what is it that I wish everyone would get from reading one book? And then I knew.

I read this book when I was quite young, probably too young to be exposed to the content, which is brutal. It's not a pleasant read, especially for writers. Even after you learn that the author actually lived it, you don't want to believe it. Thinking about it afterward made me cry a couple times and I even had some nightmares about it.

So why would I want everyone to read a horrible book like that? Honestly, it made me grateful. Grateful for everything I had: the tiny room I shared with two sisters, the squashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my lunchbag, the hand-me-down clothes that were too big or too small, the cheap shoes that pinched my toes, even the dismal prospects waiting in my future. I didn't believe that I had anything of value in my life until I read this book, and then for the first time clearly saw and understood exactly how fortunate I was. That the few things I had, the things that had never before been good enough, were blessings that could so easily be taken away from me, along with my family, my home, and even my future.

In answering Shiloh's question I also realized I've never given anyone a copy of this book, which I intend to remedy right now. In comments to this post, name a book that changed how you think about yourself or anything (or if you've not yet read that one book, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, June 23, 2011. I will draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a copy of the book that I think everyone should read, and I will also grant the winner a BookWish*. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of your choice available to order from an online bookseller, up to a maximum cost of $30.00 U.S. (I'll throw in whatever shipping is involved.)

Graphic credit: © Yellowj | Dreamstime.com

69 comments:

  1. Atlas Shrugged changed a lot of things for me.

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  2. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood really made me thing about and analyze how little girls and women so often treat each other as the enemy, how female friendships can be shattered so easily because of a boy or a slipped secret or the need for acceptance. I read it not long after I finished college and it changed me and the way I saw the world. I also think it helped me grow as a writer.

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  3. I'm not sure I've read THE one book yet. I do know that Egalia's Daughters really got me thinking about societal roles and inherently gendered words like "hysterical".

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  4. Cinderella Complex

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  5. Still Alice was a memorable novel which resounded with me.

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  6. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller was eye opening for me.

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  7. Marianne Dreams, by Catherine Storr.

    Perhaps an odd choice, as it's a children's book, but it's appropriate for everyone to read - including children.

    It's a book about dreaming and imagination, and jealousy and consequences. The heroine is, at times, downright malicious, and her fall from grace is thoughtless and her realisation of her flaws instant. It teaches children to think about their actions, and still can captivate an adult audience.

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  8. A Child Al Confino made a huge impression upon me for many months.

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  9. Charles Dickens' "Bleak House." Superb writing, a master at the peak of his form.
    It has everything, romance, suspense, bleak pathos, happiness, and characters you will never, ever forget.
    Dickens has a variety of narrators, at least 3 different omniscient narrators, some limited third and a first person narrative. There are over 100 characters. It even has a character dying of spontaneous combustion.
    You can read it on several levels, just a great story, a masterful handling of narrative form, a metaphor, a campaigning document, and it all works.
    And he handles it all, together with a complicated storyline that would shred a lesser writer. You can get it for free, since it's out of copyright.
    If you don't care about all that, just read it for the story. It's killer.

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  10. "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn.

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  11. Tammy S10:56 AM

    This may seem weird but the book that changed how I thought of somethings was - Summer Sunrise by Lee Damon. It gave me the courage to try things that normally a female doesn't/didn't do. It wasn't a "classic" or anything, it was a harlequin superromance.

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  12. To Kill a Mockingbird.

    I first read this book when I was 15 in my English Lit class like so many of us did. For me, however, the assignment did much more than fulfill my reading list requirement. It changed my world view, on so many levels.

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  13. Precious Bane by Mary Webb.

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  14. I just read this recently, actually, but Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. i didn't even expect it to hit me so hard, thought it would be "just another book" from the Teen shelf. I was wrong. It made me realize that even though I thought I was a well-rounded and appreciative person, I really wasn't. Been giving my BF extra hugs and kisses since.

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  15. A Little Princess -- because it was the first book I read on my own and changed how I thought about reading and books. I have no interest in rereading it.

    Now I wonder about yours. Painted Bird? Ann Frank?

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  16. Anonymous12:12 PM

    Now I'm trying to guess your book. Diary of Anne Frank or Eli Weisel? Or the Chestry Oak?

    Yes, I need spell check.

    I'll check out Shiloh's site to find the answer~

    Rebecca

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  17. Athena12:23 PM

    East of Eden by Steinbeck. It made a huge impact on my life, when I was in high school. I read that novel in a day, then reread and reread again. Nurture vs. Nature, fate, love, envy, and hate. Just a few things you think of when you read it. And now I want to go reread it again.

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  18. If your "should read" book is The Diary of Anne Frank then I'm going to claim great (or working-towards-greatness!) minds think alike. I think everyone should read DOAF because some things should never be forgotten, and also the story of a girl with such a basic, fundamental belief in the true goodness of the human spirit is uplifting even though her story is so very tragic. It's good for us to be reminded of that.

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  19. The book that changed my life was read to me when I was five years old by my mother - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

    It made me grateful for what I had at the time, plus it gave me some good ideas for dealing with night terrors that I still use today.

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  20. I have read a lot of books that have gradually changed my worldview and made me a better person. Quite a few of them were either recommended by my librarian grandma or read in my HS English classes. They go across genres and only a few are what I would call serious literature. :-)

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  21. There are so many but Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl still resonates with me. There is something about The Great Gatsby that keeps me re-reading. The ending was so powerful.

    "Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter--tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.... And one fine morning-- So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

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  22. There are sooo many. After considering "Atlas Shrugged, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch," and many others; I'd have to go with "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor E. Frankl. It was on the suggested reading list (remember those?) that I received with my college acceptance letter. I read it, and have come back to it many times in the decades since.

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  23. I don't know if I can think of a book like that. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman made me realize my love for history and also that the males in a romance were far more attractive to me than the females. :)

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  24. I don't know if I've read THE book yet so I'll throw my name in the hat.
    Thank you,
    Jennifer

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  25. Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move During the Great Depression by Errol Lincoln Uys

    How they lived, what they did to survive, the history at the time was amazing.

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  26. The Book Thief--stuck with me to this day.

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  27. I would third or fourth The Diary of Anne Frank but part me hesitates because that novel is from a Western point of view. There is information afterwards about what happened in concentration camps, but many cultures in this world do not value the individual over the group, so I can't say the message there is universal.

    So, if I had to pick one, and this isn't from a religious stand point, I would just say the Gospels. Not the New Testament, when Paul gave his spin on things. But any ancient story about pure love. Other religions and traditions have similar older stories about a main character who just loved everyone more than him or herself. I think if everyone read something like that, the world would be better. Maybe we'd even get that "world peace." ;)

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  28. The Art of Racing in the Rain-I maintain that if more people read this there would be fewer cases of animal abuse. Plus, damn those monkeys anyway with the opposable thumbs!

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  29. I had to come back and say that the Diary of Ann Frank is NOT a novel.

    Not made up, not one bit. She did hide away, and you can visit her house, which is now a museum. She did get sent to a concentration camp and she did die there.
    After the war, someone found her diary on the floor of the room where they hid, and gave it to her father.

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  30. The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett.

    This has stuck with me for years. It shows the essence of character arc and change.

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  31. Books have made me the person I am. I grew up with Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour instead of TV. But it was Margaret Atwood's THE HANDMAID'S TALE that broke me away from any kind of mold or any thoughts to conformity. I re-read this book at least once a year.

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  32. Ember by Bettie Sharpe has stayed with me for a few years now. It's a retelling of Cinderella from such an obscure angle that i have nothing to say except Mz Sharpe is a genius. It made me rethink the classic fairy tales that we all know so well and really puts a new persepective on storytelling in general. Plus it is an absolutely brilliant read.
    (It's also free on her website as she originally posted it as a weekly serial)

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  33. The Catcher in the Rye. As a teenager, I appreciated Holden's wit and candor.

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  34. The first book that really made me a reader and even in way, later in life, makes me want to be a writer, is the Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. That book was the first book that really transported me to another world and made me forget about how awful being a preteen was and how bad life was at that moment (not that bad, but it seemed like it at the time).

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  35. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith had a big impact on me. I'm not sure it's THE book, but it definitely had weight when I read it.

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  36. I'm not sure I've read THE book yet. Though I have read several books that had some influence on me. For instance "In the Forests of the Night" by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, got me to take my writing seriously.

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  37. I see a lot of great books named. But I dont think I have read "the one" for me yet. Guess that means I should keep reading!

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  38. Although I came from an abusive home, I never realised just how cruel people can be until I read The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It was a hard read.

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  39. This probably sounds silly to everyone, but Charlotte's Web. It taught me there's always hope at a time when I really needed it and it's a lesson I've never lost.

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  40. Gone With The Wind. I read it while going through a divorce and it was the right book at the right time.

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  41. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still reread it sometimes, to remind myself of how much I have to be grateful for, and how delicate we humans are in the world and how much we depend on each other.

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  42. To Kill a Mockingbird

    I grew up during the fifties and sixties in a small Kentucky town that was the poster child for segregation and discrimination. To Kill a Mockingbird changed me in ways that persist to this day. I value freedom and equality and people who struggle daily against impossible odds.

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  43. I feel a little silly saying it since some of the comments I read have some serious, good books. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein was an amazing book I read over and over again between the ages of 5-7. I couldn't get over how loving and caring that tree was to the boy. I didn't see a lot of selflessness in the world. That book changed everything for me. I vowed, around six turning seven, that I wanted to be this tree. Mostly because the tree gave nothing but love and I wanted to be like that. Admittingly I was an odd child but ever since then, I've lived my life that way. I've become a caring, selfless, loving person who always helps when I can.

    It may be a child's book but that book changed my life. It showed me that compassion and selflessness will go farther than anything else in this world. She got to spend the rest of her days with the boy she loved. Why couldn't I have that too?

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  44. Beloved, Toni Morrison.

    Different books have changed me and my concept of the world as I've changed. The Secret Garden was fantastically important to me while growing up, so were The Chronicles of Narnia. Later, The Grapes of Wrath and Jude the Obscure. Recently, Sword Dancer, by Jennifer Roberson and Here Be Dragons, Penman. Now, Beloved has again turned over something new in me.

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  45. I read Cry The Beloved Country in high school and it completely changed the way I thought about the power of great writing.

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  46. I don't really think that there has been any single book that I've read that has impacted me, but rather several books that over time have impacted me. Several of them describe difficult days in older times, where the women have to do whatever the men tell them, and are forced to do things they would rather not do. It truly makes me grateful for the life I live. I've also read fiction books about cancers, and that too makes me grateful, because while I am extremely far from healthy, and quite a bit closer to the cancer patients, I am lucky to be here, and have better chances to live my life!

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  47. Aesop's Fables and Hans Christian Anderson. All those cautionary tales were an eye-opener to me as a kid.

    To Kill a Mockingbird was just... awesome. The older I get, the more I see the metaphors.

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  48. Aaack. Not fair to not tell what book you're talking about!

    Different books at different times.

    The Last Battle (final book in the Narnia series) made a huge impression on me at a young age. The whole concept of it being possible to do good, and have it be good, though believing one serves the "bad"... that was a lot to wrap my mind around. (And I know I explained that in a terrible way, but it's late, I'm tired and headachy, and if I don't post tonight, I'll forget to tomorrow.)

    The Count of Monte Cristo - tenacity and courage in the face of obstacles, and that while revenge/justice can feel necessary, too much isn't any good, either.

    Recently, I read a book that I wish I'd read years ago when I was first going through my breakup with my ex. Though the author's a bit self-centered and shallow - and it shows in her writing - she's come to some pretty good insights that I had to learn the hard way. Not sure if I'd have been able to understand and accept them at the time, but it would have been nice to have the opportunity. it was originally the title that caught my eye: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness. And it wasn't what I anticipated, it was worth the read, regardless.

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  49. Anonymous8:14 AM

    It must be the very first book I read from the public library fifty years ago - The Secret of the Wishing Water Well - or at least that's the title I remember. That turned me into a voracious reader and I still remember the story behind the mystery. Once you become a reader, nothing is ever the same no matter which book lit the fire!
    Kathy

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  50. Wow, how to narrow it down to one... Faerie tales have always stuck with me, as has Greek myth (and biblical myth). I'm also a Shakespeare nut (of course)... but books have spoken to me in so many ways:

    Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte showed me there was more to romance than falling in love with a bad guy--that sometimes the wooer could be a horrible person.

    Beauty by Robin McKinley was the first full-length novel I read without stopping, mainly because I COULD NOT STOP reading if I'd wanted to.

    NIGHT by Elie Wiesel (somebody else mentioned it, too) was harrowing... fast and terrifying.

    But I think I'd have to say my life-changing book was THE CAT WHO WENT TO HEAVEN, a book that won the Newbery in like 1935 or something. I checked it out about fifty times in grade school and junior high, reading it through until gut-wrenching sobs took over. Once my mom asked me, "Why do you read that book so much if it makes you cry?" That book taught me there was terrifying beauty in sadness. I own the book even now, and I cannot read it without crying.

    I'll have to keep thinking about this. So many great books.

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  51. bluebamboo8:41 AM

    May sound funny, but the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (1985 edition) by (I think) Laurel Roberts and two co-authors. Her commentary on the simple and nearly timeless nature of creating bread in the home, and how it connects us to those who have gone before, is as wonderful as her recipes. I've read the A Loaf for Learning chapter over and over.

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  52. claire cherven9:15 AM

    I Heard The Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven; I read it soon after I graduated from college, when I was working two jobs( neither was my dream job)and going to graduate school (to get my dream job). The book was short enough to read with my limited free time and had the added bonus of making me get out the world atlas to find the local.

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  53. I can't think of just one book. Tossing my name in the hat.

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  54. Gone With the Wind changed my life as a child. I read the book when I was a preteen, and I've never forgotten that initial read of the book - it instilled a passion for reading that I still have today.

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  55. Oddly, a book that changed the way I eat red meat - Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon.

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  56. I can't think of any book that changed my life unless it was the first one I read way back in school. I love to read and read voraciously. Wish I had more time and less work lol.

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  57. Watership Down is the first book that popped into my head when I read your question, but I'm not sure why. It's been many, many years since I've read it. Good thing I recently bought a new copy of it for my keeper shelf because now I want to read it again just to find out why this particular title jumped into my head.

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  58. I am a firm believer in HEA, always have been. So naturally when I read The Bad Seed by William March when I was in school I intensely disliked it. Now I am able to see that the ending it has is the best ending for that story.

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  59. Hard to name just one. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and FARENHEIT 451 had a big impact on me as a teenager.

    Most recently, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak.

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  60. Probably C.S. Lewis' "Perelandra." Yep, it's sci-fi, but it's also got a lot of theology in there too and it helped me understand some of what I believe in a different way.

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  61. This post really made me think about the beauty and power of reading the written word. Many books have affected me in different ways, depending on my current stage in life. I appreciate many of the classics but I also thoroughly enjoy reading for fun. I'm not sure that I've found "the one" yet, but I think that in itself is a gift because I can continue to read, and search, and grow.

    Here is a small list of books that I feel have contributed to the person I have become:

    1. Grandpa Bunny- a Golden Book
    2. Hotel Transylvania- Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
    3. Three Wishes- Barbara Delinsky
    4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
    5. Hamlet

    See, it's almost impossible to narrow down!!

    What an excellent discussion...thank you.

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  62. I think the book I'd recommend everyone to read is Desert Flower by Warez Dirie. She goes from lows to highs and back again, and she deals with a lot of hot buttons and memories. Seriously good read.

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  63. Anne V.9:57 AM

    The Hobbit. It hits many of the most vital themes of fantasy, captures a sense of history, and inspired me to love poetry as well as dragons. It also has a sense of wonder about the world that most adults could stand to revisit on a regular basis. My father used to read this novel to our family every summer around a campfire and I asked my students to read it as a novel unit along with our British Literature book.

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  64. Anonymous10:36 AM

    I read One Day in the Life of Ivan in high school. We also watched the movie. There must be some kind of impact, because I still remember the book.

    I read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school. To this day, I still try to keep some kind of journal.

    sandy l

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  65. I can't call out ONE exact book, but I am telling that one should, no MUST read classical literature, like Kafka, Herman Hesse, Kamyu, Whitman and other.... I just tartedmy classical literature blog and I hope you can find something there... http://www.litheart.blogspot.com

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  66. One MUST read classical literature.... And I started off my blog about classical literature: Kafka, Whitman, Hesse, Kamyu, etc. see, maybe you can find your sould there: http://www.litheart.blogspot.com

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  67. Anonymous9:41 PM

    Moby Dick

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  68. As a preteen I read two books that had a profound impact on how I lived my teenage and earlier adult years. The first "Go Ask Alice" and the second "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden" both had content that was way too adult for my age.

    A couple of years ago I read "Animal Farm" a book I had never read before. I think it should be required reading in all High School government classes.

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