It is an awful lot to ask of a few sheafs of paper filled with words—to change a life. Perhaps more important than actual transformations—though they do occur—is the beauty of a citizenry that holds the belief that such transformations are possible. It is testament to the power of language and to the importance of literary arts—and to publishers, those rare angels who nurse ideas into promulgation.
My childhood bedroom also held the family library. I used to fall asleep comforted that I was in the company of some of the most remarkable beings in human history—imaginative or real, if such distinctions matter; they didn't when I was a child: Bilbo Baggins, Jesus of Nazareth, Harriet Tubman, Odysseus.
When I moved away to college, my mother slipped a book into a box of my things with a note saying, "I think you will enjoy this one." It was a book that had been within arm's reach of my sleeping head for my whole life; though I had never read it. She was right, of course, and within two months I had read the author's entire oeuvre; eventually the trajectory of my studies shifted, and I followed the author's ideas for fifteen years. During my visit home on my first college summer break, my mother and I determined that when she read the seminal book she gave to me, I was developing in her womb.