I have always been a reader. I read voraciously as a child, picking up whatever was to hand appropriate or not, to the consternation of my parents. But I don’t really have a feeling of what reading delivered to me before I was encouraged by a teacher to read The Neverending Story. That, for me, was The Book That Changed Everything.
I know what you’re thinking, the bookish kid discovered a book about a bookish kid discovering a book, what a cliché. But, you know, clichés are born from a kernel of truth and the truth behind The Neverending Story is that literature is both an escape from and a return to reality. It is safety and comfort in a time of confusion, it is rebirth and rejuvenation, it is stepping outside the world in order to see it from a new perspective.
In The Neverending Story, Bastian is on the run from bullies and takes shelter in a bookshop where he discovers a book, The Neverending Story. By reading it he becomes part of the story himself, and upon his urging the pages of his very story are read – the story that ends with the pages of his very story being read – the story that once begun will never end. It was my first glimpse of weirdness associated with the fourth wall, something I adore even now, and even as I write this I have goosebumps.
Looking back, so many of my favourite books embrace toying with the fourth wall, or outright destroying it, and I’m certain my enjoyment of these games goes right back to the way I was involved in Ende’s story as a child. There’s a lot of angst about what literature is at the moment, who is inside and outside the rarefied circle of the Literary Establishment. The success of The Neverending Story shows that what literature, yes, even good, capital L Literature, should do is open an arm to us, the pleb readers, and embrace us. Take us into the heart of the story and we will always carry that story in our hearts.
Do you have a Book That Changed Everything? I’d like to start a series of guest posts, to share formative moments of readers. You don’t need to be a writer, the book that changed you doesn’t need to be a childhood book, or a great classic, it just needs to be something that you feel deep in your soul. The Literary Establishment is us, you know, the readers. Let’s embrace it and share our stories.
Email leatherboundpounds [at] gmail [dot] com if you would like to share your Book That Changed Everything.