So my new book, The One That I Want, has been out in the world for a month now, and just like a new parent who has realized that it’s time to take a night or two away from her little one, I’ve started to move on from the hovering, the worrying, the frantic roller-coaster of emotions that inevitably come with a book release. And then, this weekend, I got an email from a reader that really and truly gave me perspective on this process – which is NOT an easy thing to have. In fact, it’s easier, in many ways, to think that you may very well live and die by the success of your book until you realize just how ridiculous that sounds because, of course, life will move on whether or not you sell thousands upon thousands of copies or if people give you 1-star or 5-star reviews.
But on to this email. The underlying message of The One is one of hope, of possibility, of reaching for something even when you think that it might be too late to reach for it, and thus, when a 52-year old woman wrote me on Sunday that upon finishing the book, she decided to renew her vow to enroll in college and seek out her dream of landing a degree (she’s starting this fall!), I was beyond moved. Over the years, as many writers I’m sure do, I’ve gotten a lot of emails along these lines: people who have been touched by cancer who found a bit of solace in my debut novel; women who reassessed their marriages after reading Time of My Life, but you always kind of forget. You always forget that you’re putting out words into the world and that the power behind these words can be, well, life-changing.
This isn’t a horn toot. This isn’t me patting myself on the back and saying, “Bravo, Allison, you’re such a compelling writer that you got someone to go back to college and empower herself!” In fact, it’s almost the opposite. That there are SO MANY things that we, as writers, are told to worry about, that you forget, in the whirlwind of this process, just how meaningful books and stories can be. That I’m certain that nearly every novelist I know has in some way shaped or changed someone else’s life.
So I got this email, and it was like everything else fell away. I’d already mentally prepared myself to move on from this book, to finish up my next one and get lost in those characters and their voices, and yes, all the stress and minutia that will come with publishing another book. But I read this woman’s story, and I very much admired her bravery, and I thought, “Well, of course that’s what this is about.” It’s not about print run or bestseller lists or how large your advance is (though, let’s be honest, on some days, it has to be). It’s about how books change lives, how they move a reader to reconsider their choices, and in our best moments, maybe inspire someone to take a different path if a different path is called for.
This woman wrote me a note to tell me how much I affected her, but the truth is, that she gave me much needed perspective too. How grateful am I for that in return?
I’d love to hear from you guys: have you had a book that’s changed your life? Or stopped and made you think?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s MacJewell