The Book That Changed My Life

Howard Norman

Howard NormanHoward Norman has been honored as a National Book Award Finalist in both 1984 for his novel The Northern Lights and again in 1994 for The Bird Artist.

Two books that "changed my life:"

Hell Screen, Cogwheels, A Fool's Life by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Translated by Takashi Kojima and Cid Corman

Audubon: A Vision by Robert Penn Warren

Audubon: A Vision
It would be shameless to suggest that my writing demonstrates the influence of this wonderful poetic sequence, simply because Audubon: A Vision draws a reader so deeply into its subject, Audubon's life, (with more concise emotion and "emotional fact" than any biography I've read) and the fundamental strangeness of the early American wilderness, that it - like all literature of genius - is entirely a matter of experiencing it; inspiration comes in thinking about the accomplishment. Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon offers this opportunity, too. However, the writing itself in Audubon: A Vision, was indeed instructive; its compression of imagery, the almost unbearable tension of incident, the sheer inventiveness of plot within formal constraints, all imported the past with uncanny immediacy into the present, until the boundary between past and present disappeared. In Mr. Warren's poem, philosophical alertness is entirely devoid of didactic preachiness. Common speech is imbued with historic nuance. To my mind, perhaps only the prose of Giorgio Bassani-especially in The Smell of Hay--and Ryunosuke Akutagawa-especially in A Fool's Life--has such idiosyncratic elegance of thought and language.

Howard Norman