Presenter of the National Book Awards

The Book That Changed My Life

John Casey

John Casey, 1989John Casey won The 1989 National Book Award for Fiction for Spartina.

You ask what books changed my life. And then how one work in particular influenced my writing. I can't answer the question. In response to a similar question I found that shortest answer was "childhood reading." And then I couldn't help but write a fifteen-page description. And that could have gone on and on, leading to teenage reading which mixed which mixed self-improvement with pleasure and curiosity-Raphael Sabatini and P.G. Wodehouse in the same pile as Stendhal, Moliere and Anatole France, along with a yard of scene fiction. Then the straits of college-required reading mixed theater infatuation. Then books that gave comfort in distress (Kipling's stories, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, Chekov stories) and books that were risky enchantments (Proust, Joyce) or puzzles that lingered (The Book of Job, some works by Borges or Nabokov) or gave kaleidoscope turns to material I thought I knew (e.g. E. L. Doctorow's The Book of Daniel, an extra dimension to the Rosenberg case I studied in law school).

Jose Donoso once said to Carlos Fuentes that Carlo Fuentes seemed to be poaching some of Donoso's stuff. Carlos Fuentes said, "Oh Pepe, we're all writing the same book." After that charming and true answer they went out for supper.

That's the book we hope we're still reading and writing.

John Casey