The Book That Changed My Life

Jean Thompson

Jean Thompson was honored as a 1999 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction for Who Do You Love?.

Photo: Marion Ettlinger

When I was a kid, I had a habit of reading books that were entirely beyond me, just because we had them in the house. One of these was a Modern Library edition of Chekhov's stories. I still have it; it gives his name as 'Tchekhov' and the paper's turning brown at the edges, like an overbaked cookie. In the back is the Complete List of Titles in The Modern Library, from Henry Adams to Emile Zola, and my child's over-serious hand has pencil checked the half-dozen or so that I've read. "What are you doing with that depressing book?" my mother demanded, and I couldn't say. The stories were largely a puzzle to me - what was a samovar, anyway? A muzhik? - and the world they described might have existed only between the covers of the book, for all I knew. But with what clarity and authority and sympathy it was rendered, what exacting detail and exuberant emotion. Look at everything it was possible to contain within the covers of a book.

Best wishes,

Jean Thompson