Presenter of the National Book Awards

The Book That Changed My Life

Sherod Santos

Sherod Santos was a 1999 National Book Award Finalist in Poetry for The Pilot Star Elegies.

It's difficult for me to say what things (many things) have actually "changed my life," but applying that idea loosely to books, a handful come quickly to mind:

Peter Handke's The Left-Handed Woman
Elias Canetti's Kafka's Other Trial and The Voices of Marrakesh
Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

It wasn't until I put these four books together that I recognized what they have in common: reading. Each involves, in one form or another, an exquisitely scrupulous act of "reading"-of a fictional woman (Handke), of Kafka's tormented relationship with Felice Bauer (Canetti), of a sun-dazed North African city (Canetti), of Western mythology (Calasso). But why these four in particular? Perhaps because, in my opinion, they manifest a rare and complicated love for their subject, a love that is borne of those forms of attention which dissolve the barriers between observer and observed. Perhaps because, as Mr. Canetti himself has written, they "penetrated me like an actual life." In any case, it has been my experience that this kind of reading leads to a kind of "power" -- a power not over others, but over oneself.

Thanks again for your kind invitation

Sherod Santos