by ERIN BERZEL/Missoulian
This past fall Ingram Book Company held a contest asking
its customers to write an essay on the intriguing and
telling topic of The Book That Changed My Life.
The winner was Shawn Wathen of Chapter One Book Store
in Hamilton, Montana.
As the winner Shawn was the guest of Ingram Book Company,
Random House Inc. and the National Book Foundation at
the National Book Award Ceremony & Dinner held at
the New York City Marriott Marquis, on November 20,
2002, and received a $500 American Express gift cheque
for travel expenses.
The winning essay is being published in the January
2003 issue of Advance magazine and was included
in the 2002 National Book Award Dinner program.
Here is Shawn's winning essay:
The Navy, then college, I drifted through life. Idly
browsing the university bookstore's shelves one day,
my eyes alit on a work by an author whose name, with
its odd consonant groupings, appeared unpronounceable.
being a reader of poetry, it remains a mystery how I
had wandered into that section. The pink cover depicted
a still life by Chardin; the author photo presented
a stern-faced man, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
it at random, the poem "A Magic Mountain"
captivated me. I cannot recall ever reading anything
so breathlessly. I was stunned. I stood rooted to that
spot, reading poem after poem. I had read books my entire
life, but never understood that words could wield such
purchased the book-my first book of poetry-and kept
it with me continually. Within a week I had decided
to pursue graduate studies in the intellectual history
of that poet's native land. What historical conditions
could produce such a poet? While studying his native
language, I met the woman I love. At our wedding we
read "After Paradise," from that same collection.
I traveled abroad to further my understanding of this
poet and his culture, and met countless wonderful people
on my journey--including the poet himself--enriching
my life beyond measure.
a bookseller, I introduce others to the power and beauty
of poetry. Poetry matters. Words can change the world.
Czeslaw Milosz changed my world with his Collected Poems,
Chapter One Book Store
252 Main Street
Hamilton, MT 59840