The Books that Changed You

Happy Monday,

My Saturday workshop this at The Imago Studios was inspired by the work of NYC based theatre company The Wooster Group- in relation to the deconstructing of text to create a “stand alone” performance piece that somehow still represents the themes and undercurrents of the original text but sheds new light on it, and in so doing creates a completely new work- where the “old” text may be almost unrecognisable.

As a fan of the work of The Wooster Group, for the past twenty years, I don’t think I seriously thought about “deconstructing” a text in terms of performance. For the purposes of Saturday’s workshop, and because the Wooster Group are no strangers to controversy- the text we “deconstructed” was perhaps one of the most controversial of all times, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. The groups looked at themes and styles from the book that are now present popular culture, as well as the text itself to create new and fascinating scenes/montages using collage, music, movement, metaphor, sound effects and video to create a “stand alone” triptych. It was extraordinary- dark, evocative and provocative.

The themes and darkness of the material challenged all of us and sparked the conversation- as we change and grow, how does a text change for us? As in, if you read a text as a teenager, with a limited perspective of the world and of the self- what happens, when you read that same book twenty years later? It changes, because you have changed. Your world view and perspective has changed.

Lolita is more relevant today than when it was written. As a piece of literature it is poetic, but it is also terrifying. I have been having conversations this week with friends, family, students, collaborators etc- about the books that have changed them. Specifically, I’m interested in the books you have chosen to revisit and re-read and the different experiences you have had with each re-read and why? How had your world view/personal perspective changed?

The fifth time I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being I was in Prague where the novel is set- the best reading experience ever- to be in the actual physical location of the text when you read it is fully immersive and powerful. Every time I read The Catcher in the Rye- it is a new experience. As a teenager I found it highly amusing, the last time I read it as an adult- I found it tragic.

Maybe you loved something in your twenties, reread it a decade later and found it self indulgent. Perhaps you appreciated the text more on the second read through as your perspective altered and you connected more to the themes. I’d love to hear your top 5-10 books. The books that changed you, and then changed when you did. I’ve listed my top 10 below- it’s not easy coming up with a list!


1. Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

2. The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend

3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

5. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje

6. Alias Grace by Margaret Attwood

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

9. The Hours by Michael Cunningham

10. The Collector by John Fowles