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Great literature is thrilling. It will feed your hungry mind and take your heart on a journey. It will help you on the wonderful path to one of life’s most elusive and hard-won freedoms, freedom from the ego.
Here is a book about the sheer joy of living, exploring forty texts that can enrich us in all manner of ways. Some are recent, such as Harry Potter; some ancient, such as Homer and Lao Tzu. There are memoirs (Nelson Mandela), poetry (Les Murray) and many of the world’s great novels, from George Eliot’s Middlemarch to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. This book uses them to muse upon life in all its glorious complexity.
Our guide, in entertaining short accounts of personal encounters with these works, is Michael McGirr: schoolteacher and father, reviewer of hundreds of books and lifelong lover of literature. His humour and insight shine through in essays that connect the texts he has selected with each other, and connect us to them.
This is the ideal companion for a keen reader—and it may just inspire someone you know to become one, too. Never prescriptive, and often very funny, Books that Saved My Life is an invitation to reflect on the extraordinary gift of reading. ‘It is a gift that is taking me a lifetime to unwrap,’ McGirr writes. ‘The excitement has never worn off.’
‘For those of us similarly saved by, shaped by, the books we have loved, McGirr’s beautiful essays will be deeply fortifying. The sensibility that ties them all together is both edifying and intimate; this, too, is a book that will save.’
‘His anecdotes will make you laugh out loud. If you haven’t read any books by him before, seek them out.’
‘Books that Saved My Life captivated my immediate interest…[It] roams widely across genres…This is not a prescriptive book, instead one where McGirr shares tales of connection.’
‘[McGirr’s] clever wit and intellect shines through…fabulous stuff.’
‘[A] gentle, joyful take on a roll call of authors from Joseph Conrad, Charlotte Bronte and Shakespeare to Nelson Mandela and J. K. Rowling.’
‘McGirr is an inspired synthesiser, serious in intent even while riotous in execution.’
‘Readers will come for the humour, but they’ll stay for McGirr’s haunting memories…brimming with lyrical insight and earthy humour, this debut is a rare treat.’
‘A fine, pared-down elegance…takes us to the heart of his sometimes complex meanings…I love the modesty of this book, its honesty and lack of pretension…Subtle, humble, wry and courteous…The moment of illumination often comes quietly or humorously, or stealthily towards the end of the essay, leaving the reader with a surprisingly powerful choke of emotion or with a laugh. It’s a deeply personal collection that calls on a formidable line-up of authors…There are so many gems in this collection.’
‘From the first essay, McGirr’s book feels like that of a man happy to have had the most wholesome of prayers answered: for a loving family, a happy home, satisfying work and travel. It is difficult…not to find the gratitude a little infectious…McGirr’s essays are often like good sermons, with their small bits of wisdom expressed simply…Other essays are more playful.’