Have you ever read a book that changed the course of your very existence? If the answer is yes, chances are it was a book you read as a child or teenager.
The books we read when we’re young tend to leave a profound mark on us. Even if these books aren’t strictly children’s books or YA, the very fact that we read them during our formative years means that these books make an impact on our ideals, our values and our very identities. Today I wanted to share a short anecdote about the book that in many ways changed the course of my life and might even be a little bit responsible for making DIY MFA what it is today.
When I was in middle school, YA did not exist as a category. At least, it didn’t exist the way it does today, with bookstore shelves teeming with books and almost as many adults reading YA as teens. Back when I was a young whippersnapper, YA consisted mostly of books like Sweet Valley High and that literature was strictly considered “trashy” by the powers-that-be at my school. This meant that when I “graduated” from children’s books there wasn’t much for me to read, except maybe stuff like Shakespeare or Tolstoy. While I didn’t mind reading the classics for school, on vacation I longed to read books that were about kids my own age, living in my own world and not in some bygone historical era.
Then one summer, everything changed. I was browsing in the local library when I came across this book: Interstellar Pig by William Sleator.
Right away, I was fascinated. The title, the cover, everything about this book screamed “Read me! Read me!” And that’s precisely what I did.
This was the first time I had read a book that was about a kid (sort of) my own age. This was the first story I could really relate to. After all, protagonist Barney wasn’t sitting around with his girlfriends, painting his nails, gossiping and waiting for someone to ask him to prom. No, this was a kid who was actually doing something, and that something was epic. Forget cliques and other school-related social nonsense, Barney was battling aliens.
I am notoriously a slow reader. Seriously, it’s embarrassing how slowly I read, and in seventh grade it was ten times worse. Yet when I started reading Interstellar Pig, I finished the book in one sitting which for me was quite a dramatic feat. After I finished it, my younger siblings wanted to know what all the fuss was about so they read it too. After that, I read it again, and then they wanted to read it again. And then a battle ensued and lasted the entire two weeks until the book was due back at the library. All the while, Interstellar Pig back and forth between us just like the Piggy in the story.
When time came to return Interstellar Pig, it felt like the end of the world as we knew it. My siblings and I plotted ways to keep the book in our grasp. We considered checking out the book in turns, rotating between us and even wearing disguises so that the librarian wouldn’t know it was the same group of kids monopolizing the same book all summer. Needless to say, that idea was fatally flawed. Not only did the librarian figure out our little ploy, but eventually some other kid put the book on reserve and we were forced to bring it back. We thought about not returning it at all, but my sister (the youngest and wisest among us) said that it was probably not a good idea to have “grand larceny” listed on our library record. My brother and I agreed.
And so, we had to let the Piggy–I mean, the book–go.
My brother, sister and I were distraught indeed by the loss of our new favorite treasure. For days, everything was bleak and dark as if the very universe was on the brink of destruction. Then an idea hit me. The only thing better than reading a book is actually being in the book.
Anyone who has read Interstellar Pig knows that the book revolves around a board game. The logical next step was that we design the game, and then play it. Just like the characters in the book. As we put together the board game–using poster board, glitter pens and those little star stickers that teachers stick on the top of your homework–it was like we were reading that book all over again. And when we played the game, it was like we were there in the book with Barney and Manny and Zena and Joe.
While many years have passed and other book obsessions have come and gone, the influence of Interstellar Pig remains. Putting together that board game made me realize how much I enjoyed designing toys and games. I went on to study child development, product development and graphic design, in college and graduate school. Eventually I got a job at a toy company, where I designed hundreds of toys and games. After a time, my passion for developing children’s products made me want to study children’s literature, which in a roundabout way has brought me to DIY MFA. Even now, as I design worksheets, prompts or writing exercises for DIY MFA, there’s still that whimsical element, that need to make sure everything I create is actually fun. This mindset came from that very first game I designed, during that lazy summer before seventh grade.
And that’s the legacy that Interstellar Pig left me–and the way that book changed my life.
What about you? Has a book ever had a profound impact on you or your life?