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Books can change a life - which books changed yours?

I admit it. I’m a bookaholic.

I know that thinking about, reading, and buying and selling books cuts into other worthwhile activities, but I’m not likely to change. For better or for worse, it’s part of who I am.

Growing up, I wasn’t much of a recreational reader until I went to college, when study time didn’t get in the way of my sudden interest in books. I attended college (Western Washington State College) in the late ’60s. That was before the Internet and during a time of political turmoil, so reading books, newspapers and magazines was the way to keep current on the crazy scene at home and abroad.

Later, after kicking around in different jobs and some further schooling, I ended up working for a regional wholesale bookseller in Seattle, and then worked for Fairhaven Books, Bellingham’s best independent bookstore before Village Books came onto the scene. So I was pleased to read at Salon the other day that across the country, independent bookstores are on the rebound.

I also recently came across a fascinating article in The Atlantic about American publishers’ decision to give away nearly 123 million books to members of the armed forces during World War II, fostering a civilian army of booklovers after the war.

Those articles got me thinking about books that have played an important part in my life. Some of the books have stayed on my shelves, to be read again and again. Others that once seemed so important have now lost their magic and no longer tempt me. But for one reason or another, the books on my list seemed to meet an important need at the time.

Early on my list is “The Incredible Journey” by Sheila Burnford. It’s the story of two dogs and a cat that leave their temporary caretaker and journey through the Canadian wilderness to reach their owners. At that point in my young life I hadn’t read much besides comic books. After finishing Burnford’s story, I realized that, hey, I can read an entire book and enjoy the experience.

I have little recollection of reading children’s books when I was young, and have no memory of my parents reading to me. So when, as an adult, I came across “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White and the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne, I gained belated but everlasting appreciation, not only for White’s and Milne’s wonderful and witty stories, but for all children’s literature that, when done well, appeals to readers of all ages.

A few years ago, my wife gave me “Fooling with Words,” a collection of interviews with poets by Bill Moyers. Up to that I had accepted poetry as important but had never taken the plunge to read poetry consistently.

Now, thanks to Moyers, I routinely check the poetry section in bookstores and library sales. I can thank Moyers for leading me to - after many twists and turns - such wonderful poets as Samuel Green, Stanley Kunitz and Melinda Mueller.

People who love books often like to share stories about what they’ve read lately, so I hope those people who read this column will share the names of books that changed their life, and why it was the right book at the right time. Maybe the books will change someone else’s life, too.

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