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The Book That Changed My Life | KCTS 9 Staff Picks

It’s National Book Month and here at KCTS 9 we appreciate the comfort and leisure a good book brings. Considered one of the world’s oldest forms of entertainment and relaxation, books of all kinds have been finding their way into the hands of curious and imaginative minds everywhere, including the staff at KCTS 9. 

In celebration of National Book Month we asked staff what book had an impact on their life—regardless of how big or small—and this is what they said. What book has had an everlasting impression on you?


Long Walk to Freedom
Nelson Mandela

Recommended by Sarah Freeman

I first became interested in South African history and politics my freshman year in college after meeting my first boyfriend, a black South African man. On his recommendation I decided to read the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, which propelled me to pursue a graduate degree in African Studies and Literature, with a focus in South African Protest Theater.

In the second year of my program, I spent a summer teaching at a township school just outside of Cape Town, where Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island. During my time there I met former freedom fighters who served time with Mandela, and attended football match in celebration of Madiba’s 90th birthday. 


Nassim Taleb

Recommended by Juliene Gschwend

Anti-Fragile confirmed some things that I already intuitively knew, but explained them more thoroughly. Such as, why does classic economics make no sense? Why are business/number projections often disastrously wrong? Why do the classics endure for thousands of years, while new things come and go and become obsolete with absurd rapidity? 

The answer is explained utilizing the concept of anti-fragile, which is to say, something that gets stronger when stressed.  Also explained is the concept of optionality, and how to use it—in a way you can use every day, not just in the market-trading lingo analogy. And finally, randomness: very important to understand how this is at play all the time, and to lose it to a filter-bubble where algorithms suggest. Your every need might be a bad idea.  A very complex and intellectual book, but hard to put down.


On The Road 
Jack Kerouac

Recommended by Maria Meyer

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view.” This idea presented over and over again in On The Road spoke so clearly to me.  This book made me want to explore, to suck the marrow out of life, to experience all of it – the good and the bad.  I read it when I was finishing college and trying to decide what my next chapter would be.  I crave great road trips, failed experiences that make me learn, and above all, I love that when I get old, I’ll have stories of my own to tell. 

“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”


Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes
William Bridges

Recommended by Frank Van Gelder

Change is constant. William Bridges has identified the three phases of change that everyone goes through in life and in work: change, transition and transformation. He calls these phases Endings, The Neutral Zone and New Beginning. When a person goes through change, which is constant in varying degrees, sometimes it is difficult to chart a path and reach our ultimate goal.

Understanding the difference between change, transition and transformation has given me a far better perspective on life’s ever-changing path and has helped inform decisions I’ve made with strategies for communication and relationships in both my home life and career. I’ve recommended this book to several people who were going through significant change and have heard from many of these people that, like me, the book really helped them manage the change, understand what they were going through and navigate a new path. The book illustrates how we can recognize a change for what it is, become healthy through transition and transform ourselves into the person we want to be.


Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms
Daniil Kharms

Recommended by Christina Kourteva

The writings of Russian absurdist, Daniil Kharms are little known in the Western world. Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms is the most comprehensive collection of Kharms’ futuristic prose and poetry, translated in English.

In his lifetime, Kharms refused to embrace the mandatory style of Social Realism, and was only allowed to publish children’s literature. His bizarre world of strange inhabitants of communal apartments and curious old ladies falling out from windows has become one of the most memorable depictions of the absurdities of living in Stalinist Russia, and gained him a cult status in the late 1980s.

Excerpt from An Encounter: 
“On one occasion a man went off to work and on the way he met another man who, having bought a loaf of Polish bread, was going his way home. And that's just about all there is to it.”


The Giant Jam Sandwich 
John Vernon Lord

Recommended by Josh Springer

The single greatest book of all time is The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord.
Published the year that placed Bill Withers and Captain Fantastic side-by-side on the vinyl shrine, the whimsical story introduces readers to the fictional town of Itching Down.  We meet Bap the Baker, spread butter with slap and slam, and soar with six flying machines.  It takes roughly 10 minutes to read out loud (15, if read with feeling).  Find a stray toddler roaming the dance floor at your next family event and read this story out loud.  The giggling and smiling will change your world.


The Rattlebag 
Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes


The Norton Anthology of Poetry 

Recommended by Daphne Adair

Although there are many novels and nonfiction books that have influenced how I see and think about the world around me, these two poetry anthologies became touchstones that I have gone back to again and again over the past twenty years. Through these two books, whole worlds of verse by Margaret Atwood, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams, Leslie Marmon Silko (and so many more) were opened up to me. 

In Norton I found the clear and compelling “You Fit Into Me” by Atwood, which made instant sense to me as a college freshman. In The Rattlebag, Plath’s “You’re” only clicked for me when I read it to my own child a few months ago. In between are the poems that made one kind of sense to me as a twenty-something, such as Pound’s “And the days are not full enough” – and another many years later. Perhaps their greatest strength is reminding me to pick up more poetry – since so many poets are not represented in these books – and keep it part of my daily life. 





The Value of Believing in Yourself: The Story of Louis Pasteur
Spencer Johnson

Recommended by Paula Nemzek

My daughter was in elementary school, 3rd grade if I recall, when she read (and re-read) this book at Boys and Girls Club. I can definitely pinpoint that unlikely-looking book as the start of her lifelong interest in science. I found a copy and gave it to her when she graduated from UW; she’s now getting her PhD at Stanford. Quite a return on a 62-page book!



Ian McEwan

Recommended by Vicki Ferguson

Atonement by Ian McEwan has influenced and kept my imagination, world perspective and thirst for literature alive. It’s simply a great book. McEwan seamlessly creates a realistic world where good and bad equally conquer, issues aren’t easily resolved by apologies and where flawed, strong and developing characters live and breathe. Every time I read this novel I take something different away, depending on my life at the moment. It’s refreshing. Each read allows me to learn something new, see and perceive things differently and sympathize or disagree with characters based on my growth as an individual. It’s a journey of how innocence, perception and guilt can go hand in hand to produce an unexpected outcome.  


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I have always been a reader, but it was fiction - okay, it was mysteries - until I chanced upon A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE by David Fromkin some years ago. Reading it opened a door to the complexities of history, as this book is all about WW1's aftermath. The machinations by the British to protect access to India at that time led me to books on the Brits there and around the world. My history reading continues today with THE WORLD'S FIRST STOCK EXCHANGE by Petram (Amsterdam and the Dutch East India Company). Waiting in the reading wings is CENSORS AT WORK by Darnton. Both of these and many other books borrowed from SPL. Thanks!

A fascinating list. Well done.