Fiction

How Irving Stone Ruined My Mom’s Life

Our Reading Lives features stories about how books and reading have shaped who we are and how we live. It is open not only to regular Book Riot contributors, but to guest posters from the publishing industry, authors, and….you. If you are interested in telling us about a book that has been influential in your life, please contact us: community (at) bookriot (dot) com.

This is a guest post by Preeti Chhibber. Preeti is a social media wizard for Scholastic Book Clubs. She usually spends her time reading a ridiculous amount of Young Adult (for work, she swears!), but is also ready to jump into most fandoms at a moment’s notice. You can follow her on Twitter @runwithskizzers or take a chance and see if she’s remembered to update her woefully neglected blog, Hurling Words (http://hurlingwords.wordpress.com).

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By all accounts, I should have grown up to be Dr. Preeti Chhibber, M.D. My parents had a strict plan. My older brother would be a lawyer, I would be a doctor, and my younger sister would be an accountant (sucks to be the youngest, doesn’t it?). Unfortunately, my mom followed in her father’s footsteps and made sure that we all understood how important books were.

AgonyEven more unfortunately for her, when I was 14 my mom handed me a copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. This book is historical fiction (probably more fiction than historical, if we’re being honest), and is about the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti. It’s beautifully written, certainly romanticized, and Michelangelo is one of my favorite protagonists ever written. What was trouble for my mother, however, was not the renaissance or the quiet glances between Michelangelo and Contessina di Medici. It was the novel’s underlying theme of passion for your work.

Beyond all human relationships, beyond material objects, beyond everything, what Michelangelo loved was his marble. He sacrificed everything to be able to carve and create. It didn’t matter that at times he was destitute, because as long as he was doing what he loved, he was happy. Agony became my once-a-year read. I still entered college as a pre-med student (huuuge mistake, by the way), and sat through a year of being terrible at math and science. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do. And I knew that all my life reading had been the thing that most excited me.

 

 

dancer colum mccannThe summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I was browsing in Barnes & Noble and happened upon Dancer by Collum McCann. Talk about sacrificing for your passion. A fictionalized biography of the infamous Rudolf Nureyev, Dancer tells us the story of a young Russian dancer expelled from his country because he wanted to be the best and live as he wanted to. With thoughts of McCann’s Rudolf and Stone’s Michelangelo, I made the jump.

I became an English major.

It’s not carving marble, or dancing ballet, but telling your Indian parents that you’re not going to be the doctor they spent 19 years expecting to have? Terrifying.

They took solace in the fact that maybe I could still be a lawyer.

 

 

 

my uncle oswaldThen I read My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl. It gave me one of my favorite quotes of all time:

“…I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. [He] taught me that if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good, either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.” 

So, I nipped that lawyerly hope in the bud and told them I wanted to go into publishing. That went over really well.

Now, with a parentally-pleasing Masters under my belt, and a job marketing kids’ books, my parents are proud of what I do, and excited to tell their friends about their daughter who “works in books.” I’m thrilled I had those books to teach me that you should do what you love. Without them, I might have been someone’s subpar doctor. And that’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.