Five Books That Changed My Life: Malcolm O’Hagan

A reading list from the founder of the American Writers Museum

By Thomas Connors

A Brief but Quintessential American Reading List
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15 May 2017

Writing may be a solitary craft, but its impact can be universal.

That impact will be on full display tomorrow, when the American Writers Museum opens its doors for the very first time.

Needless to say, you should go.

Because at over 11,000 square feet, it’s an excellent addition to our city’s cultural menage, especially when you realize it’s the first museum anywhere dedicated to our country’s literary heroes, past and present.

And perhaps no one knows those heroes better than AWM founder Malcolm O’Hagan.

Today, the Irish-born bookworm fills us in on the five books that changed his life, from the novel he believes should be required reading in every school to a fundamental American document that reads just 272 words long.

Says O’Hagan: “As an immigrant they touched me deeply. These works and others motivated me to create the American Writers Museum that will celebrate the lives of America’s great writers and show the profound influence of their works in shaping our history and culture.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
“I was shocked to learn that this seminal novel is not required reading in every school. In his letters to his brother Theo, Van Gogh reported reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin several times. It informed his sensibilities, as it should for all of us.” BUY IT HERE

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
“No writer has defined America better than Walt Whitman. His exuberant chants are magnificent. He helped me understand the spirit of America.” BUY IT HERE

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln
“Mr. Lincoln managed to distill profound thoughts into just 272 words. No poet has ever surpassed this accomplishment. He did not blame one side or the other, but cast the civil war as a test of the great experiment of democracy.” BUY IT HERE

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
“I first read The Grapes of Wrath while an undergraduate at the National University of Ireland. It made my blood boil. This great novel by Steinbeck shows the power of nature to destruct and to nourish. It shows the indomitable spirit of man who will endure great hardship in quest of a better life.” BUY IT HERE

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
“If exiled to a desert island, this is one of the books I would take with me. It is a lyrical, poetic story. But it is the language that sings, the magical descriptions that tug at my heart.” BUY IT HERE

Nota bene: Looking for more recommendations? Our list of the 40 Books Every Chicagoan Must Read should cover ya.

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