The Book That Changed My Life


You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of knowledge. That’s the signpost up ahead – your next stop, “The Book That Changed My Life.”

Dr. Christopher Morrow. Occupation: Professor. Formerly a student, now a Shakespeare savant. But throughout the day, a man beloved by the students, and therefore a most important man. Not true, you say? Probably not – but it did happen in “The Book That Changed My Life”

What is the book that changed your life?

The book? Many books have changed my life – most for the better. As I have hemmed and hawed trying to decide how to answer, I have really enjoyed revisiting and reflecting on some of the books which have influenced me, from my childhood favorite, Space Ghost: The Sorceress of Cyba 3, which cultivated my love of reading to D. F. McKenzie’s Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts which has profoundly shaped how I view books.

But, I guess the book that changed my life that I want to talk about is Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies (1623).  Obvious answer for the Shakespeare professor, right?  Well, let me clarify.  The book that changed my life is not the collective works of Shakespeare but this particular, physical, book.

How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?

It represents an enormous economic and labor-intensive undertaking.  And, of course, it is filled with some of the most amazing language written in English.  Reading this book carries a proximity not to Shakespeare but to the Renaissance itself.

Where/How did you first encounter this book?

In the Reading Room of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.  I have two facsimile copies in my office but they lack much of the presence and materiality of real thing.  While working at the special collections library at Texas A&M, I would often read from its close relative, the second edition of 1632.

How did the book change you?

It completely changed the way I look at and understand Shakespeare.  It taught me that plays like Hamlet are not abstract works that exist only as ideas and concepts.    The book itself shapes our understanding of its content.  We cannot separate the work of Hamlet from the printed text of Hamlet.  The awe I feel in the presence of this book is not related to its connection to Shakespeare or its financial value.   The awe stems from the recognition that this book represents an early attempt to monumentalize a popular form of entertainment as a serious genre worthy of reading.  My awe derives from the recognition that the labor of composing and printing this book did not preserve Shakespeare’s works, it constructed them.