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Books on a shelf. // Image from Pixabay

What book has influenced your life?

April 30, 2019 — 

There are good books, and then there are great books. The ones we eagerly recommend to family and friends. The ones we pull off the shelf and read again, and again. The ones whose stories, characters and ideas stay with us long after we’ve finished the final chapter.

To help with everyone’s summer reading list, we’re asking our alumni and UM friends about the books that have a made a lasting impression on them.

Yes, dear reader, we want to hear from you. Tell us: what book has influenced your life, and why? Share your answers in the comments below, or email

To get the conversation started, we asked five book-loving alumni to share their picks:

FRANCES KONCAN [BA/10] // Theatremaker, Artistic Director of Vault Projects

Book: Peter and Wendy (a.k.a. Peter Pan) by J.M. Barrie

“I’m a Taurus, so much like Peter himself, I am terrified of change and transitions. I am not graceful in growing up, moving on, or letting go. So when those difficult moments arise, I always revisit this story, and go home to my own cozy Neverland to rest so I can return to the real world and do proper adult things, like pay taxes and collect plastic bags inside of other plastic bags.”


JAKE MACDONALD [BA/71] // Author, playwright of RMTC’s The Cottage

Book: Heart’s Desire, by Edward Hoagland

“I’d be shocked to discover one of Hoagland’s books in Chapters or McNally Robinson, because no one reads him. But he’s a great prose stylist, maybe the greatest of them all. My literary friend Charles Wilkins and I once drove to Vermont to meet Hoagland, and discovered that he had such a bad stutter he could barely speak. We taped him anyway, for two days, and when we got home the tape was blank. So here’s Hoagland, speaking for himself on the subject of circus cats: “the lions entered snarling…whirling in a sand-coloured blur. They were long-striding and masculine-looking, like the hounds of hell, magnificent as they loped, roaring like pianos being rolled on a hollow floor.”


SUSAN ROCAN [CertEd/82] // Past-president, Manitoba Writer’s Guild

Book: Shōgun by James Clavell

Shōgun impressed me so much, when I read it in my late teens, that I wrote a paper on it for my university English course. I wanted to learn about the book’s premise – the first Englishman in Japan. I researched books on feudal Japan, looking for real people on which Clavell based his characters. His writing made me feel as though I was right beside those characters, experiencing life in that time period. He inspired me to do the extensive research I needed when it came time to write my own historical fiction, Withershins and Spirit Quest.


MATTHEW RENAUD [BA(Hons)/10, MA/11] // Liaison librarian, EK Williams Law Library

Book: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

“This was the first overtly “grown-up” book that I ever read. I was 12 or 13 at the time and remember being significantly influenced by its overtly anti-war message. That message would help shape my worldview during those formative years, and I began to think critically about the institutions and policies that govern our daily lives. I also credit All Quiet on the Western Front with helping me fall in love with history, an academic discipline I would pursue years later during my time as a U of M student.”


WENDY BUMSTED [BEd/79, MA/86] // Owner, Whodunit Mystery Bookstore

Book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“When I was 13, my family moved from a tiny village to a town.  One of the features of town was the public library.  I had always been a good reader, but reading material was limited.  Once we moved, going to the library became a regular Saturday afternoon event.  I cannot remember why I picked up the nondescript brown covered book with no dust jacket or plot synopsis, but I did and was enthralled.  The book was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  It is a book I still re-read.  I am not sure why I have such a clear memory of that time, but it underscores my belief in the importance of public libraries and their tole in creating life-long readers.”



Alumni Answers is a community of alumni and UM friends who share memories, ideas, and opinions with one another. Every month, we pose a new question to make us ponder, laugh, or learn together and share the responses in a UM Today story. Sign up here to get next month’s question sent straight to your inbox.

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2 comments on “What book has influenced your life?

  1. Suzanne Therrien-Richards

    Book: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

    When I read this book, it is a reminder that being passive politically can result in devastating consequences for some. When a political party is leaning towards mysogyny, racism, repudiation of rights, suddenly “The Handmaid’s Tale” becomes a distinct and frightening possibility.

  2. Toivo Kulpa

    TOIVO KULPA [BS(Mech Eng)/65 P.Eng. (Ret)

    Book: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer

    I read Shirer’s book during my 4th year in Engineering at U. of M. As an Estonian who was a victim of the Third Reich and the Soviet Union I found the details in this book very significant and continued to read about the two world wars and all other conflicts in Europe from the Romans to the present. Being an Engineer I also analyzed much of this history from event sequence, national resources and logistics aspects. This made me realize how incorrect, incomplete and biased ‘popular’ history is.

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