Can a Book Ever Change a Reader’s Life for the Worse?

Leslie Jamison in The New York Times:

Jamison-bookends-master315At his sentencing hearing in 1981, after he was convicted of John Lennon’s murder, Mark David Chapman read aloud from J. D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”: “I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over. . . . I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” “The Catcher in the Rye” was the book Chapman had been reading at the crime scene when he was arrested. It was the book that held, as he claimed, his message for the world. He was standing at the cliff; he was just doing his work. A few years later, the serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng embarked on what they called “Operation Miranda,” a violent spree of torture, rape and murder named for the woman abducted by a deranged butterfly collector in John Fowles’s novel “The Collector,” which they cited as their inspiration.

I’m not saying that Salinger or Fowles are responsible for what Chapman or Lake or Ng did. Clearly, they weren’t. Their novels weren’t. I mention them only to suggest the ways that novels can become embodiments of our own worst impulses, can christen or distill or liberate these impulses — and also because reading about these men makes me remember reading “The Collector” when I was young. I moved through it compulsively. I couldn’t turn away from it. I didn’t want to.

More here.