Yes, literature does shape a life from beginning to end. When you are a child, your parents read to you. You learn language from literature. Your vocabulary improves, and so does your understanding of grammar and literature. Your imagination is influenced and shaped by literature too.
When you are little, you learn moral lessons from literature. You learn how to be a friend from The Bernstein Bears, how to deal with loss from Jumanji, and what to do when things don’t go as planned from The Cat in the Hat.
As you get older, you still learn lessons from literature. You learn the value of friendship from Of Mice and Men, and the consequences of love from Romeo and Juliet. You learn about war, pain, suffering, and famine. You also learn that humans are extraordinary creatures who can rise above all of these. I remember reading this line from David Copperfield, which still guides me.
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
When you are old, you look back on the literature you read. As a parent, you read the same stories to your children that your parents read to you—passing on those values you learned at their knee. You re-read books that taught you right from wrong, and taught you that the world is a scary and beautiful place.
When I re-read a book, I remember how I felt when I read it the first time. I remember biting by fingers, wondering if Elie Wiesel would survive. I remember pitying Hamlet and hating Macbeth. I remember the mix of emotions that hit me when the baby floated away in The Grapes of Wrath. Even as an adult, I remember how I felt when I first read a book. I remember reading about Frodo throwing the ring into the fiery volcano, and going right back to the beginning of the book and starting over immediately. I remember my feelings when Jonas watched his father kill a newborn. I remember my reaction to Katniss shooting Coin instead of Snow.
Literature affects us for all of our lives, not just the beginning. Books are part of the human landscape. They make us who we are. They make us human, and record our humanity.