Let me warn you before you continue reading: To Kill a Mockingbird is not on the list.
My family is full of reluctant readers, avid readers, fanatical readers, anti-readers. We’re a mixture, like society at large. In fact I’m married to a man of action who reads magazines and articles online but not many books.
Books inform my parenting, they impact my marriage, they influence how I relate to my siblings and friends and coworkers. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re much the same.
That’s not to say I follow a manual to operate as a human on a daily basis. My way of being in the world is more influenced by the wisdom of my elders sprinkled with liberal dashes of quotes, ideas, and anecdotes from trusted books, along with the occasional visual aid. Sometimes, I’m not even sure where I read something but I quote it anyway.
So how do ink, paper and glue actually transform a life?
The following books did one of these things for me:
- Instilled a love of the written word or a particular author
- Provided insight on human development, including my own
- Inspired risk-taking and change (aka living)
- Stuck with me
That a made-up story could evoke emotion and temporarily remove me from the everyday turned me into a reader.
Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare – I was an 8th grader from a blue collar family, and I was reading Shakespeare. I marveled at the double entendres, luxuriated in the language and understood the humor. It made me believe I could operate in a world of books, it made me feel legit. Of course, I came to realize and appreciate that some of the most well-read people, and definitely some of the most intelligent, do not have formal educations.
Anne of the Thousand Days by Maxwell Anderson – That same 8th grade year introduced me to the decadent world of the Tudors, political intrigue, murder, corruption, and told so much about the haves and have nots. This book was about discovery and adventure and betrayal and my own naivete. It shattered the myth of the happy ending.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough – Also in junior high and the first time I was lost in a thick, epic novel meant for adults. I would rush to finish chores and homework so I could get back to Maggie and her priest. That a made-up story could evoke emotion and temporarily remove me from the everyday turned me into a reader.
It was ok to seek, to question, and that both could be done without yelling
The Shining by Stephen King – The first time I was scared to death by ink on paper. Thrilling, intoxicating, foreboding. One of my favorite Stephen King-isms is that writing and reading are like ESP between the author and the reader. The writer is having these thoughts and then making you, the reader, think about what he wrote. This still gives me chills.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis – The first time I saw logic and prose used to discuss something as ephemeral as spirituality. Far from convincing me to be a believer or a non-believer, it taught me that it was ok to seek, to question, and that both could be done without yelling and poster boards.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed – Occasionally timing determines impact. This was a cold splash of water at the start of midlife. Life is hard, wah wah wah…GET UP AND DO SOMETHING.
That’s a lot to ask of a story and it made me careful never to dismiss fiction as mere entertainment.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. – Thoughts = Your Reality. My thought patterns were laid bare in this book and I was shocked. Can you say clueless? Less a self-help tome, this is more a call to arms about how we educate our children and perpetuate labels, especially on ourselves. We can substantially improve in anything with the proper mindset. I keep this in the bathroom in case I forget. I read it like I brush my teeth, in furious little bursts.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Another junior high influencer. Golding’s novel about boys inhumanity to one another showed me that a fictional tale could legitimately impact how I as a human interacted with other humans in the real world. The story of these castaways, their crimes, their fears, and their kindnesses, entertained, horrified and made me think. That’s a lot to ask of a story and it made me careful not to dismiss all fiction as mere entertainment; though I’m a big fan of reading for the fun of it.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott– I’ve decided to give the last slot to the first book I read by Anne Lamott. I read this the first time lying on my side, with my post-partum belly lying next to me like a little puppy (to paraphrase from one of my favorite passages). Reading her words slayed me. They made me identify, which is the point of all stories. They taught me about voice. They comforted me. It’s a skinny book and it pulled its weight. Maybe more importantly, this book introduced me to Lamott whose other books were instrumental in claiming the title of writer for myself. For that reason, this edges out a gazillion other novels, memoirs, or self-help books I could have listed.
Books not only changed my life, they inform my parenting, they impact my marriage, they influence how I relate to my siblings and friends and coworkers.
So that’s my list this week. It’s heavy on adolescent touchstones and mid-life signposts. These floated to the surface when I pondered today. If you were to ask me again next week, most likely the list would change.
What’s on your list? Share your life-changing books (include why) and I’ll put your name in a drawing for one of the books listed above or in the comments! But you’ve only got this week to do it. Please feel free to share and encourage others to comment for their chance to win.
P.S. Dirty little secret: I’m not opposed to having To Kill a Mockingbird on anyone’s list. It’s just that I never had to read it in school and I can’t remember if I’ve ever actually read the whole thing! Whew, that feels better. Glad I got that off my chest.