Five (Six) (Seven) Books That Changed Things for Me

I totally stole this post idea from Mighty Girl. In commenting on her post yesterday, I found myself thinking that I should share this list with all my readers too.  Plus, here I get to add explanations on what things exactly these books changed for me.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book had been on my book list since 2004 or so, but I bought it and read it completely coincidentally last September.  I say “coincidentally” because this book centers around the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks without being, I dunno, overtly racist or patriotic or political.  It’s the fictional tale of a boy whose father died in the World Trade Center, and it artfully intertwines the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima in its narrative, examining the weighty concepts of love and war through a child’s eyes.  Stream-of-consciousness usually drives me crazy, but it works here, since the narrator is a child.  This book changed the way I write.  It broke my heart, over and over, with every page, and it taught me what true vulnerability is, not only in writing, but also in reading.  And in living.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

In my comment on Mighty Girl’s post, I actually listed Traveling Mercies instead of Bird by Bird, and both have changed things for me, but in very different ways.  It’s difficult to say which one has played a more significant role in my life, since these are both books that I read over and over for different reasons.  I read TM when I need to be fed spiritually, when I need to be reminded of what a truly authentic faith is, and I read BBB when I need to be reminded that I can actually be a writer if I want to, and how to go about that.  I highly recommend both to everyone.  But BBB edges TM out slightly because it is the book that made me finally admit to myself that, yes, I want to be a writer, and, yes, I can make that happen if I want to.  And that’s changed everything for me.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

I read FAZ for the first time in college, and I’ve since read it several times.  It’s a very quick read, but it has so much incredible insight packed in so few pages.  In short, this book taught me that I’m serving God by doing exactly what I was created to do, even if I’m not overtly serving God by being a missionary or working for a church.  It’s given me the courage I need to be the fullest expression of myself, to lead the life I was created to live, rather than someone else’s preconceived notions of how a Christian should live (something I obviously struggle with a lot).

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Although these are two very different books, I think they actually have very similar themes.  I just finished reading BNW for the second time, and I read LCL a few months ago for the first time.  Both of these novels examine what a life unconsciously lived looks like.  LCL’s Connie Chatterley is oppressed by societal expectations and the responsibilities that come with being a Lady, and BNW’s Bernard Marx and Lenina Crowne are oppressed by a supposedly Utopian society, where fake “happiness,” induced through conditioning and consistent medication, is the ultimate goal.  Both describe what happens when one decides to break free of these oppressions and live an authentic life.  And both of these novels changed the way I view my life and my purpose for existence.

Key passage from BNW:

“It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes–make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge.”

Key passage from LCL (specifically, Lawrence’s essay “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover“):

“Never was an age more sentimental, more devoid of real feeling, more exaggerated in false feeling, than our own. Sentimentality and counterfeit feeling have become a sort of game, everybody trying to outdo his neighbour. The radio and the film are more counterfeit emotion all the time, the current press and literature the same. People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze with it.

And at times, they seem to get on very well with it all. And then, more and more, they break down. They go to pieces. You can fool yourself for a long time about your own feelings. But not forever. The body itself hits back at you, and hits back remorselessly, in the end.

As for other people–you can fool most people all the time, and all people most of the time, but not all people all the time, with false feelings. A young couple fall in counterfeit love, and fool themselves and each other completely. But alas, counterfeit love is good cake but bad bread. It produces a fearful emotional indigestion. Then you get a modern marriage, and a still more modern separation.”

Love Without Conditions by Paul Ferrini

Cautionary Therapist lent me this book about a year ago, and I had no idea at the time I read it that it would impact my worldview the way it has.  But it’s stuck with me, and these concepts have come to mind again and again over the last year.  It taught me that each of us deserves love regardless of our behavior, what we do, right or wrong.  And that people will come into our lives who love us.  Sometimes they can stay forever, but, most often, they can’t stay for as long as we’d like them to, and the way we can best love them is by letting them go.  The way we can each live the life we were created to live is by doing the three things Jesus told us to do: love God, love ourselves, and love others.  And leave the rest up to him.

What books have changed things for you?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Five (Six) (Seven) Books That Changed Things for Me

  1. “Extremely loud and incredibly close” would be on my list too. The part about hearing heartbeats…. I think of that anytime I’m on a crowded street. I’m definitely going to be borrowing this idea!

  2. Wow, I don’t know. I read mostly fiction and I do have my favorites, but I’ll have to think whether or not those books actually changed my life in any way.

    I can think of two books that changed my spiritual life, and those are Practicing His Presence by Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach and The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis. I guess that last one is technically a sermon, but it’s published in book form now so it counts.

    I’ll probably steal this post from you at some point. 🙂

  3. kindred spirit

    Writing is your calling. You have a keen ability to gather and distill thoughts and wrap words around them to capture an audience. Stay with it.

    More books than I can name have had meaningful impacts on me, all non-fiction, but two started me on a different path: A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. If you’re into superbly dense material, I’d recommend another, but it’s thicker than molasses on a cold winter morning.

    I posted earlier about A Testament of Devotion , quoting the passage which fueled the beginning of a new journey in real thought and change:

    “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself. Yielding to these persuasions, gladly committing ourselves in body and soul, utterly and completely, to the Light Within, is the beginning of true life. It is a dynamic center, a creative Life that presses to birth within us. It is a Light Within which illumines the face of God and casts new shadows and new glories upon the face of men. It is a seed stirring to life if we do not choke it. It is the Shekinah of the soul, the Presence in the midst. Here is the Slumbering Christ, stirring to be awakened, to become the soul we clothe in earthly form and action. And He is within us all.”

    Thus, the journey began.

    Dark Night of the Soul is a literary masterpiece. It guided me through the most tumultuous storm in my life, a storm with many spiritual dimensions, questions and doubts. I was alone physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It held my hand during the tempest and was the only companion I felt I had. It opened my mind and thoughts to ideas beyond my narrow religious upbringing. It saved me from hell each day. But I had been prepared for this book through my difficulties, and it came to me with impeccable timing.

  4. I’m with you. I read and re-read Brave New World over and over again. Island is really good too.

  5. nic

    100% EL&IC. It changed my perspective on living, on caring, on loving. I think it’s the only book I’ve read that I immediately started rereading the moment I finished it.

    also, love you. support you. all that sort of stuff. 🙂

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