September 2014: Life-Changing Books
Recently there has been a post circulating on Facebook asking people to list the top 10 books that have changed a person’s life. “Only 10?” I ask. Then an author I follow, Elizabeth Gilbert, posted her top 20 (10 fiction and 10 non-fiction). I decided I would also pick my top 20 but more of a chronological nature or life-event sequence (accuracy of chronology not guaranteed). I also decided that I would include why these books made it to my top 20 book list. I, of course, have read more than this number of books that have impacted my life; but these are the ones that are most pivotal to my recollection.
Books that have changed my life…
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery
- Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
- In the Eye of the Storm by Max Lucado
- Motherless Daughters, 1st ed. by Hope Edelman
- Captivating by Stasi Eldredge
- Is it Okay to call God Mother? by Paul Smith
- Health, Healing, and Religion by David Kinsley
- A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson
- Little Red Riding Hood: Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein
- Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté
- The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild
- Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire by Christine Valters Paintner
- Language of Emotions by Karla McClaren
- I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Terrence Real
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
- Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson
- An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison
I remember as a 5-year-old girl wearing out my library card with the first selection, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t recall exactly my draw to that book, but I do recollect a fear of monsters under the bed; and in retrospect, the book makes sense given what happened in my life at that time. The book likely made life less scary for me—or the fears of a 5-year-old more manageable.
Then my maternal grandmother got me hooked on reading with the Little House on the Prairie series giving me a couple books each Christmas thus passing on her love of reading. And growing up a farm girl on the Canadian prairies, the content was definitely relatable!
As I got a little older, a family friend who happened to be a school teacher gave me a copy of Anne of Green Gables. Now here was a character I could relate too! Anne Shirley’s life paralleled mine in many ways; and I no longer felt so all alone in my childhood struggles.
In High School, I was introduced to Classic English Literature like Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Unlike most teenagers, I was undaunted by the size of these novels. I consumed them like a secret elixir for all that ailed me. They were an escape into worlds vastly different from mine, yet also strikingly familiar. I could relate to the plight of Tess and all that she struggled through being cast aside as she was and facing cultural double standards. It was a social commentary of her times that resonated with my own experience.
By my college years, I was wearing myself out trying to be the perfect person. In the Eye of the Storm helped rearrange my thinking to appreciate what really matters: the value of people.
At the beginning of my marriage, and around the time of a serious car accident, I happened upon the first edition of the book Motherless Daughters. This book truly changed my life as much of what I experienced on a daily basis finally made sense—I was “normal” for someone who had lost her mom at such a young age—I gained some sense of belonging even if it wasn’t ‘mainstream.’
Shortly before beginning seminary studies, I read Captivating which gave fresh perspective on what it means to be a valued woman of Christian heritage—and prompted me to write a couple of papers on women in the church context. My sense of self began evolving once more. This evolution led me to read many more books on the value of women from a biblical or religious worldview including Is it Okay to Call God Mother? A phenomenal book addressing many questions I had regarding my value and worth as a woman, particularly being made in the image of God, and being able to relate to God from the female perspective.
Of course, many of the books I read during my seminary years had a huge influence on the evolution of my person and profession. One that really changed directions for me was Health, Healing, and Religion: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. I gained a new understanding of the healing journey from more than one perspective which also respectfully explained many confusing teachings I had been exposed to.
A Return to Love was a different sort of read for me but one from which I benefitted greatly as it taught me a new way to look at life and its lessons as well as spirituality and religion.
In one of those ‘weird twists of fate,’ I came across Little Red Riding Hood: Uncloaked at a used book store. I have never had an affinity for fairytale princesses, but the one character I felt most drawn to has been Little Red Riding Hood for reasons I never understood— until I read this book and learned that the in the original version the main character saves the day. She didn’t have to wait for anyone to come rescue her or her grandmother. She had her own hero’s quest to experience.
Poisonwood Bible changed my life because it was the first book chosen for the book club I have attended for a few years now. These women have become close friends, enjoyable company, a support system, and intelligent conversationalists! Never a dull a moment with these wonderful women! The book, as well, bettered my understanding of the dangers of fundamentalism and dysfunctional family. It was yet another very relatable read!
Anything written by Dr. Gabor Maté has changed my life. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts happened to be the first book I read by this author and informed my approach to addictions and attachment theory along with abuse and trauma recovery.
Speaking of trauma recovery, The Body Remembers, altered the course of my own trauma recovery along with attending a 3-day conference on the subject.
My healing journey has obviously also involved a spiritual component; and I really appreciate the author’s approach to unconventional prayer in Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire: Praying with the Elements. This book somehow brought everything I had been learning into a cohesive framework while respecting my Christian roots without the fundamentalism.
Talk about life changing! The Language of Emotions finally made sense of my sensitivity for which I have been criticized my entire life. I now can embrace that I am a person who thinks and feels deeply—and that my emotions are an integral part of my intelligence as well as my being human.
In a book geared toward men, I Don’t Want to Talk About It, I found many stepping stones for my own healing journey and trauma recovery. How Can I Get Through to You?, by the same author, Terrence Real, also helped me better understand marriage dynamics and couples counselling in the context of culture and gender socialization.
Another book club selection, The Secret Life of Bees, was a profound eye opener for me on many levels—being a motherless daughter, discovering the divine feminine, the power of female support, as well as the mutuality of our experience. One doesn’t have to lose a mother to death to experience mother loss or disconnection.
The best book ever written on the subject of marital-type relationships is Hold Me Tight. This book transformed how I approach couples counselling and gave me an ever better grasp of attachment theory and the many ways our lives are impacted by unmet (childhood) needs. Our lives are so much more than the daily grind!
The title of the last book, An Unquiet Mind, nearly reached out and grabbed me for that is an accurate description for what goes on in my own head! This very personal account of the author’s journey through bi-polar disorder (a.k.a. manic-depression) is gripping and informative. While my own diagnoses differ from the author’s, her experience was very relatable for me.
There you have it: the top 20 books that have changed my life over the course of over 4 decades. As already noted, I could mention many more. However, the actual books are only part of the healing journey. What matters is that we read, explore, learn, develop, interact, reflect, and keep on our respective healing journeys. Life is for living! May yours be blessed with many healing moments along the journey.