When I was a little girl, before I could read on my own, my mom read to me every single night before bed. I started off each day knowing that if I was good, I'd get three books. If I misbehaved, a book would be taken away. To me, that was the worst punishment possible, and I did everything I could to avoid it. The reading habit stuck with me all the way through college into adulthood. Today, we have hundreds of books filling shelves all over our house (and our iPads).
That said, I realized the other day that I haven't read a book in long time. Like, over a year. I like to blame this on the myriad of technological distractions that surround me (and all of us) on a regular basis. "But I swear, I'm just going to pin a few things on Pinterest before bed, and then I'll dig into this book." "I'm just going to check into Instagram real quick-like, and then I'll read for a while." It's ultimately a terrible excuse, and I'm not sure why I even feel the need to make excuses for an activity that I've enjoyed so much throughout my entire life. I decided that it's time I make reading a priority again, so as motivation, I thought it would be fun to share ten of my all-time favorite books with you guys. Most of these are books that I first read many years ago, but that touched me strongly enough to still have an impact on my life today. So here we go...
1. Living on the Earth, Alicia Bay Laurel. My mom had this book in the '70s but eventually misplaced it. In 2000, I decided I wanted to track it down. At the time, I was able to order it right off the author's website, and she even autographed a copy for me with a special note to send to my mom after I'd told her how much she loved it. The entire book is hand-written and hand-drawn, inspired by the author's free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle, and features everything from recipes to gardening to crafts to living completely off the grid. It's one of those books that was truly ahead of its time when it was written. And on a personal level, it inspired me to learn how to 'DIY' from a young age.
2. Black Elk Speaks, as told through John G. Neihard. I first read this book early in high school after my dad suggested it, and I remember feeling greatly impacted by it on many levels. It tells the story of an Oglala Sioux holy man and the horrific struggles that his people faced in 1880s, through both visions and actual events. For me, it was an introduction to a way of life that connected nature and spirit instead of separating them. It was also a reality check for me about what was, in many ways, a cultural genocide. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the book, but I'll always consider it one of my favorites because of the spark it ignited in me at a young age to step outside of my suburban bubble and dig deeper into the bigger picture of the history of my country.
3. A Simple Path, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I bought this book in early 2000s, when I first moved to the Tibetan Buddhist Center where I lived for three years. Tibetan Buddhism can be a complicated spirituality when you're first learning about it, and this book is a wonderful way to begin to understand the basics. Every time I've read it, it has been a reminder for me of how important compassion and kindness are in day to day life. The photographs are also absolutely stunning.
4. Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This book was actually required reading in one of my Women's Studies classes in college, but I ended up reading it several more times on my own. I remember it affecting me so much that I ran ran out and got copies for my mom and my best friend. It's been a while since I last read it, but the stories from it have never really left me, and I still thumb through it on a regular basis. It's an amazing book for rediscovering your 'wild' nature as a woman, learning how to tap into and utilize your inherent creativity, and releasing your inner free spirit.
5. Earth House Hold, Gary Snyder. In the 1970s, my parents went to see poet Gary Snyder speak, and ended up spending quite a bit of time with him afterward. They were very impacted by this experience, and I grew up reading Snyder's poetry. To this day, he is my favorite poet, and this book (which is actually a collection of his prose) is one of my favorite of his works. The style is very raw, almost like reading a journal or notes - but I find this to be part of what draws me to it. The prose includes his real-life adventures with people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, from hiking expeditions on Mt. Crater to Buddhist and Hindu retreat-like journeys to India and beyond.
6. The Andy Warhol Diaries, Andy Warhol. When I was 14 or 15 years old, I developed a strong interest in the Andy Warhol's art. That led to an interest in his other works, his entourage, his factory, and the all-around unconventional lifestyle he led. Reading his diaries opened up a whole new world for me at the time - one that was both intoxicating and scary. Whether or not you're a Warhol fan, this book is a pretty amazing peek into the life and mind of an icon and creative genius.
7. The Path to Tranquility, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This book was another that I initially read while living on the grounds of the Tibetan Buddhist Center. In the years since then, I've continued to open it up to read bits and pieces on a fairly regular basis. It is divided up into short readings, meditations, and teachings - one for each day of the year - on compassion, peace, guidance, and happiness. This is a really great example of a book that it an easy read but still profoundly inspiring.
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey. Ken Kesey is another author I discovered through my dad, and who ultimately became one of my very favorites. I have most of his books and even several pieces of his art that I was fortunate enough to get signed by him before he passed away. Most of us know this story though the movie, but the book is quite different. If you've only seen the movie, I highly recommend reading it. It's crazy and funny and touching, and Kesey's writing style is like no other.
9. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. The copy of this classic book that I currently possess (and that you see in the photo above) is actually the script/play version. My degree is in theatre, and when I played Mayella Ewell, I gained a completely new-found respect and appreciation for the book that I had been "forced" to read in middle school. Most of us have read it, so I won't go into the plot. I'll just reiterate how deeply I love the story, and maybe that will inspire some of you (myself included) to pick it up and read it again.
10. A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This was another required reading in college, from an Environmental Studies course I took. Along with more well-known writings by Thoreau and Muir, this book was one of the biggest inspirations for my interest in environmentalism (and part of the reason that I started my eco-clothing line almost 13 years ago!). Whether you're a city dweller like me or live surrounded by mountains and trees, if you feel a connection to nature and a sense of protection over the pieces of the American landscape that are still untouched, you'll appreciate this book.
Okay, if you've gotten this far - now it's your turn! Are there any books that you first read years ago, but that touched you enough to be among your all-time favorites? Or are there any books (old or new) that you've read recently and highly recommend?