Thursday, February 7, 2013

10 Books That Have Touched Me (& Maybe Even Changed My Life)

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?

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  1. Unfortunately I haven't read any of these except for To Kill a Mockingbird which was such a great book!! Fortunately I have more titles to add to my reading list!!

    I read "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man" and it taught me how not to miss out in life. Seize the moment and don't ever ask what the what ifs. It was an odd tale but it did touch me!

    Ergo - Blog

  2. i JUST posted my favorite books yesterday (: have you ever read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? it's a good one- pick it up and read it... mostly, my favorite books seem to be classics or the distopian society type (1984, fahrenheit 451, a brave new world)... and, The End of Faith by Sam Harris (if you are into religious arguments)

    now i'll have to add some of these books to my reading list! thanks so much for sharing- happy thursday!

  3. I swear we must have been separated at birth!!

    I just realized last month that it had been over a year since I actually read a book as well, and I was quietly devastated and surprised and vowed to change my evil ways. A book I recently read, which I highly recommend, that you might like based on your list above is "WILD" by Cheryl Strayed - it's a memoir; she was broken, living with grief and decided to go with her wild idea of hiking (solo) the eleven hundred mile Pacific Crest Trail and how her adventure helped put her back together again. So moving and life altering ... at least for me. I love your list and am familiar with all of them except Living on the Earth .. which I am totally picking up this week!

    Thanks for the inspiration and for sharing!

  4. Mythago Wood was the book that changed my life since that was the first novel that i actually read, and open my eyes to a new magical world :)

  5. I just recently read The Night Circus, and fell wildy in love with it. Also, Miss Peregrine's Home For Unusual Children is phenomenal. And I re-read the Harry Potter series constantly, the writing is so rich.

  6. how do i love thee, let me count the ways!

  7. What beautiful choices! My favorite read from long ago is a tree grows in brooklyn, and my favorite new read is the art of racing in the rain... It's an incredibly quick read but a great story!

  8. These are wonderful!

    If I had to name some books that still resonate with me, I think I would go with:

    1. Catcher in the Rye
    2. To Kill a Mockingbird
    3. Alas, Babylon
    4. 1984
    5. Go Ask Alice

    I also enjoy reading a myriad of plays and short stories by Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and Moliere. Top poets on my list at William Butler Yeats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde.

  9. This is such a great list!!! I have to admit I love the Harry Potter books lol and also the Hobbit and Lord of the RIngs series, but I'm trying to expand. I think WOmen Who Run With The Wolves sounds amazing, I'm going to get it. :-)

  10. I haven't read any of these. I am definately going to check them out. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I love the Dalai Lama's books, they always make me feel inspired. This looks like a great list. I enjoyed reading how and why each book left an impression on you. Time to head to the bookstore! =)

  12. Lovely list! Have you read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho? It's pretty awesome too :)

    1. I have! I actually read the entire book in one sitting on an airplane a few years ago. It is definitely one of my favorites. I actually thought about it when I was putting this list together, but I gave my copy to a friend and couldn't photograph it. :)

  13. I remember reading #3 when I took a Religious Studies course (wouldn't mind reading it again to refresh my memory), and I'd love to read #7. To Kill a Mockingbird is another one on your list that I've read, and I'd love to check out the others you mentioned. I'm needing to dive into a good book!

  14. melissa, i don't know most of these books. so, you've opened my eyes to some new to me ones. so,then based on your studies of andy warhol, what did you think of the movie factory girl? i loved it. i forget that you lived at the Tibetan Buddhist Center. i adore to kill a mockingbird, and even did a blog post about it in 2010. the link is below if you want to take a peek.

  15. I have Living On The Earth too! My aunt gave it to me about 10 years ago. I have never known anyone else who had it. It's such a beautiful book.

  16. What a great idea, I'm the same, I love reading but haven't read in such a long time! Every time I go on holidays I go through books so quickly because I just love getting into a great story but when there always seems to be some distraction when it comes to reading when I'm not on holidays. I might just have to pop by the bookstore today and break this reading drought!

    A book that I will never forget was 'The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine'. This book touched me so deeply and it's the incredible true story of Somaly Mam. It was a very confronting read but her courage and selflessness is so inspiring. She is truly an incredible woman.

  17. Oh I couldn't imagine life without books! I should try to make a list too, but I think it would be hard to narrow it down to just 10. I should check out The Andy Warhol Diaries; I don't think I've ever read that one. :)

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  20. I'm so fascinated with Andy Warhol, I'd love to get my hands on that book! I just read The Fault in Our Stars, not a life changer but I recommend reading it.

  21. Thank you for sharing these books! I haven't read any of them and am putting them on my list for future reads. I've been reading a lot of fluff lately so I'm looking to get back to some quality, inspiring reads.

    kendall from buttons & blossoms


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