Every writer was first a reader.
Saying that books have “changed my life” would be slightly inaccurate, as I do not believe that a book alone can change your life.
However, a good book can: a) Give you a new perspective, b) Motivate you to take action or change your way of thinking, c) Relax you into the unknown, d) Improve your writing and creativity, e) Make you a better listener, more open to new and different ideas, and f) Reaffirm your values and beliefs and make you feel more connected.
Books can act as stepping stones back to our path when we have wandered off it and feel lost, or when we just don’t know where to step next.
I believe that books, like all things in life, come to us in the moment that we need them the most. When we’re ready to receive the messages they have to teach us.
These are the books that I keep coming back to:
1) The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
I found this book at a farmer’s market for four dollars and read it cover to cover in one day. It’s not lengthy at all, but there is value in every page. Coelho has a way of weaving fiction into a beautiful tapestry of allegories, and this text, a story of finding treasure, is a treasure in of itself. If you have any form of ungrounded wanderlust, The Alchemist reminds and affirms that everything we are looking for is already inside of us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go after dreams and adventures in this life; rather, we should realize our heart’s truest desires—to know itself.
2) The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A true tale of the author’s life growing up the daughter of an alcoholic father and mentally unstable mother, this book made me angry, it made me sad, but most of all it motivated me. Walls’ clarity and determination to make something of her life, perhaps not in spite of, but rather because of her upbringing, is admirable. It made me look back at my own childhood in a different light and gave me the kick in the pants I needed when I read it. Circumstance is really only a small part of who we are. It is what we do with what we have been given that sets the course of our lives in motion.
3) A New Earth and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
These two books of Tolle’s are perhaps the most profound spirituality books I have ever read. The Power of Now was written first, and A New Earth expands on the concepts of being in the now. For me, A New Earth had a bigger impact, because in it Tolle delves deeper into applying techniques to living life in the present in a world that is constantly doing its best to distract us, keeping us in the past and worried about the future. The shifting of our awareness to being the observer of thoughts and emotions that come up, rather than getting caught up in them, was life-affirming for me, and so helpful in reducing the role the fear-based ego plays in my life.
4) The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford
Whoa. This was one of those books that kept popping up through recommendations I read online, and I took it as a sign and ordered the audio version. The “spiritual path” starts out positive for many people, which is why they choose to go down it. But positivity does not mean that things are going to be easy; quite the opposite is true. It involves a lot of tough work; it involves looking at all of our sh*t, everything that has gotten in the way and mucked up who we really are at our core. Ford reminds us that we have a “shadow side,” and that understanding it is the way to finding true love and compassion for ourselves (and others as a result). When we own all of the aspects of our personality, we are free. Our shadows have gifts, things they are trying to teach us, and until we learn, we might keep repeating self-sabotaging and destructive patterns. Once we understand, we can integrate, and once we integrate, we have full access to all of who we are, the gifts and abilities that have been hidden from ourselves and the world. I can’t quite explain it—you just need to read it. I recommend the audio version, because at the end of each chapter the author takes you through guided meditations and other exercises.
5) The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer
An easy read to ease into spirituality. You can pretty much open to any page in this book and read a message that will remind you of the ultimate message: in every moment, we are choosing. Choosing happiness, or choosing suffering. Choosing love, or choosing fear. We always have a choice, and freedom of choice is perhaps the only reason we need to be happy.
6) Love Letter to the Earth by Thích Nhất Hạnh
All of Hanh’s works are peaceful yet powerful, but this one in particular made me look at things a little differently. I have spent a lot of money on college courses, learning about how to care for the environment, but none of them as educational as this book. Hanh reminds the reader that this planet that we’re living on is it. The majority of us say we care for the planet, but how many of us are living that way? If we love someone, we do our best, so the state of the planet is a reflection of how loving we are in our daily lives. Collectively, the more we take loving action, the greater the effect on our world will be.
7) Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell
This is a great one if you’re wondering what you should do next. Campbell makes it pretty simple: “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were once only walls.” If you have a passion, but you’re not sure if it’s going to pan out, go anywhere; if it will be of benefit or make you money, don’t worry about that. Do what you love, because the cost of not doing what you love is far greater to your health and happiness—the only things that truly matter when it comes down to it. In the end, it only matters how we lived our life. If we spend our time doing what we love and what brings us joy, we invariably also bring joy to those around us. Campbell also delves deeply into mythology (what he’s known for—another book of his, The Power of Myth is also a great read) and reminds us not to get too caught up in symbols of religion, as they are all just different people’s interpretations, leading back to the same thing in the end: personal transformation.
8) Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a champion for vulnerability. If we want to grow (which is what we are put on this planet to do, so if we are honest with ourselves, we all want to grow), we are going to come up against many moments in life that ask us to take risks. To follow our intuition takes vulnerability. Vulnerability does not equal weakness. It requires great inner strength; it’s scary to take risks not knowing how they are going to turn out for us. Brown’s perspective has practical real-world solutions for many of those “What if?” questions our doubting mind likes to spring on us when we’re on the edge of doing something that scares the sh*t out of us.
9) Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The true story of Strayed’s loss of her mother and the journey she went on to recover the pieces of her heart will make you cry, and then it will give you strength. Strayed’s account of her trek from California to Washington on the Pacific Crest hiking trail is a reminder of the strength that we all hold inside. Women in particular are much stronger than we are taught to believe, and many of us go on similar journeys as a result, not so much to prove that we are strong to others, but to discover it for ourselves. This book just might give you the courage to do the thing you need to do next.
10) Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I just love this author. And again, books always come to us when we need them. This one is a collection of question and answer letters of advice that Strayed compiled from her time as a columnist at “Dear Sugar.” The questions people ask involve all the parts of this human experience: life, death, marriage, divorce, transition to adulthood, success, failure, abuse, survival, illness, recovery and more. We know we shouldn’t judge people until we can place ourselves in their shoes; well, this book helps us to place ourselves in many people’s shoes. And more than one of the letters will undoubtedly resonate with you in some way. Cheryl’s loving and brutally honest, heartfelt, empathetic responses to each letter give an equal dose of courage and comfort.
There are so many more books that I love, and books that I have yet to discover. These are just a few of the many. A great place to start, if you will. These are the ones that have had a profound and lasting impact on my life, my thinking, my being and the way I do things (or don’t do them).
Like anything in life, do what feels right, take what makes sense to you, and leave the rest. Maybe it will make sense later, or maybe not. Books can be tools, a starting place if we are feeling a new beginning or a change of direction is in order, or if we just need advice or to feel like we’re not alone. Books transport us to the timelessness that exists when we are in the moment of something—when things start coming together, and we get inspired to change what we want and be okay with everything else.
What are the books that have done this for you?
Author: Elisabeth McKinley
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Glen Noble/Unsplash