Books that changed the way I see the world
I am an unapologetic book lover. I remember going to the library as a child and carrying a huge stack of books home. I knew the checkout limit (It was thirty-two books). Perhaps it is because I am an introvert, and I love how reading allows me to be alone but still engaged, or perhaps it is because I savor silence, but books hold an important place in my life.
I try to track books here, but some reads are admittedly better than others. I am hard pressed to name my favorite books, but I can think of some books that changed how I approach the world. New worlds open up to me as I take in different voices and perspectives. These are not necessarily the best books that I have ever read, but they touched me on a very personal level. Here are eight titles (arranged chronologically, from the book I first read to my most recent find):
Find a box of tissues for this one. As a child, I appreciated the soothing tone of this book which traces a mother and son's relationship over the years. The mother sings her son the same song until one day she cannot sing anymore and it is the son who sings to her. As a parent, I see the lessons it teaches about life and death, generations, and coming full circle. This book holds together sadness, sweetness, and hope.
I read this book as a tween, and this was my first experience with unhappy endings. One of the main characters gets sick, and she does not get better; all is not well. This novel changed me perhaps more profoundly than any other title on this list because I lost my innocence and naivete. I saw that the world was sometimes hard and unfair, and my heart assumed a burden that it had not known before.
Susan Cain gave voice to so many feelings that I did not even know that I had. Anyone who thinks he or she might be an introvert or knows an introvert (read: everyone) would benefit from reading this book. The studies and observations she cites reminded me that the way our culture operates is not inevitable, and I can better honor rather than fight the social exhaustion I experience. We all need a few of those books that give you permission to be who you are.
This book came to me at the exact right time. The author had been to divinity school and entered the ordination process, and she began questioning everything. I did not identify with her entire journey, but there were many resonances, from the theologians we read, to the challenges of studying and practicing religion, to the places where and professors with whom we learned. I ultimately ended up in very different places, obviously; I did not have a single, huge crisis of faith, and I did not walk away from God. But I shared many of the author's same questions and doubts and worries, and it felt nice to know I was not alone.
I read this book when I had become convinced that racism and prejudice are still very much alive, and there is no such thing as colorblindness, but Michelle Alexander gives facts and figures to my convictions. There is a political slant to this book, but I would argue that it is humanist more than anything else. I never liked the idea of our prison system (I doubt anyone does), but now I cannot unknow its brokenness.
6. Still Alice
I never saw the movie. Do not expect amazing prose or literary composition from this book, but do expect to see an intimate and penetrating look at Alzheimer's. Most of us probably know someone with Alzheimer's, but I am not sure that many of us have deeply considered what t would be like to experience the deterioration of our brains. For those of us in professional fields who rely upon and identify so much with the work of our brains, the losses wrought by this disease seem particularly frightening.
This author clarified what I believe worship should and should not be. What we do in church each week informs how we live, not simply at the discursive but at the ritual level. We know this, but do we know how? It is not merely the words of a sermon or the scriptures that should move us to act differently but the worship setting, the symbols, and the gestures. All of the liturgy trains us for how we should engage the world--it is not a shelter or safe haven. Worship is about ethics and community as much as it is about beauty and personal piety.
Interestingly enough, there is no one book I can name that "made" me vegan. This is the closest thing to it, but it addresses another issue: the local food movement. In short, everything is complicated. We try to address one problem but then create other problems, so we are always choosing the lesser of evils. The book is slightly more encouraging than my quick summary, but I appreciated its willingness to lean into the complexity rather than sell a one-size-fits-all cure. Our food system needs help, and our environment will fail us if we keep treating it so poorly, but solutions will rely on nuance not gimmick.