Saturday, July 14, 2012

10 books that changed me

sarah says you can feel a person out by looking over the titles on someone's bookshelves. i agree wholeheartedly (and spy when i visit a home for the first time--whom of my friends shall i see? which new friends might i make?)
emily talks of the shadow these books make on our souls, and truly, i can feel the thumbprint of many characters, turns of phrases, and book covers in my heart. 
i've been reading as long as i can remember: ravenously, i learned about washing your hair, rinsing, and repeating, or the ingredients in toothpaste tubes, every game of cross-worded cereal boxes. i don't remember a time without the power of words in me. shy school-girl who found solace in books and played out her favorite stories when not reading them. books have been the grid of my life, and it's hard to narrow down to just a few, but here are 10 pieces of literature that changed, shaped, or defined me at some point. 

i was in 8th grade with Ms Shipley, and she read to us for the last 15 minutes of every class. i could not wait for the story, was devastated when the book was over, and immediately immersed in the new book before she'd gotten far at all. and then she read The Little Prince by Antoine de St.-Exupery, and i cried inside when it was over. i can't think of any book previous to this experience which moved inside of me so much a whole new universe had unlocked itself. the whimsy, the adult-child-understanding, everything about this book makes it a top-tenner every list.  i still cry when i put this book down, its words memorized, certain images forever implanted in my mind.

the next several books all came to me in my college years, and they've been a part of me since. i met my first real, christan girlfriend who sharpened me and loved on me and gave me A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. This is a lovestory with two dimensions; the first between a man and a woman, and the second about falling in love with the Savior. there is romance, heartbreak,love as service, and the everlasting Story of redemption and mercy. (this book also gave me my first glance into apologetics because of the letter exchange between van and c.s. lewis.)
in the same year my bible study leader grinned wildly while i timidly asked, "i know i'm a christian, and i believe that i am saved, but what does grace mean?" that was my year of grace, and she gifted me with her tattered and well-loved copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. i think i truly became a believer at its close, and have worn ragamuffin's name ever since. 

when i had to read A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving for homework, i simply marveled at my english lit major that allowed me to laugh and cry and simply read beautiful words over and over. but with each re-reading of this poignant novel i am more appreciative of the complexity of irving's world and use of language. i read this in a class discussing christ-types, and owen is that but much, much more. 

i could list each of c.s. lewis's works here, as i took an entire philosophy course on him, but i will share my most-most favorite and sadly under-read novel by the famed author. Till We Have Faces is a retelling of the cupid and psyche myth as a pagan story about sacred love. in this haunting book i see myself everywhere, from the main character's fist-shaking at the gods/God to the love between sisters and mentors. if i were locked away on a deserted island, this would be the only book i'd take.

i'm a fiction girl through and through, but the memoir by dave eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a story of tragedy told in a cheeky manner full of self-deprecation and irreverence, while at the same time uplifting Good and making the urbane heroic. egger's parents die within 32 days of each other and he and his older siblings care for and raise their youngest sibling, and so it is a story of love and childhood as much as it is about the larger world around them dealing with the largest issues we all face. speaking of cheeky: i'm going to be sly and tell you to read They Shall Know our Velocity and What is the What, also by dave eggers. the first is incredibly fast paced (spend a vast amount of money on other people in a short amount of time) and the second is incredibly deep (a narration of a Lost Boy of Sudan and his struggles and victories both in africa and the US.)

Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz is a lot like Harry Potter was for me--everyone was reading it/them, so i refused to be, you know, trendy. and then i read anyway. blue like jazz opened up this part of me that i had been afraid to express, namely that my faith could ask questions both of myself and of my God, as well as the Church, and that i could be richer for the inquiry. i read blue like jazz and mourned the loss of spirtual community that i'd had in my college years and also made me eager for more like-minded comrades-in-arms. the book itself is so richly written that i found myself reading passages aloud when simply underlining them wasn't enough.

not exactly a book, but i'd be remiss if i neglected to mention the work of e.e. cummings. the fact that i don't have excerpts of his poetry tattooed all over my body is smply a matter of time. :)  i have long since eschewed capitalizing in my own writng, but he gives me much more than grammatcal freedom; i yearn and ache at the beauty in his love poetry and stylized language. 

if you don't enjoy reading plays, then this one won't be for you, but Translations by Brian Friel was magical for me.  encompassing my love of all things irish, love stories, and whimsical use of language, translations also explores the effects of colonization (in geography, society, and yes, language).  i'm still to this day haunted by reading the lover's exchange of their feelings, both written in english but presented as with a language barrier--one speaks gaelic and one speaks english, but feelings speak themselves out-loud anyway. truly, truly magical.  

for my last choice, i couldn't choose between two contemporary novels, so i offer The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  The former is from a dog's perspective and is simultaneous outlandishly fun and humorous to thought-provokingly deep and tragic. i loved the reading of every single page of this book. and no title has ever been more evocative of the treasure inside than elegance. i think truly, it is one of the most elegantly written novels i've read. it tells the story of a concierge, a 12 year old girl, and a japanese gentleman, whose lives intertwine to tell a story so rich you savor every surprise and indulge in the incredibly intelligent writing.  

enjoy this little glimpse at the books on the shelves of my heart and indeed my home. i'll read these again and again! have you read any of these? would you recommend anything else?


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful glimpse! The most lasting, influential book for me has to be Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, followed closely by 1984, George Orwell. James Mitchner took me to far away, exotic lands. John Bunyan used allegory to teach me truth, God's love, grace and forgiveness, but it started with Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I was 8, maybe 10 years old when I learned that books could change my, I enjoy biographies, memoirs and other life lessons as learned, and shared, by others. I don't have enough to to make ALL the mistakes! <3

Kelli Woodford said...

What we choose to read certainly reveals something about us. And you have shared many things about yourself here.

You stopped my heart with Brennan Manning, though.

If we could sit over a cup of coffee, I'd tell you stories of how I've been a Christian for almost 20 years (even a "pastor's wife," which in some circles means a "professional Christian") and have not understood grace until reading him THIS year.

I find myself in some very interesting places with this new-found message of grace. Places where I raise a lot of eyebrows. And scare those tight-twisted buns right off the heads of the "righteous".

Pouring all this out here in your comment box, I guess, because I feel I might have made a connection with someone else who has worked the grace through a bit more . . . ? Thanks for your post.

And thanks for reading my very personal comment. :)