“Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.” –Jesse Lee Bennett
Ahhh….the joy of reading. There are few things more pleasurable to me than sitting down with a cup of coffee and getting lost in a good book.
Many people are often surprised when they see me reading a book during my lunch breaks or in my free time. “You like to read???” they always ask.
I’m never completely sure if the emphasis is on ‘read’ or on ‘you’, but I get the impression that a lot of people view reading as a chore. Maybe school is to blame for that. God knows nothing takes the fun out of something like being forced to do it. Yet, outside of the occasional required reading for class, sitting down and putting my nose in a book has never been something I’ve had to force myself to do.
Reading always came easy to me, even in my early childhood, but I think my true passion for it started with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ironically enough, my mom actually had to force me to read past the first few pages (thanks Mom!), but after a chapter or two I was addicted.
Since then, reading has been one the most important parts of my life. I try to spend at least 30 minutes doing it every day. Up until the end of high school my reading preferences consisted purely of fiction. I read everything from fantasy novels about dragons to some pretty disturbing stories by Stephen King. You could say that reading fiction was my greatest escape.
In the past few years my interest in fiction has waned quite a bit. Maybe it’s just a result of getting older, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to fully engage with those kinds of books, the only exception being more classical literature (Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway are two of my favorites).
However, that doesn’t mean my love for reading has dampened in the slightest. Lately I’ve found myself most captivated by books on spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy, and self-improvement. Anything I feel can help me live a more fulfilling life. It’s those types of books that will be topic of this post.
So without further ado, here is a list of the 5 books that have had the biggest impact on my life so far. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books from a literary standpoint (I’ll save that for another post), but they have contributed the most to who I am today and what I want out of life.
1. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
I can honestly say this book is the most important thing I’ve ever read. Prior to finding it in 2013, I felt completely at the whim of my very erratic thoughts and emotions. The information I found in this book helped me achieve whole new levels of self-awareness and inner peace that have continued to grow in the years since.
What is The Power of Now about? In essence, it’s about learning how to be completely present to the moment. Eckhart Tolle, who I guess many would describe as a spiritual guru of sorts, lays out very clearly an idea that Eastern religions have talked about for centuries: the distinction between the “self” and the “ego.” To put it in less esoteric terms, he basically challenges you to start observing your thoughts as opposed to letting them control you.
I understand that this can sound a little too New-Agey for a lot of people. I’d be lying if I said I bought into everything that Eckhart Tolle talks about. However, what I did resonate with added a ton of value to my life and I always encourage people to at least give the book a shot.
2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This amazing allegorical novel is a super easy read that packs a powerful message. If you’re having doubts about your purpose in life or just need some extra motivation to follow your passion, definitely check this book out. It always seems to give me inspiration when I need it the most.
3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
I think of this book as my introduction to minimalism. While it was published way back in 1854, Thoreau’s account of his two years living alone in a forest still feels relevant today. What I loved most about this book was how Thoreau was able to perfectly capture a sentiment that many of us still feel today: the feeling that our possessions control our lives. Walden has helped me gain a lot insight into what is truly essential in my life.
4. The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture. No, I’m not a follower of Hinduism. I’m not even religious. But I do think there is enormous wisdom to be found in this book, and many of the other ancient religious texts. This wisdom often comes in the form of “universal principles.” These are basic principles that pretty much govern our lives; things like “treat others how you want to be treated” and “you reap what you sow.”
The Gita emphasizes a ton of these principles. One of the biggest insight I’ve gained from it has been the principle of detachment from outcome, something it talks about quite a bit. If you’re able to look past the surface layer of religious names and concepts, you might find something in it that resonates with you as well.
5. The Alabaster Girl by Zan Perrion
A book about beauty, romance, adventure, and seduction. While entirely about one man’s perspective on life, love, and women, this book is the spark that ignited an appetite for beauty in my life. Everything from the way it’s written to the message it contains inspires me each time I read it (I think I’m at four times now).
Let me know what you think of these books! Also, I’d love to hear about any books that have impacted your own lives.
As cliché as it may be, I absolutely love this quote. Life is short so why spend it doing things you hate, or even feel lukewarm towards?
Of course, sometimes the trickiest part is figuring out what your bliss really is…
In the past three years I’ve “experimented” with quite a few different ways of looking at the world. I’ve been angry at everything, caught up in romance, completely focused on inner peace, and most recently, obsessed with self-improvement. While I would never advise anyone else to be so inconsistent with their state of mind, my own inconsistency has helped me get to the core of what I really desire: a life filled with beauty, romance, passion, and adventure. I want to be inspired, and nothing inspires quite like beauty.
What is beauty? Who defines it? Is it purely aesthetic, or something deeper? Is it an objective quality or is it, like the old expression tells us, merely found in the eye of the beholder? Can you actively pursue it, or can you only open yourself up to experience it?
I don’t have an answer to these questions and that’s okay with me. In a way, the mystery itself is beautiful. All I know is that I’ve seen glimpses of this mystical quality – most of them stumbled upon by accident – in the people, places, and things I’ve encountered in my life. Those glimpses have shown me that there is something more to life than the mundane, everyday concerns that normally fill my mind. There are things in this world that make my heart sing and my imagination run wild. And those things are what I want to spend my life seeking out.
How does one do this? To be honest I’m still figuring that out. Sometimes I look at the world around me and beauty is the last thing I see. But as Confucius once said, “everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Maybe trying to find the beauty in everything is overly romantic, a futile attempt to view the world with rose-colored glasses. But of course, life is really just a game of perception. We can choose to see the good or the bad in anything.
So I ask myself, why settle for the good when I can choose to see the beautiful?