5 Books That Have Made My Life Better

When I was a little girl, I used to check out obscure books from the library. Before you go thinking that I was some sort of enlightened child who had no time for the frivolousness of Judy Blume, please know I had a heart-tugging ulterior motive for perusing the dusty racks:

I felt sorry for books.

Yep. If a book hadn’t been checked out in a while, I became sad… like somehow the book was lonely, like it was the weird kid in the cafeteria eating lunch by itself.

I’d pull out the slip from the inside front of the book and check the date stamp. I once found a book in my grade school library last stamped in 1973. It had been sitting on the shelf, in it’s “nobody likes me” depression, for eleven years (which was longer than I had been alive).

Well, I’m a total grownup now with a cell phone bill, health insurance conundrums, moldy leftovers in the back of the fridge… all that jazz. And yet books continue to hold a special place in my heart. You will often find my nose buried in one when I should be folding the pile of laundry that’s been on my bedroom floor for four days.

Like all good readers, I have my favorites. Some books are old friends. Others are the exciting new kid on the block. All have, in one way or another, made my life better.

 

FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E.L. Konisburg

One of my secret childhood fantasies was escaping from my parents’ clutches during a Saturday trip to Fred Meyer and hiding out in one of those turtle sandboxes until the store closed for the evening. I’d then emerge when all was dark and quiet and proceed to eat all the candy, read all the books and ride a bike down every aisle.

So when I first read this book as an 8-year-old, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Children hiding out in an art museum? Sign me up. I loved the grandeur of it all, the resourcefulness of Claudia and Jamie, the mystery of the statue, the idea of sleeping in an antique bed.

Every time I read it I am taken back in time. I’m reminded of that fanciful part of me who wanted nothing more than free reign over a one-stop-shopping superstore. Sometimes I feel like she is slipping away.

This book brings me back to that clever girl.

 

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

Do you remember the first time you cried while reading a book? I mean really, really cried? Like uncontrollable sobbing, the kind that wracks your body and burrows into your soul?

That was me the first time I read A Tale of Two Cities. At first I thought, “This is depressing as fuck.” The French Revolution isn’t exactly known for its good times. But I stuck with it and eventually became entangled in the intricacies of humanity laid out by Dickens.

The ending gets me every damn time.

When I first read Carton’s words, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known,” I shivered. And then closed the book. And then opened it again and re-read the last page. And then closed the book. Thought about it for a moment. And then cracked wide open at the realization of Carton’s sacrifice. I get teary just writing about it.

Hundreds (if not thousands) of books later, it is still my favorite… and the one that has affected me the most.

 

DO/STORY by Bobette Buster

I came across this book a few years ago and it has become my bible for all things storytelling. Since my career is based on helping businesses tell better stories, having a storytelling essential like this is crucial to producing good content.

This book is pint-sized. If I wore jeans more often, it would fit neatly into the back pocket like a comb. When I have a spare moment, I open it to a random page and soak in the words. I’ve highlighted the shit out of this book. Corners are dogeared. Notes are written in the margins. It’s my Velveteen Rabbit of “how-to” business books.

Every flip through it reminds me of the organic nature of stories. Each page gives great advice for sourcing, structuring and shaping our stories.

When life gets a bit crazy… like… hmmmm… always… this book centers me and helps me shape ideas into stories that matter.

 

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams

It seems odd that this book and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities would share top rank in my little world. Never were there two more unlikely bedfellows.

What I adore most about this book is the absurd, enchanting language of Douglas Adams. He is a modern-day Lewis Carroll.

Case in point:

“Oh freddled gruntbuggly,

Thy micturations are to me

As plurdled gabbleblotchits

on a lurgid bee.

Groop, I implore thee,

my foonting turlingdromes,

And hooptiously drangle me

with crinkly bindlewurdles,

Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts

With my blurglecruncheon,

see if I don’t!”

The third worst poetry in the universe is written by Vogons and frequently used as a form of torture.

The absolute worst poetry was written by Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings. It involved decaying swans. Luckily, it was destroyed during the demolition of the Earth.”

I love the lightheartedness of Hitchhiker’s Guide. When I need a hearty laugh and a heaping dose of imagination, I reach for this book.

 

THE CROSSROADS OF SHOULD AND MUST by Elle Luna

This book is one of my newest friends. It’s almost too cool.

Have you ever held a book in your hands and instantly felt its magic? This was the case with Elle Luna’s masterpiece. The thick cardboard cover, the textured binding, the silky paper, the vivid artwork, the obvious thoughtfulness that went into each page… it’s a feast for the senses.

While reading it for the first time, I thought, “If I ever write a book, I want it to feel like this.”

Like many creatives, I often spiral into an obsession about my path in life. There’s a boxing ring in my mind where “shoulds” and “musts” are constantly duking it out. It gets confusing and often I want to ditch it all and go sell sunglasses on a beach in Central America.

This book helps me decipher the “musts” and put a plan in place… no mater how simple or how small… to do a little bit every day to honor the nagging voice inside of my head. The one that says, “Dream bigger.”

 

What about you? What books have made your life better? I’d really like to know. 

 

You Might Also Like

3 Comments

  • Reply
    Beth Adele Long
    January 21, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Great list! A top 5 is always tough to narrow down. If pressed, I’d have to say:

    The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. I re-read this recently, and not only did it hold up, but as an adult I realized how many sophisticated psychological and spiritual concepts were built into this story. Wondrous.

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Fortunately, I didn’t try to read this when I was younger. I read it in my early thirties, when I was just wise enough to appreciate it.

    Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Okay, I know. It’s the stereotypical middle-class Western white woman book. But it did give me permission, at a time when I desperately needed it, to understand that even middle-class Western white woman woes are painful, and that it’s better to shake off the things that aren’t serving you and become a person who can be generous instead of tortured.

    Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. My favorite book on spirituality. Simple, basic, down-to-earth. Beck talks about what it really means to practice.

    H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. This is my newcomer, but it’s destined to be a lifetime favorite. Poetic, visceral, emotional, intellectual, profound.

  • Reply
    Marsha from YesYesMarsha.com
    May 4, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    I very solemnly promised myself I would NOT buy any more books until I’d made my way through the mountain of unread ones (that I’d chosen to buy!) on my shelf.
    But I just ordered the Bobette Buster. With a name like that, how I could I resist?

    If I could only recommend one book to someone for the rest of my life, it would be “Difficult Conversations” by Stone, Patton and Heen. Apparently there’s even a copy on the NASA space station. It’s a game-changer.

    My favourite fiction of all time is “Cry, The Beloved Country” by Alan Paton. I’ve read it four times and, every time I get to the end, I wish I could just start again at the beginning (and, if I didn’t have that mountain, I would).

    One final recommendation is very niche: for anyone going through heartbreak, Susan Piver’s “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart” RESCUED me. As it did my best friend who gave it to me, and several people I’ve bought it for since.

    I’ve never read the Hitchhiker’s Guide but, in my early 20’s, read ‘So Long And Thanks For All The Fish’ and *loved it. Probably because it’s pretty much a sci-fi rom-com, which is a genre I would watch a lot more of if I knew where to start.

    Thanks for these awesome recco’s!.

    • Reply
      Maisie Smith
      May 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm

      Great list, Marsha! (And I’m riding that same train with ya… I have over 200 UNREAD books on my Kindle, and yet I keep buying more.) I’ll probably end up buying “Difficult Conversation,” too. Hell, if it’s good enough for the space station, well…..

      Looking forward to your thoughts on Do/Story!

    Leave a Reply