List the 5 most important books you’ve ever read. Don’t think too much, just get a pen, or open a new post, and start listing books. When you’re done, go back and write a sentence or two about why each book ended up on your list.
1. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: This title is a requisite for this list because it helped me to define the way that I try to look at my own life and make sense of human interaction. Hoff uses A.A. Milne’s characters (one of my most favorite chapter books from my own childhood) to explain the religion of Taoism, at the same time revealing many of the “characters” we meet in our own everyday lives. You likely have met an Eyore- they fret and complain and take up much of your energy as they explain how your plans or ideas will inevitably fail. There are the Piglets who are hesitant and doubt themselves, and yet they have so much potential despite their deceiving size or self-imposed limitations (they surprise even themselves when encouraged). You are often at the mercy of the Rabbits who meticulously calculate and plan (but often fail to help you get started at anything) and the Owls who pontificate and intellectualize but often seem to make no sense at all. You may see parts of yourself in each of these characters. But the goal, is to be the Taoist Pooh– someone who just is; not one who frets, doubts, plans, and pontificates. The Taoist principles of life are made accessible through the stories of the characters from Pooh Corner. At the heart of it all, approaching life with simplicity, an awareness of things as they are, and an understanding of one’s own self is essential to a happy life.
“”How can you get very far,
If you don’t know who you are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know what you’ve got?
And if you don’t know which to do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
Is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who.” -Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
2. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery: How could I possibly not include Anne? I spent every summer at my Maritime cottage reminded of the red-headed, freckled orphan girl from Nova Scotia who ends up with Marilla and Matthew (who actually wanted a boy) in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. She is bright, imaginative, talkative and eager to please (and must convince the siblings that she is worthy of staying even though she is a girl!) She looks at life with a zen-like wisdom; learning to understand herself, others and the world at large with a rare kind of awe. She taught me to nurture my imagination, to cherish my love of words, to deal with unfairness and hardship with grace and never mess too much with your red hair!
“It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” -Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: No book made more clear how repugnant racism is. I was especially drawn to the gender-bending, precociousness of Scout Finch who narrates a tale of courage and compassion. I adored too her father, Atticus, the moral compass; a judicious and sensible parent who raises his children to think, question and empathize. I loved it as it was assigned to me in high school, and felt forever changed by Atticus’ advice to his daughter: “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (3.85-87). What better lesson for a self-absorbed teenager about how to treat others? I loved it still as I read it anew with my own students.
“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
4. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland: Leaving high school at the end of the 1980s, I qualify as a Gen Xer: and within this story I could see my own ideals as an emergent thinker mirrored in the stories told by Andrew, Dag and Claire; forcing me to ponder my own questions about modern society and my place in it. It is a witty and a slick first novel for fellow Canadian, Coupland, that glamorizes my generation as existentialist thinkers, who wanted a more authentic life for themselves despite a culture that was force-feeding a life of excess and materialism. It also smacked adulthood with a desperate and foreboding warning label that reminded me of my beloved Holden Caulfield’s (The Catcher in the Rye) wariness and his desperate attempts to save innocent children from joining the mendacious ilk of grown-ups.
“When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing. ” -Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
5. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: This book seemed to encapsulate so many of the things that have really been important in defining my own life. Gilbert explores the difficulty of ending her relationship and redefining who she wants to be. She does it with courage and in a way I am most envious of. She writes her way through travelling in Italy, while eating wonderful food that adds pounds to her belly and washing it down with fine wine and learning the language from a handsome tutor. She explores religion and meditation with reverence and humor in India and finally, finds the love of her live in Bali. I also found myself connected to her writing in her follow-up novel, Committed, where she thoroughly explores all of her fears about marriage (as a divorcee) and meticulously researches matrimony, infidelity, compatibility, family tradition, and social expectations. I often found myself in deep agreement with many of Gilberts’ thoughts and musings in both books.
“Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing…” Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.
“People always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other’s personalities. Who wouldn’t? Anybody can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not the clever trick. The really clever trick is this: Can you accept the flaws? Can you look at your partner’s faults honestly and say, ‘I can work around that. I can make something out of it.’? Because the good stuff is always going to be there, and it’s always going to pretty and sparkly, but the crap underneath can ruin you.” Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.