Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thankful: Six Books that Have Changed My Life

I'm going to say thank you to books today.

Thank you, books, for changing my life.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance changed the way I looked at the world. Completely. Totally. 

I was taught by school to rely on science. Suddenly here was this fellow, this scientist, Robert M. Pirsig, telling me that it is equally important to rely on your intuition, that it was important to do both, use science and use intuition, at the same time. I also saw how Pirsig, a very bright and clever fellow, lost his way when he overthought things. Pirsig tried to define something he came to call Quality, which we can roughly think of as the excellence in things, the good. 
”What is good, Phædrus, and what is not good—need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
”The Good was not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, ultimately unknowable in any kind of fixed, rigid way.”
“Man is not the source of all things, as the subjective idealists would say. Nor is he the passive observer of all things, as the objective idealists and materialists would say. The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationshipbetween man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things. The measure of all things—it fits.“
”I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.”

ZAMM has always been my go-to book when I am confused about the world or feeling anxiety about life. Time for ZAMM reread, I think to myself, and I head back to the book, and everything falls into place again.

Material World: A Global Family Portrait is the project of photographer Peter Menzel. Menzel traveled all around the world, found a family typical of a country, and photographed each family in front of the family’s home, with all the possessions of the family brought out in front of the house.

No one could read Material World and not become aware of the disparities between peoples.

It’s one chapter I was especially drawn to in Studs Terkel’s masterpiece, Working. Terkel was a journalist who interviewed people and recorded their answers. In Working, Terkel asks questions about the work people do. Most people seemed to find their work as something separate from themselves. But one person, a person working as a waitress, Dolores Dante, described her work as her expression of herself, serving people in a manner to make people have an excellent experience at her restaurant. I read that chapter and I read it again and I read it again, and I decided to make my work in the world like that of the waitress, a creative and deeply felt act. (Terkel's interview with Dante is on page 389 here, if you'd like to read it for yourself.)

Natalie Goldberg had the revelation that changed her life when she saw a small book of poetry called Fruits and Vegetables by Erica Jong at a bookstore. “You mean you can write about something like that?” Goldberg asked herself. And then she shared that with us in Writing Down the Bones, and I felt transformed.

I read Civility by Stephen L. Carter long, long ago, and I don’t even know how I stumbled upon it or why in the world I picked it up to read, but I’ve never forgotten this wonderful book about the simple way we should all be speaking to each other in our democracy. If I was in charge of the world, I’d make this assigned reading for a few prominent people who run our country and most of the people on Twitter.

Be Happy: A Little Book to Help You Live a Happy Life by Monica Sheehan is a picture book for adults, advice with a cartoon to remind you of everything you need to do to be happy.

"Face your fears."

"Want what you have."

"Read books." Of course.

I'd love to hear about the books that have changed your life.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Each Tuesday That Artsy Reader Girl assigns a topic and then post her top ten list that fits that topic. You’re more than welcome to join her and create your own top ten (or 2, 5, 20, etc.) list as well. Feel free to put a unique spin on the topic to make it work for you! Please link back to That Artsy Reader Girl in your own post so that others know where to find more information.


  1. Ooh nice! This one would be hard for me! There's been sooo many books! Lol.

    Here's my Tuesday Post

    Have a GREAT day!

    Old Follower :)

    1. Yes, there are so many books and each one has changed me just a little.

  2. Don't think I know of one that changed my life but I found reading again after reading Lord of the Rings

  3. I read ZAMM many years ago. I really should reread it sometime! Good choice there.

    My TTT.

  4. Sadly, I haven't read any of those books.

    1. I think that's a good thing, in a way, as you still have yet to discover them.

  5. Best post of the day. Fabulous. It helps that I love Studs Terkel, but it is the right list at the right moment. Civility should be required reading for all new Senators and Congressmen--part of their orientation "school." Such a good list.

  6. What a wonderful post - very heartfelt and interesting. Marilyn French's "The Women's Room" changed my life as I saw the patriarchy at work and was able to link my feminism more closely to the real world. Iris Murdoch's "A Severed Head" opened my eyes to my lifetime favourite author. Eric Newby and Paul Theroux were the early travel writers who led me to a massive love of the genre.

  7. Wonderful list. I haven't read ZAAMM since I was in college, which is probably also true of Writing Down the Bones and all things Studs Terkel. I have Material World in my classroom (or do I?!? It suddenly occurs to me I haven't seen it in awhile, and may need to replace it). So now I get to go discover Civility and Be Happy! Thank you!

    1. Interesting that we have read so many of the same books, Wendy.

  8. Great books on your list. It may sounds strange, but I'd say the Harry Potter books changed my life because they helped me connect with people of all generations in my family and in the general public. I've traveled to see the stages and costumes in the UK, and well, I they are one of the few books that I have re-read.

  9. I haven't read any of the books you listed, but they all sound interesting. As for books that have changed my life, I have to start with the obvious: The Bible and The Book of Mormon. I also love TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES. All of them uplift me and fill me with joy. They're the only books I ever re-read.

    Happy TTT!

  10. Nice sharing, thanks! My post is here: https://wordsandpeace.com/2019/11/26/top-ten-2019-thanksgiving-titles/

  11. So much to be thankful! I am glad these books came into your life.

  12. My life was changed by Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain -- because, I suppose, it awoke me. And showed me a woman of enormous strength who could also feel deeply.

  13. Cool post idea. I love the sound of Civility. It does seem like a book that Twitter badly needs.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!


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