One of my favorite things: when I read a book that transforms the lens in which I see the world, or the way I see myself. Another one of my favorite things: when I convince someone to read one of those books, and he or she loves it as much I do.
So here’s a short list of books that transformed the way I see the world. I could go on for pages, but here’s a start, and if you’re at your bookstore, library or amazon.com, do check these out:
1) Louise Hay, You Can Heal Your Life. My 2010 lifesaver when people and situations around me were fucking up big time. This book became my bible as I discovered how our thoughts really shape our lives (perception is reality) and how we DO have the control to think about a situation in whichever way we choose. The perfect spiritual primer for anyone ready to make a change. Amen.
2) Mark Kurlansky, Salt. The only rock we eat, Kurlansky takes on the world history of a commodity, that, in times past, was the impetus for exploration, political oppression, and social change. What we take for granted today as the most ubiquitous seasoning on the planet, was once a rare and prized substance that literally meant the difference between life and death in the pre-Frigidaire era.
3) Asne Seierstad, The Bookseller of Kabul. Journalist Seierstad goes to Afghanistan in 2001 and meets Sultan Khan, an unusual man with a passion for preserving the literary heritage of his country in the face of Taliban oppression. Khan agrees to let Seierstad live with his family, and this book is a portrayal of the Khan family. It’s a depressing story of violence, suffering and oppression, particularly of women. An expose of a brutal male-dominated society where even after the fall of the Taliban, women are held in bondage within the confines of their own homes – some reduced to the role of servants, others are sold off as little more than slaves, all are physically and verbally abused, and in some cases killed.
If Afghanistan, both pre and post Taliban, interest you, then I would highly suggest reading the next book…..
4) Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner. The Kite Runner is a remarkable feat of storytelling with an intricate plot woven like the finest of Afghan carpets. Readers of “The Kite Runner” should consider themselves twice-blessed–to read a wonderful work of fiction is always a treat, but to find your understanding of the world deepened when you’re done is a bonus.
There is no doubt that the Kite Runner is a beautifully told story of sin, betrayal and redemption, and I couldn’t help thinking how cinematic this story could be; it’s just crying out to be made into a movie (which it did in 2008) as it has all the ingredients. This literary treat has everything – a doomed childhood friendship, family loyalties, a hidden family secret, a hurried escape to a different land, a battle with a cold, harsh bureaucratic system, and an evil regime which stifles individual freedom.
Using “kite flying” as a symbol for Amir and Hassan’s friendship, I learnt how an act in the past can affect the present, how it is possible to right old wrongs, that forgiveness is possible, and that there are some bonds that can never be broken.
Read this book, honor your spirit, and then share it with those you love.
5) Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. I was 14 when my art teacher dedicated an entire Warhol lesson just because he could, I suppose. That started my obsession with POP-ism and all things Warhol. This book is not so much about the man himself as it is about him making philosophy pop. To make philosophy pop, Andy shared his observations and values on the topics of abstract philosophy such as love, beauty, death, time, economics and of course, art. However, he rendered them pop by talking about them the way ordinary people talk about them. Genius.
Plus, Warhol should not be underestimated. His contributions and challenges to society are not limited to areas he is well known for, such as painting, movies, interviewing. It extends to philosophy and the spirit in which we live each day. Warhol lives. If we practice pop philosophy in the manner he suggests in this book, we may find our lives worth living a good deal more than academic philosophers have shown. Forget the doctorate, go to your own school of Warhol.
And I leave you with my favourite pop philo nugget from the book, “The best space is an empty space. I feel bad making art for a living – which really just wastes all that wonderful empty space. The only thing better than an empty room is an empty room with a little hole in the wall that looks over into another empty room.”
6) Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love. This book changed my life. The act of reading Gilbert’s text is in itself a meditation. As I followed her on her journey, I began to explore my own life, my fears, my biggest hopes and dreams and myself in its purest form. Perhaps we can’t all travel the world to heal our wounds, but this book is healing power. It made me dig down deep, to go to places I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, and then it asked me to move on – changed. This book is not a “self help” book by any means. It is very clear Gilbert wanted her readers to experience pure joy, forgiveness, to live our best lives.
Whilst reading the India (Pray) chapter of the book (on a flight to Bali), what started emerging from the deep recesses of my soul was an immense sense of loss, disappointment and rejection – a result of finally having the courage to come face to face with the pain of dealing with a failed relationship. And as I allowed myself to fully embrace that pain in its entirety, I realised that “eventually, everything goes away”. This pain is not permanent. It can’t be. And there it was on the page. The gem of a line that in years to come, I will look back at this very moment as such a sweet time of grieving… “When the karma of a relationship is done, only love remains. It’s safe. Let go.”
I was in mourning once, and yes, my heart was broken, and that can only mean one thing – “it means we have tried for something”.
And last but not least….
7) Paolo Coelho, The Alchemist. If you enjoyed the simplicity of “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, you will love this Paolo Coelho literary masterpiece. The message I got from this book is a spiritual one – that only by finding what you love and what your passion is do you move in line with the universe – according to the way things are destined to be. If you don’t see inside your heart/soul clearly, it’s difficult to move forward in line with the universe. It’s an inspirational way to look at life and at the course we chart for ourselves over the years.
If you are about to give up your goal because it looks remote,
If your heart tells you the little comforts of a secure life no longer satisfy her,
If you wake up one day with half your life behind you and you remember an old forgotten dream,
Read this simple tale of a humble shepherd. It will calm your fears, clear your doubts and set you on the route to the hidden treasure which is in the hearts of those who still believe in dreams.