I have been an avid reader since I was small, thanks to encouragement from my mother when little, and an uncommon introduction to education and learning. I am not certain why my mother thought reading was so important for me to learn, because she isn’t a reader. In fact, she finished her first full-length book read in the last four years; it was an event, because she’d never finished a book before. She is in her 70’s. She is literate, but she is not a thinker.
I enjoyed the privilege of attending a very tiny private school Kindergarten through Third grade; not because education has value to my family or that we had wealth (far from it), but because my parents didn’t want me in public schools during desegregation. It was in that school that I saw learning for learning’s sake, by example and by encouragement. This exposure was driven by wrong motivations, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to experience that introduction to learning. One day I will write on that school, which was aptly named “A Child’s Garden of Learning”. And yes, the grounds were one huge garden as well, where we took our lunches was in an old-fashioned glass greenhouse.
My mother spent the rest of my life uttering variations of “Get your nose out of that book!” in tones ranging from exasperation to anger, for the duration of the time I lived at home. My brother too, is an avid reader, but that did not become evident until much later in his life. I began wearing glasses at age nine, due to a combination of an eye injury, and too many days of reading in bad lighting, including reading under the covers with a flashlight. I dragged books home from the library in stacks nearly as tall as I am when a child, and still, in my adult life, I am known to carry home two bags full of books from the library in one visit. I am usually reading three or more books at a time.
While I could opine on the value of books until your eyes crossed or you clicked off into the next blogger in your reader, I won’t 🙂 Since you are here reading, I suspect you already value books and learning. What follows is a very short list of books that have changed my life and thinking.
Thoreau’s “Walden” – I cannot really even express how this book changed my thinking, but I’ll give it a short go. It introduced me to simple living, appreciation for small things, to look at the world around me differently. It is simply a pleasure to read in so many different ways. My brother lent it to me, along with Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac” many years ago. I own my own copies now. He often jokes that he didn’t know it would make me go off and try to be that kind of person. I am always a dreamer and then a doer. He still gets stuck at the dreaming. I am a risk-taker, and he is not.
Scott and Helen Nearing’s “The Good Life” – again, another eye opener, and one that taught me to examine my life. To mine and explore how and why I live as I do and whether it was a satisfactory way, a beneficial way.
Alice Koller’s “The Stations of Solitude” – It is the first book that I read as an adult that allowed that solitude is not just the purview of madmen and eccentrics (although I may have a touch of both, I confess). Because I am so different personality-wise from the rest of my family, it cracked open the door to begin allowing me to be more me, instead of acting as who everyone else wanted me to be.
Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” – a must read if one lives through the death of a spouse, or simply to understand others behaviors. This book helped me to experience my grief and accept it. I knew no one that had grieved. I was able to learn that I wasn’t suffering insanity, or complete lack of feeling, and I was free to travel that path in my own way; that there is no ‘right’ way to grieve.
I ask of you readers to share a book or books that have changed you in the comments section, leaving religious texts out of the mix, and a short blurb on why if you wish. I would love to know more about what ignites your mind and imagination.
I’ll end by quoting one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda:
“The books that help you most are those which make you think that most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.”
Read a new book. Travel someplace foreign. Open your mind. Learn something new every day if possible, then practice it.