Funny Things Can Happen When You Entertain Other People’s Ideas
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I read this book and was carried along with narrative from the perspective of Orual. Completely excusing her mindset and actions. Although I knew that ultimately she was in the wrong, I was sympathetic and excused her thinking and her lack of faith. But when she has her wake up moment I was blindsided. I felt my eyes opened along with hers as I watched her see her life through different lenses.
One quote sticks with me “I know now, Lord, why you utter now answer. You yourself are the answer. Before your face questions die away.”
The first book that comes to mind is Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson. It’s a deep and often difficult read, but I think about it often as I go about my days (I read it during winter 2020). Another book is Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, which I read this past summer. As someone who has not spent much time in rural areas, and especially not in the South, I was truly unaware of the epidemic of drug use and drug-related fatality in these parts of the country. Until reading Demon Copperhead, I thought if our country’s drug problems to be predominantly focused on urban centers, but now I know this is far from the truth.
This answer is changeable, depending on the day. But a book that I often think about, and only read once, is The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg. I read it when it came out in 1989. A populist account of how cultures that have “third places” (cafes, pubs, general stores, etc. etc.) where one can hangout for minimal cost helped build and sustain democratic ideals. The idea influenced me in my move away from a youthful ideological stance towards a new appreciation of community and citizenship.
So many!!! But I think the most influential books were Humankind by Rutger Bergman originally in Dutch exploring the thesis that human beings are inherently kind but that empathy can sometimes lead us to actually alienate other people as we try to fit in the group most available to us. The other one was “the science of storytelling” by Will Storr. Both delve into human nature, psychology behind tribalism, how people go against each other and “otherize” people because of blind spots in human nature... much responsible for wars and conflict of any kind... first books to make me realise I am not my thoughts, we are not our thoughts, and how stories and narratives shape our lives and sense of identity.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl challenged me to see the difficult events of my life through a new lens. For the longest time, it was hard to accept that a lot of what I was going through had a purpose. Until I read this line:
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."
In the weeks and months after reading the book, I began to understand more fully what Frankl meant. Opportunities presented themselves that I would have turned down before, and it made me realize that I could use my difficult moments for good. I realized I retained a lot more control of my attitude and outlook than I originally thought. My life has not been the same!
I fell in love with poetry pretty early on. Found something sacred and sheltering in Shakespeare. in Poe, I found somethign stirring. But, it wasn't until someone handed me a copy of Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, by Charles Bukowski, that I understood what poetry was, what it could do, what words could be. It changed everything. It changed me.
Neal Postman's Technopoly. He argues that every technology has a bias, and before it is implemented, we should try to figure out what that bias might be. It was published in 1992, but he foresaw a lot of what the internet would be like. He said that instead of technology being a tool for humans to use, it is actually shaping the world we live in, and we have ceded authority to it. For example, email was originally thought to be a wonderfully efficient time-saver. I don't think anyone would argue that today.
These kinds of questions are so challenging for me.
For my young adult life, I’d say The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning was a touchstone in my spiritual growth. I learned what it meant that God is a God of grace and that I couldn’t earn His favor. I’d grown up seeking approval and acceptance based on my works. In many ways, I’m still reaping the harvest that book sowed in me.
Since there’s too many to list, I’ll say that this year was had a three-way tie.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage showed me what endurance really looks like in the face of hardship and adversity.
Mere Christianity, which I’d only read in excerpts prior to this year, made me think for weeks and weeks afterward. Lewis’ simple style made me consider some viewpoints I’d never heard explained before.
Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story by Nancy Guthrie opened my eyes to the repetition of images throughout the Bible. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up teaching it to my small group.
Such Stuff As Dreams, The Psychology of Fiction by Keith Oatley is my favorite nonfiction book about how fiction (in all its forms) has the capacity to change our internal schemas and mental model by allowing us to simulate and try in for size different behaviors and points of view. Oatley draws on neuroscience, psychology and literature from Shakespeare to Flaubert to Henry James and many more to help illustrate his points.
For me it was Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall Rosenberg. It helped me realize something that I had always intuitively known; that we all do things from a place to enhance others well-being, but we have to develop the skills of communicating those needs in a way that is beneficial to the life of the other.
This helped me take a side trip on my journey of well-being to work and understand the needs of my enemies, rivals, and the people I don't give two fucks about. But also, to consider the way I communicate with my loved ones. Which leads me to the spiritual side of yoga.
The Four Quartets literally rewired my brain!
The Brothers Karamazov. I randomly picked it up, knowing nothing about it, while in a challenging time in my life. I certainly had to persevere through it; not an easy read (though I appreciate now knowing about the Katz translation). In reading it I came to a greater emotional clarity, which helped me a lot in that time. I continue to meditate on the characters and situations in the book.
George Orwell, 1984. I read it as a child. I have always been aware of tyranny and the dangers of tyranny.
Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action. I saw with perfect clarity why what government claims it can do and what it can actually do will never align.
Frederick Hayek, "The Uses of Knowledge in Society." I saw that it is not possible to direct the activity of an entire society according to rules and commands.
James Scott, Seeing Like a State. Much of the evil and ugliness of modernity arises from attempts to reduce humans to administrative legibility.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars; Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers; H.G. Wells, The Time Machine. I read these and others the Summer between 6th and 7th grade. A truly miserable time. But the glorious worlds of imagination more than offset the wretchedness of adolescence and have remained with me ever since.
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace. The greatest novel ever written. I read it as a child and have read it three times since. It is like living an entire extra life. It shows what literature can be.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt was a big one. Showed how we are not the rational decision makers we believe we are. Instead, we use our rational thinking to justify conclusions we already reached emotionally.
I graduated from a strict Baptist high schoo basically thinking of Jesus as little more than a set of walking rules. Then I read Dorothy L. Sayers's "The Man Born to Be King" and it snapped me right out of that mindset. I could never think of Him that way again after meeting Him as a person in Sayers's wonderful plays.
Bastiat my main guy, too. Not my patron saint, but for many years his name was part of my internet password.