Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Books for Life: A Comprehensive Manuel for How to be Human

Howdy, all!

As anyone who reads this blog with regularity is aware, I am an avid and passionate reader.  Gobbling up books akin to my consumption of sweets (well, maybe a bit less so on the sweet front than the book end.  Otherwise, I would likely be rife with all sorts of health problems).  Finding such excitement, fulfillment, new knowledge, entertainment, relaxation, romance, and solace (to name just a few) in books and reading.

Books offer easily transportable entertainment and fun.  You can grab one and bring it with you just about anywhere.  At the ready for cracking open and diving back into its world, whenever you have an available moment.  There is no better feeling than thinking, oh man, I cannot wait to find out what happens next, and/or to keep reading. 

Stories teach us what it means to be human, both fiction and non.  Most fictional stories have, within them, examples of real human dilemma and emotional challenges, authentic reflections of human experience and trials one might go through, examples of life situations that, even if you yourself haven't been in, others both have and will.  Within reading stories, we learn what it means to live.  How to love.  We can garner new ideas, different ways of thinking that we had never considered prior, and even stumble across varying ideas of being and living.

From reading, you can learn about almost any and every topic, if you were so inclined.  How to build a fire, customs and traditions of a particular culture, how to properly set a table, about all the different breeds of dog or cat, how it feels to adventure around the world, how to cook vegan recipes, how to more mindfully and thoughtfully choose a romantic partner, the inner workings of the human body, extraordinary life experiences and stories of others (via memoirs), how to grow tulips in your backyard, to be a better conversationalist, how to speak another language, the list goes on and on.  Within reading, one can gain a wealth of knowledge, adding much riches to your already awesome life.

You can also gain new ways of thinking from stories and non fiction too, including differing ideas about nutrition or your health (from one you may have had previously, prior to reading whatever new insight you do), an eye opening and novel approach to future relationships, ideas about how to be a better friend, or a better lover.  You can learn about numerous cultural traditions, different life ideals and ways of thinking which inspire you, some of which may even be better than the ones you currently hold.  Again, I could go on and on.

But in a nutshell, books are one of the easiest, most affordable, and yet awesome portals into endless riches that will add immensely to the overall quality, joy and satisfaction of your life.  When you read, you are given the chance to live in a much more amplified way, as opposed to if you just go through your life but without reading much.  Each of us is a summation of everything we have ever read (as well as seen, felt, learned, and experienced).

Ive compiled a list, out of what falls within the 900-1000 range in total, from all the books read in my life thus far, to the ones I believe are absolute musts.  That, if every person made this their personal reading list, I believe would be that much the better for it.  To me, this list has a smattering of everything.  Both fiction and non.  All manner of topics and ideas are found within this compilation.  Each of these books though, made a lasting impression on me for some reason or another.  This list was chosen with care, every book on it one I have found deeply memorable.  Some of them emotionally moving and awe inspiring, others fascinating and gripping, some are eye opening, others will vastly improve the quality of your romances and friendships if you put the information within the application, all of them though are just fantastic for more than one reason.  

Without further ado, the list which I would title something like, "A Comprehensive Manual for Living, through Books."

(Note: these are in no particular order).

(Second note: I have no doubt that there are tons of books I have yet to read or even hear of that are just as important, influential or worthy of reading that didn't make this list because I haven't stumbled upon them yet.  This list is created from my own personal reading list thus far and is unquestionably one I will add to as the years go on and I continue reading more and more).

We are Water by Wally Lamb.  This book is a intricately layered, emotionally riveting wild ride, to say the least.  About a man and woman who are married for a few decades, happily (seeming), with a close friendship between them to boot.  Until she leaves him for a woman.  The story is sad but thought provoking and beautiful.  There is also an added challenging emotional layer, which I don't want to spoil, but some of the chapters are narrated through the perspective of a pretty despicable character, to say the least.  This is, while repulsive, very well written and just, wow. 

As a brief side note, I don't think reading is or should be solely about just the "pretty," "positive" "happy" or "good" in life.  That's a great reason to read, but real life is also filled with darkness as well.  So to get an accurate, eye opening, real taste of stories that are authentic and true to life, I think one should consider reading stories that entail both.  Light and dark.  This story is one of them.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  A childhood classic.  This one can be interpreted in a number of different ways.  About the joy of giving to others, but equally, about what can happen when you give and give, which sadly can end up being to ones detriment if there aren't eventually lines drawn.  Giving until you have nothing left to give and potentially being taken advantage of.  So it can be analyzed as being about selfless love, but also about selfishness, depending on which character from whose side you watch (the boy or the tree).  Either way, a great book.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  Hands down, one of the best books I've read in my life.  Easily makes top ten.  A memoir about a girl and her nomadic, troubled, wild ride of a childhood.  Her mom, a fairly thoughtless, self centered woman and her father, an emotionally immature alcoholic.  This story will both fill your heart, making it swell with awe, as well as break it.  There are moments that swing between the pendulum of extremes, of your despising her parents for a terrible choice they make, and then in the very next, feel deeply moved and touched by something beautiful they do for their children.  An easy read, her writing style is personable, conversational, no frills, but its gripping until the very end.  I absolutely love this book.  Have read it 3 or 4 times now, and surely will again.

Here is a blog entry I wrote about it (don't worry, no spoilers) a while back, if you might like to hear a bit more about The Glass Castle, and why I personally found it so emotionally affecting.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  You don't read this one for the story itself, which is unremarkable though sweet (about a child and her father who go out into the snow in the twilight, looking for owls).  You read it for the descriptions, which are lyrical, poetic and awesome in the sensory details and images they provoke in the readers mind.  

The Harry Potter series.  Those who have read these are nodding their heads in agreement.  Those who scoff at HP, writing it off as "child's stuff" or as "too much magic and fantasy, not for me," you are sadly mistaken.  These are not children's books, and while magic does play a part, that is not what they are about.  Not even close.  These books are loaded with layers, chock full of excitement, they are dark, suspenseful, as well as whimsical and such fun.  They include universal and poignant themes like friendship, love (including unrequited), bravery and sacrifice, loyalty, standing up for what you believe in.  They are some of the most awesome books I have ever read, and I know those who have read them would agree with such a sentiment.  Its easy to dismiss them if you haven't read them.  Once you have though?  Your mind will be blown.

Wild by Cheryl StrayedI didn't expect a lot from this one, despite it being a bestseller.  A book about a woman hiking.  How interesting can that possibly be, I thought.  How wrong I was, now going around touting this book as mind blowing to anyone and everyone who will listen.  Easily securing a spot among my top fifteen.  Its true, her problem in and of itself isn't especially original.  Her mother passing away, the two of them having been quite close, the author heartbroken and struggling.  This happens to people every day, losing someone they love.  Even her downward spiral in which she begins dabbling with drugs and leaves a man she still loves, while interesting, isn't especially unique.  What is special, poignant and resonating about this book is the authors voice.

The voice in which she describes her heartache, feelings of loss and admission of struggling is one of authenticity and honesty.  Within her words, one can most certainly find themselves in there somewhere.  She describes, in relatable detail, the contrasting complications of the human soul.  Such as, of loving someone even as you walk away from them.  Of wanting to do something that makes you feel good in the moment, even knowing it could lead you down a terrible path.  Of yearning, with every fiber of her being, to give up while knowing that the moment she does, she will regret it.  This book gives the reader a direct glimpse into the experience of being human, in all its complexities and contradicting layers.  I found it to be immensely moving, beautiful and inspirational.

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck.  One of the top selling self help/psychology books ever written, and for good reason.  I read this book, nearly breathless, highlighter in hand going over and over varying sentences that captured me.  And there were many.  Within this book, Peck corrects our common misconceptions about what it means to love another (my favorite chapter), as well as discussing the concept of Grace (I also loved this one).  This book wasn't what I expected.  It was much better.

Here is a blog entry I wrote detailing some of the best points he makes in The Road Less Traveled.

The Friendship Factor: how to get closer to the people you care for by Alan Loy McGinnis.  I've read this one two or three times.  Its excellent.  An easy read, insightful, interesting, I always come away from reading it feeling inspired, excited and refreshed on how to be a better friend.  One of the better books Ive read on the topic  of friendship.  Possibly even the best.  Every person should read this book.  It would most certainly make each of us a more mindful, thoughtful, better friend if putting the ideals inside into practice.

Affluenza by Oliver James.  This book is fascinating.  Affluenza, being the disease of the painful, socially transmitted, contagious condition of the dogged pursuit of always wanting more.  More money, more material goods, more expensive and nicer things.  Its never enough.  This book was riveting, much to my surprise.  Split into three parts: symptoms, origins, and treatment.  A fascinating and worthwhile read for sure.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.  One of the most emotionally moving and inspiring books I've ever read, as well as deeply through provoking.  Will make you question the values you hold dear, as well as the priorities on which you choose to focus your life.  Bringing to closer inspection the question of: what is really, truly important in this short, fleeting time you've got?  And why so many of us focus on the wrong things instead, letting time slip away as we are doing so.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  One of the most achingly sweet stories of first/childhood love I have ever read.  You could read this book easily in just a few days.  A simple story, though the language is poetic and lovely, sad, moving but refreshing in its unique ending.  Loved this.  To me, this book teaches about loving, bravery, and letting go.  About how sometimes the one for you isn't the one you expect.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.  Exactly what the title suggests.  One of the most quintessential, as well as widely read books on this topic.  If you want to learn to be great with people, read this book.

The Soulmate Experience by Mali Apple.  This book easily makes it into the top 5 best relationship books I have ever read.  Its excellent.  Some of the concepts in here will be familiar to those with emotionally deep, healthy relationships anyway.  However, many of the concepts are both challenging and will push your limits a little bit, but in really great ways.  If you only read one relationship book in your life, consider making it this one.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Ive read it two or three times now and will likely do so again.  This is a fictional story about a young girl who lives in a Southern town during segregation.  Its follows her experiences navigating the highly charged world of racism during this time.  Her friendships with the black maids in her town, which culminate into something huge and jaw dropping.  As well as her finding the strength to stand up to several of her horrible, racist, cruel friends, which results in some major fall outs for her.  A powerful, gripping read.

The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult.  Absolutely in my top ten favorites ever.  This is the highly charged story of a young woman, ashamed and self loathing due to a prior disfiguring accident, who works as a baker in her local sweet shop.  She strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly man who comes in often.  One day, he asks her something shocking.  Will she help him die?  He has tried to take his own life but alas, cannot do so on his own.  As a former SS Nazi officer during WW2, he harbors deep shame and pain for all he has done.  He wishes to pay penance for such. 

This book packs an emotional wallop.  The imagery grabs hold of you and wont let go.  The story flashes back to the past, giving you the point of view of an SS Nazi officer, and then the young baker girls grandmother, who was a prisoner in one of the concentration camps.  Again, not all reading is supposed to be butterflies and rainbows in order to understand the full spectrum of human life and experience.  This book, while sad and heart rendering, is a fantastic and very worthwhile read.  One of the most awesome I have ever read, actually.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  The book hones in on five main people, one of whom is a promising baseball player at a New England college who, after a crazy fly ball which smashes hard into one of his friends/teammates, derails the course of each of these five persons lives.  Another one I've read more than once and will do so again.  This book is richly peopled, engaging, totally drawing you in.  I also love that, while on the surface, one of the characters main conflicts/life choices is quite controversial and tough to take, but as the reader who gets the inside scoop to inner thoughts and feelings of the people involved, you find yourself empathizing with and even sometimes rooting for it to work out....that's all I can say.  No spoilers ;-).  Just read it.

On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.  I expected this one to be fairly dry, a boring book about how to write, with some fun life experience memoir bits thrown in.  Not so at all.  This one, to my stunned surprise, knocked my socks off.  I read it in two days or so.  The writing is superb.  The parts of this book which are memoir are totally gripping and jaw dropping.  (Hint: Kings drug addiction was so bad at one point that he had to type with Q-tips stuffed up his nose to stop the cocaine induced bleeding).  And the sections about "how to" write are surprisingly engaging, personable and fun.  Great book as a total package.  I really loved it.

Reality Bites Back: the Troubling Truth with Guilty Pleasure TV by Jennifer Pozner.  I read this one years ago and remember being riveted by it.  The book goes through several current as well as recent well knows in the "reality" television world and tears them apart limb by limb.  For their sexism, showing us how scripted, fake and set up they are, how exploitative, degrading to women, as well as racist and negatively influential in numerous other ways in terms of our culture.  An informative and eye opening read.  It makes the reader feel like they are being given a sneak peek behind a hidden, forbidden curtain of sorts, so also just a fun read too.

The Lovely Bones by Alive Sebold.  The story of Susie Salmon, who is murdered at the age of twelve or thirteen but yet, continues to watch her family's individual lives unfold on earth below her, as well as follow the trajectory of her killer and the detective who is hunting him. 

This book is poetic, visually arresting, suspenseful and romantic, sad and very beautiful.  An awesome story and quick read to be sure.  For those of you thinking, eh, I saw the movie so I don't need to read it, wrong.  Yes you do.  The book, I can promise, is 20 times better, richer, and more detailed then the movie can even attempt being. 

My favorite scene: the brief but heart rending moment when she falls to earth.  One of the most romantic love scenes I have ever read.  It sent chills up my back.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch.  This book is one of the most beautifully written I have ever read, up there with "Just Kids" by Patti Smith, "The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides, and "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt.  The story of Astrid, who is sent into the foster care system after her mother poisons and kills a man.  This book is about both the trajectory of her teen years moving through the system (in short, horrific, heartbreaking and utterly gripping), as well as her complicated relationship with her mother, both loving her desperately and venometly despising her.  The language in this book is sensual, lush, poetic and romantic.  I absolutely love her writing style-one of my author inspirations to be sure, and the story is fantastic to boot.

When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald.  A collection of short stories, all of which intertwine.  I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but I've read this book easily three times and just love it.  I find each of the stories to push the envelope in terms of usual other fictional stories subject choices on romantic relationships, and I really like this.  One, about a mother, her emotional journey through and ultimately in accepting her six year old son who has decided that he is actually a girl.  Within another, a mother admitting that as much as it pains her and as much as she may know its wrong, she has never loved her daughter the way she knows a mother usually does and should.  She has always loved her husband far more, him being her first and greatest love, while her child came in second and even often, felt like a nuisance and burden. 

I find, quite engaging and gripping, the stark honesty with which these stories are told, and that she dares to explore emotional corners that most stories do not peek inside of.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.  One of the more unconventional, intriguing, but awesome relationship books I have ever read.  She explores the age old question and ultimate challenge of monogamy, in the context of: "can you want what you already have?  And even over the long term?  Can you maintain a real desire for a love with whom you have been for years?  And why does the unknown and unfamiliar excite us so?  And how can we potentially merge these two conflicting human needs and wants with one another?" 

Well worth a read.  Eye opening, inspirational and honest.

Night by Elie Wiesel.  I read this one years ago, and while its a short read, its a whammy of a story.  A memoir written by a concentration camp survivor, this story details his experience.  Raw, haunting, it grabs hold of you and doesn't let go.  Read this book.

Love you forever by Robert Munsch.  Every time I read this book, I get teary eyed, try as I might not to.  Feeling silly and mortified for doing so, as its a children's book, I chide myself.  But its a moving, sentimental, sweet and ultimately beautiful little story.

Calvin and Hobbes.  These comics are just the best.  Following the antics of a mischievous, adventurous, incredibly intelligent and witty six year old along with his imaginary best friend, Hobbes, the stuffed tiger.  Though to Calvin, Hobbes is real, to all onlookers, he is simply a stuffed animal.  This dueling perspective being one of the main arcs of the comic and making for some great comedic moments, as well as sentimental ones.

Just Kids by Patti Smith.  This book is absolutely in my top 5 favorites ever.  Smith, one of the best writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  Her prose is incredible.  Poetic, lyrical, spot on, just phenomenal.  This book, one of the most beautiful, awe inspiring, unconventional love stories I have ever read (and its a true story as well), along with the portrait she paints of NYC during the 60s, which is electric, and thrilling, I LOVE, love, love this book.  Read this.  You will not be disappointed.

Here is the blog entry I wrote about this book a while back, which garnered some significant views and positive remarks.

Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries by Anne Katherine.  This book was life changing for me.  Just what it says, and what so many of us actually don't know much about or really struggle with.  What are good boundaries?  What does having good boundaries even mean?  And how can having poor boundaries make life and your relationships far more stressful then they need to be?  This book is majorly eye opening and chock full of great guidance.  Many of us could use some direction and gentle guidance on this topic for sure, myself included prior to reading it and could certainly use refreshers on sometimes.

Charlottes Web by E.B. White.  One of the most beautiful friendships I have ever read about.  And one of the most unlikely.  I don't want to spoil anything but read this book.  Its deeply touching, whimsical, so much fun, surprising and sweet.  Within it, a spider attempting to save the life of a pig up for slaughter.

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French.  Written by a Pulitzer Prize winner, that much is obvious upon reading it.  This non fiction books reads partially like fiction and partly like a nature documentary, though an engaging and incredibly fascinating one.  Exploring the ethical and moral dilemmas behind zoos, as well as honing in on one specific zoo in Florida, even giving the reader the "stories" of several of the animals in such a way that you become emotionally involved, this book is spectacular.  I've read it twice and was immersed entirely both times.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.  Never prior have I read a book of poetry until this one, having seen the reviews and deciding to check it out.  Boy am I glad I did.  The poems in this book are raw, emotional, honest, some even darkly and heartbreakingly so, but moving, relatable and awesome.  A great and inspiring read.  You will most certainly read at least a couple of the poems and find yourself nodding along, thinking, oh yeah, totally, that's exactly it.  She gets it.

How to be an Adult in Relationships: the five keys to mindful loving by David Richo.  Another phenomenal relationship book.  This one is also within the top five best relationship/love books I have ever read.  Everyone should read this book.

Attached: the new science of adult attachment and how it can help you find- and keep- love by Levine and Weller.  I was surprised by how great this book was.  Well written, an easy read, engaging and interesting, full of personal stories as well as insightful tidbits and passages, this is another one that everyone should read.  It would give each person much further insight into both themselves, as well as prospective partners, quite possibly making a world of difference in navigating ones relationships, both currently and going forward.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  A quintessential coming of age story, with young Francie Nolan as the narrator.  The family having very little money, with a strong willed mother and a charming but alcoholic father, we follow Francie along the trajectory of her path, which is a wonder to behold.  Ever the romantic and optimistic, she is observant, insightful, watchful and intelligent.  This is a wonderful book, engaging, romantic, interesting and well told.  There is a reason this book is named one of the top books ever written.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihaura.  I just recently mentioned this one on my blog.  It remains the most powerful emotional wallop I have ever been dealt at the hands of a book.  The story follows four men, all close friends, over the course of each of their individual lives as well as through the nuances of their friendships with one another.  This author is, hands down, from what I have read in my life so far, the most skilled writer at occupying the emotional space and experiences of human beings.  Just, wow.  The voices of these characters are resonating, sometimes to the core.  

The story itself is deeply poignant, devastating, heart wrenching, and mind blowing.  One of the characters, Jude, for half of the book we can only wonder about his past, which is heavily hinted as being laden with much prior abuse and horror.  We read about how this impacts his friendships and connections with these three men to whom he is so close, much of the time our hearts aching in our relegated to outsider observer status. 

The story follows multiple plotlines.  The story of Jude.  The emotionally close friendships of these four men.  The events of their lives.  And touches on several poignant, worthwhile themes and life topics.

Everyone should read this.  Its incredible.  So well written.  Gripping.  Immensely deep and astonishing.  Its a hard read, I will admit.  Sometimes uplifting and achingly beautiful, while at other times (often), heart aching and sad.  But its one of the more worthwhile things I have ever read.

Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ by David Goleman.  Supposedly emotional intelligence accounts for something like 90% of our overall success in life (with regards to relationships, friendships, as well as career wise).  That alone, to me, makes reading this book a worthwhile thing.  Its surprisingly an enjoyable and interesting read too.  Not dry nor boring, but fun and easy.

Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan.  This book is fascinating.  A recounting of the timeline and evolution of human sexuality.  With regards to questions such as, when did monogamy become and thing and why?  What are the actual body parts as well as noises we make and things we do that imply our inborn propensity towards sexual promiscuity, far more than our being with one person over the course of a lifetime?  Really entertaining, enlightening and thought provoking.

Safe People by Henry Cloud.  This book is all about recognizing the traits of people that will be good for you (aka healthy relationships and people) as well as being able to spot the people who will not be good for you (aka, toxic, harmful, and/or mentally taxing).  So many of us stay in romantic relationships, friendships, or even familial relationships, that are detrimental to our health and don't actually make us all that happy.  That instead, stress us out, upset us or take away from our lives in other ways.  We might stay within such for loads of reasons.  Laziness, fear of letting go, fear of the unknown, still caring for the person in some ways, not wanting to be alone, not knowing anything else, the list goes on.  This book is an inspiring, motivational, great read on this important life topic.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan Pease.  This is a fun one.  With all sorts of little diagrams and pictures, it will change the way you look at people.  Giving you new insight and tools into how others are likely feeling, just based on watching their bodies and movements.  It amps up people watching to a new level ;-) after having read it.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougal.  This book will open your eyes wide, jaw dropping to the ground in tandem with mind boggling wonder.  About the elusive tribe in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, who run anywhere from 30-50 miles PER DAY.  The book details their diet, their lifestyle habits and habitat, as well as branching out and reporting on several other ultra marathoners and long distance runners.  I was gripped from the start of this book, awed and stunned.  It will change the way you look at human capability and potential.

The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant.  This book is an eye opening one for sure.  It will turn on its head everything you think you know about health and diet.  Even concepts such as fasting, which I had long considered to be horrible for your health and detrimental to your metabolism, is actually awesome for you, assuming its done sporadically and not for very long (details in the book on how to do this in a way that isn't damaging to your health but instead, as beneficial).  This book is written in an engaging, personable way, an easy read and one I highly recommend, just for a different take on what a potentially healthy lifestyle might mean.

The Color of Home by Rich Marcello.  This book provides us with a unique and entertaining love story.  But not only that, one that I believe is eye opening and important in terms of this dilemma it presents because its one that is true to life.  One that lives below the surface of countless romantic relationships.  Timing.  

For the full blog entry I wrote on this book several months back, take a looksee here.  The author of the book posted it on his blog, as well as his LinkedIn page, the two of us emailing back and forth a bit about the story as well as both of our experiences in writing- really neat.

Are you the one for me?  Knowing whos right and avoiding whos wrong by Barbara De Angelis.  This book, while on the older side, also lands among the top best relationship books I have ever read.  She goes through it all.  Red flags, things to look for in a prospective great partner, deal breakers, great personality traits, etc.  Well written, to the point, an easy read.  Every man and woman should read this, for far better informed relationship choices going forward in their lives.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  Ignore the crass title, this book is excellent.  Several refreshing, strong, potent insights with regards to boundaries with others, the things we choose to make our priorities versus not, on what we choose to invest or focus on, etc.  I read this once, though need to read it again.  So many great insights in here.

The Science of Happily Ever After: what really matters in the search for enduring love by Ty Tashiro.  This one, written by a PhD, on the actual science of how to choose a partner well.  He talks about how statistically, each person gets something like 3 actual wishes for a partner.  After that, the more "wishes" or "must haves" you search for in a partner narrows the possibility of finding such a person who meets all this criteria to essentially an impossibility.  He outlines all of this far more articulately than I am, but its fascinating, and eye opening.  A worthy read with regards to how we choose the types of standards to seek out in our future relationships. 

The takeaway?  Pick 2-3 "must have traits" (and make them personality, not physical ones- which are wasted wishes) and focus on those.  The rest, especially unimportant things which actually have no bearing on whether this person will be a good partner or not (things like height, income, physical attractiveness, etc), too many people make these top priorities and end up with ill-fitting or crappy partners/relationships down the road, because they looked for the wrong things and didn't look closer at more important qualities (such as kindness, being one of the top traits to look for in terms of having a happy long term union).

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.  This story, while heart wrenching, disturbing and sad, is an eye opening must read and view into the world of child abuse.  This book is important, to name just one reason among many, for instance in thinking back to when you were in school, there might have been a child who was withdrawn, sad, poorly dressed, whom many of the kids made fun of.  This book might make you consider differently, in terms of what that childs life might have been like.  This story can offer its readers a different perspective and consideration into peoples background circumstances, helping to usher in empathy, understanding and a new light on the private battles someone might be waging, of which you know nothing about.

Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys by Dan Kindlon.  There are several books on the market about the challenges women face growing up in todays society, all of which are worthwhile, and important for the education, enlightenment and hopefully, in moving towards change with regards to these issues.  However, there aren't nearly enough books on the challenges that boys face in our culture, nor the ways that they are shortchanged or brought emotional harm by certain mindsets or constructs of our culture and, in what ways we tell them it "means to be a man." 

To name just a few of the damaging ones in our culture: if you show any emotion, tenderness or sensitivity, you aren't "a man."  The more women you bed, the more of a man you are.  You must be huge and muscular, and if not, you aren't nearly as attractive as other men.  The list goes on, of damaging mindsets the men in our culture are fed. 

This book delves into all of them, and the heartbreaking outcomes and repercussions this can have on the emotional lives of men later on down the road as a result.  As well as how you can try to help combat such faulty ways of thinking with regards to how you approach to men in your life.  A must read for anyone who has men in their lives to whom they are close (aka, everyone).

So Sexy, So Soon: the new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids by Diane Lavin.  I read this one years ago but remember being saddened and riveted by it.  The content is relevant, important and worth the examination and consideration of anyone raising kids in our culture today, as well as people who just spend time with children for whom they care for.  This book can help in shedding light on the cultural constructs and ideas which bring a lot of confusion and, at its worst, damage to children with regards to the highly sexualized messages being thrust on them at far too young of an age, for which they can even remotely understand or process such.

Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.  This book carries a powerful and eye opening message.  One you don't even need to read the book in its entirety to benefit from in its fullness.  Most of us have so many things going on in our lives, are so busy, our attention split in numerous different ways, that we end up exhausted, confused, less than satisfied or feeling left wanting.  This is because we are putting our attention and priority eggs in far too many baskets.  More than our brains can possibly handle or focus on.

Instead, the author argues and shows, its far more fruitful, joy inducing, productive and rewarding, to narrow our focus to just a select few top priorities in our lives and to ultimately discard the rest.  How is this possible?  You might be thinking.  I have way too much that I "have" to do.  Things I couldn't just discard or toss aside.

Pick up this book and take a look.  What you will read has the power to change your life, the concept offered up within.

Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss.  This book heavily influenced and changed my thinking with regards to life in general.  I read it during the phase in which I was ending my nine year relationship and found much solace and peace within its message.  The mantra inside this book is also one that I didn't realize is one I have generally adapted within my own life throughout most of it, being an idealistic romantic and as someone who generally believes in magic.  The mantra and mindset being that each and every thing that happens to us is exactly what is meant to be happening at that time.  That the universe doesn't make mistakes.  To trust in the universe, that all of it is ultimately adding up to whom we are meant to become.  That we are exactly where we are meant to be in any given moment.

Personally, I believe in a combination of both.  Things happening as they are meant to/meaningful coincidences, as well as people having free will and choice, that chance is also involved.  This book, especially the first half, has the power to bring a lot of peace and inspiration to how you approach and think about life.

A Streetcat named Bob and How He Saved My Life by James Bowen.  While the writing in this book isn't anything to write home about (pun intended ;-)) (and in fact, the prose is pretty simple and not especially great), the story itself is heartwarming, unique, inspirational and deeply moving.  It will change the way you think about animals and pets, with regards to their emotional capacities and intelligence.  As well we the impact they can have on a persons (as well as your) life.  This is a fun, sentimental, sweet and very worthwhile read.

State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel.  This book is phenomenal.  No, its not condoning infidelity, nor encouraging or excusing it.  Nothing of the sort.  What this book does do though which no other I have come across nor heard of has done, is reframe the way one might think of infidelity.  An ever present challenge and given part of human relationships which people have struggled with for as long as humanity has been around, and therefore, one worthy of examination.  Its not about whether you "agree with" it or not.  Most people don't, which makes complete sense since cheating is hurtful and dishonest.  Instead, the book offers up a lot of majorly eye opening, insightful, interesting and very worthwhile thoughts on the topic. 

Why such a thing might happen in a relationship, why human beings are drawn to the forbidden (and no, no one is "above" this entirely.  We all struggle with such to some degree at one time or another, being drawn to that which we "aren't supposed" to do or have).  The damage that infidelity can cause and if possible, how one might recover from such.  Also, how does one make such a decision: to forgive or not? 

This book, if you want to have truly open, successful, healthy romantic relationships, is an important read, in terms of psychology and romantic relationships in general.

Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner.  This book is just a lot of fun, as well as surprising and mind opening.  It will bring your attention to details that you never would have considered as being connected and having influence on one another, such as how sumo wrestling and the mob are much like one another.  Entertaining as well as teaching one that there is often much more going on underneath the surface which influences one another, that you never would imagine as impacting one another.  Far more than which meets the eye.

Les Miserables. by Victor Hugo.  Known as one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.  A stirring, gripping tale of crime, punishment, justice, and redemption.  Just read it.  Its awesome.  A towering, sprawling, fantastic tale.

Why we get fat and what to do about it by Gary Taubes.  This book will turn on its head everything you think you know about weight maintenance, diet and why we gain weight (or not).  Hint: it has almost nothing to do with calories in versus calories out.  That is a teeny, tiny part of it, but not even close to as relevant as most of us have grown to think it is.  Fascinating.

A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follet.  One of my favorite fictional stories of all time.  This is a multi layered, towering tale that spans over several decades.  Following one central family after a murder is committed and covered up.  The reader, watching with awe and suspense, the lengths one of the main villains will go to at covering such up.  Several intriguing relationships, complex characters, gripping scenes and more, all within this book.  This story has it all.  Romance, suspense, drama, triumph and loss, a sweeping love story, scandal and betrayal.  A really fun read.

You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano.  This book is excellent.  Absolutely superb, very relevant, witty, bright, a home run to be sure.  A collection of non fiction essays about what it means to be a woman in our society today.  Ways in which women are depicted, treated, confined and oppressed (yes, still).  The writing is fantastic and insightful.  The essays, incredibly engaging, thought provoking, and important.  Everyone, man and woman, should read this book.

Candy by Luke Davies.  This book is dark, certainly not uplifting, but its an important one.  I believe it can offer up both an empathetic as well as cautionary view into how an addiction can progress from just dabbling and trying a drug, from "having fun" if you will, and easily cross over the line into addiction.  This book is heart breaking and very gritty, but as an avid reader, I believe that part of the draw of reading is to experience and consider all sorts of different life perspectives and experiences.  This includes the beautiful and awesome ones, but should also include the tragic as well.  How can you empathize, have heart or compassion for others, or truly be able to imagine understanding other types of lives and decisions if you aren't willing to step behind their view point for a while?  Regardless of how dark it may well be, a worthwhile read in its own way.  A heartbreaking, haunting but relevant tale.

Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb.  This book was a surprise for me.  And this is why sometimes taking a chance on a book you don't think is your type but really putting in the time to read such can be a surprising delight.  Both, in that I picked it up at all, and additionally, really loved it.  Not the usual type of read I would go for, either in terms of writing style or topic matter.  But this was a great one. 

Its fiction, about an old, semi washed up musician named Bad.  He has several ex-wives under his belt, a drinking problem and is a bit of a resigned loner of sorts.  However, by chance he meets a young woman, a reporter wishing to interview him on his music, and the two are both surprised to find they seem to feel a unique click/draw between them.  Some things begin shifting/growing in Bad emotionally that even are surprising to him.

And what I really loved about this story was the ending.  Unexpected.  Emotionally moving.  Sad.  But I thought, realistic and real.

The authors prose is excellent.  The writing, superb, lyrical, really fun to read.  The story, unique and interesting.  I recommend giving this one a try, even if you aren't sure its something you would typically like.

So there you go.  A good book is never really finished.  It goes on, whispering to you from the walls and from your mind long after its conclusion.  That is how the above list was decided on.  I went through my list of books read thus far (though I know there are additional books I've read not even on the list, which I cannot recall) and these were the ones I have never forgotten. 

The ones which have made lasting impression on me, the stories that moved me deeply, inspired greatly, shook me to the core, or changed a certain way of thinking I held prior.  These are the stories that gave me chills, that made me believe in magic or awesome love.  The non fiction that offered new ideas and knowledge for ways of living that I hadn't known before reading them.  These are the ones that, out of all that Ive read, have really stuck with me.  As well as the ones I believe have the most to offer, in terms of life lessons, new potential knowledge or ideas, as well as general joy and awe.

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