Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Books that Changed My Life- and Can Change Yours Too

One thing I've learned about reading over the years: it isn't always necessarily the best written book, nor the most poetic prose, that solidifies a books spot in ones mind or heart.  The book that goes on whispering to you long past the point of concluding reading it.  Yes, sometimes it is just that which makes a read memorable (the poetic prose).  Much more often though, its the uniqueness and provocation of the concept the book presents, which keeps it lingering in the back of your soul

Does the book prompt in someone, a novel concept, idea, lifestyle, or consideration they hadn't ever thought of prior?  Does the book stir, provoke, intrigue?  On finishing, does it leave a mark on the readers mind and/or heart?  Does it keep the cogs and gears of their intellect and mind turning?

These tend to be the books that most stay with us.  The ones that prompt a before and after type shift within.  Often times, these are also extremely well written.  Sometimes though, the writing is subpar, while the ideas within are still gold.

See below for my list of several books which, for me, fell into this category as life changers, thought shifters, heart movers.  All of which I highly recommend and believe have the same power to do such for you.

Just Kids by Patti Smith.  This book changed the way I look at romantic relationships, in powerful and poignant ways.  Patti Smith tells her story of arriving in NYC at the age of 18, destitute, alone, starving to be an artist.  There, she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, a similarly hungry artist.  These two form an instant friendship which, over the course of her story, prove to be a soul-mate like connection and love in the truest sense. 

Initially they're romantic loves, though when Robert realizes he is homosexual, this takes a heartbreaking turn for Patti.  Instead of moving apart permanently though, they continually turn back towards each other emotionally throughout each of their lives, even at times when most people would turn away because its simply too painful and "too complicated." 

Thus book showed me all the possibility of what love and a connection between two people can be, if we weren't so afraid of challenge, occasional pain, and the navigating through difficult emotions and ambiguous phases with someone.  One of the best books Ive ever read, both for the poetic prose and the uniqueness of the story itself.  Read this one.

An article I wrote on this book previously which garnered significant praise and positive thoughts from readers.

While I am about 1/3 through this book at the present moment, already, I know several of the principles within are already going to change my life.  Having prompted some major self reflection and consideration. 

The first of which: The Social Mirror

Meaning, if the only vision we have of ourselves comes from the social mirror (aka, the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of the people around us), our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror room at a carnival. 

"You're never on time."
"Why cant you keep things in order?" 
"You must be an artist!" 
"You eat like a horse!" 
"This is so simple, why cant you understand?" 

These visions are disjointed and out of proportion.  They are, more often, projections than reflections, projecting the concerns and character weaknesses of the people giving the input rather than accurately reflecting what we are.

The second poignant insight I gleaned: Its incredibly east to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover its leaning against the wrong wall.  It is possible to be busy, very busy, without being very effective. 

People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of the very things they suddenly realize are far more important to them.  People from every walk of life- doctors, CEOs, engineers, actors, politicians, plumbers, artists- often struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition, or a certain degree of professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal actually blurred them to the things that mattered most, and are now gone.

How different our lives would be, and are, when we really know what is deeply important to us.  And by keeping that image prominent and at the very forefront of our minds, this can help to clarify that very knowledge.  With this picture of keeping "the end" ever at the forefront of our mind (aka, imagining, taking the time to really picture and consider the ending of your life, and how you most want to be remembered), this will help provide a narrowing of focus and a realigning of priorities, as well as can helping to guide and tweak your behavior and daily choices that you might have made differently otherwise. 

Every single day, operate with the End in MindThis can help cut through, quickly, a lot of the busy-ness and distractions, from what is really, truly important and crucial with regards to your deepest values and personal mission in your life.  What is your own personal mission?  And how do you most want to be remembered by the people who are of greatest importance to you?  

Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  While the story isnt especially unique (someone losing a parent they love deeply and spiraling downward into a tailspin over it), the way Strayed talks to her readers and narrates the story is what lends it that powerful punch. 

Strayed explores the human tensions and contradictions in all of us.  Loving someone, while still leaving them.  Feeling rage towards someone, all while loving them.  Wanting to leave, and at the very same time, of desperately wishing to stay.  Loving her body, while the next moment loathing it.  Feeling the fear, total terror, and yet doing it anyway.  Feeling both despair and strength simultaneously.  Love and resentment at the same time. 

Her story is told in a raw, real, very human voice.  Love this story.  Everyone can find themselves somewhere within it.

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.  While there are bits and pieces of Petersons principles and theories which can be problematic or obnoxious (though I think this is a given for any psychologist or really, even most people.  We all have some viewpoints/opinions which are skewed, not totally accurate, or which are lacking insight.  This is what it means to be human), so much of this book is excellent, thought provoking, incredibly well written, and very worth reading.  I was astounded by several of his observations and thoughts on life, finding them to be well stated, aptly observed, and inspiring.

Shrill by Lindy West.  Wow.  This book is one we have been needing for a long time as a culture.  And are still in desperate need for many more like it.  Part memoir, part manifesto on numerous problematic areas of our culture with regards to women, such as body image, within politics, and how women are treated as well as regarded in the media, at work, and in personal veins, this book is excellent.  In parts, laugh out loud funny, whereas in others, emotionally moving and thought provoking, I loved this book.  Underlining several passages and even reading them aloud to Maxx who agreed on it being a strongly written and inspiring read.

Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  One of the best books Ive ever read with regards to food and health.  The premise being: the majority of us who eat loads of fruits and veggies think we are eating for optimal health.  Not so.  In fact, most of us who do just that are often hardly getting any nutrients at all.  This depending largely on how we store these foods, as well as how we prepare them.  Frequently doing so in such a way that saps most of them of any substantial nutrients along the way.  This book will change the way you eat, prepare, and think about fruits and vegetables.  A vital read.

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel.  This one is about how infidelity is perceived and treated in our culture (which is, in a very one track, narrow way).  Always horrible, always a relationship ender, and ever the cheater being a unethical, selfish villain.  Perel debunks much of that and probes one to think deeper on this issue, as well as in a wider, more open way, with regards to multiple other possibilities in considering the human heart as well as human desire. 

Her point being that while cheating is always crappy and wrong, and that while sometimes cheating is incident of lack or love or evidence that someone is a jerk, that other times is doesnt mean anything of the sort.  That reasons for and meaning behind cheating are relative and can run a wide gamut of reasons, can be layered with contradiction, and are worthy of closer examination.  That an incident of cheating does not always indicate a bad relationship or lack of love as our culture is quick to slap on as the only possibility ever with regards to cheating.  It can mean this.  It can also mean a lot of other layered, complicated things.

This is an incredibly thought provoking, fascinating read.  Highly recommend it, regardless of your thoughts on the topic, merely for the experience of further learning, mind opening, and provocation of thought.

The Soulmate Experience: a practical guide to creating extraordinary relationships by Mali Apple.  This book is one of my favorites about relationships.  Offering up concepts for closeness I hadn't read about in any other relationship books, nor had I ever considered anything like them.  Some even seeming contrary to closeness on initial consideration, though then on reading further, finding them to be thought provoking and inspiring.

The Color of Home by Rich Marcello.  While the writing in this book was average, the story was inspiring, unique, and thus, memorable.  About a couple who meet and fall in love, though in the middle of their romance, realizing that the timing between them is off.  That both of them have signifigant other life goals, dreams, and pathways that will cause their paths to diverage if continuing to chase all that they deeply desire. 

They decide to part ways for the time being, though not in a sense of "doors slammed shut" and the relationship being done.  Instead, they decide to pursue these diverging paths for the time being, and to trust in the universe.  That if they are meant to cross paths again, they will.  Its the only love story I have read with this type of plot.  I found it deeply thought provoking and relevant to real life and relationships.  Nor had I ever read another romance story with a concept like it.

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm.  This book turned on its head, numerous things I thought I knew and believed to be true about love.  Both, with regards to romantic love, as well as parental love.  A thought provoking, emotionally moving, philosophical read.  Highly recommend it.

Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward.  This is an excellent cookbook in terms of rustic, easy to make, homey, plant based, vegan meals.  I really love most of the recipes in here, including the desserts, so yummy.

Sugar Blues by William Duffy.  Wow, was this a jarring read.  Im embaressed to admit it but this is the book that brought to light for me all the dangers and health wrecking affects that sugar has on your body.  From hemmeroids, to diabetes, to heart disease, to bad skin.  I was horrified, sobered, and stunned reading this book.  With no idea of any of this prior to reading it, aside from my vague knowledge that "sugar isnt good for you."  An important read for anyone who cares about their health, both long term and short.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  Ignoring the crass title, this book is pretty excellent in terms of the life philosophies it offers.  Many, quite contradictory to what we typically hear in phisosophy and psychology/self help type of stuff.  Though sobering, inspiring, confidence building, and thought provoking.  This book can easily be life changing, if one carefully considers the insights within and applies even a few to their own life.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.  Love this book.  Totally changed the way I think about relationships, desire, monogamy, and love in general.  As well as space and boundaries in our closest relationships. 

The underlying question and premise of this book: can one sustain desire over the long-term for what they already have?  Hint: its more possible than you might think.  Sometimes it just requires approaching our romantic relationships a little differently than people usually, traditionally tend to. 

(And no, that isn't necessarily a reference to monogamy.  One can be monogamous and maintain this sense of desire over the long term as well).

Zen and the Art of Happiness by Chris Prentiss.  Based on the Buddhist theory that states: the universe doesn't make mistakes.  The idea that all which happens to us is exactly what is meant to be happening in that moment.  That all of it leads and adds up to the big picture of whom we are meant to become.  I found this book deeply inspiring, thought provoking, as well as helping instill a sense of peace within me when going through challenging phases in my own life.

The Friendship Factor: how to get closer to the people you care for by Alan McGinnis.  Ive read this book at least 4 times and will read it again most certainly.  One of the best relationship books Ive ever read.  This book, discussing concepts like vulnerability, making time for the relationships in your life, highly prioritizing them, learning the gestures of love, as well as even, the normalcy of anger being somewhat present in most close, intimate relationships.  This is an excellent book on relationships, both platonic as well as romantic and even familial.

The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant.  I loved this book on health.  Written in a conversational manner, easy to read, as well as fascinating, this is another one that will shift the things you thought you knew about health.  While I don't particularly follow a Paleo diet myself, this book did open my eyes wide with regards to various health issues, regardless.  Health findings based on real research and PhD studies.  If health is a concern and interest of yours, this is worth a read, whether you decide on maintaining a Paleo lifestyle or not.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan Pease.  The concepts and material in this book continually permeate many of my social interactions and observations in the years following my having read it.  Gives the reader more of a sense into people, the ways they move their bodies and how this might inform us of their intentions, as well as their inner emotional states.  Ive found it useful on numerous occasions since.

Essentialism: the disciplined pursuit of less by Greg McKeowen.  The concept of this book is a great one.  Most of us, especially Americans, seem to feel and be perpetually too busy.  Overworked, overscheduled, overtired.  We cannot ever seem to "get it all done," usually juggling multiple priorities and responsibilities. 

This book will help you to reconsider that notion and approach to life completely.  Challenging you that something around 80% of what you consider "really important" and "must dos" in your life, are actually not that important at all in the big picture.  That often times, we focus on and prioritize things which should be way further down the list and really don't actually matter all that much, and instead tend to push aside and ignore the things that actually, we should be focusing on and investing in far more. 

Check out this book for a perspective check on that concept.

The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence, and Imagination by Robert Moss.  This book was majorly thought provoking, with loads of real life examples illustrating and proving the powerful concepts he was suggesting.  That in fact, our dreams, as well as synchronicity and coincidence, and our imaginations, are far more powerful, insightful, and intuitive than we tend to think.  Instead, most of us often dismissing them with excuses along the lines of "it was only a dream" or "it was just a coincidence," or, "that's just your imagination."  When in fact, many powerful things (premonitions, inventions and ideas that have changed the world, life saving insights, etc) have come from these three sources.

Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.  This book brought into stark focus the realization that endings are a natural part of life.  That most of us view endings as unnatural, awful things to be ashamed of, avoided at all cost, and which signify failure.  This is not so at all.  Everything in life has a natural ending/conclusion.  Relationships, jobs, life phases, all of it.  There are periods of growth and flourishing, and then declines, conclusions and endings.  Some things lasting much longer, whereas others are shorter lived.  This book helped me learn that concept, both, not to be afraid of endings, as well as to be able to identify when an ending might be necessary or impending.

For further life changing, thought provoking, gripping, and just generally awesome reads, I put together a list a couple of months ago, a "master life reading list," if you will that, in my opinion, gives a person the most comprehensive of foundations in reading all of the included.

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