Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 books that changed my life.



Have you ever wondered why it is that some books stay with us long after we close their covers?

How the mere mention of a book title can transport us back to a distant time in our lives, make us smile wistfully and ask ourselves,

“Now what was it about that book again?”

Book lovers know that long, engrossing conversations about books are like food for our soul, they nourish us and feed our voracious appetite for even more books, and more reading.

Personally, there’s nothing that gets my attention faster than seeing a blog post on the subjects of books.

And while hearing about plots are nice. And reviews are helpful.

Do you know what I really want to hear when you tell me about your favorite books?

I want gut reactions. I want passion. I want messy, unedited feelings.

I want to know if this book got under your skin and why.

I want to know the first words that appear on the tip of your tongue when you think about this book, even if it’s only a hint of something, like that moment you recognize a  face in a crowd but you can’t remember their name.

It’s that lingering sensation after you finish a book. That’s what I want to explore with you.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about books that have changed my life ever since we moved and I found myself rummaging through boxes of books I’ve collected over years. Funny how simply running your hand over a book can evoke old feelings. It reminds me of this quote by Maya Angelou:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Well I think books can have a similar affect on us, we might not be able to retrieve specific details years later, but we remember how they made us feel.

Do you agree?

Because today I’m sharing a few books that changed the trajectory of my life. Books that jolted me out of an emotional stuckness I didn’t realize I was in and therefore, changed me from the inside out. Although you probably realize this, like most transformative events timing is everything.

When I look at my selections, I realize that so much of their power came from the shifting ground beneath my feet during the time I stumbled on them; I was young, vulnerable and at a crossroads in my life. Although I didn’t realize it at the time.

These books lovingly introduced me to a place inside myself I was only beginning to know.


1. The Octopus; by Frank Norris

I remember sitting in a office, squeezed between a cheap wooden desk and a gray metal bookshelf crammed with files and textbooks. My history professor was a small, wiry guy with a gray speckled beard and dark, bushy eyebrows who wore jeans and white collared shirts. I was there to get my midterm grade that was based solely on a 40 minute oral presentation and I still remember him staring intently at me over his glasses before he asked me this question.

“So. Do you know what a sleeper hit is?”

I shook my head, unsure how this question had anything to do with my recent performance in class.

“A sleeper hit is well, you know Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall?  That’s a sleeper. It’s actually taken the critics by surprise….have you seen it yet?”

He waited until I shook my head.

“.. I’m telling you this because well…that’s you. And I have to tell you.” He nodded toward me as he lit up his pipe.  “I sure didn’t see you coming.”

And this is the moment I’ll never forgot.

He looked at me and said, “You are what I’d call a sleeper. A hidden gem. That—by-the-way, was the best oral presentation I’ve seen in a long time.”

And today, decades later when I think about The Octopus, Frank Norris’s literary masterpiece I think of being captivated by history and layers of family relationships, and how later I would became a therapist whose work was to listen to family histories and deal with complex dynamics.

When I think of The Octopus I remember speaking in front of a classroom and feeling gloriously alive.

When I think of The Octopus I think about a spring day in a windowless office surrounded by old textbooks and the musky scent of pipe smoke.

When I think of The Octopus, I remember what it feels like to be a nineteen year old girl. And the scary feeling of drifting and the joy of being found.

This was the period when I was trudging along in a local community college, buoyed  only by the comforting sense of identity I got as student; I had no one on either side of my family who had ever gone to college. I slipped in and out of the academic world the way a visitor steps into an alternative universe. And before this meeting, I’d had no adult who gave me a second glance.

You are a sleeper, he’d said. A hidden gem. And these words became my lifeboat during a  rudderless period in my life.

Sometimes it only takes a passing comment to awaken something inside us. A few well- chosen words that offer us something tangible to hold on to until we find our bearings.


Have you ever felt yourself adrift in your life?

Was there a person who saw something special about you at a crucial time?   






to be continued: Book 2: Drama of a Gifted Child; Alice Miller



I’m partying at French Country Cottage and Grace at Home









Karen said...

You've intrigued me, I've never even heard of this book. I will definitely be looking it up for a summer read.
I can't really think of any book that changed my life, but I'll give that topic some thought and try to contribute at your next post. :-)

Art and Sand said...

Oh, Leslie, what a lovely story of you, your professor and your awakening.

I am not saying this to brag, but I was like your professor for my students. I received 2 letters this week from students who will be the first in their family to go to college and they credited me as being the spark that ignited their educational journey.

I wrote that statement to explain what it was for me. I learned not from those who challenged me and inspired me, but by the mistakes that the adults in my life made. My parents were wonderful, civic minded people (a good trait I got from them), but it was as if my goal was to do things the opposite of how I was raised. That would sound horrible to anyone who knew my parents and the childhood they provided me. Friends still talk about how wonderful my parents were, and they were. But, they really gave me no guidance. They did not push me and I resented that once I got to college. As a mother,I gave my children guidance, pushed them and encouraged them. And, I treated my students the same way I treated my children - guiding, pushing, encouraging...

And now, I am trying to come up with books that changed my life. You will laugh, or maybe shudder, but the Victorian novels my mother read and gave to me as an early teen helped to shape me. I liked the heroines who were strong women, doers - not complainers, adventurous, caring of others and just generally nice people even when surrounded by "mean girls". I was determined to become a nice person, caring for others, plunging into one adventure after the other and sucking it up when life threw me for a loop. I couldn't tell you the titles or the authors, but they definitely had a part in shaping the wife, mother, teacher, friend, woman that I am.

Andi's English Attic said...

Jilly Cooper's 'Riders'. I loved the story and the atmosphere, but what spoke to me the most was that Jilly must have had tremendous fun writing it. Hard work, but fun. I decided that I wanted to have that kind of fun and began writing. Years have passed and I've won a few awards, been published a few times, but the most important thing is that I've had FUN. Jilly's book showed me how to express myself in a creative way. The book introduced me to writing and I'm so grateful for that.

Julie said...

I will definitely be looking into The Octopus!
Many books have been life inspiring/changing for me. Here are 3:
1-My Utmost For His Highest (Oswald Chambers)- helped me navigate thru the challenges of being a newly walking Jesus-follower.
2-How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (Leslie Vernick)- turned my failing marriage around! We both had to read it tho!
3-Streams in The Dessert- (L.B.Cowman)- this one has been crucial in navigating thru our grief of losing my husbands 21-yr old daughter to murder and our 4-yr old granddaughter suddenly without warning or cause.
And of course there's the Bible. But that is a given-life changer!

Jennifer said...

I like messy, unedited feelings too. I lost all train of thought about this book and could only focus on that amazing prof and the gift he gave you.I don't recall anyone doing that for me...I'll think about it some more and see if I can.
Wonderful story! Happy weekend.

cindy hattersley design said...

I can't wait to hear your list. I am not familiar with the octopus but I am going to download it onto my kindle keep the list coming! I can't wait to hear what others say...

Blondie's Journal said...

I will have to look this book up, Leslie...I'm intrigued and I really hold you up on a pedestal, (I'm little embarrassed to say). I guess it's the way you write and the subject matter. Your professor was no fool. My own counselor advised me to try to start publishing my work after my first semester of English. She then got the department head to back her when I balked. I was then nominated for an excellence in writing award. I never felt I deserved any of this and I never pursued writing until this blog.

Well, I'm a bit off track. I think that reading leads to good writing. I have also been a big believer in books that make us think, that we can identify with, learn from, be inspired by. So I'm very excited to see your list.

I really have to think about the books I treasure and am so grateful to have found---maybe I can add mine as your posts go one.

Jane x

Leslie Harris said...

Oh Jane you are so darn sweet. Thank you dear friend for your kind words. I do have to warn my readers that this particular book is a historical novel about the frontier days of California and the real life wars between the farmers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. You definitely have to be in the mood for that kind of epic story. Remember it was for my history class and although I loved it at the time, it stands out to me because of the meaningful exchange with my teacher. By the way Jane, thank you for sharing your own experience with your English teacher. Knowing you and reading your blog I'm not surprised at all to hear you were nominated for a writing award. Your teacher sure recognized your talent and wouldn't she be pleased to know you're writing is now being published in a newspaper!
I do hope you add your books as you read along. It's so hard to narrow them down, don't you think? Most of us need a fiction and non fiction list hahaha

karen@somewhatquirky said...

I didn't just feel adrift...I WAS adrift, when after I had been pregnant for literally 3 years and my daughter was just 6 months old, I wanted to get pregnant again. Fortunately I was stunned enough by this craving that I questioned it. I wondered why I could not be content with what I had already been blessed with - at least for a little while. Fortunately, I just happened to come across the book "A Shepard's Look at Psalm 23" at a garage sale and bought it. I read it immediately. It was sooooo good, and while I did not read this anticipating that is would guide me in regards to my desire for pregnancy, some really interesting things occurred. The book is fantastic and wonderful depiction of how God loves and cares for us and while I was focusing on it's message and implications for my life, I received some miraculous insights to what could be contributing to my lack of contentment with my family. I won't go into anymore detail, but I attribute this book with leading me to the most wonderful sense of contentment and joy with my family status - never had that pregnancy craving again. So I would have to say that "person" was God.

Unknown said...

This is a lovely story, Leslie...we never forget moments like that, do we?
I'm a great fan of Maya Angelou and her wisdom the quote here is one of my favourites...a way of being...
About 10-years ago when I was a little unsure of myself and where I was going I read Christy Turlington's Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice and it really resonated with me about living a life with grace...there are many books which have great meaning to me but due to my continued love of yoga this has a special place in my heart...when I spoke to my yoga teacher about the book and how I was feeling he very kindly said 'you don't know how good you are, you've got it all going on and I think it's going to happen big for you' he was referring to yoga...and I feel this discipline has hit me 'big' it is a life practice and I really hope you continue to enjoy it, Leslie.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...