“It’ll change your life,” a good friend of mine is fond of saying, to lend a touch of credence to a recommendation. And in most cases he’s been right. Whether it’s a good meal, movie, whiskey, podcast, video, song, sermon, album, or book, most of his recommendations have been good enough that the experiences I’ve undertaken at his suggestion have left a mark beyond mere entertainment or additions to the contextual fabric of life, two otherwise worthy ends. These experiences have, to varying degrees, changed the way I think, feel, act, or abstain.
Therefore, in lieu of a “Best Books of [Fill In The Year],” I’m following in the footsteps of Matthew Kelly, an author who has maintained a list of the “top 20” books that have changed his life. Although in my case I was unable to limit that number to 20, I hereby submit 30 Books That Changed My Life, in four distinct alphabetical categories: fiction, non-fiction, spiritual, and vocational.
Fiction is the category that wouldn’t have existed on my list only 10 years ago, because I’d fallen prey to the silly notion that fictional books, by their very nature, can’t actually change our lives for the better. How foolish I was to think that!
- Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese, was recommended to me by #1 book referral friend. While most times, I wait until I’ve heard a recommendation from three credible sources, I’ll add anything she recommends to my reading list. Cutting For Stone is an epic masterpiece featuring “twin brothers born of a secret union of a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon.” I know, it sounds a bit like the start of an international soap opera, but the story and writing were good enough to keep me engaged for all 600+ pages. I may have been aided by the fact that I listened to this particular book–again based on my friend’s suggestion that the many words that were foreign to my ear would sing when well narrated–but I think I’d have stuck it out just as well in print.
- Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry, opened my mind to a whole new form of reading, writing, and living. Wendell Berry is an American philosopher, essayist, poet, and fictional author whose creation of an autobiographically-inspired town, Port William, has made me yearn for a more deliberate, tangible, and meaningful life. Jayber was Port William’s barber from 1937 until 1969…and that’s about all I can tell you, if I’m to hold myself to Berry’s “ORDER BY THE AUTHOR,” a notice written to readers in the preamble: “Persons attempting to find a ‘text’ in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a ‘subtext’ in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise ‘understand’ it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.” All I can tell you is that I’ve read and enjoyed many of the Port William series now, but none has had an impact on my like Jayber Crow, although I’m barred from attempting to tell you how or why!
- A Prayer For Owen Meany was my introduction to John Irving’s work, and I enjoyed it so much, I’m afraid to read anything else he’s written lest I spoil it. Although not on the grand scale of Cutting For Stone, I’d nonetheless refer to A Prayer For Owen Meany as an epic, too, although mostly confined to the small town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. While Irving seems much more inclined than Berry to allow his worldview to charge through the text, in this case through the lens of an often heart-wrenching confluence of coming-of-age stories, you don’t have to agree with the author’s opinions to acknowledge the brilliance of his writing.