10 life-changing books to stir your heart, mind and soul!
As the new academic year shortly commences, it is a time of great transition for freshers beginning the transition to adult independence- so it got me thinking, about the books I have read that have influenced my life, that I would like to have had in my armoury if I was starting out again on the journey of adulthood, to lift me up, inspire me, and change my view of the world.
This list brings together a range of such books. It is an eccentric collection not based around works of heavyweight literature- rather, it is a personal list of books which have had a deep impact on my life at different stages. Each has been chosen for the ability to stir a wide variety of emotions when reading them- igniting a fire in the heart, mind and soul in different ways. For me, the books that have the most impact, are the ones that are often difficult to read, raise uncomfortable and bittersweet emotions, but which continue to influence our thoughts and decisions, months and years after we have read them.
1.What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge
This classic children’s book written in 1872 probably had the biggest impact on me growing up. The story focuses on the protagonist, a young girl who must deal with huge hurdles as a result of a childhood accident, and how her resilience and positive inner strength ensures she overcomes her difficult setbacks. I remember reading it when I was going through tough times as a child, and it had such a profound reaction on me at the time- reading it was like magically finding the key to unlock all the answers I needed. I think sometimes when a book strikes a chord, and it seems like the words were written precisely for our own situation, then it has the power to transcend the pages and actually influence our own paths.
2. The Tao of pooh, Benjamin Hoff
This is a fantastically off-beat read which is based on simplistic stories to explain deep philosophical questions. The author has used A.A Milne’s characters from Winnie the Pooh to explain the various principles of Taoism- an ancient Chinese teaching developed a few thousand years ago. The Taoism philosophy focuses on a harmonious relationship between humanity, nature and the spiritual realm. Using conversations with Winnie the Pooh and other characters from the book, the book powerfully uses symbolism to take the reader on a journey. For example, one of the basic principles of Taoism is the Uncarved Block meaning that things in their pure state have the most natural power. In the book, Hoff used Pooh to illustrate this, who is the embodiment of the Uncarved Block, through the fact that the simple childlike Pooh is in a blissful and pure state- without the complexity, arrogance and other ego variables that get in the way for most of us, to attaining his joyful existence. The book cleverly is able to weave the complex messages through this symbolism to translate a blueprint for simple and happy living, which makes perfect sense, unlike other so-called self-help handbooks which use flowery convoluted jargon!
3. The Artist’s way: a spiritual path to higher creativity, Julia Cameron
This is one of life’s little gems to pick up when you are stuck in a rut. I discovered it, serendipitously, when I was feeling uninspired and in need of some insight and confidence boosting. The book is a seminal work on creativity- which came long before the tech generation coined phrases focusing on innovation and creative approaches to work! It is structured more as a work-book than a novel which will enable you to discover (or re-cover) your creativity through exercises and techniques to achieve this. It also takes a spiritual approach throughout the book in framing the creative process as spiritual and therapeutic. It is a must-read for anyone seeking to nurture a more creative side to themselves.
4. An evil cradling, Brian Keenan
I discovered this book by chance as a teenager, during my all-too-frequent visits to the library and it was my first introduction to the power of the memoir- which is until this day, my favourite genre of any bookshop. The book is about the experience of Irishman Keenan, following his kidnapping in Beirut where he spent over 4 years as a hostage of terrorists- focusing on the torture he experienced in captivity, as well as his friendship with his fellow hostage British journalist John McCarthy. The piece is vivid, gut-wrenching, and provides a unique insight into the mind of a hostage over a sustained period.
5. Anam Cara, John O’Donohue
This book translated as ‘Soul Friend’ is written by Irish poet, scholar and priest, John O’Donohue and focuses on the secrets of spiritual wisdom from the mythical Celtic world. Using a mixture of prose, prayers and blessings, he reveals the secrets that lie within our own souls through connecting to nature and life. In so doing, he shows how we can discover our own anam cara within ourselves. Aside from whether you have a belief in the spiritual context, the book is accessible to all because of the way in which the beautifully written words both comfort and relax the reader. For me, opening it to read a few random pages after a stressful day at work feels like sinking into a comforting snug blanket. Try it!
6. Flow:The psychology of optimal experience, Mihahly Csikszentmihalyi
I think most of us at one point in our lives have experienced that feeling of absolute focus, when you forget time, lost for hours in a task which brings you utter joy, where you also feel energised and alert. This is what is known as flow- the almost euphoric state where your mind is totally engaged in your passion. This book by eminent psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows how we can seek to achieve this state over and over again to experience greater purpose and joy in our daily lives. It is a fantastic book to read for anyone seeking more meaning in their lives-or indeed chasing greater productivity and focus in the workplace!
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
What can I say about this masterpiece to do it justice? Well put it this way- if religious followers use the bible to guide their lives, then this text is the book of revelations for the rest of us about how to conduct ourselves in life and do the right thing in times of moral conflict. I first came across it, like many, because it was a compulsory assigned text for high school exams. It was a watershed moment for me as a teenager, as the first book which made me truly think more deeply outside of my own bubble about the realities of the world, injustice and themes such as racism and prejudices. It was one of the biggest inspirations for me, in deciding to study law at university like so many lawyers-to-be inspired by the great Atticus Finch. Nowadays, I still keep this bible close to me and consult it when I have a particularly difficult conflict to deal with- when my conscience needs an extra little push to assert itself!
8. The alchemist, Paulo Coelho
This popular worldwide best-seller would normally be the type of book I would avoid at all costs- and actually I had to pick it up quite a few times before I could get into it. But stick with it- through the imagery, dreams, and signs, the book has a powerful message: to always follow your dreams wherever this may lead. It’s a great little book to pick up when you might be at a crossroads or feeling a bit lost.
9. The strange alchemy of life and law, Albie Sachs
I read this book, shortly before I was due to meet the great man himself in person! The book is a one-of-a-kind memoir, charting Albie Sach’s life as he moves from barely surviving a South African state-sponsored secret service attack directed at him (as a white civil-rights lawyer fighting against apartheid) where he lost an arm and an eye, to then sitting as head judge of South Africa’s highest court- and being responsible for some of the most progressive legal judgments worldwide. What makes the book so special, is Albie’s ability to blend the personal and professional in giving a ground-breaking insight into the emotions behind courtroom decisions. In doing so, he charts the influences and internal battles he must endure in arriving at each judgment from a personal viewpoint- balancing empathy and passion for justice with the realities of reason. It is raw and honest, in a way completely unheard of from a senior judge- but then the author is not exactly an ordinary individual!
10, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Two words: Mister Darcy. Joking aside, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I really shouldn’t like this book. But I do. A lot. If not only for a continuous reminder of how far women have really come in the past century since it was written. But also, yes, because Mr Darcy is the ultimate dreamboat.