I have a confession to make, I am always wary of people who tell me they don’t read – like, at all (social media statuses don’t count). Not being a reader is a concept that I have always struggled to get my head around, as it’s my belief that reading (and traveling for that matter) builds empathy, compassion, and understanding.
When I was younger – lets say from when I started to read until around age 15, I mostly read books that didn’t challenge me or my viewpoints, but invariably grew my need for more. Re: Mary-Kate & Ashley books (definitely before age 15 mind you), some fluffy romance, and a bit of fantasy.
Now, before you get all up in arms that fantasy and romance books can be really deep, note that I really don’t have anything against the novels and that the point I’m trying to make here is that I didn’t read anything that wasn’t in a neatly stocked padded room of books. That wasn’t safe. That wasn’t already my normal. That didn’t justify something I already assumed to be true.
I credit high school with breaking me out of that. So many people yawn when they think about the novels they had to read in high school, but I honestly think I lucked out with the selections my teachers chose. By reading Catcher In The Rye, Animal Farm (although High School was my second go around with this book), the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Shakespeare, and To Kill a Mockingbird, I was forced out of my little box and into the lives (and dark lives, may I add) of others.
Reading these books in high school sparked something in me; it created a yearning to get out of my comfort zone and start reading things that would educate me – that would deepen my understanding of the world and myself.
“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” – John Waters
5 Books That Changed My Life
Pamela Des Barres “I’m With The Band”
To not start my list off with this book would be a disservice to everything this book has given me. I remember the day I picked it up in the bookstore – my mom and I had just come off a lengthy cross-country road trip from Saskatchewan, through the states, and up to Toronto, and we had a couple days together before we parted ways and she headed back the way we came.
As my mom and I tend to do, we drifted towards the bookstore and spent quiet time perusing the shelves, and that’s when I saw it… “I’m With The Band“. A memoir of a rock n’ roll groupie pioneer, who also had her own band The GTO’s.
I purchased the book that day, quickly devoured it, and then googled Pamela. It turned out that after her first bout of groupie days ended and she wrote her first few books, she began traveling around the continent offering writing workshops to women. AND she was coming to Toronto in two months. Needless to say, I signed up for her workshop and the trajectory of my life was forever altered. I met some of my best friends, lived in apartments I would have never otherwise, worked at places I never would have, and traveled to places I wouldn’t have otherwise.
To say this book changed my life is an understatement.
Click HERE to purchase “I’m With The Band”
Dalton Trumbo “Johnny Got His Gun”
A few years ago, this book came to me as a recommendation and, I have to say, the subject matter was a bit out of left field from what I was keen on reading at the time. “Johnny Got His Gun” is an anti-war novel that was written in 1938, and details the experience of a young WWI soldier after he awakens in a hospital bed and realizes that he has become a prisoner in his own body.
All of the soldier’s limbs have been blown off due to an explosion. His ears are gone, his eyes are gone, his tongue is gone, his teeth are gone. But his mind works. In time, the young soldier finds out a way to communicate with the hospital staff caring for him, but soon finds out that despite this newfound communication, his autonomy is gone too.
If this novel wasn’t a lesson in both gratitude and empathy for me, I don’t know what would be. Trumbo so brilliantly explores the brutality of war, the concept of not only losing your body’s functionality, but your identity and your ability to make decisions for yourself. This concept, and the way the doctors and nurses eventually treat the young soldier in the end, totally shaped the way I view, and appreciate, my sense of self.
Click HERE to purchase “Johnny Got His Gun”
Aldous Huxley “The Doors of Perception”
If you ever want to know the essence of who I was at 18 years old, read Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception.” Inspired to read this not only because I had already devoured both “Island” and “Brave New World” (I went through a major dystopian phase in my teen years), but also because of, you guessed it, my interest in The Doors and mind expansion (the William Blake connection wouldn’t come into play until much later).
Through reading this novel, The Doors of Perception became a new pillar in my understanding of what humans have done to understand the workings of the mind. Although the premise of the book is Huxley taking a dose of Mescaline while in a tightly controlled environment, the documentation of the experience was incredibly scientific.
Huxley recounts how his mind was bent and warped by the drug, how his understanding of physics was altered, and that you can never really count on reality as a concrete subject, everything is perception.
Click HERE to purchase “The Doors of Perception”
David Suzuki “The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place In Nature”
I was in my first year of university when I read David Suzuki’s “The Sacred Balance“. I was in English class, and the theme of the semester was the environment.
It’s interesting looking back at where I was in life the first time I read this book, and how reading this at a budding place in my life impacted my perspective so much going forward. I was fresh out of high school, although I already knew I got into a private college in Toronto. I was an idealistic peace-sign wearing hippie, who used my peaceful ways to get in between, and thwart, many a fistfight. I also had never lived outside of my home province and was having a tough time at university; a place I felt I never really fit.
That said, I found solace in my environmentalism english class. I gave one of the best presentations I have ever given (I believe, anyway) on nuclear energy, I became involved in study groups regarding the subject matter, and for the first time in my University career, I wasn’t so intimidated as to not speak my mind.
Reading The Sacred Balance first and foremost taught me that I am nature. I am not something that is apart from nature, not something to view myself as better than it, I am simply one with nature. My biological needs are the same as the pulse of the universe, and that’s a beautiful thing. That said, this book was perhaps my first brush in discovering my own branch of spirituality; a nature-lover’s religion.
Click HERE to purchase “The Sacred Balance”
Jack Kerouac “On The Road”
Telling people how much I love the beat writers usually brings about one of three reactions. The first: “Oh my god, that is so predictable, a traveler with a beat-up old copy of Jack Kerouac, Taylor you’re soooo obvious.” The second: “Yasss girl, so I assume you’ve read ‘The Dharma Bums’ too? And Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’? How do you feel about ‘Naked Lunch’?” The third: “I have never heard of Jack Kerouac or the Beats in my life.”
Honestly, the reaction is a toss up, but despite the controversies behind the novel (all of which I am well aware), reading “On The Road” not only thrust an intense sense of wanderlust into my 19-year-old brain, but it also was the catalyst to me devouring everything by the other beat writers.
It launched a complete obsession (I can feel myself getting all excited even just writing this) into the style and lives of the beats and all their compatriots. Not to mention a literary love-affair with Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Neal Cassady (as a personality, of course). Need I mention FURTHER? If I ever have a daughter, I might actually name her Sunshine.
Click HERE to purchase “On The Road”
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What are some books that have changed your perspective? Let me know in the comments!