Yesterday I wrote a post about religion that revealed my lack of connection to organized religion (I am still in recovery from fifteen years of trying to be a good Jehovah’s Witness) and my deep connections to God and the Universe and That Which Is Essential. I feel that it is good evidence for the theory that being too smart, too genius-level know-it-all goofy, is only a step away from sitting in the corner of the asylum with a smile and communicating constantly with Unknown Kadath in his lair in the Mountains of Madness (a literary allusion to H.P. Lovecraft’s world). And today I saw a list on Facebook pompously called “100 Books You Should Read If You’re Smart”. I disagree wholeheartedly with many of the books on that list, and I have actually read about 80 per cent of them. So it started me thinking… (never a good thing)… about what books I read that led to my current state of being happily mentally ill and beyond the reach of sanity.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is the first book on my list. The Facebook list had no reasons why to argue with, so here are my reasons why. This book is written from the innocent and intelligent perspective of a little girl, Scout Finch. It stars her hero father, Atticus Finch, a small-town southern lawyer who has to defend a black man from false charges of rape of a white woman. This book makes clear what is good in people, like faith and hope and practicality… love of flowers, love of secrets, and the search for meaning in life. It reveals the secrets of a secretive person like Boo Radley. It also makes clear what is bad in people, like racism, lying, mean-spirited manipulations, lust, and vengeance. And it shows how the bad can win the day, yet still lose the war. No intelligent reader who cares about what it means to be human can go without reading this book.
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell is the second book on my list. This is really not one book. It is a complex puzzle-box of very different stories nested one inside the next and twisted together with common themes and intensely heroic and fallible characters. Reading this book tears at the hinges between the self and others. It reveals how our existence ripples and resonates through time and other lives. It will do serious damage to your conviction that you know what’s what and how the world works. It liberates you from the time you live in at the moment.
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini is the third book on the list. This will give you an idea of how fragile people truly are, and how devastating a single moment of selfishness can be in a life among the horrors of political change and human lust and greed. No amount of penance will ever be enough for the main character of this book to make up for what he did to his best and only friend… at least until he realizes that penance is not all there is… and that it is never too late to love.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is number four. This book is about an orphan girl, the daughter of an executed communist, living in Nazi Germany in the early 1940’s. It is a tear-jerker and an extremely hard book to read without learning to love to cry out loud. Leisel Meminger is haunted by Death in the story. In fact, Death loves her enough to be the narrator of the story. It is a book about loving foster parents, finding the perfect boy, and losing him, discovering what it means to face evil and survive… until you no longer can survive… and then what you do after you don’t survive. It is about how accordion music, being Jewish, and living among monsters can lead to a triumph of the spirit.
Of course, being as blissfully crazy as I am, I have more books on this list. But being a bit lazy and already well past 500 words… I have to save the rest for another day.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way. The Alchemist is one of those books.
What is an alchemist, after all?
An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.
Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas. He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.
There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.
Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)
“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)
“All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (p.24)
“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. And they had understood each other perfectly well. There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)
All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book. There are many more treasures to be found in this book. I should not share them with you here. Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself. But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”. In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.
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