Wisdom comes in many forms. We learn through our experiences, our mentors, our mistakes – but one of the most underrated comes in the form of that prehistoric little thing we call books. Now, we don’t have to get into whether we ever jumped on the Kindle or Nook bandwagon (I didn’t), or if audiobooks still count (they do). All that matters is that you get your hands and head around words that teach you to take an honest look at your perspective, all the while making you laugh, cry, and grow.
The following five books have done just that and then some. They can be my sword and armor on a quest to slay a few dragons. These books and their words have helped in my (mis)understanding of those around me, my (at times critical) view of myself, and my misguided need to care for others before taking care of myself.
1. The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
This little gem of a book has, you guessed it, four agreements that the author goes through to live a life of freedom. The freedom that Ruiz discusses throughout the book has less to do with the physical and more with the emotional chains we put ourselves in, starting with how we speak.
The most eye opening and (honestly) obvious agreement he asks of the reader is this:
Be impeccable with your word
Easy, right? Yeah, not so much. I can’t tell you how many times I have opened by mouth without thinking and been left feeling like the world’s most insensitive prick.
Time travel doesn’t exist (yet) so maybe next time don’t be so quick to get a word in. Think before you speak and remember this,
“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.”
P.S. I once had a guy attempt to break up with me over the phone (after almost 3 years of dating) and I still get worked up over it. If it’s something important (like a break-up) put down the phone and talk to them face to face. Words can obviously get misconstrued through text message, but even more so when you can’t see the other person’s (possibly pained) expression.
2. One More Thing (Stories and Other Stories) by B.J. Novak
Laughter really is the best medicine which is why I included one of my favorites by an actor and writer of The Office.
Novak’s stories read like sweet, satirical, hilarious journal passages. Every short story takes you down a wonderfully random avenue, but you always finish with a perfect understanding of what he’s hinting at regarding the human condition. Case in point is this re-write on the classic The Tortoise and the Hare fable:
“And good luck to you, tortoise,” whispered the hare, leaning in close. “And just so you know—nobody knows this, and if you tell anyone I said it, I’ll deny it—but I’m not really a hare. I’m a rabbit.” This wasn’t true—the hare just said it to fuck with him.”
3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Re-reading books from childhood is slowly becoming one of my favorite pastimes (hello Goosebumps collection) and reading this short story by Silverstein again was no different.
I remember my mom reading this book to me as a child and focusing mainly on the connection between the boy and the tree, the unconditional love that the tree felt for the boy.
However, reading this as an adult revealed one universal and scary truth: the passing of time. Another is the not so often discussed part of love (and relationships in general): burning out.
“And the tree was happy”
Really? I’m not so sure. Maybe the giving tree needs a break. Maybe the boy needs to plant another giving tree next to his giving tree so it’s not so drained and lonely. I don’t know. Also, why does the giving tree feel the need to apologize all the time?! You’re doing your best, giving tree! That is more than enough.
My final question is this:
When does unconditional (blind) love become conditioned in us, and how the hell do we stop it?
4. Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore
Moore’s book has a ton of goodies, but one of the best is a chapter called Gifts of Depression. If you struggle with anxiety, depression, or have ever had a bout of sadness (I’m assuming that’s all of you)- this chapter will not only resonate, but give you some major solace. Moore reminds us of just how normal the ups and downs in life are, but also just how abnormal it is for us to only focus on the positive. As a society we have become transfixed with always feeling good and being happy that we tend to turn away or shun the moments that aren’t. Moore is well versed in Jungian psychology and with that he encourages us to step toward our shadow, embrace its darkness, and then let it go.
5. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson
Manson starts this book dishing out some hard truths about one of my favorite authors, Charles Bukowski, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t offended on Mr. Bukowski’s behalf.
“Bukowski was a loser”, Manson writes.
Ouch was my first thought. My second was wow, he’s right. We, along with Bukowski, are allowed to be both accomplished and utter losers because we are just that:
Winners and Losers
If you’re looking for a book that will tell you that you’re a delicate flower who is misunderstood, this is not the book for you.
If you want to read that you’re perfect just the way you are, this is not the book for you.
If you want to walk away with the feeling that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, this is not the book for you.
However, if you want to break free from obsessing over your shortcomings and start living a life where you focus on the shit you’re good at and the things you love, this is the perfect book for you.