This one’s a little different…but I think you’ll like it. It’s a real page turner ;)
I buy books when I’m sad.
Not new ones, but thrift-store books that smell of old cigarette smoke and have someone else’s name scrawled in them.
My copy of To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf was printed in 1965 and has a beautiful musty smell that only books with opaque, uncoated, heavy-weight paper have. It’s previous owner went to University College in Manitoba in 1966, according to the inscription inside. On the paperback there’s a tattered blue sticker that shows he bought it for 95 cents. Oh how the world was different then!
Another book says, “For Kathy, in Friendship.” Some friendship it must have been, considering the book is now sitting on my shelf…
A few others are signed by their authors, a nice surprise that I found after I bought them. Another had an elementary award for best handwriting (way to go, Sean, wherever you are!).
I also buy books when I’m happy, maybe celebrating something new in life or celebrating that I have finished something old in life. On the happy occasions, I usually buy books new. Maybe a bestseller that I’ve been dying to read but haven’t been able to spend money on. Maybe a nice edition of a classic book that I love, anything by Tolkien, Austen, or Lewis. Or a book that’s been on my Goodreads “to read” list for a while, probably something on social justice or activism.
Stories Are More Than Words
The stories that come from a book are not limited to the words on the page. The stories they tell stretch far beyond. Each person that reads has their own story, too, and a miraculous intermingling of stories takes place anytime someone reads a book.
We connect the stories with our own lives, drawing parallels from another character’s world to our own. So, the story becomes not just the words the author has written, but the life the reader is living when he or she reads them.
For that reason, I cannot see a copy of The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) without remembering stick sword-fights in my friend’s backyard and the Legolas action-figure my first crush gave me when I was nine years old.
I can’t think of Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe) without remembering a year of high school that felt just as long as Robinson’s captivity on the island. I can’t read Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) without crying a little bit because I love each of my seven sisters with as much ferocity as the March girls loved each other. Every time I see a book from the Little House on the Prairie series (Laura Ingalls Wilder) I remember my mom’s strong, comforting voice reading the story to us kids curled up on the couch.
And The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy) got me through grade eleven, because I always knew after math was English class where I could adventure the whirlwind of Henchard, Elizabeth-Jane, Lucetta, and Farfrae. I couldn’t believe the series of events that unfolded! Scandal, love, adventure and mystery all in one. The only other Hardy I have read is Tess of D’Ubervilles. I wasn’t such a fan of that one, I thought it would be happier or like a Jane Austen novel. It wasn’t. I won’t spoil it for you though.
In English class my teacher was adamant about reminding us that “Call me Ishmael” was one of the most famous lines of literature, and even though Moby Dick (Herman Melville) was long and tedious, he told us that we would all be grateful we had read it. He was right (Hello Mr. G, if you are reading this. And thank you.)
I read Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte) when I started nannying two little boys on the weekends. I identified with Agnes’ blend of fear and courage. She, too, was leaving her home to care for others, and in spite of her youth and inexperience she faced the challenge with steadfast determination. Now I always bring my copy of Agnes Grey with me when I travel, for support and courage.
I read Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller) when I lived on the west coast and spent a lot of time drinking coffee and attending hipster music shows. Donald Miller’s free spirit fit so well with the new life I was living. His description about writers smelling books and then throwing them across the room in frustration describes my life so well. I’ll remember that description forever, and it still brings a smile to my face. Thanks, Don. No for real, I know that sounded sarcastic but THANK YOU. You’re great and underrated. You’ll never read this but I’ve got all your books on my shelf.
I went through a James Joyce phase, enjoying both Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. His character descriptions and writing style influenced my own, I think. I have yet to read Ulysses. I was reading the other two to prepare for Ulysses, but never got around to it.
The Shack (William Paul Young) made my relationship with God a lot more intimate. In spite of its controversy, I found myself more in love with Jesus through reading it. I fondly remember the scenes of Jesus and Mack walking on the water like old pals, or God speaking through visions in the cave waterfall.
I read Middlemarch (George Eliot) from front to back and hated it but stuck it out just so I could say I’d read it. Once I finished it I put it in a little free library in a Seattle neighborhood so that someone else can grab it just to say they’ve read it.
I read half of Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham) but hated Phillip so vehemently that I couldn’t finish it. Sorry Maugham. Although, I admit the writing was beautiful. There was this sentence of pure gold found somewhere in the middle of an otherwise unimpressive scene: “(They talked as though the fate of empires were in the balance.)” That analogy! Those parentheses! Ok Maugham, you can make a beautiful book even if the main character is so unlikable! I’m going to go finish the other half now.
I read about a third of the unabridged Les Miserables (Victor Hugo), and I want to finish it one day. My most vivid memory is of Cosette carrying the bucket of water that was so very heavy, but Valjean swooped in to lighten her load, and she became his daughter soon after. Beautiful. There were so many descriptions and detailed scenes, far too detailed if you ask me. A whole chapter that consisted entirely of Valjean pacing the room because he was anxious about Javert or something. You would think that it would be a short chapter, but no, it is really long. And so much pacing.
Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) made me really sad. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) made me sad in a similar way. I read them both only once, but they remind me of each other. I think it’s the characters of the monster and Heathcliffe, they remind me of each other in some way. I picture them both with long hair and animal-like characteristics. Passionate, yet dangerous, and neither one having an accurate inner compass. Both scared me, both made me not want to read the story again (which is maybe why I should).
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte). Sigh. One of my absolute favorites. I am in love with the dark and fiery beauty of this story. I’ve read it multiple times and watched several film adaptions of it, the 2011 version with Mia Wasikowska is my favorite. There are so many quotable lines, so many breathtaking phrases and heart stopping turns of plot. My favourite quote from the entire book, perhaps even all literature, is this: “I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap. And I have a notion that I’d take to bleeding inwardly.” Oh. My. Word.
Stories Can Inspire Change
During Bible college I had the opportunity of sitting in a room full of missionaries for a seminar on what it means to leave the familiar and carry the love of Christ to places that are unknown to us. The seminar was open for students to join, but it ended up that I was the only student who showed up (being the overachiever and hyper-organized person that I am means I show up to most things…).
The seminar was discussion based, and our leader asked the room of missionaries, “what helps you to leave the familiar and embrace the unfamiliar?”
The answers were varied, from principles straight from scripture to mantra’s like “have a good sense of humour and a bad sense of smell.” One thing that stuck out to me was when a missionary said, “Inspire yourself by stories that illustrate what it means to leave the familiar for the unfamiliar”.
As soon as he said that, several books came to my mind. There are a few that I revisit often, and usually I revisit them when I need inspiration to get out of my comfort zone. You see, stories can do that to you. Because reading about a hero makes you want to become one. Reading about bravery makes you want to be brave. Reading about goodness reminds you what is good. Reading about people who make earth-shattering sacrifices for the ones they love makes me want to love with greater courage.
So here’s a little list of books that I turn to when I need courage and inspiration to leave the familiar for the often greater, richer, deeper unfamiliar:
- Kisses From Katie – Katie Davis Majors
- Under the Overpass -Michael Yankoski (Cried. So. Much. I love this book. I’ve kind of lived this book in many ways and will continue to do so till I die.)
- In Pursuit of God– A.W. Tozer
- The Hiding Place – Corrie Ten Boom
- The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis (Love. This. Story. This one is my favourite of the series, something about the worlds being spoken into existence enchants me…the parallel Lewis makes between Aslan’s creation of the worlds and God’s creation of earth is really striking.)
- When Invisible Children Sing – Chi Cheng Huang
- Just Courage – Gary Haugen (Haugen is a favourite. I’ve read all but his latest one – it’s on my shelf though!)
- Too Small to Ignore – Wes Stafford
- Radical – David Platt (Fun fact: this is my Dad’s favourite book and he once bought out a bookstore’s entire supply of this book because he was buying them to give to his friends)
- The Hobbit – J.R.R Tolkien
- The Colors of Hope – Richard Dahlstrom (This author is a pastor from Seattle who I had the privileged of hearing speak several times, He once spoke about endurance in faith and those words meant a whole lot to me…maybe I’ll write about it here sometime…)
These are only a few of the titles that have impacted my life, and of course there are so many I have yet to read!
If you haven’t seen this work yet, The Impact of a Book by Jorge Mendez Blake, then I am delighted to introduce it to you! And if you’ve already seen it, I’m happy to revisit it with you because it’s brilliant:
Now you should go read a book!