Q: What 5 books have had the greatest impact on your life?
A: In chronological order:
- Three by Annie Dillard (An anthology of the autobiographical works An American Childhood, The Writing Life, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
I was assigned to read An American Childhood in high school. (Mrs. Holsten, if you’re reading this–thank you!) Over the summer, I read the other two essays on my own. I have now read Pilgrim at least a dozen times, just for the thrill of borrowing AD’s thriving curiosity and exquisite prose. This book taught me it was okay to see the world the way that I do.
2. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts
I was leaving a bookstore my sophomore year of college when I spotted this little book. I went back to the register and bought it without even opening the cover. A few months later, having read it twice, I would loan it to the man who is now my husband. It was one of my earliest tastes of the dharma (Buddhist teachings), and my roadmap to meeting and exploring the mind of my favorite person in the world.
3. Late Wife by Claudia Emerson
Claudia Emerson was my teacher and mentor at the University of Mary Washington. But before I knew her, I bought a copy of her book of poems, Late Wife, which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize the following year. I was stumbling out of a dark period in my own life, and these poems of loss and redemptive love were the first words I had been able to read in months. From them I learned first hand about the medicinal capacity of poetry. Claudia was also the first working writer I knew intimately. She showed me what it might look like to follow my dream.
Claudia passed away in December of 2014. I’m so grateful I got to know her and her poetry, and I had the chance to tell her what she meant to me.
4. Quiet Your Mind by Jon Selby
This is the book that got me to practice meditation, after 10+ years of reading about it. Many other books have followed from more renowned teachers. But, much like The Wisdom of Insecurity, this book found me in a book store. The day I lifted it from the shelf changed the course of my life completely. It may have even saved it.
5. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
I first bought this book in high school. Twice I opened its pages and began to try and work through the exercises. But I wasn’t ready either time. It took a third try, in the Fall of 2014, before I finally completed the book. Within a month, I was attending meetings at a writer’s group and storyboarding my first novel. It shook up everything about my life and put me in touch with my highest aspirations and deepest truths. This is a powerful book.