My ten most influential books

I was tagged by our cousin, Annette, to list the ten books that have had the greatest influence on me or have presented me with some sort of challenge. To use her words, these are the books I’d grab if the house set fire. It’s hard to list only ten, but here goes.

1. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb (fiction) – Impeccable writing, inspiring story. I loved every word. (Buy it here.)

kiterunner2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction) – I think I read this in two or three days. Many tears. Amazing storyteller. Unfortunately, I can’t find it on my shelf, so I must have lent it out. Thank goodness this book has made it into classrooms alongside the likes of Jane Eyre, King Lear, and Catcher in the Rye. (Buy it here.)

3. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (historical fiction) – This was the gateway book to reading all of Follett’s work. He is by far my favorite fiction writer. If only I could be half the storyteller he is… (Buy it here.)

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (fantasy fiction) – Though I could easily say the entire Harry Potter series is a favorite, I thought it best to pick the one I love the most. The Half-Blood Prince taught me that things aren’t always what they seem. (Buy it here.)

5. One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (fiction) – Laugh-out-loud hilarious. (Buy it here.) 

6. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (memoir) – When read in the proper time and context, this one is enlightening and reflective. (Buy it here.)

7. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (non-fiction/inspirational) – I’m still reading this one very slowly, but that’s only because every page is worth inhaling and digesting. (Buy it here.)

Middlesex8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (fiction) – Once I got use to his writing style, the story poured out like paint on a canvas. Simply beautiful. (Buy it here.)

9. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans (non-fiction/memoir/spiritual) – I could’ve have written this book, though not in the same esteem. Rachel is definitely more qualified to tackle religion, but we share similar experiences. (Now call Faith Unraveled, buy it here.)

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (non-fiction/memoir/instructional) – Essentially, this is my writing bible. (Buy it here.)



How to teach enough

Daring GreatlyI’m reading Daring Greatly very slowly. It’s never taken me this long to finish a book that is less than 300 pages, but when every page has something worth reading twice (or three times), it takes a little longer. My brain is screaming for something witty and clever, but I can’t go there just yet. Lent was rough, and in May my first semester of graduate school propelled me into more dull reading than I anticipated. I miss fiction, so when I’m done with this book, and a few others, my brain and I are going on a break for one entire week.

Brené Brown has spent much of her career studying shame and vulnerability, which prompted her to write this book. It is excellent, as seen by all the underlining and notes in the margin. One bit I continue to re-read is about scarcity, which according to her research is one of the greatest cultural influences of our time. Our internal grappling with scarcity affects every relationship, every behavior, and every thought we have.

Never ________ enough.
Never good enough
Never perfect enough
Never thin enough
Never powerful enough
Never successful enough
Never smart enough
Never certain enough
Never safe enough
Never extraordinary enough

We get scarcity because we live it.

From The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist, she refers to scarcity as “the great lie.”

For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to use automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are literally racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack… This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greet, our prejudice, and our arguments with life…

Well that sounds about right. This is exactly what’s plagued me for all of my adult life, the earliest memories starting in middle school. I barely remember feeling this garbage in elementary school, but I’m already seeing it in my own children so I know it had to have existed in my world too. I feel more charged than ever before to teach my children gratitude and contentment, as I continue to work on it in myself. The key is to balance teaching positive self-awareness without too much focus on self.  The ego is a precarious critter. I’ve gone back and forth on the most effective ways to accomplish this, so I welcome your advice, Internet.

Several months ago the boys and I created a banner called the Hallway Wall of Happy Things. We wrote down all of the things/people/places we are thankful for and honestly had a great time doing it.

Hallway Wall of Happy ThingsHowever, the effects were short-lived, even though the banner has been hanging outside their bedrooms all summer. I know some of it is immaturity, and I, too, have had plenty of moments when I dwell on my First World problems. Yet, I won’t give up. I have been content in certain seasons of life and I know it’s attainable on a more regular basis. Likewise, I desire the same for my boys. So we press onward.