As visitors to this blog know, I love to read.
If it’s not my favorite thing to do in the world, it’s definitely in the Top 5.
I love all kinds of books, all kinds of knowledge, and all kinds of writing.
Among the books I read, though, there are a few that over time have meant an awful lot to me.
And there are even fewer that I would say have in some concrete and profound way impacted how I think and how I have lived.
I read the book while studying Italian art, politics and language in Florence while a sophomore at Stanford, and thrilled to the self-described bookworm narrator thinking about the difference between living as if you will never die and living as if your life will end tomorrow.
I have quoted many times the priest telling the bookworm that it is a sin to say one food is bad and another is good because there are people who are hungry.
And I still can picture vividly Zorba’s closing Bouboulina’s eyes “with indescribable tenderness” after she died.
Beyond these moments in the book, I was transfixed by Zorba’s vitality, his ability to be completely in whatever he did, and his passion for life.
This is not to say that I agreed with everything Zorba said or did. His views on workers were far from progressive, as was his assertion that you should not tell people about their oppression unless you can show them a better world.
But the book meant a lot to me and has stayed with me since.
Colleague and friend Vicki Jones is an avid reader who previously lent me Kevin Davis’ engaging work, Defending the Damned.
This is a collection from the self-help duo who brought us the Chicken Soup series of 55 dynamic leaders’ sharing the book or books that have impacted their lives in a similar way that Zorba impacted mine.
Some of the people in the book are famous, like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey, whose book is cited by another participant, author Louise Hay, humorist Dave Barry, or entrepreneur Wally “Famous” Amos.
Others are less well-known, like Holocaust survivor Max Edelman, who lost his vision after a beating in a camp during World War II. Edelman’s choice of Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a reminder that books’ impact are not always positive, and that one not necessarily have read the work to have your life changed by it.
One of my favorites was Amilya Antonetti’s recounting of how Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist helped her get through a seemingly interminable search for what was ailing and coming close to killing her infant son David. Her realization that the cleaning agents she was using prompted Antonetti to start Soapworks, a green company that makes organic soaps.
There is a predictable tilting toward a New Age-ish emphasis on personal choice and the possibility of self-improvement as well as a certain tightness of the circle-close to half a dozen of the participants have their works referred to by one of the other writers as seminal to them. Some of the entries are a bit thin on substance.
The fun part of this book is that you can just keep on reading. You’ve Got To Read This Book contains plenty of book recommendations, a few tear jerking moments, a reminder of language and story’s potency and a deeper understanding of the many stages in our life journeys.
So … what are your most impactful books? What was going on for you? How did the work change you?