Books That Changed My Life

The last four years have seen a lot of change in my life. Four years ago, my husband graduated from school and changed careers, and my last child at home went off to kindergarten. I started writing full-time and published a novel within nine months. Two years ago, we made the decision to take said-son back out of school and put him in virtual school, so I effectively put my career back on hold. Last year, we moved (twice). And this summer, we have removed said-son from virtual school and are transitioning to homeschool.

That said, I am spending most of my time this summer researching curriculum, scouting used book stores (online and brick and mortar) and reading about homeschool. While zooming through You Can Teach Your Child Successfully (review forthcoming), I started jotting a list in the margin, of books that I wanted to work into my son’s curriculum at some point (not this year, but in the future) because they had changed my life. (One of the coolest aspects of homeschooling is I get to do things like that.) I probably missed some, but I had a few days to think about it as we traveled across-country. I also didn’t include things that would be built into his curriculum, like basic philosophy, religion, history, literature, mythology, psychology, sociology, health, science, etc. (Also, this list is almost exclusively non-fiction. For my favorite fiction books, just go to the Book Reviews => Devon’s Fave Books or Recommended Reading tabs. We are covering many of those fiction books in his curriculum, as well. Who are we kidding? I’ve been reading him favorite fiction books for a lifetime.)

*Do not be surprised that many of the books on this list are either explicitly Christian or are influenced by Christianity. This is my worldview, so some of the books that have influenced me do have the same worldview. I have marked them with a star, for you.

Don’t you want me to share that list with you?

With no further ado, here it is:

the things they carriedThe Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

Yep, that’s fiction. But why it influenced me so strongly was because of its ground-breaking exploration of truth versus reality (and conversely lies versus falseness). I still internally reference this book, but more importantly, the concept has become a part of me. I still tend toward a black-and-white personality, but I realized a long time ago, partly because of this book, that literal truth is not always the truest thing. And I use that concept most when writing, myself.

WHAT'S THIS THING CALLED SCIENCEWhat’s This Thing Called Science?, A.F. Chalmers

This book, unknown to most people, really changed the way that I thought about science. And boy have I found it useful lately! In a society that tends to see all science as rigid and infallible, this book showed me that there is lot more nuance and art and malleability to science. It definitely gives one a broader perspective. Actually, I would love to revisit this book soon.

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCEEnvironmental Science, G. Tyler Miller Jr.

This isn’t just limited to this particular book, but also to books and to a class on environmental science. Back when I was growing up, there just wasn’t as much emphasis given to environmental science, so this college course was actually life-changing for me. As in I wrote my philosophy thesis using it, became a vegetarian, and joined several environmental agencies, immediately. These days, children are getting environmental education tucked inside almost any other science course, but still, it is important.

Greek and Latin

It’s not a book, I know, but my ninth grade English teacher included a basic education in Greek and Latin as part of the Advanced English course. Little did I know, this basic training would help with a lifetime of reading and writing, including deciphering everyday words.

DESIRING GOD*Desiring God, John Piper

Growing up in traditionally Wesleyan and basically conservative churches, this book—assigned to me in my last year of college by a professor who chose this book precisely because it is life-changing—really blew my mind about what Christianity could be in the modern world (while simultaneously unveiling what it was always intended to be). You don’t have to agree with it, but it changed the way I looked at the world and my religion.

NOURISHING TRADITIONSNourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon

This one is no secret, although it tends to be the fringe-type who are drawn to it. Butter, healthy? Homemade yogurt? This book is chock-full of (sometimes controversial) health and diet information that may just explode your modern mind. It jived well with my feeling that more natural foods are better for you, and is chock-full of good recipes. I see this referenced many places.

ANIMAL VEGETABLE MIRACLEAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver

Which could be paired with several Michael Pollan books, like Omnivore’s Dilemma and Morgan Spurlock’s movie Super Size Me. I am a foodie, so this book was inordinately interesting to me, but it also challenges a modern America that can be oddly distant from its own food and therefore its own health and vitality.

PRESCRIPTION FOR NUTRITIONAL HEALINGPrescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis A. Balch

This is a reference book, and probably the most-used of all my reference books. With a natural-first and doctor-second approach to most common illnesses, I love all the information in this book. It makes me feel like my observations and input on my own health matters, and like there is something I can do to make myself healthier. Again, not something that I grew up with.

ULTRAMIND SOLUTIONThe Ultramind Solution, Mark Hyman

Although this book didn’t solve all our mental health woes, it did give me amazing insight into the brain and how our lifestyle affects it. We also really love the Ultramind Solution Diet, and use it sometimes as a detox.

LIFE'S HEALING CHOICES*Life’s Healing Choices, John Baker

There is a whole library of books and resources that go along with the Celebrate Recovery twelve-step program, and I spent eight years involved in the program and teaching it. There’s plenty of resistance to twelve-step programs, but they work amazingly well for some people. CR materials not only influenced my life (and how I deal with my own junk and see people around me), but have influenced hundreds of thousands of others, as well.

TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER 2*The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey

One of the things that I want my kids to have a solid grasp on before graduating—and that I did not—is smart financing. And I am super solid on this: stay out of debt and save for your future, the logical way (and early). We found Ramsey’s straight-forward program a little late, but it has changed the way we approach our finances (and how much stress we carry) on a daily basis, and will continue to have a profound influence on us into the future.

ADVENTURE OF ENGLISHThe Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, by Melvyn Bragg

Okay, so I haven’t actually read this book. I include it because it has great reviews and when I was in high school, I did my big research paper on—you guessed it—the history of the English language. That project had such an influence on me largely because it helped me to understand in a round-about way the malleability of history and how story changes with who tells it and when and to whom. Don’t ask how, but it has something to do with how language morphs over time and belongs to so many different people at once. Perhaps I should have gone with A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, or 1491, by Charles C. Mann.

RICH CHRISTIANS IN AN AGE OF HUNGER*Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger, Ronald J. Sider

I read this book as part of my college thesis, which was on the obligation of affluence. Sider’s book blew me away, with almost unbelievable statistics about our own affluence and the poverty of others. It gave me a vocabulary and information. It also helped me to find ways that I could live consistent with my desire to use what I had to benefit not just myself. It wasn’t the only book I read that got me where I landed, but it was perhaps the most influential.

RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL*The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning

This book came at a time of great changes—both negative and positive—in my life. It really drove home the accessibility and grace of God, which I had mostly gleaned earlier from Max Lucado, Philip Yancey, and Grace Walk, by Steve McVey. Ragamuffin also spoke in a voice that was natural and passionate, from someone who I felt like I could trust and like I might also hang out with.

GOD GUIDES*God Guides, by Mary Geegh

This slim volume would be hard to find today, but it served as my more modern version of Book of Martyrs. In it, a very humble woman shows an American teen (that would be me) how prayer can by a vibrant and powerful part of anyone’s life. Geegh quickly became my Mother Theresa. Not that I need another one.

COLUMBINEColumbine, Dave Cullen

There is something so readable about this book, that it wouldn’t even have to be influential for me to recommend it to you. But it is also its ability to make you feel for other humans—whether “good” or “bad” or—like everyone, really—somewhere in between, that makes this book so memorable for me. Like being in a twelve-step program, it let me peek under a door where I saw, and knew I always would see, people with issues, people like me, people fleshing out what it means to be human. It’s also very engrossing.

SEX WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW CAN KILL YOU*Sex: What You Don’t Know Can Kill You, Joe S. McIlhaney

This book was assigned to me as a college student by a quirky professor in a class that had nothing to do with sex. And it is unapologetically conservative Christian and pro-abstinence. Perhaps you’re not big on scare tactics, but I didn’t really read it as defensively as many other people would. All I recall was that it really bolstered my already-made resolve and made watching Friends like a game trying to guess just which STDs each character would have by season six. Fun times.

INA MAY'S GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTHIna May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May

You might think that natural pregnancy, childbirth and mothering would come naturally to me, but I can assure you that it wasn’t even on my radar when I got pregnant. Like really. I had a metaphorical radar, and natural childbirth was nowhere on it because I had never really seen it before. When I learned, through friends and classes and this book, that I could be pregnant and birth and raise children in a way that felt intuitive to me, I felt an enormous pressure lift. Again, not the only book I’ve read on it, but probably the most influential.

BIRTHBirth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, Tina Cassidy

While this book totally blew my mind and kept me up reading it for my last week (ever) of pregnancy, it was one incident it really influenced: when my son was born, he didn’t cry. He just looked around the dark, quiet room and for one second I panicked. Until I remembered what I had just read in Birth: babies don’t have to cry when born; it just shows that they are warm and comfortable. I relaxed and looked at Eamon, who was peaceful and observant and learned a deep-down lesson in that moment about how modern practices and assumptions aren’t always right.

So, while these books may not change everyone who reads them’s lives, they were what expanded my mind and enriched my experience at the time, and they are also full of little things that I recall on a regular basis. Again, there are plenty of fiction books and more basic books that might make this list on another day (like Anne of Green Gables, The Holy Bible, Aspects of Rabbinic Literature, Classics of Philosophy, and Neighboring Faiths), and there are many areas in my life which developed without the influence of one book… but this is a peek into the literary moments that changed the trajectory of my life and living.


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