(NB : I wanted to call this post “Life-Changing Books” initially, but then I thought that was probably over-doing it a little. So, I have gone for the less grandiose title.)
There are LOADS of books that people recommend you HAVE TO READ. “It will change your life!!!” they exclaim, clutching the book and thrusting it at you with a mad glint in their eye. These type of books always leave me a bit cold. I have tried to absorb the same life-altering information that is contained in their pages, the way everyone else does. But I find myself sighing a lot and rolling my eyes or just not GETTING what it is that I am supposed to get.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is one such book. I get the theme and the meaning of the book and the whole self-understanding and enlightenment and whatnot. But it’s just whatnot to me. Maybe I’m not very enlightened. And I have to say, many of the people I’ve spoken to who’ve read the book and LOVED it, are probably some of the least enlightened people I know.
Then there’s The Power of Now (Eckhart Tolle) which my GP actually recommended to me to stop me stressing and worrying and being mental. And don’t get me started on Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert). I tried, I really did. But, bloody hell, I just wanted to smack her. I did watch the movie and actually found myself crying my eyes out, sitting on the floor eating a tub of ice cream, so it must have connected with me somewhere along the line. But as something I would alter my life with? No. I should probably try reading it again – maybe I am ready now… I don’t dislike Elizabeth Gilbert and I do listen to her podcasts so maybe it’s time to have another crack at her writing.
There are other books which have made an impact on my life. Books that actually changed the way I did things, or thought about things. Books that simplified or amplified my life. They may, or may not, have been best-sellers and they may not be found on any self-help shelf. But they are books I return to again and again for help or inspiration, guidance or just plain solace from the world.
What Not to Wear by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine is an example. I know you’re smirking right now. You’re thinking “Pfft! It’s hardly a book one counts as essential reading!” but I think you’d be wrong. Sure, it’s hardly literary, but it DID help me dress better and for my figure, making it easier for me to find clothes that I look ok in. I know what suits me now and what will make me look like a sack of potatoes. I know what to cover and what to flaunt (although, I’m not much of a flaunter – still having trouble avoiding covering EVERYTHING up). I know that baggy clothes make me look baggy. I know that A-line skirts are my friend. I back away from bias-cut dresses as though they were the anti-Christ. I seek out V-necks and waist-cinching outfits. I was able to hide and disguise my too-large-for-my-frame boobs because I knew how to dress them (and now, after my reduction surgery, I know what to wear to suit my new size). It may sound silly, but it made a difference to me and my life. It took away a teeny bit of anxiety and gave me one less thing to worry about. Dumb as that may seem, it made life easier.
Simple Abundance : A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach is another book I have returned to time and time again. I think I just enjoy reading it and pretending that my life could be authentic and beautiful and organised. It talks about things that make life happier and more fulfilling, daily inspiration for creating your own sanctuary at home and at work. It let’s you feel ok about still loving cute stickers, fairy tales and pretty notebooks and things that make you feel better, even if they’re considered childish by others. It reminds you to be grateful, most importantly, and to hold your loved ones with both hands. It talks about solitude and renewal and the power of a quiet cup of tea. It may be out-dated in some ways but I still like to flick through its pages from time to time and escape into it. One day, I WILL have beautifully arranged linen closets with little sprigs of lavender and I WILL create a private space with a shrine for meditation that gives me strength and a place to be and just breathe. Maybe not right now, but someday I will do more than just read about those things.
Another title that really helped me when I was desperate for guidance and help is The Loss of a Pet : a Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies by Wallace Sife, Ph.D. I have spoken about this one before, when I loss my dear little guinea pig, Roderick, a few years ago. I was so heartbroken and distraught and honestly didn’t know how to get through it. I had lost other pets before and it is always traumatic, but Roderick was a little beacon of light in my life at a time when I was seriously lost and sad and, without him, the world seemed a much bleaker and lonelier place. This book helped me to just acknowledge and accept my feelings as being perfectly OK and nothing to be ashamed of. It let me grieve in a way that other people did not and gave me comfort. Some psychologists I work with think it’s a terrible book – it has some old fashioned ideas (according to them) and talks about the stages of grief which is apparently an out-dated idea and not one that is currently practiced or supported. Well, I’m not a psychologist (duh), but I know the book helped me, and I would recommend it to other people if they were grieving.
Still on the subject of our furry friends, Inside of a Dog : What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz is a fascinating read. Ever want to know what your dog is thinking, why he’s doing THAT and what he really needs to be a happy, healthy member of your pack? This book is for you. Written from a scientific-but-loving point of view, the book tells you everything you ever needed to know about the psychology of our canine buddies. Be prepared to change some of your annoying habits though (not everything is your dog’s fault – in fact, pretty much everything is your fault) and keep receipts if you like buying cute, little doggy outfits. Trust me, you WILL be returning them. And feel very, very bad about how you’ve made poor Fluffy/Toby/Jethro/Killer feel.
I have loads of crafty, arty, creativity-oriented books. Some I keep forever and refer back to, time and time again. One such title is Card Art : Innovative Card-Making Designs by Stephanie McAtee and Emily Falconbridge. When this book came out, it was difficult to buy craft titles that were different, that didn’t have the same old “Let’s stamp and emboss to make a card…” ideas that we’d all seen a million times. Card Art has lots of ideas for using recycled bits and pieces, altered images, every day items and even discarded projects for creating awesome, unique cards. I was so inspired by it and still am today. It just encouraged me to think outside the box a little and be ok with imperfections and messiness, two things which, I think we can all agree, are pretty much staples in my life.
Another title on the crafty front is the wonderful Pretty Little Things by Sally Jean Alexander. Pretty little things indeed, the projects in this book are so delightful and make me want to go out and make something IMMEDIATELY. Sally Jean is a master of soldering, collage and all things vintage-inspired and beautiful. She also has a lamp in the shape of a goose who watches over Sally’s studio. That in itself is enough for me to call her my guru. I did try my hand at soldering after first reading this book. It didn’t go well but I am determined to give it another try again someday. This book will inevitably be my inspiration again.
Yet another art-oriented book is The Complete Guide to Altered Imagery by Karen Michel. I was excited to see this is my local 2nd-Hand bookstore recently and I picked it up for a bargain $5.00. I have borrowed it from my library (back in the days when I borrowed books from libraries…until I learnt that I wasn’t responsible enough to bring them back on time and had to ban myself) many, many times and so having my own copy is pretty fab. Karen leads you through lots of different methods of altering images (hence the title, duh) and using them on cards, collages and more. I have used this book to inspire me to make some projects of my own and it has been a great help. It’s another “step out of your comfort zone” kind of book, which I think we all need from time to time to shake us out of our usual safe routines.
Onto a different topic now, with Dreams : Signs of Things to Come by Quentin Watts. I think I have discussed before my unfortunate tendency towards having nightmares. I have them a lot. Always have done. It is disturbing and downright terrifying at times, but I have had this problem since I was a child and have learnt to deal with it in my own way. Something that helped me a great deal was Quentin’s book and radio show. Being able to figure out what the cryptic messages in my nightmares meant has saved me many an hour in therapy. It always helps a lot towards breaking through the terror that is experienced when having a really bad dream. If you can wake up, write it all down and then work through it, it really does make a difference, and often means you don’t end up having the same dream over and over. I have lots of dream-translating books, and some of them are pretty rubbish. Any that make dreams out to be prophetic and predictive get the boot from my collection. Dreaming of a man holding an ice cream and wearing a chair on his head does not mean you are going to marry a dairy-goods baron and open a furniture store together. It just doesn’t. But it probably means something else is going on in your life that is making you dream silly things. Or, you could just be craving ice cream. Or your subconscious mind might be giving you a gentle nudge to remind you that your dining chair is about to break and that YOU REALLY NEED TO GET IT FIXED BEFORE SOMEONE HURTS THEMSELVES. Probably Aunt Gladys, who is rather large due to her love of ice cream. Anyway, Dreams is a good book (and so are Quentin’s other titles) and worth a read if you suffer from SDS (Silly Dream Syndrome) like I do.
Another book I have to mention is He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I know, I know, it was all hyped up and made into a movie and just another fad. But, actually, it’s pretty awesome. I wish I had read this BEFORE I started dating. It would have made things so much easier. Or, at least, would have given me a better understanding of why things happen and why guys act like they do, and how to have some idea of whether they really like you or if they just want to get in your pants. I think because it is written by a guy, it just makes more sense and seems more candid and truthful. The follow-up book, It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, is also really good and actually helped me a lot. It’s kind of like having a super-supportive friend who will also give you a slap in the face when you’re being an idiot. I recommend both books. You should read them whilst consuming vast quantities of ice cream, on the couch, in your pyjamas. Mandatory.
In a similar vein, Rebuilding : When Your Relationship Ends by Dr Bruce Fisher and Dr Robert Alberti, is an excellent tool for helping you through a break up. It’s easy to read, makes a lot of sense and I know lots of people who have been helped by this book – it was recommended to me by a friend who had been through a nasty divorce and I, in turn, have recommended it to others. It’s not rocket science, but sometimes you need someone to actually talk you through the whole break up process and work through the feelings you’re experiencing and all that unpleasant stuff. And sometimes you can’t afford a therapist ha ha. So a book is the next best thing. Possibly even a better thing, because you can cry and be weepy without having a human audience. And it won’t judge you for wearing pyjamas or eating ice cream which, as we have already discussed, is an important part of the process.
So, there you have it, just a few titles that I would highly recommend you check out. Maybe they won’t save the world or lead you to enlightenment, but they’re pretty good just the same. Immediately after posting this, I will remember other titles that I should have included but, as it is late, I will leave it at that and save any additions for another day and another post. Happy reading 🙂
(PS : I have written about some of my favourite novels before HERE)