This train of thought began a few nights ago, as wind and something wet and very cold lashed against my bedroom window. I’d been working on my latest manuscript, so I suppose I was in that slightly altered state that books always bring about in me. At any rate, the combination of the storm, the creaks and groans of the cottage and this dark, deep magical time of year as we approach the winter solstice made me think, “Whoa – it’s a Dark is Rising night!”
It was then that I realised how Susan Cooper’s stunning and fearsome children’s novel had seeped into the very bones of me. It had shaped my perceptions and altered the person I was. A truly great book should do that.
I don’t remember when I first discovered The Dark is Rising. Probably in one of my jobs as a school librarian/ head of English in the early seventies. There was some wonderful children’s literature around at that time – Ursula Le Guin‘s Wizard of Earthsea, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Penelope Lively‘s meticulously crafted time-slip adventures, Peter Dickinson‘s Changes Trilogy – but it was Susan Cooper’s masterpiece which helped to craft the person I am now.
So all this got me thinking: What other books have shaped my life? Notice I’m not talking here about favourite books, books I’ve enjoyed, books I’d recommend (although – to the right person – I’d recommend every one of them). I’m talking of books that have jolted me into a new understanding and way of seeing. I’m talking of having my prior perceptions dragged – kicking and screaming at times – into a new paradigm or, in some cases, of having my wildest and most cherished suspicions and hopes about what is really going on here validated and encouraged. In either case, what follows is a list of books – whittled down reluctantly to ten and in no particular order – which have changed me forever.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper Written for children but reaches the magic deep inside each of us. For me, the boundary between the normal and the magical was broken down forever once I’d read it.
CosMos by Ervin Laszlo and Jude Currivan Magic for grown-ups! Here I discovered highly respected academics writing about and expanding upon the cosmos as I wanted and needed it to be. (I’ve been lucky enough to encounter both authors in life, and they are two of the most delightful and inspiring people I’ve ever met.)
The Crack in the Golden Egg by Joseph Chilton Pearce This book kept appearing in other authors’ bibliographies, so I decided I needed to read it for myself. Thank goodness I did. Stunning and life-changing revelations on every page.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell Yes, he’s a brilliant novelist and I loved The Bone Clocks too, but it was this book and it’s way of weaving infinitely subtle links between lifetimes and personalities that shifted my way of seeing other lives and times.
Autism and the Edges of the Known World by Olga Bogdashina With a title that great, how could I resist? This (along with my next choice and Suzy Miller’s Awesomism) should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the autistic spectrum and the amazing people who dwell on it.
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida I’ve already devoted one blog post to this stunning little book but it still deserves a place here. For me it was filled with moments of joyful recognition as I was shown that hunches had been right all along, or gave me insights I’d never have found alone.
The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto Needs no introduction. A beautiful, wise, witty man (I was fortunate enough to hear him speak once) whose unique vision and stunning images changed the way the world worked for me.
Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts Before I settled here in Glastonbury, I came for a long weekend and – as visitors do – went for a psychic reading. I was told many things that day. One was that I would become a writer, but that first I needed to find and read the Seth books. I did. They are complicated, abstract, awkwardly written and lack the easy readability of Abraham Hicks, but they changed my life and I re-read them constantly.
Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch This is where I first discovered a God I liked. Neale’s God was witty, charming, wise and surprising. I struggle with the financial empire the books have spawned, but the words resonate deeply.
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran Last on my list but the first of these books I discovered and – if I had to choose – probably the most life-changing. I love this beautiful, deceptively simple little volume like no other.
So there you have it: the books that made me.
Please feel free to share any of your own life-changing reads below.