That Reading Life

Is there a book you think everyone should read before they die?

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Thanks to a Facebook post by the Literary Ladies Guide, I have been thinking about this.

Is there a particular book you think every single person would benefit from reading in their lifetime?

Reading tastes are so personal. People who read for pleasure just read what they like, not what others have told them they “should” read. (I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t use the word should in the first place, unless it’s in dictating how we treat other people.) The point of reading for pleasure is that it’s pleasurable! I don’t want people to have to read books that feel like swallowing cough syrup.

On the other hand, throughout my reading life, I’ve come to understand that reading widely is the method by which I attempt to understand the world and the other people in it. Experiencing the world is important, of course. But because I have a regular job in an office and most of my friends are of the same socioeconomic class as me, I have to intentionally seek out diverse experiences. And one of the ways I do that is through reading.

For me, it’s important to read about other people’s lives in order to understand them. I read about people from other cultures in order to learn how they are similar to and different from me. It is an important aspect of my reading and the reason I was so disappointed to see that I’d only read 2 books by non-white authors last year.

Essentially, in my own life, books have been a powerful catalyst in helping me to understand other people’s lives. They have given me the gift of empathy and the willingness to acknowledge that my perspective and worldview are not the only perspective and worldview (and certainly not the only “right” worldview) that matter.

Other than immeasurable pleasure, this is what reading has meant to me.

Having seen the power that books wield, I want everyone to read books by people whose life experiences differ from their own. To read books by authors of other races, genders, countries of origin, sexual orientation, social classes, political views, and languages.

But I don’t know that I could pick just one book that I’d want everyone to read. Because who’s to say that book will affect others the way it affected me?

That preamble aside, in mulling over this question, several books did come quickly to mind. So, here are four books I would love for everyone to read. But no presh! 🙂


The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is one I read as a teenager and I continue to read it periodically as an adult. In the 90s, it helped this young white girl to understand that racism is still, and was always, very much alive in the U.S. despite a Civil War that was fought, or so she was taught, to free slaves in the name of equality. It drove home the terrible injustice served up by systemic racism. I would love for all people, at least all Americans, to read this one.


ThesoulofAnOctopusThe Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

This might seem like a weird choice to some, but this book helped me understand the fullness of life beyond what we see every day. There is life being lived by creatures that science has only just begun to understand. Best of all, in reading this book, I felt an incredible sense of wonder, not an emotion that comes readily to me as a cubicle warrior who lives in a midsized city.


Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I read this classic in high school and again in college. It’s a glimpse into the life of a Nigerian Igbo tribe that reveals the effects of colonialism. Once again, this is a book that opened up another culture to me and taught me to question the dominant values of the society in which I live.


8520610Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I almost didn’t include this one, but I’m gonna’. In this book, Susan Cain really toes the line between introvert appreciation and extrovert bashing. And even though I am a classic introvert, I don’t think one way of being is better than another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an extrovert.

But this book is stellar in a couple of ways that are important to me: It helped me and a lot of other people understand the differences between being shy and being an introvert (I am both, hah!). And it outlines and promotes the value of introvert ways of thinking in a country (I’m thinking just the U.S. here) that rewards extroversion (namely in the world of work).

It helped me personally to feel seen and understood. But I’ve also spoken with several extreme extroverts, including the vice president of my division at work, who said it helped them understand that introverts/quiet people/reserved people aren’t dysfunctional. They just have a rich inner life that can’t be expressed on demand, especially in a room of extroverts. I love that a book has the power to bridge gaps like that!


989013Boundaries by Anne Katherine

Every time I see a post on Facebook about how someone is upset, it’s usually because someone they love or loved has crossed a boundary. This book is about giving yourself permission to set boundaries that keep you not just safe, but sane. I wish everyone would read it and try to identify themselves in the boundaries setters and boundary crossers. Most of us have been both. Reading this book would lead to self-awareness that would benefit so many people.


And that’s where I’ll leave it.

I would love to know, is there one book, or are there several books you wish everyone would read? Tell me what yours are!

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