Tag Archives: J.R.R. Tolkien

The Belated Summer Reading List

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” –William Styron

Hello friend,

You know those Summer Reading Lists you see in the magazines and on websites around Memorial Day? I love those lists! You know the ones: they assume you have unlimited time in the Summer, so they tell you all the cool books to read by the beach or pool as you chill your way through the season. They give you some hot new authors and some literary giants, some fiction and some nonfiction. Everyone has one of these lists: Oprah, Amazon, Goodreads, The Washington Post, PBS, you name it. They always get me so excited about my favorite thing: books!

Well, I am sorry to say that you will not find one of those great Summer Book Lists on this page next May!

I have never been one to plan my reading. I go by intuition. When I finish one book, I just scour the shelves and the lists and choose the one that feels right to me. Before I look, I cannot tell you if I will be choosing a title in Teen Fiction, New Age, Classics, Self-Help, History, Humor, or Memoir. I find something to love in all of them as long as I trust my gut in the choosing.

So, my apologies for not providing you with yet another prescription for your Summer reading. Because guess what: September is here, and Autumn is knocking!

Thus, the best I can do for you is to tell you about all the great stuff I read over the Summer. Like the usual lists, I have a mix of genres for you and a mix of authors new and old. So, lets get started!

I came into the Summer reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. I had seen the movie years ago when it came out, not knowing it had been a book. Thankfully, though, by the time I got around to the book, I had no recollection of the movie, except a few of the stunning visual images. I always enjoy a book that has something of the spiritual woven into the story, so this was a good start to my Summer reading. It also helped that much of it took place in hot climates and on the water, which put my mind in the right spot for the season.

Alongside my personal reading, I also read every night at bedtime with my daughter, who just turned nine during the course of the Summer. Our very first book of the season was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which was fun. We then moved into the complex web of people and places in Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. The book is enormous and not exactly in my genre wheelhouse, so I was relieved when we finished the second of the six “books” in the book—enough to get us through what would have been the first of the three movies—and my daughter decided we should move on to something different. Maybe some day we will return for the rest. It won’t bother me if we don’t.

The next book for me was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. I had recently watched the magnificent and moving documentary about Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro”, and was eager to get into his writing. I knew he was famous for his nonfiction essays and his fiction, and though I figured the nonfiction would be just my speed—I was drawn to The Fire Next Time–I decided on this more famous novel. I should have gone with my gut. Though I certainly appreciated his writing and very much liked certain chapters, the subject matter just didn’t hold me very well. I was ready for something new.

It was not lost on me that perhaps I was striking out because I was trying out novels. Though I enjoy all genres, my go-to areas tend to be autobiographies and nonfiction (self-help, spiritual, or anything that expands my knowledge). I generally spread out my fiction attempts.   For whatever reason, though, I was in the mood for more fiction.

After these misses and with my determination to find a novel that I loved, I was beginning to wonder if my Summer reading was going to be a giant FAIL. How wrong I was!

It was just at that moment of doubt that I struck literary gold (er, purple). It was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I had seen the film version many years before—it is my wife’s favorite movie—but had forgotten most of it (which I always think is a godsend). It was brilliant on so many fronts and I was completely moved by the story and the complications of social injustice. It is a true masterpiece for any season.

I thank Alice Walker for starting my Summer hot streak, because I came into some wonderful words after that one. I always love when someone gives me a book, because I know it is, quite literally, meant for me. So it was with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a book about keeping curiosity and artistic expression in your life forever. I don’t know if everyone would connect to this book, but I surely did. It helped me to put my writing habit/passion into perspective with my bigger life. Truly, it changed my thinking. Behold, the power of books!

As I read that one, I also started a novel recommended to me by my teenage nieces: Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay For Now. It may have taken me a couple of chapters to warm up to it, but then I was in. It is books like that one (probably aimed at early teens) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars (both categorized as Teen Fiction) that prove to me that “great books for kids” are truly great books for adults. I will read Okay For Now with my daughter in a couple years, no doubt.

Speaking of my daughter, we moved from The Lord of the Rings to Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was interesting, not mind-blowing. Then we went to the Deep South with perhaps America’s signature novel, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I had last read it in high school and—surprise, surprise—had forgotten what the story was all about. Though we both liked it, in hindsight I would have also waited a couple more years to read this one with her. It forced some discussions that would be better suited for the light of day rather than in a dark room at bedtime. But still, a great book.

While that was going on, I was engrossed in an absolute gem of a book, Between the World and Me. Written in the form of a letter from the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to his teenage son, this book is simultaneously enlightening and devastatingly sad. And the quality of the writing is unparalleled. It is an essential read for anyone trying to deepen their empathy, and particularly trying to understand what it feels like to be a Black man in America. It gripped me completely and remains with me weeks later.

So grateful for this beautiful stretch of reading, I moved into the final days of Summer with three of my pet topics: death, religion/spirituality, and the Holocaust.

My niece, also a student of religions, gave me a copy of Peter Rollins’s The Orthodox Heretic, a book of modern parables and commentary. It touches on a topic that often riles me up, which is the incongruity between the teachings of Jesus and the actions of his followers. I am plodding slowly through this one and am only halfway there, but I quite like all of the things it stirs in me. It is wonderful fodder for journal entries.

I happen to have a perhaps-unhealthy fascination (maybe obsession) with death, especially “premature” death and how to come to grips with it. With that, I selected Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which tracked the strange tricks her mind played on her in the year following her husband’s sudden death. I came away with more empathy for those who have lost loved ones and a greater understanding of the enormous power, longevity, and unpredictability of grief.

Staying with the Death theme, I moved to Tell My Sons, by Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber. I was drawn to it because it was written as a letter of advice and guidance from a father who was dying of cancer to his three sons. That is the kind of thing I imagine myself doing if such a dreadful diagnosis arrives at my doorstep. I am still in the middle of it, but it has already led to lots of morbid daydreaming.

The last book on my Summer list, which I will finish today, is Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. I am reading it with my daughter, as the protagonist is a girl only a year older, whose family is helping their friends, a Jewish family, to escape the Nazis during World War II. It is well done, another “kid book” that is appropriate for adults.

That’s it! That was my Summer of Reading! Well, of course, I read hundreds of articles to keep me informed on the madness that is our world today, too, but I love the books so much more. I learned from each one and would recommend each (but to different people). If you made me choose the ones that impressed me the most, I would go with The Color Purple and Between the World and Me, for both their ideas and the quality of the writing.

I don’t know why I chose so many fiction titles—nine of the fourteen—compared to my usual pace. Perhaps it was the spirit of the season, the way those Summer Book List articles glamorize the “page-turner” novels as poolside reads. I don’t regret it, though. It was fun! I don’t have a clue as to what I will read and suggest to you for next Summer. Tell you what: I’ll let you know next Fall!

How about you? What have you been reading all Summer? Open up your journal and make a timeline and some book reports. What is on your list? Did you read mostly fiction or nonfiction? Is that normal for you? How did you decide what to read? Did you take any recommendations from the “Hot Books for Summer” lists from the magazines or websites? Did you use your social media community? I always love when I see a post where one of my friends asks for book recommendations, because I then scour the Comments section for ideas. Did any of your books open your eyes to the way other people live and see the world—The Color Purple and Between the World and Me did this for me—or change the way you look at the big things in your normal life, like Big Magic did for me? What else did your Summer books do for you? Give you an escape? Teach you a new skill or idea? Remind you of what is important? Make you treat yourself better? Make you treat others better? Frighten you? Inspire you?  Which will you recommend the most?  Which is your favorite?  Aren’t books just totally amazing??? I love them! Is there something different about Summer reading? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is on your Summer Reading List?

Live a thousand lives,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s get our lists together!

My Favorite Quotes: The Words That Remind Me What Matters Most

fontcandy“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hello friend,

Twenty years ago, when I first opened Thoreau’s Walden, little did I know that my life would never be the same. My mind had just begun to open to new messages, and Thoreau came in and absolutely blew the roof off the place. I had found my soul-mate! I was mesmerized by every last word, reading each passage over before moving on to make sure I absorbed it completely. It was as if he as writing directly to me, or, more accurately, writing right out of my own head. I wanted to highlight every paragraph, to quote every line. Some of my favorites:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“If I were confined to a corner of a garret all my days, like a spider, the world would be just as large to me while I had my thoughts about me.”

“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

“I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

“Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

Oh, I could go on and on! That book just melted into my soul. I tingled all over as those magical lines burned themselves into my brain, where I would draw on them many times in all the years that have followed. Beautiful words from beautiful minds have that way about them.

Over the course of my life, the three historical characters that I have gravitated towards most are Thoreau, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.. I have been captivated by their writings, their speeches, and the lives they led. When I try to come up with my favorite quotes from them, it is very difficult, as nearly everything on record is compelling to me.

With Gandhi, if you forced me to pick two, I might pick the simplest ones, both of which spoke to the way he led. The first is, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” The second echoes that sentiment. While visiting Bengal, a reporter asked him, “Do you have a message for the people of India?” His response: “My life is my message.” Oh, if we could all live up to that, just imagine our greatness!

With Dr. King, it is perhaps even more difficult to pin down a couple of favorites. One of them that has inspired me often with Journal of You, particularly when I have debated whether to write about a controversial or revealing topic—God, politics, sexuality, to name a few–is this challenge to the soul: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That one slays my fears every time.

A good quotation is unbelievably powerful. It strikes you right at your core, making your hairs stand on end or unleashing sudden tears or smiles or knowing nods. Some of the ones that hit me at my foundation are about simple life lessons that I need to be reminded of:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” –Socrates

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” –Aristotle

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” –Norman Vincent Peale

“You never fail until you stop trying.” –Albert Einstein

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” –Persian saying

“Peace is every step.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” –Bill Keane (and others)

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” –George Bernard Shaw

“The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: I did not have time.” –Anonymous

“If not now, when? If not you, who?” –Hillel the Elder 

All of these hit home for me in slightly different ways. They are the little reminders that I need to stay clear about how to navigate this world successfully. They are the random–but pure gold–nuggets of wisdom. I love them individually.

On the other hand, I find that there is one category of quotations that I am drawn to most, one topic from which I can easily churn out a big list of favorites. My soul-stingers are the ones that remind me to seize the day and follow the calling of my heart unflinchingly. They can be summarized by three words from the great Joseph Campbell: “Follow your Bliss.” Here are some of the others in my “Follow your Bliss/This is Not a Dress Rehearsal” category:

“One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” –Paulo Coelho

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” –T.S. Eliot

“I am here to live out loud.” –Émile Zola

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” —Thomas Jefferson

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough!” —Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” –A favorite Pinterest meme

“Leap and the net will appear.” –John Burroughs

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –George Eliot

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it—don’t back down and don’t give up—then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” –Bob Dylan

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” –Anaïs Nin

“You know, we can’t get out of life alive! We can either die in the bleachers or die on the field. We might as well come down on the field and go for it!” –Les Brown

“Don’t die with your music still in you.” –Wayne Dyer (A spin on Thoreau’s line from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”)

These are like zingers right into my heart. I get that surge of adrenaline and clarity whenever I read them. I think that says a lot about what drives me, what is in my soul’s code. These words have magical powers. They are the wind that fills my sails. When I read them, I think they were written just for me. That is the essence of a favorite quote. I do love them so.

How about you? What are your favorite quotations? Open up your journal and start your own list. Is there one particular writer or speaker, like my Thoreau, whose phrases are burned upon your heart more than others? I think most of us just know our favorites when we see them, but are there any quotes that you recite frequently from memory? Are your favorites from all over the map, or do they tend to fall into a certain category, such as love, change, happiness, humor, motivation, family, leadership, or success? Why do you think you gravitate toward that topic? When you come across a quotation that strikes you at your core, what do you do about it? Do you see it as a message that was meant for you and allow it to direct your course of action, or do you dismiss it as mere chance and move on? Now that you have been creating your list, do you feel inclined to post it somewhere, or at least keep it in a notebook that you will open occasionally for a positive reminder? Which ones are your absolute favorites? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which words are yours to live by?

Do your best today,

William

P.S. If our search for quotes stirred your heart and mind a bit today, share it with your world. We could all use a little stirring!