The Books That Have Touched Me Deepest

DSC_0522“I cannot live without books” –Thomas Jefferson

Hello friend,

My Mom once got me an old-style book bag with that Jefferson quote on it, and I hung it from a lamp in my room for years and years.  It doesn’t just say something about me; it speaks to me.  I can hardly recite it without my voice cracking and my hair standing on end.  It goes right to my core.  I cannot live without books.

I have always loved to read.   When I was in my mid-20s, for one year I kept track of all the books I read.  I averaged more than one per week and was gloriously happy in the process.  The only problem: each book I read suggested several more, so I ended up with a Wish List that was hundreds of titles long.  There is just so much to know!  Whenever I want to wander away in my mind, I just spin my desk chair around and gaze at my enormous bookshelf.  I easily drift away into the many favorites that have become so much a part of me over the years.  They are like old friends, the shelves like a photo album of fond memories.  However, there are also so many there that remain untouched, unopened.  Those are the ones that hound me, begging for my attention.  I vow to get to them all one day.  But how can I keep up?  A sane person would realize that he is too busy to get to the ones he already has and be wise enough to not add to the collection.  I, however, am insane.  Every year my Christmas list is full of more titles to fill the shelves.  What can I say?  I love books.

Last night as I wrote, I found myself needing a mental break.  I swung my chair around to look at my dear old friends on the shelves.  As I pondered my long list of favorites, I found my eyes and my memory drawn to the same titles over and over.  These were the books that burned right into my soul the first time I read them and have remained a genuine piece of who I am over the years.  My honorable mention list is enormous, but these four have certainly touched me the deepest:

  • Walden—Henry David Thoreau.  This book rocked my world and set me on my course probably more than any other.  I had always been drawn to it and finally read it when I was about 24.  Honestly, it felt like Thoreau was writing right out of my own mind.  I completely identified with his desire for solitude and simplicity, and I was similarly disenchanted with society.  But mostly I loved how he wanted to live authentically, to be fully himself and pay no mind to what others expected of him nor thought of him.  I loved that he “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”  Those words shake me even as I type them.  This book shook me.  It truly set me on the psychological and spiritual path that I still live on.  I have adopted it as my own.
  • Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer.  The true story of Christopher McCandless’ (a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp) walk out of society and into his Truth—and ultimate death—in the wilderness has been out for nearly twenty years, yet I have never been able to shake him from my system.  He haunts me.  As with Thoreau, I very much identified with McCandless’ ideals and longings.  I believe that Krakauer did as well, and that bleeds into the telling of the story.  I have always enjoyed this type of book that reveals the tragic outcome at the beginning of the account and then goes back to dive into the lives of the characters and traces the timeline leading to the tragedy (e.g. The Perfect Storm, Finding Everett Ruess, and Krakauer’s Into Thin Air), but this is by far the one that still lives in me.  If I opened it right now, I wouldn’t put it down until I finished the last page.
  • Conversations With God—Neale Donald Walsch.  I am actually cheating with this one, because I am including the entire …With God series–some of which I actually like better than the first book–in my sentiment.  Like Walden, this series is a cornerstone in my entire spiritual/psychological foundation.  It came to me at a time, not long after Thoreau, when I had shed the religious teachings of my youth but had not yet found anyone talking specifically about the God I knew.  Enter Walsch and his “conversation” with God.  I found myself saying out loud, “Yes” or “Exactly!” frequently as I read.  I knew I wasn’t alone.  Having read the Bible, Koran, Bhagavad-Gita, and other sacred texts, I found some relief, too, in the idea that holy books did not have to be 2,000 years old.
  • On The Road—Jack Kerouac.  This is pure romance for me.  I was absolutely taken by these mad characters, all based on real people—including himself—in Kerouac’s life.  The “spontaneous prose” that he writes in completely swept me away.  Much like the others, this book gained its place in my heart based on its appearance on my life’s timeline.  You see, just as I was about to embark on the biggest “roadtrip” of my life—wandering around Europe alone for a few months with my backpack—I grabbed a couple of paperbacks at a New York bookstore to be my companions for the trip.  As fate would have it, On The Road was first.  I read it as I sat along the canals in Amsterdam, fantasizing about Jack’s beatific world and the mysterious road ahead of me.  My soul was absolutely on fire!  This was an instant classic for me.

I find myself so happy and grateful as I think about these books.  They have done so much for me, and I feel completely humbled by their magnitude.  As someone who likes to share through the written word, I am, of course, jealous of the astounding ability of these authors.  What I see as the common thread running through the four works is a wonderful execution by the authors in reaching the very core elements of humanity, allowing us to see ourselves bare and real, in all our beautiful Truth.  That is why they make my list, and why they make me.

How about you?  Which books are on your list?  Which ones penetrate right to your core?  Are yours more fiction than mine?  Probably so, as even my fiction title is based on real people!  Can you find a common thread running through your books?  Do yours more often make you laugh, cry, or ponder?  I would LOVE to hear about your list and anything else book-related—this is such a pet topic for me—so please leave a reply.  Let’s talk books!  Tell me: which ones have touched you the deepest?

ALL of you is magnificent,

William

4 thoughts on “The Books That Have Touched Me Deepest

  1. Brent Billehus

    William, I have a b.a. in British Literature from U of M. I don’t care for American auther, save a few. There is something so wonderful about Virginia Woolfe’s “The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway,” Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter” and anything from ,the incredibly difficult at times, James Joyce. I love so many novels, and could talk about them day and night. I think the most important novels to me are Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, Martin Amis’ “Money, ‘Times Arrow, Anthony Burgess’ “The End of the World News” and John Irving’s “The World According To Garp.” I think I took every lit class offered at MinotSU and the U of M. Reading is a privilege. I am currently on an Irvine Welsh
    kick, a fantastic Scottish author.
    Thank you for bringing up this subject, it is my love and will always be with me.

    Reply
  2. Peggy Breedlove

    William; I lit up when I saw your latest topic; there are very few better things in the world than getting lost in the right book. Do you know the story of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe? When I score the right book, I always feel as though I am entering into the wardrobe, and passing through to a secret world that only I am privy to. I read the book that began my thirst for reading way back in junior high school. It was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It totally mesmerized me, and made the hairs stand up in the back of my neck also….still does, when I think of it. As an adult, I have had two favorites. The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner is at the top. So flawlessly written. It was my first experience in unlocking the puzzle of a seemingly disjointed plot sequence that slowly comes together into a multi-generational work of art. My second choice would be The World According To Garp by John Irving. I loved the way it toed the line between comedy, tragedy and ridiculousness, and made me want to live in that world for a while.

    Reply
    1. William Rutten Post author

      How wonderful, Peggy! I love how these books have swept you off your feet and taken you on a journey. The best ones do that. I will definitely add your favorites to my growing list of books to read. Thank you for sharing, and keep on reading!

      Reply

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