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The Great Book That Saved Your Life

A reader writes:

I just wanted to take a moment to congratulate you on the publication of ‘How Dante Can Save Your Life’. [1]  The book does indeed look beautiful.  And I will be ordering it for the store I work at as soon as possible.  And I will be reading it and hopefully reviewing it for my poetry blog.

I have felt a special connection with your posts about the healing power of Dante.  I had a similar experience, but with another one of the great classics, “The Consolation of Philosophy” by Boethius.  It was over 12 years ago now.  I was diagnosed with skin cancer and scheduled for surgery.  The surgery was more extensive than one might think upon hearing the diagnosis and a hospital stay was required.  As I was leaving my house I had a small collection of things to take with me.  I suddenly realized I hadn’t put any books into the small piece of luggage.  I was feeling very anxious.  I looked at my books in my room and none of them really spoke to me and to my situation.  And then I saw on the shelf the ‘Consolation’.  I grabbed it and put it in with my other things.

It turned out to be perfect.  It really spoke to me in my condition.  Not that I was in prison, or that I was about to be executed.  Those were Boethius’ specifics.  But the book spoke about mortality, and how life inevitably has its ups and downs, how little we actually control, and how a kind of peace comes with acceptance.  To this day I am so grateful for Boethius and his ‘Consolation’.  I have recommended this book to quite a few people in the ensuing years and every one of them has found the book rewarding and helpful in a time of need.

Like Dante, Boethius was Christian and Catholic (in the Catholic Church he is a Saint; his feast day is October 23rd).  The ‘Consolation’ is less overtly Catholic than the Divine Comedy.  But the world view is tangibly the same; that there is a transcendental reality and that it is there that one finds meaning, and consolation, in life.

There is another way that the ‘Consolation’ resembles Dante and that is that a large portion of the ‘Consolation’ is in poetry.  The book alternates between prose sections and sections written in verse.  The edition I took with me to the hospital was a Loeb Classical Library edition that had the original Latin facing the English translation.  This allowed me to read the poetry sections as poetry which, I feel, deepened the experience.

I have had no recurrence of my diagnosis for which I am very grateful.  But at a deeper level I am grateful that someone like Boethius can speak to me across the centuries, one human being to another, offering solace and comfort.

That’s so great. It reminds me of Gary Saul Morson’s recent Commentary essay about Anna Karenina. [2] Excerpt:

In his daily work, Levin comes to appreciate the importance of the ordinary and prosaic. If one lives rightly moment by moment, and trusts that daily practice has its own wisdom, then the questions troubling Levin are not exactly answered, but they disappear. When Levin recognizes these Tolstoyan truths, he is overcome with joy:

I was looking for miracles, regretting that I had not seen a miracle that might convince me. But here is a miracle, the sole miracle possible, existing continuously, surrounding me on all sides, and I didn’t notice it!…I have discovered nothing. I have only recognized what I already knew….I have been freed from falsity, I have found the Master.

In his time, Tolstoy was known as a nyetovshcik—one who says no (nyet) to what almost all educated people believed. If anything, his views are even more at odds with educated opinion today. In this novel’s rejection of romantic love, in its challenge to the inauthentic ways intellectuals think, in its trust in practice over theory, and above all, in its defense of the prosaic virtues exhibited by Dolly—in all these ways, Anna Karenina challenges us today with ever-increasing urgency.

Morson’s essay about the “moral urgency” of the Tolstoy novel makes it clear how a book like that could save one’s life. (It also makes me want to return to Anna Karenina.) If Francesca da Rimini, the damned adulteress of Dante’s Commedia, had had been able to read Tolstoy instead of the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, her life and fate might have been different.

So, question to you: was there ever a single book, other than the Bible, the Koran, or a holy book, that saved your life, in the sense that it brought you back to reality, or kept you from making a serious mistake? If so, what was the book, and how did it work for you?

93 Comments (Open | Close)

93 Comments To "The Great Book That Saved Your Life"

#1 Comment By Michael Guarino On March 27, 2015 @ 12:26 am

I will second Ryan M. and say Crime and Punishment would have to be the book that did it for me. I never really understood the Gospel of John until I read it.

#2 Comment By VikingLS On March 27, 2015 @ 12:52 am

I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was 10 and they’ve stuck with me ever since. IMHO The Last Battle is the best (I particularly love the dwarves in paradise insisting that they’re still imprisoned in a stable in spite of their lying eyes and Aslan’s embrace of the faithful worshiper of Tash, along with the “Tashlan” ecumenicism that is droppped as soon as the fighting starts.)

However my favorite scene in all the books is when the Green Witch attempts to persuade Eustance, Jill Prince Rillian and the marsh willge Puddleglum that the sun, Aslan, and the surface world entirely are figments of their imaginations and then Puddleglum stamps out the narcotic fire she’d been using to drug them into agreement with his bare feet.

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

If you haven’t read Aesop since you were a kid, revisit it. Those stories are brilliant. I think of this one a lot with civil liberties.

The Dog and the Wolf

A gaunt Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to
meet a House-dog who was passing by. “Ah, Cousin,” said the Dog.
“I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin
of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food
regularly given to you?”

“I would have no objection,” said the Wolf, “if I could only
get a place.”

“I will easily arrange that for you,” said the Dog; “come with
me to my master and you shall share my work.”

So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On
the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of
the Dog’s neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that
had come about.

“Oh, it is nothing,” said the Dog. “That is only the place
where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it
chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it.”

“Is that all?” said the Wolf. “Then good-bye to you, Master

On another note, Darth Thulu is right about the Sandman, it’s brilliant.

#3 Comment By Coleman On March 27, 2015 @ 12:56 am

It’s not a book and it wasn’t so drastic that I’d say it saved my life, but in university I went through a pretty dark period for about a year, and one of the touchstones that helped me keep my head above water until the depression abated was a poem by William Wordsworth, “ [3].” Its admonition to engage in humanity was exactly what I needed at the time, a time when I had to fight hard not to isolate myself with a sense of self-importance.

#4 Comment By Kevin Murphy On March 27, 2015 @ 2:06 am

Alan Watts’ The Way of Zen gave me a framework to deal with crippling panic attacks.

#5 Comment By Early Times Antiquarian On March 27, 2015 @ 2:08 am

I’ll try a different kind of answer: when I was teaching high school in Washington County, Mississippi (and occasionally eating lunch at Leroy Percy State Park), I picked up Walter Percy’s memoir, “Lanterns on the Levee.” Walter Percy was Walker Percy’s uncle and Leroy Percy’s son–and Leroy Percy was a US Senator and Mississippi planter who kept the Klan out of Washington County in the 1920’s.

I don’t remember much about the memoir except that Walter said his father only gave him one piece of advice: “Read Ivanhoe,” and that Leroy Percy read Ivanhoe once a year.

I won’t say I was “saved,” but two judgments followed: (1) habitual reading–or the regular revisiting of certain books–may be more significant than any singular reading experience; (2) as great as Mark Twain was, and as much as he ridiculed the South for loving Walter Scott, there is something to the South and something to Walter Scott, that Twain never fully realized.

#6 Comment By calm seneca On March 27, 2015 @ 6:20 am

during a time when I was lost and needing direction I came across the then new (hays) translation of Marcus Aurelius “meditations” it seemed to speak to me directly with its hard edged acceptance of reality, it gave me comfort in a way that was not comfortable.
through “meditations” I discovered the other stoics (Epictetus in particular) and the wider field of stoic philosophy in general.
I cannot be a Christian ,I feel the three Abrahamic religions have brought too much suffering into the world but I still find that I need an ethical system of some sort and a philosophy that helps me to endure when life is difficult and stoicism works for me. the meditations was my gateway into it. It is also part of our western cultural heritage- a way of thinking that our current decadent and irrational culture could use more of.

#7 Comment By Bart W On March 27, 2015 @ 6:34 am

LOTR and War and Peace. They game me something to long for when dealing with severe anxiety and a way to cope with the pain. The death of Petya Rostov is one of the most lasting book imagines I have ever read

#8 Comment By Richard On March 27, 2015 @ 7:11 am

From scripture, it’s easier for me to aim the laser pointer. It’s St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, especially Chapters 5 through 8.

From literature, it depends, because perhaps like others, I’ve needed “rescue” more than once, and the circumstances each time have differed. I guess I would have to say that the book that still accompanies an important inflection point for me is “To Kill a Mockingbird” (“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin'”).

From current affairs, “Fiasco”, by Thomas Ricks. It demolished my political outlook, and there is an empty vacant lot where it once stood.

And in terms of that strange chemistry between avocation and where one hopes life’s journey might lead (if that makes any sense at all), John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country”. I was able to live in Alaska for many years, and to travel to the upper Yukon and to Eagle, and to meet some of the characters, and to spend some time in the silences of the created world.


#9 Comment By BasilNova On March 27, 2015 @ 7:21 am

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is one time that I can use the word “literally”. As in, literally saved my life.

#10 Comment By Elijah On March 27, 2015 @ 7:56 am

Though they may seem strange, “The Sun Also Rises” by Hemingway and “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. Like some others above, when I red these works in college I was adrift and unhappy with my life, and both books reminded me that brokenness is an almost universal human condition, and that seeking ‘our own way out’ is ultimately futile.

In short, both books led me back to the faith I had largely abandoned as a young man. More than that, the authors, through their characters, led me out of the wrong-headed idea I harbored that somehow God Loves Us, but I still need to right my life on my own. I finally figured out that I could never live up to the life of Christ, I could only accept Him and love Him.

#11 Comment By Steve S On March 27, 2015 @ 8:29 am

“Introduction to Christianity” by Pope Benedict XVI (written long before his election to the papacy) has had a profound impact on my life. Not only did this bring a lot of theological threads together for me, but more importantly, it communicated God’s love to me in some very beautiful ways.

#12 Comment By G-Diddy On March 27, 2015 @ 8:53 am

Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, was the book that pulled me back from the pit.

It was at the end of sophomore year at Tulane, and my academic performance had been abysmal that year. My life had devolved into a completely hedonistic, non-stop bender of pure debauchery and depravity. Even by New Orleans’ standards or college-life standards, this was much further down than that. (As I’m typing this, I realize this was exactly 25 years ago.)

At the end of yet another all-night pleasurefest, I crawled into bed as the first gray light of day peeked through the blinds. I picked up the Hemingway book and began to read.

I had never been a reader. I skipped all that growing up. Didn’t read for pleasure. Only did enough that was required of me. Opted for Cliffs Notes whenever possible throughout high school. Etc. But this was different. I liked it.

I don’t know if the decision was made that very morning or if it was a slow moving epiphany that revealed itself over the next couple of weeks, but it was then that I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I thought that I had missed out on something great by not having read literature before, and I didn’t want other kids like me to miss out, too.

This is the short version. The whole thing and how my life changed and what other events when along with this–before and after–are a whole long tale. (Maybe the next time I’m in Louisiana and if we happen to meet up, Rod, I’d enjoy sharing the whole thing with you over some oysters.)


#13 Comment By E. J. On March 27, 2015 @ 10:19 am

I struggled a lot in college from a combination of homesickness and frustration with my home situation, and two books stand out as having helped me cope–“The Lord of the Rings” and G.K. Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse.” Both place a lot of emphasis on doing your duty even if you do not know the outcome, and I also identified a lot with Frodo’s homesickness. Tolkien and Chesterton ended up really affecting the way I saw reality in general, and Christianity in particular.

#14 Comment By D.P. Smith On March 27, 2015 @ 10:25 am

“North Toward Home” by Willie Morris. In 1968 I worked on a merchant marine ship. Flying home to Mississippi from NY, I picked up this book at the airport. It seemed I reading something very personal on some level. My worldview was nudged for good.

#15 Comment By elrond On March 27, 2015 @ 10:38 am

This is cheating a little, but…

When I was a depressed teenager, overwhelmed with a sense of darkness, I listened to Act 2 of Mozart’s Don Giovanni over and over again. That truly saved me.

I realized two things:

1) If something can exist that is this beautiful, life is worth living.

2) If something can exist that is this beautiful, there must be a God.

#16 Comment By JCM On March 27, 2015 @ 10:46 am

“Confederacy of Dunces”–ordinary life is a comedy to be enjoyed even when it is not divine.

You can (inwardly) laugh at just about everyone (including yourself) and everything–the pretentious slob next door, his clueless mother, the officious intermeddler, even the senile filing clerk–just don’t be mean about it. Everyone is struggling.

#17 Comment By Brad On March 27, 2015 @ 11:09 am

Two books, which inform my mind concerning religion and politics: The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivner, by Martin Gardner, which convinced me that you don’t have to be a fundamentalist or rigorist in religion or politics. And The Changing Faces of Jesus, which convinced me that the historical Jesus would be mostly shocked by much that followed him and has been done in his name.

#18 Comment By MargaretE On March 27, 2015 @ 11:21 am

Early Times Antiquarian, the author of ‘Lanterns on the Levee’ is William Alexander Percy, not “Walter.” (Just FYI.) It’s a wonderful book.

#19 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 27, 2015 @ 11:22 am

Viking LS,

I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was around that age (say 9-12) as well. I’ve of course re-read them many times since: like Lewis himself said, good children’s literature, like wholesome bread, is one of those early pleasures you never outgrow.

I love the scene you recount from the Silver Chair, as well as some of the scenes from The Last Battle (including the stuff with the Tashlan ecumenism: Lewis did a great job of satirizing a lot of trends that we can see in the world today).

#20 Comment By MargaretE On March 27, 2015 @ 11:23 am

If I have to choose just one, it would probably be ‘The Screwtape Letters.’ It completely changed the way I view the world and my place in it. So much wisdom in that little book.

#21 Comment By JCM On March 27, 2015 @ 11:30 am

If I may double dip, I would add the play “La Vida es Sueno” by Calderon de la Barca. Like Hamlet, it is the story of a disturbed prince.

He is one of his meditations:

Segismundo’s reflections
(close of Act II)

The king dreams he is a king,
And in this delusive way
Lives and rules with sovereign sway;
All the cheers that round him ring,
Born of air, on air take wing.
And in ashes (mournful fate!)
Death dissolves his pride and state:
Who would wish a crown to take,
Seeing that he must awake
In the dream beyond death’s gate?


‘Tis a dream that I in sadness
Here am bound, the scorn of fate;
‘Twas a dream that once a state
I enjoyed of light and gladness.
What is life? ‘Tis but a madness.
What is life? A thing that seems,
A mirage that falsely gleams,
Phantom joy, delusive rest,
Since is life a dream at best,
And even dreams themselves are dreams

Hence, all is a confederacy of dunces.

#22 Comment By Incertus On March 27, 2015 @ 12:40 pm

For me, it was Walden by Henry David Thoreau. While my mother and step-father were building a house the summer before I went to college, I lived in a camper. I don’t remember why I picked up Thoreau, but 17 year old me really took to this quote:

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust.”

I went on to college and studied Classics and Philosophy with the thought of giving my life to these disciplines as a professor. However, that ambition didn’t survive the reality of modern day academia. So I moved back home for a year, working a manual labor job and loafing. During a particularly rough patch I picked up Walden again, and not only the content but the prose really knocked me out. He said

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

Over the past 3 years I’ve slowly been making my way through more and more of Thoreau’s works. He’s often written off as an eccentric (to some extent he was), but he is a serious thinker and a first-rate writer. Some people even disparage him for building his cabin too close to Concord and walking to town for the weekly gossip, but I think they misread Thoreau. He wasn’t searching for some misguided ideal of purity in nature, which is impossible, but through his experiment at Walden Pond he built an testament to the ability of men to make themselves better.

#23 Comment By prairie boy On March 27, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

A prayer for Owen Meany for me. Not because it’s a great book but because it started me reading again after a long break after University. I would have missed out on hundreds of good stories if I hadn’t picked up that book.
Rod’s book is probably the most expensive book I ever bought. It cost me $1,500 in a fundraiser for a friend with cancer after I recommended it to two friends and they stole the idea of having a party to raise some money to send the friend, her husband and daughter on a holiday.
Then, I became fixated on a line in the book: “I wasn’t always a tourist in my sister’s life.”
This led me to want to become a greater part of my brother’s life, leading to a 2,000 mile car trip to to go bass fishing and beer drinking.
Thanks a lot Rod, and I’m serious. I wouldn’t have missed either of those things for the world.

[NFR: I’m stunned by this, and humbled. Thank you. Thank you so much. — RD]

#24 Comment By Maximos On March 27, 2015 @ 1:41 pm

It might not qualify as a ‘great book,” but no less a great piece of Americana: Woody Guthrie’s autobiography “Bound for Glory” saved my life and my faith.

#25 Comment By Rob G On March 27, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

During a particularly rough patch about 15 years ago I happened to read George MacDonald’s novel Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood. It helped me learn both self-examination and forgiveness, and was instrumental in my learning the nature of the love of God. I’ve not read it since, and I’m not sure it would have anything like the same impact now, but it was most definitely the right thing at the right time.

One quote has stayed with me (paraphrase): God loves you so much that he won’t give you a stone for a loaf of bread, even if you mistake it for one and ask for it.

#26 Comment By Nicholas On March 27, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned yet: Thomas Merton’s The Seven-Storey Mountain. It’s the book that made me a Christian.

#27 Comment By Mark On March 27, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

Pascal’s Pensees. Why? Because it is one of those books that read me.

#28 Comment By Robert Hart On March 27, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

San Francisco 1976. Twenty three years old. Living across the country from family and friends. Close to being a homeless street kid after a middle class upbringing. Hungry and sick and unwanted. Consumed by needs I couldn’t meet. Totally unprepared for where I had gotten myself. This was my dark woods.
Be Here Now by Ram Dass and The Way of Zen by Alan Watts.
The poverty and loneliness burnt away my childhood, my naïveté The books showed me a way forward, showing me the illusion of self. Almost forty years ago, the details are fuzzy but the lesson remained.

#29 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 27, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

There’s a Zen story about a Zen monk who is challenged by a monk from a competing sect, who boasts that his master can hold a brush on one side of a stream, and writing appears on a tablet held by a disciple on the opposite bank.

The Zen monk’s reply, “My miracle is this: When I am thirsty I drink, when I am hungry I eat.”

#30 Comment By Michel On March 27, 2015 @ 5:04 pm

Michel de Montaigne’s Essais. As I watch his mind twist and turn across the pages, I look more deeply into mine. He is always with me. Montaigne is every man’s wise and kindly teacher. (I read his writings in the original sixteenth-century French, which, after a little practise, is not difficult.)

#31 Comment By Mike W On March 27, 2015 @ 5:54 pm

Sorry, I can’t just pick one book. Same for one piece of music. At various times, different books and music have filled my sails, pushed me in new directions, and helped propel me along my journey. For example, I still can’t listen to Holst’s “The Planets” without weeping, not just because the music is so powerful, but because listening to it — soaking the notes, rhythms and textures of it into my very DNA – during a dark night of my soul and desperate time for my family helped me keep it together when I was most needed.

#32 Comment By David J. White On March 27, 2015 @ 6:40 pm

I’m not sure if I can point to a single book that had an overwhelming influence on my life. But one that keeps coming back to me, oddly, is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read it at a really low time in my life, when I was an unemployed graduate-school dropout in my mid-30s and had no idea where my life might be headed. I can’t say I really understood the book, but it prompted me to look at my life, at where I was, where I was going, where I wanted to go, and how I might get there.

#33 Comment By Lloyd A. Conway On March 27, 2015 @ 7:32 pm

I second for Boethius, whose little book has been a bedside companion for nearly 30 years. Before I found his ‘Consolation,’ Marcus Aurelius was my confessor, as I turned to his ‘Meditations’ during an especially difficuly time in my young life, ca. age 14. I knew him well enough to get a secret thrill every time a character in ‘Gladiator’ spoke an unattributed quote from his book. Finally, the only work of children’s literature I ever read for pleasure, even as a child, ‘The Jungle Book,’ has always inspired me to have courage and to think and fight for myself.

#34 Comment By Another Matt On March 27, 2015 @ 8:44 pm

If we’re doing music, I’d be forced to make the longest post ever in Rod’s blog. Let me just say that music in general sustained me through a chaotic childhood and adolescence. Stravinsky’s [4] would top the list.

[NFR: You know I *love* long posts, and I love your posts. If you wrote out this post, I would make it its own entry, and use it to start a music thread. Up to you, Matt. — Rd]

#35 Comment By Another Matt On March 27, 2015 @ 9:03 pm

Very well — it might take a couple of days to put together. 🙂

#36 Comment By Lulu On March 27, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

There are so many books, God, but one I haven’t seen mentioned is Marion Cunningham’s 12th edition overhaul of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook: it is so homey, helpful, and comforting. It is also quite philosophical about the importance of the home-cooked meal.

#37 Comment By rr On March 28, 2015 @ 12:31 am

Wow, where to begin. From the Bible, lately Job and Romans have been great comfort. When I was a teenager, it was anything by Doestovesky.

#38 Comment By Frances in Tokyo On March 28, 2015 @ 1:04 am

Your Great Book Saved My Life theme really touches me. Growing up in a wretched, unhappy family my immersion in children’s books saved me. It was there I learned about warm, nourishing relationships, nobility and sacrifice. Books laid the foundation for correcting misapprehensions of people’s motivations and interactions. And they continue to do so.

But The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe had the biggest impact on my life. I choose that over the other books of the Chronicles of Narnia because it is there that the children and the reader get to know Aslan in depth and experience his love and sacrifice. (This is why one should always read this book first of the seven–it’s the Gospel). Reading LWW I learned to love Aslan, a love that stayed with me during my atheist phase. Age 33 I became a Catholic. I love Him still.

This is the Best of Blogs. Living overseas I don’t have a lot to do, so I can go to it several times a day. You and your commenters help me think about issues and values that are important to me. Aside from my husband, you are the only ones from whom I can hear exchanges about many topics.

As one commenter said, The Great Book theme has helped us to know each other on a deeper more personal level. When I read how people have struggles or suffered and been helped by insights gained from books, I feel we may disagree strongly, but we are all God’s children.

Also, I keep a growing list of books to order from Amazon or pick up on trips home. With this blog it is truly growing!

PS. I second the suggestion that we talk about great art that has profoundly moved or influenced. For me it was Rien Poortvliet’s stunning illustrations of the life of Jesus in his book He Was One of Us.

Gratefully to Rod and all who contributed comments.

Frances in Tokyo

#39 Comment By brians On March 28, 2015 @ 5:59 am

_The Way the Pilgrim_. I can finally pray.

#40 Comment By CB On March 28, 2015 @ 8:07 am

In the chaos of adolescence, St John of the Cross came to my rescue with The Ascent of Mount Carmel. I can’t claim to have understood much of what was written, I was too young at the time, but I did understand from it that there was an orderliness to true maturity. Personal growth may be organic, but there is a hidden sequence in the process that is always present. Like a child’s early development, no one step in the sequence can be avoided. It cannot be rushed, and it needs careful tending.

#41 Comment By Franklin Evans On March 28, 2015 @ 9:51 am

I believe I was 12 when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. By the time I finished high school, I reread it at least 10 times. Aside: when Christopher Lee was interviewed about playing Saruman, he boasted that he’d read the books at least 10 times… and I laughed long and with great pleasure (and more than a little condescension).

The reading didn’t save my life. Professor Tolkien’s inspiration of others started it off. A group of linguists, amateur and professional (as it were) started a publication called Parma Eldalamberon — “The Book of Elven Tongues”. They recognized his creative spirit, but more than that they joined him in an intellectual universe where talking about language — even invented language — was more important than using it like a weapon (sorry, personal reference that will go unexplained).

Did you know that the author’s appendices to LotR are really an integral part of the story? Your understanding and appreciation of his mythopoeia will grow, I predict, if you read them as you would read his main writing.

A suggestion to those who found The Silmarillion dry or even boring: imagine that Tolkien is telling you these stories aloud. It’s my normal approach to reading — the words are heard by my mind’s ears — and I was astonished by that admonition when I read it for the first time. It is profound and beautiful in a stark, almost naked way.

And truly, he has two other works that must be read. One is a short story entitled “Leaf by Niggle”. The other is his expanded verse, in his strongest voice in my opinion, called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

I’m a robot. I’m a robot. I’m a… wait, I use contractions.

#42 Comment By Ted On March 28, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

An extended, meditative reading of Ecclesiastes. A book (like the Book of Job) much too subversive, to leave out of the Bible. In my view, Verse 3:11 is the most important of the whole Bible, going straight to the heart of the human condition.

#43 Comment By Chris 1 On March 29, 2015 @ 9:14 pm

This is a tall order, Rod.

There are literally dozens of profoundly moving books, books that have altered my view of reality, books that have challenged me and informed me and left me dazed and confused.

But a book that “saved your life” is something different; a lifeline at a time of distress, a restraint from a course that was doomed, a cure at the moment of illness.

I’ve got dozens of books that shaped my thinking, some that proved remarkably helpful in later moments of crisis, others that arrived after the fact and helped put things in proper context, but none were there when we were being fished out of the sea.

In my life it has been people, not books, that turned me around, woke me up, pulled me from the abyss. Thank God for each and every one of them!

Hope you’re feeling better!