Things I Read That Changed Me
Every now and again, there is something the you read that becomes seemingly essential to your development as a human being. Literally, the moment that you put it down, you are a different person than when you pick it up. These types of things are different for everyone. It is like if someone has this great story about being on a river in Venice and that is the day that the proposed to their wife. They needle and needle you until you get on that same river and all you have is a bumpy ride. I had always heard about the emotion connected with the Vietnam Wall Memorial. Personally, I have been twice and I was just unable to connect with it. Its different for everyone. I don’t actually expect these to have potentially to much meaning for you, but for me they were extremely transformative.
God’s Adventurer was important to me for not only its message but also at the point and time in which I read it. I was in the seventh grade and had just transferred schools. I was pretty much in what could only be described as a post-traumatic shell after dealing with some really merciless bullying at my previous school. Literally, I could barely and would barely talk to people. It was shortly after that that my teacher Martha Walker assigned us a book to read. That book was God’s Adventurer by Phyllis Thompson. It told of the missionary Hudson Taylor. It told of how he decided to live by faith alone that God would in fact fulfill his promise and take care of him. Purposefully, Taylor did not remind his employer to pay him. Taylor followed that small inner voice through his whole life. He went to China. He survived disease. He survived poverty. All of it just seemed to end in one miracle after another. Quietly, the inner voice in my head started to go off. It started to say ‘You, you are going to have a life like that. You are going to be like Hudson Taylor.” Somehow, that made things start to get better. It also established a philosophy of faith (sometimes blind) that I have held to to this very day. It is like anything else. It is practiced. You have to learn to listed for that voice. It will not instantly start you out with big things. It starts out with ‘write an email.’ or ‘call someone, they need it.’ In my life, eventually it became “Work in the Philippines for a few months” and then it became “Quit your job and move to Maryland during the height of the greatest recession in 20 years.” Sometimes, you are like “really, God, did I just hear that right?” But if you are practiced in living by faith, faith will be its own reward.
I was at a pharmacy (much like Walgreen’s) looking in the toy aisle for G.I. Joe . I turned the card over for Zartan’s Brother and read the biography. I read it twice. I put the figure back. Keep in mind, I never actually owned the action figure. It was only two paragraphs. I walked away inspired. I wanted to literally be that guy. The next day at school, I purposefully sat in the back. I tried my best to not be noticed. I tried to walk behind people and not be noticed. I tried to figure out how to walk without being heard. I wanted to master … quiet. I paid attention to the character when the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero cartoon came on. I wanted to mimic the voice and how he talked without inflection. By college, I could literally walk into someone’s dorm-room and sit down and they would never even know I had entered the room. I could sneak up on people with Army training specifically to detect such things. I could sit in a hallway in broad daylight and no one would ever even know that I was there. No formal training, I just thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to one day have that written about me.
In the comic X-Universe 1-2, there is the character of Dr. Donald Blake who never became Thor. At one point, this lame doctor manages to kill one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. Before that happens though, he makes a speech. The speech starts ‘in my dreams.’ Blake states that in his dreams, he dines with gods and goddesses in Valhalla. In his dreams, he knows that the world in which he found himself in was never meant to be. Blake was cheated in that life and he knew it. He knew that there was another world in which he had not been conquered. He knew that there was a world in which things did not go wrong. There was a world in which he could command thunder with a hammer. He wasn’t in that world. That fact made Dr. Donald Blake angry. In that anger, he found his power. I often think of that speech when people tell me that everything in ok or act like I have accomplished all that I ever will. I think of that speech when people suggest that I have fulfilled whatever potential I was supposed to have. I feel like they do not know me. I feel even more like the character of Dr. Donald Blake does. In my dreams, everything started right. Things went right from there. In this world, I can only steer towards an end. But to make it such and end that I feel like I had the beginning all along.
I have seen my share of people die. Honestly, I have seen too many. I have been affected by death as long back as I could remember. The Death of Aunt May in Amazing Spiderman 400 was something so beautiful that I have quoted it at funerals afterwards. When I think of death, I often go back to that issue in my mind. Aunt May tells Peter that she always knew that he was Spider-Man. She wonders what it would have been like to soar across the city skyline. The secret that Peter had kept for so long, the person closest to him had known all along and approved of it. In a lot of ways, that just meant the world to me. It opened up a world of hope. When Peter tearfully tells May that the way to Neverland is just the Second Star to the right and straight on till morning, I have never honestly been able to hear that line again after that without choking up a little bit. It was like it was written for me, on behalf of all those people whom I saw pass and could never make sense of.
Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is quite simply one of the best books ever written in the English language. More than that though, the journey that it takes you on if you are around a passionate group of people will really affect you. The thing about The Quiet American is to be able to see things from every point of view. How do you get to the point where you could commit and inhuman act and be absolutely convinced that you are doing the right thing? That is not only a question that was essential in Greene’s day, it is a question that is even more essential now. When I walked away from this book, it was with a greater and deeper understanding of the human condition and it was a chilling experience. It takes a certain type of person to appreciate it, and if I ever recommend it to you personally, then I not only feel that the book will speak to you but I feel like it needs to speak to you.
The Fourth K by Mario Puzo is absolutely the most important book a person could read in our post 911 world to truly understand the political and cultural realities in which we find ourselves. The trick is that it was written about ten years before the events of September 11th ever took place. The Fourth K is so relevant that I think people are glad that it is largely forgotten. I don’t think I truly understood the political world before reading this book. I certainly have grown to understand it afterwards. It taught me how to look at things. It even taught me how to read news stories.
John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success really showed me that to be successful, one had to be patient as well as consistent. Part of it was sweeping out driveways (literally) when I was working for my dad. There was no real point in sweeping a driveway that cars were just going to drive over again. However, if you kept at the task at hand, then even the driveway could get swept. Many of the projects that I do today (and I by no means at all consider myself to be a success) is simply plotting the next careful move that can actually be accomplished within the next day. Every night, I tweet `140 characters of the Bible. It has taken three years to get to Genesis chapter 24. It will probably take till 2016 just to get to the end of Genesis. The point is that seemingly impossible things than be done with slow steady progress. That helps me to budget time and get through days even ones that I consider to be ‘wasted.’ Maybe some day, it will actually all help me to be considered a ‘success’ in my own eyes.
Different Seasons is honestly the best novel or novel series that Stephen King has ever done. At the very least, it was the most personally relevant one to me. Between stories like The Body and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redmption. King manages to display a way to make sense out of the non sensical and find triumph in the cruel. Its not about doing anything with the body. Its about finding it. It is not about being in prison, it is about digging a tunnel out of it. It has nothing to do with who you were before but who you become after. Again, I am suspect of anyone who would tell me that I am fine just the way that I am. That does not mean that I am fine. That means that they personally are very comfortable with where I am and who I am in this life. I have found that comfort and misery will often go hand in hand. You accept a certain level of misery in order to maintain a certain level of comfort. The argument against the alleviation of misery is always the level of comfort that has always been achieved. Different Seasons dares to suggest that this is in essence a fallacy and that institutionalization can in fact be deadly. We are all in some sort of prison. Are we all digging out that wall each and every day?
I think that I first read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology when I was in about the third grade. It was about the same time that I read the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. My mother was an elementary school teacher. She taught sixth grade, so I read the books that she took home. Mythology contributed to giving me a life long love of epic stories. I would go on to actually getting a degree in Classical Civilizations from the University of Mississippi. Classics (especially if you get through Greek and Latin) is really nothing more than an advanced study in problem solving. Problem solving is literally a skill which I have to use nearly thirty or forty times a day. I would actually grow to love comics and superhero stories after I read Mythology. In a way, it actually grounded me in a way that I would be able to appreciate the comics in context of the older stories in which they reflected.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf is a compelling book on a lot of levels, not only on the changes that the character goes through in a nearly immortal life. but also the evolution of the characters around them. Getting a destiny right is often a terrible thing for everyone around that person. It discusses the inevitability of change as well as how eventually even a universe can get things right. When you start to learn more about Woolf’s life, then it becomes not only more painful but also more essential and relevant.
Its like the story of the boat ride in Venice. I cannot guarantee you that any of these works will shape you in any way or affect you. I can only say that that is what they did for me. They may mean nothing to you and that is quite honestly ok. As I try to put a Jerry Springer bow on it all, I am just giving you what affected me in order to have a deeper appreciation and understanding on me. Nothing more, Nothing less. If you want to go through and read all of them, then I would highly encourage it but I cannot guarantee that you would get anything out of it.