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5 Books That Changed My Life

in Joan's Posts, People & Products

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

It’s funny; my husband and I run an online used book store, but I own fewer books personally now than at any other time in my life.

As I get busier and busier, I realize that I only have time to reread books if they really matter.

Sure, I read the standard mass-market fiction for fun. But those books come from our local public library. To make it into the “Joan Otto permanent rotation,” they’ve really got to wow me – and have lasting value.

Here are five books that I truly believe have changed my life – and lessons I believe we can all learn from them.

1. Peppermint by Dorothy Grider

Notice that this is the most beat-up book on the stack above (by far)? It’s also the oldest, and it’s one of the sentimental possessions I will probably never part with, despite its being held together by an all-over coating of clear mailing tape.

This is the first book I ever remember reading on my own (after many readings by my mom and dad, of course).

It’s about a sad, skinny kitten who doesn’t get adopted from the candy shop when the rest of his littermates do, but later finds the perfect home with a little girl who can’t afford to pay for a kitten.

If you want to wax philosophical, you might say that I like this book because I was also adopted, or because I was a skinny, homely little kid who really came into my own later in life.

Nah. Honestly? This book changed my life because once I could read, I could do just about anything I wanted.

If you ask me “what” I am, after wife and mother and daughter and friend comes one thing – writer. And for me, being a writer is tied inextricably to being a reader, which thanks to Peppermint I can proudly say I am.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Dig up a copy of your favorite childhood book and read it to your kids or another young friend or family member. Barring that, read it to your spouse. Read it to yourself. Read it to your dog.

But recapture – and share – that childlike love of reading.

2. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

If Peppermint is the book that I credit with a love of reading, then Jonathan Livingston Seagull is its match in writing.

We were assigned this book in eighth-grade honors English. The teacher, a dynamo of a woman who I am proud to now call a friend, was tasked with the unenviable challenge of helping a bunch of awkward, sometimes cruel preteens and teens learn to function in a way that at least broadly resembled an adult manner.

She wanted more for us. She wanted us to soar. She had us reading all sorts of books – most around a single theme.

Be yourself, and be THE ABSOLUTE BEST at it.

Her class sparked in me a love of writing – because I came to realize that wasn’t the plot of this book (or many others) that left me unable to put it down.

This book showed me the art of the written word – the storytelling and the subtlety that come when you don’t just retell events, you make something come alive.

For more than 13 years, I’ve made my living mostly through the written word.

That has blessed me in more ways than I can count, and it humbles me, too, because most of what I write is fleeting – a newspaper article or column, a blog post, a piece of magazine prose.

But great writing – that sticks around. When I hear that my writing, however simple it might be, makes someone think a new thought, that changes my life too.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Remember that your words matter – written or spoken. Take the time today to put into words something of lasting value.

It doesn’t have to be the next great novel; a well-crafted blog comment or a short note to your child can be life-changing.

Make your words count.

3. Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley, aka The FlyLady

When my daughter, Sarah, was born, I was in my first full year of college and working a full-time job. My then-fiance and I lived with her in a small two-bedroom house we shared with my mother.

I was not doing a stellar job of keeping it all together. Thankfully, my grades were good, and I did well at work.

But to say the house was a disaster area would be kind. Once Sarah’s biological dad and I split up, I realized I needed to take action. This was not the life I wanted for my daughter.

Within two years, we’d sold and cleaned out a TON of crap, I’d graduated from college and I bought my first house, which Sarah and I moved into (with Mom in tow) in 2003; that wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t cleared out the previous one and gotten it ready to show.

I owe the ability to manage all of that to Sink Reflections and its author, The FlyLady.

FlyLady is, well, she’s kind of Baker-esque. She’s got a system for getting rid of things that don’t enrich your life, and it starts by doing one thing at a time.

Her website – and this, her first book – showed me that if you build good habits, it’s a lot easier to keep things together.

The book is kind of about keeping your house uncluttered – but for me, it’s more about keeping your life from falling apart at the seams.

At the time in my life when I first read this book, that’s what I desperately needed – and I believe I owe my ability to be a good mom and, yes, a good homemaker, to Sink Reflections.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Your home, the space that surrounds you, it matters. Whether that’s a one-room apartment or a 3,000-square-foot house, you deserve to surround yourself with a space that will help you succeed.

Sell some crap. Set up a system for basic, routine housekeeping tasks. You deserve it.

4. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

So I’m a reader, a writer, a woman who cares about making a home for her family. But none of those labels describe my character as a person.

That’s what the next two books on the list are for.

It’s only been a couple of years since I first read Tattoos on the Heart.

This is a story of a Jesuit priest living and working among LA’s toughest gangs, and the stories of how the “homies” and “homegirls” changed his life as he was working to change theirs.

It was hard for me to include this book on the list – not because I don’t love it, and not because it didn’t profoundly affect me.

But it was hard to put my finger on this book’s tangible impact on my life. It’s a stunning collection of personal anecdotes, some that made me laugh and others that were heartbreaking.

But what I took from those can be summed up in one way. This book inspires me to look at every single person I meet as someone of great value.

That perspective changes everything. Instead of being frustrated when I have a problem with another person, I try to think about their value. That grouchy cashier is someone’s wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. She means something to someone.

I’m no saint – and I definitely have a tendency to be easily annoyed. But instead of allowing that to make a tough situation worse, I’m trying to take a lesson from “Father Greg’s” book and treat people with respect.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Try it. Treat the next person you have a conflict with as someone of great value. At worst, you’ll feel more positive about your part of the interaction, and at best, the situation will drastically improve!

5. 29 Gifts by Cami Walker

Man Vs. Debt community members who are active in our comments won’t be surprised to see this on the list, as I’ve mentioned it in response to comments on several previous posts!

I saved this book for last because it’s having the greatest PRESENT effect on my life. I first read it about a year ago – in fact, it was a public library selection that I liked enough to find and order, as was Tattoos on the Heart.

The premise to 29 Gifts is deceptively simple – the author, Cami Walker, was challenged by a spiritual mentor to give one gift every day for 29 days and to see what changes that brought in her life.

The book, though, is about much more than that. It’s told as Cami’s personal story – and framed through her serious health struggles with depression, multiple sclerosis and more. It’s about building up positive energy in yourself and in the world.

Some people talk about the law of attraction – or karma – and suggest that what you put out into the world, you get back.

I’ve said before that I don’t really believe in luck – but I do believe that changing your perspective into one of abundance serves to make it clear to you how abundant your life really is.

Similarly, living in a perspective of lack – dwelling on what you don’t have instead of what you do – will only serve to give you the idea that your life is lacking in some way.

Cami’s book focuses on that – and on how her own mindset shifted. It also outlines how you can use the concept of giving to transform your own view.

That’s what keeps me coming back to this book, which I’ve read at least a half-dozen times.

I’ve personally taken the 29 Gifts challenge. I’m into my third “cycle,” or set of gifts, and my goal is to complete this one and two more before my 30th birthday this November, for five sets and 145 gifts in all.

Not all my “gifts” are big – or tangible. Sometimes it’s as simple as being a listening ear for a friend, or taking my daughter for ice cream. Some, though, have been life-changing.

YOUR CHALLENGE: Give a gift today. I’d love to have you officially join me in the full 29-day challenge (read more here), because the impact is astounding. But even if you give just one gift, you’ll have made the world better.

I truly believe that books (and blogs!) can change lives. And I truly believe these five books have changed mine.

Today, I have a special commenting challenge for you.

If you’ll comment with a book that has changed your life, and tell me what lesson you find most applicable from it, I’ll add it to my list of books to read this year.

I can’t promise I’ll get to it tomorrow – but I do read a lot, and frankly, I can’t think of a better group of people to get suggestions from.

So what’s your “life-changer” book?

Let us know!

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

heidianna Terpening July 3, 2012 at 9:32 AM

One of my books would be “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. I think the lesson I took from this book is similar to your “tattoo” book… Everyone has a story, and it’s not always pretty. Everyone’s story matters. Who we are in one moment can change in the next moment. We have to be willing to ask for help and to forgive each other, and more importantly ourselves.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 9:56 AM

Heidianna, thanks! That sounds right up my alley – and talk about a lesson we all need to practice, huh?

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David Neff July 3, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Hi Joan,
Great book list. I’m gonna pick up a copy of “29 Gifts”. Looks like a good read and a life-changer. Giving is such an overlooked aspect of Life that we forget about in this me,me,me society we live in. Being an only child I have fell into the me, me, me trap, but am consciously working to change my ways and be a more giving person. Along my journey a great book I have read and re-read to get back on track is a book from Dan Millman called
“The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose”. I literally got goose bumps when reading this book as there were so many things that were dead on about my personality and character in this book. Like many people out there, I still struggle to figure out why I am here and what I am supposed to be doing with my life. This book helped me confirm that I am on the right path (if there is such a thing).
I am so excited to get my copy of “I’m Fine, Thanks” this month. This movie will be one to put on our list of Top 5 movies that changed our lives :-)

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Pssh, way to throw in a spoiler for one of my next posts ;-)

Seriously, I bet that movie will make my list too – and it sounds like this book will be one I’ll get a lot out of. I have struggled with that question a lot; it sounds weird to say, but when you have options on WHAT to do, it’s hard to know if you make the right choice!

Will definitely make sure that’s on my reading list. Thanks!

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Anne O July 3, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Joan, thanks for the post, and the books – oooo, I gotta read those too!
The Book (or books, if you will) that has had the MOST impact on my life is the Bible.
The books that opened my world – Collier’s Encyclopedia (the original Wikipedia!) had a set of 10 volumes of collected woks that started with pre-school/kindergarten stories in Volume 1, and progressed up to excerpts from ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Ivanhoe’ in Volume 10. My mom knew what stories I liked the best, because I ripped off pieces of paper from the bottom of the pages to chew on while reading. Hey, it was good paper!
Anyway, those books opened my eyes to the world. And though I met Helen Keller only through her autobiography, the story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller thrilled and touched me as no other ever has, so many life lessons contained therein. Grace, mercy, courage, and love above all.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 9:36 PM

Anne, what a good list! It’s funny, I was wondering if anyone would mention the Bible – because while I’ve read it many times, it would be an ambitious “add” to my summer reading list ;-)

I had a set of those stories like that as well, not from Collier’s but almost an identical setup, maybe Grolier or another company?: I just remember we were buying them in payments and I got one a week from a guy or something. And I think I will definitely try to find Helen Keller’s biography or autobiography to reread, because while I’ve read it, it hasn’t been recently! A biography that was life-changing for me was Marie Curie’s… WOW…

Thanks for the great suggestions! Off to add to my list! :)

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Anne O July 3, 2012 at 10:19 AM

*works* not ‘woks’. :)

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Dennis July 3, 2012 at 10:27 AM

Great list Joan, thank you for being a reader, who is growing and one who encourages others.

I was in a public library one day and by chance(not) I came upon “People of the Lie” (a book about evil) by Scott Peck. It saved my life. I then read Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled”. It was amazing. I recommend “The Road Less Traveled”. Peck became a Christian only after writing The Road, even though he was inspired by God to write this classic.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 9:37 PM

Whoa, that’s cool! I did not know that… I will add “The Road Less Traveled” to my list! Thanks, Dennis!

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Chris Layfield July 3, 2012 at 10:39 AM

Awesome post Joan and I love the idea of thinking about our favorite books in this way. There have been many favorites & life-changers depending on where I am in life, but in the past several years there have been 2 that really shape my thinking and my self-view. The first is Raising a Modern Day Knight, by Robert Lewis and the second is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. The first inspires me every day to be the best dad, an intentional dad, every day of my life to my 5 year old son Ryan. And the second is a constant reminder that we are all in control of the ‘story’ of our life and it is up to each of us to make our ‘story’ add up to what we want it to be. Thanks for your encouragement in this post.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 9:38 PM

Thank you, Chris! I will definitely check those out – because I figure anything that reminds you to be an intentional dad would probably remind me to be an intentional mom, too, which is actually a particular phrase that I use often and that really resonates with me… I got goosebumps when I saw you say it!

Thank you so much for your kind words, too – very much appreciated.

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Deane Alban July 3, 2012 at 11:19 AM

I can’t wait to check out the books that Adam and everyone else here recommends. I’m a voracious reader and have read some but not all of these.
My top life-changer is Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements”. It is beautiful in its simplicity and gives four rules to live by that will change your life. I won’t give it all away but the first agreement is “Be impeccable with your word”. Do what you say you will. Don’t gossip. Realize your words have power. You can use them to hurt or to heal. This means not others, but also with ourselves. We hurt ourselves with our own words endlessly – tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, feed ourselves with negativity and worry, punish ourselves repeatedly for our mistakes. We need to be as impeccable with our words in our own head as we are with others. Just following this first agreement will change your life.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Deane, that sounds like a winner – added to my list!

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Aadel July 3, 2012 at 11:21 AM

I remember the book Peppermint! It was a good one!

I love so many books and they have all had an impact on me! I think these would definitely be in my top ten:

Treasure Island
Little Women
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
The Teenage Rebellion Handbook

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Hi Aadel!! Fancy meeting you here! :) And you’ve read Peppermint? YAY.

OK, so I’ve read the first two in your top 10 – would you tell me more about the other two, and which of them you’d recommend I add to my list? They sound cool – just by name!

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Maldorora July 3, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Ah, I haven’t seen Peppermint in forever! That was one of my faves as a kid too…the first pet I ever got “on my own” was a scraggly white kitten who turned into my best friend for 15 years.

A huge influence on me as a kid was another book about a cat– The Purple Pussycat (Margaret Hiller). Its about a stuffed animal that comes alive and takes a young kid out to the forest to visit all the creatures there. Instead of a “dream world”, the boy is amazed by the world that is very real and just outside his cocoon. It lead to me sneak out and explore things at night, which I like to think turned into my love of the unfamiliar/new places that makes life so inspiring. I also read the Golden Encylopedia and Brittanica Encyclopedias as a kid…I am in awe of young children who now have access to the internet for information and media.

As I grew older, these books proved to be very important in affirming or inspiring my world-view:

- The Hill of Dreams- Arthur Machen. the hidden wondrous revealed to those who listen and look.

-The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche et al. Liberating.

-Shadows of the Sun, the diaries of Harry Crosby. A calculated but still explosively raw look into the sometimes conflicted, always intriguing mindset of one of my enigmatic artistic heroes.

-The Devil’s Own Work by Alan Judd. The couching of this short story as a modern version of the Faustian bargain has a deeper connotation, one that seems especially well suited for the modern blogosphere, about the conflict of craft vs celebrity.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:12 PM

These all sound amazing!! So which one would you suggest I add to my summer list? I’m up for any, but I want to pick the one you MOST recommend!

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:16 PM

And, PS – YAY FOR CATS. I have five now – but my “baby” from childhood was my best friend for 19 years, and I will never forget him. He was more like Lollipop from Peppermint, a black-and-white tuxedo, but I loved him dearly.

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Maldorora July 5, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Hmm… The devil’s own work is short and perfectly engaging for a 2-4 hour plane ride.

Shadows & hill of dreams will throw you headlong into another world (although the former is in diary format, so you can break up this peek into one of the 1920′s most decadent+ utterly fascinating anti heroes)

But if you prefer an enlightening, positive spiritual read that encourages a different perspective on our purpose here (and possibly after here) the book of living+dying is a must! I don’t often like religious texts but found this very inspiring from a secular perspective on kindness and how to live (and die) positively.

The purple pussycat isn’t essential, but fans of peppermint will find it charming!

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Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon July 3, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Pretty good list there! A few books that really made an impact on me are “You Call the Shots” by Cameron Johnson, “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ DeMarco, and “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk. Those are three really AWESOME books that I think everyone trying to make money online (or pursue entrepreneurship in general) should read!

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Oh, some good names there, Thomas! I’d been thinking about adding MJ’s to my list already (based on a family member’s recommendation), so I think now I will for sure!

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Vaecordia July 3, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Peppermint!

I had, and loved, Peppermint as a child. Just thinking about it now has me all misty eyed and nostalgic. Mine copy must still be around someplace, likely in as rough shape as yours.

I wanted a blue kitty for years because of that book.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:17 PM

Vaecordia – I can honestly say that when I wrote this post, I did not expect ANYONE to know Peppermint, and I am almost in tears just realizing how much it has touched other lives.

I would LOVE a blue fluffy kitty!

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Sterling Huntington July 3, 2012 at 12:32 PM

First of all, really glad to see Jonathan Livingston Seagull on here. That book had such an impact on my father he named my sister Jonathan (you read that right).

I heavily recommend reading “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster, if you’re a literary nerd you will love it as it builds a story around word plays and idioms (ex: an island called Conclusions you can only get to by jumping). Also similar in length and life changing content to Jonathan Livingston Seagull is “Call It Courage” by Armstrong Sperry, about a young island boy overcoming his fear of water.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:33 PM

Sterling, that is AWESOME. I love your sister’s name. Seriously.

I also love “Call It Courage” – we read that in that same English class, actually!! But believe it or not, I’ve never read “The Phantom Tollbooth,” so I’ll add that to my list now!

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Lei Lani July 18, 2012 at 4:43 PM

Yes, please, please, please read the Phantom Tollbooth. It is the ONE book that I give to everyone that I truly care about. It is a great way to think about perspective, and how you look at things in the world affects how you are, and about how you are affects how you look at things. To all who have read the book, Never stop searching for Rhyme and Reason.

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Paul WIlson July 3, 2012 at 12:48 PM

Thank you for this list …
We (group of four men) are studying the Field Manual for Wild At Heart. That Book (the Field Manual) and the basic book, Wild at Heart are awesome. The Wild At Heart book is a MUST read for every woman who wants to understand her men (dad, granddad, husband, brother, sons, etc.), just the way we tick and think differently. POWERFUL.
Go to http://www.RansomedHeart.com to find out more about this grassroots program, sort of a Promise Keeper program on Steroids!

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:33 PM

Paul, that sounds pretty interesting! I assume I would start with the book first, not the field manual?

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Paul WIlson July 7, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Either way would work but they really work “hand-in-glove”.

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Mary Ann July 3, 2012 at 1:21 PM

Thank you so much Joan for your list. I had already checked my library for a copy of 29 gifts, I’ve read Jonathan Seagull when I was a teen, and I’ve also read Sink Reflections a while back, love them all. I can say now, that I probably need to reread the last two, and I’m stopping by the library today to pick up the “29 Gifts”. I’ll check out the others, too. I’ll have to think a little longer on what book has inspired me the most. One of my most treasured books is an old beat up copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, it is my favorite!

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Mary Ann, I hope you like 29 Gifts! You will have to let me know what you think!

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Rebecca July 3, 2012 at 3:45 PM

The books that have changed my life are in no particular order The Red Fern from my childhood, Buddhism for Mothers and Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children, and the final book is Money Secrets of the Amish where the author describes debt as a dead horse stinking up the place.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:31 PM

I LOVE many of the Amish philosophies on money, so I’ll definitely add that to my list (living in Central PA, we actually have several Amish acquaintances/business contacts!)

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ctkwingchun July 3, 2012 at 4:19 PM

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher changed my life.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:31 PM

I love it for the title alone! Will definitely add it to the list.

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 3, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I really enjoyed reading The Hole in the Gospel, which was written by the President of World Vision and talks about what God expects of us. I’m guessing it is much like your Tattoos of the Heart book. My favorite childhood book was Stranded, which is all about a girl who spends the night out in the ocean with two stranded whales. I love whales, she was kind of my childhood hero (although I’m pretty sure its a non-fiction book).

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:20 PM

Jenna, I’ll DEFINITELY check out The Hole in the Gospel. That sounds right up my alley! I’m not familiar with Stranded, but it sounds like one I should have my daughter check out; she’s of course a huge animal lover!

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Elizabeth S. July 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM

My favorite book of all time is the Celestine Prophecy. I really love the Millionaire Next Door too.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Elizabeth, I’ll have to read The Celestine Prophecy – and I also like The Millionaire Next Door, which I’ve read a couple times!

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Erick Widman July 3, 2012 at 6:02 PM

One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. It vividly reinforced never to take your family, your child, or this fragile world for granted. It was dark, but celebrated the triumph of life and hope over death.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:18 PM

Erick, you know, I tried to read that several years ago and didn’t finish – but now I’m motivated to give it another try!

It’s interesting to me, by the way, to see the “travel” and “road” themes in so many of the suggestions in the comments. I wonder what that says!

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Rebecca Price July 3, 2012 at 6:44 PM

“If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?” I love this quote and it’s just one of many in the short but inspiring “5 book” by Dan Zadra. It asks us to focus on the next 5 years and gives short exercises and great quotes to keep you focused. I love it!!!

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:17 PM

Rebecca, that sounds really interesting! Is its title just “5″? Or “5 book?” I’d love to find it!

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NateDogg July 3, 2012 at 8:29 PM

Great post.
“Wild at Heart” -by John Eldredge
That book started a great journey for me. I think every male OR parent should read that. Very eye opening. Easy read.

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Nate, that makes the first item to be suggested by TWO people in the comments – and that means I’ll read it first! :)

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karen July 3, 2012 at 9:27 PM

Peppermint is also my most prized book. That and The Monster at the End of this Book. :)

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Joan July 3, 2012 at 9:50 PM

Karen, YAY!! The Monster at the End of this Book is also classic, but Peppermint… winner.

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Liz July 3, 2012 at 11:24 PM

I’ve never read any of these! I’ll have to pick them up.

For me it was Atlas Shrugged. I’ve never been the same. I have more confidence in myself and I believe in my right to be happy. Every individual out there has an incredible mind & should not be afraid to be proud of what they earned. Never apologize for being who you are, and never ask someone else to apologize for being who they are.

It taught me that Human beings are inherently amazing, not naturally flawed.

Has anyone else read it?

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Clay July 5, 2012 at 4:41 PM

I recently read Atlas Shrugged as well and it really does change the way you think about things. I see/hear/read things on a daily basis now that make me feel as though I’m living through the story of the book. Which is kind of scary!

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:39 PM

Ooh, Liz and Clay, I’ll definitely add that to my list! I was, uh, supposed to read that in high school, but I might maybe have just browsed certain summary materials instead.

::blushes::

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TPDC July 4, 2012 at 5:13 AM

Hi Joan,

Great post and your choice of Jonathan Livingston Seagull made me smile with warmth. Such a simple book with such a great message yet so many people have either not discovered it or simply ‘don’t get it’. As you said, be the best, be free, but most of all be yourself and the best you can be!

I would like to add a couple of books that I personally love:

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee Classic that not just tells a great story but manages to get the message of acceptance across.

The Lord of The Rings – There are so many levels this book can cross. Yes it is just a fantasy adventure, however if you accede to the fact that Tolkein was somewhat of a Luddite and against change it takes on another meaning. As I sit here responding to your post from across the world his message of caution rings true.

Will add some of the books quoted here on http://thepersonaldevelopmentcafe.com/the-best-personal-development-books.

Again great post.

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:41 PM

Thanks! You know what’s funny, another one I’d add in that same vein is “The Little Prince.” Have you read that? You’d find it to be much the same – a simple book that so many people don’t “get.”

I’ve read and reread LoTR, but that perspective is an interesting one; next time through I’ll read through that lens, if you will. And I also have read To Kill a Mockingbird, can’t say I loved it but I should probably reread it again, as my tastes are always changing!

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David July 4, 2012 at 10:21 PM

Hi Joan,

I am wondering if Baker will be writing any posts in the near future. No offense to you but I started following this blog because of him and recently there has been very little Baker. I realize he is probably extremely busy with the movie but it kind of feels like he has disappeared. Do you have any idea when or if he will be back?

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:42 PM

No offense taken!

Hopefully he’ll be back with both posts AND podcasts soon! He’s been doing a lot of guest interviews and posts on OTHER blogs in preparation for the documentary release, and we have our premieres across the country for the next two weeks, but after that, things for all of us should get back to our kind of normal ;-)

I’ll make sure to tell him you asked for him!

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Spring July 5, 2012 at 7:45 PM

The Little Prince
The Giving Tree
I loved both books growing up but appreciate them far more as an adult and parent for the underlying message of love. Too sweet.
David (comment above), I feel I must counter your comment to Joan. I can tell that you do not mean to disregard Joan’s posts and merely miss Baker’s viewpoint but Joan, I absolutely l.o.v.e. your posts. I probably come back to the site more now than ever before because I appreciate and relate to your perspective. The fact that Baker has you posting regularly tells me that he has great foresight and is right on target with his vision for this site. Your postings are fresh, honest and full of touching humor. I can completely relate to your thinking. Baker is great and his ideas were what drew me to follow this site. Joan, you keep me returning.

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:49 PM

Spring, you made my day!! You are so nice – and I am so thrilled to find a kindred spirit in both books (I love those two; in fact, I commented about The Little Prince just now to another commenter!) and finance.

Thank you so much for commenting – and for reminding me to reread The Little Prince, which I love. (I’m not rereading The Giving Tree just yet – it makes me sob and I just read it to my daughter about two weeks ago. I need healing time!!)

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Elizabeth July 5, 2012 at 10:30 PM

“Similarly, living in a perspective of lack – dwelling on what you don’t have instead of what you do – will only serve to give you the idea that your life is lacking in some way.” I needed to read this post today. I definitely want to check out the these books you listed. Especially the FlyLady, Tattoos and 29 Gifts. I am definitely in a negative funk with my current financial and marital situation and I need some inspiration. Glad to have found your blog!

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Elizabeth, I’m so glad you did! I will be sending good thoughts your way. You’ll have to check back in and let me know what you think of those books!

Keep a good thought – and thank you so much for your kind words!

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Tracey July 6, 2012 at 1:30 AM

I’ve never read Peppermint but I guess I’m going to have to now! My favorite children’s book was called Kevin’s Hat. I bought it myself from the book section at Phar-Mor (remember that place?) And it had a profound effect on me. It was about a little crocodile who let everyone’s opinion about the hat he liked bother him and feel bad about himself. As a very self conscious child, the book really made sense to me, and as an adult I still think about it when I find myself concerned what other’s think of me. I wish I knew where it was :(

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:46 PM

Tracey, you can borrow my copy any time. And that’s telling the whole world here on this blog how much I love you, because that sucker is treasured. :)

I remember Phar-Mor well, and I think I even remember Kevin’s Hat! Do you still have a copy? I’d love to read it!

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Martha July 6, 2012 at 3:51 AM

I have to ask this question, even though it’s sort of off-topic…. was Peppermint the cat who fell into the Blueing (or bluing… not sure how that’s spelled)? If so, I remember reading that as a child……. I still don’t know what Blueing is, but it’s stayed with me all these many years! If that isn’t the book I’m thinking of, then does anybody know what that book’s title might be?

I was and still am, a voracious reader… as a child I can’t even remember not reading. I think the very first 2 books I can actually remember reading, though, were Bambi and Lady and the Tramp. My Father and I read them together and it was taped on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder for my little sister and I to listen to at bedtime, since my parents rarely got home in time to read bedtime stories to us.

It’s hard to think of particular books that have changed my life – except that I know “Night” by Elie Wiesel and “Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank were 2 that had huge impacts on me as a teenager, and could be said to have changed the course of my life.

I am currently reading “Making a Living Without a Job” by Barbara J Winter – a book that was recommended by my sister, and which I’m hoping will make a big impact on my life… and I just reserved “29 Gifts” at my local public library. Sounds like something I’d love to read.

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Joan July 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

YES, the blueing is Peppermint! My mom explains that if you dilute blueing into your detergent, it would make your clothes a bright white (combatting the dingy grayish color), but if you have just the blueing itself (like Peppermint fell into), it is more of a blue dye.

I have read both “Night” and “Diary” and agree – those are amazing books… I’m thinking I’ll add “Making a Living Without a Job” to my list, though, because I’ve heard good things about it but NOT read it yet. Thanks for reminding me!

You’ll have to keep me posted on what you think of 29 Gifts.

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Ginny July 7, 2012 at 2:55 AM

“Watchers” by Dean Koontz.

It is not great literature and it’s not even his best story. Like many of Dean’s books it is about ordinary people battling evil, with the help of a lovable loyal dog. That hardly seems worthy of being deemed “life changing”, I know. But this is the novel that introduced me to his writing, and for almost thirty years now we have been “friends”. When I open a new Dean Koontz book it’s like meeting up with an old friend and finding out what they’ve been up to. I don’t read many novels these days, and I don’t buy any other hardback books, but I am always at the bookstore the day a new book arrives. “Watchers” is sweet and funny, and I hope you like it.

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Joan July 7, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Ginny, I LOVE Dean Koontz – and that book! I love his ties to dogs, too; I’m assuming you’ve read The Servants of Twilight, too, which also features one :)

One that’s along the same vein in some ways – is “Shadows” by John Saul. It’s probably one of my very favorite fiction books, and there are a lot of ways it reminded me of “Watchers” once I read it!

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Ginny July 7, 2012 at 9:08 PM

Joan ~

As coincidence would have it, at the same time my mother gave me “Watchers” to read she also gave my “Suffer the Children” by John Saul. I had forgotten about that until you brought up his name. Thanks for this other literary memory! I read his books for awhile, but ended up gravitating more towards Dean. My mother passed away in 1995 and I’ve always connected Dean Koontz to her. I haven’t read “Shadows” but I think I will now.

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Joan July 7, 2012 at 11:58 PM

You’ll have to let me know what you think! What a strange coincidence – I love it :)

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Leigh July 9, 2012 at 6:20 AM

I’m in the middle of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and it is upending my ideas on vulnerability, authenticity, and self-compassion. I had no idea I was being so unbelievably hard on myself. It’s a slow read as I’m really trying to savor and implement, but it’s gorgeous.

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 10:02 PM

Leigh, I’m late coming back to comment on this, but I HAVE added this to my book list! It sounds like it was right up my alley, something I really need.

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Ben July 11, 2012 at 11:51 AM

I am a reader and a thinker and enjoyed this post.

Was interested by the fact I’d only even heard of one of your top 5 (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I read a long time ago).

The “Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams was the first book that came to mind. A children’s book that I first read in my early 20s. It’s a story of hope and the power of love.

I’d have to say Calvin and Hobbes is somewhere on the list too. Any of them are great, but one or two of the strips have really resonated at particular times.

“Wild at Heart” would probably make my list too (that’s 3 of us now), as it was one of the few books that has resulted in me taking some direct, though difficult, action.

“The Art of motorcycle maintenance” too, though it’s harder to put my finger on why.

I’ll have to think about #5

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 10:03 PM

Ben, I know I’m late getting back to you on this, but I LOVE “Velveteen Rabbit.” One of my childhood favorites, and it makes me cry even as an adult. Have you read a newer one in that vein, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo (I think?)

Read it to my daughter. Bawled like a baby. :)

I’ll add “Wild at Heart” to my list especially, because it’s the one of those four that I’ve never read.

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Ben August 15, 2012 at 10:48 PM

Haven’t heard of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”. Will have to look out for that.

I’m still struggling to come up with a 5th. There are quite a few contenders but in re-reading your criteria I’m finding it a challenge to actually quantify how they’ve changed my life and the lessons I’ve found most applicable.

I certainly can’t think of a book that has engaged me the way 29 Gifts has obviously done for you. May be that should become my number 5.

Looking forward to your summer wrap up for further inspiration.

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Lyndsey July 12, 2012 at 8:46 PM

No hesitation … Charlotte’s Web. As a child reading this book, my eyes opened wide to the idea that all creatures have a purpose and a place – and that none is more important than another. We are all created equal. At that time I had a spider-hating mother who was trying hard to indoctrinate me with the same negative approach to anything scary and unfamiliar …. this book forever changed my perspective on all life on earth. Every child and adult should read this book! :-)

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Oh, Lyndsey, good one!!

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Christine July 22, 2012 at 3:10 PM

These books sound really interesting. I’m going to put them on my “to-read” book list and read them as soon as possible. Thank you for the suggestions!

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 10:06 PM

Christine, you’ll have to tell us which you end up reading! I’m partway through my list – wait til my end-of-summer wrapup!

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Jenny August 19, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

Also, without actually reading all the previous comments, has anyone suggested the website goodreads.com?

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Joan August 19, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Oh, I love goodreads. And I love Siddhartha; I read that first as a junior in high school and have read it again a few times since!

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tpdc August 19, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Great add Jenny. I almost became a Buddhist after reading that.

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Dave October 27, 2012 at 10:54 PM

Joan, thanks for the great list. My book would be Cast of Characters (favorite chapter: King David, Facing Your Giants) by Max Lucado. It shows readers how famous characters in the Bible had flaws just like us. But they continued to believe, have faith, and ultimately lived to make the world a little better. Thanks again, Dave

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