Saturday, August 21, 2004

Books that change your life

I read a really wonderful posting recently by a woman who cited Dorothy Allison's Two or Three Things I know for Sure as one of those life altering books, something that spoke to the core of her and reflected her life experience. I took notice because it is one of my own personal favorites, a collection of essays spoken from the blood and guts of a woman who has the gift of a true storyteller.

When I read Dorothy Allison, Sapphire, Anne Sexton, Pat Conroy, etc... I am reminded of the power of words and the revolutionary act of telling your story, of speaking your truth. In my opinion, there is nothing more powerful than honesty. All the bombs and bullets in the world cannot silence the truth. It is the life force, and in my opinion, is truly soulful.

I grew up in an abusive home. I understand completely the need to voice your experience and the concept of the "personal as political." I recall reading a passage from a speech Andrea Dworkin gave about the power of the father as a microcosm of the power of patriarchy and wealth. Her admiration for the victims of abuse who are coming forward and telling their story is evident, but it doesn't stop there. She recognizes and embraces the political act of truth telling. It is not only cathartic, it is revolutionary. Amen.

While I am not a follower of Andrea Dworkin per se, and while her analysis of sexuality is a bit myopic, I rejoice in her dedication to and reverence for the stories of "common people."

When I started writing at age 1o it was out of necessity. My discovery of poetry saved my life. This is not melodrama, it simply is the case. I believe that creativity has the power to save you from losing Self. Without Self, children fade away into mental illness, addiction, suicide, etc... I am a great believer in creative therapy for abused kids for this very reason.

Off the cuff, I can think of a few books that changed the way I view my place in the world. These are books that I find inspiring...

1) Anne Sexton, Collected Poems

I cannot tell you how much discovering her poems changed me. She is the reason I started writing. Her raw, unsettling poems make her the preeminent feminist poet, and the godmother of most female slam poets out there.

2) Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

By far, the best female American storyteller. Her writing style is intimate and uncomfortably close. This telling of her own story through a fictional character is stark, unwavering, painful, and is certainly one of the greatest books about poverty and child abuse ever written.

3) Susan Bordo, The Unbearable Weight

This is one hell of a book about eating disorders and body image, but SO much more than that. It is a brilliant, all encompassing exploration of culture's quest to re-shape and redefine the body as related to the treatment of women.

4) Riane Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade

This is an extension of books like When God Was a Woman, but with more of a focus on how we can cultivate a spirituality that is truly egalitarian and life-affirming today. Impressive, provocative, and a great tool for those of us who have been hurt by "power-over dogma" and rigid monotheism.

These are only to name a select few, but I must keep it short today.

Tell me, what are some of the books that changed your life?



Blogger Cat Walker said...

I will risk being frightfully unoriginal here, and say "The Lord of the Rings." It was given to me by an English teacher when I was fourteen. When I emerged from the final book a week later and realized I was indeed stuck in my own, common world, I thought "This rots, now what do I do?" Answer: "I could write my own book. Create my own world." And as you state above, writing itself is a learning experience. It also teaches about Others, as you create characters with experiences you have not had. You are forced to think about what they might do. Which teaches you to look at every new person with the writer's eye...what do they feel? Why did they do that? Every time I pick up The Lord of the Rings I'm reminded of the plans I had for myself, back then at fourteen, and the naive optimism I had about my own abilities. It's a reminder that things are left to be done.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Cat Walker said...

Also...what a wonderful blogroll you have! Damn, I've got to get back to work. I might have to turn the computer right off.

8:16 AM  
Blogger June said...

Jane, this post has been haunting me since you published it :), but the question is so difficult to answer.
Only a few words from me - books change (and save) my life generally.
Thanks for the tips! I donĀ“t know any author you mentioned and they sound very interesting, now I want to read them all.

8:55 AM  
Blogger aleah said...

Thanks for your posts, June and Cat. Cat, I love fantasy genre. It took me until adulthood to appreciate the concepts raised, and that the idea of "escape" wasn't a waste of time, that it could inspire new ideas. Some of the best fantasy novels I've read hold powerful notions about how to create peaceful worlds, where people (and other animals) are treated with respect and dignity.

A book you should definitely read: The Fifth Life of the Cat Woman (see my blog posting on it). You will simply LOVE it, Cat. Actually, most people I know love the book -- I am hoping the author (Kathleen Dexter) writes another soon.

June, I understand what you mean about having too many to name. I could create an endless list, but I am a bookworm and am half-blind from reading in the dark :-)!

10:23 AM  

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