The Books that Matter (The Ones That Helped Me Grow as a Person)

When I was a teenager, my dad used to get frustrated with me and say, “I know this might be hard to hear, but the world DOES NOT revolve around you!” It’s a lesson I certainly didn’t fully learn in high school and am still working on mastering as an adult. I feel like it’s in our nature to believe that our story should be the same as other people’s. That the truths that have become profoundly evident to us over the years are also the truths of others. And, that people who annoy us for whatever reason are simply existing and acting to annoy us ON PURPOSE, even if those people don’t have any idea who we actually are. In fact, it’s really easy to invent negative stories about people we don’t enjoy.  That mom with the screaming toddler at Target? That guy who is tailgating me in the pouring rain? The couple in front of me at the store with the endless coupons? But what if, instead, we were able to imagine their pain and struggle and give them the benefit of the doubt?

I think it’s deeply ingrained in the human mind to look at others who are making different choices than we are and immediately think, “well that’s the wrong thing.” This might just be me, who knows? I kind of suspect not though. {This attitude has become painfully evident in all the “mommy wars” that go on, but I’m not even touching that.} However, it’s probably not the “wrong” thing in most cases. Okay, sure, there are some definitely wrong things in our world, like that gross USA gymnastics doctor and school shootings and plain milk chocolate. But, lately, I’ve noticed a trend in myself. I’m learning to look at people, especially strangers, with more of a generous heart and trying to believe that really, most people are doing their best. I mean, who wakes up and thinks, “I think I’ll try to be the absolute worst version of myself today”? (Sociopaths, that’s who, I guess.)

I honestly think I can attribute much of this interesting trend to my intentional reading habits. The past year, I’ve chosen lots of memoirs, historical fiction, and novels that are written in a memoir-like style that I suspect are loosely tied to the author’s own life somehow since they are written with great detail and such passion. Without being super aware of it until now, I looked for and chose stories about people so very unlike myself, who existed in circumstances so very unlike my own.

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Brené Brown’s newest book, Braving the Wilderness, has a chapter entitled “People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” She makes such a good point. Seeing people as individuals, as actual human beings with a story, makes it much easier to be gracious. For my introverted self, and being in this particularly chaotic season of early motherhood, reading good books is how I can “move in” right now, surround myself with unfamiliar settings and hear from others whose truths are so different from my own.

I want to share with you some books that have had a profound impact on my thinking about people and their individual stories. These books have been somewhat painful to read, due to abuse and evil and the loathsome behavior of people in them, but I’ve also found most of them to be inspiring and hopeful and redemptive. These stories have left an imprint on me, and they are ones I am not likely to forget.

Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) is probably one of the most creatively crafted books I’ve ever read, as it spans eight generations and follows two bloodlines originating from half-sisters, one who was sold into slavery from Ghana and the other who married a high-ranking British official and stayed in Africa. I was fascinated by the story, but I was also really taken aback by the way the author illustrated how the dark stain of slavery and racism still impacts lives today. In that same grain, The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas) told of an officer-involved shooting of a young African American boy and the after-effects. It painted a picture of the systemic racism that still exists here, showing us that we still have lots of work to do. It was evident throughout both books that once people view a certain group of people as less than human, once they stop seeing the individual in their faces, it makes it easier to justify the abuse. History has shown us this truth time and time again. It’s a common theme I’ve run across in all my beloved WWII novels as well, especially books like Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan), which was based on a true story and shows the true evil of the Nazis and the treatment of prisoners. And books like The Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly), The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah) and Night (Elie Wiesel- which I read in HS but still remember vividly) that include horrific accounts of life in Nazi-occupied territories and concentration camps.

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Memoirs like The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls), Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance), and The Sound of Gravel (Ruth Wariner) taught me about the devastation of poverty in this country and how it especially affects children. As children, these writers lived in unsafe spaces, sometimes in cars, not knowing where their next meals would come from, often suffering terrible emotional, physical, and even sexual abuse. These books impacted me a lot because I feel I have had a very privileged life; I have parents that are still married, we lived in the same house and town from age 6-college, and I can still visit my parents in my childhood home. I never went to bed hungry and was able to attend private school. So, these stories really hit me hard. I think as a society, we are often quick to point fingers at those living in poverty, as if it their fault somehow, but I’ve learned that lots of times, it’s generational or situational due to family history or some kind of catastrophe.

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Like I said before, these books are sometimes painful to read, but I think they are so important. They take us beyond our own understanding and out into worlds that are so easy to deny even exist (or existed in the past) when we don’t see them on a daily basis. But I also find that, amidst the pain and suffering in these stories, people are extremely resilient and brave and forgiving. And their stories ultimately leave me with a lot of hope, which is why I’ll continue to read more like them. They help us remember that everyone has a different story, and that we can’t know the depth of someone’s suffering or pain, so we must try to show them grace and kindness any way we can. What are the books that have most impacted you, made you grow as a person? I’d love to add to my never-ending to-be-read list!

Currently Reading: 73CC2D1F-A319-48A8-A12C-A752828698E1The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Another WWI/WWII book that was sent in the mail by a thoughtful literature-loving relative! And this time with female spies. I’m only 100 pages in and already love both of the main characters. I can’t wait to get to the rest.

A9401AD5-7A75-4A04-9A00-C65C9B0A90ACCurrently Eating: Thin Mints. Frozen (duh). Maybe I’ll get a handle on my sugar problem in March. I can really only blame the Girl Scouts.

Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours. Katie

2 thoughts on “The Books that Matter (The Ones That Helped Me Grow as a Person)

  1. This is a wonderful post! There are quite a few novels that you listed that I would love to read. I normally prefer supernatural fiction, but a few of these caught my eye. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is an interesting twist on parts of her life and herself.

    Like

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