I’ve always been an avid reader. I started in 7th grade when my sister was reading The Chronicles of Narnia. I picked them up and found the escape from reality so decadent that I ceased to exist in the real world while I devoured all seven books over the course of a few weeks. When I finished Narnia, my sister was just finishing up Anne of Green Gables. She set it down and I picked it up. Anne of Green Gables is not something a boy would normally read, but I grew up in Sanger, Texas and at the time the only restaurant was Dairy Queen and we had watched most of the movies available for rent from the tiny selection at the local rental place.
When I finished reading Anne of Green Gables I picked up Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and eventually that led to Dean Koontz, Greg Iles, Stephen King, Augusten Burroughs, and so many others. If you are a teacher reading this then you may be a a reader as well. I’m always a bit surprised when someone tells me, “I don’t like to read.” Or “I’m just too busy to read.” When I am at my busiest I still find time to escape into a book or audiobook. In my car I can listen to audiobooks on the way to the gym or while waiting in line to get my Chick-Fil-A. I consume novels almost as greedily as I consume chicken nuggets.
In the books below I have perused my library for some of the novels that left me changed. To me that is what a great novel does, it changes you. It teaches you something about yourself or about the world that helps me to navigate my own journey in a different and better way. Books are like those old viewfinders that we would use to click through various pictures seeing an entirely different world. I want to see the world through a thousand eyes a myriad of viewpoints. A 360 view gives me a more complete picture. I grew up in a small town of little more than 2000 people. But I traveled the world from my bedroom. The books below I hope you will find life-changing and entertaining. I hope they help you escape for just a moment into another reality the way I escaped so often as a child. And when you put the book down, I hope that a small metamorphosis has happened and that you emerge from the story a changed person.
Educated by Tara Westover
Where do I begin? Tara Westover recounts her life as an “off the grid” child who didn’t go to school and eventually became a Rhoades Scholar. An excerpt from her biography: “Tara Westover is an American author living in the UK. Born in Idaho to a father opposed to public education, she never attended school. She spent her days working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother, a self-taught herbalist and midwife. She was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom, and after that first taste, she pursued learning for a decade. She graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.”
I loved this story for so many reasons, but what I walked away with was the subtle hard and dark truths that Tara brings into the light, but the most memorable for me was – acting like something isn’t a problem – that is the problem. Throughout the book Tara recounts several physical and emotionally abusive interactions with her brother where he bullied her – at one point twisting her wrist to the near breaking point. But she made excuses for his behavior. Her parents made excuses for his behavior as well. It made me realize how often I can personally overlook red flags when I love someone or when I desperately hope someone will change. Ignoring bad behavior doesn’t make the problem go away, it only further enables it.
I love this book because it is a story of overcoming adversity and being resilient when the odds are stacked against you.
A Man Called Ove
Ove is different. This novel is different. I read a bunch of reviews and thought I’d give it a whirl since it was a bit of a diversion from the murder mysteries that I was currently consuming. One is a bit of a curmudgeon. He speaks what is on his mind, he is lonely, he is sometimes bigoted and hateful without realizing it – but he is surprisingly big hearted and helpful. This story inspired me to think the best of people – even when they seem the worst.
A Man Called Ove is like a roast in a slow-cooker – it takes time to build but it packs a punch at the end. Few books have made me feel good about the power of humanity and community – especially when we pull together and overlook our differences. While our differences are sometimes hard to tolerate, we can still love people and in return we might find an unexpected friend or ally.
From the website: Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).
The Road Back to You
If you haven’t heard of the Enneagram yet, don’t worry, you will. This personality test has been around for millennia and has recently sprung back into popularity. The Road Back to You goes into detail about the 9 different personality types and unlike Myers Briggs, Strengths Finder, Servants by Design, etc. – This personality test will surprise you with how easy it is to understand not only yourself, but the other people in your life once you know their number.
I have personally memorized all of the personality types not because I am so smart, but because they are simple and easy to remember. I also know many people who have taken the test and knowing their number helps me to understand them better. Over the summer I went to a day long Enneagram workshop. At the beginning of the class they asked us, “Why do we want to learn about ourselves and others?” The answer: So we can love others well.
In a world that is becoming more segregated by the day it is nice to engage in a platform that is all about bringing us together. I know that personally I used to want to change people all the time. I wanted them to be like me, to do things like me, to vote, eat, think – like me. But diversity makes the world beautiful and better. The push and pull of our differences is the tension that fuels progress, growth, and change. The Enneagram has been the most simple and at the same time most comprehensive tool I’ve ever used to help me not only understand myself but others as well.
A great online resource to understand more about the Enneagram is The Enneagram Institute.
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
It is rare to stumble across something so different and new when it comes to books. The premise behind “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is that a large statue appears in New York and no one knows where it came from. Eventually others appear and people are wondering if it is some grand hoax or an alien invasion? The story is what I would consider just a fun and light read, but there are some underlying powerful themes that are at play here. If you need something off the beaten path that deals with current trends around social media celebrities and overnight fame, then this is a good read.
Description from the book:
The Carls just appeared.
Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor—April and her best friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
Compulsively entertaining and powerfully relevant, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing grapples with big themes, including how the social internet is changing fame, rhetoric, and radicalization; how our culture deals with fear and uncertainty; and how vilification and adoration spring for the same dehumanization that follows a life in the public eye. The beginning of an exciting fiction career, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a bold and insightful novel of now.
The Perfect Son
I stumbled upon this book when it was on sale and thought I’d give it a listen. It ended up being one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. I’m an emotional person who feels all the feels when I’m reading a book and this book definitely has all the feels. I’ll admit that the book takes some serious twists and turns, but the ending left me spent and speechless – in a good way.
I’m all about seeing people change and overcome their circumstances through adversity and what is the most amazing thing about this book is the father-son relationship that develops because of some serious adversity.
Here is a description of the book from the website:
From a distance, Felix Fitzwilliam, the son of an old English family, is a good husband and father. But, obsessed with order and routine, he’s a prisoner to perfection. Disengaged from the emotional life of his North Carolina family, Felix has let his wife, Ella, deal with their special-needs son by herself.
A talented jewelry designer turned full-time mother, Ella is the family rock…until her heart attack shatters their carefully structured existence. Now Harry, a gifted teen grappling with the chaos of Tourette’s, confronts a world outside his parents’ control, one that tests his desire for independence.
As Harry searches for his future, and Ella adapts to the limits of her failing health, Felix struggles with his past and present roles. To prevent the family from being ripped apart, they must each bend with the inevitability of change and reinforce the ties that bind.
People Over Profit
Perhaps fiction isn’t your bag and you like books that help you with your personal life or your side hustle. If that is the case, then People Over Profit is the book for you. I think that everyone should read this book because it teaches us the value of putting people first. However, if you are in a business or if you are a teacher you make the client/student the priority then you will have more of an impact than if you focus on all of the other variables. A short and powerful read, People Over Profit will equip you to become “profitable” by putting people first.
Description from the Book: Every day major headlines tell the story of a new and better American marketplace. Established corporations have begun reevaluating the quality of their products, the ethics of their supply chain, and how they can give back by donating a portion of their profit to meaningful causes. Meanwhile, millions of entrepreneurs who want a more responsible and compassionate marketplace have launched a new breed of socially focused business models.
Sevenly founder Dale Partridge uncovers the seven core beliefs shared by consumers, starters, and leaders behind this transformation. These beliefs have enabled Dale to build a multimillion-dollar company that is revolutionizing the marketplace. He believes they are the secret to creating a sustainable world that values honesty over deception, transparency over secrecy, authenticity over hype, and ultimately, people over profit.
Look Me in the Eye
I grew up spending a lot of time with special needs students. My mom drove a school bus for special needs children and one of the students lived in a home instead of with his parents. His name was Ray. Eventually my mom started picking him up and brining him to our house for birthday parties, dinners and special events. In time he started calling my parents mom and dad and me and my sisters, brother and sister. Later in life I drove a special needs bus too and it gave me a different perspective on the various types of special needs.
I first learned of the book Look Me in the Eye from Augusten Burroughs who is the author of Running with Scissors and A Wolf at the Table. John Elder Robison recounts his journey living with Aspergers and it is fascinating. Never before have I understood something so clearly by someone telling their life story of not only how they deal with their Aspergers but actually thrived because of it.
From the Website: Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human.
Sometimes it is easy to think that “some guys have all the luck.” Well, Malcom Gladwell shuts that idea down with this book. Well researched and well written, Outliers will help you to understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. That even the greatest of our time usually experienced a certain set of circumstances that allowed them to be successful. And the formula is not that complex. 10,000 hours of working at something is what it takes to achiever mastery. To put that into perspective, working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks is 2080 hours. So in order to be really great at something you need to spend a good 5 years of your life at around 40 hours a week doing that task.
Now granted, some people are gifted – but even the gifted have to work to perfect their craft. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mozart – yes, sometimes they were at the right place at the right time, but that “right place right time” moment didn’t happen without first years of hard work. If you want a great book that will help you understand the power of hard work and focus, Outliers is a must-read.
From the website: In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?
His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.
Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.