What Are Your Three Most Formative Books?

On my daily walks I’ve been listening to a podcast called “3 Books with Neil Pasricha”. In each episode Neil interviews an interesting, articulate, (and usually famous) person and they discuss the three books that have been the most formative in that person’s life. The book choices spark some really interesting conversations that often spiral in many directions.  And isn’t that what books are supposed to do?

Neil asks his guests to choose books that changed their lives in some significant way- steering them in a different direction or opening their eyes to new ideas.  Often a book from childhood is  cited as a formative book, as well as one from their early adult years. I’ve discovered some amazing titles by listening to these interviews. I’ve also spent  time considering what my own three most formative books would be.

I’ve always been an avid reader. In my childhood home we could choose to read or do chores. It was a no-brainer for me. (Thanks mom, for turning me into a reader.) But selecting just three books over my lifetime is hard. The following are the first ones that jump to mind. By tomorrow it might be an entirely different list.

The Chrysalids (by John Wyndham)

Summary from Goodreads:  “A world paralyzed by genetic mutation. John Wyndham takes the reader into the anguished heart of a community where the chances of breeding true are less than fifty per cent and where deviations are rooted out and destroyed as offences and abominations.”

I can still remember my shock when I first read this book in high school. The events in it horrified me, but they also made me think deeply about big ideas.  I read it again just a few years ago and was surprised to find such a heavy religious theme running throughout. I didn’t remember that aspect. This book was probably instrumental in deepening my taste in literature – moving away from reading solely for entertainment.  It also sparked a lifelong interest in telepathy.

The Celestine Prophecy (by James Refield)

Summary from Goodreads: “The Celestine Prophecy contains secrets that are currently changing our world. Drawing on ancient wisdom, it tells you how to make connections among the events happening in your own life right now…and lets you see what is going to happen to you in the years to come!”

Everyone was reading and discussing this book when I was in my early twenties.  I expect I would find it hokey if I read it now, but the one insight I remember totally buying into  was the notion there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens for a reason. That stayed with me for a long time, and I still think about it today when something coincidental happens.

84 Charing Cross Road  (Helene Hanff)

Summary from Goodreads: “This charming classic brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books.”

This is a book written entirely in letters and is an absolute gem. It was formative for me in that it nails the epistolary format, a style I’ve tried to emulate but will never come close to this one’s perfection. I smiled through the entire first, second and third reading. It makes me long for the days of letter writing, revering books and thoughtful correspondence.

Books create empathy. When we read we walk in someone else’s shoes for a few hours and discover how it is to live lives different from our own.  (TV screens simply allow us to view other lives from the outside.) It’s discouraging that there are so many other distractions vying for our attention now. As Neil Pasricha says, “In a world of endless dings and pings (and counting ‘likes’) we need a giant task that focuses our minds, challenges our assumptions, shapes our values and fuels our passions.”

Lately I’ve seen my own concentration slide, putting a book aside to check messages, social media, etc. But with so many books out there that I want to read in the time I have left,  I intend to put the phone on mute and stay focused. The stories will stay with me, the banter on social media – not so much.

Anyone with me?

And what are your three most formative books?