Influenced by Books

A pile of Shannon Wilkinson's influential books.At a networking event last week I was asked, “what book has most influenced you?” It left me speechless. (That doesn’t happen often!)

I had a difficult time answering, not because I couldn’t think of a book, but because so many books flooded into my head and I had a hard time choosing.

Fascinated By My Answer

I’m still sort of intrigued by what I ended up sharing with the questioner. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The answer I gave him was, The Sufi Book of Life: 99 Pathways of the Heart for the Modern Dervish, by Neil Douglas-Klotz.

I’m definitely not a Sufi.

If I had to check a box, I’d go with Spiritual but not Religious or perhaps Agnostic. So, I kind of surprised myself with this choice.

This book was given to me a number of years ago by Mark Silver. Some times I read it more frequently than others, but rarely a week goes by that I don’t dip into it. It contains wisdom, poetry and meditations on the 99 Qualities of Unity. I usually choose one randomly and use it for meditation, or to reflect on as I fall asleep at night. Invariably the one I choose speaks to my current circumstances, and gives me new insight, a new perspective.

More Books Came to Mind

As I continued to consider the question, more books came to mind. All different kinds of books. I’ve read so many books over the years, I know I’ve forgotten many.

A few definitely stick with me though.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures is one such book. I loved learning about the Hmong culture. The story was fascinating, Anne Fadiman’s writing compassionate and informative. As much as the story moved me, the thing I think was most influential about that book, is that it opened me up to the genre of literary nonfiction.

The narrative of the story brings the research and facts alive for me. It’s the perfect way for me to learn about something new.

The Spirit Catches You was just the first of this genre. Others that have left their mark on me have been about widely different topics include:

Don’t tell anyone, but I not only love reading this kind of book, I’d love (if I ever discover a suitable topic) to write this kind of book.

Reading about Writing

There are a number of books on writing and creativity that have influenced me as well. Oddly, the one that stands out to me most is a book I never actually finished, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. If nothing else (and there is lots, lots more), the writing of morning pages has influenced me immeasurably.

Other books I put in this pile, include:

Where Avocation and Vocation Merge

I’ve long been interested in personal development, long before I started coaching professionally. So, it’s natural for me to read lots of books of this type, to learn for my clients and for myself.

Although, the most influential piece I ever read in this category, wasn’t a book at all.

Just about ten years ago, I was referred to a training program that would certify me as a coach, NLP practitioner and hypnotherapist. I promise to tell you more about that when we get closer, but for now, let me tell you it was a whirlwind of an epiphany. I scoped out the company’s website, signed up for the training and booked my flight and lodging on the other side of the country. Besides trusting the person who referred me, it was this article on Humanistic Neuro-Linguistic Psychology (the branch of NLP they developed) on the website that sold me.

I had never read anything that spoke to the things I wondered about, that answered questions, brought up more questions and moved me in such a way. I’m ever grateful to John Overdurf and Julie Silverthorn for writing it.

There are of course, many, many, many books that I could list here, so I think I’ll save it for another post.

Special Mention

I used to buy books to fuel my reading habit. Then, I moved into a much smaller space, and didn’t have room for walls of shelves any longer. I pared down, and pared down, and pared down my collection. And more importantly, I quit buying books. I started using the library almost exclusively.

Then I came across The Gifts of Imperfection at the library. I hadn’t heard of Brene Brown yet, and I didn’t know anything about the book, but the title certainly intrigued me, especially the subtitle: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Totally up my alley.

I checked it out, read it, and purchased my own copy immediately. It was the first book I bought during my book-buying moratorium. I knew it was a book I was going to want to re-read and reference repeatedly.

Since that time, I’ve seen Brene Brown speak in person, and I thought the book was powerful! She’s amazing.

The MOST Influential Book

As I was driving home from that networking meeting, I remembered the book that influenced me the most. Certainly, the answer I gave was for a book that has influenced me immensely, and all the other books I’ve shared with you here have too, but the MOST influential book, was a book I never read.

I don’t even know the title.

But I remember everything else quite clearly. I was sitting in a circle with all the other afternoon kindergartners at Alameda Elementary (you know, where Beezus & Ramona went). It was show & tell time. Joel went up, and sat on Mrs. Bayard’s lap and read to us from a book about Elephants.

I was astounded.

It wasn’t about the elephants. I like elephants well enough, it was about the reading. At that moment I was so envious that he was reading that book. All. By. Himself.

I wanted to read like that. I know my mom read to me, there was no shortage of books in our house.

But somehow that experience cracked something open in me, that has never closed. I wanted to read. And read I did.

Shannon Wilkinson's original Library Card issued when she was five or six years old.

I still have my very first library card. It was issued to me when I was five or six years old.

I became the proud holder of a Multnomah County Library card. Every time we went, I’d beg to check out the maximum number of books. I put them in a stack next to my bed and start reading, creating a new pile of read books to go back to the library.

Whenever I wanted to learn something, I get a book on it. I read books about whatever it was I was obsessing on at the time. Horses. Mars. Magic tricks. Crafts. Romance. France.

I still do.

What about you?

What books have influenced you. Do you go back to time and time again, or just can’t seem to get out of your head? Do tell, I’m always looking for a good book to read.

Postscript: Trust me, this list is in no way definitive. I’m sure that as soon as I hit publish, I’ll wish I would have included a gazillion other books. I’ll just have to save them for another time.
P.P.S. All the book links take you to Powells. They are not affiliate links. I don’t get any compensation for recommending these books to you. I encourage you to support your local library or if you like owning rather than borrowing, please support your local bookstore!

3 comments to Influenced by Books

  • I loved your Most Influential Book story. What a fun memory.

    When I was little, I used to go down the aisles at the library and read everything. The librarian let us check out however many books we wanted during the summer, because we read so much and so fast that if she didn’t, we’d have to visit every day.

    I don’t think I could pick just one. If I have to pick, the ones that always come to mind are: The Prophet, Don’t Shoot the Dog, Atlas Shrugged, (darn, I’m forgetting the title of this one, but it’s by Michael Singer, I saw it in a yoga magazine and ordered it purely because the cover was so beautiful and calming, and then it turned out to be incredible), The Inmates are Running the Asylum.

    I loved Born to Run. I devoured it. Best running book.

  • Great post, Shannon.

    I also loved the library as a kid. When I was 8, I decided to read every book in the children’s section of the library. I started with the closest shelf — science non-fiction. I quickly moved over to the Fairy Tales section instead, and I read every fairy tale book they had that summer. Great summer!

    Influential books: Find a Quiet Corner by Nancy O’Hara and A Life in Hand by Hannah Hinchman. And about a zillion others :)

  • I wanted to respond to this yesterday but allergies have had my brain fuzzy and operating at very low capacity. This is a great topic for discussion, though, so I’m going to try and participate.

    “Pawn of Prophecy,” by David Eddings, was my gateway drug into the world of fantasy in 5th grade. I learned the true power of how books provide a much-needed escape from the real world. To this day, there’s nothing like a good fantasy book to heal whatever ails me.

    “A Path to Love,” by Deepak Chopra, helped me heal from a few broken hearts and learn to see love for what it really is.

    Alright. Back to my date with a box of kleenex.

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