7 Books that Changed My Life

To quote James Bryce: “The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it.” To me, the following books are wellsprings of information. In them are endless lessons on writing, life, faith, love, and everything in between. I don’t think it’s possible to outgrow or get tired of any of these books.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order), the 7 books that changed my life: 

#1: Letters to A Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke

First Read: Freshman Year, College (2003)

Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” might’ve gotten me started on poetry, but it was Rilke’s letters which brought out my passion in writing. This collection of letters from Rilke gives some of the most poignant and practical advice on becoming a writer. With every letter Rilke writes to the “young poet”, Franz Xaver Kappus, we’re also somewhat privy to the innermost musings of one of the most beloved literary figures of the 20th century.

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Featured Poem#1: Mirror – Sylvia Plath

Every writer (successful, aspiring, failed, or whatnot) has an interesting anecdote on that “something” that got him/her started on writing. My “something” was Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror”. I don’t remember much of the details. I know it was in high school at my Creative Writing class under my then-favorite teacher. I remember him handing out copies of this poem and later, reading the poem out loud to a quiet audience.

Don’t get me wrong. There was no lightning bolt. No lightbulb. No sirens. No Eurekas! No exclamation points. There was just this stillness. This incredible stillness. It was dread, resignation, elation, calm, peace, understanding, and truth (a glimpse of the absolute truth?) all rolled into one. It was a lingering ache that stayed for days.

I knew. I didn’t want to be a writer, I needed to be one. I realized that it didn’t matter what I did in the mean time, I would always go back to writing. To borrow from Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being: “Muss es sein? Ja, es muss sein!”

Reading this poem ten years later, it still makes me feel the same way.

Mirror – Sylvia Plath

I am silver an exact. I have no preconceptions.

Whatever I see I swallow immediately

Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.

I am not cruel, only truthful,

The eye of a little god, four-cornered.

Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.

It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long

I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.

Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,

Searching my reaches for what she really is.

Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.

I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.

She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.

I am important to her. She comes and goes.

Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.

In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman

Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.