Trent and I have been talking about how to discuss books on the blog. We get tons of books every week and while we look at all of them, and read some of them, I don’t think we have either the capacity or the interest for a regular book feature. But we are aware that books are a big part of the DNA of our program and website, even though we hardly ever do what is commonly considered a “book interview.”

It’s in the nature of the program to care deeply about books that matter, and to have deep respect for the textual basis of tradition. So, for us, the focus on books has less to do with what is being published recently and more to do with how they have had a deep impact, or capture a topic or a story in a way we just can’t resist.

I think of our show with Mary Doria Russell, “The Novelist As God,” as an example of a program that arose out of a singular attraction to an author’s work. An exception to the “we don’t do book interviews” rule happened early in the show’s history. When Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book, Doubt: A History, had just been published, we pursued her because we thought it was just so brilliant.

Shunryu Suzuki RoshiThere are books that become so important to us they become like old friends. Or, books that we find so transformative our lives are never the same. In about 1979, I picked up a copy of D.T. Shunryu Suzuki’s slim volume, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in a book store and was so struck by the lines I read I bought it and took it home to read. And I’ve never stopped reading it.

At one time, I transcribed the entire book by hand into a notebook as a meditative practice. I’m not a Buddhist, but this man’s words settled in to my being to stay. Now, that paperback is missing its cover. Its pages are dog-eared, and I’ve written grocery lists and phone numbers on the flyleaves.

Suzuki, seen briefly above in the trailer from a documentary about him, was one of the major importers of Zen Buddhism to the West. What were his words that so captivated me? “In the beginner’s mind,” he wrote, “there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

What are the books that have changed your life? What are the books that became your best friend?

UPDATE: We inadvertently conflated the two Suzukis, and so struck some language, replaced the video (but kept the link to the D.T. documentary), and swapped out the photo as well. Thanks to chucklief for leaving the comment below and correcting our mistake.

Share Your Reflection



With out a doubt, the book that has most changed my life is the Bible.

Like you, I read and reread Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind over and over again. I also was profoundly drawn into Etty, A Diary 1941-43, by Etty Hillesum and Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. Whereas the two later authors died very young, I loved the fact that Suzuki lived a long and full life.

"Meetings with Remarkable Men" - G.I. Gurdjieff (my young adulthood)
"Lost Christianity" - Jacob Needleman (my mid-adulthood)
I wonder what awaits in late adulthood?

I recently began gathering the books that have changed my life onto a special shelf so that they are accessible to be reread often. Some of them are The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, and many volumes of poetry including Rumi.

MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor Frankl changed my life for me in college almost 45 years ago and still has power for me today.

One of the key books that changed my life is by Dallas Willard - "The Divine Conspiracy." He was the first to really connect with me in answering the What Now? question of life by mediating on the Sermon on the Mount. peace - Andy

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott--gave me the strength to be a true woman of god and shed the cliched language that is used by many. She can be talking with god and curse at the same time while reverently beholding the moment as it is experienced. There is something to be said for that!

Just for clarification, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind is the profound book by Shunryu Suzuki (Suzuki Roshi) 1904-1971 the founder of Tassajara Zen Center, San Francisco Zen Center and more. He was one of the most effective cultural translators of Buddhist dharma to primarily western students.

D.T Suzuki (1870-1966) is a different, also influential, Zen scholar and practitioner.

And my key book is Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Ven. Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan meditation master (and close friend of Suzuki Roshi)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Read it first in High School in the 70's and was captivated by it. I was not a great reader in those days, but I couldn’t put it down and I absorbed it. Would be really great to have the author, Robert M. Pirsig, on Speaking of Faith.

See this link.

Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, "The book sold over 4 million copies in twenty-seven languages and was described by the press as "the most widely read philosophy book, ever."[1] It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records."

Be Here Now - Ram Das because it opened the Eastern door for me.
A Buddhist Bible - Editied by Dwight Goddard was my introduction to Buddhism which I fell in love with.
BTW Thanks so much for the show with Jennifer Michael Hecht. 'Doubt: A History' was a wonderful read and a great book.

Let's do this before the Vatican revives the Index of Prohibited Books - just kidding. Here are my fav's: The Grapes of Wrath, Anna Karenina, The Swimming Pool LIbrary, Portnoy's Complaint, The House of Mirth, Ivanhoe, Absalom, Absalom, anything by Yukio Mishima, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, The Gormenghast Triology by Mervyn Peake, My Son's Story by Nadine Gordimer, and all poetry by Anna Akhmatova, Adrienne Rich, and Carolyn Forche - just to mention a few ;)

Spiritually, Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" always speaks to me at so many different levels. It never grows old.

Some books that helped me a lot: A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield, Our Many Selves by Elizabeth O'Conner. Both of these books speak about the slow, quiet inner work people do as contributing to world peace, and I like that idea.

I am now reading "A Year With Rumi" for the second time, receiving a daily dose of his poetry (as translated by Coleman Barks) and it's become a focal point for my daily meditation. Rumi is my "soul friend". For me his verse never fails to penetrate deep into the heart and strip away our religious misconceptions.
Honorable mention goes to "The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield (a kind of handbook for the spiritual seeker), "The Marriage of Sense and Soul" by Ken Wilber (on reconciling science and faith) and "Care of the Soul" by Thomas Moore...all of which helped to guide me away from authoritarian religion and into a more adventurous, participatory, and healing path of spirituality.

The Fireside Book of American Folk Song. Though I don't come from a musical family, for some reason we had a copy of this book when I was a kid -- I still have it -- and it opened worlds to me, ones I am still exploring.

A number of books, actually, after my disclaimer of the Bible:

That Hideous Strength~ CS Lewis "Because before God, all seems 'feminine' and is freed. We don't pick our identities, but we are freest to be who we truly are. It changed my entire orientation to the idea of the self and personal identity. I was able to let go of all that I planned to control in the pathway of my life."

The Celebration of Discipline- Richard Foster "Because I learned to embrace the lost disciplines that so many Protestant Christians worry are 'works'."

The Orthodox Way~ Kallistos Ware "Because I left Protestant Christianity due to this book, which proved timelessness, and began the process overthrowing the Augustinian view of God the Father as one who weighs and balances scales and will only find me wanting."
Mary, The Untrodden Portal of God~ "Because this book sealed the Orthodox Christian teaching of a God the Father who is infinitely loving and creative. It articulated a doctrine, not of Augustinian or Calvinist weights and measures, not of a God who must collect a debt from his "just" nature, not a God divided against his own loving nature.

The Way of the Pilgrim~ Monk of the Eastern Church "Because I learned contentment and the exercise of prayer in all things, simplicity and acceptance of others despite struggle, loss, solitude."

Les Miserables~ Victor Hugo "Because it opened my eyes to the incongruity of a god of weights and measures and cruel cold justice. It created a hunger in me for a God not divided in natures, but one who hunger and longed for humanity and each person with such love that He might atone for sin, absolve evil, free us from the drive to compete for perfection."

The Brothers Karamazov ~ Dostoevsky "Because it taught me that true love for humanity is not from afar off, but the struggle of loving the nearest, most irritating, disbelieving, demanding, troubling, broken, abusive, and all who are next to me. Only by first loving those can we hope to be able to saints who live by 'He has shown you, o Man, what is good and what the Lord desires of you. To do justice (not the old fashioned I used to believe in), to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.' and James' teaching that the religion that is pure is to love widows and orphans and keep oneself from being tainted by the world." Continuing this lesson were the following;In the Name of Jesus, Compassion, (Nouwen), The Courage to Teach (Parker J. Palmer),

Blood Brothers~ Elias Chacour "Because it helped to overthrow the error of my dispensationalist eschatological theology. Israel, Palestine, Arabs, Christians and Jews are not mere pawns in game for the afterlife or some distant 'Kingdom of Heaven.'"

Things Fall Apart~ Chinua Achebe "Because it taught me utter caution in believing my own culture is superior. I wait to see how countries within continents, parts within wholes, individuals within communities reveal themselves. Or at least, I try to wait."

Wounded by Love~ Elder Porphyrios "Because his quiet humility teaches how silence, contentment and purity of thought reduce the violence we transmit, even unconsciously, in the world. It teaches how we can by focusing on our own salvation, we can participate to save those around us."

The book that has most influenced my life is "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelo. I happened to be listening to NPR one day and they were interviewing the author. I was so intrigued that I went immediately to the bookstore and bought the book. Reading it is like savoring a fabulous dessert bit by bit and hoping it will never end. Since that time I have bought the book numerous times to give to various people. My son was as entranced as I was.
Not only does Coelo weave his magical words to draw the reader in, it has a surprise ending that was astonishing. This book has set me on the spiritual path of realizing there is so much more out there than most of us are aware of.