The books we read

The books we read

I just came to those final two words centered on a blank page, in black ink, at the back of what was a dangerously large novel: THE END.
Perhaps I’m weird (highly likely), but when I find my eyes caressing these six letters, a deep sadness overwhelms me.
And yet, it’s not a sadness of pain or despair, it’s a sadness tinged with joy.
There’s something hidden within the words of a masterfully written and beautifully told story, and it is this which is the biggest gift of books.
It’s the gift of a story.

The joy comes from the experience of the story, a life in fast forward, laid out before you. A life that you actually get to live out, because while you read your imagination lives it.
This is where the sadness comes in.
I get sad when I finish a truly magnificent book, because it is finished.
It’s a small death.

This is something which I have grappled with all my life, accepting that all things have their season, all things have their time, and the beauty of life is that one day we will die.

As Osho so eloquently put:

“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.”

I have fallen prey time and again by wanting to hold onto moments, people, time, things, life, when if I was to release that need to possess and experience for an eternity, and instead accept and cherish the beauty of whatever was coming to pass. Not fearing the end, nor looking forward to it, but accepting it as an intrinsic and necessary part of the whole.
Then I would be free to truly experience.

These words need not signal distress.
Without the rain, where is the joy in the sun?
Without the cold hand of winter crawling over the land, Summer would cease to exist.
This one I know first hand. Earlier in my twenties I was on a quest to avoid winter and had 7 straight summers – moving around the world as soon as the nights became too cold to sleep nude.
This life seemed like I was living the dream, but I never got to experience the pleasure of snuggling in a warm bed on a cold morning, I never got the pleasure of a clean, crisp winter sun, or the simple joy of the environment around me morphing and changing.

When we stop looking forward, whether with excitement or fear, and looking back with nostalgia or longing, we will suddenly exist in what is undoubtedly a breathtaking moment – never to be repeated.

So the book has come to an end, and I am left with a warm contentment having lived it’s pages for the last month.

The true gift will reveal itself later. For once a story has been told, it passes into you, becomes a part of you, and is shared through you.

For this reason I have kept a list of (almost) every book I have read over the past couple of years. It is fascinating to see how these stories have shaped my experiences, and I have carried them with me long after reading their printed words. My language was plucked from their pages, my philosophy and beliefs moulded by their experiences, my perspective seen through a lense shaded with their view of the world.

I looked over my list tonight and have selected the 10 books which have had the most profound effect on my life:

1 – Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
2 – The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
3 – The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
4 – The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons
5 – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
6 – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
7 – The Boat by Nam Le
8 – The Power of One by Bryce Courtney
9 – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
10 – The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

I actually couldn’t stop writing for this, so I split this list into a second section. These are the 10 non-fiction books which have had the greatest impact on me over the last couple of years:

1 – As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
2 – The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida
3 – Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston
4 – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankle
5 – Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
6 – Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarznegger
7 – The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene
8 – Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters by Allen S Miller
9 – Influence by Robert Cialdini
10 – The Wisdom of Insecurity by Allen Watts

Looking over my list of books, I see that in subtle ways, I have taken on the words within their pages – the stories told become part of a great reservoir of experience which I can draw upon for guidance, support, entertainment and insight.

I’m going to choose my next book very carefully, for I have a sneaking suspicion that within it’s pages, awaits my future.

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