5 Books that changed my Life

A member of one of my Linked In groups posed the question, “Name the 5 books that have changed your life.” What is your list of the slightly less than half dozen books that have made you who you are today? I was surprised at how easy it was to compose my list. Here it is.

(1) Honey from the Rock: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism by Lawrence Kushner … you don’t have to be Jewish (or even religious) to benefit from this book. Astonishingly simple, Zen-like, yet complex Kaballah-like interpretation of Life’s mysteries. It affirms that there as many answers to a question as there are listeners or witnesses

(2) Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres — historic fiction (novel with some real historic characters making brief appearances.) A heart breaking and unforgettable look at one of the tragic arenas of WWI (what is now Turkey) through the lens of a single village.

Find out how outside foreign powers decided it was better to separate Christians from Muslims and the tragic consequences (including the Armenian holocaust) that resulted.

Moments of astounding beauty that you will never forget, along with the unvarnished brutality of war.

(3) The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot — though written in 1992, a still up-to-date look at the harmony between physics, mysticism, spirituality and the real possibility of time travel. Technical, yet accessible. A real page turner, hard to put down. I have read this book 6 or 7 times.

(4) The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan — a collection of poems written by high caste Japanese women 1000 to 1100 years ago. Shockingly frank, modern and highly applicable to modern life. You will feel as if someone read your own mind or heart before she wrote these simple lines.Like seeing a sketch artist who can capture all the nuances of a Van Gogh oil painting in a few, perfect brush strokes.

The seaweed gatherer’s weary feet
keep coming back to my shore.
Doesn’t he know
there’s no harvest for him
in this uncaring bay?

(5) Marlene Dietrich by Maria Riva — even if you are not a movie (or Dietrich) fan you will not be disappointed. This is an irresistibly epic and highly researched biography of one of filmdom’s greatest “creations” by Dietrich’s daughter. Maria was with Dietrich, just out of frame, during all of the major films of her glory years. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, Dietrich was very comfortable with the stark chasm between her on-screen and off-screen persona. She was a highly complex, contradictory, maddening and thoroughly lovable person.

This biography gives an unblinking look at a woman who was decades ahead of her time, who travelled thousands of more miles and entertained more many more troops (uncredited, at her own expense) during WWII than Bob Hope. She was behind enemy lines at one point and was in Holland on the ground to greet the first allies who landed by parachute!

In addition, Dietrich met anyone who mattered in virtually all circles: artistic, literary, political and of course, Hollywood. A huge, fat, heavy book that is maddeningly difficult to put down. Warning, once you read this bio, you may find yourself impelled to buy several hundred dollars’ worth of boxed DVD sets on La Dietrich. If you want to buy only one film about her, get “Marlene” (1984), a brilliant documentary by actor/director Maximillian Schell. You won’t be disappointed with either the book or the films. Crazy as it sounds, I have looked at nearly everything differently after seeing the world through the eyes of Marlene.

You can trust your book to the cat that has “that look” …

Speaking of books, if you live in the greater Los Angeles area, go to one of the world’s last true independent bookstores. Large space, great selection, and a one-eyed cat. Who could ask for more? Go to the Iliad bookstore in North Hollywood on the north east corner of Cahuenga and Chandler. And tell them “Max sent me.” I bought most of the books on this list there, and miss that place like crazy. At least I have Powell’s in Portland, OR and Beaverton, OR.