Transformational Books

I have loved to read since I figured out how at the ripe old age of three. Reading opened a whole world for me – a world of information, a world of hope. Books brought with them whole worlds that were so different from my own life. Books let me know at a young age that there were families out there that didn’t hurt children, with parents who were loving to each other. Through out my life books have opened whole new worlds to me. Today I want to share ten (plus one!) books that have been transformational for me – transforming my parenting, my career, my relationships, my life. These books have brought tears and understanding, hope and grief. Each one deeply touched me, I would love to know how they impact you. (Full disclosure – the links to the books are my Amazon Affiliate links. Thank you for supporting me on my journey).

1. And I Don’t Want to Live This Life: A Mother’s Story of Her Daughter’s Murder by Deborah Spungen. The first time I read this book I was 14 or 15. While I don’t remember much about the details anymore or my reaction to Nancy’s mom’s view of events, I have always remembered the poem written by her uncle for her funeral. It was my mantra to get through the very painful years of my teens and early twenties. The poem let me hold on to the hope that someday I would reconcile with my mother and have a loving, accepting relationship (we did shortly before she died). Now that I have a child of my own, I still hold on to the poem as a reminder that while my daughter is from me, she is not me and to step back and let her life be her own. (The poem itself can be read here).

2. The Prophet by Kahil Gibran. I was a teenager the first time I read this book too, and it has stuck with me for over 25 years. I refer to it for solace and as another gentle reminder to not try to mold my daughter into who I may want her to be and to allow her to grow into her own beautiful self.

3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. My mom gave me this book for my first birthday and it encouraged my individuality from that day forward. I know by today’s standards the book is a bit on the cheesy side, however it gave me solace knowing that my mom wanted me to be my own person from a young age, even if when that manifested in later years she may not have been so accepting.

4. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John M. Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD. When my marriage was falling apart after the birth of our daughter (and continued to free fall for two plus years), this book gave both Nick and I hope for our marriage. We would come back it again and again, do one or another of the exercises together and have real connection. Although those times were the hardest of our marriage to date, even though divorce was threatened daily by both of us, I really believe this book helped us remember why we chose each other in the first place and is a large part of why we are still together today.

5. Maternal Desire: On Children, Love and the Inner Life by Daphne de Marneffe. I read this book just after I had made the decision to walk away from my career. I sobbed through the whole book, feeling as if finally, someone was saying what my heart had been screaming about my call to motherhood. I love this book, it erased shame and spoke my heart.

6. Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld, PhD and Gabor Mate, MD. This book not only was the main reason I decided to agree with Nick regarding homeschooling our daughter, it also initiated my internal realization of being called to become a marriage and family therapist. While the tone of the book can be a little heavy-handed at times (after further study at the Neufeld Institute I learned that the tone was more the editor than Dr. Neufeld), it contains valuable information regarding how to attain and maintain an attachment based relationship with your child as they grow. It is amazing.

7. The Big Book of Unschooling by Sandra Dodd. This book solidified my decision for our family to unschool. I still randomly open it when I’m feeling overwhelmed with whatever parenting thing is going on in the moment and magically exactly the right words will appear to help me reset myself and be the parent I want to be. I really think every parent should read this book, whether you intend to unschool or not – it is filled with amazing parenting insight.

8. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW. This  book touched those parts of me that were scared of the new uncharted course I was embarking on (unschooling, career change) and really helped me get in touch with my soul and what I have been called to do. This book also helped me to start the process of letting go of a LOT of shame and self blame for a lot of the pain I experienced throughout my life.

9. In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter A. Levine, PhD. This is the book that started me on the path to finding the interconnection of trauma with physical, mental and spiritual health. Levine explains trauma and trauma treatment from a somatic (body) perspective. This book (and the course I took that required its reading) helped me further define the work I want to do and how I want to help others on their healing path. It also has some great exercises that you can do at home to help with starting your own healing journey.

10. The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma by Annie G. Rogers, PhD. Yet another book that brought me to tears. Rogers discusses how language itself can be traumatizing. She shares both autobiographical and client stories while explaining Lacan’s theory of trauma transference through language. It is both heart-wrenching and fascinating to read.

And because I can’t leave this book off the list…

11. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks. This book is an autobiography by a fully functioning schizophrenic. Reading her life experiences, both what it is like inside her head as a schizophrenic as well as the experiences she has at the hands of others because of her diagnosis has had a huge impact on me that I still cannot articulate. Not only has it given me greater empathy for those with chronic mental illnesses, it opened my eyes to the cruelty of the mental health system within the United States.

There they are. Eleven books that have shaped who I am in this moment. I would love to  know what books have impacted you deeply in your life.

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6 Responses to Transformational Books

  1. Heidi says:

    This is a beautifully thoughtful list that tells me so much about who you are Gwynn! Thank you for putting it together. I recognize some of these books and LOVE them as well and the others I will have to look up now that I have your recommendations for them. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Heidi. 🙂 They really are The Books that have helped shape who I am in this moment. When I sat down to write the list I was actually surprised that the first two immediately came to mind, and upon some reflection I realized just how influential they both were and are! 🙂 ❤

  2. Red Zorah says:

    Gabor Mate wrote my favorite book on addiction “In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts”. I love him. Have you read much about Circle of Security? One lecture in law school changed my career path permanently.

    • I haven’t read “Realm” yet though it has been recommended to me by a least a dozen people (including my Crisis & Trauma instructor) over the last year. It’s on my list to read during the winter break. 🙂

      I have not read about the Circle of Security – is this by Mate?

  3. A handful of books here I haven’t heard of, checking to see if the library has them… thanks!

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