:::this is the way the world ends:::

Three (or more) Most Important Books

I mentioned in the Potter post that I couldn’t remember where I “picked up” the beliefs similar to “Nonviolent Communication” concepts that Peters and Amanda champion but now I realize that they came from a book I read over ten years ago called The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright (suggested to me by Liz). Wright isn’t really a scientist but a science writer. He is very skillful at mixing scholarly research and with historical context into a very readable form for the non-scientist. The Moral Animal primarily explains many of the theories of evolutionary psychology and uses the concepts to psychoanalyze the life of Charles Darwin. The Moral Animal is also the most important book I’ve every read. It blew my 22-year-old mind and continues to influence me a decade later.

Which got me thinking…. What are the most important books the Hollow Men (and Women of course) have read? Note that I’m not asking which are best books but the most important – the books that changed your life or the books that irrevocably changed the way you see the world. Perhaps they are not the best book by that author (certainly the case with my list). Perhaps if you read these books now they would not have the same effect on you. Perhaps there was something going on in your life at the time that made the book important.

Here is my list:
The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright
Two Minutes of Silence, by H. C. Branner
The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell


  1. Ned

    I will post this when I can get my down to three, which may be never.

  2. J.E.

    I doesn’t have to be three but try to keep it pithy.

  3. Tobias

    Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban
    Harry Potter: The Half-Blood Prince
    Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire

  4. Tobias

    I kid, I kid. I am sullying this fine post with my little joke. I apologize.

    There’s lots of choices and I think some books have had a greater impact than I realize, other that I think are important aren’t as impactful as I had thought.

    I’ll mull it over more and add and refine, but here’s my initial list, other than the Good Book itself:

    Life is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry
    The Complete Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
    Everyman, by Anonymous
    The Dead, by James Joyce
    The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
    The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

    The Cat in the Hat is not a good impactful book, necessarily. I think that book placed in me a huge fear of irresponsible destructive forces coming in and ruining relationships with your parents. Even though they were saved at the last minute, I was terrified every time.

  5. Ned

    J.E. did not specify that the “Good Book” couldn’t be listed. However, it would be a little misleading if I put the bible, since there are a few books in the O.T. that I have never made my way through. I do feel that I can put the parables or stories of Jesus on my list, as they have influenced my life more than any other literature. I also think if you remove them from the idea of divine inspiration, they are still tremendously challenging stories. They also had a deep impact on me in the sense that I have never really stopped believing that stories were meant to have a teaching element to them, however ambiguous it might be.

    1) Stories of Jesus
    2) Writing by Joseph Conrad
    3) Writing by Shusaku Endo
    4) Writing by John Berger
    5) Writing by Annie Dillard

    More recently – The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp, My Experiments with Truth by Gandhi, Unto This Last by John Ruskin, and The Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

  6. Tobias

    Ned, I didn’t mean to suggest that J.E. specified that the Good Book couldn’t be listed. I just wanted to “take the pressure off” so I didn’t have to categorize or numerically assign it to an order of importance. That would have been giving in to more introspection than I could commit right now.

    I usually hear questions like this prefixed with “other than the Bible.” So I wanted to give it a nod, because you all know me and that it’s impacted my life (I hope) but move on from any “pat” answers I might give.

    Of course, your suggestion might have just been a segway from my comment into yours and I’m worrying too much about it.

  7. Ned

    I think we understood your exclusion of the bible, Toby. I hope you can excuse my inclusion.

  8. Tobias

    Ned, I wanted to be honest and say I’m a little hurt about your last comment.

    I was trying to explain myself above and felt dismissed when you say “we” already understood, it made me feel like an “me v. the HM” and that my thoughts/explanations weren’t warranted.

    I also felt you either:
    1) presumed I was offended by your inclusion of the Bible, or
    2) made a joke out of something I was trying to honestly clarify.

    If 1) is the case, it actually does offend me when someone presumes my feelings for me. If it is 2) then my honest reaction was fuel for your wordplay and joke. Neither made me feel very valuable.

    In the grand scope of things, I understand you were probably just trying to make a play on words. However, I want to promote honesty in my responses and felt the need to clarify my feelings. You’re some of my closest friends, and I know the electronic word is not the best conveyance of that. I am sorry if things I’ve said or even my silence offends anyone. Just tell me and I’ll straighten it out or apologize (I say lots of things I need to apologize for).

    However, just to be clear, I don’t feel like I need an apology from you, Ned. I want to keep from getting defensive in my posts and clear in any grievances I might have over something someone has said. My first reaction was to respond to this with a snarky response and/or posturing. I realized neither was honest or conducive to our friendships. I often default to a sarcastic wit when I am afraid to be honest.

    I hope I’m explaining myself well. I’ll further clarify if I need to.

  9. Ned

    Dear Toby,
    I’m so sorry that my entry offended you. It was presumptuous for me to say “we”. I was simply trying to clarify that I didn’t think anybody would question that the bible was essential to who you are, and that I was treating the bible in a different manner, stressing the importance of a certain aspect of it.

    As far the the inclusion, exclusion, I was not trying to make a play on words, but seriously trying to say that I understood your reasons, and hoped that you understood my explanation.

    I understand why you may have inferred my entry as ironic or sarcastic, especially considering some of my past blog entries. I honestly feel I have managed to offend just about everyone of my friends now, and it makes we wonder if I would do best keeping off this thing. The continual problem I encounter is that no one can sense the spirit in which things are “said” or “read”.

    As far as feeling as though it was you vs. HM. I have felt that way for many of the more serious and more personal discussions. It is extremely difficult to feel that way.

    I hope this brings some understanding to the issue.

  10. Tobias

    Thanks for your words, Ned.

    I do think I understand better where you were coming from, and as I said above, I mostly wanted to guard myself against my own defensive sardonism or posturing.

    I understand how you can feel man v. the world sometimes, and that’s why I have mentioned my silence as being offensive. I feel like of all of the opinions, I’d align mostly with you (maybe it has something to do with all the formative years we spent together).

    I actually think that some of the discussion on the Harry Potter post has gotten to what you specifically mentioned wanting to avoid, an arguing of semantics. I’ve actually been letting my thoughts brew on it and am going to throw in soon. I hope my thoughts there clarify and don’t muddy the water more than it already is. Anyway, I am trying to say I don’t think it’s ever one of us v. the HM. We’re all sitting on the same side throwing stones at the Straw Men on the other side.

    I have to admit, I get really overwhelmed in thinking about some of these topics, and long for clarity. Sometimes I wonder if this desire is my saftey blanket. I guess if I’m going to be a selfish organism, clarity is my thing.

    Anyway, I’ll try to post my addition to the “Selfish” v “Selfless” discussion in the next day or two.

    Lastly, this group is one that is dear. I want everyone to know that first and foremost. It’s a privilege to stand with you guys through life. And that’s the marvel of what has happened with our lives. It’s an extraordinary thing.

  11. Tobias

    Also, Ned, I don’t know if the others agree with me, but I think the only way to be better friends is through offense, not around it. Keep contributing. I love what you’ve been saying and look forward to what you’ll say next. I think everyone feels the same.

  12. J.E.

    This message is for all the people:

    1) [JOKE] I regret not forbidding any reference to the Good Bible Book. Consider it now prohibited. [END JOKE]

    2) Doesn’t it strike you as odd that for people who espouse deep love and honor for the written word that we do such a poor job communicating with it? It seems our relationship is hobbled with out the devious smile here and the askance look there. I say we just need more practice. I’m certain that eventually we’ll establish a blog tone comparable with our personal tone.

    3) Please, please, PLEASE do not censor yourselves or stop posting due to fear of offence. Conflict is GOOD. I means we’re talking about something important.

  13. J.E.

    Thank you for your honesty and getting it all out in the open. But seriously, do you really think that you have that much to apologize for compared to Ned? Or Peters fer chrissakes?!

    We’ve all had episodes of miscommunication on the blog while trying to state our position as clearly as respectfully as possible. In the heat of battle we’re bound to spend less time worrying about hurt feelings and more time getting our point across. Like I said above – let’s keep practicing.

    Lastly, this group is one that is dear. I want everyone to know that first and foremost. It’s a privilege to stand with you guys through life. And that’s the marvel of what has happened with our lives. It’s an extraordinary thing.

    I couldn’t have said it better nor could I agree more.

  14. Pete

    Tob, I really liked your comments on 8. I was struck by the earnestness of it and the gentleness and grace in which you stated your case. I agree with you and the comments to follow. I do think we can be a little more respectful, myself as a chief offender historically, I gather. I am looking forward to your comments on the Potter blog. I have tried in the past to encourage some reading of the Rosenburg stuff with little response, so thought I might take a little different approach which may not have been very nice on my behalf, yet it did yield a nice conversation of about, what, like 40 comments. I do think there has been a huge misinterpretation about some of what I had said, (initially, quite intentionally) which I have been unsuccessful I think to clear up. This does require a significant paradigm shift, as I am not talking about conscious decision making. I am looking forward to reading JE’s book, but have 2 potter books to go and untold numbers of play therapy and structural and strategic family therapy books to read. I have to thank my friends for being my friends. In a way, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be me. I recognize that some of my best personal development comes from how I see myself reflected back to me in your reactions to me. This is what we call the “looking glass self”. To an extent, I have a sense of how I think I should be and I validate that in the interactions I have with others. That is, I either validate that or have it obliterated over time. I am lucky to have the chance I think to have myself validated in you guys and of course, in my beautiful soul of a life partner. So, thanks for your comments, your questions, your criticsms. And thanks, Tob, for your honesty. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves why we are attacking the straw men.

  15. Shotts

    Some Most Important Books, in no particular order:

    1. The Holy Bible with Apocrypha
    2. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
    3. Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
    4. Praise by Robert Hass
    5. Traveling through the Dark by William Stafford
    6. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery
    7. West Running Brook by Robert Frost
    8. Erosion by Jorie Graham
    9. On Photography by Susan Sontag
    10. The Gnostic Bible/Nag Hammadi Library
    11. The Temple by George Herbert
    12. Collected Poems by T. S. Eliot
    13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    14. From the Devotions by Carl Phillips
    15. The Baghavad Gita
    16. Quarantine by Jim Crace
    17. The Catechism by Martin Luther
    18. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
    19. Poems of Wang Wei
    20. Endgame by Samuel Beckett

    Tomorrow I would have a different response.

  16. Pete

    no particular order:
    Where the Sidewalk Ends
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Understanding the Bible (Text)
    It’s Not ABout the Bike
    Lonesome Traveller
    Nickel and Dimed
    Portrait of Dorian Gray
    Treasure Island
    Saint Augustine’s Confessions
    Pachomian Koinonia II
    Unsui: A Diary of Zen Monastic Life
    Palkhi: an Indian Pilgrimage

    As many have said- any given day and the answers change. These are some that have impacted me along the way.

  17. J.E.

    I’ve appreciated the honesty of the lists you have shared. Titles such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Where the Wild Things Are” remind us of where we’ve come.

    Toby’s honesty is especially apparent. He referred to the “terrifying” uncertainty in the Suess book and then acknowledged his deep need for “clarity” in a later comment. We’ve come so far and yet changed so little.

    Last night I sat down at the computer to add another book to my Three Most Important Books list and discovered that the author of the book I planned to add had died.

    Recent additions:

    Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut
    The short fiction of Asimov

    I’ll never forget the day I “discovered” Ecclesiastes. I was probably 12 or 13 years old, feeling guilty about something and filled with aspiration to be good, I opened my trusty “Good News Bible” and happened on Ecclesiastes. I thought, “Finally, something in the bible that makes sense to me! No wonder they don’t teach this stuff in Sunday School.”

    Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
    ~Ecclesiastes 12:12

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