Bookshelf Porn: Three Books That Ruined My Ability to Hold A “Real” Job

bookshelf_pornYou may read thousands of books in your lifetime, but there will always be those few special ones that impact your mortal trajectory in major ways. Books inspire us, show us glimpses of the kind of lives we want to live, of the kind of people we want to be. For those of us who discover the nature of our souls vary greatly from the people that surround us in real life, books can show us understanding, give us a familiar home.

Three books in particular influenced my awareness of myself as an artist and thinker in the world. Without these books, I may possibly have believed the story I was told as a child. The story about how a life of purpose means a life of work at a desk, preferably on computers, 8-5, government-based all the better.

photo 1Enter Frederick by Leo Lionni. The particular copy you see in the picture hiding behind my Royal I picked up in Japan. However, I first read this book when I was very young.

This slim children’s book tells the story of a little mouse with an artistic soul. While the other mice labor for winter stores, they deride Frederick for sitting and daydreaming. Frederick does not budge. He states his purpose, he is collecting colors, sensations. When winter comes, he freely eats of the food the other mice collected. What a lout!

But then the food runs out, and winter’s coldest nights fall over the mice. Now Frederick’s work may be appreciated. He tells the suffering mice stories of summer, of plenty, of warmth and sunshine. The little mice feel comforted. They gain peace, joy even, and the strength and perseverance to survive to springtime.

Collecting food is valuable work. Building computer programs is valuable work, so is teaching and business and labor. So also is art, and writing. The way that I work may look very different from the way much of the modern world works, but it is still work.

You know, I did find a life of purpose at a desk, on a computer. My mom was right about that.

photo 3Next is Irving Stone’s imagined biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Lust for Life. Van Gogh was one of my early obsessions. The Starry Night, Irises, Cafe  Terrace at Night, The Yellow House… I can go on and on. I studied these paintings for hours, captivated by the color, by the audacity of the thick strokes of paint.

Many people have told me this biography is far from fact, and there are better ones about Van Gogh out there, but this is the one that I read when I was thirteen. This book revealed to me that an artist I considered a master actually toiled his entire life to build his craft. It wasn’t as if he picked up a brush and BAMN a masterpiece happened.

Van Gogh lived unapologetically off the support for his brother, doing the work that made him happy. Ultimately, his work impacted millions of people, but he never knew that. He just knew that painting called to him, so paint he did. Van Gogh was poor. He received almost no external validation. My own art is certainly no better than Van Gogh’s, so how may I be discouraged if money and recognition do not come easy to me?

photo 2And finally I offer you Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Despite the great teachings of the books above, I often find myself caught in corporate clutches, or confused about the importance of things like money and titles. When I find myself stressed to the point of nightly glasses of wine, or when the greatest anxiety I have in my day revolves around A-Thing-That-I-Want-Really-Bad-But-Can’t-Actually-Afford, it’s time to reread Siddhartha.

I discovered Siddhartha in my twenties, when I was living in Japan. The sweeping view of a life spent began in anxious unease, but ended in sublime peace pours a calm into my spirit that lasts for weeks. Of course, it also entirely kills my productivity for a few weeks, so I must be careful of when I choose to read it. I’m the girl who gets things done. A little anxiety helps me along.

These books have properly ruined my ability to hold a “regular” job or find satisfaction in a daily grind. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Use your words. Comment here.



MarcNash (@21stCscribe)

5 years ago

The three ‘must read’ books for teenage boys who read in order to have their destinies shaped for them are:
Catcher in The Rye
The Outsider (Camus not Colin Wilson)
The Magus.

I hated The Magus, loved the other 2. Did they shape me for a life of writing? I’m not sure. I still wanted to be a bass guitarist (and lyricist) in a band after reading them.

I tend to read books that affirm my own artistic decisions after I’ve already taken them, such as the works of Ben Marcus and some of what Don Dellilo says about word choices in his writing.

Great concept. Thank you

Kiersi

5 years ago

Cool post, Kelsye. Every time I talk about my phobia of offices, people are always recommending Siddartha to me. I guess I’d better read it one of these days!

Brian Greiner

4 years ago

Van Gogh’s brother (whom never seems to get named) sounds like the real hero here. Without hope for honour or glory, he supported his brother for love alone. Did The Brother have family of his own? If so, he laboured to support both them AND his talented brother. Did the family do without so that the talented sibling could have the equipment and freedom to explore his dreams?
Van Gogh (the painter) had the freedom to pursue his dreams and develop his talents. How many of The Brother’s own talents were left to lie fallow because of that devotion?
Which of them should be remembered and celebrated?

LL

3 years ago

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle….dare to be unique! Don’t give in to the pounding beat of conformity. No corporate job for me 🙂

Watership Down by Richard Adams….better to lead/help/contribute to a band of trusted friends, than to try to find ‘a place’ in an unfair and overpacked warren.

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. Goes to the essence of what is important and helps let the rest fall away.

Kelsye

3 years ago

Good books LL!

I met Madeleine L’Engle at a book signing when I was 16. I felt embarrassed to go see her at a children’s book store, and even had to steal my little sisters copy of Wind in the Door to sign because I couldn’t find mine. (That was also before I realized they hope you BUY new copies.)

She wrote “Ananda!” in my book. It means “the joy in existence without which the universe would fall apart and collapse.” I loved the word so much that I made it the name of my first car. 😀

Watership Down scarred me for life. SOB.

Haven’t read Being Peace. I’ll look it up!

LL

3 years ago

Best line in Watership Down….when Bigwig tells Woundwart’s and his troops, “My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here.”

And since they all think a Chief Rabbit has to be physically stronger than all the other rabbits, they can’t imagine one bigger than Bigwig. LOL It never occurs to them that a Chief Rabbit could be anything else. I just love that scene 🙂

LL

3 years ago

I did not know “Anada” meant that. Great story!

LL

3 years ago

You know, a lot of people say Watership Down scarred them. I didn’t care for the movie, but the book is wonderful. I read it when I was about 12, after my grandmother talked about it so much.

Another book that I would give 4th place….Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. Again, terrible cartoon version, but wonderful book. The scene, where those rats and the mouse were learning to read. Or Mrs. Frisby going to see the owl. She was so brave!

Kelsye

3 years ago

I LOVED Nihm. I liked both the movie and the book. That’s another one firmly recorded in my brain. 🙂