Books are something that adorn nearly every shelf in my home office. I have a fairly diverse selection of material as well. With books on historical topics, programming languages, data modeling, information security, and – yes – books on Paganism. Rarely do I get asked about what programming books I think are great. That usually happens at a professional conference, and even then its once in a very blue moon. As a Pagan blogger and (sometimes) podcaster, its books on Paganism that I get asked the most about.
Usually, the query is what good basic book on Druidry (What Do Druids Believe – Philip Carr-Gomm) would I recommend, or what book on general Paganism (Drawing Down the Moon – Margot Adler) I would hand to someone if I could. But occasionally, I get an interesting question that approaches my book shelves in a way I would not have readily anticipated.
Taking the lead down that rabbit-hole, not that long ago I had a coworker ask me what ten books are my “go to” reading when I need to get some inspiration concerning Paganism or need some help with an issue. And its a fair question to ask, except that not every book I have in my list has to do with Druidry or Paganism. Inspiration comes from many places, including fictional works.
My first choice is a book that has helped me numerous times. Cat Treadwell’s “Facing the Darkness” is a book that is geared towards dealing with depression and many other issues that one can encounter in life. When I first read her book, I loved the way issues were handled with not only a light touch, but with a strong depth of caring. When my mother and father passed away within six months of each other, Cat’s book was one of the first things I reached for to help me deal with my swirling emotions. Definitely a must have book in the bookshelf directly behind my desk – a spot where my unread books go, along with my most utilized books of any topic.
My second, third and fourth books are really an excellent series when put together. However each of them stands quite well on their own as individual works. Joanna van der Hoeven’s “Zen Druidry“, “Zen for Druids” and “The Stillness Within” are all geared to the individual that utilizes Zen practices within their Path. For me, the meditational techniques within Zen are invaluable methodologies for achieving some of my other worldly work. And Joanna’s writings not only are spot on in my opinion, but the material has also helped me refine some aspects of my own practice. Furthermore, I still pull one of these off the shelf from time to time to read for inspiration in trying different techniques as well. Her writing style is extremely accessible, in my opinion.
My fifth book is actually not a book on Paganism. Its a book on computer history called “Fire in the Valley“. This book serves as a reminder of what people can do when they dream and believe. The personal computer was a dream that seemed to only be true for the hobbyist. But somewhere, someone had a dream of putting a computer on every desktop around the world. That every individual would be able to utilize a computer for tasks that were typically confined to the High Priests of the Data Center – hidden behind the locked doors. Where raised flooring surrounded equipment, larger than an automobile, which were manipulated by attendants, who coerced data into results. Somewhere, someone got a fire in their head that told them that mainframe computers could be set on desktops and used directly by the users. I reread parts of this book to remind me where my career field has come from, and that dreamers are the people that make the impossible possible.
My next two books are a pair of biographies that I pick up from time to time to remind me of those who get to close to their personal fires, and those who fight oppression and stereotypes in every step they took in life. First, the mad genius. That would be the biography “Steve Jobs” written by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was a visionary that understood how to make product that people wanted in their lives. The ultimate salesman. However, he let his career drive him in a way that completely engulfed his personal life. His biography is a constant reminder to me of why my job does not define me. There’s far more precious aspects to life than a paycheck. The other is “Where White Men Fear to Tread” which is the biography of the actor and First Nations activist Russell Means. Proud of his heritage, Means fought through Hollywood stereotypes to bring honor to the roles he portrayed. He also fought for the rights of all First Nations peoples in everything he tried to do in his life. I only hope that I have as much drive towards Pagan rights and even a tenth of the influence that Means had in his cause.
My eighth and ninth books are a pair of books about legends, stories, and tales. The first if “Children of the Salmon” by Eileen O’Faolain (I wish I had a link for this book, but sadly it looks to be out of print). I happened across this particular book in a used bookstore in Denton, Texas. I was looking for something that discussed Irish folktales, and found this particular book. Anytime I am looking for a good tale from the island, this is the book I reach for. I’ve read this cover to cover several times, and it never gets old to me. In fact, some of the tales in these pages, you will hear me recite on the podcast in the coming months. The other book on legends is “Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies” by Ella Clark. Its no secret that I love the Rocky mountains. If I had my way – and enough money – I’d leave for Colorado or Montana in a heartbeat. This book has been invaluable as a resource, and entertaining beyond belief for me. I have a very strong affinity for the First Nations and their culture, and while the book does not provide an entry point for that, it certainly provides a nice keyhole into a very small corner.
My last book is by far my most used. I don’t think there is a day when I am home that I don’t open this book randomly and read wherever I open it. “The Poetry of Robert Frost” is one of my most cherished treasures on my book shelves. Frost has always been my favorite of the American poets, and is certainly someone I consider to be one of the greatest of all time. I was introduced to his poetry when I was seven years old. His soaring imagery of the world around him resonated quite well with a young man growing up in Germany. With my family constantly going on Saturday or Sunday volksmarches that wound through fields, towns, and forests, I found the visual keys that I needed to open Frost’s words to a wider perspective. I can only hope to even by 1/1000th the poet that this man was.
Reading is something I enjoy doing. It broadens my mind by presenting topics and perspectives that I had never considered on a variety of issues. It opens the lives of other people to me, exposing the madness of their genius, or the drive that pushes them to keep trying to achieve equality. Or it opens new realms through fictional stories and characters that I can find ways to relate to…and sometimes learn from. Or I can find techniques that help me connect to the world around me, or help me to develop gentle, loving coping skills for difficult times and moments in my life. And sadly, this is only a very small sampling of what I have on my shelves. Authors I have not mentioned have also influenced me to a fantastic degree as well. Their writings open a door into their worlds as well, as they pour their hearts and souls into the pages of what they write. And I can only thank them for doing just that, because they enrich my own life so much with their perspective. Some of them, I have been lucky enough to get to know. A few of them I have even had the chance to interview for the podcast. An even smaller number I have gotten the chance to meet in person. And once I stop being a little fanboy in front of them, I have had some lovely conversations with them. And gotten some wonderful hugs as well. All I can say is this: support your writers. Buy their books. Support their patreon pages – if they have one. Tell others about them. Authors are wonderful people to love. 🙂