I was asked to choose a single book that made a difference in my life. Books have often made a difference in my life; I could not choose. And so I'm sharing three.
- Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë
(literature and fiction, classics)
"Jane Eyre was given to me when I was a teenager by some unremembered soul who knew I loved books. I read it through without putting it down, and continued to read it once a year until well after I was grown up and married. Talk about respect for the feminine! Which, it turns out, is simply respect for the soul. That this author was sent by Providence (as they said in the 19th century when Brontë lived) to show me the difference between convention and morality, I count as one of the great blessings of a blessed life. Jane, a poor but proud woman, overcomes a childhood that would have killed a lesser spirit, and finds work as a governess in the household of a tragically wounded, deeply flawed but quite desirable man, Edward Rochester. How she maintains her dignity and self-respect after she falls in love with him is one of the great soul-strengthening stories of all time.
Consider a woman who thinks like this while talking about her future marriage with the man she loves:
"Why, Jane, what would you have?" asks Edward Rochester. "I only want an easy mind, sir; not crushed by crowded obligations. Do you remember what you said of Céline Varens?—of the diamonds, the cashmeres you gave her? I will not be your English Céline Varens. I shall continue to act as Adèle's governess: by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and 30 pounds a year besides. I'll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing but—"Well, but what?"
- Women Who Run With The Wolves By Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.d.
(health, literature and fiction, nonfiction, religion and spirituality)
"Under the tutelage of wild woman, we reclaim the ancient, the intuitive and the passionate," Estés writes. "When our lives reflect hers, we act cohesively. We carry through, or learn to if we don't already know how. We take the steps to make our ideas manifest in the world. We regain focus when we lose it, attend to personal rhythms, draw closer to friends and mates who are in accord with wildish and integral rhythms. We choose relationships that nurture our creative and instinctive lives. We reach out to nurture others. And we are willing to teach receptive mates about wildish rhythms if need be."
This book came into my life, as into the lives of millions of others, with a great pounding of hooves. The sound of someone wise and earthy coming; an ancient soul astride the steed of knowledge. Women who Run with the Wolves is packed with stories that become more intriguing and personally useful with each reading. They are old stories, stories that have been hidden, sometimes nearly lost. Stories that reconnect us to who we, in essence, are. Stories whose aim is to help us more fully live. Live, flourish, thrive. Wherever I open Estés's book, I find something that speaks directly to the spirit or the soul. I am comforted, teased, seen, strengthened, encouraged, sent on my way with a wider, more wildish heart. (See the excerpt on page 250.)"
- The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering The Religion Of The Earth By Monica Sjöö & Barbara Mor
(nonfiction, religion and spirituality)
"This book came into my life as so many do: It simply appeared on the pile on my desk. I was immediately attracted to the title, and to the magnificent painting done by Sjöö that illustrates the cover. I had been mourning the deep absence of balance in human lifeand, especially, the horrible denial and suppression of the feminine—in women, in men, in nature. I could see that much of our behavior in this regard had to do with ignorance, an ignorance carefully maintained by a system that, in a sense, fed everything it considered nutritious to the male and only what was left over, and less substantive, to the female.
I saw that this imbalance was inextricably bound to the fact that people all over the world worship a male God, and have made every attempt to expunge the feminine from the realm of the sacred. I realized that the imbalance that stems from this leads to many inexplicable things, for instance, the constant presence of war, in the waging of which women, generally speaking, have no say, though they produce every single one of the warriors. And the fact that our otherwise quite conscious daughters and granddaughters refer to themselves and to other womenas "guys" without a trace of irony.
The Great Cosmic Mother, with appropriate heart and outrage, begins to remedy this situation. In the crisp prose of crones who know their stuff, Sjüü and Mor drag back into the light of day the necessary medicine to restore the ailing feminine: our herstory on this planet. It may well be too late, but at least we should know. It is an astonishing read, for we find ourselves, with ample documentation, fully connected at our roots with all indigenous peoples who have called Earth "Mother."
Alice Walker's Bookshelf
- The Cosmic Serpent: Dna And The Origins Of Knowledge By Jeremy Narby
(nonfiction, science, religion and spirituality)
"When rain forest Shamans are asked how they know such an extraordinary amount about medicinal plants, they respond, as if it should be obvious, "The plants teach us." In this riveting book, anthropologist Jeremy Narby explores a vision he experienced after drinking ayahuasca, the "vine of the soul," which Shamans have used for healing and to acquire knowledge for thousands of years. He makes an astonishing connection between ancient Shamanistic beliefs and those of modern science."
- Being Black: Zen And The Art Of Living With Fearlessness And Grace By Angel Kyodo Williams
(health, religion and spirituality)
"Angel Kyodo Williams is a young black woman who is also an ordained Zen priest. In this remarkable book, she brings a hip and modern eye to the teachings of the Buddha. I was moved by her honesty and great patience in interpreting the dharma: her understanding of suffering and her willingness to aid in the universal effort toward the growth of compassion and joy."
- The Healing Wisdom Of Africa By Malidoma Patrice Some
(health, nonfiction, management, science, religion and spirituality)
"This is a book that brought me to my knees in gratitude. So much ancient wisdom that I had assumed lost is to be found here. For those of us of African descent—and who among us is not?—it will generate a gentle healing in just those areas of community, ritual and memory where we've felt so orphaned and bereft."
- Mutant Message Down Under By Marlo Morgan
(literature and fiction, religion and spirituality)
"In my opinion, this book is not fiction, but read it as anything you like. An average kind of white woman flies off to Australia thinking she's about to be given some kind of award by the indigenous people. She gets there, and they give her one—only it is not what she expected. In teaching her who they are, they initiate her into the deeper mysteries of life. If this book were a breeze, it would blow you over. It's even better hearing the author on tape."
Why should you listen to her?
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for her novel The Color Purple, which was preceded by The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian. Her other bestselling novels include By the Light of My Father's Smile, Possessing the Secret of Joy and The Temple of My Familiar. She is also the author of two collections of short stories, three collections of essays, five volumes of poetry and several children's books. Her books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker now lives in Northern California.