Books Than Changed My Life
By Jeannette Webb
My love affair with books began almost at birth. I was one of those fortunate children whose mother read to them long past the time I could read for myself. I still vividly remember certain books and my mother’s rich voice making the story come alive. We received a stack of books every Christmas and were given books as gifts often throughout the year. I recall once being very sick in bed and Mom returning from the bookstore with Rumor Godden’s The Diddakoi to keep me company through the ordeal ahead.
Throughout the course of childhood and adulthood I have routinely been transported to other time periods via fabulous historical fiction. I have come to better understand and appreciate great men and women through finely crafted biographies and autobiographies. Mysteries have filled hours with suspense and practical how-to books have taught me skills in time management, home décor, and crafting. I have laughed and cried through many a ripping good story. However, there are a handful of books that changed the way I viewed the world.
The power of story is immense. Christ did not teach with lists of rules or engage in heavy theological lectures. He told simple stories – parables. He talked of things simple on the surface, yet profoundly rich with deep meaning. Some say that stories capture the moral imagination. Some say they get past the defenses and go straight to the heart. All I know is that great fiction lives and breathes. It has the potential to change lives.
My home is filled with thousands of books tucked into every available nook and cranny. Yet, I have a bookshelf in my bedroom of my very own to hold the treasured volumes that I return to over and over again. Old friends that are so very familiar, yet show me something new every time I open them.
Elizabeth Goudge, a British author, is my hands-down favorite of all time. Some have compared her to Jane Austin. But, as much as I love Jane, Elizabeth is the one that speaks to my heart. My particular favorites (and hers) are a trilogy about the Eliot family. Bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn (also published as The Herb of Grace), and The Heart of the Family follow this vibrant family from the end of World War I until years past World War II.
I began my search for these novels after listening to a lecture by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. She stated that, at one time, a certain judge in England would refuse to grant a divorce until the couple had both read these three books. That was intriguing! What could three fictional novels have to do with all that? My search lasted for five or six years, but eventually through combing library sales I found them all.
Through stunning descriptions, a great deal of humor, and keen psychological insight into the hearts and minds of her realistic characters, Elizabeth Goudge paints a lovely picture of the importance of home. Hers is not a sanitized look at perfect people, but an honest dealing with selfishness and sin and sacrifice. Through her storytelling, I have gained courage to be a better wife and mother. I’ve been inspired to ignore my fatigue and build for the future. I’ve come to understand the importance of beauty and tradition and family history.
Another book that has taught me what motherhood is all about is Mother Carey’s Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Written in 1910, it is a very old and sentimental book filled with flowery phrases that can frustrate a modern reader, yet I love it still. Mrs. Carey is a well-educated, well-traveled woman who suddenly finds herself widowed with four children and insufficient funds. This magnificent story shows her choice to be joyful, to create beauty and meaning in the lives of her children despite her loneliness and desperate circumstances. Her warmth reaches out and captures the entire community.
When people ask me for recommendations for parenting books, there is none better than the children’s story Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield. Another old book, written in 1916, it shows us the transformation of Betsy, a fearful, coddled, timid little girl into a healthy, competent, self-confident one. A wise parent can learn a great deal about childrearing in the pages of this simple little book.
I’ve always considered my roles as wife, mother, and teacher to be the most important of my life. These books have given me tremendous insight into myself and into the job I face daily.
What are your favorite books? Leave me a comment below and let’s talk!