My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
I don't know about you, but my bookcases are awash with examples of inspirational writing. Many would fall more comfortably into the description of of self-help, such as "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" or "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and whilst those may have proven inspirational to one or many of us, I wanted to look more at those unlikely tales which could, should or did prove inspirational.
What you won't find on my list of inspirational reading is anything where religion forms the central part. As an agnostic, I am interested in finding inspiration in more earthbound places - real life tales from ordinary and extraordinary people or an outwardly shallow read which has a life-changing impact.
In the category of real life tales, I offer two contrasting individuals: "I Am Malala: The Girl who stood up for Education and was shot by the Taliban" by Malala Yousafzai and "Ripley's World: The enthralling story of the British Lion's most crucial battle" by Andy Ripley. Malala is hugely famous - one of that rare breed now known by just her first name. Her increasing prominence has built to the extraordinary heights of joint winner of the Noble Peace Prize. What could be more inspirational? She has become an icon in so many arenas - female equality, education for all, let alone standing up to bullies and terrorism. The other is the story of - ostensibly - a rugby player. Except Andy Ripley was a lot more than just a rugby player. An exceptional all-round athlete well into his later years, a hugely successful financier, a published economist, a larger than life individual. His battle was with cancer - and he lost it.
Malala was an ordinary - if very clever - young girl who, when life placed her in challenging circumstances, did the extraordinary. Ripley was an extraordinary man - who showed us that no-one can "beat" death, but that you can demonstrate your character by the manner in which you face it. Neither book provide a rivetting read, both give a first-person viewpoint of 'what happened' but Ripley's book contains more self-reflection and therefore provided greater insight and - ultimately - more inspiration.
From the category of outwardly shallow reads, I offer you "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert and "How to look Good Naked" by Gok Wan. The first was offered to me by a good friend at the time my long-term relationship ended when I'd turned 50. On paper, it should have been the read for me - Gilbert travels to Italy, India and Bali - the first two being places close to my heart. Yet I took only one thing from her book: when the local Seria A football side is beaten, the fans go to drown their sorrows ... in pastry. They don't drink, to excess, they don't trash their town, they don't rampage, they just eat really good pastry ... and go home. No, I didn't use that as an excuse to eat pastry instead of drinking, but I did examine the lifestyle behind that decision. Italians are lovers of life but, as a nation, they drink strictly in moderation. They look at the drinking culture in the UK with a degree of horror. Now I find a really good glass of red wine, savoured slowly over good food and conversation, is entirely satisfying. So, thank you Elizabeth Gilbert - that may not have been how you intended to inspire, but inspire you did.
"How to look Good Naked" is a very different kettle of fish! Gok - outrageous, gay, calling everyone 'girlfriend' - has caused many to shudder. But he struck a chord. I read his book at the same time as "Eat Pray Love" and he provided the practical boost I was missing. Without Gok, my love life would've been over at 50. With him, it wasn't. Although his exterior is brash, he's been there. He's been the fat kid, the one with glasses, the foreigner ... and he was gay. How much more of an outsider do you get? So, he got it. He also understood that whilst attitude and self-belief play a big part, learning some tricks to look better really really helps. To this day, I cannot express how much power wearing gorgeous, well-fitting, matching underwear can have over how I feel. Even if no-one else knows - and isn't going to get the chance to find out - I feel sassy, confident, sexy. And for a grey-haired, fat old bird - that's saying something!
What reads have inspired you? Do you have a go-to read, or is it more about meeting a specific need at a specific time?