What’s the book you turn to?

Do you have a particular book that you turn to when you’re feeling lost or confused? Something that you’ve read or dipped into dozens of times, and that always makes you feel better?

Tao te Ching

For me, that book is the Tao Te Ching. I’m not a Taoist. I’m not an anything-ist. I just find that this particular book contains a lot of things that make sense to me, and that reading it helps me sort the important things from the distractions (hint: the important things are usually the ones I’ve lost sight of when I reach for this book).

I’d love to hear if there’s a book you find yourself turning to again and again for guidance, comfort or nourishment. It doesn’t have to be a religious or spiritual book. It could be philosophy, self-help, fiction, memoir, poetry. Hey, it could be Wayne Rooney’s autobiography if that’s what floats your boat. I’m just curious about whether you have a book that speak to you in times of trouble.

Jump down to the comments to enter your book. In the meantime, here are some of my favourite quotes from the Tao Te Ching:

Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.

Acting with no expectations, leading and not trying to control: this is the supreme virtue.

Express yourself completely, then keep quiet. Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm.

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.
If you realise that you have enough, you are truly rich. If you stay in the centre and embrace death with your whole heart, you will endure forever.

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There are 17 comments

  1. In cases like this I just want to forget myself. So I pick Adieu Gary Cooper and I let Romain Gary’s voice pull me out of myself into his world. I have a soft spot for Jess, the main character.

    I’m not much into philosophy (too complicated for me) or self-help books. Perhaps I’ve browsed through the wrong ones. They sound phoney.
    I’ve read Tao Te Ching, though.

    An anecdote. I like reading books mentioned in books. Once I tried to read the Bridget Jones’s bible about men coming from Mars and women from Venus. I was curious, but couldn’t finish it. I felt more coming from Mars than from Venus. Either I should be a man and I’m now playing in the wrong team or the book is just a thick gathering of nonsense. I let you guess which one I think is the right solution.

    1. Hi Emma

      That’s interesting! Haven’t read that book – I’ll have a look for it. Funny about Mars and Venus. There are a lot of real, physical differences between men and women in terms of health (I wrote about it years ago here http://online.wsj.com/article/SB107454461829405445.html). But a lot of the stuff that’s written on the subject is indeed a thick gathering of nonsense 🙂 I do like ‘surfing’ from book to book, though. It’s more obviously a sensible tactic in non-fiction, using bibliographies for further reading etc, but it can be more fun in fiction!

      1. The English version of Adieu Gary Cooper is The Ski Bum. I’ve read it in English and in French. The English version is not the translation of the French version and the best passages in French are missing. It’s a shame.

        1. How strange! I was wondering what the explanation was, but then read your billet from 2010, and it made it all clear. The internet is a wonderful thing. I wonder why he wrote it in English first, and in French only several years later. Perhaps because the character was American, he wanted to write in English? Anyway I’ll look out for the English version, bearing in mind that I’m not getting the whole deal!

          1. He was living in Los Angeles when he wrote it. He was a diplomat.
            I recommend White Dog for you, I think you’d like it.

  2. Don Juan by josef Toman. It’s an old book with pages yellowed by age that I read every few years and every time I discover something new in it. In my teenage years I saw a love story, later, a quest for the purpose of one’s life, and later still, how meeting certain people can influence your life. I look forward to discovering more when I read it again. And again.

    1. Very interesting – I had a look for it online, and can’t find anything other than a 1958 edition, which is presumably the one you have. I like obscure books! It’s great, isn’t it, to read a book several times and see different things each time?

      1. The book I have (a Romanian translation) says Bucharest 1970 so I’m guessing that’s when it was translated. It is a shame that this is an “obscure” book, I wish more people would read it. A friend of mine found an English copy after digging around on the net so I guess it’s possible. I still think it’s the best book I’ve read. If you like historical fiction, this would make for a great read.

  3. Great prompt thanks Andrew, I was just trying to think of an exercise or something I could do to kick start the morning.

    For me it’s always The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton. It’s travelled around the world with me, several times, and never lets me down.

    I love how she uses simple language to build layers of objects and emotions you wouldn’t usually think to put together. And I’ve never read anyone who so consistently nails an ending.

    1. I’m glad I asked the question! Some really interesting answers here. Thanks for the recommendation, Jen. Another book to add to my list. Haven’t read anything by Anne Sexton before, but you’ve whetted my appetite!

  4. I love the Tao Te Ching. Have you read the Ursula LeGuin translation? I like just a bit better than Mitchell’s. I don’t have a specific book I turn to. I start reading more poetry than I usually do, picking and choosing familiar and favorite authors and collections from my shelf, but there is no single one.

    1. Hi Stefanie
      No, I haven’t read Ursula LeGuin’s translation. I love Mitchell’s clear, lucid style, but would be good to check out another option. Nice to hear another vote for poetry. I guess that choosing familiar and favourite authors still has that comfort factor, even if it’s not a particular book.

  5. Loved your post, Andrew! The book cover is so beautiful – love that Chinese painting. I liked very much all the lines you have quoted. I want to read the ‘Tao Te Ching’ now.

    I don’t think I have one book which I go to, when I am feeling lost. I like reading my favourite passages from different books. Or I take the DVDs of my favourite movies out and put them on and watch them.

    But I would like to think about this. I want to have a favourite book which I can go to in times of need.

    1. Reading your favourite passages is a good strategy, Vishy, and great movies can really help – film is a medium you can get immersed in, and forget your troubles for a while. I hope you do read Tao te Ching, and would like to hear what you think – it’s such a short, simple book, but seems to contain a lot of truth.

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