Other than the lives of the Saints, which I devoured, I did not read much non-fiction when I was younger, but in College was swept up with Dr. Tom Dooley in his books: Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, The Night They Burned the Mountain. I wanted at that point to be a medical missionary and here was a man doing it all.
I loved Steinbecks's Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser, My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (which I still read when I need a good laugh-This account of naturalist Durrell’s childhood years in Corfu is an unforgettable blend of wonderful human comedy and the foibles of older relatives and family associates as seen through a child’s eyes- those same eyes looking in wonder at the abundance and variety of wildlife in the world around), Nicholas & Alexandra by Robert Massie and The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway. These books all took me to places I had never dreamed of going, while introducing me to fascinating people.
Later came Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain, Black Like Me (John Howard Griffin), Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee & Walker Evans), A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf ,The Lives of a Cell Lewis Thomas, The Diary of Anne Frank, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, With God in Russia by Father Walter Ciszek, SJ (who became a friend at RL), Anne Morrow Lindberg's Dairies & Letters (another Abbey Friend). Later her daughter Reeve would write the poignant No More Words.
Books that colored my work with children were: Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl,
Dibs in Search of Self (Virginia Mae Axline) and Robert Coles' wonderful series, Children in Crises.
Since being back in the West I have discovered All Creatures Great & Small (series) by James Harriot, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou), Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt) and the similar, All Over But the Shoutin' by that southerner, Rick Bragg. Personal History by Kathrine Graham gave me insight into a period of our country and Timothy Egon prepared me for life in WA with The Good Rain. Goat Song (Brad Kessler) was such fun reading that all in my bookclub loved it even if they had no interest in goats.
Life List: A Woman's Quest for the World's Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile about the famous
Birder, Phoebe Snetsinger, is such a fabulous story and everyone should read about someone with such a passion for something that it spills over into obsession. And you don't need to have an interest in birds! (see Blog 1/26/2013)
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson .is pretty much the same type of obsession but one with a more humanitarian bent and the haunting The Flamboya Tree by Clara O. Kelly (a local author who presented the book on Shaw and brought her mother's painting of the flamboya tree) is a must read.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World
(Tracy Kidder) and Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo (Zlata Filipović) both gave me a glimpse of a harsh life in other parts of the world.
The Glass Castle Jeanette Walls is a shocking but lovely story, maybe too often true, of people who choose to live on the fringes of society, with children. The Zookeeper’s Wife Daine Ackerman tells the story of people prepared to lay down their life for others.
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, speaks for us all when we loose a loved one and Darkness Visible by William Styron describes deep depression as no one ever has- from inside the mind.
Among my favorites are Flannery O' Conner's Prayer Journal (ed. by W.A. Sessions) and The Habit of Being (her letters edited by Sally Fitzgerald).