Three Books that Shaped My Life

jarmoluk / Pixabay

I read a lot of books, and many of them have affected me in some way, but there are three books that quite literally changed my life.

The first book is the Bible.

I believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that the central message of the Bible is that Jesus is Lord and King.  This means I am not the boss.  Most importantly, he calls the shots on my life–and he seems to be saying that I need to use what he’s given me to love my neighbour.

When I read the Bible, I see a pretty clear and consistent message that He wants all people, but especially his chosen ones, to think more about how they can bless other people than how to get a hold of money and power so as to gratify their desire for comfort and pleasure.  There are regular injunctions to take care of the poor and, for those in power, to make sure there is justice for the poor.  It is also apparent from the Holy Scriptures that God is an environmentalist and that He wishes, in some respects, Americans were more like the French.

I could go on and on, but let’s move on to Steinbeck.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This book changed my life.  It’s about people who are poor.  They are poor, to begin with, but things get a lot worse when the big banks and big business turn them off the land, leaving them with no means to feed themselves or their families.  Beginning with the used-car salesmen who sell them junk vehicles, their journey from Oklahoma to California is filled with people abusing them, ignoring their desperation or taking advantage of their plight.

It’s been a long time since I read it so I might have the details wrong but in one rare act of kindness the family on whose journey the narrative is focused received a bit of beef fat.  The mother mixed the rendered fat with flour and made some dumplings.  In the context of their desperate condition, this meager meal was a feast.

Ever since, I have never looked at discarded fat, bone, and gristle the same way.  Importantly, these people were not in this condition because they were lazy, they were in this condition because of vast forces like government policies, climate, geography, economics, and (not insignificantly) human greed and corruption.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

If I hadn’t read The Grapes of Wrath, this novel would have saved me from conservatism (it also saved me from becoming a liberal). The setting of A Fine Balance is India, and it too explores the life of the poor which is not really all that different than that of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s novel.  It’s frustrating at times to experience vicariously what it is like to live between hope and despair–with despair usually in the ascendant.  Here again, the Conservatyve myth that the poor are poor because they are lazy is shown as the lie that it is.

People are usually poor, for the same reason people are rich–not because they did or didn’t work hard, not because they made good decisions or not, not because they had initiative or not.  People are rich or poor because of government policies, climate, geography, economics, and human greed.  The only difference between the rich and the poor is into which circumstance one was born.

I found myself responding to these novels in two ways–compassion and gratitude.

It’s very hard to be compassionate if you ren’t very grateful.

A Function of Art

These two novels are great works of literature.  One of the functions of literature is to broaden and deepen our understanding–I am a Canadian in 2016–I don’t know what it’s like to be poor; I didn’t live in the 1930s, or in India.  I get enough of a glimpse of what it might be like through these novels–and they changed me.  They move me toward an understanding of others and their lives and, consequently, bring me closer to dialogue.

I don’t think conservatives read these books.

Please read these books.





  1. Jim Williams

    Hey Trent: A Fine Article. The three books mentioned are indeed great reads. I can’t concur with your conclusion however. It’s striking that The Grapes of Wrath is set during the most ambitious liberal progressive administration of FDR. A liberal government wants me to abdicate my responsibility to make social justice happen. It taxes me to a point where it becomes difficult to give tithes and offerings (though I still do). These concepts are never considered in government stats like cost of living. Ironically the BCSCS uses these stats as the basis to create their recommended pay scale. In our modern setting government (of all stripes) has assumed the role of church and individual in assisting the poor. The Church is culpable in allowing this to happen, and that means me since I am a member of the Church. Big government, like big Churches, are inefficient and as institutions demean the intimacy of relationships where people are supposed to help people. As far as giving goes, it was interesting that Stats Can shows that conservative Abbotsford is the most generous region in the country.

    • Trent

      Hey Jim,

      I’m with you. I don’t agree with Steinbeck’s politics, nor his view of the world–but despite this, his book changed me for the better, I think.

      The inspiration for this post was mainly the books, but it was also a “joke” that I’ve seen on two occasions. It begins, “If you’ve ever wondered what side of the fence you sit one, this is a great test!” Then it has a list of comparisons like: “If a conservative doesn’t want guns, he doesn’t buy one. If a liberal doesn’t like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.” (I wonder if I am conservative or liberal, in that I own guns and I do want restrictions of some guns for some people.

      The one that relates to my post is “If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation. A liberal, wonders who is going to take care of him.” As in the first example, these are not conservative nor liberal positions–or they are much more complex than this little joke suggests.

      But I don’t think it’s funny. The last comparison suggests a conservative thinks it’s funny and a liberal is offended. The problem is the over simplification–that’s what I’m objecting to. If people read the three books actual liberals can talk with actual conservatives–but until people do they will keep forwarding Liberyl and Conservatyve garbage.

      So I agree with what you are saying. A Fine Balance seems to say that the type of personal connection that you are talking about is central to giving life meaning. And I noticed that your position incorporates views from “both sides of the political spectrum”– and not from “both sydes of the polytical spectrym”–which is just what we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑