What books did you choose at important times in your life?

Michelle Ule

Blogger: Michelle Ule

Filling in for Wendy who is at the dentist–and then recovering–after a long weekend of dental pain.

Momentous Books for Momentous Times


As a life-long voracious reader, I’m seldom without a book in hand. My i-touch makes that even easier now, of course, than it did in the old days when I lugged a library book everywhere. I never took a child to the emergency room without first collecting a bag of books to read–for the child, but also with one for me because you never know how long you’re going to be stuck there.

But sometimes you can plan and prepare, and I wonder what books you took with you on momentous moments in your own life?

My father read all the time, and I thought to ask him, once, what he was reading when I was born.

He laughed. “War and Peace.”

Frankly, I was shocked. Why would you read such a massive story while awaiting the exciting birth of–me–your first-born child?

When my wedding day and honeymoon loomed, I gave this question a lot of thought. What book should I take on my honeymoon?

My groom had been at Officer Candidate School the five months prior to the wedding. I’d only seen him for one weekend in all that time. I made the great sacrifice: I would not take any book and focus entirely on him.

Not a bad idea, but one of his groomsmen gave him an autographed copy of his favorite author’s latest book, Lucifer’s Hammer, as a wedding gift.

Not fair!

We ended up at a tiny little bookstore trying to find something for me to read. I picked up C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra.

Though I’m not sure I ever finished it.

I grabbed the closest book when I went to the hospital for the birth of my first child. A biography of Dorothy Parker probably wasn’t the best choice, but the pithy wordsmithing amused me.

When I got home from the hospital, I picked up Robert K. Massie’s Peter the Great. One of the best biographies I ever read, it kept me occupied for several weeks while I nursed my baby.

Barbara Woodhouse’s No Bad Dogs was the book du jour for child number two. We had a new puppy.

I took several month’s worth of National Geographic magazines to the hospital with the third son. I read a lengthy article about hiking the Appalachian Trail and dreamed of a Boy Scouting life for my child–which is exactly what happened.

I stayed up late to finish Will Steger’s North to the Pole about skiing to the North Pole before I gave birth the fourth time.

During other important, but sad, times I read a biography of Queen Victoria and The Time Traveler’s Wife. Both books allowed me to escape into happier worlds far from my difficulties.

And after I waited eight months for my name to rise to the top of the “hold” list at the library, Reading Lolita in Teheran arrived the week  my first child got married. Unfair! I crammed the reading of that book between all the wedding festivities and still wasn’t finished when the book was due a week later. I kept it several extra days and  paid 75 cents in late fees.

What about you?

How do you choose a book to read at an important moment in your life? What did you read and why?

34 Responses

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  1. Sarah says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever consciously chosen a book for a certain time. It’s usually the reverse. A period in life becomes noteworthy because of how I’ve been influenced by what I read.

    Children at the Gate by Edward Wallant changed the way I saw myself and my family. I began the journey of being okay with emotion because of that book.

    I’ve gone back to Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis multiple times when I need to re-find my voice, and then learn to shut-up (much like Job).

    The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins nearly destroyed my faith, but Mere Christianity by CS Lewis (plus some good discussion with a professor of theology and apologetics) built it back up again. And it was stronger for having been questions.

    I listened to the audio book of The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseni while I had a job that required a lot of driving and wept my way through traffic jams.

    Right now, I’m still grappling with the questions and ethics raised in My Sister’s Keeper. I rant about it to friends.

    And because I feel a need to fuel some growth in my life, I’m currently reading The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and being challenged by the call to a purposeful life.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      The Kite Runner! I was so engrossed in that book I hated to dash away on an errand lest I miss something!

      • Lori says:

        I listened to the Kite Runner too. However, I started listening to in at the airport before we boarded the plane to Atlanta and then to Florida. I hated to stop listening to it when we had to board and then had to wait unitll they allowed electronics devices to be turned on. The play rides were to short and I hated to stop every time we landed and had to go through that cycle. Least when we returned, it was a direct flight and it was a little better.

  2. Jeanne T says:

    Michelle–you are so deliberate in your book choices for certain times of life. I love it. 🙂 My mind does not work that way. I read whatever I’m reading at the time, regardless of seasons in my life. Definitely something to think about.

    One book that marked me during a significant trial in my life was Francine Rivers’ The Atonement Child. We lost a baby through miscarriage at the time I read this book. It was healing to read about a young lady who kept her child conceived through rape. The story is one I have come back to a few times now.

    I’ve read non-fiction to learn and grow, and that has been deliberate. 🙂 Loved your post today. It’s also fun to hear what you enjoy reading.

    • Lisa says:

      Jeanne- I love that book too.

      • Michelle Ule says:

        I have a great story about The Atonement Child that Francine Rivers told last summer to a group at the local First Presbyterian Church.

        Francine Rivers lives here in Sonoma County and did her research at the local Pregnancy Counseling Center where I volunteer.

        She took the training course and realized she needed to confront an abortion she had many years ago. So, once done, she took our Post-Abortion class, an eight-week Bible study that helps women come to terms with their abortions, receive forgiveness and grieve that loss.

        I must point out here, abortion is NOT an unforgiveable sin and anyone whose life has been touched by an abortion whether through their own choice or that of someone they love, is not outside of God’s love and willingness to forgive.

        When she went to write The Atonement Child, she realized she probably would need to address some of these issues, but she wasn’t sure how her publisher would react.

        Francine is a godly woman and she prayed, spoke with her husband and thought.

        Her husband adamently opposed Francine discussing her own experience.

        Tyndale was most supportive (this was in the 1990s).

        Francine was not home when the books arrived in a carton to her doorstep, but Rick was. He opened the box and pulled out the book he had refused to read. He read the first page.

        When Francine got home several hours later, Rick had just finished the book and tears were in his eyes. He was very thankful she had written The Atonement Child.

        Wouldn’t you love to write a book that can change the heart of someone and give comfort to those who desperately need it?

        Thanks for sharing.

    • Love this book, Jeanne! Of course, anything by Francine Rivers is amazing.

    • Jeanne T says:

      Wow, Michelle, I have tears in my eyes. What a beautiful story. I love having that insight into one of my most favorite stories. Francine Riversis an amazing lady, and I bet her husband is pretty amazing too. 🙂 Loved what you shared.

  3. I never thought about why I select the books I do, but I suppose it has to do with my emotional state. For example, I was in the hospital for many months with my second pregnancy, and gravitated toward series authors – primarily women’s fiction. Looking back now, I think the series concept gave me something positive to look forward to as opposed to focusing on the frightening medical situation.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Yes, I can see that. Following an automobile accident while my husband was out to sea, I spent a couple weeks rereading all the Mary Stewart novels–because they comforted me during a time when I felt completely discombobulated and uncertain about everything.

  4. I’m still stuck on never finishing Perelandra. I think I’ve read the whole trilogy 3 or 4 times.

    My reading is much more random and ad hoc. I tend toward action/adventure thrillers, with some Louis L’Amor and other stuff interspersed.

    So funny how your book choices ended up matching your experiences. Thanks for the fun read.

  5. Sarah Thomas says:

    Yes–the event made the book significant, not vice versa for me. When we used to have a long drive to visit family I would read aloud to my husband in the car. “Cold Mountain” one Christmas traveling time. Though I’m still mad about that book.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      I hated the ending of that one. All that misery, slogging through description and the horrors of war only to have him . . . well, why give away the ending to those who don’t know?

  6. Becky Parker says:

    I’m not nearly as deliberate as you are in reading choices for different times of my life, Michelle. Have you ever read Lucifer’s Hammer or was that just Robert? I read that book when we lived in Vallejo, so maybe I was introduced to it by you two? I just recommended it to our son-in-law (another avid reader) and he liked it. I do gravitate to certain authors when going through trials: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Elizabeth Goudge, and D.S. Stevenson for comfort food. And I can’t remember if I took any book other than Bible on our honeymoon! I’ll have to ask Jerry if he remembers.

    It is funny how you can remember the time you read certain books for the first time, like a song you hear and forever remember a moment. I read Atonement Child in San Diego when I was with Jerry on a trip he made for the nuclear power plant. What a powerful book!

    Stephanie and I were just talking about the memories we have of reading certain books aloud. The Betsy-Tacy books made for rip-roaring laughter and good life lessons.

    Thanks for the journey through memory…

  7. Like some others have said, I don’t think I’ve ever been conscious about my choices either! I was so mad at myself on our honeymoon, because I literally just grabbed something off my shelf. And we were in Hawaii. On the beach. Where I normally read.

    And the book stunk. I don’t even remember what it was but it was NOT engaging at all.

    Oh well. Guess that meant more time with my husband, right?

  8. I’m more the “pick a book on a whim” type of reader. One thing I’ve noticed is that while many of my friends are reader more serious and deep literature as they (ahem) mature, I’m choosing lighter, happier material. I figure I’ve experienced enough dark moments already. I’m ready for happy endings.

    And yes, I despised Cold Mountain. Grr.

  9. Janet Grant says:

    I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts at a time when I was feeling emotional vulnerable to the capricious winds of life. It helped me to sink my boat’s anchor in a safe harbor. I’ll always be grateful to Ann for penning a book that spoke so powerfully to me.

  10. Michelle, please pass on my sympathy, good wishes and prayers to Wendy. The dentist’s office is one of my least favorite places.

    I don’t have a particular book that I can connect with a momentous occasion, however, when I’m stressed, feeling down or nervous, I tend to reach for one of James Herriot’s books. His humor has helped me through some difficult situations. When I have to go to the dentist’s office, I tend to bring a Star Wars novel along with me so I can escape into another galaxy and, while I wait, forget that I’m about to face the drill. I mean no offense to dentists. They do good work. I just would prefer they didn’t have to do it on me. 🙂

  11. Once while grieving the recent death of a loved one I reread the book that had made me a Christian many years before. It was The Robe by Lloyd C Douglas and re-reading it helped a lot.

  12. What an interesting post, Michelle. It’s neat how you make such deliberate choices. Most times, what I take for a trip or an outing is based upon what is next up in my review schedule. The only times I can honestly say I purposely choose to read certain books is when I am struggling and I need to be drawn even closer to God. Most times those selections end up being devotionals with specific themes.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      I was not deliberate in most of these choices–like many, that’s just what I happened to be reading at the time!

      I find it interesting so many were non-fiction; when life is chaotic, I want a novel that helps me escape to a different place and I REALLY need a happy ending.

  13. Hello Michelle,

    Checking in late today. Interesting angle, choosing a book because of particular event. I don’t know that I’ve gone at it that way before, but I’ve definitely SAVED a book for a specific reason. I look back and can mark events with books I was reading. I remember what I was doing when I read The Horse Whisperer, when I first read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, Nancy Moser’s The Good Nearby, and even more recent stuff… but because those were what I happened to be reading.

    On the other hand, now that I have a Kindle, I have a library at my fingertips… and I CAN choose what I want to read depending on my mood! There are times when I have 6 or 7 books going at once because I have to be in just the right mood to read each one. I do that with hard copy books, too, but usually only 3 or 4 at a time. The Kindle has totally broadened my reading horizon! Is that a good thing?

    Fun post!


  14. I don’t think I’ve known anyone who connected specific books with so many of their life’s passages. What a wonderful experience! There’s a book idea in there, Michelle … for you to write, please :-).

  15. Heather says:

    I read Kathy Reichs on my honeymoon. Does that say anything bad?

    I lent my friend the Hunger Games Trilogy, and she was frantically finishing it while getting her hair done before the ceremony.

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