What book or film impacted your life or altered how you see the world? What art left a lasting imprint on your soul?

April 29, 2013 § 6 Comments

Seeing with new eyes.

Seeing with new eyes.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been reflecting upon the book Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s account of Olympic runner and WWII hero Louis Zamperini. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, so captivating that I feel like I temporarily developed a photographic memory.

I’m not sure this book changed, or will end up changing, my life. But it certainly has me thinking about World War II, bravery, and manhood. Am I capable of that kind of heroism? Am I called to give to my country in similar ways? What have I done, or what can I do, to inspire courage?

As I began to think about those questions, I became curious about what other books, or other works of film, television, art, or music impacted, transformed, or left a lasting imprint on others. A book, a movie, or piece of art that left someone gratefully altered.

Ignatian Educator readers, care to share? I’d like to compile a list of books, movies, and other contributions of culture that I can mine for myself and my students.  Please offer your selections in the comment section below.  Tell about what you saw or read and why it was so influential.


Posted by Matt Emerson.


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§ 6 Responses to What book or film impacted your life or altered how you see the world? What art left a lasting imprint on your soul?

  • Val says:

    Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, because it is not a dime-novel treatment of the American West, it’s a truth of genocide and apartheid most people don’t consider (and very well-written). This is America too.

    Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (I adore the Disney film version from the early 2000s). Remember how when Adam and Eve were shut out from the Garden of Eden an angel was set up at the gate to keep them away from the Tree of Life, lest they live forever in this broken world. This is required reading for fourth graders, but two questions it asks are profound ones: (1) What would it be like to live forever in THIS world? and (2) If you could choose to live forever in this world — given everything the Tucks have told you — would you?

    The Sunflower by Simon Weisenthal (and others — if you don’t know this book, find it right away!!!): What is forgiveness?

    When God Calls A Woman by Elisabeth Schmidt — the amazing story if a woman who became the first woman pastor to be ordained into the French Reformed Church. Her life began in atheism, but she was willing to follow God’s call and actually volunteered to go into a Nazi labor camp and work covertly as a pastor living among the prisoners in the barracks because it didn’t occur to the Nazis that there could be such a thing as a female pastor among their female “social workers.” She also ended up in Algeria, and realky had an amazing and inspiring life.

    The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a book to challenge every Christian to examine his or her faith and discipleship. I still wrestle with this book.

    The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis — my most favorite devotional, and one of the best devotional works ever written. I wrestle with this book too.

    The “Anne” books by Lucy Maud Montgomery: it’s okay to be a smart girl

    The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips and The Story Bible by Pearl S. Buck (yes, THAT Pearl Buck…) — two very excellent volumes for taking a very fresh look at the Bible without watering it down or dumbing it down.

    Flags of Our Fathers (the film is good, but read the book first): What is “a hero,” what does “hero” really mean, is there such a thing?

    Rocket Boys (also known as October Sky) by Homer Hickam Jr. — hard work can make impossible dreams real

    The Soloist by Steve Lopez (do NOT see the film until you have read the book, it’s decent, but the book is amazingly better). This is the story of the friendship between Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez and Nataniel Anthony Ayers Jr., a well-written witty and gritty book that grew out of columns Lopez wrote beginning in April 2005 about a homeless man playing a violin with two strings in Pershing Square…who was schizophrenic, living on the streets, and had gone to Julliard. This is a very honest look at mental illness and homelessness as Lopez peels back the layers of his own misconceptions. Everyone needs to read this book.

  • memerson says:

    Val, thank you very much. These are excellent suggestions. I will put as many of these as possible on my developing summer list and also read them with an eye toward what I might be able to teach. Can you think of any of the above that would especially appeal to a high school student searching for his or her identity, searching for faith, searching for meaning amidst chaos?

    • Val says:

      Well for that then why not Seven Storey Mountain? Merton is like a cross between Augustine and Holden Caufield.

      Rocket Boys/October Sky (the film version is also good) might be one to consider, though there are perhaps some thematic elements that would make me seek approval on that one as there is very incidental mention of some teen sexuality. The deal is there are these kids in a mining town in West Virginia who take up rocketry, but in so doing buck the culture of the town because the only kids who do anything but work in the mine from this town are the few who get football scholarships. Hickam AFB is named for Homer Hickam Jr.

      Not sure if The Sunflower exactly fits the bill, but I know what you teach and I know where you teach it, and the questions and considerations raised by that book are pretty profound.

      I would also give a look at the J.B. Phillips The New Testament in Modern English. The story is that Phillips was a youth pastor in England in the 1960s, and the Authorized Version wasn’t helpful. He set about retranslating the entire New Testament from the original Greek into modern English in a beautiful paraphrase that really holds up very well and doesn’t feel “dumbed down” the way other paraphrases sometimes can. It’s one of the possible translation choices on biblegateway.com. I hate to say that the be-all, end-all paraphrase translation was written in the late 1960s, but? Yeah, kinda. It gives a faithful “flavor” to the text without lapsing into mind-numbing “Bible English,” such that it can be a good tool for looking at a familiar text with new eyes (pick a few epistles and some very famous passages to get a feel for it). I was very struck by Phillips’ rending of John 17, and posted it on Good Friday afternoon:


      You can never go wrong with Bonhoeffer, but he’s written a lot of different things that are very good (even in his short life), but The Cost of Discipleship is really the challenging one. Have you read the Eric Metaxas bio? Bonhoeffer is someone worth knowing about, but a very complicated man.

      Oh, right…I can’t believe this slipped my mind…The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer is another amazing and challenging book on faith, is very much worth reading, and may be something you could teach.

      If you know Francis Chan, he’s also quite good. I’m working my way through his stuff on audiobook on Overdrive, and just finished Crazy Love which is about not being lukewarm in our love for God and others, and what that looks like (i.e., “crazy”…but “crazy” in a “fool for Christ” kind of way).

      There are good modern translations of The Imitation of Christ that don’t dumb it down. There is a lot in that book, especially in the prayers.

      Would Dark Night of the Soul be too much or would they be up for it? The question in that one is, of course: “Is who God is as God enough if life comes with no blessings?” It’s the same question as is raised in Job.

      Not sure if Tuck Everladting would exactly fit the bill, but the film would definitely appeal to high school students, and might be framed the way I framed it against Genesis. And the thought that chilled me was the realization that drinking the water would be exactly like eating from both trees because it would keep you separated from God for all eternity in the brokenness of this world, the very definition of “hell on earth.”

  • Kelly says:

    Life is Beautiful (film) – It serves to remind us that there is beauty and God’s grace in every situation, even the most difficult.

  • Caroline says:

    This year in school I’ve read many captivating and thought provoking books. These four stand out to me as the ones that were the most impactful to me.

    White Teeth-Zadie Smith
    Brideshead Revisited-Evelyn Waugh
    An American Requiem-James Carroll
    In the Heart of the Temple-Joan Chittister

  • Reblogged this on Totally Inspired Mind-Where Positive Minds Congregate and commented:
    What a great post I found when I searched the word “heroism” on the reader on WordPress. This is a great question for the readers of Totally Inspired Mind.
    What book impacted your life in a good way that has left a lasting imprint on your soul?
    Share the book title with the readers on the site.
    My answer is I read Helen Keller’s biography when I was a kid in 5th grade and shared it with my friend Cheryle Lightcap, who was blind and sat in the back of the class with her countless books in braille. After seeing what Helen Keller did and was blind and deaf, with the help of Anne Sullivan, I knew I could do anything I would set my mind to do in life. What I was diagnosed with, epilepsy, even though not well controlled, seemed like nothing by comparison.
    Helen Keller is to this day my heroine and if you read her essay called “Optimism” you will see just what a genius she was and it is so incredible because she wrote as though she could see and spoke of topics like philosophy, religion, and politics.
    Read any of Helen Keller’s books. She didn’t just write one, but over 20! You can find them all by searching her name in the books section on Amazon and also talking to a good librarian. Her book Mid Life was written later in her life. Even in her late years, she referred to Anne Sullivan as her “teacher”. My mother was always my “Anne Sullivan” to me instilling values, and integrity and my belief system as well as fostering every talent I possess. The best I am I owe to her.
    I hope others write and tell what books made an impression on them as I did here.
    Paulette Le Pore Motzko
    Paulette Le Pore Motko

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