Books That Changed My Life

March 18, 2010  |  reviews

Back when Sugarbutch was a little baby new blog (did you know it will turn 4 in April?!), I used to write a Sunday Scribblings prompt often. This week’s prompt was “the book that changed everything” and I already happened to have a halfway done list in my drafts, so I figured I’d go back to it and finish it up.

It was going to be a “new year, new you” type of post, which gives away that I started it in January, and which kind of explains the self-help-y list. But of course I couldn’t make a list and show it off here without adding some of my favorite sex books, too!

But first, the stuff to enhance your renaissance-man (regardless of gender!) fabulous self. In alphabetical order:

  1. The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd. Excellent for dating, deepening relationships with people you already know and like, and generally elevating the discussion around you. I especially remember the part about how conversations between two people should start with facts, move to opinions, and then and only then should you discuss emotions.
  2. How to Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman. Whether or not you know how to cook, this is a fantastic resource. I got a copy of the vegetarian version over the holidays. Though Bittman isn’t famous for his desserts (pastries aren’t really his strong point, or, let’s be honest, so says Kristen) he has a little bit of everything in here and chances are, it’ll be a great starting point, if not an excellent recipe. Lots of great tips for technique, too.
  3. The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro. I have dreams of writing a butch equivalent, but shh that’s a secret. This contains excellent thoughts about conducting oneself socially, manners, conversation, style, how to tie ties, how to order drinks, how to be suave on a date, all sorts of things that a gentleman would want to know. Not impressed with the sex part (cheesy!) but hey you can’t win ‘em all. Along with Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style, this is one of the books about masculinity that I recommend most.
  4. The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta. You probably already read Zen Habits, so you know Babauta’s style and simplicity. This book is a lovely collection of philosophies on productivity, minimalism, moving on, getting shit done, and focusing on what you really want to do. Along with The Four-Hour Work Week, this really changed my attitude about my time (a non-renewable resource!) and how I make decisions.
  5. There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber. Huber is a buddhist monk, founded two zen monasteries in California, has written about twenty books, and travels widely. I found her writing when I was in high school and have been reading and re-reading ever since. It’s kind of self-help-y, yes, but there’s a lot of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology in it too, which the best self-help books contain. She has many other titles that I’d also recommend, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth literally changed my life when I first read it, and Be the Person You Want To Find: Relationships and Self-Discovery is a great book for those of us seeking long-term valuable love relationships. Speaking of love relationships, I can’t not mention If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl. Both were very life-changing and eye-opening to my own patterns and tendencies, and very useful. Kasl is a buddhist quaker feminist psychotherapist, and her perspective is so full of lovingkindness and sweetness and understanding that you can’t not be drawn in, only to learn about yourself and your tendencies. Though it’s pretty hetero-focused in its example couples, I tend to change the pronouns (or pretend it’s a butch going by him/her and a femme). Kristen and I have been reading through it aloud and discussing it, which can be intense but has been great.

And because I can’t make a book list without having sex books on it:

  1. Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex by Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, founders of Babeland. I’ve already mentioned this book on Sugarbutch recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. Modern, fun, wide-ranging, inclusive, sexy, kinky, open, welcoming. And the design is just so damn cute. If I had coffee table books, this would be one of them.
  2. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. I recommend these books constantly to folks who want to get more involved in power play or topping and bottoming roles in their sex lives. So many of my philosophies come from these books, and they are incredibly full of useful tips and ideas about aftercare, safewords, top drop, negotiations.
  3. Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Tantra books are usually way too cheesy for me to even get through, and I have some experience with tantra. But this one is different. Carrellas (@urbantantrika) is as grounded as she is woo-woo, as queer and kinky as she is accessible and open. If you’ve always been curious about tantra, this is a great place to start.
  4. Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. There are very few smart books written about polyamory and open relationships (The Ethical Slut, now in a new edition, by the authors of the Topping/Bottoming Books, being the classic cannon), and this is the most recent. I’ve admired Taormino’s work for a long time, since her sex column at the Village Voice (collected into a book called True Lust), and she’s done some pretty amazing things in mainstream porn since then. I love that she’s bringing and underground queer feminist perspective to the things she’s doing, it makes her work even more complex and fantastic. Her most recent book (aside from Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica!) is The Big Book of Sex Toys, which I don’t have my hands on yet but will be reporting all about when I do.
  5. Exhibitionism For the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot! by Carol Queen. The Amazon description says “[e]xhibitionism as a consensual erotic pleasure and a means to overcome shyness and body image issues” and I LOVE that idea! I’m not actually sure where my copy of this has escaped to, perhaps I lost it in a break-up, but there’s a relatively new edition from 2009 that I should get my hands on regardless. Want to feel more sexy, show off, but feel self-conscious? Pick up this book. In case you don’t already know Carol Queen, she’s the owner of the Good Vibrations toy shops and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. She also wrote one of my favorite erotica books, The Leather Daddy and the Femme.

Whew! Okay, that should keep you busy for the next few months, hm? I hope at least one of these is interesting and might enhance your life in some way. Books can be so magical like that.

I’ve included the links to Amazon, and while if you click through those links I do get a teeny tiny kickback from your purchases, I still encourage you to visit your local independent bookstore and support them by ordering these books through them. If you want them to be around next year, that means spending your money in their shop. I know they aren’t as cheap as Amazon, and probably not quite as convenient, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Or at least, I will. A lot.

So? What books changed YOUR life?

 

Want more? You’re insatiable.

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6 Comments


  1. The Lolita Effect was my very first feminist non-fiction book. I checked it out at the library on a whim. And then, next time I came back I swiped nearly the whole women's studies (woefully limited) shelf into my satchel and marched up to the check out desk. And I have never, ever looked back.

  2. omg. every single suggestion on here makes me wanna stuff every book right into my mouth and chew.

    My list, in order. Nothing too special, except to me.

    A Wrinkle in Time

    Roll of Thunder, Here My Cry

    A Seperate Peace

    Bridge to Terabithia

    Between Friends – Gillian E. Hanscombe

    Persistent Desire – ed. Joan Nestle

    Leash – Jane Delynn

  3. Non-fiction:

    One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant (To paraphrase Leo McGary, the best person to get you out of the hole is a friend who's already been down there.)

    The Politics of Lust by John Ince (Shame is someone else's problem?! Sweet!)

    Ancient Egyptian Religion: An Interpretation by Henri Frankfort (Not every religion is fucked up and repressive about sex!)

    Fiction:

    Lifemask by Emma Donoghue (Still my favourite lesbian romance.)

  4. How about SF?

    Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein

    Songmaster by Orson Scott Card

    Those books certainly changed my way of thinking back when I first read them.

    They both served to open me up to new ideas and ways of living for people.

  5. As corny as it sounds, Stone Butch Blues. It alerted me to the fact that people like me could exist, and that it was OK. I refer to it as my bible and the baby butches to whom I have recommended it seem to recognise themselves in it as well.

  6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm also trying to keep up on Yann Martel's suggested reading list for Stephen Harper, which contains some very life altering pieces.

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