A Love Letter to Books

A Love Letter to Books

Dear books,

I love you. I really do.

You’ve brought me comfort, humor, knowledge, inspiration, and a lot of joy.

I first found you when I was little. Pictures were included! Reading seemed miraculous, eyes moving over little squiggles that transformed into dragons and spaceships and clever kids solving neighborhood mysteries. I read everything I could find, including comic books.

By second grade, I was reading you all the time. Adventures, biographies, and science fiction became my friends. One of my favorite memories from childhood is my father reading Sherlock Holmes out loud. He showed me books he’d read while growing up on a ranch in North Dakota, tales of cowboys and horses and rustlers. They brought me closer to him, imagining the life he’d had as a boy.

I was shy and very young for my grade in my elementary school, and the library quickly became a haven. I could read all I wanted! When I was old enough to walk to our town’s library, it became an even bigger refuge. It was quiet and stuffed with riches, and I’d head there first thing on Saturday morning and wait until dinnertime to return home.

Libraries are sacred to me. Bookstores, too. I found a used books store in our town, filled to the brim with you, dear books, and it was magical. I went there every chance I could and can still remember its wonderful smell. For just 25 cents (this was a while ago), I could get lost for days in a new novel, hopefully with a happy ending (I’m a sucker for those).

Books, you have marked all the major turning points in my life. For example, at the tail end of college in 1974, when I decided on a whim to learn about meditation—whatever that was. I read a tall pile of classics such as The Perennial PhilosophyThe Three Pillars of Zen, and Be Here Now. You opened whole new worlds to me, introduced me to voices of people from faraway times and places. In graduate school a decade later, you brought life to dry research and abstract theories as I studied clinical psychology. Science and imagination, precision and profundity, desperation and inspiration, the daily grind and the eternal heights: you contained all these multitudes and more.

In the past couple of decades, I turn to you for new information about the brain—the organ that is right now making sense of the squiggles on this page, the “enchanted loom,” as Charles Sherrington called it, that weaves the fabric of our consciousness. Some highlights: In Search of Memory and Train Your MindChange Your Brain, everything ever written by the great Oliver Sacks. The discoveries are coming so fast that sometimes a new research paper (your distant cousin!) seems like the next chapter in a breathless thriller.

The brain is like you: a great book. It’s layered, complex, and surprising, accessible yet still mysterious, a treasure chest filled with jewels. Reading you, we learn about the world while also learning about ourselves. In the same way, when we read the book of the brain, we understand it better. More importantly, we understand ourselves better: our joys and our sorrows, love and loss, why it’s hard to change bad habits and how to develop good ones, and the simple great gift of this moment of consciousness.

There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon. In fact, the brain takes its shape, literally, from what the mind rests upon. Whatever we practice grows stronger. I find this hopeful, especially at times when so much seems out of control.

I’ve rested my own mind on so many of you, books. The sci-fi classics of Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert may have saved my life as a teenager, at least emotionally. Recently, I’ve burrowed into research on the brain as well as writings on the Buddha for my latest, Neurodharma, which takes readers on a journey from the synapse to the summit of human potential. I keep several novels in rotation at the same time, plus a mix of nonfiction, the latest of which include All Systems RedDrive Your Plow over the Bones of the DeadWhere Have You Been?, and Excession.

Sometimes I read you because I have to; usually I read you because I want to. It’s love, fundamentally: love of the worlds that you open, love of the writer’s craft and courage, love of the simple ease in sitting down to read, and love of the mystery and delight at what might be found on the next page.

Thank you, dear books.

Your friend,


Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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