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I have been reading a book called “Life After God” by Mark Feldmeir, and it is proving to be a truly transformational read. You probably haven’t heard of it yet, but I’m fortunate to know Feldmeir as a friend. …Well, actually, he’s a friend, mentor, minister and big brother all rolled into one, and he’s one of our country’s preeminent theological scholars.

In Life After God, Reverend Feldmeir talks about how our relationship with God evolves over the course of our lifetime. That’s important because, as life goes on, many believers such as myself find that the God about whom we were taught cannot be reconciled with our real life experience here on Earth.

For many, many people over the course of history, the Bible is the single most transformational book of our lives, yet I’ve never seen a literary work that contradicted itself so many times. I highly recommend Life After God for anyone looking for a deeper relationship with his or her higher power.

It got me thinking about other transformational books in my life, so I thought I’d share a brief list of them here with you.


The Bear by William Faulkner

As with any of Faulkner’s works, there are many themes at work in The Bear, but for me, The Bear is about approaching the world with a sense of wonder. The protagonist, young Isaac, learned to track the giant bear, Old Ben, but he didn’t do it to kill it as the rest of his hunting party did. He did it to behold it. The story is that of a young man’s deep connection to nature and how that connection grew— how it matured.

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

My grandfather gave me a copy of Think and Grow Rich when I was fifteen, and it remains as one of my most highly prized possessions, partly because Grandpa wrote so many of his own notes to me in the margins. I remember when we moved here to Encinitas in 2006, and I couldn’t find it when we got here. My grandfather was recently deceased at the time, and I’m pretty sure I wept every day for three days as I poured through the movers’ boxes in my garage to find it.

Think and Grow Rich is about the life practices of Andrew Carnegie. It describes the power of desire, faith and persistence and how to foster those traits. It’s a sort of manual for success.

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I first read Huckleberry Finn when I was fourteen. Some may say that’s too young to fully appreciate all of the novel’s nuance, but I was a pretty precocious little whippersnapper. I read it in my freshman honors English class with a teacher who I disrespectfully called by her first name, Eldra, just because I thought it was funny and because I knew I was too smart for her not to give me an A, regardless of my insolence.

I still had a little boy’s appreciation for the story, though. I admired Huck for being such a tough little s.o.b., and I recognized my best friend at the time as my own real-life Tom Sawyer— we got into all kinds of mischief but never the kind where anyone got hurt.

As for some of the more heady themes, I recognized that Twain made Jim-- the escaped slave-- the most honorable and most loving person in the story, and I had a deep appreciation for Huck’s integrity and courage.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

I took On The Road with me to Alaska the summer after my freshman year of college. I went to work on a fishing boat in the Aleutian Islands; I hitchhiked to Kenai from Anchorage and then hitched a ride on a bush mail airplane to Dutch Harbor. It was a Cessna 182, and I smoked cigarettes on the plane.

I felt like I was doing my own re-make of the book.

I had returned from a year-long student exchange in Costa Rica only a year earlier, and during that year, I bussed myself all over the country to surf, went to Carnival in Limon with a New Zealander who had driven his van down the Pan American Highway from Los Angeles, entered Panama in the trunk of a car because I didn’t have a visa, drank beer most afternoons with the local jeweler in Liberia, got chased by a giant bull at a rodeo, and partied in the rain at the Amnesty International Concert with an arms dealer.

I was half Sal and half Dean, and On The Road helped me to more fully understand myself.

Where Are the Customer’s Yachts? by Fred Schwed, Jr.

The funniest book in the history of Wall Street! It was written more than 80 years ago, but it’s amazing how well it holds up.

I first read this book in 2003, just as I was leaving the investment services business to go run a start-up biotechnology company. I was 32, and the investment business had already been very good to me.

Virtually all of my clients at the time were regional banks, and rather than serve as a fiduciary financial advisor as I do now, I treated my bank customers rather ruthlessly, expecting that they’d better have enough of their own financial acumen to know what I was getting them into. Schwed’s book did a remarkable job of making me laugh while also forcing me to reflect on the six years I had spent as a wild, wild west institutional bond-slinger.

(The second funniest book in the history of Wall Street is The Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics by J.L. Walker. It’s a large voluminous book with hundreds of pages-- all of them blank.)

Unsaid by Neil Abramson

Unsaid is about a recently deceased veterinarian watching over the humans and animals she’s left behind. All of the characters are grieving something, and they all find connections with each other-- and solace-- through their shared animal relationships. I should have known better than to pick it up shortly after putting down my family’s adopted Olde English bulldog, Lilly, but I think this book is probably a tearjerker for just about any reader at any given time.

Unsaid is an amazing novel about the relationship between animals and humans, about grieving, and about questioning the things we’ve always accepted as truth. …In that sense, it’s a little like Feldmeir’s Life After God.


What’s any of this have to do with personal financial planning, the typical subject matter of our Insights column? Everything.

As Feldmeir teaches, we are all in a constant state of transformation:

“…Your experience as a human being has been constantly changing over the course of your life, moment by moment, from day to day, from year to year. You are not the same human today that you were as a newborn in that cute little onesie, or as a freshman in high school when you had that pink mohawk, or even as you were this morning when you rolled out of bed and your feet touched the floor.

That human is history.

So is the human you were just a moment ago when you were reminiscing about that pink mohawk.”

So, if you think your financial plan hasn’t required any changes for a few years, you should probably re-think that. Be vigilant, be open to new opportunities, and be open to transformation-- because it’s going to happen.

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