As readers, we all have an ever-growing list of favorite books. Books we’ve lived in, books we’ve cherished, and books we’ve read again and again…and tucked in that long list of favorite novels and stories is a much shorter list of books that have shaped and molded us as human beings…books that have altered our thinking and opened our eyes to new ways of looking at life. These are the books that will forever hold a place in your heart (and on your shelf!) and may even be the books you find yourself coming back to again and again, if not just to smell their familiar smell or run your fingers up and down the worn cover page.
I was recently asked what this list would be for me…and let me tell you, it was a challenging task. I feel like every book I read stays with me and becomes a part of me…and to fine-tune that list to a handful of books that have had such a profound impact on me that they CHANGED MY LIFE…well, that’s a tall order!
But I love a good challenge! After many, many hours of thought and a few cups of coffee to help get me through, here is my list of 20 books that have changed my life. A few of these are also on my list of favorite books, but not all of them. Books like Eating Animals and Being Mortal, though well-written and thought-provoking, were not what I would call ENJOYABLE reads…but they had such an impact on me that I had to add them to this list.
If you love reading and enjoy being swept up in literature, this is a fun exercise to try! Take a moment and think back on your times spent snuggled in bed curled up with a book and see if you can’t recount the books that helped shape and mold you into the wonderful person you are today.
Books that Taught Me About Love and Loss:
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
A marriage that looks perfect from the outside is anything but on the inside. A story that completely broke my heart and taught me that things aren’t always as they seem, Revolutionary Road is a raw and realistic portrayal of the “ideal American family”.
It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrehdt
Filled with inspiring stories and quotes, It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken was the book that got me through my first big break-up. Yes, it was super cheesy, but it told me the things I was unwilling to hear from my friends and family and it helped me get back up on my feet during a time I felt I had hit rock bottom.
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
No book, no person, no song has so perfectly described what it’s like to live with someone who is terminally ill. I read A Monster Calls a few years after my dad died and the wound was ripped right the F open. I related to this book on a deep and emotional level…and it so perfectly described feelings I never thought could be put into words.
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
A book about dying with grace and dignity, Being Mortal tries to humanize the ultimate fate we all fear. Written by Dr. Gawande, this book takes readers into places like nursing homes and care centers to better understand how the elderly can age without losing their sense of humanity.
Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
A simple story about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up, Peter Pan meant so much more to me after my first experience with death. The story of Peter Pan is quite different from what Disney would have you believe, and after experiencing loss, I felt myself relating so much more to this little boy who just wanted to stay young and joyful forever.
Books that Led to Professional Development:
Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull
I cannot praise this book enough. Creativity, Inc. is written by one of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull. In this management how-to, he discusses what it takes to be a good manager and a good employee. He lays the groundwork for what makes a productive business run and shows readers that it actually is possible to really love what you do. This is the book that inspired me to quit the job that had me in a near constant state of depression and to find something that challenged me intellectually and professionally.
The Artist in the Office, Summer Pierre
An interactive book about how to have fun at a 9-5 job, The Artist in the Office helps readers find creative outlets throughout the day…encouraging imagination, inspiring creativity, and overall making happier and healthier employees…all while still making time for those dang TPS reports.
Books that Changed the Way I Think:
Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
A brutally honest look at the cost of farming and eating meat, Eating Animals was a true eye-opener in the best possible way. Though Jonathan Safran Foer is a vegetarian, the point of his book is not to convert meat eaters, but to educate them. Foer pulls back the curtain on companies like Tyson to reveal what is really going on behind closed doors. This book made me sick to my stomach…and it forever changed how I eat and buy my food.
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
A truly inspirational story about listening to your heart and following your dreams, The Alchemist should be required reading for everyone. A story about a shepherd who yearns to travel the world, this book is equal parts fairy tale and spiritual enlightenment. Similar to The Little Prince in its message, The Alchemist – for me at least – was likened to a religious experience.
The Best of Cooking Light, Cooking Light Magazine
The Best of Cooking Light was the first cookbook I ever owned. I don’t remember where I got it, it may have been a gift or something I picked up in a budget bin at my local bookstore, but when I was living on my own, this cookbook was my bible. I lived off these recipes and I still use it to this day. It’s filled with food stains and the pages are crinkled from spilled water, but I still love it and cherish the memories of learning to cook with this book by my side.
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, Jenni Ferrari-Adler
Filled with hilarious and relatable essays about cooking for one and living alone, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant was the friend I needed during a time when I felt so secluded.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
With such simple prose and a simple plot, The Little Prince digs deep into the psyche, unearthing thoughts about love, loss, friendship, responsibility, imagination, and so much more. I’ve read it several times, often in one sitting, and find myself smiling and crying time after time.
Books that Shaped My Childhood:
The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
The Lorax was the first book I read about what it means to stand up for what you believe in. It was my dad’s favorite Dr. Seuss book and he would read it to me often when I was growing up. Filled with inspiring messages about believing in yourself, encouraging change, and giving a voice to those who don’t have one, The Lorax had a profound impact on my understanding of mindless progress.
The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg
I still can’t read The Polar Express without crying. A magical story about the true spirit of Christmas, The Polar Express reawakens my love for Christmas every time I read it. The magic of hearing the bell is something I hold personally near and dear to my heart, as my dad had jingle bells all over the house all year long. Needless to say, I still hear the bells ring, year after year.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
In all honesty, every one of the Harry Potter books could be on this list…but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was my introduction into the Harry Potter universe. After powering through the first three novels, I went to the midnight release (in costume) of this book and stayed up reading it all night long. I took it with me to the Taste of Chicago the following day and walked all over the city with this 600+ book in hand. It was this book that swept me up into the magic of Hogwarts and was my first introduction into the Harry Potter fandom culture.
My Father’s Daughter, Tina Sinatra
My Father’s Daughter was not the first Sinatra book I’ve ever read, nor will it be the last…but I found it to be the most truthful. Written by his daughter, Tina Sinatra, My Father’s Daughter is an intimate, honest, and loving tribute to a man the world rarely got to see. Parts of it broke my heart…and parts of it made me love Sinatra all the more. Told with genuine love and respect for her father and her family, Tina Sinatra’s memoir offers a peek into the private life of one of the world’s most popular entertainers.
The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly
This is one of the only books I finished, then immediately started again. I’ve read this book so many times that the spine is starting to fray. A story similar to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but much, much darker, The Book of Lost Things is a story filled with evil monsters, big heroes, and journeys into worlds unknown. This book took me away and completely immersed me another world, something that rarely happens when I read fiction. The message of this book is quite simple, but the characters are so imaginative and interesting and I have a new experience with this book every time I read it.
Books that Shaped My Educational Development:
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
The ultimate coming-of-age story about a young boy exploring the New York underground, The Catcher in the Rye is the book that made me fall in love with literature. I remember reading it in high school and again in college…both times it opened my eyes to the amazing character development and plot that this story lays out for the reader. Confused and disillusioned, Holden Caulfield searches for truth and honesty among a world of “phoniness” and finds it near impossible to place himself in this unforgiving culture. A novel that speaks to anyone who has struggled through their adolescence, A Catcher in the Rye remains one of my favorite books of all time.
Solar Storms, Linda Hogan
It was this book that inspired me to follow a Native American educational path during my time in college. I read Solar Storms in one of my English lit classes and fell in love with the Native culture and views on life and death. I felt an instant connection with this novel and it opened my eyes to an educational outlet I never knew was there for me.
The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim
A brilliant take on fairy tale criticism, The Uses of Enchantment was the book that inspired a life-long obsession with fairy tales. As if it couldn’t get any nerdier, I actually read this book the first time FOR FUN, then again for required reading in my Fairy Tale class in college. This book breaks down the classic tales we all know and love and digs deep into the deeper meanings behind the red cape, the wolf in the woods, the prick of the pin and so much more.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.