Eight Books That Changed Things For Me

20th August 2008

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
by Susan Faludi

I read this in college and it completely changed my worldview. A feminist is a person who believes in equality between the sexes — so it turns out I am a feminist. This came as a surprise to me at the time. Also, it looks like there’s some seriously, concretely unfair shit going down for women, even in the U.S. I had no idea.

The Gift of Fear
by Gavin De Becker

It’s a waste of time to be afraid all the time. Trust your instincts to tell you when something is genuinely amok, and when they do, take immediate action.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
by Thomas Lynch

This book by a poet who is also an undertaker helps me remember that being happy, or at least aware, is the best use of my time. It also gave me perspective on assisted suicide, and the ways individual anguish can eclipse you, needlessly.

Years later, this passage still sticks with me:

“Here was a young man who had killed himself, remarkably, to deliver a message to a woman he wanted to remember him. No doubt she does. I certainly do. But the message itself seemed inconsequential, purposefully vague. Did he want to be dead forever, or only absent from the pain? ‘I wanted to die,’ is all it seemed to say clearly. ‘Oh,’ is what the rest of us say.”

The Four Agreements
by Don Miguel Ruiz

I’ve mentioned this book before, and if you’re feeling adrift, it’s a good little system to help get you grounded again. I wrote more about it here.

The Wealthy Barber: Everyone’s Commonsense Guide to Becoming Financially Independent
by David Chilton

It’s not a work of literary genius, but it’s clear, it’s a quick read, and it fills you in on all the financial stuff your parents didn’t teach you.

Learning to Love You More
by Harrell Fletcher, Miranda July, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Laura Lark

I like how Miranda July seems to have always tackled the next most interesting thing, and she’s built a pretty inspiring life that way. This book of projects reminds me that it’s always a good decision to let your interests guide you.

Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior
by Judith Martin

An anthropology book on my own culture, and the reasons behind the societal contracts we’ve made. Now when I’ve pissed someone off, I usually know why.

Otherwise: New and Selected Poems
by Jane Kenyon

Jane Kenyon’s poems make me feel keener, like I can smell better and hear things more clearly. I read them when I’m feeling muddled to help me re-focus.

Now! Tell me which books changed things for you, because I think it will be interesting.

Do it.

76 thoughts on “Eight Books That Changed Things For Me

  1. Sophie Roberts

    At only 20 I’m a little self-conscious of claiming there are books that ‘changed my life’. But these are the books that mean the most to me.

    1. In The Skin of a Lion – Michael Ondaatje
    – Had to study this in highschool, and it is one of the only books I’ve ever read that improved when you studied it. There are so many layers and layers in this novel, you can read it over and over again and not get bored. And the language!! So sensual and beautiful. The ending is one of the most satisfying of any book I’ve ever read.

    2. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
    – I’m hesitant to write this down, as the ‘Self-improvement, memoir, travel mishmash’ genre is one I generally avoid. But I was experiencing a messy break up at the time I read it, and the basic message of the book really helped me.

    3. The Secret River by Kate Grenville
    – This novel made me see Sydney (my home) in a whole new light. Ignited a strange longing to have been a convict so I could have seen this place in its original state.

    4. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
    – No matter what your opinion on the Hughes/Plath relationship, this collection is incredible, personal and powerful.

    5. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
    – This is one of those books that sparked recognition in me. One that perfectly expressed a feeling I had that I’d never been able to put into words.

    So there you go. Only novels and poetry for me, never been much of a non-fiction reader.

  2. Libby

    1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    First book I read that helped me understand the complexities of white Southern identity, and my first “book that I would take with me if I were going to be alone for the rest of my life” book.

    2. Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

    I think prior to reading this I had romanticized monasticism to the extreme, and really valued living within myself and being reserved; I think reading this book at age 14 really helped me get a little perspective on the problems with romanticizing both Apollonian and Dionysiun attitudes.

    3. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

    I had already been a vegetarian for two years when I read this, but it sealed the deal and made me (mostly, but breakfast is SO good) swear off of McDonalds.

    4. White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in the Popular Culture by Chrys Ingraham

    Just totally changed the way I thought about race, gender, sexuality, and class. Phenomenal, and totally helped shaped me into the awesome feminist activist I am.

    5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

    So many complex feelings, but really made me consider my identity as an Okie and what that means.

    6. Moneyball by MIchael Lewis

    Kind of made me feel more strongly that I can fight against the man with little money and a lot of ingenuity.

    7. The End of Education by Neil Postman

    Just totally changed my way of thinking about being a teacher.

    8. The Irresitible Revolution by Shane Claiborne

    Really encouraged me to think of Christianity as a vessel for social justice; back to the days of meeting in church basements, y’all! Sometimes frustrating, but often brilliant book.

  3. Ley

    Just a few:

    1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower -Stephen Chbosky

    This is one of those books that became kind of trendy to like, and therefore became kind of scoffed at, but I read it in highschool and it stays with me still today as one of my favourite reads.

    2. The Dogs of Babel -Carolyn Parkhurst

    I read this waaay after it was popular, almost at a time when it was no longer a big hit, but it still really made me think about grief and coping.

    3. Things Fall Apart -Chinua Achebe

    This was a book we had to study in highschool. It’s a really tedious (almost boring) read, but one that really stuck with me, especially during my anthropology studies in college. Alot of people describe it as just “a book about what happened to the black men in Africa when the Christian, white man came,” but it’s really much different and deeper than that- it makes you examine ethnocentrism and the affects of pushing your morals and ethics on someone, no matter what you believe.

  4. Molly Chase

    I really love this.

    Books that changed things for me: Virginia Woolf’s diary, Homecoming by Cynthia Voight, A Little More About Me by Pam Houston, Beach Music by Pat Conroy, and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. There are others, of course, but those have shaped me.

  5. Michelle

    Lies My Teacher Told Me — James Loewen.

    I am intrigued by the idea of context and how knowledge is socially constructed. This book was a really good lesson on how what is unsaid is sometimes even more important than what is said.

    A Prayer for Owen Meany — John Irving

    I can’t quite explain why this book means so much to me. The tenderness between Owen and the other characters helped me feel more at home in my own skin, if that makes any sense. I loved how Irving dealt with human emotions in this book.

    Savage Inequalities–Jonathan Kozol

    Another book that brings to mind my interest in context. Dealing with the difference in public school systems across the nation paints a vivid picture of how circumstance and context come to shape our understanding of our world.

  6. Nikki

    1. Your Child’s Growing Mind: Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence by Lise Eliot. For all you parents out there who might need an explanation as to just what might be going on in those actively growing minds.
    2. Why Would I Want the Toy, When I Can Have the Box? by Rex Bowlby. Priceless book filled with priceless reminders of simple pleasures to be enjoyed by young and old. Try some (or all) of it! Alongside my girls, watching the things they could come up with helped to get my creative juices flowing.
    3. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The imagery, imagination and epic stories within continue to inspire and haunt me ten years after first picking it up.
    4. The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules – both by John Irving. I loved them both dearly and clearly.
    5. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. Changed my life at a young age and reminds me of all the powerful myths throughout history and cultures. Growing up in southern Ohio, this was a fascinating read and an incredible video series to watch – over and over. The man had an encyclopedic mind and made me crave and continue further study of different cultures and religions with amazingly similar myths. He is also one of my models for aging. Really.

  7. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    You should also read Protecting The Gift by Gavin DeBecker, if you have not already. I have written about it, and also a Safety DVD by John Walsh, several times in relation to sensible safety preparedness in relation to kids.

    And there are too many books to choose from that have changed my life, but I will pick a really silly one from when I had just started college that my sister sent me – The Tao of Pooh. A very simplistic view of Taoism and how Winnie The Pooh is actually Taoist, but it was important that it came from my sister at that time and it was important that I read it right then in my life.

    I might have to write a post about this, LOL. You always inspire posts for me.

  8. Maya

    The most recent one: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. It’s the concept of allowing that finally sank in. There is so much freedom in that. And since for me the most recent is always the most important I keep it at that.

  9. molly

    The China Study – T. Colin Campbell

    I have never been so changed by any book before. It changed my whole life. I really thought(as a gal in my early 30’s) that everything I had been taught about food and nutrition had been reliable information. Turns out…not so much.

  10. Clair

    The Holy Man, by Susan Trott. This was a gift from a friend, and it’s a constant reminder to slow down, savor the little things in life, and be kind to those around you. Goodness, or holiness, or Godliness, happens all over the place. You just have to be looking for it.

    Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin. I first read this in college, and come back to it and the rest of the series often. Maupin not only convinced me to move to San Francisco, but he’s significantly influenced my writing, and taught me to watch out for the little details that make up life. They happen around this city at an alarming rate.

    Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Bloom. I was a Judy Bloom devotee in elementary and middle school (probably before I was old enough to understand all of her books), but I remember reading this and thinking two things: First, that I could write a book myself someday; and second, that Margaret was just as frustrated and disappointed with her family as I sometimes was with my own, and that’s ok.

    There are many more, but these are three that really stick out as significant at certain points in my life.

  11. kidsdoc

    Lots of parents ask me which parenting book I recommend–I always say, “Operating Instructions,” by Anne Lamott. This memoir taught me more about what kind of parent and person I want to be than any of the standard instruction manuals. I’ve read this more than 20 times and learn something new about love every time. She is just amazing.

  12. Kyran

    I’m so chuffed you mentioned the Kenyon book. It was given to me by a friend of Jane’s, to read the title poem at another friend’s funeral.

    and as a young (first-time) newlywed, I lived and breathed Miss Manners. then I became scandalous and no longer cared. ;-)

  13. marymuses

    1. Rilke’s Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke – I was raised an evangelical Christian, and always felt there was something missing in the way the church described God, all neatly wound up in sermon illustrations that seemed too simple. Everyone in church had a “testimony,” while I had something less tangible, more mysterious and inexplicable. When I read Rilke, I finally felt like someone understood the way I believe.

    2. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy – It expanded my idea of how to use language, how to break rules to make words work better.

    3. My Antonia, by Willa Cather – I always loved that Antonia’s story didn’t have a classic happy ending, but that her life was rich and beautiful. I re-read this every couple of years, and it’s about time for another go at it.

    4. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and Fat Land by Greg Critser – I’m lumping two together here, but I read both of these around the same time, and together they completely changed the way I eat. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan is giving me another little push in the right direction.

  14. Andrea

    Love LOVE Jane Kenyon. My own mom died of leukemia recently, and reading her poems from the same time she was suffering from the disease make me feel closer to my mom.

  15. Stephanie

    1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

    I remember BEGGING my father to buy me this anthology of classic women’s literature when I was about 13 and he argued that I wouldn’t read the whole thing. Boy was he wrong. P&P was the first novel in the book and I read it in two days. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. Elizabeth Bennett remains one of the most amazing fictional characters ever created–not to mention a great role model! (Stephanie Meyer, you taking notes?)

    2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

    Also included in the aforementioned anthology, and it was the first time a book ever made me cry. The passage where Helen dies in Jane’s arms…

    3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

    Try reading the first chapter of that book and remaining the same person. It taught me to view race in America differently, in ways that no teacher or parent could have ever explained so poignantly.

    4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

    I never got the chance to read this in school, so feeling deprived, I checked it out of my high school library. I remember reading the last sentence, closing the book and sighing. It stays with you forever.

    5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

    I bought this book simply because it was on sale at my college bookstore and I needed something to read during a weekend trip. Little did I know how much it would affect me. It reads like a children’s story, but the lessons are transcendent.

    6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

    I’m 21-years-old and I have never had anyone close to me die. This has always scared me. But this book taught me that it’s alright to be afraid, and that in the end, it’s all going to be OK.

    7. Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott

    As a writer, I cannot imagine life without this book.

    8. Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

    Quirky and clean poetry for the masses. I especially enjoy letting non-poetry lovers borrow my copy because it changes their minds.

    **On a side note, wasn’t it one in four Americans who didn’t read a book last year?

  16. Christine

    Most recently it was Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A beautiful, spare meditation on life, history and faith.

  17. Heather

    1. To kill a mockingbird. Harper Lee. Read this aloud to my husband during a road trip recently and couldn’t get through the last courtroom scene without crying. An amazing book that lasts and speaks about what it is to be human and good.

    2. East of Eden. John Steinbeck. One of the most amazing moral tales between good and evil. The depth of characters is fantastic, as are the lingering questions regarding whether good and evil are innate qualities in us or whether the are nurtured into existence.

    3. Kitchen. Banana Yoshimoto. A story that lets you sink into it. A bit of mysticism, dealing with grief, and how family is where you look for it.

    4. The sparrow. Mary Doria Russell. An amazing book with a very well-crafted foreign world. When intelligent alien life is confirmed on another planet, a team sets out to meet them with the best of intentions. A good lesson in how even good intentions and a knowledge of how this kind of cultural encounter has gone wrong before does not guarantee any level of success.

    5. The book thief. Marcus Zusak. Narrated by Death, this book recounts the story of the Book Thief’s life and portrays the everyday life of Germans during WWII, showing their bravery, courage, petty disagreements, love, fear, weaknesses, and strength in such a horrible time. I love to give this as a gift.

    6. The long emergency. James Howard Kunstler. Changed the way I look at the world and U.S. economy, the way I understand energy use and our economy’s complete dependence upon oil.

  18. SallyRawkStar

    My father gives a copy of “The Wealthy Barber” to everyone he meets. Literally. He has about 100 copies at home just waiting to be gifted. I find it both annoying and endearing.

  19. Manders

    Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz
    I grew up (and still am) an evangelical, but this book basically blew up any categories I had made for myself about God and community and life. Read it in high school, when I was already starting to question those categories quite a bit, but it helped clarify a lot.

    Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
    I know some people hate on Vogler, but this is the book that 1) taught me how to read and understand story, 2) got me interested in the study of narrative structure, and 3) how to pace my own writing.

  20. Deborah

    1. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

    2. A Giacometti Portriat, by James Lord

    3. Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke

    4. Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh

    5. The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne

    Currently reading this book and it has already begun reshaping the way I think.

  21. Amber

    1.The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
    This was the first time I found a female voice in a novel that I could relate to. The feelings 7.and challenges Plath had are still overwhelmingly relevant today. I always wonder if she had been just a bit younger if today’s pills and therapists could have helped her.
    2.America and Americans by John Steinbeck
    It is hard for me to pick just one work by John Steinbeck. This is his collection of short essays that give amazing insight to his personal thoughts and convictions, as well as his humor. The essay about his best friend Ricketts has made me cry more times than I can count. I read it to everyone who will let me.
    3.Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I read this in high school and fell in love with Scarlet. She embodies this strong, bitchy conniving woman who will do whatever it takes to survive and take care of her family. Whether right or wrong, I can’t help but admire her spirit and tenacity.
    4.The Waste Land by TS Eliot
    This was the first time I enjoyed analyzing and picking apart a poem in depth. The references and detail in this poem are amazing. The first thing I always think of in regard to this poem is “When love fails a waste land develops.” I consider myself a romantic.
    5.Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
    I have had to read Heart of Darkness 5 times between high school and college. I hated the story for so long until I began to appreciate the craft of writing and the idea that the experience of reading the novel is much more important than the actual plot. I think the novel allows you to reach your own conclusions about Marlow as you take the journey with him.
    6.Teach with your Heart: Lessons I learned from The Freedom Writers by Erin Gruwell
    I start my credential next week and I read this over the summer. I was moved to tears by the passion and dedication Gruwell had for teaching. Inspiring for anyone, but especially teachers. The accomplishments she had truly embody the idea that anything is possible.
    7.The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
    A usual favorite. I related to Holden and his desire to save people from growing up. His musings and observations of those around him and their phony manner felt spot on to me.
    8.The Diary of Anne Frank
    “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” I think the world would be a better place if everyone read this book. Amazing story that should humble anyone who reads it. She was wise beyond her years and will live on forever in the words she left behind.

  22. Claire

    The first book on the list reminded me of a book I read (and still own and peruse) in Feminism in college that completely changed my life and gave me a whole other pespective on “equality of the sexes”. Its called “The will to change” and its about the restraints on the male personality and expected/pressured behavior. It truly shows how the narrow avenue of personality expression for men in modern America is hurting both men and women, and also our children. It’s fascinating.

    I know I have more to share, but sadly, I have not had my cup of coffee yet.

  23. bluegirl

    honestly: “My Booky Wook” by Russell Brand. I know, I know, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for recovery stories, and I found his “say yes to the universe, and so what?” attitude to be exactly the kick in the butt I need. Also, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I used to work in a completely disfunctional environment and HtWFaIP helped me recognize it, deal with it, and eventually break free.

  24. Becca

    Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi
    A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
    The Cider House Rules by John Irving
    The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
    Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
    The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
    Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
    Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    East of Eden by John Steinbeck

  25. Maren

    1. Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot – Al Franken

    It’s hard for me to come up with books that created an “ah-ha!” moment for me, particularly because I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. This one sounds like a silly choice, but I read it at 15 or 16 and it was my introduction to the world of politics behind the scenes. Also some of the earliest humor writing I read, which inspired me to write my own (I’d still love a job writing comedy television).

    2. If Beal Street Could Talk – James Baldwin

    I should love this book for its incisive exploration of race. Instead, I read it at 12 and will always remember it as the first book I read with any kind of explicit description of sex. I then dug out any other book I could find in the junior high library with sex, graduated to Anne Rice in high school, and now write erotica and publish erotica online. I’m embarrassed that such an important book provoked a sexual awakening rather than a social consciousness in me, but there it is.

    3. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

    The first fantasy I read, given to me by my father. I plowed right into that world, and have never looked back.

    4. The Hotel New Hampshire – John Irving

    Also given to me by my dad (surprisingly, given some of the content), and though he loves Owen Meany best, this is my favorite. It’s one of the very first “adult” novels I read, and the first with such a large cast of characters and rich, detailed plot.

    5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

    The trend in this list seems to be getting books a little earlier than I would deem appropriate for a child nowadays, and being changed by them because of that. I first read this at 8 or so, and read it almost yearly from then on. Each year, I discovered new things in it that had gone over my head as a younger girl, and it became a part of me. I can’t imagine my life without knowing this story.

  26. MizDubya

    Ooo! This is a great one, and I want to play! I know I’ll leave out some important ones, but here goes:

    The Lord of the Flies by Sir William Golding
    I read this for my 7th grade (or 9th? I can’t remember) summer reading book, and it was the first time I ever remember realizing that books could have multiple layers of meaning.

    In the Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez
    One of the few books I read in grad school that moved me beyond words. Alvarez is a great writer, and the subject matter of this book, a daughter yearning to know and live up to her mother, is just wonderful.

    Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
    One of the books I read for my “Genre Fiction and Women Writers” class my first semester of college. The book itself isn’t bad, but more importantly it opened me up to the world of Margaret Atwood, one of my very favorite writers.

    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Oh, the language. It makes me swoon.

    Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
    Ditto for this book. I want to crawl into the pages and roll around in his gorgeous prose.

    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    Read it for my AP English class senior year in high school. Incredibly prescient, extremely terrifying, it still sticks with me today. I also think it’s far superior in its artistry to Orwell’s 1984.

    The Awakening by Kate Chopin
    The only other grad school book that’s really stuck with me. How, as a feminist, I could have gone so long without reading it, I don’t know. Beautifully written, and I find the protagonist’s struggles, if not her ending, incredibly relatable.

    Ok, that’s it for me–I could go on forever! Thanks for the opportunity to write about my meaningful books!

  27. mikaela

    I’m not much of a commenter, but when I saw The Four Agreements, I had to say, “Mmm hmmm, sister” and give you a knowing smile. So, this is me doing that :)

  28. Jess

    “Feed” by M.T. Anderson. A beautiful satire about what may happen to America if we continue on our consumer-driven path. Also hilarous. It really gets you thinking!

  29. Michelle

    A Moveable Feast – First read it in high school and revisit it every few years (I recently had to buy a new copy because the old one fell apart). It resonates as a chronicle,however embellished, of love, life, and friendship when you’re young and living for your art.

    The Great Gatsby – As some said above, stunning language. Fitzgerald is my go-to guy whenever I want to read something beautiful and melancholy.

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma – I’ve read all the major food books of the last decade or so, and this one sums all the others up nicely, in a very compelling voice.

    Virgil’s Aeneid – This one’s highly personal. When I was a freshman, deeply unhappy with the English department, a TA advised me to identify the classes that I enjoyed and then take more of them. The only class I liked was Latin–we were studying and translating the Aeneid–so I took a few more courses in the Classics department and absolutely fell in love. Soon enough I was changing my major and studying ancient civilizations in Rome. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

  30. Lauren

    I was going to say “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, and some have beaten me to it. John Irving can be wordy and bizarre, but in this book he so aptly describes love, faith, and death. I turn to the same paragraph about death in this book everytime I miss someone who has died because it just helped me to understand my own personal grieving process.

  31. emily

    There are some really good selections on here. The only one that I would add is “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman. A tiny and fantastical meditation on time and space, its series of vingettes give insight into our priorites and what pushes us to live the lives we lead.

    Also, to one of the commenters, “The Secret”? Really? Yipes.

  32. Atalou

    The Awakening – Kate Chopin: Required reading for an undergrad class that made me realize how often we love the IDEA of something or someone more than the reality.

    An Alchemy of the Mind – Diane Ackerman: After reading this I decided not to stop at my master’s and stayed in for my doctorate.

    Go Ask Alice – Anonymous: This book was given to me to read by our school librarian in the 5th grade. I was way too young to understand most of it. Looking back, I have no idea why on earth she gave me the book to read at the time, but it did haunt me enough to stay pretty straight for most of my adolescent years.

    Life of Pi – Yan Martel: I stayed up way too late to finish this book and sat upright in bed at the ending. Did not get a wink of sleep that night thinking about it.

    Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundara: I read this during my mid-twenties when I had just ended a relationship with someone who I think modeled his life after the protagonist. I have never loathed a character so much.

    The Portable Dorothy Parker – Dorothy Parker: My grandmother sent this to me while I was an undergrad. It was not until a few years later that I actually read it. I still pick it up at least once a year when I need a good shot of snarkiness.

  33. Em

    Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

    I think i was 10 when i first read this, and to this day just thinking about it brings me to tears.

    I need to go hug my dog now.

  34. kara

    “White Noise” and Underworld” – Don DeLillo. Stunning commentary on post-WWII American life. Also – beautiful and horrific scenes of human existence.

  35. Lindsay

    1. Animal Dreams (or, okay, anything) by Barbara Kingsolver – the way she weaves in social justice, family, environmental issues, motherhood, etc. all into one flawless story is amazing, and it sticks with you, even years later.

    2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Fiction that makes you want to be a feminist.

    3. Cunt by Inga Muscio – Simply amazing.

  36. Melissa

    There are so many, a lot of them listed above, but the first big novel that I remember being just bowled over by was The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It is the King Arthur story told from the female/priestess perspective. I think I was twelve and it rocked my world. It changed my perspective on being female, puberty, personal choice and what I could achieve. All of the women I know who read it while an adolescent say the same thing.

  37. josh

    1. on the road by jack kerouac. i connected so profoundly with kerouac’s embrace of freedom, his restlessness, his understanding that the world is so sad and beautiful, all at the same time.

    2. be here now by ram dass. that’s the key to it all, just be here now.

    3. the namesake, by jhumpa lahiri. helped me understand and come to grips with the emotional chasms that can exist between people.

    4. autobiography of a yogi, by paramahansa yogananda. the idea that you are not your thoughts was earth-shattering to me, in the best of ways.

    5. journey of awakening, by ram dass. his explanation of how to meditate.

    6. the doors of perception, by aldous huxley. “Of course the Dharma-Body of the Buddha was the hedge at the bottom of the garden.”

    7. zen mind, beginner’s mind, by shunryu suzuki.

  38. Edwin Allen

    Black Boy-Richard Wright
    Death Comes to the Archbishop-Willa Cather
    Islands in the Stream-Ernest Hemingway
    The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.#1
    Dance, Dance, Dance-Haruki Murakami
    An Unquiet Mind-Kay Redfield Jamison
    Manhattan Transfer-John Dos Passos

    While I’ve read and found useful many works of non-fiction, it is rare that they ignite the spark of passion in the way that literature can. That these books on this llist definitively changed me at the time of there reading would be a falsehood, but the collective effect of having read them is that I am not who I would be without them. They all made me feel deeply the sadnesses and vicissitudes of life, which to my mind are best kept sacred and well remembered.

  39. samantha

    1. the sparrow, maria dora russell
    someone mentioned it above, really just a great narrative about the healing process after any traumatic event….

    2. the poisonwood bible, barbara kingsolver
    beautiful and complex, this story had an emotional grativas that sticks with me to this day

    3. that hideous strength, c.s. lewis
    redefined what i consider to be feminine and also about climbing the “ladder”

    4. a hidden wholeness, parker palmer
    learning to let people hear themselves speak instead of telling them what was wrong was a HUGE life lesson for me…

    5. anything by chaim potok… his works make me weep and smile, especially “in the beginning”

    6. and most recently: the timeless way of building
    it’s a book that architecture students have to read (i’m not one, but that’s what i hear)… but it has mounds of great things to say about our use of spaces and our inner fears, etc. really relevant on so many levels… has made me think both about my soul and the way i set up my living room :)

    this was fun!

  40. (The Other) Margaret

    Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
    As a teenager, I remember thinking, “Damn! Those Bronte sisters have got it goin’ on!” It reminded me never to underestimate the passions and brilliance that can reside in people much quieter than myself.

    New & Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver
    I came back to poetry after many years of not reading much of anything at all, probably since I was too busy between work and my three kids. Oliver writes almost painfully beautiful poems about love, spirituality, and the big mysteries of life, often through the lens of the natural world. What I love most is how profound, and yet how accessible her work is. I can be brought to tears by them, yet my 7 year old daughter, Bea, loves them, too.

  41. Stella

    Damn, of course I have to comment. Though I definitely will have repeats…

    1. Pride & Prejudice: I just love this book to pieces. I cannot describe how much this book means to me. And the funny thing is that every time I read it, there’s something else. My poor copy is very battered…

    2. Love in the Time of Cholera: In Spanish. As someone who rarely ever reads Spanish, I find myself loving Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I cried like an idiot. The tenacity of the man. The persistence!

    3. Carmen la Coja: read this in 12th grade in an attempt to start reading more Spanish. Knocked me over the head how I woman that everybody considered to be “defective” morphed into a force to be reckoned with.

    4. The Awakening (and on that note, pretty much anything by Kate Chopin): wrote my seminar thesis on this book. Still refuse to acknowledge the ending. Remember that I bought this in high school but didn’t have the balls to read it until college. I suck.

    5. The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. I felt so bad for Prufrock. I just wanted to hold him.

    6. Harrison Bergeron: I know it’s not a book. But I read this in second grade and basically, Kurt Vonnegut beat the shit out of me. I was like: oh man.

  42. Brooke

    1. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje

    I remember reading this for the first time, and realising just how much it taught about what love can mean or make people do.

    2. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

    As a sophomore at college, I had a professor that spoke seven languages and always arrived to class wearing three-piece suits that looked straight out of the 1930s. I wasn’t inspired by anything else we read, but this book so perfectly fit into my life and feelings at the time I simply couldn’t put it down.

    3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

    An entirely different take on the idea of sending young people to war, this one doesn’t immediately impact anyone I know that’s read it – but they also can’t stop thinking about it.

  43. gs

    I was immediately struck, Maggie, when reading your list, by the fact that it was all non-fiction (poetry counts as non-fiction unless it’s epic poetry, a la Ancient Mariner). There would very little or no non-fiction on any list I made up. Then I started reading the comments and noticed that most commenters, like me, include a lot of fiction. Do you have any thoughts on why your list seems so atypical? Does it say anything about you, or, do you think, the readers you attract? Just curious.

    (I tried posting this comment yesterday, but apparently it went to that great write-only memory in the sky. :)

  44. Morgan

    The Missing Piece and the Missing Piece Meets the Big O
    both by Shel Silverstine.

    They are children’s books but so much more. As cheesy as it sounds these books pulled me through the worst break-up when I was in college. And when I read them now it just reaffirms that we are all looking for someone to come along and complete us, but it is better if we can just be happy with who we are and roll along next to someone else.

  45. Kate

    Such a great question. In order of when I read them (high school 1996 to present):

    Atlas Shrugged; East of Eden; The Bluest Eye; Race Traitor; Jesus Land: A Memoir; The Omnivore’s Dilemma; Three Cups of Tea

  46. Liz King

    Hunger Pains: the Modern Woman’s Tragic Quest for Thinness. by Mary Pipher – Taught me to recognize actual hunger, and stop being a member of the “clean your plate” club.

    The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood – timeless story about two women on different life paths, and what relationships are all about. Also, I dare you not to laugh at Atwood’s biting humor and devastating honesty.

    So The Wind Won’t Blow it All Away, by Richard Brautigan – taught me about authorial control in my own fiction.

    Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, by Gloria Steinem – the book that made me realize I was a feminist. I was equally surprised.

    Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde – just read it. Start with the essay, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

  47. Maureen

    I have many, but I read Jane Mead’s poem “Concerning That Prayer I Cannot Make” when I’m in need of a nail of light to open my sometimes thick skull.

  48. Manders

    Oh yeah:
    David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas. Blew my mind. Completely messed up my frame of reference when it came to story. This did for books what Pulp Fiction did for movies for me.

  49. Maren

    Oh, Melissa, I should have put Mists of Avalon on my list too, though for me the important part was the religion aspect — I wasn’t raised Christian, but I always felt like I must be by “default,” so my first experience with any other belief system besides Judaism (to which you can’t convert) was eye-opening. Plus I was 13, and thus prone to be interested in Wicca/occult-type stuff anyhow, but even though that “let’s do a spell!” phase only lasted a couple of months for me, the discussion of the spiritual forces in the natural world has been absorbed into whatever it is I actually believe. And I stopped thinking I “should” be a Christian like all my friends, when it never really fit me.

  50. Amber

    Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
    I know that it sounds odd, as the book is essentially about a pedophile. It actually took me several tries to get through the book, because I was so disturbed – somewhat by the content, but also my reaction to it. The way that the language moves is beautiful and haunting (and I am forever stunned that this is not a translation – Nabokov wrote this book in English – not his native language). It was the first time that I realized how words can make one (me, in this case) truly sympathetic to a man who is, in many ways, a monster. It changed the way I look at people, and am careful not to judge based on solely on words or emotion.

  51. sarah

    1. a handmaid’s tale, by margaret atwood
    2. oryx and crake, also by margaret atwood
    3. second sex, by simone de beauvoir
    4. the snow leopard, by peter matthiesson
    5. the folding cliffs, by w.s. merwin
    6. when i say no, i feel guilty, by some self-help guru who actually helped me.
    7. 1984, by george orwell (i LOVE future dystopias- they make me more thoughtful and critical of my life and our society)

  52. Vespa

    People of the Lie by Scott M Peck (same guy who wrote the Road Less Traveled)

    Coming from a household that was like the Waltons, I had a tough time accepting that people weren’t always nice. This book explains a lot.

  53. Pingback: More Coffee Please » Books that changed things

  54. Jen

    ~The Millionaire Next door
    Fascinating study of self made millionaires. No rich kids, no lotto winners, just people who did it the old fashioned way

    ~Suze Ormon’s Women and Money
    Every woman should read this

    ~The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennets
    This book made me realize the danger of financial dependence on anyone but myself

    ~Twinkie Deconstructed
    Most of the American diet=fake food.

    ~The Love Poems of Rumi
    He makes my soul sing

    ~All of Maya Angelou

  55. Megan

    I agree with emily and Woobs. Einstein’s Dreams and Written on the Body are two of my all time favorite books that I have worn thin reading.
    Very worthwhile.

  56. Jodi

    Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing

    I’m still reading this book but before I even got through the introduction I had one of the largest AHA! moments of my life to date. Each chapter brings out more of them for me and is completely eye opening.

  57. tiffany

    Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

    Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

    Ruth by Jane Hamilton

  58. tiffany

    And I forgot to add –
    The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
    I have a son who is Hank’s age,
    and when I read the book now I realize I am the tree! Such a wonderful and sad story.

  59. Bookratt

    To Kill a Mockingbird– It was the perfect book for someone, age 11, trying to understand right versus wrong, racism and love. When I grew older and re-read it, I thought the book had some choppy parts in it, some preachy parts, too–but it is one I still think of as a favorite. The movie’s pretty damn amazing, too.

    Bully for Brontosaurus–I never knew other people, let alone adults, worried as much as I did about WHY things were and needed to understand the world around them, simply to be able to live in it. RIP, Stephen Jay Gould.

    The Death of Grass–Kick-started my lifelong love of GOOD sci-fi/apocolyptic fiction and led me to The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite short stories.

    A poetry anthology with ‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath and ‘Born Yesterday’ by Philip Larkin in it; it blew my mind wide open and I still have not recovered. I wish I could find that title again!

    The Family of Man–I got myself a copy a few years ago, but my mom had it when it first came out. I pored over every page when I was a kid, and as an adult, became friends (unknowingly) with someone who happens to be in it. I look through it sometimes still, and every time, I am in awe of the idea and scope of what they did with it. Sparked my own interest in photography and capturing in a split second, what is essential in a person.

  60. Kate

    1) The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood.

    Someone said it above, but it’s so true for me too. I read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 12 and that was me, signed on to feminism, for good.

    2) Discipline and Punish: Michele Foucault.

    I worked in corrections education for a while. This book made articulated why all the things that felt broken or sick about the place I worked actually are sick and broken.

    I am a Happy Endings kind of reader, but these two Volumes of Dystopia are so important to me.

  61. Keri

    Tuesdays with Morrie. It is a fairly short book but it packs quite a punch – and it is definitely worth reading. It taught me so much about what it means to live a life that is actually worthy of living! I fell in love with Morrie and his sweet spirit… and I wish that I could be more like him.

  62. James

    -Night, by Elie Wiesel. The most transforming experience I have ever had while reading. The sadness and beauty of it still haunt me, years later.
    -Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje. His writing draws you into the autobiographical struggle of a son to understand his father and come to terms with himself. For anybody who’s ever tried to understand their parents.
    -The Russian Album, by Michael Ignatieff. Similar to Running in the Family, this book is a loving ode to Ignatieff’s history even as he tries to reconcile his maternal and paternal heritages.
    -Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies. The language is just so ornate and poetic, the characters enthralling.
    -The Rights Revolution, by Michael Ignatieff. A must read for anybody who wants to come close to understanding the complex realm of rights talk in Canada.
    -Love is a Mix Tape, by Rob Sheffield. Absolutely heartbreaking. Every time I read it, I weep like a baby. The first book I recommend to anybody.

  63. Kathy

    I love, love, love Jane Kenyon. She manages to find power in pain.

    My list? Off the top of my head, but I’m sure it will change tomorrow:

    1. Closer by Dennis Cooper. Never has a novel actually made me feel ill before, and I love him for that.

    2. Backlash by Susan Faludi. My entry into feminism as a college freshman.

    3. Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel. If I could write, I’d write like this.

    4. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. This took forever for me to read, but I’m glad I did. (Needs a re-read)

    5. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. Particularly her essay “On Keeping a Notebook.”

    6. Becoming a Writer – Dorthea Brande. Still relevant, even after all these years.

  64. Sarah

    The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

    The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

    Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

    The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

    Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

    The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

    The Owlstone Crown by X.J. Kennedy

  65. Dawn Bandor

    The Madwoman in the Attic by Gilbert and Gubar–I was 19 and had never read literary criticism of any sort(much less feminist lit crit), aside from the forwards to Penguin classics. For me Jane Eyre was like fire and these essays were like the rush of oxygen from an open door that sends the blaze roaring down the hallway shaft.

  66. Jey

    My picks are mostly non-fiction also. I grew up in a house full of fiction, but am now far more fascinated by information on the world itself. I still do love young-adult novels, though. Often they are so much more complex and painful than anything written for adults.

    – The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury – the loneliest book in the world
    – Sex and the Origins of Death, William R Clark – the first book to get me interested in science writing
    – Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian – I read this first when I was about 11, and still read once in awhile over 20 years later, and still cry and cry
    – Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams & Mark Cawardine – their search for species on the edge of extinction (and the best book ever written by Douglas Adams)
    – (Since Eve Ate Apples) Much Depends on Dinner, Margaret Visser – one of the best examples of social-historical writing (and on of the earlier books about the hidden lives of the foods we eat)
    – A Summer to Die, Lois Lowry – her first book; so moving and sweet and tragic all at once
    – Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins – I don’t have much interest in his books about/against religion, but his books about biology are clearly written and easy to understand without being a biologist, but never patronize the reader
    – One-way Street/Berlin Chronicle/Berlin Childhood Around 1900/Central Park, Walter Benjamin – some of the best essays by one of the most creative minds of the 20th century; his writing is lovingly crafted, delicate, incisive, insightful and illuminates his own thought process for others to witness.

    (Nerd-o-rama list, stopping now!)

  67. Georgia

    Deep in the archives, I know, but I’ve been meaning to write a post on my blog about two books that completely changed my perspective on two cultures that, while different in every way, are totally similar in that, not having been a part of it, we have a hard time relating. Those books are Maus by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel telling the father of the author’s story of the Holocaust, and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, which is the story of the lives of two dynamic woman in Afghanistan. Both brilliant, heartbreaking books.

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