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The Book That Changed My Life
Our readers offer a heartfelt tribute to the power of the written word, paying homage to Orwell, Thoreau, Betty Friedan, Julia Child and Dr. Seuss, to name but a few.
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We asked readers to pick a book that influenced how they think, act or look at the world. The more than 1,300 responses cited hundreds of books, running the gamut from “Go, Dog. Go!” to Kierkegaard.
Many of the readers described how a book guided their spiritual development (“Be Here Now,” “The Violent Bear It Away”) or helped them through a difficult time in their lives (“The Color Purple,” “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “Being Mortal”).
For others, a book changed how they looked at food (“Diet for a Small Planet,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) or war (“Catch-22,” “Johnny Got His Gun”) or love (“Normal People”). And for some, one book led to a lifelong love of the written word.
We thank one of our regular letter writers, William Cole, for suggesting this idea. It clearly struck a chord with our readers.
— SUSAN MERMELSTEIN and THOMAS FEYER, Letters Editors
George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” has changed my life, and changed me, in countless subtle ways. I first read it at 25, when an older and wiser friend told me that a woman we both cordially loathed was “just like Rosamond Vincy” in the novel. On first reading, I hated the book. But I trusted my friend’s judgment, so I tried again a few years later.
On the second reading I was hooked. My error the first time around was to read “Middlemarch” as one would a typical novel. But “Middlemarch” isn’t really about plot and dialogue. It’s all about character, as mediated through the wise and compassionate (but sharply astute) voice of the omniscient narrator. The book shows us that we cannot live without other people, and that we cannot live with other people unless we recognize their flaws and foibles in ourselves. And each of us makes the world a better place by honoring our duties to other people and being humble about our own importance in the grander scheme of things.
I go back to “Middlemarch” every year, and have done so for 25 years. Rereading the book makes me a better, kinder and less judgmental person. And there is nothing more important than that.
Heather MacIvor Windsor, Ontario
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
As a lifelong reader will I choose Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”? Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus”? Wonderful as these were, they were not life-transforming.
No, I must go back 55 years. I was 21, newly married, living in a strange city with a great first job, when I was horrified to find myself pregnant. My firm fired me — this was 1964 — but my immediate supervisor sent me off with a great book as a peace offering: “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child.
Bored, scared and friendless, I cringed the first time I reached into a chicken carcass to remove the giblets, but I bravely made my way through this cooking bible, concocting hollandaise, puff pastry, beef Wellington and the like.
My cooking today reflects an interest in somewhat healthier food. After all, one cannot live on boeuf bourguignon alone. But I learned so many techniques, and opened our family’s eyes or rather their taste buds to so many new foods, that my husband recently joked, “I don’t know which you would find more devastating, to never read another book or never read another recipe.”
Beth Krugman New York
Go, Dog. Go!
“Go, Dog. Go!” — that epic by P.D. Eastman — has it all: Drama — where are those dogs going? Humor — dogs on scooters, flying helicopters and driving cars! Existential angst — why doesn’t he like her hat? It’s multicultural — blue dogs and red dogs and green dogs! It’s a love story — why yes, he does end up liking her hat!
From “Go, Dog. Go!” — my first book way back in prekindergarten — it was only a short skip to the poems of William Butler Yeats; “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus; the guerrilla ontology of Robert Anton Wilson; and the 10,000 mostly nonfiction books in my home library on Irish history, African-American history, my Pagan spiritual path, world religions and metaphysical matters, the Middle East, quantum physics, the Beatles and rock music, yadda yadda yadda.
O.K., maybe that wasn’t a short hop. But my love of reading — as a way to have adventures, explore life, lives and ideas, and satiate my curiosity about the world — began with dogs driving fast cars. I still reread “Go, Dog. Go!” to this day.
Rick de Yampert Palm Coast, Fla.
The Color Purple
The day that I first picked up Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” I had no idea that it would fundamentally change my life. As a teenager, I had so many questions, feelings and beliefs competing for my attention, and I felt broken, alone … defective, if you will. I was adrift, trying to determine why I never found God in a church. Why I like people instead of a specific gender. And then I met a motley cast of characters just as lonely and hopeless as I felt.
The characters in Ms. Walker’s story spoke to me in ways I never imagined a work of fiction could. I felt my soul resonate at Shug’s words that God is all that ever was and will be, that we should notice the color purple in a field, and the idea that God lives inside of us. It eased my mind and let me know that there were kindred spirits in this world. I simply had to seek them out.
Wendy Gianfrancesco Scottdale, Pa.
When I first read “Atlas Shrugged” for a high school assignment, I was so impressed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of strength, independence and forging through life on one’s own that I reread the book a few more times in the next few years. The final time I was a young mother and as I read, I realized that there were no children in Rand’s cast of characters, no old people; no one was sick or disabled. Where were they? How were they supposed to manage on their own?
That’s when I became a Democrat, even a socialist. It finally dawned on me that total self-reliance is fine, as long as you’re young, healthy and strong. But no one gets through this life on her own. It takes a village to support a community, to raise and educate children, to care for the sick and elderly. Who wants to live in a world where the weak are thrust aside and forgotten? Rand’s philosophy could never be mine. Her words allowed me to crystallize my own thinking. I grew up.
Barbara Lipkin Naperville, Ill.
On Beyond Zebra
At age 7 (I’m 70 now), I had my mind blown by Dr. Seuss’ “On Beyond Zebra.” Turning the page from the end of the regular alphabet to the 27th letter, “yuzz,” I was surprised, enchanted and immediately freed from the limits of penmanship and reading circles. Every new letter (“floob,” “zatz” and more!) was a delight and a possibility. Who knew you could break the rules like that?
It was satori in the second grade. I remembered that moment whenever I was raising my kids. And now, when I write, paint and play with my grandkids, I keep in mind that electrifying gift to be sure that I don’t put any obstacles in the way of exercising our imaginations.
Harold M. Heft Princeton, N.J.
“The Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius, is the only self-help book you will ever need. The Roman emperor’s thoughts to himself emphasize the fleeting nature of life and put everything into perspective. Should I take this job or that one, move to this city or that? In 100 years, will it matter?
The book forces us to contemplate our part in the today and our minuscule part in the future, and demands of us to consider what is truly important. If a Roman emperor had this humility, we can.
Vincent Delorenzo London
The Feminine Mystique
When I was in college in 1965, a friend gave me a copy of “The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Friedan. As a young girl growing up in the 1950s, I was of two minds: On the one hand, I loved school, especially math, loved competing in sports, wanted to make something of myself. On the other hand, I also fantasized about the romantic stories from books and movies and women’s magazines of love and marriage and homemaking. As a student at a women’s college, I was only just beginning to realize how much in conflict those two futures were.
The book laid it all out for me, put into words what I had only sensed. Whether the choices I made were different as a result of reading the book, I’ll never know, but I do know I understood better the choices available to me and the implications of those choices. I became a lifelong feminist.
Dorothy Brooks Punta Gorda, Fla.
I was only 11 or 12. My mother belonged to a Great Books reading discussion group and handed me, without any preamble, a copy of “The Stranger,” Albert Camus’s existential musing about the meaninglessness and randomness of life. In promulgating this bleak and enervating perspective, Monsieur Camus was inarguably on to something. But, Mom, geez: 11 is too young for a kid to be let in on that!
Jerome Perzigian New York
“Catch-22,” by Joseph Heller, changed my life, or, more accurately, my outlook on it. I was 13 in 1963, a little warmonger who gobbled up books about P.O.W. camp escapes and Air Force derring-do. Mistaking “Catch-22” for the latter category, I picked it up and was … puzzled. The humor was offbeat and circular. No one seemed at all interested in defeating the enemy. Illogic and cynicism — an alien emotion to me at that age — reigned. The officers in command were venal idiots indifferent to the fate of the men they sent into combat.
Somehow Joseph Heller managed to make this morality- and sanity-free spectacle funny and riveting. Yossarian was my first and greatest antihero. I wanted to be him. By the time I finished the book I was a different person, with a strange sense of humor that marked me as an oddball among my peers and a sensibility that would be perfectly attuned to the murderous absurdity of the Vietnam War just over the horizon. No book I’ve read since, and there have been thousands, has had such a profound effect on me.
Gerald Howard Tuxedo Park, N.Y. The writer is an executive editor at Doubleday.
When Breath Becomes Air
Through heaving sobs, I managed to finish the last page of “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a devastating memoir detailing his lung cancer diagnosis. He learned to die with the same grace that he lived his life. Oh, the unfairness of it all!
In our death-averse American culture, I’m the first to put my hands up to my ears at the mention of death. I refuse to think about the reality of aging parents or the end of a cherished relationship. Dr. Kalanithi forces me to confront death in its most intimate form and grapple with my underlying anxiety about getting too attached to the things I love, knowing they will end. Now I ask: In a world built on planning and waiting for the future, am I living in the present? How do I love more deeply, even though it will hurt more when it’s over?
While I will never be comfortable with death, I no longer shy away from the fact it exists and that life has meaning, no matter how soon it is taken from us.
Asya Rozental Boston
A Gentleman in Moscow
One book that changed my outlook on life was “A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles. It made me realize how a beautiful, full life could be lived by virtue of the relationships one has, no matter how dire the circumstances. The main character, Count Alexander, while forcibly confined to the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, manages to find love and deep friendships that sustain him. He finds long-lasting romantic love with a beautiful actress, Anna, and paternal love with Nina (whom he meets when she is a child) and subsequently with her daughter, Sofia. He enjoys the enduring and loyal friendship of Mishka and some hotel staff.
This tightknit group forms what is, for the count, his entire world. He does not grieve. He makes the most out of every hour of every day. I believe that this book teaches us an invaluable lesson about how to live a full life and how to appreciate the good people around us.
Sue Kohl Pacific Palisades, Calif.
“Eloise,” by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, changed the way I view family. My mom has been reading the series to me since I was 3 years old and now reads it to both me (now 9) and my little sister, Clover. I love how it’s about a girl growing up in New York, just like we are, who loves the city and her life. She’s funny, daring, and doesn’t always obey the rules. But in the end she shows everyone that she has a good heart. She wants everyone to smile and enjoy themselves.
Even though her mother isn’t around, her nanny is her family. It shows that family can be found and created even in a place as big as New York.
Daisy Brown New York
Select One book? Impossible.
In the course of my 68 years I have been influenced by books as diverse and poignant as “The Little Prince” to the memoirs of Elie Wiesel. I have taken things large and small from each book, and each became as much a part of me as my own life experiences. Some have had great impact on how I have conducted my life or colored how I look at the world around me and the people I meet.
However, it would be impossible to select one book above all the others that helped form my worldview. They are all a part of who I am, how I feel and think. In the most uninspiring book, you sometimes find a nugget of wisdom that clarifies a moment decades later. But there will never be just one book, and there are so many yet to be written!
Debe S. Jones Covington, La.
Recollections of a Picture Dealer
In the mid-1990s I was a literature professor. Although I had some notions of art connoisseurship (my uncle Sylvan was a renowned print dealer), I’d never imagined myself as a merchant. Then I read Ambroise Vollard’s “Recollections of a Picture Dealer” (1936). Vollard had gone to Paris to study law, and he ended up becoming perhaps the most influential art dealer of all time. He exhibited the work of many major painters and published several important prints and books.
Vollard shuns theory. His memoir is basically a rambling and highly entertaining collection of anecdotes — about artists, dealers, writers and collectors, famous and obscure. About vanity, magnanimity, stupidity and cunning. About Paris when it was still Paris. His portrayal of art dealing as a treasure hunt seduced me. The dealer roots out hidden masterpieces while avoiding fakes. He seeks overlooked artists whose work he can exhibit. And he hunts for the most elusive treasure of all: customers.
When I first read the book I was a university professor whose hobby was art and rare books. Several years later I’d become an art and rare book dealer whose hobby is teaching at a university. No regrets.
William Cole Sitges, Spain
The Violent Bear It Away
I read Flannery O’Connor’s “The Violent Bear It Away” my freshman year in college. Her vision of God’s grace, present even at moments of tragedy or cruelty, so moved me that I wrote a senior thesis on the subject. The idea of grace that is usually invisible to our judgmental eyes stayed with me, and when I became a foster mother, it reminded me daily that I knew nothing of what was truly contained in the lives of the parents whose children I was trying to love into well-being. My compassion for those struggling parents was critical to my ability to honor their place in their children’s lives, to trust that they, too, were trying their best.
O’Connor was honest about the messiness of this endeavor, how grace can change us, or follow us unbidden; that, and her sense of humor, have kept “The Violent Bear It Away” and others of her stories as touchstones in my life.
Alison Daley Stevenson Waldoboro, Me.
Look Homeward, Angel
“Look Homeward, Angel,” by Thomas Wolfe, remains the most brilliant expression of contemporary human alienation ever written. Reading it also made me fall in love with language. I had no idea writing could be so provocative yet both moving and musical. So keenly attuned to the world yet forever disconnected from other people, Wolfe mirrored my anguish, gave me words for it. My careers have all been inspired by that novel: politics, writing and development of a multiplayer online video game.
Jonathan Baron Staunton, Va.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” by Richard Bach (1970), landed on my 12-year-old lap by chance, and it changed my life. In middle school, where bullies abound, pimples humiliate and friendships are elusive, Jonathan told me that “you have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”
At a time when everyone else strove to fit in, I strove to fit out. The more different I felt from the other girls, the more different I wanted to be. “We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill,” so I studied more, I read more, I practiced the piano more. I rejected the popular and snubbed the shallow trends of the ’70s. I wanted to be different. I was Jonathan.
Valeria Volin Glastonbury, Conn.
Be Here Now
The year was 1971, and I was working in a bookstore in Beverly Hills, Calif. One day Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones, came into the store. I was 23 years old and a big fan. I boldly went up to him and suggested a popular title, “Notes to Myself,” by Hugh Prather. Catching my reading preference, Charlie picked up a book off the shelf and recommended it to me. It was “Be Here Now,” by Ram Dass.
It was destined to be my mantra and bible, and that of my roommates, for many years. It kept us living in the moment, away from anxiety about the future in the times of the turbulent ’70s, and taught us how the power of communal positive attitude can sway events, and that there are larger factors at work in the universe. It is still a guide for me today.
Philip Bruno New York
In the autumn of 1988 I was a college sophomore studying abroad in Birmingham, England. I was lonely, homesick and questioning my decision when the phone rang. My parents were calling to tell me that one of my dearest high school friends had taken his own life. I was devastated, alone and furious that he could be so thoughtless, so selfish. I carried that anger for a decade.
In 1997, like so many others, I was slogging my way through David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece, “Infinite Jest,” and came across his burning high-rise analogy to clinical depression and suicide: “It’s not desiring the fall: It’s terror of the flames.”
It was the literary equivalent of a punch to the solar plexus — the anger, the grudge that I had been holding toward my lost friend was struck from me to be replaced with shame and sadness and compassion for what he must have experienced. I hope he can forgive me my thoughtlessness, my selfishness.
“Infinite Jest” forever changed my view of addiction, depression and suicide. It made me a better, more empathetic human being.
Steve Sweere Minneapolis
A Circle of Quiet
“A Circle of Quiet,” by Madeleine L’Engle, profoundly influenced the course of my life. Newly married in 1985, I picked the book up in my neighborhood bookstore, mostly because the beautiful cover caught my eye. L’Engle’s memoir describes her faith journey, her struggle for balance in her life, her love of family and the simple joys that enriched her spirit. This book introduced me to the then startling idea that God was alive in the commonplace, the quotidian events of life. With this book L’Engle sent me on a lifelong exploration of the spiritual dimensions of my life and instilled a reverence for stillness and simplicity.
Kathleen Potter Bradford, Mass.
As a grade-school girl, I pulled Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” from the shelf of a small bookstore. A bit over my head for the most part, but not entirely. It was “The Ponds” that changed me. Thoreau’s power to observe, experience and articulate turned every droplet, glint and drone of water, light and life into a meditative epiphany.
His words imparted a new stillness and focus to the mind of a very bright young girl who struggled well into adulthood with varying degrees of social dysfunction. When she would withdraw, head tucked with shame and confusion, those moments spent in a boat with Thoreau provided a touchstone. She could commune with a fine and compassionate mind.
Like Thoreau’s water bugs and skaters navigating the pond, she learned to find her way, watch closely, move quietly, trust herself to find her place in the world.
Monica E. Gomez El Paso
I read “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy, both before and after I became a parent. The experiences were starkly different. Sure, it’s a story filled with brutality, evil and depraved violence. But for me, reading it after I became a father, the book helped me realize the universality of all the fears I have as a parent — the anxiety of leaving my children in a world facing environmental catastrophe and my inadequacies in preparing them for the challenges of life. Weirdly, the story made me feel less alone.
I think about the father and son in the book, and I can call up McCarthy’s vivid scenes in my mind: the cold nights they spent huddled together next to the road; the sweet relief of finding refuge in an abandoned bunker filled with food and warmth; and the heartbreaking last scenes on the beach.
“The Road” has a strange magic for me. Whenever I get to the end I am restored by the idea that we can, in fact, find people to trust, and although we are not always great parents, our children will see in us the thing that matters most — our devotion to them.
Joseph Loscudo Naperville, Ill.
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
In 1964, when I was 14, my father handed me “The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays,” by Albert Camus, and said, “You might enjoy this.” I read that life is absurd and tried to understand how Sisyphus was, at the end of the day, happy each time he pushed that rock up the hill because the struggle itself is enough.
To an adolescent in the mid-1960s with all its turmoil, Camus made so much sense to me — engagement and action in life are what gives it meaning. Throughout my life, in times of stress or grief, I open my $1.25 Vintage Book and look at the underlinings my young self made. Camus’s words bring me solace and perspective.
But there has been one special quote that has forever been my lodestar: “A determined soul will always manage.”
Leslie Morrison Faerstein New York
I called Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” my personal bible after I read it for the first time as an 11-year-old. An introvert with an active imagination, I read voraciously and wrote short stories and poems, dreaming of an illustrious career that would allow me to see the world. I quickly found a kindred spirit in Jo March, who, like me, loved to read and write, and, most inspiringly, dreamed of a life of adventure beyond what was expected of women at the time. She let nothing and no one, not restricting societal conventions nor the boy next door, stand in her way. As I struggled with bodily insecurities and finding my place in the world, I saw in Jo the confidence that I felt lacking in myself.
After my first tour of Orchard House, Alcott’s home where she wrote “Little Women,” I became a volunteer at their annual holiday program, where, by acting in skits alongside other girls my age, I found my voice. Additionally, I found a sisterhood of others who also grew up with “Little Women” as their guidebook, and following Alcott’s and Jo’s example, I became the “little woman” 11-year-old me hoped I would be.
Caroline Dunbar Northampton, Mass.
Wherever You Go, There You Are
“Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, utterly transformed my relationship with my own mind. To befriend your own mind is to own a piece of yourself that no one and nothing can take from you. Life is always complex, multilayered, blissful and filled with anguish by turns. When I came to understand at an experiential level the deep truth that my life was shaped more by my responses to events than by the events themselves, I was able to access a kind of inner wisdom, peace and happiness that is beyond external conditions. I have continued to meditate, study and explore these ideas in daily life for the past 20 years, but that first book was the catalyst that set the whole process in motion for me.
Susan Dreyer Leon Springfield, Vt.
Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments
Long ago, when I was 21 years old, my father gave me a thick, dense-looking book. I had been a most inattentive and mediocre student — I am sure many of my teachers thought I, too, was thick and dense-looking. The book’s title was “Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments,” which was not only a terribly dull name but also suggested that the book was just an afterthought, and a very long one. But I read it, slowly, carefully, and it changed my life.
It was by Soren Kierkegaard, and among its purposes was pointing the reader inward, and insisting that nothing was of greater importance than individual existence — mine, yours. Kierkegaard was a solitary knight of faith who most eagerly wielded his sword before the puffed-up authorities in the church and academy.
The tedious title entirely belies the brilliance inside. On every page is evidence of a writer thinking wonderfully. The author was unknown outside his native Copenhagen; his book sold few copies and won no prizes. That was fine with him. Kierkegaard demonstrated that to change a world — or anyway my world — it was enough to sit alone in a room with a pen and paper, and think, and write.
Barth Landor Chicago
Fast Food Nation
Something most people do every day is eat, so it’s hard to think of a subject — other than air or water — that affects everyone’s life more than food. The 2001 book “Fast Food Nation,” by Eric Schlosser, caused a massive shift in my everyday habits as to what I eat, how I consider food ingredients and food production, and how I talk about food.
Before reading the book, I picked up breakfast from McDonald’s on my way to work most weekdays. Since reading the book, fast food became a rarity in my life. I prepare food at home more often, read labels more thoroughly, seek organic and local food whenever possible, and strive to put more effort into considering the effects my food choices have on the environment, people and other creatures.
Debra Bullock Oak Park, Ill.
Johnny Got His Gun
I was no more than 10 years old in the mid-1950s when I read “Johnny Got His Gun,” by Dalton Trumbo. My mother had given it to me — the only time she ever gave or recommended a book to me. It’s the story of Joe Bonham, lying in his hospital bed in agony and despair with his arms, legs and face blown off by an artillery shell, remembering his life before the Great War. Reading it then I was heartbroken, terrified and angry, and now more than 60 years later, remembering those passages in the book, I still am.
My mother died 15 years ago, and I never asked her why she had given me that book. But it always seemed obvious. For my parents, the memories of World War II and the Holocaust were fresh, and there could be no thought of their son ever going to war. The antiwar message of Trumbo’s book is not subtle, and it pounded me like a sledgehammer. And whether it was his book and/or everything else I later learned and felt about war, the message took. I never did serve in the Army, and I never got a gun.
Michael Appel Cambridge, Mass.
In 2008, I was seriously considering selling my home and taking a motorcycle trip around the world. But I was struggling to answer the question of why. Why on earth would I desire to leave my friends, my home, my career for over a year of traveling alone? I had read an online article about health and safety in various parts of the world, and the article stated that you should probably be just fine, and then pithily added “unless you’re dumb enough to do it on a motorcycle.”
Then I came across “Scaredy Squirrel,” the first of these charming books by Mélanie Watt. I had bought one for a friend’s kid and decided I’d read it quickly one evening. And there was my answer: I needed to leave my nut tree. The book charmed me so much that I even put a sticker of Scaredy Squirrel on my motorcycle, and I spent 16 amazing months on the road.
That little squirrel tipped the scales just enough to motivate me to commit to the trip. If I ever get to meet him, I’m going to give him a hug.
Scott W. Parker Edmonton, Alberta
Calling on Dragons
It was 1994. I was in the middle of third grade and being severely bullied. The teachers knew and turned a blind eye, and my parents didn’t believe me. The adults in my life had let me down. I was rapidly losing my ability to trust in anyone. But then the right book found me: Patricia C. Wrede’s “Calling on Dragons.”
The grown-ups in that book became my surrogate parents and best friends. Morwen the witch taught me to hold fast to my common sense and empathy, and Telemain the magician urged me to never give up my inquisitiveness or my love of words too big for a 9-year-old to wield with ease.
“Calling on Dragons” gave me back my trust in adults when things so easily could have gone the other way. I grew up to become a librarian — a path I can trace directly back to my year living inside of “Calling on Dragons.” The books we read between the ages of 8 and 12 change us in indelible ways. Sometimes they save us, too.
Kate Weber Washington
Welcome to the Monkey House
My life took a turn at age 17 when I discovered Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House.” I had been raised in a strict fundamentalist household with a somber black-and-white perspective. Not only did Vonnegut throw open a window to varying shades of gray, but he also revealed brilliant colors with that wild and random prose of his. Suddenly, I was on a carnival ride of quirky characters and absurdity, finding myself somewhere between Taoism and slapstick. Vonnegut’s stories sent me off on more literary joy rides, to different authors and genres. I was happily and hopelessly hooked on the intoxication of the well-written word. Lucky me!
Kris Allen Beulah, Colo.
The Little Engine That Could
“I think I can” think of a book that has influenced how I think and act and look at the world.
When I was a child in the 1940s, the United States was in a world war. It was a stressful time, and uncertainty about the future colored each day. One Christmas morning, I unwrapped the first book I was to own, “The Little Engine That Could.” “Santa” must have known that the book’s message of courage, perseverance and kindness was just what was needed to reassure a little girl that all would be right in the end.
I treasured the book, I read it to my primary grade students during my public school teaching career, and I still buy copies for the children in my circle of family and friends. I do not exaggerate when I say that this book is the reason that I have always loved to read. And, at this moment in time, its message could not be more relevant.
Gail Minthorn Wilton, Conn.
When I first read George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” I was an eighth grader whose only knowledge of dictatorial government was the time my father made me cut the grass when I wanted to watch “Batman” on TV. “Animal Farm” gave me my first literary glimpse at human greed, cruelty and gullibility. I was aware that villains existed (I watched “Batman,” after all), but I was blissfully unaware of how an evil leader could manipulate an entire populace into believing he was their hero. George Orwell set me straight on that point.
A brilliant critique of totalitarianism masquerading as a “fairy story,” the novel chronicles a revolution launched by the animals of Manor Farm against its cruel owner, Mr. Jones. The beasts — committed to the concept that “all animals are equal” — struggle to create an equitable government only to find their ideals subverted by the ambitious pig Napoleon, who utters the novel’s famous catchphrase, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
As I read that line for the first time a chill went down my spine, and I have not looked at politics or government the same way since.
G. Wayne Dowdy Memphis
Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” is perhaps the most profound and important book I have ever read. I read it at age 71 as my wife of 50 years was dying of cancer. Gawande, a brilliant writer as well as surgeon, begins with an obvious fact: Doctors are fixers and problem solvers; they want to save life or at least preserve it. The alternative: palliative care and hospice. When life is certain to end in the near term, comfort and dignity are more important than preserving life.
My wife and I embraced that idea as two courses of chemotherapy and surgery failed and ended all hope of her recovery. Gawande doesn’t so much recommend hospice as help us to understand why it’s a humane, life-asserting choice. The choice is, finally, ours.
“Being Mortal” is accessible, engaging, enlightening and important.
Les Cohen Reno, Nev.
I read “The Overstory,” by Richard Powers, this past year and it changed the way I, at 62 years old, look at the natural world and the planet Earth, as well as its inhabitants. I will never look at a tree the same way again. The information I gleaned regarding the relationship between trees and the planet, their underground and “secret” life, will ever color the way I look at beautiful scenery or, in many cases, the devastation of the planet by human hands, or its natural devastation by nature’s hands.
I have gained a new respect for persons who make sacrifices and life changes, and who rage against the dying of the planet by educating and haranguing the rest of us about the thoughtlessness with which we treat Earth. I observe the trees in my yard, engaged in miraculous natural and chemical workings, and wonder what’s happening under the ground, in the secret life I know nothing of.
Jane Vereen Sioux City, Iowa
An Unknown Woman
I wandered into a bookstore in Newburyport, Mass., on a “sick day” from work I hated in 1986. Poking through the stacks, I alighted on “An Unknown Woman,” by Alice Koller, a memoir of her winter spent on Cape Cod deconstructing her life and personality. What was hers and what had society imposed upon her? How did she want to go forward in her life, living consciously? Alone, walking the beaches with her dog, Logos, she dismantled herself and her previous life.
By the time I had finished the book, I resolved to quit my job, get my pilot’s license and backpack in Europe before I embarked on a new career as an air traffic controller. It was the beginning of consciousness for me at the age of 26. I can’t stop thinking about that seemingly random sliver of luck.
Elle Pea Rockland, Me.
Peace Like a River
I read Leif Enger’s “Peace Like a River” shortly after my grandmother passed away. She was a tough Irish broad with a deep spirituality and a bossy bark befitting a mother of nine. It was hard to envision a world without a larger-than-life figure like her. Then I read the “Be Jubilant, My Feet” chapter in Enger’s novel. It gave me the most tangible, connected sense of heaven I have ever had. It allowed me to picture Gram in the new, joyous world beyond the beyond that she always believed in. And because of Enger’s words, now I believe in it, too.
Sara Carpi Weston, Mass.
The Diary of Anne Frank
When I was 9 years old, I read “The Diary of Anne Frank” and instantly fell in love with Anne’s spirit and feisty nature; I felt that we were friends, somehow. I wept not only for her death, but also because my father’s side of the family had served in the German military in World War II. I felt that, in some way, my family had some responsibility for her death. I vowed in that moment, with the passion that only a 9-year-old girl can muster, that if I’d been there, I would have been different. I would have stood up for what was right and fair and good. I would not have been afraid to risk myself to save Anne, and others like her.
I am 50 years old now. In a world filled with racism, homophobia and misogyny, I still wonder if I am I doing everything I can to stand up for my beliefs. I do not know if I have done enough, if I will ever do enough. I do know, however, that it is Anne Frank’s face that I see before me as I attempt to do this work, every single day.
Kristina Dahl Seattle
A Prayer for Owen Meany Great Expectations
Often, it is the way books combine that affects us deeply. In a summer in my early 20s, I read for the first of many times John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” in quick succession. At the time, I found myself quite lost in life — jobless, homeless, lovelorn — as whatever bootstraps I believed that I had pulled myself up by became unraveled.
Both novels are in a way criticisms of a novelistic view of life with heroes and clear choices. Both explain that while we tell stories to make meaning of our lives, too much faith in those stories — especially in the way they assign credit and blame — leaves us prey to our fundamental ignorance. They show that there is much good luck and bad luck in every life, and that the former should teach us humility, while the latter teaches us compassion.
By fall I had found myself teaching in a public high school, where I remain, having learned something important from those novels about my chosen occupation’s requirements for hope and understanding.
Thomas Fabian Watertown, Mass.
Charlotte’s Web (and More)
At 15, homeless, using heroin and in a gang, I was lost, enraged, futureless. One thing provided me a vision for another way to live — or die, as the case may be. Books. My refuge at the time was Los Angeles’s Central Library. At night I’d sleep in abandoned cars or shuttered buildings. During the day, I strolled by shelves of paper and ink. I read Ray Bradbury’s science fiction opuses alongside African-American authors like James Baldwin, Claude Brown and Malcolm X. I read E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” like 20 times. I became the weird homie who carried books to the ’hood under my arm.
Soon in jail cells or in juvenile hall, I wrote. Ramblings, mostly, but I did it. I’ve now been drug-free, crime-free and gang-free for 48 years. In that time, I’ve written 16 books, including my best-selling memoir, “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” I’m a walking, breathing testament that in books one can be reimagined, newly flowered, reborn.
Luis J. Rodriguez Los Angeles
I recently broke up with a boyfriend of many years because we decided that we could no longer handle a long-distance relationship. Sally Rooney’s novel “Normal People” has helped me cope with this breakup by broadening my understanding of what it means to love another person. Before reading Rooney’s novel, I had always believed that we should make compromises and give up certain dreams to enable relationships with the people we love. Yet Marianne and Connell’s story taught me just the opposite: The best way of loving someone can also be by letting a person go. Enabling another person to pursue a dream without having to fit you into the picture can be the best and truest form of love.
In the end, sometimes we have to accept that the people whom we care about most and learn the most from are not those with whom we end up. Sometimes, we need to be apart from them to benefit from all the gifts they can give and lessons they can teach. Love can be rewarding even when there is no happy ending.
Jane Stewart New York
Remembrance of Things Past
During the summer between my junior and senior years in college, working as a night clerk in a failing resort hotel, I made it through all seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past ,” inspired by a charismatic professor . These books not only opened up a world of wonder, peopled by a host of singular individuals, but also demonstrated for me, by Proust’s recreation of a life partially lived and partially imagined, that time and mortality can be transcended. Through memory, informed by creative intelligence and guided by the beacons of great works of art, Proust transmutes the banalities of everyday existence into dazzling beauty.
This example of how it is possible to view one’s own time on earth has sustained me through a long life of no great distinction and brought me, contentedly, to, as Proust puts it, “the perilous summit” of my 85 years.
Robert A. Picken Port Washington, N.Y.
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The book that changed my life
I'm not sure that any book has ever truly changed my life in the sense of dramatically altering its course, but I can think of one that determined it, and that's Palgrave's Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language . It was my mother's book and she read to me from it, as I imagine, in the dark. It was from Palgrave that I learned that literature had a sound, that language mattered more than story, that rhythm haunted the imagination, and that love and grief and loneliness interested me more than any other subject.
A couple of novels that I read in my teens - Middlemarch by George Eliot and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens - made me want to be a writer. But the only book I can think of that effected a large and immediately felt change was My Secret Life, the Sex Diary of a Victorian Gentleman (author unknown). I discovered it on my grandparents' bookshelf at the age of 10.
I'd have to choose Lolita , by Vladimir Nabokov, which I first read when I was 13. My dad bought it eagerly but gave up on it a few chapters in. My mum had a go then, but found Nabokov's baroque style irritatingly impenetrable. I asked to read it and my parents said absolutely not. I didn't waste my breath arguing. I simply waited till I had the opportunity to whip the distinctive yellow dustwrapper off Lolita and rejacket it with the Catherine Cookson novel I was reading. I spent the next week reading in the bath, in bed, at playtimes, at school. It was a total revelation to me. I hadn't realised you could use language in such a rich and elegant way, and I was amazed at the subject matter. I thought it the most wonderful and exciting book I'd ever read. I realised that literature could be outrageous and mind-stretching and utterly extraordinary.
It would have to be Dr No by Ian Fleming. It was 1967. I was about 12, trapped in the weird and miserable bubble of prep-school life where my experience of sexual desire and violence edging on sadism was largely restricted to my French teacher. The book introduced me to a whole new world. Even the Jamaican setting seemed impossibly exotic.
Forming an outlook on life isn't all beer and skittles. By the time you've wondered what parts of a world view should be instinct or intellect, asked yourself if all perspective isn't just a product of bias and dogma, and then worked out that, in any event, the viewpoint you ended up with is no longer in service, nobody can blame you for seeking strong drink. This was roughly my position when I came upon Lila - Robert Pirsig's follow-up to the 1974 classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig continues his philosophical exploration in the form of a yacht journey down the Hudson river, accompanied by an easy woman - though her virtue is also open to argument. Written in everyday language, with searing disrespect for academia, this meandering holiday was a life-changer for me, both as a novel and a thesis.
"When the pupil is ready, the master will appear."
In a yacht. With a prostitute. Or is she?
I was crazy about history from the age of four and a half when I read (to myself) Our Island Story. But I had no precise idea of how to direct this passion until I came across my parents' copy of Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey, at the age of 14. I had just become Catholic and was attending a convent. I was deeply excited by reading Strachey, especially the essay on Cardinal Manning. What the convent library did contain was the official two volume life of Manning - just the kind of Victorian number Strachey had written to debunk. Immediately I began to compare the two versions with critical zest, beginning to form my own third one: here it is, I thought, the life for me.
I don't remember who wrote the book that changed my life. I don't even remember anything about its plot or characters. But I remember vividly finding a musty old hardback novel called All Dogs Go to Heaven on my grandfather's bookshelf. And I remember weeping - copiously - as I read the book, weeping for my pet dog who had recently died. I also recall my best friend, Asad, coming over and, in response to my "You must read this - it's set in dog heaven", saying, "Why don't we write a book set in dog heaven?" So we did. It was called A Dog's Life, and After. I was 11, and I never stopped writing after that.
I first read Moby-Dick on a bicycle trip round southern Greece. I was 21, on the brink of my last year at university. In the evenings I sat in tavernas writing my diary and reading about Ishmael, Ahab and the white whale. I found it exhilarating - not just the quest, but Melville's language, which was so alive and stirring, with the rhythms and image-richness I already loved in Shakespeare but had never encountered in prose before. I was giddy with it. I kept stopping to lean my bike on harbour walls and stare at the sea, looking for disturbances in the surface of the water.
The Beat Scene didn't change my life, but rather it confirmed it. In the late 50s, I was at Hull University and I had decided to become a poet, but I wasn't quite sure what that involved. In 1960, I came across The Beat Scene. It was made up of poems and interviews from the New York and San Francisco poetry scene at that time. There were well-known poets such as Corso, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg alongside others I hadn't heard of. I realised just how big the world of poetry was. It showed them reading their work aloud to audiences in art studios, cafes, bars - a million miles away from my idea of poetry being something confined to a library. What was I doing in boring old Liverpool when I could be reading at the Gas Light Cafe in Greenwich Village with Diane di Prima?
I read Patrick White's Riders in the Chariot when I was about 19, and it has been decisive in shaping my sense of what faith and ethics are and aren't. It was the first novel I'd read that dealt directly with the Holocaust. It was a novel about mysticism that challenged me profoundly about what I meant by God, and forced me to see as never before the link between the artist and the contemplative - but not in any conventional way, because it also set out as starkly as possible the difference between the holy and the merely good. And it offered an unforgettably frightening picture of Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil", the evil that comes from dead minds, cliches, lying pieties.
Practically speaking, the book that had most direct influence on me as a writer was Paul Muldoon's volume of poetry Meeting the British . It taught me how to bring my own imaginative territory to bear on politics and history. Or was it the other way round? In any case, The Last King of Scotland was the direct result of that encounter with Muldoon's work. He is a rare bird, extraordinary, and I was fortunate to pluck the most modest of his tail feathers. The danger is, you find yourself ventriloquising him.
The book that changed my life is one of those questions that send me into a panic. Was it the illustrated Kidnapped, The Tales of Robin Hood, the feast of comics, Wizard, Rover, Hotspur, Adventure? The best I can do is to offer the King James Bible . I started to go regularly to the local Anglican church when I was about six and joined the choir. At school there was a morning assembly, which consisted of readings from the Bible and hymns and psalms. Parables, wars, agonies, revelations - the panoply of history, metaphor, ecstatic literature and the words of a great faith seem to have accrued, and a good number of them are still there. It was the sweetest possible learning, because if did not come through as teaching.
Alain de Botton
Norman Mailer's Of a Fire on the Moon opened up a whole new way of writing for me. It's a piece of reportage about the 1969 Nasa moon landings, in which Mailer adopts a freewheeling tone that enables him to discuss himself, his recent divorce, fascism in America, race and technology - all with huge intelligence, humour and a crazed energy. The book showed that the barrier between being a novelist and a reporter are in the end rather flexible and that you can take the stuff of ordinary newspaper stories and turn them into something resembling art and philosophy. I couldn't have written my most recent book without this great book as inspiration.
Looking back, I realise that probably the books that had the greatest influence on my imagination and sensibility were the fairy stories that I read as a child.I read them obsessively in my formative years and they introduced me to the idea that literature was transformative and magical. They also, at their heart, convey the message that girls are strong and wise and morally triumphant. The message that real justice always prevails in the end may not be true, but it provided me with a pattern for travelling hopefully through life.
I'm someone who likes to look at footnotes or endnotes first when I pick up a history. This one began, "Bretons are said to be drunken and prone to use their fists or broken glasses or bottles ... Men from the Mediterranean will stab using knives or stilettos." This was Richard Cobb's idea of a report from the archive. This was the bloody and bloody-minded world of his French Revolutionary masterpiece The Police and the People . I had never read anything like Cobb's exercise in total immersion; the historian sunk into the world of ne'er-do-wells, vagrants, informers, runaways, suicidal pregnant girls. It smelled of humanity. That was the kind of history I knew I wanted to write. I still do.
I'll reluctantly limit myself to three: Immanuel Kant's Critique Of Pure Reason in philosophical respects, Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in political respects, and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina for what literature can mean and do. I first read the latter two when young and although I did not then, and do not now, agree or sympathise with everything in them, they stimulated ideas that have remained permanently significant to me. Kant came later, and although I do not accept most of his arguments, they likewise contributed greatly to the study of some of philosophy's deepest problems. None of them would mean what they do without their connection to dozens of other books that matter to me also.
Reading Antonio Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks transformed the way that I understood the exercise of power in western societies, indeed in any society. It remains enormously rich, offering a battery of new concepts. Although written in an elusive style, partly to avoid Mussolini's censors, it is like a treasure trove; each new reading yields fresh insights and a bunch of new thoughts.
I can suggest no better place to start if you want to understand the nature and role of politics and culture. Hegemony, civil society, post-Fordism, passive revolution, organic intellectuals, it's all here and much more besides. Brilliant.
The book that has accompanied me all my life is John Donne's Collected Works . My wife gave me a copy when we got married. I was 20. It fell apart in the jungles of Borneo. But I've always had a copy since and it gives me continuing pleasure and solace.
At junior high school in the US I remember reading a book called Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, about someone who is white and pretends to be black. As a kid living in America in a relatively integrated part of the US, it was an amazing insight into racial discrimination in America.
India changed my life and RK Narayan is a writer who captures what's so fascinating about India in all its difference and pain and complexity of life. I give his wonderful book The Financial Expert to all my banking friends. It's a story about a guy who stands on a box outside a bank and always gives better terms than the bank. He's very nice and very reliable. Then one day he just suddenly disappears, with all the funds.
At the risk of sounding dull and predictable, though those who have heard my radio work may think it's a little late to start worrying about that, the book that changed my life would have to be The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. And it has changed my life twice. When I first read it at university in 1976, the difficulty Holden Caulfield had in fitting into the world mirrored exactly the angst and ennui I felt in those life-changing, full-grant, debt-and-responsibility-free days. When I re-read it 10 years ago I found the hero, and therefore myself, irritatingly self-obsessed and shouted out loud: "For heaven's sake, Holden, grow up!" I took that to mean that I had.
I published my first book, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, and then straight afterwards had two children: I was thrilled. But as I patrolled the sandpit or stood beside yet another swing, I also knew a secret despair, at times amounting to panic, that I'd never find my way back to writing. Around then I read Far Away and Long Ago – WH Hudson's intensely evocative 1915 account of his wild Argentine boyhood, which he wrote in London at the age of 74. You might think: nothing very cheering here for the writer by the swing – will I have to wait that long? But his enchanted pampas vibrate so vividly through those pages; the sights, the smells and sounds: the finches in the peach trees, at first "throaty but growing clearer and brighter towards the end ... the effect on the hearing being like that on the sight of rain when the multitudinous falling drops appear as silvery grey lines on the vision." If it is yours, I understood, not only will it wait, it will ripen, growing clearer and brighter. Thirteen years later, I published my first novel, Attachment.
It was the first book I read by myself when I was about six. It made me long for bedtime, even though it was summer and still light outside. The Faraway Tree was buried deep in an enchanted wood, at whose edge lived the children Bessie, Fanny, Jo and later, cousin Dick (in his new PC incarnation unfortunately renamed Rick). One day the children stumble upon a magical tree inhabited by a clutch of fairy folk, among them Moon Face, Silky the fairy, Dame Washalot, the Angry Pixie and the Saucepan Man, a creature rendered deaf as a post because of the constant clang of the saucepans he wears. As with most Enid Blyton books, food is integral to the story, and the children are incessantly eating delicious sweets and biscuits and having picnics. As an immensely greedy child, my plump imagination was on overload due to the graphic descriptions of said feasts, and it was probably my first exposure to food writing, which has stuck with me ever since.
The Enchanted Wood fueled my imagination, appetite (for food and reading), and perhaps most importantly, uncovered a lifelong voracious leaning towards happy endings.
When I was a late teenager, a friend of mine recommended a book called In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. It examines darkness and shadows in Japanese culture at the turn of the early 20th century. It's a very simple book – a fiction where a traveller experiences numerous cultural encounters, all of which are informed and narrated through his experience with light, or the lack of it. It uses incredibly simple language, but is a very intellectually provocative book. It informed my thoughts on physical beauty in the world – forcing me to question and look at it in a way I had never done before. It has had a direct impact on the way I think about architecture – how you understand and reveal space. My friend never knew what an impact this book had on me – perhaps now they will.
The book that changed my life was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. I read it as a teenager and instantly became completely absorbed by it. It is one of those genius books that eclipses the film, brilliant as that was. I suppose it changed my attitude towards those with mental health problems and the voice of the Native American narrator stayed in my head for a long time afterwards. I read it in a few days, and when I got to the final page was immensely pissed off to discover someone had torn it out ... the torturer. I couldn't "gather" (to borrow a Kate Winslet word), until I'd got my hands on another copy some days later.
I was in my early 20s when I bought Lenny Bruce's How to Talk Dirty and Influence People . I think I mistook it for a self-help book. For me, it became one. Although Lenny Bruce was a standup comedian, the book's influence on me was more to do with my everyday attitudes than my work. I didn't become a comic until about 10 years after I read it. It was Bruce's honesty, his raw openness, that changed my life. I immediately became less guarded about my insecurities, my longings, my secret thoughts. I think it spooked my friends at the time. I'd always loved talking dirty but now I dropped the male bravado and the talk became both dirty and painfully true. When I did finally become a comic, my act was an expression of the mindset I'd developed since reading the book.
I saw the film The Cruel Sea as a schoolboy and didn't realise it was based on a novel by Nicholas Monsarrat. But when I was about 13 I found a copy in a secondhand bookshop, and bought it at once. I have probably re-read it roughly once every three years ever since. I believe it to be quite the best work of fiction to come out of either the first or the second world war, and I include Catch-22 and Birdsong in that. Monsarrat's beautiful, thoughtful and sometimes shocking prose inspired me to write. His ability to simultaneously communicate detachment and profound emotional involvement in his story – based on his own harrowing experiences of convoy work during the battle of the Atlantic – is, to use a much overused word these days, awesome. His subtle and gentle revelation, as the novel progresses, of the love that develops between the men aboard ships fighting U-boats and mountainous seas – fights to the death – is deeply moving. I'm currently writing my first novel. If it is one twentieth the work Monsarrat created, I'll be a happy man.
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Welcome to our yurt
Hay festival: Inside the Guardian yurt
How to talk pestonian: a shakespearean masterclass.
The Guardian Books podcast Hay festival: Joan Bakewell, Clive James and the Oxford poetry scandal
Carol Ann Duffy: 'I don't have ambassadorial talents'
The great £10 book-buying challenge.
The Radio 4 road show
- Book vs Movie
The Books That Changed My Life
A Book That Realigned My Life’s Principles
Just like so many others, I have always been conscious about the importance of work in my life. Watching my parents has taught me to approach work with a sense of seriousness and dedication, and its role in elevating our quality of life by giving it purpose and meaning.
Unfortunately, the external demands of deadlines that shape our work schedules have also shaped my attitude towards it. I feared the consequences of submitting my homework late in school, which was as good as not submitting it altogether. To avoid punishment, I’d submit homework that was partially completed but always on time, receiving a passing grade and avoiding punishment as a result. Learning, therefore, became less important as long as I managed to keep my anxiety of not getting reprimanded, and of failing, at bay.
This attitude increased over the years, making me believe that mediocrity was my limit of excellence. It’s not that I shied away from work – it’s just that I thought unoriginal essays, poorly drafted and designed architectural plans, and basic presentations were what I was capable of.
Reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance changed all of that . By recounting his concepts of Western and Eastern philosophy during a 17-day motorcycle trip across America, Pirsig helped me identify the dehumanising effect my attitude towards work had on my psyche. The discourses in Zen helped me realise that I had confused my work with ‘productivity’, since I’d seen the latter being valued more than high-quality work.
Once I made this distinction, I began to see my activities as an extension of myself and took ownership of them. Over the weeks, I would still my mind before every shirt I ironed, every sandwich I made and every piece I wrote, and give it my complete attention. The result was that I stopped producing work that was mediocre, and everything I did had a certain originality and quality to it that I never knew I was capable of.
Zen also untangled a lot of needless frustration and disappointment by reminding me that you cannot step away from nor should you be ashamed of the pain, confusion and countless failures when you choose to aspire towards true quality. In this way, mastery became a lifelong process that made me see each day as an opportunity to become better than I was the previous day — a process that brings gratitude and purpose to every waking moment.
Books That Helped Me Appreciate The Spectrum Of Humanity
I was exposed to a wide variety of films and TV shows that ran along formulaic ‘good guy vs bad guy’ storylines while growing up. My impressionable mind made me believe that if I always sided with the good guys in these movies, I must always be right from a moral standpoint.
This righteousness, coupled with my short temper, meant that I was in danger of cementing a rather rigid worldview that would trigger hostility at the slightest variation from my opinions.
But things changed as I began to read fiction by great writers who used the power of prose to channel their imagination, their curiosity, and their empathy to help me understand the lives and the worlds of the supposedly evil, the misfits, the forsaken, and the ones who come from a different race, sex, class, or community.
Take Fyodor Dostoevsky’s books, for example. The Brothers Karamazov gave me the chance to explore the underbelly of 19 th century Russia and introduced me to the depravity of Fyodor and Ivan Karamazov, while Crime And Punishment brought the harrowing crimes committed by Rodion Raskolnikov to light. Dostoevsky leaves no doubt in the minds of readers that these characters have committed horrible crimes. But, he also shows how they were driven by the more complex emotions of anger, guilt, and righteousness, and at times, the basic needs of success, status, and acceptance.
Dostoevsky does not justify these acts. Instead, he lets us step into the shoes of these characters by showing us their emotions, needs and their inner psyche. That’s when I realised that these were motives that drive most of us as well. This insight helped me understand how the world cannot be neatly divided into black and white compartments, and that most human beings (and their actions) exist in a spectrum of grey.
The compassion with which these writers narrate the lives and choices of others blurred the boundaries of the tidy compartments within which I placed those who were different from me. These books reminded me that I was part of a shared and fragile humanity, and helped me see the sufferings of others from a wider perspective. It was this understanding of the complexity of human nature that helped me realise that the unemployed hustlers, drunkards and prostitutes in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or the migrant tailors in Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance were not lowlifes who deserved to suffer their fate, nor were they meant to be pitied, but rather, they were human beings who were trying to survive in a complicated world.
This exposure has slowly enabled me to withhold my judgement on the lives and choices of others. It has made the way I form my opinions more deliberate, thus making me more open to appreciating the diverse and interesting stories that people have to share. This, in turn, has made me more accommodating of the people around me, thereby ensuring I lead a more fulfilling life.
The Wellspring Of Our Curiosity
Like so many other readers, I remember deriving many hours of pleasure when I first dove into J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world with Harry Potter and his friends. At the end of each volume, I’d wonder if I’d ever find other books that were as good as them. In my attempts to answer this question, I have been exposed to books by some great writers – many of whom have helped me see the world in a new light.
I have also learnt that we can rarely force events to change our lives in a pre-planned manner, and the same can be said about reading books . Nonetheless, I am sure that the act of reading can help us stay on this path in a powerful way. This is because we take a chance to explore new horizons and viewpoints with every new book, and, if we are lucky, get exposed to truths that resonate so deeply with us that they can help guide us through our time on earth.
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Consider Me Booked!
Books and stories have always been an integral part of my life. I explored the lives of great inventors, leaders, and mythical heroes by poring over GK books and fables and illustrated tales. But it was the Harry Potter series and Roald Dahl’s works that turned me into a proud reader. I value kindness and generosity the most in people, and the novels that bring these out resonate the most with me. When I am not working or reading, I patiently channel my curiosity into the world of jazz music, cinema, cooking, or my inner world through my solitude.
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Siddhesh, I enjoyed this exploration of what a life-changing book means to you. Your point that these books changed your life gradually, subtly, over the course of years — is I think characteristic of change in general. In real life, change is seldom as abrupt and dramatic. It’s slow, erratic, and requires deliberate effort over the course of years.
I love Dostoesvsky for his deep dive into individual psyche. He withholds judgment to the extent that the reader begins to wonder whether judging another person is possible at all. That’s a scary prospect, isn’t it? To judge someone is to put them at a comfortable distance from us. Literature that disrupts our judgments and forces us to examine our assumptions — that makes us uncomfortable — is powerful.
I’m going to read *Zen* this year.
I’d also love to know what books people recommended to you turned out *not* to be life-changing, and why not.
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A Book That Changed My Life
Filed Under: Essays Tagged With: person , Psychology
We have to admit that some great books have the power to heal our souls and make us better people. Around The World in Eighty Days is just such a book to me. This book is a fiction story written by a French writer, Jules Verne. In this story, an Englishman, Phileas Fogg and his new French valet Passepartout attempt to travel around the world within eighty days just because he had a huge wager with his friends at the club. Mr Fogg wants to prove his contention that one can travel around the world in only eighty days. During their journey around the world, they met many friends and faced tons of challenges and difficulties. Besides the interesting and vivid plot of the story, this inspiring book has taught me three things when facing difficulties in life: never give up, caring others, and do something meaningful in life.
First of all, of the many things that I learned from this book, one of them is overcoming difficulties. Traveling around the world in eighty days is a daydream for many persons but Mr Fogg made it successfully because he insisted and did not give up. Even though this book is a fiction, from the author’s perspective, the tools that we need for success is perseverance. Throughout the whole book, I learned that there are many difficult problems we need to be confronted with in our real life. But if you try hard to conquer it and you may find a way to be success. Therefore by the end of the book I decided to study a very tough course that I never studied before. I was really interested in this course and I want to challenge myself. Many friends laughed at me about my impulsion. But I never regret this decision. Instead, I thought it was the best decision of my life because I learned a lot from that tough process. People in the world usually like to criticize and judge others. By learning from Mr Fogg, I realized that I should not care of those criticisms. Finally, I passed this tough course with my effort. I think it is this book makes me a much stronger person.
The Essay on Around the World in Eighty Days cliff notes 2552
... the paper about how it is possible to voyage the world in eighty days Fogg knew he could prove it. So after he made ... After Fogg made the biggest bet of his life there was no turning back. Either he came back in less than eighty days or ... person who lives a same routine everyday, goes out and makes a bet to go around the world. I thought the book was ...
Secondly, this book also made me understand it is more important for us to give than to receive. In the story, Mr Fogg is a very punctual and serious Englishman. And after he fights with Indian in America, he found that his valet Passepartout was missing. Other people asked Fogg to hurry on with his journey because of the wager, but Mr Fogg refused to continue his journey without his valet. At that moment, Mr Fogg has shown his humanity and kindness. I was impressed about Mr Fogg’s selfless personality to his companion. I realized that sometimes I am a little bit self-centered. Therefore I need to be more considerate of the needs and feelings of the other people. Indeed, this book has totally changed my personality traits from a person with a negative life attitude and a little self-centered to a person with a positive life attitude, and a considerate heart.
Last but not least, this book stimulates my mind to start thinking in a different way. In the story, Mr Fogg was a typical Englishman who was stubborn, punctual and serious. But he finally realized that the essence of life should be more colorful and meaningful. People need to try different ways of life. I remembered that when I was taking Asian American class, the professor told me that 99% of the people are living in a pretty boring life. They go to the same restaurant every day, sitting in the same seats and ordering the same food. If you jump out of the box and try something new or think in a different way, you will get totally new experiences and ideas that may surprise you. Mr Fogg was just a normal people before his great journey, until one day he made a bet with his friends in the club. And he did what he boasted and finally became a hero. I realized that I did nothing meaningful in my past life. So I decided to do something which can make my life more challenging and meaningful. I joined couple of volunteer work and groups. Through that process, I gained both new life experiences and happiness.
The Essay on A Way of Life for Searching People
The book Practicing Our Faith: a Way of Life for a Searching People is about addressing the need for sharing the fundamental needs of man to establish faithful and honorable Christian way of life. It explores twelve central Christian practices contributed together by thirteen individuals coming from diverse denominational and ethnic backgrounds. Specifically this book provides significance to ...
It is true that some books can greatly change our life. I learned many valuable personalities from Mr Fogg such as determination, perseverance, and selflessness. It also taught me that I need to think in a different way and do something meaningful in my life. Overall, this inspiring book has altered my behavior and changed my mind. I highly recommend this great book.
Robinson crusoe book life ship.
... This book has an underlying message about how to treat people. In ... until he encounters signs of life. There's only one problem; these ... begins to read the Bible day and night. Although at other ... The book Robinson Crusoe is an adventure story about ...
Cocaine Drugs People World
... people who gave their lives because of it. Today, over 5 million people use cocaine each month. Each day, 3, 000 people ... sleep. 1 The story of the lotus- ... rock-n-roll world, now it mourned ... -First Century Books, 1990. Magazines People Magazine. April ...
Ordinary People Conrad Calvin Story
... are examples. ) Ordinary People tells a coming-of-age story backwards. Conrad has ... book is a novel about healing and rebuilding a ruined world, rather than about how that world ... memories of specific moments in their lives, most of which are relatively ...
For Your World Short Story
... world, especially if something terrible has occurred in your life. With this simple subject it allowed for the story ... unceasing uproar and hurrying people... ." (69); this ... long winded story. Iona's first person point of ... having a bad day or bad luck ...
Book Review Of People Of The Three Fires
... peoples' relationship with the environment they lived in and how they adapted to change ... told what sickness a person has and the ... from them, the classic story. The right to ... in the settled life they had built. ... their culture. The book overall was very ...
Turning Your Back Holden People World
... people thinking their life and the world is a bitch and less people ... this theme in the story with the constant ... The characters in the book are not oblivious to ... people turn their backs on the world the consequences are harsh because when the day ...
A Book That Changed My Life Essay
Summary of how reading changed my life by anna quindlen.
“How Reading Changed My Life” is the book from where the piece of fragment that we read was taken. This book was written by Anna Quindlen. I was able to relate to Quindlen’s perspective and strongly agree with her. Although children have more extra time to read their favorite books over and over again, adults were children and if they liked to re-read books in the past because the book was in their interest, they will also reread their favorite novel in the present.
The Rhetorical Analysis Of Martin Luther King Jr.
Many authors use rhetorical devices and strategies to get their point across and try to convince the reader to believe in their perspective. It can also be used to get emotions from its readers, but that isn’t really the whole point of persuading someone. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. uses an abundance of pathos in order to make the reader or clergymen feel sympathy towards the black people. Along with pathos, he uses logos and a bundle of hypophora. In order to obtain the goal of persuasion, Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter contains rhetorical devices.
Essay On Thomas Paine's Common Sense
Thomas Paine's Common Sense is a seminal piece of American literature and American history; arguably it's the most important piece. Paine wrote Common Sense in 1775-1776, and it's theme was to spread his political beliefs. He wanted American independence from the British monarchy. The pamphlet was anonymously released on January 10th, 1776, and it explained to the reader why the colonies needed to rebel against their British oppressors. It was sold far and wide across the colonies, and it was successful; it inspired many of the soldiers during the initial summer of rebellion in 1776. The whole idea of the pamphlet revolves around persuading the reader to side with the rebels in their valiant fight for independence, and he absolutely uses contemporary persuasive techniques in his writing. He uses facts about the present, he looks towards the future, and he uses religion to persuade his readers. In fact, it's a testament to how the act of persuasion has been very similar over the last 238
Personal Narrative- The Move that Transformed my Life Essay
After reviewing my life, I have decided my life defining moment was when my family and I moved to Texas from Oklahoma. I consider this move my life changing moment because it changed so many things in my life. This move set the stage for an entirely new life for me. Moving six hours away from the only home I knew certainly called for many changes.
Letter From A Birmingham Jail By Henry David Thoreau
Throughout the history of America, there have been thousands of essays and arguments for more freedoms for citizens. These articles were influential during their time because of their evolving ideas. In the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King and “Resistance to Civil Government” by Henry David Thoreau, persuasive techniques are used to convince a reader to share their point of view. These articles have shared insights about how to write persuasive essays and arguments.
Essay on A Literacy Event that Changed my Life
All my life I have been a lazy person, doing just enough to get by. Most of the time, in high school, I was content with just a “C”. The only time I wasn’t, was if it was a class I liked, and I paid attention to. If this was the case, I could have received a 99% on a test and been dissatisfied. But, for the rest of my classes, which were most of my classes, that I didn’t like, I never paid attention to or did homework, and I still managed to do well on tests. So basically I didn’t do anything except take tests and I still got satisfactory grades. In school I was so lazy that there could have been a project due worth about 20% of the final grade and I still wouldn’t do it.
Dear America Rhetorical Devices
In our poem “Dear America, the Land of the Free” and other writings and speeches, rhetoric helps to powerfully convey a message to an audience. The more powerful the argument is, the more likely the audience is to spread the message to others and attempt to make changes in support of the message. The most effective literature and speeches are strewn with various rhetorical devices, as these devices cause the message to become clearer and more powerful. We see authors using rhetorical techniques to convey a message in each text we discussed in class. For example, “The Declaration of Independence” uses logos and parallelism to convince the King of Great Britain and the American people of the King’s wrongdoings and the necessity of American independence. The author, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson Declaration Of Independence Rhetorical Analysis
Every piece of writing has a purpose, whether it be to entertain, inform, or persuade. Many pieces that successfully achieve their purpose use audience appeals to gain the readers confidence. One well-known example is the United States Declaration of Independence. In Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, ethos, pathos, and logos are all used to create a persuasive document.
Many important events in our nation's history were influenced by persuasive arguments. Many sides have gained support due to the writings or speeches gave by an effective speaker. These arguments take a lot to be effective. There are three key components, and if an argument lacks any one of them, it is not effective. Organization, diction, and bias words are all important aspects to any effective argument. Using these three elements, Thomas Paine was able to make a triumphant case, whereas James Chalmers' writing did not and was therefore ineffective.
Essay on Rhetorical Devices in JFK's Inaugural Speech
If a writer wanted to appeal to the audience, what would he have to do? He is going to have to utilize some rhetorical devices of course! Rhetorical devices are key in writing persuasion papers and just any paper that is meant to be read to an audience. In the Inauguration Speech of 1961 given by President John F. Kennedy, he was able to really connect with his audience that day by using lots of different rhetorical devices. By using chiasmus, anaphoras, and metaphors, JFK was able to effectively reach and persuade people to have faith in him despite his age and religion.
Unit 6 Persuasive Letter
Persuasive writing can support a cause, make people act in some way, make a person change, show something wrong, create an interest, or get people to agree with you. There are many reasons to persuade!
Personal Change Essay
For every change within a society, personal changes with “self” must happen. These social changes are important to people while, people who don’t benefit from it think changes within the self isn’t important for social changes. Personal change is a journey a person takes of discovering something within themselves and acting upon a social change. That social change is society evolving to better ways. Jane Goodall talks about her experience in a moment of truth with self being absent in a moment of need in her writing titled In the Forest of Gombe, where she spends a few weeks in the forest following chimpanzees has helped her cope with her grief of her husband. She comes to the realization that her “self” was nonexistent and everyone in
Changes in Life Essay
In my life, I have been exposed to a challenge called change. Change can occur in many different ways and is dealt with in many different ways. I have come to the awareness that change can be the deepest of all things. I always thought that change occurred when you moved to a state or when you lost someone real close to you. Those are a challenge to change, yes, but change doesn’t have to occur over a climactic incident. It can just appear overnight when your brain winds up when it’s time to do something different. Even with friends that you used to have and know that move on. For example, most of my friends from elementary school, I don’t even talk to them anymore.
Essay on The Book That Really Did Change My Life
Periodically while surfing the internet I encounter a page entitled "Books That Changed My Life", with a list of books that purportedly changed the life of the author. I am always irritated by these pages, because I never see any evidence that the books had actually changed the life of the author. In fact, for most of these pages a more appropriate title would have been "Books that I really, really liked a lot." Occasionally, it might have been called "Books that influenced my thinking," but I'm reluctant to refer to that as having changed one's life.
25 Unforgettable Books that will Change Your Life in 2022
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Need a life-changing book to read in 2022? Here are 25 books that will change your life for the better. From memoirs to self-help, there’s something here for you.
Books were my chief companions when I was growing up. My sisters were 10- and 12-years older than me and my mom was often absent or distracted. I escaped into a book any chance I got and the books I read shaped my personality as much (or more?) as my life experiences did.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I turn to books to help me solve problems, answer questions, or find my way forward. If I have an issue or concern, I’ll see if I can’t find a book to give me the answer.
I’ve probably read 100s of self-help books over the years. Some spoke to me. Some didn’t. Some were helpful at a certain point in my life, but no longer useful today.
And some books changed my life.
I recently revisited several of my most life-changing books, the ones I feel genuinely changed my course and helped me grow. The last two years have left many of us feeling a little shaky and unsure and I’ve been finding it harder to maintain a sense of optimism and hope.
So I re-read several of my favorite books to help me get back to the real me, to relearn some lessons I’ve let fall by the wayside during the last couple of years, and to reignite my passion as I enter the next decade of my life.
So, today, I’m sharing a list of 25 books that really and truly changed my life. Some of these books were written years ago and no longer get much attention. It’s always the newest books that get the most buzz.
However, the books I’m listing here offered wisdom and knowledge that I’ve returned to repeatedly throughout my life.
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Whether you’re looking to revamp your life or just take some time for a little tune-up, I’m sure you’ll find at least one of these books helpful.
If you’re interested in any of these books, I found so many of them on sale in the Kindle Version . Or check out Scribd , where you can read a ton of books, including many of the ones listed here, for a low monthly charge. And, of course, don’t forget about your local library!
Is there a book that changed your life? Let me know in the comments.
If You Want to Start the Day Off Right
If you want to improve your daily habits, if you want to learn to take better care of yourself, if you want to love and be loved, if you want to learn how to really change your life, if you want to increase your happiness, if you want to overcome your limiting beliefs, if you struggle with food and weight, if you want to grow old happily, if you need some hope in dark times, if you want to read my most life-changing book.
1. The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM) by Hal Elrod
This book is beloved by so many Internet entrepreneurs, including myself. It’s easy to understand why. When you work for yourself, especially if most of your work is online, it can be so very easy to laze in bed and then putter around the house doing whatever. Before you know it, the day is over and you haven’t accomplished a thing.
Elrod’s Miracle Morning is a routine to follow to get your day started off right. I don’t always follow his routine exactly, but I’ve followed some version of it every since I started working at home.
You start the day by devoting an hour to Silent Meditation (5 Minutes), followed by Affirmations (5 Minutes), Visualization of Your Goals (5 Minutes), Exercise (20 Minutes), Inspirational Reading (Inspirational Reading), and finally Journaling (5 Minutes).
I don’t usually follow the entire routine. I’ve got to take care of the dog and I like to do a little cleaning each morning (as advised by another one of my life-changing books, A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind), Instead I start each day with a glass of water as I do a bit of cleaning, followed by some reading and journaling before I start my day by getting dressed and making my bed.
When I begin my day with my own version of the miracle morning, I’m so much more focused and productive than on the days I skip it. It feels so good to start the day with a success that I want to keep that feeling going.
2. 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest
Wiest’s essays are short and simple, but each essay has a lot of food for thought. If you skim through the book or read it all in one go, you’ll skip the important lessons in each essay.
I’m currently reading this book as part of my morning routine. Each morning I read a single essay and then journal about it. I really loved the fact that the second essay I read was about the importance of a morning routine.
3. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven
This short, but powerful, book is based on a commencement speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven to the University of Texas. He shared 10 lessons from his Navy SEAL training that everyone needs to know if they want to get through life successfully.
I normally give major side-eye to these kinds of books, but picked this one up for some reason and became obsessed. Because of this book, I make my bed every morning so I can start each day with a task completed. That’s the first piece of advice I give to everyone who is feeling overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start: make your bed.
The other lessons he shares (such as give people hope, Failure can make you stronger, etc.) are things we’ve all heard before, but told so well they stay in your mind. This book made me want to strive to be a better person.
4. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
Of course, I had to include this book, which really did permanently change my view about organizing and decluttering . I actually found her next book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up , to be even more useful, but you really need to read this book in order to understand her philosophy.
I’ll dispense with the myths about Marie Kondo’s tidying method first. You don’t have to live a minimalist lifestyle to follow her method. She simply emphasizes making sure you are always surrounded only by things you love when you’re at home, not that you need to get rid of everything. Furthermore, you don’t have to get rid of all your books and photographs. She doesn’t like to keep many for herself, but again, it’s all about making sure you’re happy in your home.
I’ve written extensively about my KonMari journey , so I’ll just finish with this. My life is much calmer and more serene since I started following her method and the best part is that I can easily get back to where I was if things get out of hand (as they sometimes do).
5. A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto
If you like Marie Kondo’s method of tidying up, you’ll also appreciate this book, which reframes cleaning your house as a spiritual practice.
You clean first thing in the morning and then you tidy before going to bed so that you wake in an organized environment. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t follow all the precepts in this book to the letter, but I look on cleaning now as an act of self-care and not as some yucky job that I hate doing.
By cleaning regularly and not procrastinating, I’m showing my house and myself how much I respect them.
As the book says,
“People who don’t respect objects don’t respect people.”
6. Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski PhD and Amelia Nagoski DMA
The introduction to this book begins “This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing enough.” In other word, this book is for every woman.
According to the Nagoski sisters, burnout is a state of emotional exhaustion, the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long.
Women, especially Gen X women, have been taught to be “human givers.” We’re taught that we must be attentive to the needs and wants of those around us and never need or want anything ourselves. We’re often not allowed to express our emotional needs or even allowed to express our emotions and so we get stuck with emotions and eventually, we get exhausted. We burn out.
I read this book while I was raising my kids as a single mother and working in a demanding corporate job. I had recently tried to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. But, I got so angry at her insistence that women are holding themselves back in the workforce that I threw the book across the room.
Sandburg’s book didn’t acknowledge my reality of dealing with my managers, who expected to find me at work every night at 7 p.m., and my children’s teachers, who expected me to come in for a meeting at 2pm in the afternoon.
Burnout acknowledges this stress; the authors acknowledge women are trapped in a patriarchal society where the game is rigged against us. And, by acknowledging it, they offer workable solutions.
Burnout taught me to take care of myself in more ways than just making sure I get good exercise and enough rest (although it helped me also justify taking the time to take care of myself so I could continue to be there for my family.) It also taught me to feel my anger when I was caught in an unreasonable situation rather than blaming myself and to take whatever small steps I could to even the playing field.
It also taught me to value myself and all my imperfections and to support and love other women because, God knows, we need each other.
7. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff
I loved this book so much I wrote a blog post about how to treat yourself with self-compassion . I’m still working on dispelling my internalized belief that I must be perfect to be worthy of love, but this book gave me some valuable tools to further my journey.
As it turns out, berating yourself is not an effective motivational tool. Who knew? And when you show compassion to yourself, you’re much more likely to show it to others, which makes the world a better place.
The most valuable thing I learned from this book is a technique called “The Self-Compassion Break.” When you notice that you’re thinking harshly about yourself or berating yourself for a mistake, take a moment to stop and say, “This is a moment of suffering.” That’s a mindfulness technique where you stop and acknowledge the surrounding reality, rather than trying to change yourself or your reality.
Follow that up with “Suffering is a part of life.” Here, you’re acknowledging that you’re a human being, sharing an experience we all experience as humans.
Then give yourself a soothing touch, such as holding your hands over your heart, and say, “May I be kind to myself.”
The self-compassion break helps me stop scolding myself for my shortcomings and brings me back to the present moment.
8. Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It by Herbert Benson and William Proctor
I first learned the concept of self-talk when I read the book What To Say When You Talk To Yourself. I realized immediately my self-talk has a tendency to be pretty harsh (which is why I need some good self-compassion) and I’m a chronic overthinker.
Thanks to books like this one, I’m getting better at pulling myself back to normal. I especially like the concept of “distanced self-talk,” where I ask myself questions like, “Why won’t Katy get up and exercise?” rather than “Why won’t I just get up and exercise?”
When I ask myself the question in the third person, I naturally move towards being non-judgemental and helpful (maybe Katy is exhausted and rest is what she needs). When I stick to “I” questions, I’m just rebuking myself and now all I want to do is sit on the couch and feel sorry for myself.
It’s a world of difference.
9. The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity, and Personal Well-Being by Herbert Benson and William Proctor
This book claims to be the ultimate self-help principle that will help you with all of your problems. I didn’t find that to be true, unfortunately, but I find the technique they teach in this book to be useful when I’m feeling stuck and can’t seem to move forward.
Have you ever struggled with a problem and then finally just given up and moved on to something else, only to realize the solution to your problem? If so, you had a breakout, a moment of clarity when you clearly see what to do.
Interestingly, you actually need to struggle before you can have a breakout. Our brain thinks while our body releases stress hormones that make us more alert and on edge.
That’s good for getting work done, unless it goes too far. Then your stress hormones overwhelm your system and your brain stops working. You’ll feel stuck or just keep having the same thoughts over and over. You feel anxious and fearful.
When that happens, Benson says it’s time to stop and say, “I’ve done all I can.” You need to do something to reset your mental pathways. Benson calls that “your trigger” and it can be anything, such as exercise, a repetitive task like needlepoint, or housework.
There’s a reason my writer friends say things like, “I’ve got a writing deadline so, of course, I’m organizing my closet.”
This book helped me to better see when I needed to back off and do something else. The Relaxation Response taught in the book is one of the few ways I can meditate for any length of time, so it helps me calm down and break the cycle. I’ve also found it helpful when I’m ruminating or overthinking.
10. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman PhD and Nan Silver
I read so many books about marriage and relationships during my attempt to save my first marriage. This was the only book I kept, and I reread it before my second marriage. The lessons I learned in this seemed revolutionary to me. For example, people in marriages where they argue frequently can be as happy as marriages in which no one ever argues. The important thing is that both people in the marriage are happy and comfortable. Some people are fine with a bit of conflict now and then and other people (raises hand) get extremely anxious during conflict.
This book taught me to recognize when a relationship is foundering (according to Gottman, it’s when couples start in behaviors he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling) and how to strengthen your marriage to make it happier. It was while reading this book that I realized that marriages only work if both people work to support each other.
Most people in happy marriages probably do the things he describes without thinking about it, but I found it really helpful to learn about and be conscious of what behaviors help your marriage and which ones will hurt it.
11. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
This book, along with the Gottman book, taught me how to have a successful second marriage after my disastrous first marriage.
According to the authors, every person has one of three attachment styles:
- ANXIOUS people are often preoccupied with their relationships and worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
- AVOIDANT people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
- SECURE people feel comfortable with intimacy and are warm and loving.
I could easily pinpoint one reason for the failure of my marriage from this book: I have an anxious attachment style and my partner was avoidant. It’s the worst possible combination.
This one piece of information was invaluable when I was dating. Once you know the signs, it’s easy to see what attachment style your potential partner has. I stopped letting men drive me crazy. If someone has an avoidant attachment style, I’m not going to be able to change that. It’s better to give up and move on rather than trying to get someone to love me.
That simple realization that helped me change my own attachment style to be a little more secure.
I also learned that it’s ok to be dependent on your partner and to want emotional support. Before I read this book, I tended to beat myself up for being “too needy.” Now I’m much more likely to admit – and ask for – emotional support. Rather than trying to change myself, I looked for a partner who could provide the emotional support I need.
That was one of my first steps toward changing my attitude from “I have to be perfect in order to be loved” to “I’m worthy of a happy relationship right now and need x,y, and z to feel loved.” If you find yourself feeling anxious in relationships, you’ll love this book.
12. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
This book changed my life by introducing me to the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to overcome trauma by creating new pathways. This book was written in 2007 and even today, many of the methods he described for overcoming pain, healing from strokes, and getting past phobias aren’t widely used, which is a shame.
If you want to understand why I’m so willing to believe in books like Quantum Success, which claims that simply changing your thoughts can change your life, check out Chapter 8: Imagination, How Thinking Makes it So. You’ll learn how simply imagining practicing a skill can be as effective as actually practicing.
I learned more practical information by reading other books, but I would still recommend reading this book first since it’s such a comprehensive overview of the science behind lasting change.
13. Quantum Success: The Astounding Science of Wealth and Happiness by Sandra Anne Taylor
This book is a little more out there than some books I’ve discussed. The human body, as you know, is made up of atoms, like all matter. According to Taylor, the science of quantum physics explains that, therefore, our body primarily consists of pure energy. By controlling this energy, we control our destiny and can even change our reality.
As Taylor says, “In quantum physics, the uncertainty theory reveals that you live in a state of unending possibilities that are of your own making.”
I can’t speak to the accuracy of her statements. I can barely add and subtract. But I do know that I’ve often been such a prisoner of my own thought processes that I could not see opportunities that were directly in front of me.
I also know that we are learning more every day about how our brain and our environment can make physical changes within our body. In fact, the science of epigenetics studies how your behavior can actually change the way your genes work. We really don’t know yet how that happens or what is actually possible. So I’m willing to keep an open mind.
I spent one summer going through this book with a small group and writing in the Success Journal that Taylor recommends. All I can tell you is that since that summer, I’ve achieved most of the “impossible dreams” I wrote about in my first entry in that success journal. I would encourage you to keep an open mind, try some of the techniques she recommends and decide on the value of her teachings for yourself.
14. Psycho-Cybernetics: Updated and Expanded by Maxwell Maltz
The title of this book sounds like a bad science fiction article and it was written by a plastic surgeon in 1960 who seemed to think that qualified him to tell everyone how to live their best life. It turns out he was right.
Maltz learned from his plastic surgery practice that, for most of his patients, changing their appearance for the better led to vastly improved self-esteem. But some patients continued to feel inferior and unhappy even after successful surgery. It turns out it all comes down to the patient’s self-image.
As Maltz says, “The self-image is the key to human personality and human behavior. Change the self-image and you change the personality and the behavior.”
You can only make real lasting change if you change the image you have of yourself. Let’s say you have a bad habit of being late for appointments and you really work on changing your behaviors. You’re probably doomed to failure because your self-image is that of a person who is always late. If you truly want to change, you must change your self-image to that of a person who is always on time.
That’s the crux of the book and the rest of it is spent on teaching you how to change your self-image and exercises that help you learn how to put his teachings in practice. This book was one of the most important books I read when I was rebuilding my life after my first marriage.
15. Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny by Martha Beck
I’ve read all of Martha Beck’s books and loved them all, but this one is my favorite. Like Psycho-Cybernetics, Beck explains her principles and then gives you exercises so you can actually experience the concepts she’s teaching.
Beck’s concept of “finding your destiny” means first getting to know your true, authentic self and then designing a life where you can find purpose and fulfillment as your authentic self.
She divides this process into three stages:
- Dissolving . We dissolve our old beliefs and self-image in order to access the wisdom within.
- Dreaming . We imagine the life we could live.
- Daring. We take the steps to turn our dreams into reality
Beck clarifies that your own journey won’t be as neat as those three bullet points make things seem. You’ll move back and forth through these three stages throughout your life.
This was one of the first books I read that discussed the concept of “dissolving the self” in order to change our lives. And guess what? That is usually very painful because it requires making changes that take our lives out of our comfortable situation where everything is familiar (even if we’re unhappy) into the unknown where we’re forced to learn and grow.
Beck calls this the “Ring of Fire.” We are literally burning away our old lives in order to make a new one.
I don’t know about you, but I hate to learn and grow. It did not thrill me to learn that it’s a necessary step to a fulfilling life, but it also helped explain why my life had recently been so chaotic and showed me how to escape my personal Ring of Fire.
I return to this book often to help remind me of the possibilities in life and to refine what an authentic life means to me. Rereading it is always like spending time with a good friend who thinks you’re a wonderful, strong and amazing person destined for greatness.
16. Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
If you love worksheets, handouts, journaling and filling in charts (and I very much do), you’ll love this matter-of-fact book that focuses primarily on what you should do for a career. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans are designers (although I don’t think they ever say what kind of designers they are), who prescribe a comprehensive method for figuring out and then planning just where you want to go with your life.
I went through this book when my youngest child was a senior in high school to figure out just who I wanted to be when my mom days were behind me and found it invaluable.
You start by assessing each area of your life and then follow some exercises to create your workview (what kind of work would make you happiest and most fulfilled) and your lifeview (how you want to live your life). The rest of the book helps you create a plan to get you to where you want to be.
This book is very similar to Steering by Starlight, but without the spirituality. Steering by Starlight is most helpful when you are trying to rebuild your life from scratch and really don’t know where to start. This book provides great tools for further developing your life once you’ve rebuilt it.
17. Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff with Carol Kline
Happy for No Reason teaches how to raise your happiness setpoint, your baseline of happiness no matter what’s going on in your life.
The first step is simply believing that you can be happier, and this book helps convince you with several anecdotes that felt very relatable.
You might have noticed that I learn best from books with meaningful exercises that help me remember the lesson I want to learn and they filled this book with quick exercises and quizzes to see what you need to work on and where you’re already strong.
I learned about heart rate coherence – a method of easing stress by syncing your heart rate to your breath – from this book. It’s one of the few techniques that actually works to help me calm down when I’m in the middle of an anxious panic. (These days, you can practice heart rate coherence with a heart rate monitor and an app on your phone.)
18. The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks
You need this book if:
- you struggle with feeling worthy of success,
- you get nervous when too many good things happen
- something bad always happens, just when things were going so well
In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks defines something he calls “The Upper Limit” problem, a limit we impose on ourselves how happy or how successful we allow ourselves to feel. If enough good things happen to trigger our upper limit, we’ll sabotage our happiness in order to bring ourselves back down to below our upper limit.
Hendricks identifies 3 main reasons we suffer from an upper limit issue:
- We believe there is something wrong with us.
- We believe our loved ones will abandon us if we’re too successful. (He also says some people believe they will more of a burden to those around us if we’re too successful, but I haven’t seen that in my own life at all.)
- We believe if we are too successful, we’ll outshine important people in our life and make them feel bad.
We need to dissolve our imagined upper limits if we want to take the leap into what Hendricks calls “The Zone of Genius.” This is the area where we are thriving in what we do and deeply passionate about it as well.
I cannot tell you how much I needed this book and how helpful I found it. I still refer to it frequently when I feel like I’m blocking myself from achieving my goals. Basically, Hendricks recommends doing this:
- Notice when you are starting to worry, slack off, or otherwise drift into your upper limit problem
- Realize that means that something positive is trying to come in your life and get curious. What is it?
- Embrace your positive change.
Sounds simple, right? It is simple, but it isn’t easy and Hendricks offers several techniques for getting past your blocks. I come back to this book again and again.
19. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero
I grew up in a family that constantly felt like we were on the brink of financial disaster and, as a result, many of my money habits were … not the best. As a young adult, my philosophy was “If you don’t spend money when you have it, some emergency will come up and you’ll lose it all anyway, so you might as well spend it now.” It turns out that this is not a helpful thought.
I finally learned some financial responsibility, but it took way too long and thinking about money – spending it, earning it, anything – makes me feel sick and anxious.
This book has a lot in common with The Big Leap because it also focuses on how our beliefs can keep us small. Each time I revisit this book, I uncover and work past at least one more unhelpful belief about money.
20. Ravenous by Dayna Macy
Ravenous is the story of Dayna Macy’s journey to redefine her relationship with food from overeating for comfort to eating for health and sustenance, while still enjoying what she was eating. Each chapter is a beautifully written meditation on a different topic and ends with a wonderful recipe.
Reading this book reminds to slow down and think of my relationship with food as a spiritual practice. As Macy says, “I think of measuring as a practice. Just like going to my yoga mat is a practice. Practice is what you do every day to achieve what you desire.”
21. Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders are Doing Wrong by Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow began keeping a list of the things he wouldn’t do when he got old while caring for his elderly parents at the end of their lives. We all dread ending up like our parents, no matter what our age. I expected this book to be a humorous look at growing older, and it is. But Petow’s list is also a great guide to aging well.
I’m getting close to my senior years now (some would say I’m already there), and I’m realizing that since I can no longer deny I’m aging, I should probably commit to aging well. You don’t have to take the rules in this book literally (some of them are: I won’t double space after periods, I won’t be ordering the early bird special, I won’t repeat stories more than 100 times, etc.) but I took the larger themes to heart.
Those larger themes seem to boil down to:
- I won’t cling to the past
- I won’t live in denial
- I’ll value myself and those around me
- I won’t grow bitter and small
- I will take care of myself
- I will show my love
That’s a great roadmap for the rest of my life.
22. Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty
If you’re a midlife woman, you need this book. There are so few written especially for us by a woman in midlife herself, facing the same issues so many of us are right now.
Part memoir and part examination of the challenges facing women in midlife, Hagerty talks about having to find a fresh path, how to enjoy life, how to find lasting happiness, and how to keep our brains healthy. She also takes an honest look at many of the issues facing those of us in midlife: getting aged out of our jobs, vanishing friendships, and financial insecurity.
This book really is a must read if you want to live the rest of your life happily and healthily.
23. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
Ugh. No one should have to read this book, but the sad truth is that at some point, we will all need to.
I’m not a fan of bad things happening to me and, honestly, much of my self-help journey is motivated by the desire to avoid all bad things and only have good things in my life. Somehow, though, that never works out for me and there is always a time when I finally look at my life and accept that things have fallen apart.
When that happens, I turn to this book. Each chapter is short and covers lessons we need during difficult times. I struggle with some of the lessons; I still don’t know how to feel fear and not run from it. What does even look like? My mind can’t grasp it.
However, each time I read this book, there’s always a chapter that speaks to me in that moment. I was thumbing through this book today and came across this bit of wisdom:
“What makes maitri such a different approach is that we are not trying to solve a problem. We are not striving to make pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.”
That’s hard for me to accept; I naturally try to improve and change things I don’t like. But it’s a wonderful reminder that it is through loving kindness that we ultimately find peace.
24. The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
The cover blurb on this book describes it as “Marie Kondo, but for your brain.” And it actually is, since it’s ultimately about discarding what doesn’t serve you and embracing what does.
This book explains the theories of Alfred Adler through a series of conversations between a philosopher and his student. Some of the precepts are hard to follow at first (“Trauma does not exist?” Excuse Me?).
But ultimately this is a book of hope. Bad things have happened to you in the past, as they have to everyone. But you are not bound by the past, you are free to choose a different path.
This is a philosophy book, so it deals in a lot of “just do it” talk – “Just start liking yourself!” However, it makes a great point that we’re trapped if we let our trauma define us.
25. The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire by Noelle Oxenhandler
Of all the books I’ve read, this book had the strongest impact on my life. This memoir chronicles a year Oxenhandler spent learning how to, as she says “Put it Out There.”
At the beginning of the book, Oxenhandler is a woman in midlife distressed to find herself still struggling. Her marriage has ended and she’s alone. She’s still renting and can’t imagine ever having enough money to buy a home of her own. A long-time Buddhist, she’s recently gone through a traumatic experience that’s cut her off from the spiritual community she loves. She’s not happy with her life and she can’t see a way to change it.
I read this book when I was in the midst of my own personal crisis. I had recently gone through my own traumatic experience when my marriage ended and in the aftermath, I was forced to file bankruptcy. I found myself in my 40s, alone, broke and unhappy. I was also not happy with my life, but this book came into my life and showed me how I could change it.
I grew up as a Methodist, not a Buddhist, but like Oxenhandler, I was taught that wanting things, such as money, a nice home, etc. was shallow and sinful. My parents were good, kind people who were well loved but they struggled financially their whole life and I saw pretty early on just how much stress financial hardship can cause.
I still struggle with feeling worthy of the things I want, but this book taught me – through her story and the research she shares – that my desires were valid and possible to achieve. It turns out that wishes are powerful, sacred, things and – they can and will come true. As someone who believes in both science and magic, I loved reading her research and seeing the almost magical results that came into her life when she started to apply what she learned.
I reread this book every year and whenever I’m feeling like I need a shot of magic. All the Amazon reviews for this book talk about how it’s so powerful, you feel a little let down when it’s ended. And we all wish Noelle Oxendler would write another book.
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Scholarship Essay Example: The Book That Changed My Life
Being a teenage girl, I was only interested in fancy things that made me happy. The school was not among my priorities at that time, as I only went there to please my parents through scoring a high grade. I was pretty satisfied with my life then, until my sister went to college during summer time, which changed my life dramatically.
At that time I was five years younger than my sister. Unfortunately, when she left for college, I got left all alone in a big house wondering what to do until I found a fascinating book by Emile Zola. The book captured my attention, making it easy for me to go through it within the shortest time. Zola’s Germinal book was a true savior for me, as it helped to reconsider my values and changed my outlook.
Zola’s Germinal was one of the best novels I have ever read in my entire life. It shaped my perspective on life thanks to revealing some characters' way of life (like Catherine). I was in a position to understand peoples suffering as a universal concept that can affect any person at any time. It was one of the most exciting novels that exposed me to the real world making me know the miner’s existence in my Nation. I had no idea about various challenges and suffering that those people go through in their life until I read this novel, which made me appreciate my life. Thanks to this novel, I became fond of reading other books that expose me to art and history, which is now my new adventure in life.
At this particular time, I’m already getting ready for the next level of joining college. Zola’s novel has opened me to the next phase of life. Life challenges are therefore a part of life that we all have to face at some point.
Personal Narrative: Something That Changed My Life Essay
Something that changed me and let me be the person who I am today is friendship. Friends can raise you high above the skies. Or, they can pull you down under the ground. My parents are very close to me. They have enough knowledge and awareness from people around us. My father advised me every school year that I needed to keep enough distance from others. My father said to me, “Abdulelah, never go out with bad friends. They can affect you in a small matter of time. I know you’re smart. You will know the right thing from the wrong thing. “I knew that my father trusted me because what he had taught me.
My mother told me, “Abdul, focus on your schoolwork. Do not give up no matter what around you tells you. If you work hard today; tomorrow will be comfortable to you. ” Every time I get the feeling of quitting school, I remember my parents’ words. I try not to hang out with bad friends. For example, if they were doing something bad and got caught by the police, I would go to jail with them because they caught me with them. I tried my best to keep away from them. This way they did not enter my private space. My father told me about friends and how friends can change a person from good to bad in a matter of short time.
I was shocked. How come students do that to others? Their basic education is not built right. When I entered high school, I had the knowledge and the “vaccine” to choose my friends. My class was about 15 students. I only ended up with 3 friends and they are my best friends. When I was in school, my classmates were using inappropriate language. They had cursed others, and they had taught others bad language. That gave me a lesson that I should never trust any of my classmates who seem kind and lovely to me. I have to sit with them to see how they think and how they talk.
One time, they asked me, “Hey Abdul, we should get along one day” But for me, it was a very bad idea. If they were doing all that in my school, what were they going to do outside the school? On the other hand, there are good friends I have met in my life. I try not to lose those friends, because they have white heart. They wish good for others. They are generous. If I make a mistake, they tell me the mistake I did so I do not do it again. I try to look for friends like them. Because, they think the way I think, they talk the way I talk, and they do everything without being inappropriate.
I love to hang out with them because I will learn from them and they will learn from me. As time pass by, I realized those people, who are bad friends, are not responsible for what they are. When they were young, their parents did not raise their children in a good manner. So, they would go to unknown people on the streets and talk to them and learn from them. Children at some point need their parents close by to ask them and learn from them. When their parents realize what wrong behavior their children have learned, they would punish them for something the children are not guilty of.
Then, who is guilty? The answer is the parents. Bad friends don’t want peace to people. They are bad, so they want their friends to be bad, too. I have a big experience with friends. I visited a lot of countries and I saw how bad friends treated others. When I was in Morocco, I called bad friends “mentally ill. ” Because, if they had minds they would have used them. Those” mentally ill friends” were in my school. Some of my classmates were very bad students. The others were quiet. So, on my first week at school, I saw my best friend got into a fight with 12 grade boys.
The problem was my friend asked nicely to pass through the hall. The 12 grade boys said ” No you cannot because you are nerd. ” When I heard that; I immediately stepped in to help my poor fellow. I walked to them with anger on my face and I told them “It does not matter how strong you are if you do not have a mind to use it probably. ” After I said that, most of the students circled around us to attend the fight. The principle heard the noises. The principle instantly came and stopped the fight and took all the people who were involved to his office. We explained what had happened and made us write a pledge.
I tell my friends and advise them to use their brains. Because if they are not going to use. Someone else wishes to use it. In conclusion, I really thank my parents for giving me enough knowledge about the importance of selecting good friends. If they hadn’t given me the enough knowledge, I would not be studying outside my country with a scholarship. I would be in my country hanging out with friends. I would have played PlayStation with my friends from midnight until morning. I wouldn’t have the interest for studying in college. Even if I had the interest to study, I would not study a challenging major.
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George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” has changed my life, and changed me, in countless subtle ways. I first read it at 25, when an older and wiser friend told me that a woman we both cordially...
The book that changed my life is one of those questions that send me into a panic. Was it the illustrated Kidnapped, The Tales of Robin Hood, the feast of comics, Wizard, Rover, Hotspur,...
Reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance changed all of that. By recounting his concepts of Western and Eastern philosophy during a 17-day motorcycle trip across America, Pirsig helped me identify the dehumanising effect my attitude towards work had on my psyche.
It is true that some books can greatly change our life. I learned many valuable personalities from Mr Fogg such as determination, perseverance, and selflessness. It also taught me that I need to think in a different way and do something meaningful in my life. Overall, this inspiring book has altered my behavior and changed my mind.
The book Shaq Uncut has changed my life. It had changed me by saying that I can accomplish anything that I strive for. It changed my world so much. Another way it changed my by showing me that don’t accomplish everything that other people achieve, achieve what you need to.
25. The Wishing Year: A House, a Man, My Soul A Memoir of Fulfilled Desire by Noelle Oxenhandler. Of all the books I’ve read, this book had the strongest impact on my life. This memoir chronicles a year Oxenhandler spent learning how to, as she says “Put it Out There.”.
Zola’s Germinal book was a true savior for me, as it helped to reconsider my values and changed my outlook. Zola’s Germinal was one of the best novels I have ever read in my entire life. It shaped my perspective on life thanks to revealing some characters' way of life (like Catherine).
Personal Narrative: Something That Changed My Life Essay Something that changed me and let me be the person who I am today is friendship. Friends can raise you high above the skies. Or, they can pull you down under the ground. My parents are very close to me. They have enough knowledge and awareness from people around us.