11 Books That Changed the Way I Lived My Life
I’ve been a reader every since I can remember. As a kid, I liked reading to escape to another, more fascinating, world. I experienced so many things and went on more adventures than my adult self will ever be able to afford. As an adolescent, I read to find people (even fictional people) like me, who could show me I’m not alone in anything–not in my thoughts, feelings, or interpretations of the world. And as an adult, I read to learn. I read to learn about topics–these days personal finance and celiacs disease (because that might be a thing for me)–but also to learn about myself and improve upon myself. Words have always been an amazing mode of expression for me.
Today I wanted to share 11 of the books that truly changed the way I see and live my life on a day to day basis, in one way or another. I’m considering this the literary equivalent of one of those mystery treat bags from the Dollar Tree. It’s a mix of fiction and non-fiction, children’s and self help. You may be a little baffled by the collection, but these books have made me…me.
Jennifer L. Scott
If I remember correctly, I stumbled upon this book on a suggested list on my Amazon account. At the time, I was so enthralled with the ‘Parisian chic’ lifestyle, but I took away so much more than that from this book. Jennifer (I feel like we’re on a first name basis since I began religiously reading her blog and watching her YouTube channel), documents lifestyle lessons she learned while studying abroad in France and living with a host family. Her depiction of her host mother, Madame Chic, made me re-evaluate the level of class and sophistication I was experiencing in my own life.
My biggest takeaway was to actually use the things I have and make my own little luxuries. Since reading this book, I’m a huge advocate of using your nice dinnerware on a Tuesday, indulging in me, and always wearing matching pajamas.
I know so many people who love this book and all have different takeaways. I always have a lingering fear that maybe I could have amounted to more–a fear that when I die, they’ll say I didn’t do enough or anything profound enough. So, like Pudge, you could say I’m striving to find a Great Perhaps and struggling with the inevitable death that will always come. Looking for Alaska challenges me to accept things I can’t change, and accept that I might not always find the answers I’m looking for. Shit happens, and sometimes that’s it. At least, that’s how I interpreted it the last time I read it. I’ll probably have a different thought process the next time I read it.
This. Book. Changed. My. Life. It completely changed my outlook on my life. The title is a little jarring and douchey, but I love that isn’t your average self-help book that encourages you to always be positive. One of the many takeaways I had from the book is that you are always going to have multiple problems in your life. But it’s up to you to choose what is going to be a problem for you. It’s up to you to choose what is worth the struggle to you. I can’t even begin to put this book into words as well and raw as Manson, but it encouraged me to take charge of my feelings and intentions and life. I highly encourage everyone to read this book.
I read The Perks of Being Wallflower my sophomore year in high school, and quickly said, I was going through some stuff that wasn’t going to get better for years (I’m still working on some of it). This was unlike anything I’d read up until then. The letter style nature of the book was new to me, and the setting being in Pittsburgh, PA made it even closer to home for me, as I grew up near the city. The main character, Charlie, was relatable. He was awkward, he didn’t have friends, he was depressed, but he felt things very deeply. He was stuck in a place between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Reading this book was so cathartic, and it helped me process my own depression. This was one of those books that gave me a friend who was also going through it, even if he was fictional.
East of Eden
In 10th grade, I had to write a research paper on John Steinbeck. While reading basic plot outlines of his works, I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to like anything, and I made the project more miserable than it should have been, honestly. But when I read this book, I didn’t realize something sparked in me. I think of this book a lot as an adult.
I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be general. The book follows to families and three generations, and their pursuit to achieve the American Dream as well as the obstacles they face. The book centers itself around the Hebrew word timshel, which translates to “thou mayest,” or you may choose.
I didn’t realize it then and only realized any of this about East of Eden as I was making a list for this post, but I was always bothered that my family wasn’t and isn’t my driving force in decision making. But this idea that everything in my life could be my choice and mine alone was eye opening for me. And I really appreciate that now, because since then, I’ve begun to create a life for myself that’s mine…that I want to live.
Brave New World
I was the nerd in school who generally enjoyed the assigned reading. British literature was my favorite, and I had to read Brave New World in grade 11. Like many of the books I read in high school, I interpret them a little differently now. If you haven’t read this book, it presents a society that’s entirely too wrapped up in frivolous entertainment and cheap thrills instead of the problems in front of them. When organizing this list, Brave New World reminded me of what I see now. On social media, I see people caring too much about things that have little importance in the grand scheme of things instead of the actual problems we are facing as a society.
The novel is a reminder of the dangers of willful ignorance. When I find myself getting lost or disengaged from the world, I like to re-assess this book and remind myself to be more present and aware. It also taught me that it was okay to go against the grain, against the status quo, and ask questions.
The Defining Decade
I’m 24, and I am struggling with so many things on a personal level. You’re always being hounded about finding a dream job, finding a lifelong partner, buying a house, having kids, and you’re supposed to do all of this before you’re 30. While that’s not necessarily true, and this book doesn’t tell you that, it does outline how important your 20s are for laying a foundation for the rest of your life.
My favorite part of this book was the way it made me feel I wasn’t alone–seemingly everyone my age is going through the same challenges I am while trying to meet these “shoulds.”
A friend suggested I read this book, and I’m so happy he did. If you’re in your 20s, go pick up this book now.
What Every Body is Saying
This book isn’t nearly as profound as any of the others on this list, but it’s definitely one I think about a lot in my day to day life. Navaro is ex FBI and literally just talks about nonverbal communication. He uses examples from his job in the FBI when he used nonverbal communication to get information from interviewees.
Truly everything we do says something, whether or not we are aware. After reading this book, I am more mindful of my nonverbal cues as well as those of others. I have used some of the skills I’ve learned to read people in my retail job, and I have found that certain cues, like shifting my feet toward the door, really do affect people.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I think this is one of my favorite books. I’ve read it, thus far, a total of 11 times since childhood.
As a child, I think I liked the whimsy and adventure of the book. But as an adult, I continuously read this book and am reminded to stay inquisitive, to stay curious. Kids are always asking why and wanting more information, and as we get older, I think we start to just accept what we’re told without challenging it. It easier that way, but not necessarily better.
One trait about myself that I think is a big part of what makes me me, and is uncommon among a lot of adults, is that I’m still curious. And I can only credit that to Alice.
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
I was a total Judy Blume girl. If you don’t remember this book, let’s refresh. Sheila is a pretty stuck up chick who has to go to a small town summer camp. She thinks she’s better than everyone else because she’s from the city. She’s pretty ambitious and starts a newspaper and the summer camp, and in the end she ends up making friends and having a pretty good time.
This book taught me two things. Firstly, it taught me humility, which I believe I’ve carried to adulthood. It really taught me that I’m not better than anyone, and taught me care and be considerate of other people. It also taught me to be myself and truly be passionate and ambitious about the things I care about. Sheila was kind of a brat because she feared no one would like her, but when she was herself, the other kids wanted to be her friend. Her ambition to start the newspaper, despite a lot of people being against it, caused her to have to crank out a lot of work to reach her goal, and I think that’s an amazing lesson for a kid.
The Book Thief
As I said before, words are special to me. They always have. And this book is a lovely and truly beautiful example of how precious they can be. In college, I became fairly close with a business writing professor whose office I would sit in frequently to just admire her bookshelves. She insisted I read this, because she loved it. I learned so much about kindness from this book. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tearing up trying to write about it–it pulls at my heart so delicately.
The Book Thief taught me to root for the underdog and love the unlovable. It taught me to be unique and open your heart to others. But it also taught me how words can bring order to chaos and be calming–Liesel read aloud in the Fiedlers’ basement during raids and brought calmness to a storm. It taught me to use your skills to teach others instead of keeping them to yourself…among so many other things.
There are so many books that have touched my life and changed the way I see the world and operate daily. Some are fictional, that I get lost in. Some are self-help that make me want to get up and be one of the movers and shakers. And some simply help me accept things as they are. But, no matter the degree, they’ve all changed my life in one way or another. What are some books that have changed your life? Because I probably want to read them.