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February 18, 2009

Life-changing books

Inspired by this post entitled “for the love of reading”, as well as an old episode of This American Life called “The Book That Changed Your Life”, I’ve been thinking a lot about life-changing books. Which are rarer than you think, really, considering the ratio of how many books actually get read to how often life is ever really genuinely changed. I mean, there are books that have been terribly affecting, books that have written themselves into my DNA for how much I’ve come to love them, or books that came my way precisely when I needed them, but I didn’t necessarily start to live differently after reading them.

Top five exceptions as follows:

1) Anne of Green Gables: As I wasn’t so defined before I read this book, I can’t say it changed my life exactly, but I’m confident I would have a different kind of life now had I never read it. For over twenty years, I’ve sought to emulate Anne Shirley’s ambitions, her spirit, her articulateness, her passions, her bookishness, her incorrigibility, and to see the world as she does.

2) “The Grunge Look” by Margaret Atwood: Which isn’t a book, but rather as essay from Writing Away: The PEN Canada Travel Anthology. I encountered the anthology in the Hart House Library during the summer of 2002 when my life was a mess, and it was apparent to me that the only thing I could do to fix it was to run away to England like Atwood had. It was a terribly unwise decision at the time, but in retrospect was the smartest and bravest move of my life.

3) Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin: This book taught me how to cook, as well as provided the means for us live very cheaply during the grad school/unemployment years. Our copy is now falling apart, we still use it all the time, and I hope it’s not too terrible how often I just slip in a little bit of beef…

4) Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: Last summer’s garden was a bust, and Barbara would be horrified if she knew just how addicted I’ve become to bananas, but even still, my eating and shopping habits have been changed since I read her book almost two years ago. The vegetannual has changed the way I eat. The world tastes much better for it.

5) Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Without it I might still be waiting for a stork.

Fascinating to see how little novels factor in here, particularly because I read as many as I do. Though I wonder if novels change our lives in more subtle ways. I suspect they’re the stuff we’re constructed of more than the signposts along the road.

5 thoughts on “Life-changing books”

  1. Suko says:

    Interesting list.

    Although I have been shaped and influenced by classic literature over the years, my own life-changing books would also be of a practical nature. Two books that come to mind immediately are How to Win Friends and Influence People, and The Magic of Believing.

  2. melanie says:

    I’ve bought a copy of TCOYF for a number of friends – even ones who don’t want to have children. After reading it I couldn’t believe how totally clueless I was about my body and how most of my friends are/were the same way. I think it is something we should teach our daughters from an early age because knowing about your body is empowering.

    Although, I was using it to not get pregnant and then the ONE TIME I slipped up a bit we got pregnant. Obviously I’m not too upset by that. 🙂

  3. Steph says:

    What Melanie said about how clueless we are about our bodies. I had exactly the same reaction after reading that book!

  4. Kerry says:

    Must admit, however, that TCOYF made me a little too obsessed with my cervix. No one was as fascinated with it as I was, and I had to shut up for fear of losing friends.

  5. sam lamb says:

    i can't believe i forgot about TCOYF. in the terms of life-changing, that must be on the list. one thing i know for sure – without it, i'd be waiting for a stork too.

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