What book(s)

have changed your life?

PS: The article about reading mentioned in the comments is located here.

17 responses to “What book(s)

  1. cj

    The few pages I read in the following (as I rarely finish a book):
    Hail Babylon, Andre Codrescu made me laugh, maybe didn’t change my life… but laughing’s good.
    Holidays in Hell by PJ O’Rourke – same as above
    How To Run A Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg – makes me more likely to pray, and better at it if I do… also a good recipe for bread is in here.
    Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease, by Cotran – This is where normal goes abnormal at it’s most interesting! I will refer to it until part of me starts to resemble part of the book… then I’ll die.
    Cartoon Guide to Genetics – Because who could learn it using the Genetics textbooks? (The physics one is great, too)
    Cliffs Notes on War and Peace – allowed me to graduate from high school and go to college.
    The Sun Also Rises – a classic, as defined by public school English teachers, and also very short, and therefore the best choice for ‘self-assigned’ review papers… also got me through at least 3 English classes.
    Riverside Shakespeare – although I read quite a bit of it, I wouldn’t have if Dad hadn’t bought us lots of tickets to the live versions when we were kids.
    That’s it for now, but I have to say that mostly my life has been changed by things like pamphlets, and ingredients lists.

  2. did you happen to come across the article that said, the books a person reads at age 12-ish are the most cherished for life? seems like i just read that today; so i’ve been musing on the question, also. from that particular time period (when i was 12), two stand out: To Kill A Mockingbird, and Dicey’s Song. (Cynthia Voight) I suppose every book I read changes me in some way. The books that have had the most profound effect on me were written by Kurt Vonnegut and Roald Dahl.

  3. kay

    while i grew up:

    harriet the spy. the once and future king. a wrinkle in time.

    and after i grew up:

    the joy luck club. evening.

    it’s very tempting to list the zillion books i love, but the above short and non-profound list is really the only honest one for me. the reasons are so very personal.

    i like that you asked this. i actually keep those five books on one end of a shelf together, and they’ll evacuate with me if i ever have to run from a hurricane.

  4. mig

    bran,yes, i stumbled across that article and it’s what got me thinking about this. i think every book you read changes your life somehow, some more than others, and the younger you are when you read them the more they change you because there’s more life to change.
    like steering an oil tanker. you can turn that wheel all you want, it’s not going to move much if it’s just about arrived.
    i would include on this list “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, which i read when i was either 9 or 11 after telling the bookstore clerk where i bought it (OMSI in Portland, OR) that, no, it was for my mother. “A Wrinkle in Time” and some other book about gifted children fleeing in some futuristic fascist state. Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” later on, and Slaughterhouse 5.
    And tons more stuff of all possible qualities and genres. i mean, “The Happy Hollisters” series was something i loved when our teacher read them to us in, i think, third grade.
    goethe’s Faust, i would say, and medieval stuff like Der arme Heinrich, Tristan & Isolde and especially Parcival.
    “Plagues and Peoples” was a very interesting book that changed the way i think about things as a grownup, detailing the effects of illness on human history, and framing life as a narrow path walked amongst micro- and macro-parasites. it is why i now think of politics as basically a way of dealing with macro-parasites, and democracy as the best system, because it allows you to select the most benevolent macro-parasites, assuming Diebold doesn’t do it for you.

  5. cj

    What was I thinking? As the most paranoid person you (don’t) know here… 1984 helped me get that way… as did a lot of military and other ‘government’ personnel in my neighborhood growing up… So ya – thanks to George Orwell, Big Brother is always listening to me. Got that Bro? Send money.
    Also – the reason I discovered your blog in the first place was my affection for Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I have a bit of empathy for cockroaches because of that one.
    To reiterate: ingredients lists… really powerful stuff in there.

  6. mig

    1984 and Brave New World both. and of course metamorphosist. i’m finally going to prague, next week. i can’t wait.

    (i like to read the lists of side effects that come with medication)

  7. mig

    oh, man, i forgot all the underground comix in high school. and Steal This Book. and The 4narch1st’s c00kb0ok.

  8. Jann

    “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Im Westen nichts Neues) by Erich Maria Remarque, and Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” both of which I read when I was very young, both changed the way I think and feel about things. Hard to say if they changed my life; one thing about these lives of ours is that we never have anything to compare them to. Four books which never fail to make me laugh and feel happy are James Herriot’s nonfiction series “All Creatures Great and Small, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “All Things Wise and Wonderful,” and “The Lord God Made Them All.” I would recommend them to anyone.

  9. One of the books that has had a lasting influence on me is The Moon and Sixpence (Wm. Somerset Maugham), about the artist who quits “life” and goes off to the islands to paint. (Gaugin) I was 17 or so when I read it first; have re-read it a couple times since and still came away affected.

    Now I wonder if what I’ve read recently would have meant more to me if I read them as a younger person. ie: The Amnesia Clinic (James Scudamore) that I wrote I was so fond of; maybe I would be more than fond, had I read it in girlhood when I had “more life to change.”

    There have been many books listed by different commenters that I haven’t read; I’m going to have to.

    Adding to the life-changing list:

    Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
    Franny and Zooey, Salinger
    The Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut

  10. also, The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields

  11. Jann

    There was a lot of talk about “Silent Spring” in my household, but in as much as from the time I was three years old I remember my mother talking frequently about the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals in foods, Strontium-90 in the milk, etc., this book seemed to be a stronger, more detailed version of what I’d heard all my life…thus may not have affected me as much as it did others. :-)

  12. Nat

    When I was 12ish-

    A Wind in the Door …For some reason this one resonated with me more than A Wrinkle in Time at whatever age I was when I first read them. Perhaps it’s meaningful that I’m now essentially a molecular biologist.

    The Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Talking Earth and other naturalist and independence themed kids books, especially by Jean Craighead George, made me want to run off into the woods and be a survivalist (and commune with the dolphins of course… Eventually reading A Ring of Endless light didn’t help this latter obsession!)

    I also devoured the Redwall series and all of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books that were out at the time, and I certainly considered these life-changing at the time. In retrospect, well… The earlier Redwall books are solid entertainment…and I like scientific dragons.

    Mig, when you mention the gifted kids running away one, might you be thinking of The Giver? That was a view-changer, for sure.

    I didn’t really get into Vonnegut until a few years ago, in my early 20s. Thankfully I found him while still in my critical period! I’m not sure I like the way in which that article spoke about him… Tales from the Monkey House would be my anthem, if a book could be a song. I’d read Slaughterhouse 5 as I teen, but I didn’t get it. Haven’t picked it back up since. I think I should.

    I can think of some great books I’ve read recently, but I’m not sure theyre view-changing, bringing me to this-
    That article was depressing with the amount of sense it made when it said that the books we read as adults don’t affect us nearly as much as the ones we read when we were still developing. (Then they went and described the saddest children’s books ever and I bawled. Good lord, Where the Red Fern Grows would always make me cry so hard! I didn’t need this emotional kick today! heh!)

  13. zeynep

    I don’t know if they were life changing, but these are some of the books that I keep going back to (or have not been able to forget)

    Pippi Longstocking _ Astrud Lingen (Pippi is still my idol in life)
    The History of the World in 6 Glasses – Tom Standage: I recently read this book. It is the history of world trade through beer, wine, rum, tea, coffee and Coca Cola and very interesting.
    Brave New World – Aldous Huxley I was very young when I read it first and kept dreaming about the book for years and years (nightmares mostly)
    Cevdet Bey and Sons- Orhan Pamuk
    The Left Hand of Darkness- Ursula Leguin
    anything by Erich von Daniken
    Farewell Waltz – Milan Kundera
    Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller
    Fattypuffs and Thinifers – AndrĂ© Maurois (fantastic book on war and politics from the eyes of two kid brothers – one fat and one very skinny)
    The Life of Gargantua and Pantragruel – Francois Rabelais
    Shibumi – Trevanian (and his other books)
    Charles Dickens- seriously depressed me when I was 9-10.
    Secret Garden- I had this deep feeling of sadness for Colin because his mother was dead and he was totally abandoned by his father.
    A Study in Scarlet (and the other Sherlock Holmes book) – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle = He is the reason for my love of all things cynical

  14. Janosch’s “Polski Blues”

  15. Sue

    Bridge to Terabithia
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    and the Narnia books, though not for the reasons that C S Lewis would like.

  16. rand

    In order of my exposure: The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hobbit, Confederacy of Dunces, Infinite Jest, Half-Life.

  17. “The 13 Clocks” by James Thurber. How could I possibly have forgotten!