5 Books That Changed My Life

I’ve always been passionate about reading.

Ever since I was young, when I would fly through Nancy Drew books like they were on fire; when my favorite day in school was the Scholastic Book Fair; when I would crush elementary school reading challenges and get sparkly star stickers like it was nobody’s business; when I would request a couple Jodi Picoult books for Christmas, but only two or three, because they were expensive; when I would volunteer at Cooper Elementary School and my favorite part was helping first graders read and sound out syllables of Frog and Toad books; to now, when I scour thrift stores and bookstores for copies of books that I can pay with with my own money, breathing in the distinct smell of ink on paper and trying to find an old, fat cat in the store, because there’s usually a cat, the best independent bookstores have one or two; and when my favorite part about going on vacation is getting to pick out the special books to take with me on my journey.

So, a few months ago when I had an interview at a publishing company, I was thinking about some of my favorite books, but I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite because I’ve read so many incredible books (I have SO MANY favorite books. Seriously, look at my Goodreads shelf!), so I started thinking about the books that have impacted my life in a big way.

All of these books below have affected me in some way, made me reflect on my life, personality and journey, and have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I’m not a big cryer for the most part. I joke and tell people I don’t even have tear ducts. But this book. THIS BOOK. I cried probably a dozen different times while reading this.

I think art is something special and wonderful when it makes you feel something, and this book made me feel so many different things. Books are incredible works of art and this one was written so elegantly, detailed and complex, it really made me feel like I was living and working in this world with the characters. Although the characters were only somewhat relatable to my life, I found myself wanting to meet them in person, to see JB’s artwork and Willem’s films. I wanted to talk to Jude. I found myself making connections from the characters to people in my life, and along with the real, raw, painful and profound writing, I found it to be very powerful and a story that has stayed with me.

This book was also on Anderson Cooper’s reading list so you know it’s a good one. Anderson, I, too miss the characters!

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

This was the first book I read by Jodi Picoult and after I was finished, I was hooked. I’ve read almost all of her books (and she’s written 23 novels) but whenever I think of this author, I always think of this book. I was moved by this book because I was a teenager in high school when I read it, just like one of the main characters in the book. I’m also terrified of gun violence, a main theme in the book, and it was easier to swallow, understand and relate to than if I were to watch a movie about gun violence.

In all of her books, Picoult’s writing is honest, interesting, and captivating. In this book she uses trials and court room excerpts (which is fascinating) and switches between various characters to tell the story from different perspectives. I had never read a book in the format she uses and she set the bar high for fiction authors.

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

This book was written by a young, female journalist at a New York newspaper, and when I read it I was going to college for journalism. There were so many connections to her journey and mine – up until she was admitted into the hospital for a disease that caused her to go mad. Spoiler alert – she survives, the disease becoming a blessing in disguise that inspired this book. It’s a true story (and a movie!) and sparked my love for nonfiction books and documentaries.

I envied Susannah’s storytelling and investigative reporting skills, how the book read somewhat like a mystery, how detailed she was in capturing the events of her life, and that she was one of the first strong, courageous female journalists I looked up to. She bounced back and lived to tell her story.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky

When I borrowed this book from a friend in college, I knew I was in for something good. I knew I was an introvert, painfully shy, and wasn’t fond of partying, which is odd for a college student – in a sorority, no less – but this book made me want to embrace my introverted-ness. Have you ever read a book that makes you more confident and sure in yourself? This was that book for me. (Also the main character, Charlie, shares the same birthday as me. Talk about a book that spoke to my soul!)

This book helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with being a wallflower, to embrace my weirdness, and that I will find friends who will stick by me and love me for who I am, no matter how much of a hermit I can be! While the movie was incredible, the book is even more so.

Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn

I got this book from the library after watching Minimalism on Netflix after some friends recommended it, and I think I finished it in two days.

Minimalism is a new way of thinking I can totally get on board with. It’s about how to live a more meaningful life with less stuff. To focus more on experiences and less on things. To be more mindful of the things we buy and direct our attention on. To make every moment, every relationship, every item in your life count to create a happier, more efficient lifestyle. That’s how I interpret it.

The authors say, “By incorporating minimalism into our lives, we’ve finally been able to find lasting happiness—and that’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? We all want to be happy. Minimalists search for happiness not through things, but through life itself; thus, it’s up to you to determine what is necessary and what is superfluous in your life.”

After reading this book, I was so inspired that I donated four big bags of books, clothing, shoes, housegoods and puzzles to Plato’s Closet and Goodwill. These things did not bring me joy, instead made me stress out more. In fact, donating these items brought me joy. Full circle, people!

I didn’t realize it until learning about this Minimalism movement but all the cheap books I bought over the years were causing me stress (while most of them were $3 or under, I knew I only wanted them so they would look pretty on my bookshelf, which is kind of a messed up way to think), all the clothes I had to have were looking at me with sad eyes because I never took the tags off (I have the huge clearance section at Forever 21 to thank for that), and all the household goods I bought but then collected dust in my closet because I was too lazy to do anything with them (from a bout of inspiration on Pinterest and Apartment Therapy) – now they are all in a happy home. Hopefully.

Now I have a couple bookshelves of carefully selected books, a closet curated with clothes I know I’ll wear, and hardly any excess stuff. It’s a work in progress, and I’m sure I’ll do a few more purges this year, but I’m also so much more mindful of things I buy, my relationships, and the things I value.

What books have changed or impacted your life?

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  1. Pingback: 30 Things I’m Grateful For in June | Kelsey Welke

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