There is nothing like a good book. It opens our eyes to different worlds, provides insights into lives that are not our own, and can radically change the way we interact with the world we live in.
Here, people share books that completely changed the way they interact with the world.
I’m going to go a different route and the say the Magic Treehouse series.
I was kind of a lonely kid, and had a really hard time following directions to the point where my teachers thought I was destined for failure. I discovered reading and realized that I could escape the bad environment around me and live in brilliant new worlds. While it didn’t immediately improve my grades – I recall reading under my desk rather than paying attention a lot in second grade – it ultimately gave me the passion to do better, because that meant I could learn and experience more. It also converted me to a lifelong reader.
Johnny Got His Gun. This following excerpt really changed how I think of wars and the military in general.
“If the thing they were fighting for was important enough to die for then it was also important enough for them to be thinking about it in the last minutes of their lives. That stood to reason. Life is awfully important so if you’ve given it away you’d ought to think with all your mind in the last moments of your life about the thing you traded it for. So did all those kids die thinking of democracy and freedom and liberty and honor and the safety of the home and the stars and stripes forever?
“You’re goddamn right they didn’t.
“They died crying in their minds like little babies. They forgot the thing they were fighting for, the things they were dying for. They thought about things a man can understand. They died yearning for the face of a friend. They died whimpering for the voice of a mother, a father, a wife, a child. They died with their hearts sick for one more look at the place where they were born, please god just one more look. They died moaning and sighing for life. They knew what was important. They knew that life was everything and they died with screams and sobs. They died with only one thought in their minds and that was I want to live, I want to live, I want to live.”
Siddartha by Herman Hesse
This book is an easy read, beautifully and eloquently written and thought provoking.
I read it at a formative time in my life. It caused me to take a step back from my life and look inward. I’ve gone on to read most of Herman Hesse’s books (Steppenwolf is incredible) and have to say that this is one of his most simplistic books but arguably the most relatable too. I’ve read it three or four times and each time I relate to different aspects of the book particularly as I get.
Probably not a conventional choice, but Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr.
I smoked for 20 years. I smoked unapologetically and with gusto. I really loved smoking. And then, I hated it. I hated having to wake up every morning and the first thing I thought about being how quickly I could push that stick into my mouth. I hated having to plan my entire day about when I could get out, how much I would smell, convince myself I didn’t care, and then when I could get back out. By the end, I think I was enjoying less than 10% of my cigarettes. But I was convinced, brainwashed, that I couldn’t stop. That I was hooked for life and stopping would be like trying to eat a steak with a toothpick. Pure futility. So I resigned myself to a lifetime of smoking; of spending $10+ a day for the privilege of killing myself.
I felt like crap. I was waking up every morning hacking up half a lung, and I couldn’t even pretend like I wanted to be smoking anymore. I had tried patches, hypnotherapy, looking at pictures of diseased lungs, you name it. Nothing mattered because my perspective was all messed up. I was brainwashed by rich, fat, white men in an effort to make them richer and fatter. I do know that reading that book changed my life. I quit, cold turkey, over a weekend. I quit with ease and with pleasure. I lapped up every withdrawal pang because it meant I was winning. I read that book and felt like Rocky summiting the steps in Philadelphia. I felt like Superman.
Seriously, that book allowed me to completely change the way I looked at cigarettes and smoking, and even myself. In two days I went from a pack a day to nothing. Zip. Not even a drag. And I was happy about it. It’s not like Vonnegut or Huxley, although I loved those authors. This book completely and tangibly changed the way I live. The difference is phenomenal. I can taste things. I can smell things. I can wake up in the morning and not be a slave to anything. I was able to finally and fully comprehend that smoking did nothing for me. Nothing at all. A cigarette is simply a delivery mechanism for one of the most addictive substances on the planet. It wasn’t just a habit. It was a full-blown drug addiction. Semantics are important here.
“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.
Frankl is a psychologist who survived a german concentration camp in WW2. He writes about his experiences and the things he came to realize in that time. It offers deep insight in human psyche and really changed my view on life.
The premise of the book is “He who has a why can live to bear almost any how”. It got me out of a very bad time, and I recommend it dearly to anyone out there feeling alone and left behind.
1984 by George Orwell.
I think it has never been more relevant than today in regard to privacy. It’s terrifying to see how much of this dystopian fiction has already come true or feels possible.
Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. Great book. As political as it is mathematical.
If you haven’t read it please do it’s about 158 pages long and it explains dimensions and gives insight into the 4th dimension.
In Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures, one of the characters said, “You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world?… It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at. It’s all the sons who become blacksmiths because their fathers were blacksmiths. It’s all the people who could be really fantastic flute players who grow old and die without ever seeing a musical instrument, so they become bad plowmen instead. It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.
That made me start freaking out about all the people who may not reach their potential because they never had the chance to discover their potential. I decided after that I need to adopt instead of having biological kids, just so I can at least make sure there’s one less kid who didn’t have to opportunity to be what s/he wants to be.
Now I’m in a relationship with a guy who’s completely perfect in every way for me, except that he doesn’t believe in adoption. He rather be childless than adopt even though he wants kids.
It’s actually an issue now.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I didn’t love reading until I read Douglas Adams.
“man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
I feel like a broken record with how much I’ve mentioned The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but it’s true.
Since I was 14, I’ve read it three separate times, and every single time something new gets me about it. It’s got a fantastic group of characters that are so deeply human it almost hurts, and the range of their personalities and ideals is something I haven’t seen in any other book I’ve read. It takes you down to an extremely dark place, but at the end there’s this very beautiful, very uplifting redemption to it all. A bit daunting with how long it is, but seriously everyone, read this book. My first tattoo actually has a reference to it, and I’m very happy with that.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I read this and 1984 back-to-back and found that, while 1984 is perhaps the better book, Brave New World bears a striking similarity to today’s world.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
Maybe it is also because I am German, but it made me feel so emotionally connected to every soldier, even the “bad guys” because this boy Paul was supposed to be a bad guy, but all he was was an 18 yr old kid forced into a conflict greater than him, as a device used by men who would never know the psychological damage, destruction of beauty, love and happiness they ultimately created for these amazing young spirits, who had so much potential.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
There are so many one-liner quotes that one can think about for ages. It also makes one question power, first impressions, and many other hidden qualities of life.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
There are seriously so many little lines in that book that have helped me grow as a person – to acknowledge that some people don’t understand how great doing the right thing is, to recognize that everyone affects everyone else, to realize that if I’m wasting my potential, it’s only my fault… It’s phenomenal.
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. In essence, it’s a back and forth dialogue about the path of humanity. Great for those lost in existential crisis or just looking for a quick stimulating read.
The Giver by Lois Lowry.
I read it for the first time when I was in sixth grade and it opened my eyes to the realities of wishing for a world with no pain, no sorrow, no tension. My dad was working on his second divorce at the time and things were rather unsettled and, before reading the book, I thought that it would be really nice if I could just not feel.
It was also the first time I questioned the nature of existence and how it was that I knew what I knew was true. You could probably make the argument that The Giver was my first step towards the godless heathen I am today.
It also started a long love-affair with novels set in Dystopian worlds (something the modern young adult audience seems to also have a great fondness for).
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
It’s the story of a man with severe mental disabilities who undergoes a procedure to become more intelligent. It written in a journal format from his perspective. The way everything unfolds taught me that drastically changing something about yourself can not be a substitute for happiness. I read this in the 10th grade when I found it on the floor in the hallway and it has since been my favorite book.
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I read it in High School and it totally changed my perspective on war. Prior to that, I thought of war as something glorious and wonderful -I was a teenage boy in the US and insulated from the harsh reality. After reading it, I didn’t become anti-war so much as recognizing the terrible cost and understanding that even a “righteous” war has horror and casualties that did nothing to deserve it.
I think Vonnegut, were he still alive, would be disappointed that I missed the point in that I’m not totally against war in any form. I think it can be necessary (e.g. if your country is invaded, you aren’t obligated to allow the other side to roll over you), but war is something to be avoided at most costs. Slaughterhouse Five taught me that.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
I read it while working two jobs trying to pay off college loans, a car note, and credit cards. It kind of woke me up that I had been living like my parents, just buying the things I wanted immediately on credit.
I paid off everything. Then my house burned to the ground. Then to get the insurance money for the contents of what was in the house I had to itemize everything and then re-buy them. It was sort of like being caught with cigarettes and then forced to smoke a whole pack while stuck in a closet, the cigarettes being material things in this analogy. It was torture having to re-buy the things I didn’t want to own anymore. Brought a whole new awakening to the whole “The things you own, own you.” I am not materialistic now. I own very little. I carry no debt.
It also woke me up to the amount of lies that inhabit our society.
Life of Pi changed my perspective dramatically on spirituality and faith. I went from “I either accept the catholic god or embrace atheism” to an agnostic perspective where no one religion could possibly be “the right religion”. Any so-called god would be capable of recognizing that as long as one lives as the best person they can be, then they have no right to place judgement on that person over what faith they practiced.
So I started on a path of following the best practices of multiple religions and dismissing the practices that lead to the pain of myself or others. I turn the other cheek and try to make Buddha smile. I respect all forms of life and refuse to judge someone for how they were born. If there is no god or afterlife, I’ve never made sacrifices to my happiness in the name of a god. I’ve lived my life to it’s fullest and I’m content with that. If there is a god, that god will not be able to judge me at fault because by the omnipotent definition of god, they will understand that I was the best person I could possibly be given the circumstances of my life.
And if there is a god who would judge me wrong as I stand, then throw me to the fires of hell because I will not worship such a god. One who would put billions of people with a plethora of religions onto earth and say “only this group is the right one”. One who would judge me wrong knowing full well I was born into one faith of many, and even if it was somehow the right one, it’s filled with corruption and easy to misinterpret in ways that cause pain. That’s not a god, that’s an egomaniac.
Dune by Frank Herbert.
I’m a big reader and used to plow through every book in the library as a kid. The progression from Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi to Adult Sci-Fi was fairly quick, as the selection in young adult was limited and mostly crappy at the time. Except for Anne McCaffrey, of course.
Dune really opened my eyes to depth of story and character. I still re-read the series every other year or so and unravel more plots-within-plots with ulterior motives. It’s a fascinating study of politics and psychology. If you’ve read Tolkein and are hankering for something more spacey, I highly recommend giving Dune a try.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.
It captures that mid-20s feeling of having no clue what you’re supposed to do with your life, even though you’re suddenly an adult.
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.
Yes, it’s technically cheating since it’s a graphic novel, but nothing I’ve ever read has had such a profound impact on me as this series. Radically altered my views on religion and faith, on creativity and the arts, and ultimately on how we define ourselves, and how that definition changes over time. It’s also incredibly quotable, which helps.
Animal Farm by George Orwell.
The politics are real world and repeated all over the globe throughout history.
Identify the ‘boxer’ working middle/lower classes who give legitimacy to the ruling class. When you have the support of the people behind you (at least for a time) you can coalesce power and make yourself a ruling pig. Eventually those rulers turn on those that put them in power and enslave them for gain or work the classes to death for little gain.
Know your place in society and be willing NOT to give support blindly.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
It’s not a book about war, it’s a book about life.