Books That Changed My Life
Someone recently asked me when I realised I liked to write. I guess I always liked it. I always had a dozen journals full of what I thought were really deep and meaningful thoughts and ideas. E.g. "Sarah said Ginger Spice is the best Spice Girl. Baby Spice is actually the best, but Sarah and I both agree girl power is so important." But it was in year 9, when I wrote an essay on John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, that I realised I could string a sentence together – and sometimes, and this was the real shocker, other people liked it. I surprised both myself and my English teacher, Mrs Sweeney, with how passionately I wrote about Of Mice and Men. (We were also both surprised with how good my grade was. Prior to that essay I wasn't the most, er, ‘studious’ of students.) After that essay, I worked hard, did my English homework and got bumped up to the advanced class.
There are a few books like that – books that ended up signalling a change in my life or behaviour. It was doing well in English that lead me to pursue writing. One book had a domino effect. Books can have an impact on our lives like that, so I wanted to share the 5 that changed mine. (I’ve mentioned a couple of these books before, but I'm mentioning them again to ram home the whole 'they changed my life' message.)
1. Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck
This book got to me. As mentioned, it’s by John Steinbeck, whose more famous book is The Grapes of Wrath – but I like this one better. Poor, in wealth and spirit, George and Lennie are ranch hands searching for work in California during the Great Depression. All they have is each other. Lennie, in particular, relies on George. He is mentally disabled and means well, but often lands them into trouble. George's job is to pick up the pieces when he does.
My year 9 English teacher, Mrs Sweeney, gave me an A for my essay. She also told me it was clear I understood the moral message of the book. Truth was, it made me cry (not a hard feat to be honest), but it made me sad how untrusting and unaccepting the human race is. Plus I had loved writing about the book. After that I realised all I wanted to do was read and write. Unfortunately no one is yet paying me to read. One day. (If you would like to pay me to read, please get in contact!)
This book is small but powerful (like me), and you should read it. Like I said, it started me on a path to actually doing my English homework and by doing so, I got bumped up to advanced. And it was that advanced class that got me into my creative writing degree, which landed me an internship, then a job at a magazine. Moral of this story? Read this book. Oh, and do your English homework.
2. Big Magic
by Elizabeth Gilbert
And of course, Big Magic. I posted about this on Instagram lately. This book changed my life and the way I see myself. After reading it I decided to quit being a scaredy-kitten (kittens are way cuter than cats) and just write. Because all you have to do to be a writer, is write. Write dang nabbit, WRITE! (Soz, had a Hollywood moment there.) This book is why I started this website in December last year (never too late to kick a goal), why I’m working on my freelance writing website, why I'm writing a book and have entered two short story comps. Anyway, long-winded way of saying: read it.
(Shout out to Elizabeth Gilbert for liking my post and for inspiring the gift of self belief into me. I’m so grateful.)
3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo
Something about the whole ‘surround yourself with the things you love’ struck a chord with me. I prefer that to the ‘joy’ line, but I don’t think Marie would mind. I'll be honest, I am a hoarder ‒ my mother is too. I don’t like wasting money, I’m happy to spend it, but I don’t like wasting it. But that means whenever I buy or am given anything, I act like I must hold on to it till Armageddon‒ but no. That is not necessary. I especially like the chapter in The Life-Chaning Magic of Tidying Up about gifts and gift giving. People giving you a gift is the real gift to them. It doesn’t mean you need to hang on to what they gifted you with until the end of time (which is what I had been doing). It all made so much sense! Since reading this book, I throw things out left, right and centre. If it doesn’t make me feel amazing when I put it on, I throw it in the charity bag. (Which I always have now as I declutter out so often – gold star to me.) I also fold my underwear as a result of this book, and it sounds weird, but it is the best thing ever. My draws – and 'drawers' ha! – are immaculate.
4. Get Your Sh*t Together
by Sarah Knight
Sarah Knight has recently released a new book, You Do You, which I plan on reading as I loved Get Your Sh*t Together. I’m not a naturally organised person. (If you know Myers Briggs, I'm a 'P'.) I'm easily distracted, I forget to check my to-do lists etc, etc.
This book reminded me:
a) You only have limited time, so you need to spend it doing the things you love.
b) You need to schedule time for everything, including the things you love doing
c) You are not the Queen of the World and not having you sh*t together is infuriating for everyone else.
She's got a point, eh? After this, I started making sure I wrote EVERYTHING in my diary. I schedule time for everything, the things I love and the things I hate. I write 'Must Do Lists' and focus on accomplishing the things that matter. And I'm better (I hope) for it.
5. Anne of Green Gables
by L M Montgomery
One Saturday night when I was 19, all my friends had gone out to a party and I stayed home and read Anne of Green Gables. I got up to the third one and realised I didn’t own it and I needed to read it now. Like, right now. It was a crucial moment in the plot. But the library closed in 10 minutes! So I jumped in the car, parked illegally, then ran (in ugg boots) to the library. I got there just in time to borrow the last book. Hurrah, eh! The librarian commented that she didn't often see people so desperate to get to the library.
I wrote a note to myself ‘never forget this feeling ‒ how happy you were running to get to the library before it shut at 9pm.’
That’s when I realised I was a nerd.
Regardless, Anne of Green Gables is one my favourite series of all time (along with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter). I now own every book so no need for late night library dashes. But every time I read them, I remember being 19 years old and running to get to the library before it shut at 9pm. Ahh, to be young and wild.
6. What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty
This might sound crazy, but when I found out that Liane Moriarty was an Aussie, from Sydney, it gave me the confidence that maybe one day I could be a best-selling author.
Granted, that confidence may be completely ridiculous and not make any sense but it made me believe that one day I could write stories that people love. The way I love Moriarty's stories.
7. A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
This book changed the way I thought about writing and story-telling. This is the most emotional-wrenching book I've ever read. Sometimes I had to put it down as it was too emotionally draining. Sometimes I made my boyfriend hug me when I was oberwhelmed with grief for the characters in the book.
I read an interview with the author after I finished the book as I wanted to know how she’d captured pain so accurately. In one article Yanagihara said she fought with her editor to keep the horror of Jude’s story intact. He told her she should leave things unsaid and “give the reader a break.” But Yanagihara’s point was people LIVE through this sh*t, and we can't even read it?
I cried approximately 11 times. And I don’t mean one glistening tear on my cheek, I mean ugly sobbing. One night I made my boyfriend hug me for 15 minutes after I read a chapter because I felt so alone in this big bad world. This book is not for the faint hearted, it will shatter you. It’s like nothing you’ve ever read before – and it had a profound effect on me and the importance of art imitating life. Storytelling being used to change the way we think.
8. Lessons from Madame Chic
by Jennifer L Scott
Written by an American who lived in Paris and fell in love with the passionate way the French live. This book is her 'how-to', based on the lessons she learnt when living there. It’s very American but Scott makes some key points that have stuck with me. The most important being ‘use your best things everyday’ – I actually do that now. There are some parts you can gloss over, such as the skincare chapter – if you’re interested in this blog, then I imagine skincare is already important to you – but most of it makes you think “I should do that!”
9. A Dog's Purpose
by Bruce Cameron
Anyone who’s ever loved a dog should read this book. Bailey is a dedicated and loyal dog, who loves ‘his boy’ while searching for his purpose in life. But just when he thinks he’s found it, he has to start all over again.
It’s a metaphor for human life and our search for purpose. How our happy, hardest and most painful experiences get us to where we need to be. But most importantly, it's about the love between a human and their dog. A love I know well.