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Books That Changed My Life

Someone on social media this morning was talking about how Station Eleven changed their life. I loved that book more than I can say, and it made me think deeply about my own writing, but it would be extravagant to claim it changed my life. That got me thinking however about what books, if any, actually did change not just me as a writer or a person, but actually changed my life.

Certainly there are non-fiction books which have done so, especially Waldorf-inspired books like Beyond the Rainbow Bridge and School As A Journey. The biography, Nicholas & Alexandra, which I read when I was seventeen, drew me into a fascination with history which has not only stayed with me for decades but which guided my university degree.

When it comes to fiction, I am slower to think of literally life-changing books. I was blessed to grow up with classic fairytales and myths so there was really no improving on that. But I can say that Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger transitioned me from fairytales to fantasy novels, and inspired my creative imagination ever since. While I never took my Pernesque juvenalia anywhere, I still have it deep in my heart to write a book about heroes and dreamers on a troubled world, and maybe one day I will.

At a very dark time in my adolescence, I was given The Riddlemaster of Hed series and discovered that someone else in the world saw things the same way I did. That was a quietly profound experience which confirmed me and gave me the courage to be more myself. A few years later, Anne of Green Gables did the same thing.

Emma by Jane Austen changed my life because it was the first classic novel I read for fun after leaving school and it showed me that I was wasting myself working in hospitality, and that I should have the courage and self-confidence to reach beyond mere survival and go to university.

Other books that have had a profound influence on me include To Say Nothing of the Dog, The Night Circus, Kafka's stories, On the Jellicoe Road, Women Who Run With Wolves, poems too numerous to name .... and I'm going to have to stop, because I'm starting to realise I could be here all day. Probably three quarters of the books I read touch me in some way, even romance novels (Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh have given me important gifts). I can't say that they changed my life, but then again who knows how things will turn out with time? Certainly they showed me different aspects of how I would change my life if I could.

I really need to say that some of the most significant books in my life have not been high literature. Oh, I've read most of Shakespeare. I've read great classics for fun. They've been insightful. But so have young adult adventures, and sweet little love stories, and comedies. The books that have touched me, altered me, are books about people, about their relationships with each other, themselves, and the world around them. Books about the human heart. They change me the same way friendships do, by adding to me, and enriching me, and giving me new perspectives on life.

Are there any books in particular that have changed your life?


  1. Oh Sarah, to see you mention Anne McCaffrey makes my heart sing. I too devoured classic fairytales and myths, particularly Norse mythology, but for me Dragonquest made the jump to a fully fledged other world I could believe in...and wanted to be true, to immerse in fully. Next came Lord of the Rings and it was actually the second book: The Two Towers, that has literally changed my life. It, and my interest in the Rangers and their Captain, gave me the courage to try my own writing voice in a safe paddling pool, has even lead me to do scholarly work on Tolkien.

    Swordspoint was the novel where I first read a style that was closest to what was in my own head and made me realize that a book could be fantasy and witty and sarcastic and queer all a once. Of all the dear ones on my shelf it is the most battered and beloved.

    The book that lead me to my current vocation of earth scientist was Volcanoes by Peter Francis. My father gave it to me because I had expressed an interest in Thera/Santorini and its effect on Minoan culture. Forty years and a Phd later, it has taken me all over the world and been an incredibly rewarding experience.

    Cry the Beloved Country opened me up to the systemic injustices that persist in the world and spurred me to volunteer locally, to affect change where I could even if I couldn't swing at everything.

    The Night Circus was one I couldn't finish, having a bit of a squeamish nature and getting stopped early in. Wade Davis' Into the Silence, about the Mallory Everest Expeditions, showed me the link between grief and trauma and turning that negative energy outward into something positive. It helped immensely as we struggled to come to grips with the loss of our daughter.

    Walt Whitman's poems will always be first in my heart but after those, so many many others. Tennyson of course, and Rupert Graves, and Maya Angelou, but always also Rumi. They are a delight and so positive and lyrical and they make me want to dance. One of the nicest compliments a reader said about my work was that it felt as if the characters were dancing. The rhythm of the words is there and spurs them on.

    Thank you so very much for sharing. It was wonderful and thank you for pointing out how works serious and sensuous, young and old are bring important wisdoms big and small


    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment, it was so interesting to read. I'm afraid I was anti LOTR for most of my youth because it was a popular trend at the time to read it and I can't abide trendy things. As an adult I have read it several times and liked it, I like The Silmarillion even better.

      I taught Cry the Beloved Country a few years ago - such a powerful book.

      Rumi is a favourite poet :-)

      Thank you again for sharing all of this.

  2. There are so many books that move me, but I'm not sure if I would say they changed my life. But they have certainly changed the way I look at life. Powerful books I've read recently: Before we were yours by Lisa Wingate; Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao.

    1. Yes it's really hard to say that a book actually created change outside of one's own existing inclinations. At least, it's rare enough for me that I only have those few examples ... although books changing how I see life, that is common.

      I haven't heard of the books you mentioned, I shall look them up :-)

  3. so, as observed, there is a difference between books that one loves and clings to through life, and books that cause a change in one's life or thinking...

    thomas berry's "the dream of the earth" gave me a way to understand how i felt about the earth and its creatures; i knew how i felt, and that it was different from how many others felt, but to read about it clarified my own thoughts and made them more clear and concrete. i knew i wanted to give in ways that aligned with this view.

    alice walker's "the temple of my familiar" gave me some insight into the complexities that face those of us who envision a world that has real equality of humanity: male and female, people of all kinds and creeds, and also a balance between human and non-human beings.

    penelope leach's "children first" changed and refined how i planned to approach becoming a mother. as an only child who never spent time babysitting or even around young children, and raised by a mother who didn't especially like small people nor being "tied down", i knew little of what babies and children truly need to thrive and grow up secure and sane and healthy. this book set me off on a course of reading and research that resulted in my becoming a very different parent than i might have been...

    rahima baldwin dancy's "you are your child's first teacher" encouraged me to create an environment for my child that supported her gentle unfolding and reinforced my instincts about what makes for an ideal early childhood.

    actually, probably there are a lot more books that changed my child's life from what it might have been than have changed my own!

  4. For me it was 'Wild' by Jay Griffiths (as well as her other non-fiction books); David Abram's two books; and 'A Language Older Than Words' and 'Dreams' by Derrick Jensen. These books all helped to change my thinking; to validate things I had perhaps known, but had not been able to articulate; and to teach me many new things, which have very much influenced the direction that my subsequent learning, reading and writing has taken.

  5. I am not sure I could say it changed my life, but I love Dune. Such a world of imagination and intrigue. The Bene Gesserit sisters and all their quiet power. The Kwisatch Haderach. They made him. They actually made him! And...then...for reasons I should probably read again, he turned into a giant sandworm. Well, this beautiful mystery and surrounding tales gave me...something. A new world? An appreciation for how one small detail can affect another somewhere else? The image of bloated beings folding space. The genetic tricks on Ix. The blue-within-blue eyes of the Fremen. All in here somewhere, roaring.

    1. I tried to read those books but I was too young at the time and didn't get very far. I saw the movie and that was amazing in itself. I should try reading them again because the depth of world building really impressed me.


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