What are yours?

The books that changed my life

This one’s for all my bookish readers.

I was inspired awhile back by Jodi’s post to write my own about the books that changed my life.

The books that stick in my head a decade later; the ones that spur me into action.

And I’m always curious, too, what these books are for other people. And what they mean to them.

These books aren’t necessarily ground-breaking literary works of art. Rather, they changed my view of the world, or they changed me somehow, fundamentally. Even if I didn’t know it right away.

Of course, I want to know about yours. Leave me comments! 

*Some of these links are affiliate links, so I’ll earn a small commission if you decide to buy ’em (at no extra cost to you).

The Baby-sitters Club: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls – Ann M. Martin

Yes, I’m starting with The Baby-sitters Club.

This was the first novel I ever read, at age seven. Up until then I had no idea why anyone would read a book without images. Lols.

Thus this one is entirely responsible for kickstarting my love affair with books. I used to go to the public library and pick out five books at a time (because that was the limit) and then eenie-meenie-miney-mo them to figure out what to read first. I LIVED for books.

The Grand Escape – Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Another children’s book, about two cats running away from home and going on a fun adventure. Why was it life changing? It’s the first book that made me really want to write. I started a whole series called “The Adventures of Lady and Beauty,” based on my two dogs.

The Devil’s Arithmetic – Jane Yolen

I attribute The Devil’s Arithmetic to being the first book to ever rob me of my naive world views. It’s a YA book, and the first I had ever read about the Holocaust. I think I was 11. I had no idea such nightmares could exist in the world, and less than a century before. It totally shattered my life perception.

For years, I read Holocaust books like a maniac, trying to make some sense of the world. I never did.

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

When I was an angsty teenager, I stumbled across Sylvia Plath’s poetry. That was back when I actually kind of cared about poetry, but I think it was mostly her tragic life story that drew me in.

But then I read The Bell Jar and fell in utter love. I wish I could find a framed copy of my favourite quote:

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

(I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of my life-changing reads occurred during my adolescent years.)

The Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr.

I consider this THE style and grammar bible for writers and wannabe writers. It’s small in size, so it won’t freak you out too much. And it actually makes grammar seem not-so-complicated.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

This is the book that made me really, truly want to become a strong woman writer, like Margaret Atwood. She’s my icon. I absolutely adore her.

I still remember this quote, all these years later: “A man is just a woman’s strategy for making other women.”

A close second is her book The Blind Assassin.

The Odyssey – Homer

I ended up studying Classics on a whim, because I didn’t know what else to study. Turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Reading The Odyssey (as well as The Iliad, and The Aeneid) just kinda blew my mind. The fact that somebody could write an epic poem thousands of years ago and have it still be relevant today was one of the best learning experiences I had throughout university.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Wayne Johnston

Wayne Johnston has been able to eloquently put into words what I never could about how it feels to be a travelling Newfoundlander.

I exhausted myself trying to take it all in, noting every little variation and departure from how things were supposed to be. My notion of home and everything in it as ideal, archetypal, was being overthrown. It was as though the definitions of all the words in my vocabulary were expanding at once.

Cape Breton was much like Newfoundland, yet everything seemed slightly off. Light, colours, surface textures, dimensions – objects like telegraph poles, fence posts, mail boxes, which you would think would be the same everywhere, were bigger or smaller or wider by a hair than they were back home. That I was able to detect such subtle differences made me realize how circumscribed my life had been, how little of the world I had seen.

I could reread that excerpt over and over. And Mr. Johnston even signed my book.

A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout

Let’s call this another one of those worldview shattering reads, about a young journalist who gets kidnapped in Somalia and for nearly two years is held hostage under unbearably brutal conditions. This book haunted me for weeks after reading it, and I remember feeling so shocked that someone could live through something like this and still so beautifully tell the story.

So what are your life-changing books? I’d love to hear them.

  • January 22 2016

    Whenever I read book lists like this, I automatically pick some out and put them on hold at my library. From this list, I have already reserved (that’s how fast I am) A House in the Sky and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. :)
    Elizabeth recently posted…DJ Skate Night Saturday

    • January 25 2016

      Yay! That makes me happy! I’d love to hear what you think of them

  • January 22 2016

    Definitely TBC, I wanted to be Claudia Kishi. Another favourite was “I am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier. I still get goosebumps when I read the closing lines.

    Speaking of which – Goosebumps, Animorphs… basically anything that was priced under $3 a book at Target. I don’t think I’d be reading as much as an adult if it weren’t for those series.
    LC recently posted…Visiting the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech

    • January 25 2016

      Hahaha Animorphs! I forgot about those.

      Totally checking out “I am the Cheese.” I’ve never heard of it, actually.

  • January 22 2016

    Some really interesting books here. My ‘to read’ list is growing to enormous proportions! :) For me books that have stayed with me and changed something are mostly all non-fiction, not sure why. The Princess series by Jean Sasson sheds light on women in Saudi Arabia, Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan was fantastic, Wild Swans by Jung Chang – three generations of women in China, Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (She is from Somalia)and most recently In Order to Live by Yenomi Park. An Atheist Manifesto by Michael Onfrey also changed my views. I better end the list now. :)

    • January 25 2016

      I think the non-fiction thing makes a lot of sense. My holocaust reads were so life-altering for me because they revealed a darker side to humanity that’s too terrifying and horrific to comprehend. I haven’t heard of most of those you mentioned. My list is growing too! Haha

  • January 23 2016

    I love your book posts! Even though I have wayyy too many books on my night stand already, there’s not really a need for the pile to grow… Haha.

    For me one of the most life-changing books was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The second time I read it I was at a point in my life where everything in it just made perfect sense and it hit me really, really hard.

    By the way, I love how you’ve also included children’s books. Baby Sitters Club rocked!
    Elina recently posted…About finding yourself

    • January 25 2016

      Hahaha BSC for life! I actually didn’t love The Little Prince but I think I read it too quick. And on Kindle. If I can find a hard copy I’ll try again

  • January 23 2016

    Oh how I love your book posts. Let me count the ways.

    Lifechangers on my list have been:

    The Poisonwood Bible, both because it solidified my desire to write and because it helped me make sense of the complicated good and bad and confused motivations that come with being raised very religious and then truly opening your eyes to the world;

    And a bunch of Stephen Lawhead’s early fantasy writing, which was responsible for a lot of the fiction stories I wrote as a kid and at least some of my desire to be an author;
    Gigi recently posted…Well, Hello There, USA

    • January 25 2016

      Hahaha, wooot! Sharing these posts makes me happy.

      LOVED The Poisonwood Bible. And I’ve never heard Stephen Lawhead. Must look into that!

  • January 23 2016

    I am nearly finished Annabel by Kathleen Winter and I love it. The description in the book of Labrador is beautiful and the characters are well developed. The main character Wayne is one of my favourite literary characters. His sadness and loneliness and wanting to belong is so real. It’s probably my favourite book from a local author, including everything I’ve read by Lisa Moore and one of my favourite books in general.

    • January 25 2016

      YES! Annabel! Kathleen Winter was one of my writing teachers and she actually was the one to encourage me to try travel writing. I adore her.

  • January 24 2016

    A House in the Sky is on my list as well – it’s one of the most unbelievable and emotional books I’ve ever read! I’d also say The War of Art, The Alchemist, The Kite Runner, and Shantaram have been pivotal books throughout my life. Thanks for the suggestions :) I definitely want to read The Elements of Style.
    Ashley recently posted…Expat in Edinburgh: Month 8

    • January 25 2016

      I’ve read all of those except The War of Art! Looooved them all, although kinda on the fence about Shantaram haha

  • January 24 2016

    Every time you write about books, my Amazon wishlist grows! The only thing on this list I’ve read is The Babysitter’s Club so I’ll be checking the others out.

    For me, the first one that comes to mind is The Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert. It was the first “gritty” book I read and it really opened my eyes to a world where not everything was black and white. Plus it introduced me to a ton of new music. Stephanie is basically my idol and the first time I met her I was so excited I almost cried.
    Sky recently posted…Why I Always Travel With My Kindle Fire

    • January 25 2016

      Hahaha my to-read always grows too thanks to all the recommendations of others! Totally adding that one to my list

  • January 26 2016
    Adriana Louw

    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Saphran Foer was just mindblowing. I still get goosebumps and teary-eyed when I tell people about it. And it taught me the phrase “to wear heavy boots” when things aren’t going your way.

    • January 28 2016

      I actually think the girl I’m subletting from has this book in her bookshelf. Oooh.

  • January 26 2016

    As a kid all I read was sci-fi. (It’s still a large part of my current reading.) It was mostly hard sci-fi written in the 50s and 60s (or Star Trek and Star Wars novels). While those were all great stories it was two sci-fi novels that really showed me what the genre meant for me. The first was Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. That book really captures the sense of wonder, adventure, despair, and hope without getting bogged down in too much hard science or techno-babble. The other is William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”. Man what a trip. Gibson is a fantastic writer and really brings you into the world. Mixes detective novels with sci-fi to give a realistic and not always pleasant future. He showed me that sci-fi wasn’t all epic space adventures and happy endings. Technology has real consequences for a real future. Not everything came true but it’s not hard to imagine that future.

    Later in life and in the non-fiction category, it was “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. I always had known that indigenous people had been treated poorly but this was a real eye opener. You can’t read that book without getting angry. I had to put it down often just to process everything. The stories are American but Canada has the same troubled past with indigenous people. (See Thomas King’s “An Inconvinient Indian” for a great Canadian perspective.) You just have to read the news daily to understand what effect the past has had on the present and how far we have to go. (If you are brave read comments on news stories about first nations issues to see what I mean.) There’s lots of great books on this topic and I’m only just starting to get into it. It’s is some tough reading but important.

    Love your site. Keep up the great work.

    • January 28 2016

      Thanks, Ryan! And thanks for such an awesome detailed comment. I loved sci-fi in my earlier years but I fell out of love with it, and I’m unsure why. I took a sci-fi class in university and it was one of my all-time favourites. The class was split between English geeks and Science nerds, and the conversations we had about the books (and what we took away from them) were fascinating.

      On the other side, a lot of my high school reading involved books about Canada’s First Nations…but the topic never interested me in the slightest. Now I can’t read enough of it. I’m obsessed with Joseph Boyden’s books. And I’ll definitely look into those you mentioned.

  • January 27 2016

    I get so excited when you have book posts!

    Let’s see, the books that changed my life:

    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The first time I read it, I was in grade 4. Obviously, I had no idea what it was truly about, but it was the first time I realized that books could be about big, huge, real things.

    The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. This book stuck in my craw for weeks. I remember writing “Stay gold, Ponyboy” in the condensation of my bathroom mirror after a shower and tearing up every time I saw it.

    Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginedes. I was also too young to fully comprehend the scope and scale and importance of what this book was about when I first read it, but the strangeness of it, the raw honesty of it, had me in ecstatic fits the whole time I was reading it.

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. This was the first time I realized that maybe I wasn’t alone in my weirdness. That other people feel alone and weird and uncomfortable in life sometimes, too, even when they are the cool kids. Especially when they aren’t.

    Harry Potter. Because I have never stopped loving those books and I literally reread them at least once a year. There’s no way that JK Rowling and her world did not have an impact on how I see and interact with mine.
    Jessica recently posted…January Book Discussion: Life in Outer Space

    • January 28 2016

      You read “To Kill a Mockingbird” in grade four?! Damn. I am impressed, haha.

      The only one I haven’t read there is “The Outsiders”, so I’ve added it to my list. Middlesex is one of my favourites too! I’m currently reading his newest, “The Marriage Plot.” Enjoying it so far, although its reviews worried me.

      • January 29 2016

        I didn’t like The Marriage Plot as much as I liked Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, but it is still classic Eugenides, so there’s still a lot to love!
        Jessica recently posted…yes to being alive

        • January 30 2016

          Yeah, I’m enjoying it so far, but not as much in love as I was with Middlesex!

      • January 29 2016

        Another awesome thing about The Outsiders, besides the fact that it is a great book, is that SE Hinton is a woman, and she wrote it when she was 16.


        There’s that.
        Jessica recently posted…yes to being alive

        • January 30 2016

          WHAT?!! That is wild

  • February 09 2016
    William Yao

    Thank you Candice for your book list. I’d like to try to read some of them. I like reading, typically one book per week, but, in Chinese. Reading in English is not easy for me, at least at present stage. As a new islander, now I’m reading a book by a local writer, Margaret Westlie. For the past one month, I only finished half of it. Obviously, I need to improve my English with my great effort.

    • February 15 2016

      William, your English seems great to me! :) I hope you find some books in there you like.

  • March 13 2016

    Sweetland by Michael Crummey…I don’t know, as a newfie do you enjoy newfie books? I loved this one. Very very newfie outpostish
    then there’s Alan Doyle’s book. can’t remember the title. Very good.
    Lately it’s been about food… not so much recipes (though the unusual are always welcome), but a story about food
    my latest bestest greatest is
    My Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy
    Honey & Co. The Cookbook…this one requires a trip to London…just to get the chance to eat this book
    and while in London one might as well go to Ottolenghi and Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi. I wonder if they’re close to each other.
    Voracious by Cara Nicoletti
    any Vinyl Cafe book by Stuart Mclean,, or is it MacLean…?
    any Maeve Binchy
    The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain and also the Presidents Hat…I think it’s called. Both of these are wonderful

    • March 15 2016

      I loved Sweetland! Really hit home. I never liked Newfoundland based books growing up, but now I do. Wayne Johnston is my favourite NL author so far.

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