10 Books That Changed My Life

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I am a reader.  I am always reading something.  On my bedside table there are always at least three to five books (sometimes more).  In a pinch, I’ve been known to read the backs of cereal boxes.  To say I am an avid reader is definitely an understatement.  I think I could probably just about keep the local public library in business by myself.   Did I mention how much I love the library?

I also love to share what I read. When I find a gem, I recommend it to pretty much everyone I know.  If I think it’s a bummer, I generally don’t say much because you might find something in it I don’t.  If you want to see some of what I’ve been reading and what’s on my to-read list (I often forget to update), you can check out Good Reads.

Sometimes when you read a book, it really sticks with you.  Sometimes because it’s incredibly well written (usually), sometimes because it moves you out of your comfort zone and makes you really think about things, sometimes because the book or the subject of the book really inspires you–and sometimes, just  because.

I have many books that have stuck with me.  I’ve been inspired, I’ve traveled the earth–and beyond, I’ve been moved, I’ve learned, I’ve laughed (yes, I do laugh out loud when I’m reading–and sometimes I even talk back to my books), I’ve cried.

Here are 10 of those books that have stuck with me the most (in no particular order).  I’m sure if I thought longer, I could come up with even more books that really had an impact on me.  There are a couple of notable omissions here.  I did not include my primary religious texts here–they would have made up nearly half my list.  Suffice it to say that reading the word of God has certainly had more impact on my life than anything I ever have or ever will read.


Where the Red Fern Grows

by Wilson Rawls

Everyone has a favorite childhood book.  They are all favorite for different reasons.  This one is mine.  When I was in the fifth and sixth grades, Miss Hoffman read to us every day after lunch.   This was one of the books she read.  I was so drawn into the story that I read it myself at the same time.  I just couldn’t wait for school every day to find out what would happen to Billy and his coon hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann.  It was the first time I read a book and cried.  Even today, this story still brings tears.

It was with this book that I learned the power of the written word and the emotions it could evoke.  If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, you need to.  And read it to your kids.  It is one of the classics of children’s literature, in my opinion.


Aligned Thinking

by Jim Steffen

This is a short book.  I only read it for the first time a couple of years ago.  I happened upon it at the library (libraries have good stuff!) and I liked it so much I went out and bought my own copy.

It’s told in the form of narrative/mini-novel, as so many of the books in the Ken Blanchard series are.  Obviously, it’s a format that works.  Instead of telling us how to do it, the book illustrates the principles in action through the characters in the story.  As stories go, it’s not great fiction, but as a teaching tool, it does illustrate the point well.

This book has changed the way I plan and structure my time and set goals.  I still have long to-do lists, but I’ve learned how to plan and how to realistically gauge what I can and cannot do.  Amazingly, when I am really following along with it I am so much more focused and productive than at other times.  The system is simple enough that I’ve started teaching it to my kids.


A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khalid Hosseini

Another library find that I ended up buying.  And after I read this, I read The Kite Runner.  It was an interesting year.  It seemed for months everything I read was about Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, India and other Asian cultures.  I call it my “eastern” phase.

Of all the novels I read, this is the one that stopped me in my tracks.  I usually can knock off a novel in two or three days.  This one took me nearly two weeks to get through.  I found myself reading it much more slowly than I usually read, but then reading for shorter periods so I could absorb and process what I was reading.  It is not an easy read, but it is a great story.  I will admit to having known very little about Afghan culture and history before reading this.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is the compelling story of multiple generations of an Afghani family spread over 30 years or so.  Since reading it, I have become keenly aware of just how blessed I am to have been born in a free country where I can choose my life and I am free to make my own decisions.


Three Cups of Tea:  One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace. . .  One School at a Time

by Greg Mortenson

This is another book from my eastern phase.  Before I read it a friend told me I would want to be out doing good things to fix the world before I even got halfway through it.  She was right.  Reading this book definitely increased my desire and motivation to be involved in good works.

Greg Mortenson has an inspiring story.  A wrong turn during a mountain climbing expedition in the Himalayas led to an extended stay in a remote mountain village and a promise to return and help.  What made Greg different?  He kept the promise–and then he went on to build school after school after school despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Dedication, sacrifice and perseverance seem almost inadequate to describe this story of opening doors and changing lives by giving people, especially girls and women, the gifts of education and literacy.  And his story isn’t over yet.  He continues to work and build schools for both boys and girls.


You Will Go to the Moon

by Mae and Ira Freeman

Yes, it really is a “Beginner Book”.  Published in 1959, in the early years of the space race, You Will Go to the Moon is the first book I remember reading all by myself.  Yes, I’m weird.  I really do remember it.  I read it in the summer between kindergarten and first grade.  And the reading bug bit.  So did the space bug.  To this day I am absolutely fascinated by space travel.  My oldest daughter saw the last Space Shuttle launch and I am soooo envious.  In first grade, I built little Apollo models, complete with men in space suits.  I watched all the launches and all the splashdowns.  I saw Neil Armstrong make “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  And I became a voracious reader and an explorer and none of that has really changed.  This is the only one of my favorites that I don’t have in my library.  If you have it and want to part with it, I’ll be happy to trade you for some really great art.  If you have any doubts about the significance of this book for me, you can look here.

The Phantom Tollbooth

by Norton Juster

Another of my fifth grade favorites.  Miss Hoffman was great.  She introduced to many books and really encouraged reading.  To this day, my library contains many of the books I was introduced to by her.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a kids’ book–sort of.  There’s a lot of metaphor in this book and a lot to think about.  It’s one of those books that you understand on one level as a child and another as an adult.  To me, it was all about imagination and creativity and actually seeking for those things in your life instead of waiting for them to come to you.  I’ve read it with all of my kids, and even convinced one of my youngest’s teachers that she needed it in her classroom library.  After reading it, she agreed.  The story of Milo, a bored kid, and his little car and his adventures beyond the tollbooth really captured the imagination of this very academic little girl.  Yes, learning can be fun.


Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley was more visionary than he realized.  It has always amazed me that he saw so much of our future back in 1931.  I don’t think a week goes by that don’t I see or hear something on the news or in the media that makes me think “that’s so Brave New World.”

I read it in high school, not because it was assigned but because it interested me (my classmates did think I was weird–I also read To Kill A Mockingbird for the same reason.  That pretty much cemented their opinion of my weirdness).  It was pretty controversial back then (yes, it does contain some strong imagery, maybe even language, though I haven’t read it for a while so I don’t remember if it has bad language).  This is a book every teen and adult should read.  The message is important and so is the warning; so sad that our society is choosing to ignore it.

Call of the Wild

by Jack London

I think this is where much of my sense of adventure and wanderlust has come from.  I had this very edition of Call of the Wild and I fell in love with the writing of Jack London.  After this one, I read everything he wrote.  I was such a Jack London fan as a child (I still am, by the way–I have his collected works, but my original copy has long since fallen apart), that one summer my grandfather took me to tour Wolf House and Jack London State Park in Sonoma. I haven’t gotten to Alaska yet, but I will.  I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 when I read this; we went to Wolf House the summer I was 8.  Oh, the doors to adventure that reading has opened for me.  I became a world traveler in the pages of my books and this was the one that started it all.


The Man Who Walked Through Time

by Colin Fletcher

Another story of adventure for me, The Man Who Walked Through Time inspired my love of geology and gave me a love for the history of nature and the history of the earth.

It’s the story of the first man (who recorded it anyway) to have hiked the length of the Grand Canyon–at the bottom, of course.  From his narrative, I saw the mighty Colorado River, the majestic canyon walls and the breathtaking scenery.  From rushing river to quiet calm, by the time I finished this book I really felt I had hiked the canyon with him.




by Martin Russ

This is probably emotionally the hardest book I have ever read.  I found it in a bookstore at a time when I wanted to learn more about the Korean War and specifically the Battle of Chosin.  We really didn’t discuss it in either high school or college history.  In fact, the whole Korean War was just kind of glossed over.  I had never even heard of it until I was playing Trivial Pursuit at my home with a group of church friends.  It came up in one of the questions and a friend who was a history buff started talking about it in the first person, though he was my age and clearly too young to have been there.

And then my dad interrupted.  And he told us that the worst thing about Chosin wasn’t the cold, it was the water.  They couldn’t drink the water because it was red, from the blood.  And he never mentioned it again.  My father almost never talked about his military service.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps it was too painful; perhaps it was because he was the father of four daughters and old-fashioned enough to believe it was his duty to protect us from the ugly parts of life.  My husband knows more about my father’s military service than I do.

So, back to the book.  Of all the books about the Korean War, this was not only the only one there about Chosin, but it was about the First Marine Division and their role in this battle.  My father was a 20-year-old corporal in the First Marine Division when he was shipped out to Korea.  I recognized a few of the names in the book from going through his papers after he died.  So I decided that reading it might fill in some of the blanks about my dad’s history.

I’ll admit, it was hard to get into.  The first 50 pages or so were pretty dry.  And then it got into the battles.  And I was captivated.  I couldn’t put it down.  I would read and read until the tears came so heavily that I could not see the words on the page.  And I would have to set it aside and come back to it.

I learned a lot reading this book.  I learned about the Korean War, I learned about Chosin, possibly the most horrific military battle in our history.  But most importantly, I learned about my dad, about the sacrifices he made, about the memories he had to live with, about the pain he endured and about what it means to be a hero.  He was always my hero.  Reading this book just cemented it for me.


So tell me, are there any books that have changed your life?

Top image credit: Shutterstock

Leave a Comment


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Leigh Ann April 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I know I’m late in commenting on this post, but I have to agree wholeheartedly about A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was such a tough read, emotionally. I don’t know how many times I stopped reading to cry, or even sob. But it was so. good.

Kevin@Personalized Books for Children March 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

where the red fern grows is great, one of my favorites growing up, a must have for any child.

Linda C Smith March 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Great list of books. I was touched by what you said about the book “Breakout.” My dad served in the Korean War – Navy. He never talked about it except once. My parents lived in Honolulu during their final years and one day when I was visiting, my dad took me to the military cemetery at Punchbowl. There are some huge mosaic murals there that depict key battles of WWII…and Korea. On the Korean battle mural my dad pointed to a spot and said that that was where his ship landed. He was there. After my parents passed away I went through their collection of old photos and I found photos my dad had saved from the 1940s and early 1950s. There was a small envelope that had photos of him during combat in Korea. One photo showed him on that Korean beachhead in full combat uniform…it made history come alive and it was the only time I ever saw my dad with a gun in his hand. It was sobering to say the least.

Melinda March 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus. I walked around in a daze for weeks after reading it. I found myself thinking in the same patterns he wrote the narrative, and had such empathy for every one of the characters I felt gutted at the outcome.

Great list – interesting to read what books and especially why.

Tia Peterson March 8, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I’ve never read that book, but the movie was heart breaking. I, too, felt such empathy – actually I think my heart actually broke the first time I watched it. It was painful.

Michelle @ Italian Mama Chef March 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Marie, you are a kindred spirit! I love to read almost as much as you do. I can be found in the middle of several books at any given time. I could have written much of this post. My list would be different but I am going to have to read some of these. I have a copy of the “Three cups of tea” book here because my son had to read it in middle school. I need a new story at the moment since I just finished “The Help”. Thanks for a great list. Welcome as well for being a new contributor. You will be a great addition to the BCB group.

Marie March 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “The Good Earth” and I know other classes read it when I was in school, but somehow that one has slipped by me. I’ll have to go back and add it to my reading list.

Tia Peterson March 7, 2011 at 8:26 pm

It’s worth reading a few times. At least, I was very drawn to the style of writing and shaping of the characters. It’s very old literature but you could probably find someone swapping it on Goodreads.

Marlee March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Hey Marie!

Thanks for sharing these books. I expected to find at least one that I’ve already read because I’m a very avid reader, but I haven’t read a single one!

Looks like I’ve got catching up to do!

Marie March 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Wow, Marlee. I’m surprised that you haven’t read any. I’d love to know what you’ve read that I haven’t and need to. I think we need to compare notes here.

Michelle @ Italian Mama Chef March 7, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I thought the same thing Marlee! lol…

Tia Peterson March 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

One book that changed my life was Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth. We read it in 10th grade. I remember feeling a lot of compassion – and understanding – for these fictional characters and what they were going through. It was very much like The Grapes of Wrath. It opened your eyes to poverty and suffering and how people managed to live through it all.

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