5 Books That Changed My Life (and Could Change Yours, Too)

stacked books

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If you’re compelled to write, it’s likely because you love to read.

Most of us have been poring over books since we were kids, escaping into novels and delving into stories from history or philosophy or science.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but the novelist Stephen King’s bluntness on the importance of reading holds true.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write,” King famously said.

“Simple as that.”

Most writers have a list of books that changed their lives—works that rescued them from loneliness or changed the way they perceive the world and themselves.

Here’s mine. Let me know what you think in the comments.

  1. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Catcher in the Rye

This novel resonated deeply with me as a teenager, as it has with millions of other readers since it first hit the market in 1951.

It simply rings true.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist and narrator, thought the way I thought when I was 15. He spoke the way I spoke.

He went on tangents and didn’t conform and hated anything phony. He had the courage to say things I couldn’t

As I struggled to figure out who I was and where I fit in the world, Caulfield spoke to me.

He articulated my adolescent experience perfectly, and while it was a relatively privileged experience, it wasn’t easy. This book was a lifeline.

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meaney

One of the first novels I read for fun during high school.

I’d given up on English class, mainly because of a miserable teacher in my university-prep year, but part of me still wanted to be a writer.

Irving writes in an accessible but literary style, in contrast to the boring, cumbersome texts we often read in school.

Meaney changed my perception of what literature was, and what it could be. Its exploration of the Christian faith offered a perspective I never heard in church.

This was a tentative step toward ideas I’d never considered before, in an environment where I often felt as though I had to believe things I couldn’t.

Meaney also made me a willing reader again. I’m extremely grateful for that.

  1. Obasan by Joy Kogawa


Not long after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, most Japanese Canadians living in British Columbia were uprooted and sent to internment camps.

They stayed until the war ended 1945, and in the meantime the Canadian government sold off their homes and businesses.

Somehow, this didn’t come up in history class.

I learned about it through Kogawa’s novel, which is based on her own experiences. It was the first novel to tell this story, and Kogawa tells it beautifully.

Obasan was my first meaningful hint of the ugliness that lurks in Canadian history, and our misguided attempts to sanitize it.

  1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller


I read this on vacation in my late twenties and didn’t like it much.

Miller argues we should act as if our lives are stories, aiming for the best possible outcomes.

This can be a recipe for disaster—good stories often have horrible endings—and I’ve found Miller’s advice in other books to be either perfunctory or misguided, or both.

Still, his prose drew me in.

Miller writes candid, memoir-style non-fiction, and he’s a gifted storyteller. You don’t read him for guidance; you read him because of his pretty words.

The main insight I gleaned from this kind of writing was that I could do it, though not nearly as well.

I adapted Miller’s approach to a column I wrote for my local paper, and this led me to the work of other skilled essayists like David Sedaris and Anne Lamott.

There are many shortcomings in Miller’s work, but his diction and sense of story are strong.

  1. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs

This book of essays is the only book of Klosterman’s I would recommend, but it’s a beauty.

He writes in an engaging, conversational style about everything from breakfast cereal to Guns N’ Roses to Saved By the Bell.

Klosterman is funny, insightful and smart. Like Miller, he makes a writer think: I can do that.

I’ve read most of Klosterman’s non-fiction books, and they’re often abstruse or exasperating or both.

But I’m a fan. I know I can count on him to entertain me, and to anticipate the reader’s next question in virtually every argument he makes.

Miller’s logic is like Swiss cheese; Klosterman ties himself in knots trying to ensure each thesis is air-tight.

Over to you

What are five books that changed your life, and why?




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