The Top Books That Have Transformed My Life

Photo by Mariana Vusiatytska on Unsplash

It’s all her fault.

And here’s what she did.

I was tagged by Nalini MacNab to write about the top ten books which have helped transform my life.

Tags are…sometimes to be ignored, other times keep on poking at you until you have to do something about them.

This tag was one of those that kept on popping up and prodding me to do something about it.

This is my answering Nalini’s challenge. Like her and Ann Litts who tagged her, I’m a voracious, ferocious, lifelong reader. I generally don’t read anything that doesn’t immediately enchant, perplex, interest me, so the lists that I’ve kept of books read might come in handy right now. In a matter of minutes, I could pick out ten incredible reads that virtually anyone could draw on for some fresh transformation.

There’s just one little problem with that idea.

I have no idea where those lists are.

They are so well-organized and carefully stowed that they are safe from my most intense, lumbering, earnest search.

Besides not being able to find the awesome lists, I can’t think, never mind remember and write intelligently. Yes, kids, this is what happens when an otherwise bright and energetic person spends her day working on her novel. She’s all out of bright ideas and sparkling anything.


However, this is about books.

I love books.

Surely, I can come up with something, even if it’s just big boxes of stuff.

ONE: I love the Little Bear books. I traded in three of them for a garish, huge, battered copy of Heidi when I was a little girl. To this day, I remember my mother’s horror and going along with my decision against her heart. Along with Little Bear, I love Frog and Toad. I love Elephant and Piggy. And Winnie the Pooh never fails to do it for me.

Why?Because these books make the world a safer, more loving place. In them, the characters are their purest selves, complete with love and anger and wonder and trying to figure things out with their friends and loved ones.

TWO: The recently published children’ picture book called It’s a Book. I read this children’s picture book every month. I never fail to enjoy the drama, the story, the way a donkey learns to read a book rather than speed through gadgets, acronyms, and shortcuts. There is profound joy in immersing yourself in a good book.

THREE: A bunch of children’s chapter and advanced reader books: Harriett the Spy; Gray Magic; A Wrinkle in Time (and anything by Madeleine L’Engle); the Nancy Drew series. These books showed me that children had power, their own identities and missions — and helped me imagine being capable, competent, and confident in getting things done. I read them in huge, gasping gulps of reading, deep snuggled into my chair, absorbed and unmoving for hours.

FOUR: A ton of classics. Because they are classics. Because I read them when I was young and impressionable, wide open to different voices, different points of view. Included in these are the Janes: Jane Eyre (and anything by the Brontë sisters) and Pride and Prejudice (and anything by Jane Austen). Yup, I’m one of the few and the proud who enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, not to mention William Shakespeare with a special warm place in my heart for As You Like It. I still remember where I was when I read these: the study carrels in my high school library, clear light and quiet for 45 minutes in a hectic, pressured day.

FIVE: Old time fantasy and science fiction: Stranger in a Strange Land (and anything by Robert Heinlein), all of Isaac Asimov. Huge nod to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis as well. Notably, concerned librarians never stopped me from borrowing any science fiction or fantasy that I wanted to read while other “adult” fiction was carefully managed. Again, I was able to transport, imagine huge, and live wild adventures in my safe little suburban life.

FIVE: The mystery crew: Christie, Chandler, Grafton, Evanovich and so many others. Excellent, gripping, absorbing stories that transported me during the wilds of work and family life.

SIX: Gifts from loved ones, including Saving Francesca, Mrs. Dalloway (my son remembered my passion for Virginia Woolf’s work), Ray Dalio’s Principles. I love these because people I love gave them to me.

SEVEN: Marisa de los Santos’ I’ll Be Your Blue Sky — and all her books. De los Santos is poetic and also tells a marvelously well-paced, well-charactered, and well-wrought story. This one is top of mind since I finished reading it last week and phrases and scenes keep popping into my head. I also include this writer because a very special writer friend turned me on to her work many years ago and I think of her when I read de los Santos stories. She is another writer I admire deeply and want to be like when I grow up.

EIGHT: Books by writers who aren’t afraid to face and write about the really hard things, be it love, hardship, heartache, tragedy, addiction, you name it. Among these books are ones by Kristan Higgins Good Luck With That and all her other stories, Jamie Beck’s stories — all of them, and Katherine Center whose recent How to Walk Away is inspiring and beautiful, moving and memorable. There are Erica Bauermeister and Louise Miller here, incredible storytellers who create lush, deep, wonderful story worlds. Sophie Kinsella lives here, too. Her stories about shopaholics and others such as The Undomestic Goddess and Twenties Girl are entertaining, light, and also profoundly human and loving. Stories like these let me walk in different shoes and return from the journey wiser, more compassionate, and enlightened. They also keep me grounded, human, and sane, smiling at the inevitable kerfuffles of my own life.

NINE: Books by writers who aren’t afraid to take a chance and grow, develop, do something completely different. Here I group anything by Garth Stein with a special callout for The Art of Racing in the Rain; Taylor Jenkins Reid who writes smart, twisty, and fantastically well-wrought stories such as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Forever, Interrupted; Jojo Moyes for all her work, earlier such as Windfallen and later works such as Me Before You and Paris for One. Then there is the marvelous, whip smart, and amazingly talented Alison Pearson with How Hard Can It Be? These writers are who I want to be when I grow up. That’s pretty darn transformational if you ask me.

TEN: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane because it is so taut, rich, eloquent, poetic, every single writerly praise word you can think of. Gaiman reminded me that fantasy is all around us. His work gave me a new appreciation for Sarah Addison and other writers who write magical realism. I also got to meet Gaiman in person at R.J. Booksellers in Madison, CT — an incredible, memorable experience.

ELEVEN: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This generous, funny, talented writer has written several terrific books, the most recent one in partnership with his wife, Two Steps Forward. The stories resonate with humor and explore the wonders and baffling barriers to living a good life with a spirit and zest that I’ve seldom had the joy of reading. I also had the great good joy and pleasure of seeing Simsion in person twice, to discuss his debut Rosie and his novel called The Best of Adam Sharp.

Oh, no.

I didn’t get to discuss the other major book groups in my life, books that have profoundly shaped my world view such as the Bible, anything by Warren Berger, business and marketing, and writing craft books by writers such as Jordan Rosenfeld, Paula Munier, Donald Maass, and Jeff Goins.

That’s okay.

I still know what they are and have a pretty good sense of where I can find them on my bookshelf. That’s what counts. I can find them and open them to their worn places and revel in their insight, finding something new every single time.

Here’s another huge category: Poetry. I love the classics, but tend more toward lyrics. There is Robert Hunter’s A Box of Rain and Bob Dylan’s earlier pink-covered lyrics book that covered his work from 1962 to the early 1970s. These masterful poet/lyricist/musicians shaped my ear, my language, my appreciation for the finely crafted image such as virtually every line in Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street.”

I’ve been shaped, transformed, shaken, stirred, and broken open by so many stories — and now I am grateful to a writer for tagging me with the challenge to name the ones that made the biggest difference for me.

I’m grateful because I feel so insanely rich, so wonderfully gifted with amazing stories by men and women at all different times and places who wrote stories and shared them with the rest of us.

I long to join them with my own stories — and that ambition drives me to write blog posts when my brain is sputtering and it’s time to drink some tea and watch hockey on television.

Tomorrow is another day with the novel — so I get to walk in the footsteps of so many writers before me.

Thanks, Nalini, for a wonderful, memory-filled, dense pleasure of wandering book world!