As the end of July draws nearer I’ve been looking back not only at what I’ve read this month, but what I’ve read so far all year, which has inspired me to look back at everything I’ve read. Ever. It’s obviously an incredibly daunting task, because how does one compare The Goldfinch with Magic Tree House???
So during my stroll down memory lane, I found myself remembering so many books and thinking, “Man, I LOVED that one!!”, and it made me want to really ponder those books that I not only loved, but that changed my life. I didn’t have any specific criteria, because I believe that the impact a book can have on one’s life can’t always be measured in star ratings or how quickly it was read or the number of pages or anything like that. If I had to identify the metrics I used, they’d boil down to three main points:
- How did this book make me feel?
- Did this book make me examine myself or my life?
- Did this book change the way I read other books?
As I finally selected my six books– the plan was to do five but I just couldn’t eliminate any of these!– I noticed that every one of these books had one thing in common: I REALLY dragged my feet in picking them up. Most of these books are quite lengthy and I was intimidated by them, or the plot just didn’t seem like the right thing at the time, or I had preconceived notions, you name it. But I started every one of these books begrudgingly, and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised or overjoyed at having read them.
Now, let’s get into the good stuff. This might get a little long because I love talking about these books (duh, they changed my life!) so grab some chips and salsa and a White Claw (black cherry or bust) and settle in. Here are the books that changed my life:
Beartown (Fredrik Backman): Beartown, to me, is truly a masterpiece. This book’s significant impact on me largely owes to the fact that its main conceit is to address and, dare I say it, expose the ills of small-town politics. I was born and raised in a small town and after having moved away for a few years I’m now back living in that same place, and the goings-on of Beartown, the prominent families, the behaviors people are willing to overlook because of one’s place in society, and so many other aspects of the town’s functions and inhabitants are direct echoes of things I’ve observed in my own city. There were times while reading this that I became agitated, felt hopeless about a character’s fate, was appalled at blatant favoritism and injustice, and so on. While that seems negative, I LOVE a book that can move me so viscerally, and this is one that truly excels in that element. Backman inspired me to look at the way my town operates and to challenge myself to keep fighting the good fight.
The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah): I was so hesitant to grab The Nightingale because for as long as I can remember, I have never liked historical fiction, least of all WWII fiction. The reason this was so eye-opening for me is that I realized the error of my ways and that GET THIS: I was reading historical fiction all wrong. I’d pick up a WWII fiction book and view the protagonist as just some victim-of-circumstance, waiting-at-home-while-my-husband-is-at-war, impressionable girl. Survey says: nuh-uh. The Nightingale, and specifically Vianne and her arc from beginning to end, shaped the way I view women in historical fiction. I must admit, I still don’t love most historical fiction, but the lingering effects of The Nightingale have inspired me to reach for that genre far more than I ever would have before.
Pachinko (Min Jin Lee): Oh. My. Gosh. This was one book that I wanted to read for a really long time but it was just so long that I couldn’t convince myself to just pick it up and commit to it, and then one day, without provocation, I just buckled up and did it. Pachinko is full to bursting with richly descriptive language and key issues that arose both during the annexation of Korea– a subject I knew absolutely nothing about, by the way– and exist prominently today. The novel is also full of incredibly strong women who have to evaluate whether they should defy the norms imposed upon them culturally to provide for their families or if they should stick to the status quo and not disturb the peace. I read this just about a year ago and I still think on it frequently; it’s often the first book I recommend to people. This was also the first book I discussed with my book club, of which I’ve now been a member for ten months! *Shoutout to my Reading Between the Wines ladies if you’re here*
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): This was another long one, and what’s interesting about One Hundred Years and its presence on this list is that I really did not like it for about 300 pages. For those following along at home, yes, that is about 75% of the book. This was my first introduction to magical realism, and it took me a loooooong time to get used to the style and to actually like it. Once I abandoned my stubbornness and let myself delve into the magic of the book, I really, really loved it. I later reread One Hundred Years and it has since held such a special place in my heart and opened up a whole genre to me, full of more GGM, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, and, of course, the world of magical realism outside of Hispanic authors as well.
Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra): Part of me feels like I should’ve led with this one because it was easily the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever read and I am not being dramatic (for once) when I say that I truly feel like a more joyful person for having read it. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t actually want to read any of the books on this list at first, and this is the most significant example of that. My first encounter with the tome was in college when I was poised to complete my minor in Spanish and all I had left was my capstone. The entire course was just to read Don Quixote in the original language and subsequently discuss. I *so badly* did not want to read this book that I just didn’t complete my minor. This was my white whale, sort of (except that Moby Dick was also my white whale at the time, which I have since read, and if I ever make a post about books that changed my life because I abhorred them, perhaps Mr. Melville may be present on that list, but I digress), and it became the first book I read in 2019 after resolving for the new year to read more classics. Everything about this book captivated me. Its self-referential humor, its infamous characters and scenes, the stories within the stories… everything. It would be too challenging to summarize all of its strengths here, but suffice it to say that this just may be the most life-changing book on this list for me, and I am so excited to reread it, possibly in the original language next time.
Candide (Voltaire): Ah, yes, the lone hundred-pager on this list. Candide is one that I revisit often for several reasons, but it can probably be effectively summed up in one point: it’s goofy. The predisposition is to think of a 17th century French dude in a powdered wig as being completely stuffy and humorless, especially because his works have been highly touted in literary circles and whatnot, but what I love about Candide is that it just downright silly. Sure, there are some dicey elements that may have slid unnoticed in 1760 that don’t really fly in today’s social or political climate, but Voltaire was a feather-ruffler to boot, and reading Candide has changed the way I read and approach classics.
OKAY. This was lengthy. If you’re still here, thanks, and I hope you’ll let me know below if you’ve read any of these! If you loved them or you hated them, leave your thoughts below, and I’d love to know what books have changed your life!
Happy reading! Xx.