There's a certain weight and an overwhelming thrill when it comes to finishing an important book that you know will ultimately change your life. You know what I'm talking about: that moment you set it down, look out at the world in front of you, and let out a breath that feels as if you've been holding it in for years. It's a crazy and beautiful thing when you read a book that shifts your entire life perspective on the world.
It's safe to say that every book you've ever read has changed you in some way, even if it was a children's book you read at age 4 about sharing and caring. But it's the books that challenge your understanding of basic things in life like family, friendship, love, fear, and the many day-to-day issues you face that are the real page-turners.
Books like Harry Potter and A Child Called "It" were probably some of the very first novels that shifted my own perspective of the world in dramatic ways. And ever since then, I've loved to surround myself with books that teach me valuable lessons, tap into my curiosities, and explore ideas that are usually ignored. And in case you've been craving some life-changing reads yourself, here are 13 books that will dramatically change your perspective on the world.
1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
First published in 1952, this incredible novel reflects a nameless character's experience growing up in a black community in the South, and living a life filled with nightmares beyond belief. This novel explores the issues of racism, loss of innocence, and a society filled of hypocrisy. It's timeless in that there are still lessons to be learned and no matter the kinds of experiences you've lived, this book is about all the different human experiences out there.
2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
This book will ultimately change your perspective on war and love. In the era of Vietnam, O'Brien writes the stories that were true to him in the build up to the war, the horrors within, and the crumbling aftermath of it all. I'm not a big war-story kind of gal, but this book changed my life as a writer, reader, and person.
3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
This is another war story that will redefine your views of the world. Told with more fiction than O'Brien's Vietnam experience, Vonnegut introduces Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become unstuck in time after being abducted by aliens. With a scrambled-egg-like plot, we follow Pilgrim's story throughout his life which reflects Vonnegut's experiences as an American prisoner of war during the Dresden bombings. This is one book that you'll hold close to your heart immediately after finishing.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a mastermind at creating stories that make your heart ache and make you question the world's most basic issues haunting the world today, even though it takes place in the 1800s. Sethe, a slave that escaped but is still not free, cannot let go of Sweet Home, a place full of terror but loving memories — and a tombstone engraved with "Beloved," where her nameless baby lays.
5. 1984 by George Orwell
In the science-fiction world of Oceania, everyone is being watched. Winston Smith, who is more than against the current ways of life, begins writing his rebellious thoughts in an illegal diary, and that's only the beginning of his story. This dystopia touches on some very real issues we live with today, including the right to privacy, the media's involvement in the news, and conflicting issues in government. This book, even if it is an exaggerated work of fiction, is one that will definitely change the way you view society.
6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
In The Alchemist, a shepherd boy named Santiago passes through different parts of the world and meets fascinating people on his quest for a great and unknown treasure. One person, an alchemist, points him in the right direction on his path, and it's clear from there that this story is about a bigger picture than Santiago finding his treasure. Over time, it becomes clear that the physical treasures become less important as the inner treasures of discovering dreams and listening to your heart grows.
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This is the sort of book you want to pick up when you need a little push in your life. Jane Eyre, a woman who has been orphaned and abused and given every reason to feel defeated, still stands tall and pursues her dreams of love. This classic tale will inspire you at any stage of life and remind you why it's important to remain hopeful, despite the issues that surround you.
8. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
I can tell you this novel isn't an easy one to get through, but it is worthwhile. During the industrial era, and taking place in Chicago's infamous Packingtown, the American Dream is chased in a soul-crushing urban jungle by immigrant workers. This work of fiction had an impactful outcome on the real world by establishing Pure Food and Drug laws. Not only will it make you thankful for the current time we live in, but it's relatable in that the human spirit can face many challenges and never once back down.
9. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
If you're stuck in the dilemma of not being as successful as you'd imagined yourself to be or are struggling to watch all of your high school friends achieve great things, then you need to read Outliers. Gladwell focuses less on the luck of accomplished people, and more on the hard work, opportunity, and courage behind all success stories. It will make you work harder, better, and more motivated than ever before.
10. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
This feminist masterpiece opens the doors on sexuality, womanhood, and the insecurities all humans battle. Fear of Flying is the tale of a married woman who dives into steamy affair with another man, exploring fantasies she never knew she previously had. Jong inspires with her motivational and honest words, and this is a great read for any woman or man feeling particularly stuck in life, love, and relationships.
11. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
From the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bill Bryson sets out to condense the history of just about everything in his amazing book. While Bryson was inspired by certain textbooks, this is the exact opposite of any science book you had to use in high school. Somehow able to explain string theory and quantum physics in an easy and readable fashion, A Short History of Nearly Everything will become your fact book that you won't be able to stop reading or talking about.
12. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
Get ready for your worldview to change, as well as your view of the entire universe. Stephen Hawking's masterful and groundbreaking writing on the cosmos answers and asks all the questions you could possibly dream of: Is time travel possible? What exactly are black holes? How did everything come to be? Written in a language understandable by just about everyone, Hawking's focus on the creation of everything and everyone will have you feeling inspired by your role in this massive universe, and if that's not life-changing, I don't know what is.
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