Stop me if you've heard this one: "This book will change your LIFE." It's a statement that carries a slightly more weight than "this diet will change your LIFE!" or "this skincare product will change your LIFE!" because books actually can shift our entire perspective on the world from time to time. Nothing can beat the feeling of finishing a truly wonderful book, and realizing that you're an ever-so-slightly different person now that you've read it.
The trouble, however, is knowing which books will actually change your life for real. I mean, every book you read leaves some kind of imprint on you, whether it's that picture book you loved in kindergarten, or the romance novel you had hidden in your sock drawer in middle school (I'm really hoping I wasn't the only one who had one of those). And there are plenty of self-help books out there that claim to change your life through mindful thinking or eating like a caveman or learning to juggle or what-have-you. But finding a book that will genuinely change the way you think is no mean feat.
So, if things are starting to feel a little stale, or you're just in need of a change, one of these books just might change your LIFE for real:
1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Are there other novels that delve into the topics of race, gender, sex, identity, hair, coming of age, love, and globalization with tenderness and a great deal of dark humor? Probably. But they're probably not as good as Americanah. It's a novel about the diasporic African experience, and it's a universal love story, and it'll make you step back and look at the power structures in our society with fresh eyes. (And on top of all that, it's almost impossible to put it down from beginning to end.)
2. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Yes, it's a trilogy of fantasy novels starring a plucky little girl and yes, it'll change your life. Because His Dark Materials is a story about free will, filled with political, religious, and cultural conflict (in addition to the talking polar bears). The first book begins when Lyra Belacqua, accompanied by her personal daemon, sets out to find her kidnapped friend. But over the course of three increasingly layered novels, Pullman spins a complex narrative that will make you contemplate the nature of existence (and spend a lot of time wondering what animal your daemon would be).
3. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
If Slaughterhouse Five was just a tad too cheerful for you, try Cat's Cradle! This is not a happy book. But it is a hilarious, pensive, strange book that'll haunt you for years. Cat's Cradle confronts the apocalypse with deadpan humor. Kurt Vonnegut examines both science and religion with his signature wit, and the result is a novel as terrifying as it is inspiring. Warning: This book may cause you to care more about the fate of the human race.
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Christopher knows every prime number up to 7,057. He loves animals, but people confuse him. And he is determined to solve the murder of his neighbor's dog. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of those rare novels that presents a completely different perspective on the world without judgement. Reading about Christopher's endless struggle to understand the people around him allow us to understand Christopher, at least on some level. It's a book that'll change the perspectives you take for granted, and it's told with all the humor and suspense of any great mystery novel.
5. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The main character is named Macon "Milkman" Dead III, and that's just the beginning. Song of Solomon weaves together myth and history to tell the story of Milkman and his quest for flight, and Toni Morrison folds in the stories of the entire Dead clan along the way. But to say that it's merely a book about race, or family, or coming-of-age, or flight, is only to scratch the surface. If you've never looked closely at the murkier branches of your family tree, this book will inspire you to read up on your own personal history.
6. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
How can a book about loss and transgression be so delightful to read? Arundhati Roy has the almost unbelievable ability to write in the exact way that children think, but don't let the ease of reading fool you. This book is masterfully structured as well. It's the story of two young twins in Kerala, India, and their mother, and of love that violates the law. The God of Small Things will, indeed, make you consider the small things in your life in a new light, and it might make you reconsider the morality of the laws that govern our world.
7. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
There are many coming-of-age stories out there, and many memoirs, and many books about war and religion. Persepolis, however, is unique: a graphic memoir of Marjane Satrapi's childhood and youth, written and drawn with raw emotion, honesty, and humor. It has all the universal struggles of going through puberty, as well as all the singular struggles of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, of being sent away from home, and of returning. Persepolis holds nothing back.
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
There are few books that can fully transport you to another time and place like this one can (or just another time, if you're already in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). It doesn't matter what age you are when you first encounter the tragic-but-tough Nolan family, it's a story that resonates. Little Francie Nolan's life is so full of yearning and resilience, she will remind any reader of what truly matters in life, and of why they love books in the first place.
9. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This is one novel, but it's also several novellas in several genres (and please don't judge it by its movie). It starts and ends in the 1800s, but on it's way there it stops by the present, the not-so-distant future, and the entirely distant future. At first, Cloud Atlas may seem disjointed, or even gimmicky, but David Mitchell doesn't disappoint: He delivers an intricately woven piece of art that explores humanity's greed and capacity for redemption. You just might start to think differently about where your own story exists in time and space.
10. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Life of Pi is about a boy and a tiger, lost at sea, and how they survived harrowing adventures. Or is it? It's also a book about religion and belief, of course. And it's a book about storytelling, metaphor, and the truth. Mostly, it's a book that'll make you reconsider your definition of "truth." (And possibly reconsider you opinions on major religions and on whether or not hanging out with a tiger would be fun).
Images: Moyan Brenn/Flickr