7 Books That Changed My Life

I love to read and constantly have my nose in a book.  I’m choosy about what goes in my book stack, and always expect a good book to give me something new to think about.

But there are some books that have profoundly changed the way I think and the way I live.  Here are 7 of them:

1.  L. M. Montgomery, Emily of New Moon I love the Anne books, but it was Montgomery’s lesser-known Emily trilogy that made me a reader.  Emily of New Moon was the first book I finished under the covers with a flashlight at 2:00 a.m., because my 11-year-old self couldn’t go to sleep until she knew how it ended. (Sorry, Mom!)

2.  Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity.  This book completely changed the way I think about my money and my stuff.

3.  Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of BeingI hated this book.  I wasn’t expecting the heavy sexual themes and felt dirty after reading it.  (I was only 22–I wonder if it would impact me differently now?)  And yet–I’ve found myself returning to the novel’s central paradox of lightness vs. heaviness over and over through the years.  We assume a weighty burden is a bad thing, but Kundera asks if a light existence–a meaningless one–is worse.

4. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker CreekWhen I first read Pilgrim as a college freshman, I’d never encountered anything like Dillard’s genre-defying reflections on the changing seasons in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

5.  Dallas Willard, The Divine ConspiracyI can’t tell you strongly enough what a huge impact this book has had on my faith, and I have returned to it again and again since I first read it 9 years ago.  (The Divine Conspiracy also happens to be the book I was reading when my son was diagnosed with cancer, and I remember reading it–clinging to it, more like–in doctor’s waiting rooms, airports, hotel rooms, and then back on the couch at home with my recuperating baby.)

6.  Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead RevisitedI came to this classic expecting a dry read, but was completely swept up in this epic coming-of-age story set in Britain between the world wars.  I’ve read it ten times since then, and continue to be entranced by the story of the Flyte family’s unraveling–along with the rest of Britain’s aristocracy–and by its themes of love, loss, and grace.  (Can you see why I can’t watch a single episode of Downton Abbey without thinking of Brideshead?)

7.  John Cloud and Henry Townsend, Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life. I’m a recovering people-pleaser, and reading this book (at the suggestion of my college prof, who told me I was “too nice for my own good”) was my first step on the path to recovery.


Would you share a book that’s changed your life in the comments?

books that changed my life

more posts you might enjoy


Leave A Comment
  1. Tess says:

    Yes to Brideshead and Boundaries.

    I was entranced by the Flyte family. Each family member is an example of the different paths a life of faith can take. Such a sad but hopeful story. I really enjoy the old BBC adaptation with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews.

    Boundaries was really eye-opening for me. To learn that it’s ok to say no, and that it’s not necessary to make excuses for that no has really changed my life – as melodramatic as that sounds.

  2. There are two books that really impacted me and forced me to step outside my (very comfortable) comfort zone: “Be a People Person” and “Today Matters”, both by John C. Maxwell. Peter and I went through both of these books together and they changed how we interacted with people, how we spent our time, and helped us aim higher.

    As a child, I would have to say that the book that changed my life was “Little House in the Big Woods” – it was the very first book that I read all by myself after Mom taught me to read in Kindergarten. It opened up a whole world of possibilites to me and once I started reading, I never stopped. 🙂

  3. Jodi B says:

    “Boundaries” was the first book I thought of when I saw this list. I’ve only recently read it and it has already helped so much. (“Boundaries with Kids” is a great practical application of it to raising children.)

    “What Mothers Do” – Even though I tossed it across the room, and never finished reading it. It is still stuck in my mind and gives me encouragement when I feel like I’m doing “nothing”.

    Most of the other books that have Changed my life are Catholic in nature. 🙂

    They include Christopher West’s ‘Theology of the Body for Beginners”. Even though his theology has been questioned in some Catholic circles, it really opened my eyes to a completely different view of marriage.

    “The Authentic Catholic Woman” by Genevieve Kineke is another. Who view is that woman can view The Church as a role model for our own mothering.

    Danielle Bean’s “Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living”. I love that she doesn’t put motherhood into a box, but rather is supportive of many kinds of mothering.

  4. Katie says:

    Brideshead! I loved that book, too. And I found Unbearable Lightness of Being similarly thought-provoking. I loved the parts about their dog, that dogs live in this world of routine and don’t understand when that is disrupted.

    ANYWAY. I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as a junior in high school; my English teacher obviously adored the book and we used it as sort of a rubric for the whole year–everything kept looping back to that book. The chapter about the horror of fecundity has always stayed with me. *shudder*

    Anyway, so at the end of the year was one of the AP tests–Literature or Language, I don’t remember which, and one of the essay questions was on a passage from Pilgrim. You could tell when each member of our class got to that question, because we each burst out laughing. I have a feeling we /all/ passed that question. ^_^

      • Kandace Riddle says:

        Anne, here is the quote from Pilgrim, ““Theirs is the mystery of continuous creation and all that providence implies: the uncertainty of vision, the horror of the fixed, the dissolution of the present, the intricacy of beauty, the pressure of fecundity, the elusiveness of the free, and the flawed nature of perfection.”

  5. Joi says:

    “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James made me think deeper about relationships, commitment, and pride. I think all girls should read it.

  6. What a great list. I’ve never read any of them, so now I have 7 new books to read.

    The one I can think of off the top of my head is Working Mother Nursing Mother. I read it after having my 2nd child, and I wish someone had given it to me after my first. It’s about breast feeding obviously, but it’s also the best book on being a working mother that I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a few.)

    • Anne says:

      Lucky, I’m very interested in checking out that book–even though I’m only a part-time working mother. Thanks for mentioning it.

  7. Hannah says:

    Francine Rivers wrote “Redeeming Love”…it’s somewhat graphic, which I did not expect, but it really brought God’s never-ending love to life for me. It’s a great read…for someone who’s married.

    • Anne says:

      Hannah, Redeeming Love is the only Francine Rivers book I’ve read, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I’d forgotten all about it though–thanks for the reminder!

  8. HopefulLeigh says:

    The only one I’ve read from your list is Boundaries. I might have read Emily of New Moon back in the day but I can’t remember. I remember flying through Montgomery’s other books. It might be time for a reread of Anne’s books and I might as well add Emily in to the mix.

    I started Divine Conspiracy while I was in grad school but set it to the side. I just couldn’t get in to it. But I’ve heard from so many people about the way Willard impacted their lives that I know I need to give it another try. Brideshead has been on my To Read list for quite some time.

    Off the top of my head, the books that impacted my life the most: A Wrinkle in Time, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Bird by Bird, Savage Inequalities, Sacred Thirst, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, A New Kind of Christian, and Bittersweet. I know I’m leaving out a bunch! Most recently, I was blown away by Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

    • Anne says:

      No, I haven’t–but I’d like to. I’ve checked out The Road to Yesterday from the library a few times (the texts are supposedly quite similar) but I’ve never actually managed to read it. Supposedly The Blythes are Quoted is much darker than Montgomery’s other books. I’m curious 🙂

  9. Paula says:

    I love the Emily books! L.M. Montgomery’s books and the Nancy Drew books had the biggest impact on me as a young reader. Those are the books that made me want to be a writer. 🙂

  10. 'Becca says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! I liked Emily of New Moon a lot better than Anne of Green Gables.

    I have a long list of books that blew my mind, but I haven’t yet finished it! These are some books I’m still planning to add:
    Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
    One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry
    Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
    The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler

    (Actually, with only 4 on the list, maybe I should just make writing about them my lunchtime project today…. Of course, the list is never really going to be finished, because I’m likely to keep coming across a new mind-blowing book every year or two!)

  11. I am a writer, so the idea of naming a book that changes lives is serious business. For me, they are two (not counting the Bible, of course) . Both are fiction smacking of fact. First Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged because it always inspires me, for what she got right, and for what she got wrong. Second is Izak Dinesin’s Out of Africa for her sweet prose and sweeping poignancy. Never get tired of them.

  12. Debbie says:

    Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper…God used this book to direct my husband and I more into missions. Now we are missionaries living in South Africa and ministering to the people of Mozambique.

  13. Christina says:

    I am a huge reader too. There are so many favorites, it’s hard to choose! I lived Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, all of C.S. Lewis’s books, One Thousand Gifts, and all of Larry Crabb’s books. Great post! Enjoyed visiting from WLW.

  14. Ginger says:

    I reread this post since you recently linked to it, and I just had to second the clinging to The Divine Conspiracy. While I’ve never been through anything as traumatic as a son being diagnosed with cancer, I repeat certain mantras from the book to myself whenever I’m feeling anxious. I ALWAYS read Divine Conspiracy while flying (I’m a touch afraid), and especially the sentence: “Jesus brings the assurance that our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be.”

  15. Faith says:

    Tuesdays with morrie. (Mitch Album)
    The shack. ( Paul (can’t remember the last name)
    Burned. (Ellen Hopkins)

  16. Valerie says:

    When I was little the book that most changed my world view was The Little Princess. I learned that no matter what adversity and trials life throws at you that you must remain true to yourself and compassionate to others. Recently, I would have to say The Shipping News. Its a quiet read that has characters that seem more like real people than fiction and a story that is both dark and hopeful,very much like life. And of course, Dune. That one book has been a constant companion and a source of strength and inspiration for me my whole adult life.

  17. Jeannine says:

    Long before there was a catchy acronym, T-shirts and wristbands; January 1, 1984 as New Years resolution (I had just finished In His Steps by Charles Sheldon) I committed to asking myself,”What Would Jesus Do?” and then doing it. It was a resolution I prayed about and contemplated before hand and it was at times frightening but truly a life-changing book/experience because I did something with it…

  18. Michael Willhoite says:

    I read Auntie Mame as a kid and have returned to it many times. A light comic novel? Yes, but it gave me a taste of a great, sophisticated world outside My small Oklahoma town. It also taught me to savor existence, try new things, and embrace eccentricity. The other valuable lesson I learned is more complicated. In my small town, nobody I knew was Jewish. In the book, an anti-semitic family was held up to scathing ridicule, and their beliefs were thus made abhorrent to a relatively innocent young man — me. And all because of Auntie Mame.

    Another book made me want to be a writer. Rebecca West’s huge tome, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, is a travel book about Yugoslavia. Or rather, it purports to be. Actually, it’s an exploration of why Europe exploded into WWII. Every single sentence in this book is lovingly crafted. It may well be the most beautifully written of the thousands of books I’ve read.

  19. Katie says:

    David Copperfield is one of the main ones on my list. I actually tried to get out of reading this one in college- I thought it sounded boring, and it was over 700 pages so I didn’t see how I would possibly get through it. When I was unable to find a copy of one of the movie adaptations to watch (this was pre-Netflix, and I only had libraries at my disposal!), I grudgingly began reading it, and found myself totally in love. I’ve gone back and read certain passages several times, and really want to re-read the whole thing again soon. (Also, I did eventually watch a BBC movie adaptation, and of course it was a major disappointment!) One of my favorite literary characters is David’s Aunt Betsey. This quote from her addressing David during a rough time in his early marriage was a huge revelation to me, as an unmarried 21 year old who naively hoped a spouse was someone who could be molded to fit one’s expectations: “You have chosen a very pretty and a very affectionate creature. It will be your duty, and it will be your pleasure too—of course I know that; I am not delivering a lecture—to estimate her (as you chose her) by the qualities she has, and not by the qualities she may not have.” I still think about those words often. It’s so helpful to remember to look for the good in someone instead of dwelling on all of their negative qualities.

  20. Kathleen says:

    Being Mortal by Atul Gawande changed the way I think about the last days of life and of death. I am no longer afraid and I plan to really live until I absolutely can not.

  21. Bonnie Caton says:

    “The Girls Who Went Away” by Anne Kessler
    True accounts and reflections from the women who lived in a Home for Unwed Mothers back in the late 50’s thu the early 70’s. Being an adoptee, it completely changed my viewpoint and recharged my personal goal of searching for my birth mom. Life changing for me. In my search now….fingers crossed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.