When people talk about life-changing books, they’re usually referring to the so-called “self-help” section of the library, full of titles such as “Think Again,” “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck” or “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” And while these books can certainly give you a new perspective or help you learn useful life lessons, for me, they have never been a “life changer.” I’ve never closed the cover of one of these reads and then sat in silence, reconsidering my entire existence. However, there are quite a few novels that have made me feel that way and that I’ve continued to think about days, even weeks, after I finished them. And this article will be dedicated to five of these books, that have altered my life in one way or another.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When I finished this book, I took it, and I hid it in a cupboard in my house. I hated it so much that I didn’t even want to look at it. Now, more than seven months later, it’s still hidden in that same cupboard. I cannot say I recommend this book because it is not a read you will enjoy. It will wreck your heart and your soul and make you reconsider all the little complaints you have every day. It will make you appreciate your life with all of its downsides and all the problems you have. For me, reading this book felt like constant sorrow and sadness; it made me sad and not in a “cry my eyes kind of way” but in that deeper state of melancholy and sadness, where you’re so down that you can’t even cry. However, it also made me cherish the life that I have, the people around me, the opportunities that I get to have, and most importantly, the horrors I’ve never suffered. “A Little Life” made me realize just how great my life is, how lucky I am to be born where I was born, to have the family I have, and that even though it wasn’t perfect, it’s still so so much better than what others have to live through. This book was transformative for me in so many ways, but I cannot recommend it with a clear conscience, as it truly is heart-breaking in more than one way — it never gets better, only worse. And so, if you decide to give “A Little Life” a shot, read the trigger warnings beforehand; otherwise, it might be impossible for you to bear.
“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I read “East of Eden” when I was in seventh or eighth grade. And the main thing I remember about it is feeling like my world had changed the moment I turned the last page. This book re-tells a popular story from the Bible — “the Book of Genesis” in a more modern setting; however, it’s so well-written, so raw, and real that for me, it was more influential than the story it was inspired from. Steinbeck tells a family drama like no other, and this one spans over decades, looks at generational trauma, follows major societal events, and finally shows us how all of those things can impact the lives of two children. “East of Eden” is a book I recommend to every person I know, not only because it has the power to transform your way of thinking but also because it’s a story that’s well-told and easy to be enjoyed.
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
This is a book that can influence almost any teenager. And I know that when I read it aged 16, it truly changed me, my tastes, and the way I perceived the world around me. I was never a popular kid in high school — I was not quiet, but I didn’t have any friends, and I was not living. The only things I did were listen to music and read books. And I sort of assumed that made me better than everyone. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” brought me back to life; it reminded me that in order to tell stories, you need to feel alive; you need to live them. Even though it’s a sad book, it urged me to get over myself and start enjoying my teenage years (in the best way possible). So, if you’re a depressed teenager or you have one at home, I would 100% recommend this book. It’s a simple story, but it’s so realistic and so raw that it makes you think — truly and deeply.
“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
Open by Andre Agassi
I’ve loved sports and played them all my life. Even now, I run marathons and go to the gym every day. So it was to be expected that a sports book would find itself on this list. “Open” by Andre Agassi is not only one of my favorite books of all time, but it’s also my favorite sports-related one. It has absolutely everything you want from a good story — the rise of the hero, his downfall, finding himself again, tough wins, and heart-breaking losses — all of it, in a tale that is 100% real. With his autobiography, Agassi shows all the aspects of sports — from how difficult it is to become good, how lonely it can feel, how easily you can lose your way and how challenging it is to get back on the right track. He talks in detail about his love-hate relationship with tennis, his struggle with fame, and his salvation in the love of his life. I’ve gifted this book to many of my friends, most of whom have never watched a tennis match in their entire lives. And I know they all loved it.
“It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points become games, become sets become tournaments, and it’s all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It’s our choice.”
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
For everyone born in Europe, until a few months ago, war was something from the past that we learn from history books about and we assume we will never go through. As that kind of a person with that sort of mindset, reading Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” felt like being hit by a bus. Every emotion you feel while reading is amplified by 1000 if you’re a woman. In this book, you will read the stories of incredible women who manage to survive in the most horrendous circumstances, and it will make you thank all the women that lived before you in the Western world and that fought so that we could have the same basic right as men. It will also remind you that war is always the hardest on the least privileged and that our societal duty is to do everything in our power to keep it from happening.
“You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel.”
Finally, a fair warning to all you future readers — these are not cozy, warm tea and pumpkin spice books. No, don’t imagine you will be smiling and feeling good while reading them. They’re the kinds of books that have you gripping the covers, slightly red-eyed, at three in the morning -reading so late, simply because you can’t stop. And even though going through these kinds of books is never pleasant, it is necessary.
As one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, said: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” These books are a storm on their own.