Day 10: A Book that Changed My Life

This Thirty Day Book Challenge is turning out to be significantly more, well, challenging, than I had initially thought. I have spent the last few days giving today’s topic some serious thought…

There is no one, single book that has “changed my life.” No magic moment upon reading a book that as I finished it I knew that I was forever different. What there has been, however, is a series of books, from different authors and at different times, that have forced me to look at the world, my life, my ideas and my beliefs in new and different ways. This group of books, once I really began to think about them, have quite a lot in common. They are all in some way “academic” as opposed to more popular fiction, and all have an undeniable philosophical component, although some more than others. Perhaps what the strongest common thread between all of these texts is that they have all, in their own way, helped me form my intellectual curiosities, my personal philosophical outlook, my moral and ethical grounding, and my general sense of what life should be about.

A more honest way of framing today’s post would be to admit that it’s not necessarily books that have impacted me so strongly, rather thinkers and writers. If I were to list a few, I would include as varied a group as David Hume, Carl Sagan, Thomas Kuhn, Bertrand Russell, Isaiah Berlin, Erwin Schrödinger, Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, Charles Darwin, and Michel Foucault. If I were to count fiction as well, then I would also include Umberto Eco, Aldous Huxley again, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Tom Robbins. If I included poetry, then the list would have to expand to also include William Blake and Allen Ginsberg. In other words, there is no way that I could sit and discuss a single text, or even a single author in regards to how they have changed my life.

I’ve been reading for a lifetime, and for that lifetime these thinkers and writers have had a certain and cumulative effect. They have, together, taught me to think critically and embrace reason, and to revel in questions instead of becoming entrenched in apparent answers. They have reminded me to never fail to pay attention to beauty that surrounds me, and to live curiously, openly, and passionately. They have taught me that a vigorous intellect is nothing to be ashamed of. Together they have reinforced the idea that kindness and generosity are the highest virtues, and that our significance is measured by how we love, how we think, and how our actions affect those around us. They have opened my eyes to the wonders of this universe, as well as the magnificence of our minds and our hearts. In short, they set me on the path to become the woman who I am, and every time I read anything by these scientists, writers, poets, and thinkers, I see a little of myself reflected in their words.

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive as there are authors whose influence, although subtle, was nevertheless significant, and other authors who as a result of time have simply been forgotten, although their impact surely remains. Morevoer, and perhaps most importantly, I have not stopped reading. I encounter writers, historians, scientists, and philosophers who, on a daily basis, push me out of my intellectual comfort zone and cause me to rethink my ideas and question my realities, and I hope that this will forever be the case.

19 thoughts on “Day 10: A Book that Changed My Life

  1. You could have tripped over trying to reach a copy of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus on the top shelf & broken a leg! That would be life changing! 😉

  2. Of all I ever read, I liked most the story of Prometeus, as a lesson to the punishment received by the enlightenones when trying to pass the enlightment on to the masses.

  3. Interesting. I noticed that the authors you mentioned fit a certain demographic group (white, male, post-1750).

    Please forgive me in advance — this sounds like a terribly “politically correct” question, and I do not mean it that way at all. I am sincerely interested: can you think of any women, or non-white authors, or earlier authors, who you think are equally special in your intellectual development?

    It was interesting to me that you considered Vonnegut and Ginsberg to be “academic” authors. I wonder if they would consider that to be a compliment or an insult! Ginsberg talked about the Beat movement being juxtaposed against the elitism of T. S. Eliot, for example.

    • No apologies necessary, in fact, I felt quite guilty about that right after I clicked “publish.” The truth is, however, that this is the short list of the people that have shaped the way that I view the world. Perhaps it’s a result of my education, or what I was exposed to, but the lack of women on the list did strike me as well. And in answer to your question, no, unfortunately I can’t list any women that have influenced me as deeply as these men have. I could have added Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollfstonecraft, or George Eliot, but the truth is that they have not had as strong an impact.

      In regards to “non-white” authors or thinkers, I tend to view that question a bit differently. These men are from all over the world, and from all walks of life. Their skin color may not vary but their childhoods, their countries of origins, their sexual orientations, religions, etc. sure do. On the surface the list may not appear so “multicultural,” but look a little deeper and it is. So although they are all white, they’re nonetheless a varied bunch.

      And yes, it is interesting that they do all fit a certain type, but I suppose they appeal to me because of the qualities that they share. If I were to draw an analogy to dating I would say that they’re just “my type!”

      About referring to them as academic authors, I think what I meant to say is that all of these writers have, in one way or another, influenced my intellectual development. I read mostly academic texts, and the first group I listed tended to be academics. The rest of them, including nonacademics like Ginsberg and Vonnegut have nevertheless exerted a pretty strong influence on how I view the world and, even more fundamentally, how I think about the world.

  4. Ah, Sagan! Now you’re talking. I grew up on Cosmos, loved Pale Blue Dot and the honour of interviewing Ann Druyan for Astronomy magazine in 2003.

    Alas, I was so awestruck that I completely failed to ask her any meaningful questions LOL

  5. I agree. I have been reading books for as long as I can remember.

    While reading, I’ve been: fascinated, informed, repulsed, intrigued, amused, disgusted, bored, enthralled. Yet, I cannot think of a single book that changed me. I’ve learned many things from many books, and my view of the world has changed over the years because of the books I’ve read.

    Yet, I cannot think of any book that’s made me stop and go “!!!!”

    I think, for me, it wouldn’t be a Single Book, but, rather, a list of books that have shaped me: “Atlas Shrugged” (a bunch of crap as far as I’m concerned — I’m not in favor of self-interest); “Total Freedom” by J. Krishnamurti gave me a glimpse into another world, outside of the Catholic world I’d been raised in, and led me to explore other spiritual thoughts; “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins taught me that there are others with the same thoughts; “A Woman of Independent Means” by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, taught me that I wasn’t the only one who thought that limiting ourselves to just one person is, indeed, limiting; “Parting The Waters” by Taylor Branch, which gave me an insight to one of the greatest struggles of the 20th Century, the struggle for Civil Rights; Agatha Christie, who taught me that one can read a book for the sheer pleasure of it, without having to worry about Being Informed by a book; “John Chancellor Makes Me Cry” by Anne Rivers Siddons, which, in my opinion, is one of the best books of Personal Essays around, and it taught me much about the craft of the Personal Essay (and, happens to be one of my favorite books — I reread it one a year it seems): anything by Anthony Burgess, which taught me about the use of language; “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker taught me just how brilliant the written word can be; “Night” by Elie Wiesel taught me that a powerful story can be told in about 100 pages (Honestly, this is the most intense, powerful book I’ve read!); “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet, while it informed me about cathedral building, and how to write about despicable villains, also taught me that Historical Fiction doesn’t have to be boring.

    I can list a couple dozen books that have taught me about one thing or another, and, then, add a dozen more that have made me look at things differently, but, like you, I’m not sure that there’s just one book that changed me.

  6. I love this post. You framed it very well. For me, “In Search of Lost Time” – Marcel Proust, “Invisible Man” – Richard Wright, “Song of Solomon” – Toni Morrison, “Discovery of Heaven” – Harry Mulisch, “The Dead” from Dubliners – James Joyce, “Winter’s Tale” – Mark Helprin, and “100 Years of Solitude” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. All profound and gorgeously written.

  7. In Dubious Battle and Grapes of Wrath. Both read at the age of 12. Made me cry with anger. My sense of fairness and justice and right & wrong have never been the same after that.

  8. Pingback: Day 10: A book by my favorite author |

  9. You said, “Tom Robbins”, my mental state read it, “Tony Robbins”. Sorry! I just love the latter so much!

    Now I’m intrigued to see who Tom Robbins is. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

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