With the weather warming and many of us with more time at home during this uncertain, anxiety-provoking, and not especially great time, I thought I’d offer up some of the books which have changed my life.
As a ravenous reader and lover of the written word, I am ever on the lookout for those books which have changed the minds and lives of others. Like a bloodhound, I am on alert, with ears perked and eyes wide, sniffing out those that will become my next beloved and/or life-changing reads.
In the theme of offering this same gift to others, here are some of the books that changed my life (and, in what way they did so).
The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. This book shifted the way in which I consider what makes a great story, one which remains in the mind and heart of the reader long after them closing its covers together and completing it. I’ve read it twice and will most certainly do so again.
The Friendship Factor: How To Get Closer to the People You Care For by Alan Loy McGinnis. This one is filled with highlights and underlines. I’ve read it more than once and have garnered a wealth of valuable insights about friendship and relationships in general from it. I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you’re generally happy and satisfied with your relationships, this one will help make them even better. It will offer you ways of thinking about relationships (friendship, romantic, and familial) which you hadn’t thought of prior.
Playground: A Childhood Lost Inside the Playboy Mansion by Jennifer Saginor. This book left a mark on me. It’s a dark one. It turned on its head that false idea of glittering, elusive sexiness that being “honored” with a position such as the becoming of a Playboy bunny might be like.
Instead, the Playboy world is one rife with drug addiction, eating disorders, loneliness, depression, and much emotional dysfunction. This mirage image of being bestowed with the title and honor of supposed physical perfection and as a result, becoming a prized sexual object for men? Not what we’ve been led to believe it is, in terms of glamour, fun, or validation. Instead, it’s much the opposite.
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan Pease. After reading this, I watched people differently. Noticing, instead, not just the words they spoke but even more so, the ways in which their bodies moved or posed. Picking up on when they might be saying one thing, but their bodies were speaking toward another. This became an entertaining, engaging thing to observe and notice when out and about in the world.
Sugar Blues by William Duffy. This book informed me of so much about which I had no idea regarding sugar. I always knew it was unhealthy, but I had no idea to what degree. Sugar causes hemorrhoids, it’s highly addictive, it destroys your skin, causes inflammation in the body, joint pain, and all sorts of other health maladies. Following reading this, while I still enjoy dessert, I am more mindful of not eating much sugar.
Just Kids by Patti Smith. This story. It blew my mind. It’s one of the most romantic love stories I’ve ever read, and one most unconventional. I cannot recommend it enough. Patti Smith’s prose sings. It’s lyrical and gorgeous. And the trajectory of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe is an emotionally moving, gripping, inspiring one to the max.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. There are several gems in this one, with regard to art and writing. Ideas such as, that particular projects and certain ideas come to you are the precise, right time. That there is a timing to the universe on such things. That sometimes, an idea we had for some time and which seemed viable is no longer a good one and should be let go. And, that if we do not snatch up a great idea and create it, someone else will.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. This is such an inspiring book for writers. Natalie has a way with words. She can make even the describing of a blue truck, rich and poetic. She is able to create a sense of evocative romance and charm in her descriptions of everyday life. After reading this, you will feel way jazzed to write.
Open Marriage by The O’Neills. Contrary to common misunderstanding, “open marriage” or “open relationship” is not synonymous with having sex outside your primary relationship. It can mean this. It doesn’t have to. Instead, “open” is far more nuanced with various meanings. You can have an incredibly open relationship while still being monogamous with just each other. Most people do not realize or understand this. I didn’t until reading it. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in having a phenomenal romantic relationship.
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. One of the best books I’ve ever read about love. So many inspiring insights in here. Several of which changed what I thought I knew about love, expanding and shifting my idea and conception of the concept.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. This is a beautiful book, a non-fiction story about Mitch and his relationship with his teacher, Morrie. They meet every Tuesday, just to talk, in the months leading up to his teacher’s death. This book is the content of those conversations, in which all of us can find worth. They discuss love, culture, marriage, work, and more. So many great life lessons in here.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. About the impoverished childhood of Jeannette Walls, her dysfunctional parents, and a story which contains lessons of forgiveness, that all of us have both bad and good inside ourselves, and lessons of resilience and bravery. An awesome coming of age tale.
The Paleo Kitchen by Julie Bauer. So many healthy yet delicious recipes in this one. I’ve gotten much inspiration from it for other recipe ideas too.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. From this one, I learned that as long as we have something to live for, a goal toward which we are working, something which we are creating and building, then there is meaning in our life. That our life and spirit will feel much fuller, more joyous, and more engaged in life. When we do not have some sort of project, mission, and main thing toward which we are focused on and working, this makes our lives far emptier and less meaningful.
The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love? by Ty Tashiro. This altered how I considered the priorities in my romantic relationships, causing me to realize that so many of us prioritize the wrong things in our quest for love. This one is equal parts psychology/cultural observation/philosophical, as well as research and statistic based.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe of Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall. This was riveting and jaw-dropping. I had no idea that the human body was capable of such feats as described in this book. It’s an eye-opening one for sure. And incredibly motivating with regard to one’s own physical activities.
Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure T.V. by Jennifer Posner. I was shocked by how fake “reality” television actually is. We are led to believe it’s “real”, that it isn’t scripted, that people are just acting of their own accord and it’s essentially improvisation. Not even close. ALL reality television is heavily scripted. The cast members are often ployed off camera and behind the scenes with alcohol, an attempt by the directors to add to the drama. All sorts of other wacky, as well as unethical stuff happens. Read this book to learn the details.
Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French. This will transform the way you look at zoos going forward. It’s superbly written. This book presents the ethical dilemmas of zoos, as well as, hones in on one zoo in particular, within which you come to know the stories of the animals in detail. It’s very emotionally affecting and informative. It’s also beautiful.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed. One of my favorite memoirs ever. I love the way Cheryl Strayed expresses human emotion and dilemma in a way that feels raw, real, nuanced, vulnerable, and honest. This is a poetic, inspiring, beautiful read.
The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant. This revolutionized how I consider my diet and nutrition. I had no idea prior to reading this, the health ramifications of wheat on our bodies, nor the history of the human diet. He presents a lot of science and research in this one. For those interested in health, this is a must-read.
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf. This transformed my emotional life with regards to how I consider concepts like body image, the ways women are taught to ever feel insecure and be chasing after an idealized idea of beauty (the one our culture dictates and prescribes), the ways in which our culture pressures women to despise themselves and to never feel good enough. It’s a phenomenal read. Every woman, and man for that matter, should read this book.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. While this story contains a lot of darkness (trauma and abuse) and is a difficult one to read, it contains in equal measure, much light and beauty. To me, this is a love story about friendship. It’s an emotionally rich, heartbreaking, nuanced, tender, and beautiful one. It’s about how some people do not recover from trauma and abuse, and what that might look like. It is also about how the love of friendship can, in a way, save us.
The ending is not the one we the readers hope for, but then real life doesn’t always end ideally either. Overall though, it’s an extremely emotionally affecting story. It will not be for everyone, but for those who find meaning in it and can see the nuanced layers of this story, it’s a worthwhile read.
The Color of Home by Rich Marcello. This shifted the way I consider love. It’s a rather unique love story, in terms of the concept and plot. That sometimes with love, the timing is off and in which case, the two loves might need to part ways and let go of one another in order to pursue what they deeply desire. I loved it. I wish more love stories went outside the box the way this one did.
The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide for Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple. A stellar book about relationships. I’ve read it twice and will read it again. This one touches on concepts I’ve never heard about in any other relationship book before, making it an especially memorable one. I still think about and find myself returning to several of them regularly.
How to be an Adult in Relationships by David Ricco. One of the best books I’ve ever read about love and romantic relationships. The title is misleading. Instead, it’s about love in general. The stages each romantic relationship moves through, what healthy adult/child love looks like, the concept of ego in love affairs, and an entire chapter devoted to “letting go”, which is a must-read for all. It’s a great book, and beautifully written too.
Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes. This book was fascinating. This is where I learned, via science, that the concept of calories in versus calories out as correlating directly with weight loss or gain, is a fallacy and is not correct. This is a must-read for anyone into health.
Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Fantastic concept and book. It’s about knowing when to let go (or not) in a given scenario, life situation, or relationship. Dr. Cloud talks to us about how our understanding of letting go is flawed. That we view it as “bad”, a failure, or something to be avoided at all costs. When in reality, letting go is a healthy, unavoidable, normal part of life and one that will come up frequently. In jobs, relationships, friendships, places of living, and more.
American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenage Girls by Nancy Jo Sales. Wow, was this book jarring and eye-opening. Some of the ways in which teenage girls are thinking and behaving nowadays, especially behind the protective barrier of a screen, are alarming, sad, and worthy of closer examination, as the ramifications are likely diminished mental, emotional, and physical health for young women. This is a riveting, shocking, though important read.
Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. This teaches the concept that, while we might be eating generally healthy food, how we cook/prepare/store it can make or break each ingredient's nutritional content. With many fruits and vegetables, we are eating the nutritional equivalent of a piece of cardboard when we prepare or store things wrong. This changed how I store/prep/cook my fruits and veggies entirely.
Shrill by Lindy West. A fabulous, emotionally affecting, at times witty and funny, insightful memoir and examination of our culture towards women (especially with regards to body image). I loved this book.
Educated by Tara Westover. One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Similar in feel to The Glass Castle, though Westover is a standout writer in terms of her prose. The story, though, is equally gripping and emotionally moving as The Glass Castle is.
The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People by Stephen Convey. The concepts in this book are thought and life-changing. I still think about several of them. Many of them relate to love, romantic relationships, familial relations, and friendships, while others relate more to work and business, but all are equally applicable to life on a broad scale.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Man, is Gay a talented, well-spoken writer. These essays offered so much cultural commentary and information that I didn’t know prior. They changed the way I look at society, in numerous ways.
Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. Probably the most life-changing book with regards to nutrition and diet that I’ve ever read. This one will shock you to the core, and change your diet for the far better.
In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World Full of Noise by Gary Prochnik. A great combination of science and research, paired with Prochnik’s personal perspective and observations about how unnecessarily noisy and, in many ways, disruptive and disrespectful our culture has come about our noise. He begs the question: what might we be both missing out on and losing, in our constantly being surrounded and buried by noise? The answer: quite a bit. This is an interesting meditation on the topic.
Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward. Many of us have either dysfunctional or flat out toxic family and/or parents. This book will help you with navigating this sad situation if it is an unfortunate life scenario of your own.
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. This book asks the question: can we possibly desire, over the long-term, that which we already have? How can we make desire last over the long-term? Is such a thing even possible? It is, but with a few caveats and adjustments to the way our culture usually does things in our romantic relationships. This will improve your romantic relationship just for reading it.
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel. A great read which challenges the typically fear-based, black and white view we tend to take on this topic, and an issue which has been a persistent human challenge and dilemma essentially since marriage was a thing (and, which will never stop being an issue in relationships, as long as monogamy is a thing). I cannot recommend this one enough. It offers alternate ways of thinking about infidelity. No, the book does not encourage, support, or approve of cheating. Not even close. Instead, it explores the topic from a more nuanced, curious perspective. It’s a fascinating, eye-opening read.
Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly. This book blew my mind, and enraged me, but then, rage becomes her, yes? Prior to reading it, I thought I knew a lot about women’s issues and feminism. Not even close. Most women will find this to be the case. Even those who think they know a ton about the topic, this one will enlighten you. Read it. And actually, men, you should read it too.
Girls on the Edge by Dr. Leonard Sax. A cautionary tale and warning to parents and adults today about the main issues with which young women are contending. The over-sexualization of women, via their dress especially. Being too enmeshed in the cyberbubble. Obsessions (whether it be sports, thinness, or straight A’s). And chemicals and hormones in our food which are messing up young women’s bodies.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. This one blew my mind regarding sleep the way Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis did on wheat. Like everyone else, I knew that sleep was important and good for you. I didn’t realize just how important. This book will change your life following reading it, with how you regard and consider sleep.
Lost Connections by Johann Hari. This shifted how I consider the concept of depression. It flipped on its head, what I knew to be true of antidepressants and depression in general. And, it shines a bright light on and offers an insightful commentary on much of our dysfunctional culture.
Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. I knew nothing about the opioid crisis until reading this. Now, whoa. It’s alarming. It’s the cultural crisis of our moment and one which signifies something very much wrong, emotionally and mentally, with our culture. All of this is interconnected. A riveting and timely read.
Self Objectification in Woman by Rachel Calogero. This book is produced by the American Psychological Association, so it’s essentially a textbook. I expected it to be a dry read, but because the topic fascinates me, I blew through it. So good, laden with studies, research, and statistics. This is a riveting and important read in terms of the information it offers.
Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It by Kate Harding. Another jaw-dropping cultural commentary and feminist read. The stuff you’ll read in here will get your blood boiling, will shock you, and will offer much important knowledge you hadn’t known prior.
The Perfect Health Diet by Shou-Ching Jaminet and Paul Jaminet. Another life-changing health book. This one ranks up there with Wheat Belly and The Paleo Manifesto. This one, though, is a complete examination of health from all angles, with regard to vitamins and minerals, dairy, wheat, sugar, all of it. Excellent.
Originally published at http://brunchesandbooks.com on May 23, 2020.