Monday, March 22, 2010

Life Changing Books

Typically when I get a book I do one of two things: Read it immediately or sit it on my bookshelf until I get around to it. When I pick up the book to read it one of three things happen: I hate it, I enjoy it, or it changes my life. I wish I could say that the majority of the books I read change my life... but that's not true. In fact, there is only a small percentage of the books I've read which have changed my life.

What do I mean by 'change my life'? I mean that when I read these books and I come to the last page I don't just move on to the following book (like I typically do). I'm left stunned, I'm left completely spellbound, my mind is entirely on what occurred in the book and it's hard to move on. Then I notice as time progresses that the story is still with me. My mind always returns to the plot line and at times I realize I take small steps towards making decisions based on what I had learned in those pages.

These are the books that have changed my life. These are the books that I will always suggest to people to read.

1. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
I read this novel during my junior year of college- fall semester (three and a half years ago). To be completely self obsessed I have to proclaim the utter selfish state I was in at that time. I had just suffered my first true heartbreak. First true love of two years- done and over with. I was miserable and looking for distractions which is a common case when I come upon books. Escapism is my middle name. None the less, I had continuously spotted this book at stores and finally gave up the 'fight' and bought it. Little did I know how much this book would change how I saw the world. First of all, it stopped me from thinking so much about myself. Here is a child character who is raped and murdered then the remainder of the story follows her views of her family after her death. It's upsetting but true, women and children are raped, they are murdered. This happens more then anyone wants to say and Alice Sebold, for me, completely set me into the shoes of this child and I felt terrified and frightened for her. It was a disturbing and upsetting book but I still think of it to this day.

2. One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick
I came upon this book because of an ex. He was (is) a Marine and I tried to show as much interest in his job. I read books about the Marine Corps and I watched the movies. I didn't hate all of this, it introduced me to a whole new world that I didn't know much about beforehand. None the less, when I asked my then-boyfriend to suggest some books for me to read this was one of them. By default I generally stay away from non-fiction books but this narrative was the start of a long running love affair with non-fiction. Nathaniel Fick writes about his experiences in OCS (Officer Candidate School) which is one of the hardest military programs in the US and what my ex went through. This part of the book is rather short because just after Fick graduates from OCS what we never dreamed would happen occurred: September 11th. Fick is now a LT and is one of the first Marine platoons to be sent to Iraq leading a recon team. Fick remains truthful of the joys and sorrows of his time in Iraq. He doesn't shy away from presenting the truth and even if you are unfamiliar with the military or it's terminology it's easy to follow Fick's description and words (after all, he received a BA in classics prior to joining the Marines). You can see a dual of his story in the popular book Generation Kill which has also been adapted into a mini-series with the same name. For weeks I couldn't read anything else when I closed this book. Still, to this day, I can clearly recall some of the scenes and I do feel that it made me understand just what our neighbors, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends who go into the military deal with on a day to day basis.

3. The Hours by Michael Cunningham
My love affair with The Hours began when I saw the movie. When I discovered that it was a book prior to being made into a movie I quickly rushed to buy the book. I read it, I fell in love with it. It's the type of novel that makes me daydream heavily and see everything around me in a clearer way. Michael Cunningham certainly knows how to tie a bunch of characters together in unexpected ways. He also introduced me to Virginia Woolf. Although I have a short attention span when reading her books I have a great interest in her personal life. Whenever I want to drift away I turn to this book.

4. Atonement by Iam McEwan
This book was hard for me to get into at first. The language was something I was not used to reading but once I got past that hold up I grew to love the story-line. It hopped around and kept my attention and the end... made me cry. It's rare that I cry when I read a book but I did when I read the end pages of this particular one (I also cried when I read The Book Thief). I can't write too much about it without giving away the details but it is truly worth the read. Take my word for it. If any book can bring out an actual physical reaction I think it's worth it.

5. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
When I was in High School I'd churn out story after story. One after another. It was all I did. Eat, breathe, sleep, write. During the summer months my day would start at noon, I'd wake up, eat, ride my bike until dinner, go into my room, write until five in the morning, then go to bed. I loved it. I loved the summer night and it just felt so good to get the words on paper (or rather, computer). But my words dried up when I went to college and they haven't been around much since. Garden Spells reminded me of those summer days and somehow stirred up the joy of writing again. Whenever I turn back to this book I get the sudden urge to write again. For that, I am always thankful. Plus, the story is just really cute and entertaining. A perfect summer read!

6. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My blog post on this novel can be seen HERE. Ever since reading Gilbert's book I've tried to be more brave about life. When I realize I'm being cautious about something and therefore not even trying it (such as applying to graduate school. I'm afraid I'll be rejected or not find a way to pay so I've put off applying for two years) I think of Gilbert's jump into the world and think if she can do that, then I can as well.

7. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
My blog post on this novel can be seen HERE. If any of you really pay attention you'll know that I am health conscious. I don't eat gluten and I don't drink milk strictly because both don't sit well with my stomach. But it doesn't stop there. I was always vegcurious and had an interest in a more better way of eating. My family's health history is a shadowed one full of illnesses that could truly have been prevented. I've seen how illness and cancer has affected my family and my loved ones and I truly want to avoid that outcome as best as I can. I don't want my own children to experience the same thing I did growing up. So, with that, I try my best to be healthy. Reading Kingsolver's book just honed in on that interest. A full book displaying all of the earth shattering details of how utterly unhealthy processed food is and how blissfully wonderful organic foods can be. I can say that before reading Kingsolver's book I didn't really know what to do or how to go about becoming more healthy but after I put the book down I had some sort of a plan and a determination that hasn't died off.

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I recall being interested in the book when it was suggested for my book of the month segment on the blog but I wasn't entirely sure if I'd 100% enjoy it. I was cautious of the idea that Death would be narrating it. However, my mind still remains on the book. The full review can be seen HERE. Since reading the book I have gone on a hardcore attempt to push this book towards curious readers at the store. Every time someone goes, "I want to read a good book but I don't know what to read" I point them to this. The emotional pull I felt for the characters has been long lasting and I still think back to it's pages. The reason I think all of this stuck with me so much is that although The Book Thief is a fictional novel the horror it describes is fact. Real people experienced the events in it's pages and the overall terror. I grew up in a county where the number of Jewish residents outnumbered all other religions present. Two of my school teachers growing up had family who were in concentration camps or were in one themselves. The Holocaust was something we knew of since childhood and learned about at a very young age. One teacher, a mean old woman, had a true hatred of German's. She was Jewish and her family died during WWII. She tormented myself and the other German students in our classroom simply because of our heritage. It made me ashamed to be German. I learned that she was just a cruel mean woman who was directing her anger in a harsh way and more or less got over it but the memory of things she called us still is very strong in my mind. Reading this book, however, reminded me that World War II and the Nazi Occupation didn't just affect Jews (I'm not taking away from the fact that what they suffered was horrible and they did get the brunt of all bad things). It was an event who affected all who lived there and sucked everyone in. Although gentiles might not have been what the Nazi's were searching for directly they were still affected and did not necessarily support what was going on around them.

So if any of you were to say, Suggest a book, I would suggest all of these. For them I really cannot provide enough words to describe how wonderful they are. They're best to be discovered on your own.

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