The Books That Changed My Life

I love to read. Like if I had to live without technology for the rest of my life, I would be perfectly fine with just a library card or a stack of books. I’m a bit of an annoying reader, though. Once I start a book, I become so completely absorbed by it that anyone who dares interrupt be faces a terrible wrath. I will also attempt to read the entire thing in one day, which wasn’t too much of a challenge until I had my son. Now, all my reading is done during the few moments he’s playing nicely alone or once he’s gone to bed. But I still read as often as I can, picking up books from the library during our weekly trips.

This week is Banned Books Week, a week commemorating all the books that were at some point or another deemed “inappropriate” or “smut” or “trash”. This is an important week because it’s a celebration of the freedom to read, the freedom of expression and of art. Books are one of those amazing objects that can spread such joy and inspiration, so I thought I would do a little personal book round up. I’m not just going to list books that I have enjoyed. These are the books that have changed my life, in one way or another. The ones that have a permanent spot on my bookshelf and continue to be reread.

  1. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: This is a pretty new one to the list, but as an artist, this book revolutionized the way that I think. The best part is that you don’t necessarily have to be an artist to read it. At it’s heart, it’s about living life true to your passions and learning how to find inspiration, all without fear. It touches on all the agonizing questions that artists ask themselves and help us to move past them. Truly inspiring to read.
  2. The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop: Although I’ve read many fantasy books, this one (or rather, three) has been the one to top them all. It’s basically a fantasy story about a magical matriarchal society, following several key characters. That alone is enough to hold my attention, but the way that the psychological events within the story are what stand out because they are written so beautifully. I keep this one nearby on a shelf because I read it again and again for a reliable spark of imagination.
  3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce: This book is a bit outside of what I would normally read, but it’s a classic for a reason. It’s an incredible journey about a man going from boyhood to adulthood and finding himself in his world. The story has strong elements of Irish history as well as deep metaphorical meanings, making it wonderful to navigate and analyze. This was the book that inspired me to learn more about history. But what it really changed was my attitude towards learning and school. I credit this book with motivating me to graduate college Summa Cum Laude.
  4. The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: So this is still a pretty popular book with a really strong following, but for a pretty darn good reason. It’s the first “homemaking” book that has really changed the way I approach my home, and it has stuck around simply because it’s so useful and inspiring. I love the way it helped me to lift a ton of weight from my shoulders and home.
  5. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells: This best seller captured my heart as a female reader. Following the lives of two generations of women, this book is not just about sisterhood and friendship, it’s about motherhood and being female and all the struggles within those. The romantic setting of the deep south was enchanting and it gave me a whole new perspective on being a woman, not to mention emphasizing the importance of female bonding.
  6. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (all of the books): Chances are, you’ve read at least a few of these. They have gone beyond bestsellers and are well into the realm of modern cultural influences. I first read Harry Potter when the first few books were just coming out, courtesy of my grandmother. I was the perfect age for them, age 11 like Harry, so as each book came out, I felt like I was growing up with him. Of course, these books mean the world to me because my grandmother gave them to me. But they are so much more than that. They contain all the challenges and joys of growing up as well as all the magic we wish the world would have. Thanks to these books, I will always be a Ravenclaw.
  7. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: An incredible and classic tale of the French Revolution. I have several historical interests, and this book fed into that particular time period. It’s dramatic and exciting yet romantic, a book that inspired further study of females of the French Revolution.
  8. Echo by Francesca Lia Block: If you’ve ever read her books, you know that they touch on the borders of fantasy, occasionally diving right in. They are all pure magic for the “young adult” readers, but Echo has always stood out. I’ve reread this book more times than I can count because of its mysticism, its incredible imagery, and the intensely relatable main character. It basically follows a young, seemingly ordinary, girl through young adulthood and a life of low self-esteem. It’s wonderfully written and captivating and the ending has always reduced me to happy tears.
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: Shakespeare is still read in school across America for a good reason, there isn’t a whole lot that can top his tales. I enjoyed all of his plays, particularly Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, but the whimsy, humor, and magic of this one is what set’s it at the top. This is the play that I keep coming back to because it makes me believe in magic and fairies and romance. A lovely play with a forever place in my heart.
  10. Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis: I have a pretty basic list of three things I would grab if the house was on fire (aside from family and pets, of course). And this book is on that list. It was another gift from my grandmother, but this one was special. As an artist herself, she saw my passion for drawing blooming at a young age. So, she gave me this book, a book she had used herself over and over. It’s essentially a classic instructional manual on how to draw the human body. It’s amazingly useful, beautifully illustrated, and has always been one of my best teachers in figure drawing. I would not be the artist I am today without it.

For lists of banned/challenged books as well as more information about this week, check out these websites:

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