I love reading. If you know me in real life or follow me here or on any of my social media platforms, you know that already, but I wanted to say it again because I am in a particularly good reading space at the moment and there are no reading slumps in sight.
I recently had a conversation with my friend and fellow reader, Suzanne, where we talked about books and poems that changed our lives and/or our perspective. (My friend, Harley, was there too, but she’s not much of a reader. We don’t fault her for that though.) That conversation, along with my deep-dive into BookTube (the book-focused corner of YouTube), inspired me to write this post.
Organized as they came to me in life, here are the books that changed my life and/or my perspective. I’m not going to include links to buy these books because I don’t want to support Amazon and I would prefer that you shop for these books secondhand or at your local bookstore or borrow them from your loved ones or your local library.
Oh, and, obviously, spoiler alert!
The Harry Potter Series by She Who Must Not Be Named
(Pictured above is my favorite book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”)
The transphobic asshat author of this series almost ruined my love for this series, but, as in the World of Harry Potter, hate never prevails.
I started reading Harry Potter when I was in elementary school. I was close in age to Harry Potter and his friends and my brother and I had the pleasure of listening to our mom read the books out loud to us every night before bed. Before the movies came out, we, and maybe the rest of the world, mispronounced Hermione’s name and stumbled through the names of the spells. We joined a community of magic lovers; we watched all of the movies, we reread the books, we complained about the differences between the books and the movies, we mourned the loss of characters and the actors that played them, we went to the theme park, we marveled in the sequels and prequels, and we brought it up in conversation as much as possible.
Without Harry Potter, my childhood would have looked a lot different. I think the hype of being a part of a community of dedicated readers was what made me want to keep reading and climbing my way into other books and other worlds. I can’t wait to read them to my kids and grandkids one day.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
I was in the 7th grade in Mrs. Specht’s class. I was sitting beside a boom box and we were listening to Poe’s haunting words and there was the faint sound of a heart beat in the background. That was the very first time that a work of fiction scared the crap out of me.
I have loved Poe, Mrs. Specht and a good scary story ever since.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Otherwise known as my favorite book of all time, “To Kill A Mockingbird” serves as the story that gave me my favorite and most beloved character of all time, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
I love that she is passionate, charismatic, curious, forgiving and a tomboy who runs with the boys. I identified with her and saw hate and acceptance through her eyes. I named my first car and my current car after her and I will continue to come up with related names for the rest of my cars until the end of my days.
Siddartha by Hermann Hesse
“Siddartha” was one of those books that no one else read for class. Don’t get me wrong, we were supposed to and so I did, but I ended up being the only person who did.
This served as my introduction to Buddhism and launched me into an obsession and general interest in religion and spirituality. There is nothing I love more than a good documentary about cults. I blame Buddha for making me fascinated with religion and mind control, not to say that Buddha controlled people’s minds, but he definitely sparked my interest in it.
I realized after reading this book that all religions were valid and should be accepted, except, of course, when they are abusive.
There’s More to Life Than This by Theresa Caputo and Kristina Grish
Also making an appearance on my spiritual journey as a young person is this book by medium and big hair owner, Theresa Caputo. My mom and I watched her show, so it was an easy choice for me to get and read her book.
Theresa has views and beliefs that I don’t necessarily agree with or believe in, but what I do connect with is her open-minded, yet all-encompassing view of religion, God and the devil, souls and spirits. She made me feel like it was okay for me to think differently about religion and the afterlife. She made me feel like I wasn’t crazy.
I may not think that everything she says is 100% the gospel, but I can’t express my gratitude towards her enough. She made me believe that my beliefs were valid and I carry that freedom of thought with me to this day.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I didn’t know when I read this book that it was going to send me into a tailspin of inspiration and love for all things Cheryl Strayed. I love all of her work and her so much so that I got a tattoo of her words on my chest and I named this blog with her and this book in mind. I also adore how close I feel to my friends Claire and Lindsay who also share a love for Cheryl.
As with Theresa, I can’t say that I identified with Cheryl in “Wild”, but I can say that her journey of letting go is right up my street. We’ve all got demons and we all have to choose whether to fight them or let them take us over. Cheryl fought her demons off by walking an obnoxiously long trail. I fight mine in different ways that are less physically strenuous. Either way, “Wild” was a part of my letting go and my coming to terms with my anxiety.
The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
I saw the movies before I read the books, but reading the books only sent me farther into the LOTR fandom. Once you read the books, you enter into this special, elite world of LOTR superfans that like to say, “Oh, but did you read the books?” in every conversation with even a fraction of a statement about Middle Earth. I need to say it though, the books and the movies are equally good!
Logan always says that he reads so that he can enter into a different world for a little bit. I always respond with something about how I like this world…that was until I read “The Hobbit.” Needless to say, if I show up in another world, there better be wizards and some sort of hot man in a cape.
When I think of fictional tropes, LOTR is my first point of reference. True love? Aragorn and Arwen. Friendship? Frodo and Sam and Merry and Pippin. The ultimate evil? Sauron. Trees? Treebeard and the Ents. Greed? Gollum and Boromir. Magic? Elves. Sacrifice? Frodo. The ultimate good? Gandalf. The simple life? Hobbits.
Tolkien is, no doubt, one of the best writers and thinkers of all time and LOTR is, in my opinion, the best story ever told. (George RR Martin could never!) Y’all know me and Logan love LOTR so much that we went to New Zealand for our honeymoon.
The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield
Have you ever read a book that smacked you in your face with how much it makes you laugh and cry? Have you ever not been able to get a book out of your head and it’s the first one you recommend when someone says they need a new book to read? Yeah, that’s this book for me.
This book made me feel seen and, weirdly, connected my young self to my current self because it had some of my favorite things in it: thrifting and softball. I never thought I would find those two topics in the same book, but I did.
“The Flood Girls” also serves as a prime example of a time when judging a book by its’ cover worked out.
Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad
When the world was closed down yet police officers were killing Black people in the street, lists were being released by smart people that included books about antiracism. This was one of them and turned out to be the first of many antiracism books that I have read.
You are probably reading this and thinking, “Colleen, you aren’t a white supremacist.” No, I’m not. But, this book called out and made me reflect on things that I do and say that could be hurtful to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). It made me check my freakin’ privilege and have a real heart-to-heart with myself. You don’t have to be a white supremacist that storms the Capitol to subconsciously think, do and say white supremacist things.
This book knocked me on my ass and made me better, or at least I hope so. Read it and answer the questions, friends. (To see what other antiracism media I recommend, click here.)
I hope my list of books that changed my life and/or my perspective made you reflect on books that did the same for you or maybe made you think about your experience with these titles. It’s totally fine if you disagree wholeheartedly with me about my opinion on any of these books. If everyone loved the same books, life would be boring as hell, right?
Please share your list of books with me and, as always, send me recommendations for what I need to read next! Check-out my Goodreads profile to stay up-to-date with what I am reading and what I have already read.