28 votes

What is a book that has changed you?

It does not need to be the most important, just a book that has truly changed you. My personal pick is Albert Camus' "The Rebel"; it provided structure for a lot of nebulous thoughts that were floating around in my head.

31 comments

  1. [5]
    xstresedg Link
    Incoming lame answer: all the books I've read changed me. Some in small parts, some in greater. I like to think that the Sword of Truth books have adjusted certain views on the world and kept my...

    Incoming lame answer: all the books I've read changed me. Some in small parts, some in greater. I like to think that the Sword of Truth books have adjusted certain views on the world and kept my mind open, even if the author's political and philosophical views are intertwined in his writings.

    A couple books in the recent couple years that have really made some changes in my life and mind have been The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. With the Happiness Advantage, it gives an interesting viewpoint into the mind and how parts of happiness are perceived, dictating that at least a part of a person's lack of positive mood is self-inflicted. As for Sapiens, just getting one author's subjective view on the growth of the human species allows one to take into mind that we're all just hyper-advanced apes; that we all have one or two points of evolutionary growth. As in, we're all the same, no matter how we express, look, talk, feel, or understand.

    If any of that makes sense, anyway...

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      acdw Link Parent
      Not lame at all, I actually really like this answer! It's the same thing as how the brain constantly changes its structure as it creates and even accesses memories -- we are being changed, really...

      Not lame at all, I actually really like this answer! It's the same thing as how the brain constantly changes its structure as it creates and even accesses memories -- we are being changed, really and truly, every moment. Of course books will change us!

      2 votes
      1. xstresedg Link Parent
        Thanks! I'm glad that this was expanded up on better than I had done.

        Thanks! I'm glad that this was expanded up on better than I had done.

        2 votes
    2. [2]
      Arshan Link Parent
      I agree with you; a book or any form of media can't not change you. However, I generally feel that most, DEFINITELY NOT ALL PEOPLE, intuitively understand my intent behind the question. I was...

      I agree with you; a book or any form of media can't not change you. However, I generally feel that most, DEFINITELY NOT ALL PEOPLE, intuitively understand my intent behind the question. I was trying to ask "What is a book that has connected with you deeply and made you into a truly distinct person?". I didn't really like the phrasing or framing of that literal of a question, hence the kinda vague question. Also, I just wanted a list of books from probably fairly similar people, which I got.

      2 votes
      1. xstresedg Link Parent
        Oh, for sure. I understand what you mean, and for the most part, what you meant. I just felt that I needed to preface what I said with a note about all books changing me, as I feel that there are...

        Oh, for sure. I understand what you mean, and for the most part, what you meant. I just felt that I needed to preface what I said with a note about all books changing me, as I feel that there are likely people that wouldn't feel that way. Adds for a topic of discussion, regardless of where you sit in the camp, so to speak.

  2. [4]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [3]
      ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
      Have you tried any psychodelic drugs?

      Have you tried any psychodelic drugs?

      3 votes
      1. [3]
        Comment deleted by author
        Link Parent
        1. [2]
          ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
          Of course. Is it possible, by any chance, for you to imagine what it could be like if you were, hypothetically, taking some sort of a psychodelic drugs?

          Of course.

          Is it possible, by any chance, for you to imagine what it could be like if you were, hypothetically, taking some sort of a psychodelic drugs?

          1 vote
          1. [2]
            Comment deleted by author
            Link Parent
            1. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
              You have an extremely-vivid imagination, and a way with words. I appreciate, and am grateful for, both.

              You have an extremely-vivid imagination, and a way with words.

              I appreciate, and am grateful for, both.

              2 votes
  3. ThatFanficGuy Link
    Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. It helped me recognize that I was leading my life passively, in accordance with other people's desires, entirely forgoing my own in order to...

    Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

    It helped me recognize that I was leading my life passively, in accordance with other people's desires, entirely forgoing my own in order to please others – and how miserable that was. I rebelled against that for a long time – having grown up under overbearing, controlling, rigidly-minded parents – with most of the ideas unverbalized and, therefore, of little help in the world.

    The book helped me put these things into perspective and see where I'm going if I keep going the way I did: dissatisfied, feeling stuck, feeling hopeless, and with little ambition beyond mere survival... It wasn't the book alone that did the trick, of course – there were years of internal conversations and internalized influences – but it turned out to be an excellent catalyst for the feelings and desires I had stashed away.

    4 votes
  4. Akir Link
    I hate to be that guy, but my answer is A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. You can say that it's liberal revisionism if you want, but to me it is more important because it is...

    I hate to be that guy, but my answer is A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

    You can say that it's liberal revisionism if you want, but to me it is more important because it is a lens into the darkness of human nature. To be honest I still haven't finished reading it because it is too depressing.

    4 votes
  5. acdw Link
    My top three (I can't pick one!) are: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster: I remember reading this as a kid, and loving the amount of fun the book has with wordplay, with math, and with...

    My top three (I can't pick one!) are:

    The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster: I remember reading this as a kid, and loving the amount of fun the book has with wordplay, with math, and with learning and growing as a person. I have a 25th anniversary given to me by my parents that I'm going to read to all of my children when I have some.

    The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende: the movie doesn't hold a candle to the full novel, which continues on for about double the length of the movie. Honestly, the second half of the book is where it gets really interesting, exploring themes like memory, selfhood, and nostalgia in kind of a hero's journey.

    The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin: I didn't read Wizard until I was an adult, but I wish I'd read it so much earlier. It stresses the importance of naming and language and finding onself and it's just written so beautifully, I love it.

    Others (now I'm getting going, I can't stop!) include Island of the Blue Dolphins (I don't remember much of the plot, but it's the first book my mother read to us, so it'll always be special to me), James and the Giant Peach and most of Dahl's oeuvre (for much the same reasons as Dolphins, though I remember more of the plot), The Dispossessed (which really got me into thinking about different forms of governance), ..... the list goes on and on.

    I guess I agree (even more even than I thought) with @xstresedg!

    4 votes
  6. [2]
    euphoria066 Link
    The LAMEST, but The 5 Love Languages is an interesting and illuminating look into ways that you can connect and fail to connect with the people that you love, and can really help you see why some...

    The LAMEST, but The 5 Love Languages is an interesting and illuminating look into ways that you can connect and fail to connect with the people that you love, and can really help you see why some things fall apart.

    I really think it has fundamentally changed the way I think about maintaining my relationships.

    4 votes
    1. acdw Link Parent
      That book sounds so interesting; I've heard of the languages but I actually didn't know there was a book! Not lame at all, I'll have to check it out!

      That book sounds so interesting; I've heard of the languages but I actually didn't know there was a book! Not lame at all, I'll have to check it out!

  7. TheJorro (edited ) Link
    Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy. I'm not sure if it changed me, per se. In line with what @xstresedg said, every good work (not just book) should leave an...

    Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy.

    I'm not sure if it changed me, per se. In line with what @xstresedg said, every good work (not just book) should leave an imprint on you. This book, though... this one never left my mind.

    I'm a big fiction person. I'm not one for most non-fiction, philosophy, biographies or the like. I enjoy my stories. Sci-fi, fantasy, war stories, political dramas, spy thrillers, Victorian colonial tales, weird fiction, magic realism, whatever. I've read a lot. I've always wanted to be a writer but I've never felt too confident with my chops to make it even a freelance career, but I always try to pay attention to writing that stands out to me as daring, effective new ways of communicating the most abstract ideas.

    There's something about this book that truly haunts me. I can understand why it will probably never be adapted into another medium, I can't imagine how anyone could find this palatable in another format beyond text on a page. It is gruesome, it is violent, it is haunting, and the worst part is that it's beautiful throughout.

    Firstly, I don't generally enjoy McCarthy's writing. His insistence on misusing punctuation feels like an exercise in obfuscation. It's an annoying hump to get through before engaging with his works. I couldn't fully engage with The Road because the dialogue always took me out of it, but I understand and appreciate the style of it. Even with this book, I had to use an audiobook before I understood what the style of the narration was, because I could not pick it up from the writing. A glance at the printed page will easily explain why. The man is otherwise a master of style, theme, story, and construction.

    But Blood Meridian... it's something fucking else. What on earth am I being enthralled by here? McCarthy is probably one of the densest writers to ever grace the medium, and in this book he tackles the nebulous, tenuous ties of humanity and violence. That sounds very general. It is not. In this book, the ties between humanity and violence are specific, numerous, and dynamic. Many famed critics disagree on what exactly the message ends up as, but they all agree that this is the book about the violence of man.

    There are passages of utter beauty describing the landscapes and the journey a troupe of men take through the Western deserts, described in a truly poetic mix of imagery and prose, lulling you into the rhythm and doldrums of the adventure. Including the violence. Especially the violence.

    Jesus Christ... the violence. This is the goriest, most brutal, most cruel book I think I've ever read, but it's all described so gorgeously that I wonder for my own self. How could I be so enthralled by such graphic depictions of genocide and mass murder? How does McCarthy describe such horrors in a way that makes me picture the blood and the gore in its worst form but with language and storytelling that strikes me the same way as the Romantic masters? I can't even take that one moment in Bone Tomahawk and yet here's a book that is filled with those moments, and I can't get enough.

    I encourage you to read this excerpt. It is spoiler free but it gives a good idea of what you will find. It's also remarkably tame compared to the majority of the book but it gives a great sense of how McCarthy's writing hypnotizes you into a mindset that mollifies the gore and turns it into a part of the scenery, in line with the viewpoints of the characters you follow.

    And this isn't even getting into the plot, story, or characters. There are no heroes here, that's the point, but McCarthy The villain of this book, the Judge, is perhaps one of the most fearsome villains I've ever come across. It takes a lot for a villain to say "Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent" and have you believe him so completely in a story without any supernatural elements.

    And you know what's fucked up? This is real. McCarthy spent years researching firsthand account journals from people involved in the events of the book. All this gross violence, mayhem, murder, carnage, genocide, horror... it's all real. And McCarthy relays it in gorgeous fashion.

    The sum of this juxtaposition is the haunting I feel from this book, years later. What the fuck did I read? How could I be so engaged with this? I feel dirty, but one some level I feel elevated. To be able to hypnotize a reader with alluring and velvet writing into expecting and desiring beauty in carnage and mayhem that they find utterly revolting is a feat of writing that will rarely ever be matched, I think. I cannot name another work that has evoked such opposite reactions in my simultaneously.

    This book is a masterclass of writing. This is the greatest book I cannot recommend.

    4 votes
  8. [2]
    The_Fad (edited ) Link
    Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It paints such a beautifully optimistic future and plays out the pessimism and destruction that we must endure to get there in a supremely interesting and...

    Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

    It paints such a beautifully optimistic future and plays out the pessimism and destruction that we must endure to get there in a supremely interesting and believable way. Not to mention AT's line for line writing and plotting is next-level craftsmanship. I just read it last year and it was probably the first book I've "torn through" since I was in highschool.

    If you've not read it, here's a brief summary:

    "The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age - a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

    But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind's worst nightmare.

    Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?"

    4 votes
    1. acdw Link Parent
      Oh I forgot about this book, but it's absolutely incredible! I especially liked it after reading The Three-Body Problem, because where Children of Time solves the ultimate problem of Three-Body,...

      Oh I forgot about this book, but it's absolutely incredible! I especially liked it after reading The Three-Body Problem, because where Children of Time solves the ultimate problem of Three-Body, namely, how can you have a non-annihilative relationship between two alien societies? It took the cynicism I felt after reading Three-Body and flipped it around, which I was really grateful for.

      It's also just an incredible book, in plot, character, and style.

      1 vote
  9. [4]
    DonQuixote Link
    Tales of Power was the first of Castaneda's books I picked up. I didn't know the background and took it as a magic realism novel. At the time I was trying to reconcile my atheist's logic with some...

    Tales of Power was the first of Castaneda's books I picked up. I didn't know the background and took it as a magic realism novel. At the time I was trying to reconcile my atheist's logic with some obviously emotional needs and thoughts. The usual quest of putting my beliefs into some sort of philosophical framework. Castaneda's book, remarkably, supplied that framework.

    From the logical point of atheism and his notion of a bubble of perception, I was able to 'put on' the mindset (or gloss, as he claimed it was known in anthropology) of my early religious upbringing as a rational choice. This ended up being very similar to the Japanese practice of holding two beliefs at the same time as theorized in Shogun. This has worked very well for me in practice.

    Meanwhile, I learned more about Castaneda and realized he was a very skilled charlatan or magician, depending on your point of view. He'd actually convinced his professors at UCLA to grant him a Doctorate over his supposed research. Furthermore his work was a hit with the drug culture of the early 70's, making him similar to Dr. Timothy Leary in popularity at the time.

    Somehow all of this tomfoolery appealed to my absurdist bent, or perhaps my bent toward absurdity. With training in both the Visual Arts and Engineering, I've figuratively danced through life along a unique path unbelievable even to myself, if not always a walk in the park.

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
      How unbelievable are we talking? Have you actually killed a windmill?

      How unbelievable are we talking? Have you actually killed a windmill?

      1. [2]
        DonQuixote Link Parent
        No, actually I like windmills, and they like me.

        No, actually I like windmills, and they like me.

        1. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
          That's fair enough, don't share, I ain't gonna pressure you to.

          That's fair enough, don't share, I ain't gonna pressure you to.

  10. maze Link
    "The Book: on the taboo of knowing who you are" by Alan Watts. As a fan of humanity's religious and philosophical exploration, I fell in love with this book. It is very short, so I thought that I...

    "The Book: on the taboo of knowing who you are" by Alan Watts.

    As a fan of humanity's religious and philosophical exploration, I fell in love with this book. It is very short, so I thought that I would be able to read it quickly and digested quickly as well. However, I found that this very short book led me to long breaks between reading sessions while I simply digested what I was encountering.
    It's a great read if you like to tickle your brain a bit and see things inside out for awhile.

    3 votes
  11. cadadr Link
    The Republic, Plato; 1984, Orwell So I loved reading as a kid and in my early teens, but I stopped until I was 18-19. I was taking a course to prepare for the university exams so that I could do...
    1. The Republic, Plato; 1984, Orwell

    So I loved reading as a kid and in my early teens, but I stopped until I was 18-19. I was taking a course to prepare for the university exams so that I could do CS (never happened). At the institution we had a teacher of philosophy and I had a crush on her, and I started reading these books mostly in order to impress her. But then I rediscovered my love for literature, and became interested in philosophy. I started reading a lot, and ended up studying literature at the uni. Philosophy readings helped me learn how to think objectively and critically, and I quickly became an epicurean type. This helped me overcome the depressive state I've been in since my early teens, and start ameliorating my life. Over a few years I've spotted and fixed almost all the big problems in my life, and gained self-esteem and confidence. These books did not have such a big impact per se, but they changed my life indirectly, as a means to a discovery.

    1. Cain, José Saramago

    I read this book in a couple or so hours, and it had 200 pages. So exciting, so beautiful. This book has helped me start seriously think about religion and superstition, and soon after I became irreligious. Again, it is not something the book talked about or intended to teach albeit being a critique of religion and abrahamitic narrative and tradition, but was the power of the narrative and philosophical stances present in the book which helped me look at things from new aspects and pushed me to think about things I took for granted. With the help this book and a few similar reads, I started a personal crusade for whatever I took for granted, and consequentially whatever that has been taken for granted, ever.

    3 votes
  12. lazer Link
    Mine is "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. It is one of the few books that has actually made me immediately and fairly drastically change my habits (in my case getting more sleep and treating sleep...

    Mine is "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. It is one of the few books that has actually made me immediately and fairly drastically change my habits (in my case getting more sleep and treating sleep as a first class citizen in my quest for health and optimization).

    3 votes
  13. bbvnvlt Link
    I agree with @xstresedg that all (or most) books changed me. But the single most powerful shaper of my worldview is, I think, Methaphors We Live By (George Lakoff). I already believed on an...

    I agree with @xstresedg that all (or most) books changed me.

    But the single most powerful shaper of my worldview is, I think, Methaphors We Live By (George Lakoff). I already believed on an abstract intellectual level that the words we use, and our languages as a whole, shape how we perceive things ('framing'). But this one really hit that home for me, by providing super clear examples and an overarching theory.

    2 votes
  14. masochist Link
    I am certain I typed a reply to this, but maybe I just didn't post it. When I was around 14-15 (freshman / sophomore year of US high school), I borrowed my father's copy of Dr Rudy Rucker's...

    I am certain I typed a reply to this, but maybe I just didn't post it.

    When I was around 14-15 (freshman / sophomore year of US high school), I borrowed my father's copy of Dr Rudy Rucker's Infinity and the Mind. At the time I was studying basic algebra in school, and this book talked about things like set theory, Gödel's incompleteness theorems, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and the eponymous infinity. Or, I should say, more accurately, the eponymous infinities. It showed me how infinity is not just one thing, how it's not a number, and how using it as a number breaks down into absurdities and contradictions. It forever changed how I look at numbers and mathematics (particularly counting, combinatorics, arithmetic, and how quantities relate to one another, but also infinitesimals and limits, especially now as I'm finally formally learning calculus). It also covered things like Zeno's arrow paradox. If you're analytically-minded, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It bent my young teenage brain into the most delightful pretzel shape and is one of few books to have ever given me a headache from reading it.

    2 votes
  15. RiskyVessel Link
    The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis, followed about a year later by The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien. A neighbour gave these to me when I was about 8. I loved them. They set me on a life of chasing...

    The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis, followed about a year later by The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien. A neighbour gave these to me when I was about 8. I loved them. They set me on a life of chasing the imaginary (maybe not a good thing).

    Catch 22 - Joseph Heller. It sort of made me feel ok about my feelings on the absurdity of life.

    No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod. This is without doubt the best book I've ever read. What Catch 22 did for absurdity, this book did for feelings of melancholy. It's hauntingly beautiful, and probably the most emotional book I've ever read.

    8 Minute Meditation - Victor Davich. This helped me a lot through a less than stellar period in my life.

    2 votes
  16. [2]
    Algernon_Asimov Link
    I'm going to riff off @xstresedg's point that all books have changed me. Unfortunately, that means I can't really identify any particular book or books which have changed me more than others. I've...

    I'm going to riff off @xstresedg's point that all books have changed me. Unfortunately, that means I can't really identify any particular book or books which have changed me more than others. I've been reading so much and for so long that the effect was cumulative and unnoticeable.

    For instance, I'm pretty sure that reading science fiction books in general has contributed to my being much less politically conservative than I otherwise would have been, and more accepting of differences and diversity, and able to see another person's point of view, and so on... but pinpointing that change to just a few books is impossible.

    I can pinpoint one book which changed me, because the change was extremely noticeable and happened in my adult life when I was aware enough to know I was changing.

    Through my pre-teens, teens, and twenties, I read mostly science fiction, with some fantasy and real science mixed in for seasoning. I didn't stray much outside that narrow range. However, I was wandering through my favourite secondhand bookshop one day when I was in my late 20s, and I saw a nice-looking book on the shelf: 'The First Man in Rome' by Colleen McCullough. I had never read historical fiction before, but for some reason (partly the cover - I won't deny it), this book grabbed my attention, and I decided to buy it.

    I loved it! I devoured this novel, and immediately tracked down secondhand copies of the next two novels in the Masters of Rome series. But then I was stuck. The fourth novel in the series hadn't been published yet! I needed my fix of Roman history! So, I started reading actual Roman history books. Text books, non-fiction books, even the original histories of the time. It took years for the remaining novels in McCullough's series to be published, and I just kept reading history books in between each novel's publication.

    This book ignited an interest in history for me: Roman history, British history and, of course, Australian history. And my interest in history got me involved in /r/AskHistorians in its early-ish days, which started me as a moderator... which led me here.

    2 votes
    1. xstresedg Link Parent
      I think this is my favourite of all the comments that have replied to or tagged me in, because of how one book/series helped you find a major passion of yours! Definitely a feel good post! Thanks...

      I think this is my favourite of all the comments that have replied to or tagged me in, because of how one book/series helped you find a major passion of yours! Definitely a feel good post!

      Thanks for sharing this!

      :D

  17. MimicSquid Link
    The Callahan Chronicles by Spider Robinson. If gave me a sense of the kind of people I wanted to have as friends, and meant that I stuck by them when I found them. We drink a lot less than the...

    The Callahan Chronicles by Spider Robinson. If gave me a sense of the kind of people I wanted to have as friends, and meant that I stuck by them when I found them. We drink a lot less than the characters do, but the puns are thick on the ground.

    1 vote
  18. NeonHippy Link
    1984 by George Orwell & To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The former made me look at the government in a new, unsettling way; the latter gave me a better understanding of how life is here in...

    1984 by George Orwell & To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The former made me look at the government in a new, unsettling way; the latter gave me a better understanding of how life is here in the South, even though it was set during the 1930s. Both are applicable to recent times and that is very disturbing to me.

    1 vote
  19. pleure Link
    The Outsider by Collin Wilson helped me tremendously when I was stuck in a deep cycle of existential depression, alienation, and loneliness. I don't want to be too dramatic but it may well have...

    The Outsider by Collin Wilson helped me tremendously when I was stuck in a deep cycle of existential depression, alienation, and loneliness. I don't want to be too dramatic but it may well have prevented me from killing myself, I was in a bad place at the time. I'm always a bit apprehensive to mention it as it's a book that either immediately speaks to you on a deep and personal level or a book that reads like the most pretentious, melodramatic garbage you can imagine. But I like it, I won't apologize for feeling the things I do, and I'll keep commending it.

    On Christmas Day, 1954, alone in his room, Wilson sat down on his bed and began to write in his journal. He described his feelings as follows:

    It struck me that I was in the position of so many of my favourite characters in fiction: Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, Rilke's Malte Laurids Brigge, the young writer in Hamsun's Hunger: alone in my room, feeling totally cut off from the rest of society. It was not a position I relished...Yet an inner compulsion had forced me into this position of isolation. I began writing about it in my journal, trying to pin it down. And then, quite suddenly, I saw that I had the makings of a book. I turned to the back of my journal and wrote at the head of the page: 'Notes for a book The Outsider in Literature'..."