Books teach us about who and how we are in the world. They speak to our loftiest ideals and our darkest shadows. Books reveal humanity’s path.

Those that become our favorites have awakened in us some aspect of our self that was previously unknown. Books have the power to transform us.

Here are five books that changed my life, each of them in their own way. As you read down the list, think about what books have transformed your life.

 
 

Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton (1973)

I became aware of May Sarton when I was in my early thirties and had started journaling. Sarton’s journal dealt in part with her depression. It was soothing balm for my troubled spirit that was grappling with a life fraught with anxiety and sorrow.

Suddenly, Sarton’s voice was my own. I had never read a woman who wrote so authentically. She wasn’t afraid to be angry or sad. This was a departure from the women in my world who kept such emotions locked away and secret.

In this book, I found permission to be authentic and I began writing down the truth in my notebooks without apology.

Get the book here.

The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale (1952)

Long before Oprah or Wayne Dyer, there was Norman Vincent Peale. He was a minister who was among the first pioneers in a yet un-named arena of positive psychology. He wrote about positive attitude with biblical underpinnings. He struck a nerve within the culture. However, ministers and psychologists alike thought he was a quack.

This book was a jumping off point that set me on a path for working with my mental atmosphere. One of the greatest things I learned from Peale is that gratitude and saying “thank you” is what reinvigorates my joy, daily.

Get the book here.

Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg (1988)

To this day, I buy every book that Goldberg writes. I was a creative writing student at her alma mater and her book was required reading. For years I did what she calls “writing practice.”

This was the book that taught me everything in life is subject matter for writing. She influenced my first blog, igniting a sense of inspiration and purposefulness. Because of my relationship with Writing Down the Bones, I knew unequivocally that I was born to write.

Get the book here.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck (1952)

This book is an ambitious work beyond what I can even imagine as a writer. I didn’t’ know that it was based on the Cain and Abel story in the fourth chapter of Genesis until after I’d read it. The multi-dimensional, heavily nuanced characters came alive for me as I followed them through the Salinas valley in California.

By the time I’d finished reading the novel, I felt I had been in the presence of greatness. Steinbeck would claim in an interview that the book “… has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years. I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense a practice for this.”

Steinbeck, for me, will forever be the lofty ideal to which I aspire.

Get the book here.

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks (2011)

Larry Brooks changed my life and the life of every wannabe novelist in America. He set forth the structure that makes for good storytelling within the long-form format. Dog-eared and underlined within an inch of its life, I refer to this book often. I always heartily recommend it to those who tell me that they want to write a novel.

Brooks’ work is a testament to the intricacies of craft. Those who adhere to its principles see results far beyond what any muse will ever bring.

Get the book here.

While books can entertain us, they can do so much more than that. They help us find deeper meaning in our lives. They reveal the mysteries of the human heart and make us ponder the human condition.

Though I own a Kindle, there is still nothing like holding a book in my hands. I love seeing the ones that I’ve read lining my shelves. They are like old friends who know my heart, just as I know theirs.

What books have changed your life? Please share in the comments.

Stephanie RaffelockStephanie Raffelock is a novelist and a blogger. In her Sixty and Me column, she’s going to explore how you make the art of writing work for you. Her debut novel is represented by Dystel Goderich Literary Management in New York. You can find Stephanie at StephanieRaffelock.com or Tweet her @Sraffelock.

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