9 Life-Changing Books Everyone Should Read This Year
Elizabeth Lane, a lifelong book lover and founder of Quarterlane, a curated book subscription service, has two lists of books that have changed her life: "First, there are books that changed the course of my life, because they changed my world view. And then there are books that I go to for an escape, or shift in mood. They're the reliable friends that cheer me up, make me cry, or keep me company," she says. Here, Lane shares some of her favorite titles and why they're so impactful and life-altering.
‘On Writing’ by Stephen King
I stumbled across On Writing while I was in my early 20s and living alone. I would spend hours at this wonderful indie bookstore, pouring over titles, and choosing books that were all over the map—any genre, any type. I was trying to find myself, and my bookshelves filled with these eclectic titles. On Writing found its way onto my nightstand and into my heart. Stephen King not only changed how I viewed the practice of writing, and what makes a “writer,” but he also changed how I viewed my own place within the craft. When anyone asks about a book I love, this leaps first to mind every single time. It’s exceptional. Just like books, bookstores can be life changing. Here are some poignantly sweet stories about local bookstores that may change your life.
‘A Little Princess’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My mother and I read A Little Princess together when I was a child. At bedtime, we would alternate reading pages, and I would get lost in the world of Sara Crewe, the main character. I revisit this story every few years, more often now that I have daughters of my own. Sara’s story is one of grace and goodness. Even when she is faced with cruelty and loss—when everyone and everything seems taken from her, Sara never loses her kindness or hope. She sees beauty and magic within the bleakest circumstances, and selflessly changes the world of those around her, so they may glimpse magic as well. Whenever I read this story, I feel a bit closer to reclaiming that childhood certainty that a heart filled with friendship, hope, and kindness can change everything. File this under kids’ books that every adult needs to read.
‘Still Life with Woodpecker’ by Tom Robbins
I have no idea how or why this book crossed my path, but Still Life with Woodpecker fits a certain mood (or perhaps a mood I was aspiring to have, as aspirational moods were almost as frequent in my twenties as my real ones were). This story centers on a love affair between an outlaw and an environmental princess. Given this premise, it’s not surprising that this was like no other novel I’d read before, or since. I remember thinking self-consciously, as I was reading, “What am I reading? And why do I love it so?” And love it, I do. It is weird, delightful, surprising, and fun. When my reading gets a little too serious, Tom Robbins’ genius, startling, and hilarious words, are always a good reset. It’s the kind of book that inspired me to start Quarterlane, because sometimes the books we love most are not ones we’d normally select. Also give these best autobiographies ever written a read.
‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s novel about a group of American and British Expats in Paris in the 1920s kicked off a college obsession with that romantic, scandalous, and brilliant lost generation. No group grabbed my imagination more, except perhaps Dorothy Parker and her Algonquin Round Table in New York. Even as I write this, those familiar feelings of awe and reverie, come back, and that, I feel, is one of the best gifts of a favorite book—the ability to read a passage, and instantly return to an old, yet familiar feeling. For another good book to read, check out this list of 20 popular books you really should have read by now!
‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami
A few years ago, I became a runner. I had been envious of runners—that ability to grab a pair of shoes and just go—that felt like freedom to me. But I was worried about my breath, worried that I would fail, and so I didn’t try. Then, almost as a dare to myself, I signed up for the New York City Half Marathon in 2013 as a runner, for the charity Every Mother Counts. I completed that first half marathon, and knew I was a runner. This one practice has deeply changed my life. As I suspected, it is where I find freedom. While training for a full marathon in 2014, I read Haruki Murakami’s beautiful meditation on writing and running, and felt like I had found a kindred spirit. I think that is one of Murakami’s gifts—his writing style is so unique, and so personal, that he draws a reader into his world, and creates a beautiful feeling of friendship. I read this book a few times each year, and find new gems within it each time. These are the classic titles you can read in one day.
‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis
Full disclosure: I listened to this book before I read it. Anyone who has listened to John Cleese read Screwtape knows he leaves an impression. Without hyperbole, it is the best audiobook I have listened to. It was not long after this first listen, that I knew I needed to revisit the text. The book is presented as a series of letters that Screwtape, one of the devil’s high-ranking assistants, writes to his nephew, Wormwood, about the finer points of leading a human to the dark side. Given that Lewis can marry such weighty philosophy and humor with such facility, shows what an elegant writer he is. The Screwtape Letters is a perfect introduction to the works of this brilliant mind.
‘Let Your Life Speak’ by Parker Palmer
Every so often, I do a deep dive into self-help. I can’t help myself. The genre simply calls to me, and off I go. During one of these phases, I discovered Parker Palmer. In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer teaches from a Quaker perspective, guiding us to listen to our inner teacher, and follow those leadings towards a sense of meaning and purpose. This book found me at a time when I was at a crossroads in my own career and helped me settle into the quiet, listen to my heart, and change course. It is not overly religious. It is practical, quiet, and honest. A perfect graduation gift—I only wish I had read it then. Here are more great books to give as graduation gifts.
‘Night Film’ by Marisha Pessl
I love Marisha Pessl’s style of writing. There is no one else quite like her. When I get a little too serious in life and in my reading, her novels remind me that a well-chosen story can provide the perfect escape. Night Film, her second novel, is a wild, creepy, Alfred Hitchcockian escape into the surreal. This book kept me on my toes, kept me terrified, in a sustainable, not too terrified way, and kept me guessing the entire time. And the last page? Well, you’ll just have to read it. (Reading great fiction may be your guilty pleasure, but no worries. It can also make you a better person.)
‘Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family?’ by Ethan Watters
Without doubt, this book has been one of the most life-changing books for me. Urban Tribes came out of In My Tribe, an article Ethan Watters wrote for The New York Times as a part of their The Way We Live Now series, following September 11. In response to studies showing members of his (and my) generation were getting married later, and the possible negative societal implications of that choice, Watters builds the case for friendship as the new family: the urban tribe—that closely knit community of friends who spring up between college and married life. Watters view is insightful, optimistic, and resonated deeply with me. I started Quarterlane for community. Urban Tribes has been my muse and my comfort for a decade and a half. Here’s how to turn your online friends into real-life besties.