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Books that shaped people’s lives

July 18, 2008

One of the things that makes reading so special to many of us is the incredible, lasting impact a single story can have on our lives. Just like with actual people or events in our lives, there are some things we can look back on and see with hindsight’s clarity that we were never the same person. Sometimes this is for the better and sometimes it’s not, but it is impossible to deny that certain books have the power to change who we are and how we live life. When I found the list posted below, it made me think about the books that have changed my life, in some way or another.

The Bible is an obvious choice, however, my life was also changed by Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web: these were the first books I stayed up all night with a flashlight reading. My parents would read me a chapter a night and eventually I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to attack them myself. I was finished by morning and also missed school. A pattern soon emerged that still has my parents baffled as to how to handle (who could punish their little girl for reading too much? I knew it too).

In high school I did a major project on Ayn Rand, who’s uberconservative ideals made an impact on me. I embrace the idea of supporting oneself and not “expecting” charity. I love that Rand extended her political ideas to every aspect of life, from money to relationships. Many think she was a bit of a crackpot and it’s true that a society like one she dreamed of could never actually exist, however, that does not mean the ideals are wrong, especially considering her background (she escaped Communist Russia alone as a teenager). I think that having an attitude like hers in terms of receiving charity is incredibly important. I do not however agree with her attitude towards giving. Regardless, reading her books challenged my way of thinking and is still salient with me now.

There are plenty more books that changed me, many in more gradual ways, especially the books I read as a teenager. What books shaped your life? Can you look back at one or two now and see the influence they have had on your life?

Respondents to the Survey of Lifetime Reading Habits, conducted [fall 1991] for the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, cited the following when asked to name a book that had made a difference in their lives:

The Bible**
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
The Book of Mormon
(Five titles were tied for the next place):
The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan
A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl
Passages, by Gail Sheehy
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner
** A large gap exists between the #1 book and the rest of the list.

25 BOOKS THAT HAVE SHAPED READERS’ LIVES
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Bible
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Hiroshima, by John Hersey
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Roots, by Alex Haley
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
What Color is Your Parachute?, by Richard Nelson Bolles
The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

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