12 Novels That Changed My Life

I am a firm believer in the transformative power of fiction. There are books in this world that can swallow you whole and spit you back up as a different person. Here are twelve that made an impact on my life one way or another. These appear in no particular order.


1. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende


First adult book I ever read (while in 3rd grade). I read it mainly because I was obsessed with the movie (watched it everyday, without fail). Reading the book first introduced me to the nearly universal truth that the book is better than the movie. Just a phenomenal story of growing up, holding tight to dreams, and luck dragons. Seriously, the luck dragon pushes it into the realm of classic.


2. Animal Farm by George Orwell


I read this in high school (of my own volition no less, that should tell you how good it is). I remember sitting in the parking lot of my job (Captain D’s, worst job I have EVER had) and finishing this book. I read the last page, set the book on the passenger seat, let out a big gusty breath, and said, “Whoa.”


3. The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith


For the love of all that is holy, do NOT judge this book by its horrid cover! I am seriously considering emailing the author and begging her to change it because it nearly kept me from reading this book. Though its billed as a romance (just look at the cover) and erotica, I think these two labels really do this amazing book an injustice. Were I writing the blurb/marketing material for this book, I would describe it as a dark sci-fi epic veined with romance. It is so much more than romance. It’s gritty, brutal, hopeful, funny, and explores a lot of profound questions about life and belief. Read it.


4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Ahh, one of the quintessential dystopian novels out there. You cannot understand or appreciate the genre without reading this book, in my humble opinion. Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece serves as oracle and cautionary tale. It’s also just damn entertaining!


5. Archangel by Sharon Shinn


This was the first book by Sharon Shinn I ever read and it made me an addict. A subtle and elegant romantic sci-fi novel. This book showed me that you could write sensually without being graphic. Romance does not have to include descriptions of breasts and penises to be poignant and sizzling. Also, it was one of my first introductions to the melding of genres. Shinn does it seamlessly.


6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


Forget the many, many, MANY screen adaptations of this book. No matter how good they are (and most of them are mediocre at best) they will never live up to the raw emotional storm produced by Charlotte Bronte’s singular voice. Not as hatefully melodramatic as her sister’s Wuthering Heights (thank God!), Jane Eyre is a remarkable book of personal strength and love. A truly human story that has never wilted with age.


7. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens


My personal favorite of Charles Dickens’ oeuvre, David Copperfield is second to none in the field of character study.


8. White Oleander by Janet Fitch


A troubling book that looks at the relationship between mothers and daughters. Also a hard lens on the state of this country’s foster system. Fantastically written and completely real.


9. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle


My favorite fairytale! It’s dark and unearthly. It taught me that fairy tales could be detailed and full of poetry and warmth. And that bittersweet endings are usually the best kind. Plus I love unicorns!


10. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy


What can you say about a book that lines up a dystopia and a utopia on either side of a very flawed present-day? Piercy teases out very good observations of what makes us human and how close our world is to utter chaos or glorious stability. But what are we willing to sacrifice for a better world? And what single event will finally tip us into anarchy?


11. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison


Probably one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. Allison captures a fraught childhood so well and shakes up her readers with scenes of child abuse and molestation that will be with you forever – but in a life-changing way, not an “Ick! I’ve been tainted!” kind of way.


12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


The most frightening part of this book is how you keep thinking, “Wow, THIS sounds familiar.” Or something along those lines. Flynn really taps into the idea that everyday realities can be the scariest. Flynn has created beautiful monsters who will get you looking at the people around you (or those in the news) and thinking, “Are you REALLY as good/nice as you seem?”


So, tell me what some of YOUR life-changing reads have been. Drop ’em in the comments 🙂

Must sleep. Bye!


5 thoughts on “12 Novels That Changed My Life

  1. I was introduced to the author Judith McNaught (her early works) when I was a teenager. The weaving of romance and history inspired my own writing because I discovered stories could be more complex and blend genres.


  2. For me, it was Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and Garth Williams, and Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge. I do not remember much of what they were about, but when thinking back on the books, there is still a warm feeling in my soul. They have stuck with me for about 40 years.


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