Books That Changed My Life

You know when you read those books that just have you stopping at every other sentence, sighing, and just leaving you in awe at how beautiful they are?
Is it really just me?
Well, I’m sure I’ll be in good company once you sink deep into the literary heaven listed below…

‘East of Eden’ – John Steinbeck

You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.

Having read Of Mice and Men in High School as part of the GCSE curriculum, it was a number of years before John and I met again. I cannot remember what persuaded me to buy this book as all I can remember is someone, somewhere, quoting it as one of the best books ever written. Of course, with such great a claim, I had to see what the fuss was all about and thus began my adoration for Steinbeck. If you read any of his work, please do not overlook this literary genius. It’s slow to begin but, once you get used to the pace, you begin to fall in love with every character as if they were friends of your own. I remember feeling sad when I turned the last page as these characters had been with me for months and I would miss them such is the talent that Steinbeck possessed. He writes with true compassion for humanity, with such a beautiful empathy for human struggle, no matter how small or large. He is one of the wisest, most modest writers I have ever come across and, for that, East of Eden will always have a special place in my heart. (If you enjoy this book, I would also highly recommend Travels With Charley by the same author.)

The Beautiful and The Damned – F. Scott Fitzgerald

…for both of them looked forward to a time when love, springing forth like the phoenix from its own ashes, should be born again in its mysterious and unfathomable haunts.

Overlooking the Seine, Paris, in the mid-afternoon sun is the Latin Quarter. The remnants of bohemian Paris, the historically intellectual hub where philosophical minds and poetic souls would collide. Tucked away in one of the corners is the Shakespeare and Company bookshop which has a long-standing literary reputation and, I believe, still offers poets and writers a place to sleep in exchange for work within the store. It was here that I bought my copy of The Beautiful and The Damned and, perhaps with this whimsical backdrop of beloved Paris imprinted on my heart, it has remained a firm favourite. Matching the bohémien vibe of this beautiful city is Fitzgerald’s semi-autobiographical account of two young libertines. Documenting their highs and lows, struggles with moderation and hedonism, it echoes the all too-tragic existence of Scott and Zelda themselves. Rumour has it that F. Scott Fitzgerald once took a taxi ride around New York one evening, during one of his more joyful times, and wept for he knew that he would never be so happy again in his life. How could you not be curious to read this book after reading something so bittersweet?

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Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from place we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.

Well, bloody hell, Arthur. You blew this one out of the water. What is truly remarkable about this book is that a Western male had to get inside the mind of a woman (which is no mean feat.) And, not only an adult woman, but also a girl, a teenager, and a young woman. And, not only a woman, but a Geisha. And, not only a Geisha, but a Geisha growing up in particular period and facing life’s challenges such as death, heartbreak, passion, and desire. I have no words, just utter admiration for which Arthur Golden invites the reader on a beautiful life journey with Sayuri. It is written at such a wonderful pace; a pace some may consider slow but to write it any quicker would do a dishonour to the character. Stick with it and you will not be disappointed.

De Profundis – Oscar Wilde

To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less a denial of the soul.

Oscar Wilde is my man. I am fascinated by his life, his beliefs, and his philosophy. If half of my favourite quotes come from John Steinbeck, then the other half come from Oscar Wilde. The first piece I read by him was his poem Panthea and, since then, he has continuously thrilled my heart with his words. De Profundis, however, is one of the most powerful pieces of work I have ever written. It is a letter to his alledged lover written whilst he was in prison. It contains raw humanity, sheer vulnerability, and his wrestling with regret, pain, love, and loss. It moved me to tears at certain points and it only solidifies the great philosophical, self-aware, and poetic prowess this man holds.

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Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

When I get lonely these days, I think: so be lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.

This book is inspiring, to say the least. It will encourage you during the most difficult times of your life to take the lemons and make lemonade. Elizabeth proves that resilience is built through embracing pain, taking responsibility for your actions, and moving through the challenges to create something truly beautiful. It will also make you want to travel the world in search of new experiences and, at the very least, visit Italy and eat a whole lot of pizza. An easy read but still packed full of wisdom; the kind of wisdom that is born out of sorrow but is bursting with hope.

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7 – Paul, the Prophet.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

And, finally, a holy text. The Bible itself but, more in particular, 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7. This is probably the most practical guide on love; what it looks like and how it is an array of subtle elements that combine together to create a whole. When someone is patient with you, they are showing you love. When you rejoice in other people’s accomplishments, you are showing them love. Someone once said to me “try replacing ‘love’ with your own name. That is how you know whether you are loving and, if you find you’re not…well, now you know what to do.” It only serves to highlight, away from the Hollywood stereotypes and over-acting we view in the media everyday, how the daily acts of living and forgiving are threads weaving themselves together to create a wonderful tapestry that makes the world a better place to live in. When I need to remember what love is, I come back to this every time.

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