Have you ever read a book that changed your whole dang life? If so, you may just recognize some of the titles in this post containing 10 life-changing books that have the power to change your mindset for good.
If not, well, read on, my friend. Because if you’ve made it this far, you are ready for the positive change that you seek.
When my partner, Jeff, died of cancer, I rediscovered a deep love for reading by way of working my way through all of the 400-plus books he left behind on his shelves. This book-reading mission is a work in progress that will take a few more years (at least!), especially since I often take breaks to read other books and memoirs along the way like these:
But the first on our list of life-changing books was, indeed, on my late partner’s shelf, and it absolutely changed my life…
“The Pilgrimage” by Paulo Coelho is a book about walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain. It’s also about seeking self, spirituality, and the meaning of life. Heavy topics, no doubt!
When I first picked up this book, I had never hiked more than eight miles in my life. But after reading “The Pilgrimage,” I felt called to walk those 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela and its famed cathedral that supposedly houses the bones of St. James.
So I did just that! Walking the northern route – the Camino del Norte – over a 35-day period in the summer of 2019 was life-changing. And it was all inspired by the life-changing text of “The Pilgrimage,” which I found on my late partner’s bookshelf.
Will the book inspire you in the same way? There is only one way to find out!
I’m not even sure where to start with this book that changed everything for me. “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” by Francis Weller was recommended to me when I was in the throes of acute grief in the weeks just after Jeff’s death. I really enjoyed the book then, but I wasn’t absorbing much at that time. I wasn’t ready.
When I picked up “The Wild Edge” again just last month, I devoured it, scribbling notes all over the margins. It is in this book where I discovered the motivation for the memoir that I am currently writing.
You see, since Jeff’s death, I’ve insisted that we just don’t acknowledge grief in Western society. We suppress it, ignore it, seek to “get over it”. We will do anything to avoid facing our grief.
In “The Wild Edge,” Weller talks about this and tells the story of an ancient Scandanavian culture in which a person experiencing grief was asked to do nothing for a year except tend to the fires in the middle of the longhouse. They spent a year living in the ashes and emerged renewed.
You can read more about that on the page I built to share snippets of my memoir here: Living in the Ashes.
Buy “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” from an independent bookseller near you here:
The premise of the Artist’s Way is that there is a creative inside all of us just waiting to be unleashed. But we block our inner artist, trapping her beneath fear, and to-do lists, and life obligations.
Author Julia Cameron helps you unblock your creativity with a 12-week program full of exercises, insights, and two very effective tools:
The Artist’s Way is a really effective way to reacquaint yourself with your lost dreams; this alone makes it a life-changing book. But it will also help you move forward with any project that is simmering beneath the surface of you just waiting to burst forth.
That’s what it is doing for me anyway! I’m on week five of the program as I write this, and my memoir is flowing out of me. I’ve also put a hard stop to any of the habits and/or behaviors that I used to hide behind as a distraction from writing. In the past five weeks, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, I’ve stayed in one place (rather than traveling everywhere and anywhere), and I’m limiting my social interactions to two per week.
As my memoir flows, I notice that alcohol didn’t help me write, rather, it hindered my process. I realize that, while traveling feeds my soul, I need to create long stretches of time for creative nourishment rather than wandering. And I sunk into the realization that I often choose relationships that require so much effort that I table my own dreams in the worthy name of love.
Talk about a life-changing book!
If reading this has you nodding, don’t hesitate to buy this book. And if you’re thinking of someone in your life who needs these exercises, please send it as a gift. You may just change a life.
Alternatively, if you are thinking: “nope, I am really not a creative person,” read on to the next life-changing book, which addresses this thought directly.
Buy “the Artist’s Way” (25th Anniversary Edition) from an independent bookseller near you here:
It may be that you aren’t quite ready for “the Artist’s Way.” First, you need to get past that nagging thought residing in you that says “I’m not a creative person at all”.
You just forgot your inner artist. You are neglecting your creative spirit, and that thought process is what “Big Magic” author Elizabeth Gilbert would describe as fear. She also says that:
“Perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.”Elizabeth Gilbert in “Big Magic”
I can sure relate to that! I’ve listened to “Big Magic” as an audiobook twice and, both times, it was the motivational pep talk that I needed to pick up my pen.
Of note, Gilbert wrote another best-seller that many certainly describe as a life-changing book. On “Eat Pray Love,” the author says that it would not exist without “the Artist’s Way”. So reading these two life-changing books one after the other is a solid move if you’re ready to unearth your inner artist.
When James Hunter’s carefully cultivated suburban, white-collar life starts to spiral out of control, he attends a leadership seminar at a remote monastery that changes his life.
He then wrote the story of that seminar so that it might change yours.
Hunter learns from a fellow businessman and Wall Street tycoon (turned monk) that leadership is a form of service. He learns to turn his idea of a leader on its head, understanding that leading with authority does not mean to demand or to demean. It means to inspire, it means to meet the fundamental needs of a team, and it means to serve.
“We must never forget that people buy into the leader before they buy into a mission statement.”James Hunter
Part of what I really liked about “The Servant” was that Hunter didn’t just learn from the monk. He learned from the other people in the seminar, too.
One of those other people talks at length about the next book on this list, so I picked that book up as well. And I don’t regret it.
Have you heard of the relationship bank account? This is what is referenced in “The Servant” that piqued my interest.
Essentially, this means that we make deposits and withdrawals on our emotional accounts with people. When we, say, make a snide comment, we might find that we’re operating at a deficit with someone we care about. And it takes a lot of positive deposits (Covey says at least three!) to balance that withdrawal.
It was something else in the book that I found life-changing, though. It was in the prioritization of tasks that I learned to flip my to-do list upside down.
“Things which matter most
must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”Goethe
Here’s a quick taste of the exercise:
The thing is that those two things you thought about probably fall into the category labeled important but not urgent. I personally spent all of my time in the categories labeled urgent and important (pressing problems, dead-line projects), urgent and not important (interruptions, email, etc.), and – even worse – in the category labeled not important and not urgent (busywork, TikTok…let’s just call it procrastination.)
There was never enough time for the things that, while not urgent, make the biggest difference in my life! By starting my day with those two things that are crucially important to me, I let the not-important items fall to the bottom of the list. And I am wildly happier!
Now that is a life-changing book.
There are two books that I read every single year, and the Alchemist is one of those books. I was delighted to find that Jeff kept this book on his shelf as well.
I find that the journey of a young, shepherd boy from Andalusia who travels from his homeland to Egypt in search of treasure teaches me something new every single time that I read it.
When I first read this life-changing book, I thought of it as an inspiration to travel. And when I last read it, I found it to be a beautiful reminder that the treasure that we seek is within us.
Simple, powerful, and poetic, this is a book to keep close to your heart.
The “Book Thief” by Markus Zusak is the other book that I read every year. It may sound morbid to read a book narrated by death once a year, but I find that the book reminds me just how close we really are to death – and that, somehow, inspires me to live.
This is a WWII historical fiction about a young girl, Liesel, who is adopted into a German family during the war. At first, her only friend is the book that she stole from her brother’s graveside before her mother brings her to her new family. In time, she enchants the neighbor boy, the wife of the village mayor, her thoughtful adoptive father, and her foul-mouthed adoptive mother.
And we, in turn, are enchanted by each of these characters. As is our narrator: death.
There is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story woven through this tale of another person that Liesel enchants. A Jewish boy who needs her help and her love to survive.
Yes, the “Book Thief” is also a movie, but the book is just so much better. I don’t always think the book is better than the movie, by the way. But, in this case, the book is just better.
This is another book from Jeff’s shelves and it is also referenced numerous times in both “The Servant” and “The Seven Habits”. When two life-changing books reference yet a third life-changing book multiple times, you know this one has to be quite the read.
And it certainly is.
Victor Frankl survived Auschwitz and brutal torture at the hands of his Nazi captors. His message is that we cannot avoid suffering. We can only control how we respond to it.
Frankl does not go into detail about the camps, which, he says, has already been done at length. He does dive into the mental state of the Nazis, the other prisoners, and himself.
I listened to this book while walking my 500-mile pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago shortly after my late partner’s death. It resonated deeply.
I suspect it will resonate for you, too.
If you have resisted reading the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon due to all the hype and the whole time-travel goofiness, I totally get it. But, also, stop resisting. These books are impossible to put down.
Once you start reading Outlander, you won’t stop. I’ve gone through all eight novels, pre-ordered the ninth coming out in November, and read all of the spin-offs featuring minor characters. (I wrote a whole post listing seven reasons why you should read Outlander here and even traveled to the Scottish Highlands to take an Outlander-inspired tour.)
Reading Outlander is a great ride. A life-changing book, though? Well, as mentioned, I did travel to Scotland in pursuit of some of the real-life stories behind this fictional tale, so Outlander did, at least, change my travel plans.
But I also re-read the first paragraph of Outlander often as a reminder of great storytelling. I want to write a novel about WWII one day, and Diana Gabaldon’s opening lines reflect the kind of writing I will hope to channel. Here is how the series begins:
I haven’t really gotten into the Starz series because, as these things go, the books are just better than the TV show. That being said, while in Inverness, I did learn all about the real story behind the lyrics of the beautiful and haunting song that Starz uses to open the show. Learn about the “Outlander Song” here.
Happy reading, my friends! Thanks for diving into this list of life-changing books. I hope you read at least one that will change your life for the better.
Please drop a comment below about a book that has changed your life. And please don’t forget to subscribe!