Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Top 10 Soul-Changing Books of All Time

Books transport us to other worlds, different time periods, and experiences we will never face in our lifetime. As we read, we step inside the lives of our favorite characters, and travel with them, skinriding along with their best and worst experiences. However, some books stay with us long after the pages are turned and the cover is closed. These are our soul-changing books, and this list is a compilation of those books that were soul-changing for me.
1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book. This book, was soul-shattering. Once I let Ari and Dante into my life, slipping page after page through this unputdownable novel, I can't go back to the way I was before. I'm not at all surprised this is an award-winning book. What surprises me is that so many have not yet discovered the American Book Award Winning author yet. You can check out my book review here.
2. Without: Poems by Donald Hall

I've read dozens of books of poetry, many of which touched me deeply, leaving their word-fingerprints all over me. None of them have gripped me the way this book has. It is the story of the Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, and the story of how he faced the death of his beloved wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer. The feelings are palpable, lifting off the page, and rending my soul with each word.
3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I first listened to this book as an audiobook on a long car ride at night. In fact, it was the very first audiobook I've ever listened to. Words cannot express how this book crawled inside my mind and wrapped its mysterious fingers around me, but I will tell you that these characters and this story have forever changed me. I relate so strongly to the main character, Jasper "Jazz" Dent, and the seemingly inescapable path he takes as he attempts to avoid following in his dad's footsteps. You see, his father is a serial killer. Jasper was groomed by his father, prior to his father's arrest, to become the next great serial killer, a future Jasper hopes to avoid at all costs. You can read my book review here.
4. Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

This book introduced me to the amazing talent of YA author, Cheryl Rainfield, who is one of the most delightful and kind human beings I know. I am fortunate to call her my friend, and I appreciate every time she has responded and replied to me over the years. Her debut novel, Scars, is so powerful and life-changing, I find myself thinking about Kendra, the main character and her incredible journey from victim to survivor, from self-harming to self-accepting and self-loving. This is such a powerful read, and so close to home, too. I'm grateful that Cheryl was able to write this despite it being difficult and triggering for her as a writer. You can read my review here.
5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book got me excited about teaching and sharing with teens. As a state certified English Teacher, I have had the joy of watching students open this book and over the course of weeks have their lives forever changed. I have taught many books, but few as impacting as this one. The power of this book is in the way it changes the reader, over the course of a school year in the life of freshman Melinda Sordino. The language, poetry, and depth evoked by this book has stuck with me for years. I often find myself circling back to this book, or comparing a book I'm reading with this one as a kind of litmus test for worthiness.
6. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" is the question that perfectly sums up the story of Jerry Renault, and his crusade to stand up to the force of his peers, his school, and the adults who hold their authority over him like a tightened fist. Powerful, powerful read. A coming of age story that is so much more.
7. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I read this book as a requirement in college but do not regret it in the slightest. I'm glad I read this book, which proves the timeless quality of the story. It's a tale of murder and what comes next. This is a book that is not afraid to "go there," look the criminal in the face, and ask him why he did it. This is the unequivocal cold, hard look in the face humanity, and what would drive a man to such a heartless crime.
8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is not your everyday book read. It's a journey across country in a way few have traveled. A father and son must explore the road on the back of a motorcycle, examining the way their relationship mirrors the maintenance and upkeep of the very motorcycle they are riding on. I was surprised by this book, and how it changed me.
9. The Ogre Downstairs/The Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones

I can't decide which is better, the book that first introduced me to the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones (THE OGRE DOWNSTAIRS) or her Chrestomanci Chronicles, the series that was, to me, the original Harry Potter, before Harry Potter even existed. If you love HP, and wished you had more, I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this series. It has gained new momentum since HP, and I am grateful to HP for this. Likewise, The Ogre Downstairs is a "Brady Bunch" combining of an American mother and her three children, with a British widower and his two boys, with a bit of magic and chemistry sets mixed in. The Ogre is by far one of the most endearing and misjudged fathers I've ever read, and I needed this book as a boy growing up in a fatherless family.
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The most perfect book I've ever read has got to be the Pulitzer prize-winning TKaM. This book is a must read for everyone. I'm glad most high schools continue to teach it, and I believe the message and values are timeless.

While I couldn't fit every book in my repertoire in a list of 10, listed below are many more that could have easily made my list. So how about you? What books would you consider soul-changing? Do any of your books match mine? Or, have any of my books sparked the names of others for you? Please share them in the comments below.

Honorable Mentions:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu, The Reasons by Kevin Craig, Fault Line by Christa Desir, Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller, The Gospel of Winter, by Brendan Kiely, Faking Normal, by Courtney C. Stevens, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King.

I hope you'll join me and post your own soul-changing books. You can either blog about them and post the link in the comments below, or list your soul-changing books in the comments. Feel free to link back to this post if you do blog about this, and let's keep sharing what books touched us and stay with us, changing our lives forever.


  1. Having read To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451, and based on your reviews, I would recommend the novels you've listed without reading them for myself. I just wished I could make up a similar "All Time" top 10 list. I think what I'll try to do instead is keep tabs on blogs like this one, discussing & writing reviews on "deep" books. This is a good list.

  2. I've read Speak and that is a great book! I'm interested in checking out Scars. Thank you for sharing this list! :)