Books that challenge your way of thinking or open you to new ideas make for very wonderful reading. Below are five books that radically changed the way I think – for the better.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Highschool can be very much about fitting in. For me, this book cemented the idea that being yourself (and being true to yourself) completely trumps fitting in. Stargirl is amazing because it looks at popularity and uniqueness from a number of angles, showing the benefits and difficulties of doin’ your own thing. I read this book when I was at a very impressionable age, and it gave me the courage to be myself. In some ways this book is a cautionary tale, it warns the reader that conformity does not guarantee happiness. I will always hold a vision in my mind of Stargirl strumming her ukulele, singing Happy Birthday, and removing rocks from her happiness scale as she strives to become like everyone else. Take away message: Be comfortable in your own skin, and let others be their own freaky selves, too.
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
This book shattered my pre-conceived notions about Canadian Literature, and about post-secondary education. Until I came upon this book, I had some very shameful ideas about Canadian Literature – all of them misguided, ignorant, and flat-out wrong. For some reason, I thought that Canadian writers hadn’t produced anything of value (it hurts me to admit that) – but this book opened my eyes. Crow Lake beautifully describes the life of a family in Ontario, and as one tragedy after another changes their lives I became more and more in love with this novel. The writing is sublime; truly top notch descriptions and dialogue. Apart from the well-written prose, what I recall is being shook with the realization that a university education is not the be-all-to-end-all – this was a revolutionary idea for my young mind to accept. Take away message: Canadian Literature can be great (shout out to Yann Martel, Nancy Lee, Margaret Atwood) and there are other worthwhile and fullfilling life paths than that of higher education.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Oh, Joseph Heller. At what point did you realize you were writing a perfect masterpiece? Catch-22 is not an easy read, but it is one of the most worthwhile books I have ever encountered. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me 6 months to finish reading this satirical war novel. I would pick it up and read a bit and put it down again. Why? SO MANY CHARACTERS. And also, WHERE IS THIS BOOK GOING? It is not a conventional read, but it is a classic for a reason. I have read it three or four times now, and it still makes me laugh. The writing is clever. It has a perfectly ingenious ending. The plot is convoluted in the very best way. Don’t worry about keeping the characters straight – you’ll catch on eventually, and if you don’t, well… read it again. You should read it if only to understand where the phrase “catch-22” originally came from. You won’t regret it. Take away message: Slogging through a book can be rewarding. Also, perfect endings matter.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Speaking of perfect endings, this book made me weep with the utter perfection of its final words. I’ve written plenty about this book, because it has affected me more than any book I’ve come across. Although a book about kids that have cancer should be 100% depressing, it actually filled me with hope. The poignancy of Green’s words is astounding. This book is not to be missed, if only so you can fully understand the beauty of this idea: “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” Green shoed me that a life does not have to be long to be good. Take away message: It’s mathematically sound, and provided great comfort to my heart.
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Ok, allow me to be a literary hipster for a moment while I inform you that I read vampire books before they were “in”. I did! I was reading Anne Rice and Laurel K. Hamilton long before Twilight and True Blood came along. But enough about that. What I found significant about Twilight is that it’s a good story – even though it is poorly written. I enjoyed the series, and found it suspensful (granted, I had to swallow my feminist ideals to allow for Bella’s helplessness), and it taught me there is a difference between good writing and a good story. Some books have both. But they don’t need to. This book really hit that message home for me. Take away message: A good plot can make up for poor writing. Sometimes.