Five Life-Changing Books

Five Life-Changing Books

No longer able to choose just one book to talk about, I bring to you five life-changing books to read this summer. Yes, I know it's almost August, you better get started!

five life-changing books Solzhenitsyn Hemingway Memoirs of a geisha herman hesse glass bead game albert camus a happy death

Cancer Ward – Solzhenitsyn.

The ultimate allegory, Cancer Ward uses cancer as an analogy for the sweeping effects of Stalinism. It affects everyone, doctors, high-ranking officials, and the common man. The reason this book is number one on the list of books that have changed my life is because I am tremendously touched by Solzhenitsyn’s lack of anger. Cancer Ward is basically a memoir of his life after imprisonment in Stalin’s gulag. Solzhenitsyn has every right to be bitter, resentful, and downright furious at this point in his life. He was imprisoned for no reason, and now, once ‘free’ (or as free as possible, living in exile), he has cancer. However, the main character, Kostoglotov, has so many tender and gentle qualities.

Once he is free (from cancer this time), he walks around town and sees the world in a different light. This ending taught me a lot about seeing everything from a different perspective. Once you let go of anger, everything is seen anew. I hope to carry that lesson with me for the rest of my life.

The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway.

Every Hemingway book has had a tremendous effect on me. The Sun Also Rises was yet another lesson on how to see things from a different perspective. This book was a close tie with Number one on my list of five life-changing books. I’ve read Hemingway’s works many times over, and each time they affected me differently. Most recently, I saw his endings as not a loss, but a chance to start over. Many people believe he is depressing, but he doesn’t portray emotions. Hemingway is the father of showing without telling. He just writes words, what you perceive as ‘the meaning’ is a reflection of yourself.

The beautiful scene of the bulls goring the steers, with Bill constantly repeating, “must be no fun to be a steer,” was yet another allegory – my favorite rhetorical device. The whole book is filled with opportunities to add your own interpretation to what’s happened. This book taught me to find hope and faith in a situation where it seemed there was none. This is something I have used time and time again throughout my life.

A Happy Death (La morte heureuse) – Camus

I never read Camus knowing full well he was an Existentialist writer. Later on, I sought out to read Camus to learn more about Existentialism and to become more philosophically advanced. I never knew A Happy Death was his first book either. Turns out, it is a study of the Existentialist concept of creating your own happiness. In a way, this book was a kind of prediction for my future behavior (or maybe my behavior is a result of having read it?). I always believed that happiness is something you need to make for yourself, will for yourself.

Another aspect of Camus’s books that always stays with me is his descriptions. He is an excellent painter of landscapes. I constantly learn from him how to describe surroundings to make the reader genuinely see the places around him.

The Glass Bead Game – Herman Hesse

If you’ve never read anything by Hesse, The Glass Bead Game is a compilation of all his most famous themes: the meaning of life, following your heart, and the harmony and flow of life. There are a lot of allusions with the names of the characters, and in the German language, a lot of word play. For me, the concept of the main character leaving his post to pursue what he feels he really is destined to do, is invaluable. In this book, music works to create a sense of harmony between the mathematical and artistic aspects of the Glass Bead game. It's a beautiful foray into a fantasy world where intellectualism is of greatest reverence.

Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

Probably the only modern book I actually like. I read this book at a time in my life when I was “in love” with someone who did not love me back. This book, taking place in Japan at the cusp of – and during – World War II, made me feel like it is possible for me to have true love. It was one of those Romeo and Juliet type things, where it seemed like so much stands in their way, it will never work out. But it did. This book filled me with hope, and even though now I realize how silly my little crush was, the hope is something I chose to keep with me.


I hope this post didn't bore you to tears, and I urge you to check out one of these five life-changing books if you haven't already!