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Life-changing books everyone should read at least once

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

The term ‘life-changing’ feels intimidating. Maybe because it seems like such a huge thing. I could say that my life-changed when I met my best friend in a Tesco out of total coincidence (I went back to buy some peppers). I could say my life changed when I decided to start dancing; something I would keep up for the next 15 years. I could also say my life changed when I came to uni (a common experience but nevertheless life-changing). But to say my life-changed when I read a book? Sheets of paper! That seems ludicrous to most people!

However, for those of us who have snuggled up with a good book and felt all our thoughts leave us for those consecutive hours, ‘life-changing’ feels like a term we could latch onto. We know what it means when a book has caused us to alter our views on the world. When a book has comforted us in ways previously unimaginable. When a book has opened a door into a completely different world. These books are beautiful. And these books are life-changing. 

…but maybe that’s just my English Lit student, book-worm brain speaking. 

1.Feminism. Interrupted’ by Lola Olufemi

Because it’s HerCampus, Feminism had to make an appearance on this list and what better than putting it first. ‘Feminism. Interrupted’ is like Mary Poppin’s bag full of wonder (and with this inspiration of this bag, I literally place this book in my bag, waving it in everyone’s faces at every-opportunity like some crazy marketing rep). But seriously, it is a wonderful read.

This books approaches feminism through a totally new pair of eyes. Olufemi’s blurb argues she ‘reclaims feminism through exploring state violence against women, reproductive rights, transmisogyny, sex work, gendered Islamiphobia, and much more’. And this statement could not be more right. 

It rejects the common portrayal of feminism as a mainstream, consumerist ploy and presents us with an intersectional look at such an important topic. Before this book, I had read about feminism from a middle-class, white, westernised perspective – one which has saturated modern-day media. However, this book offers the modern-day feminist such a wide-reaching idea of what it means to be a feminist and how we can take these ideas into the world. 

2. ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck’ by Mark Manson 

‘Fuck positivity’, says Mark Manson in his debut book. He proclaims ‘happiness is a problem’, ‘you are not special’, and writes on ‘the value of suffering’. Now, to the reader who hasn’t ever heard of Manson, my description makes him appear painfully pessimistic. You’re probably thinking ‘why would I want to read about someone telling me I should suffer?’ and ‘this is going to bring no change into my life – let alone joy!’. To you, I would say, change and joy is the exact experience that I – and so many of my friends have had when and after reading this book. So, trust me on this one.

Manson thinks we give too many fucks in modern-day society and suggests we shouldn’t! He says that our searching for happiness in all the modern-day self-help books is perpetuating this unhelpful cycle of a ‘feedback loop from hell’.

He offers us with narratives where we can see this in action and gives us an uplifting tale of how we can be free from the shackles of searching for positivity. You should definitely give this a read!

3. ‘It’s Not Ok To Feel Blue (and other lies)’ curated by Scarlett Curtis 

This one is potentially a bit of a cheat, because, whilst you can read it once, I think it’s a perfect book to keep dipping back into. I have this permanently placed close to my bedside, it’s always something I can flip through when I need it most. My favourite pages are folded (I know – the greatest book-lover sin) and I’ve scribbled all over the contents.

‘It’s Not Ok To Feel Blue’ is the second piece of curated non-fiction by Scarlett Curtis. The book has essays written by many well-known people – ranging from Emma Thompson to Adam Kay, all discussing their views on mental health. They cover topics such as vulnerability, grief and asking for help. This comes in the form of bullet points to poems to well-crafted retellings of events.

The reason I’ve put this on the list is because it is so powerful in making you, the reader, feel seen, and in aiding your understanding of what other people have experienced. It’s the book-form of a warm-hug from an old friend; it’s always there when you need it and when you get it, you know there’s nothing else you could have ever wanted.

When you learn to read you will be born again…and you will never be quite so alone again. — Rumer Godden

So…that is the end of my life-changing book selection. I know it’s only three and that my selection is limited to non-fiction work.

But, I think the truth of it is that the mere act of reading it what has been ‘life-changing’ – not a single book. As Godden says, ‘when you learn to read you will be born again’, and there is so much beauty which becomes accessible to us when we read.

If you want more recommendations for really cracking reads, I’d also star ‘Everything I Know About Love’ by Dolly Alderton, ‘Sweet Sorrow’ by David Nicholls, ‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney, and ‘Breaking the Silence’ by Diane Chamberlin. But these are just my personal favourites; the books I’ve found have so much magic in them.

This article is my love letter to books in general. I hope you find your ‘life-changing’ books too :)

Hi! I'm a second-year English and History Student. I love writing about popular culture, feminism and the arts.