51 Books That Prove Reading Can Change Your Life
"After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." —Philip Pullman
1. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
I actually took Anne of Green Gables to the mental hospital with me. I wasn't allowed to have any electronics, pens, pencils, etc. They only let me have it because it was a well worn paperback. It's such a simple, charming story, it instantly calms me. Something about being put in a cage just snaps something inside of you, and if I didn't have Anne's world to disappear into, I would've left that place a lot more damaged than I did.
—Eliza K., via Facebook
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
I once had a boyfriend who struggled with PTSD. Once I gave him my favorite book, The Catcher in the Rye, as a gift, and inscribed a loving message after Chapter 2 (to make sure he only got it if he actually read it). He finally read it when he was in the hospital after a suicide attempt, and the message found him when he most needed it. It is a comfort to have and to read now, since he lost his battle with depression.
The Catcher in the Rye helped me cope with my dad's death.
The Catcher in the Rye helped me while I was deployed in Afghanistan. It was comforting for someone else to understand a deep-seated want for peace.
—Jeremiah D., via Facebook
3. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
If I have to pick a book that helped me get a leg up on my depression recently, it's Good Omens. It's spectacular and made me feel so happy while reading it. I don't think I could ever thank the writers enough for writing it and what it meant to me.
4. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
This book CHANGED MY LIFE. I was super stressed about where my career was going, and Hadfield taught me (in a rare example of someone legitimately writing their own autobiography without a ghostwriter) that as long as I'm in a field that I love, then every step I take towards my dream will be a fulfilling one whether I get there or not. Also: space is cool.
—Michelle P., via Facebook
5. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
It's Kind of a Funny Story taught me so much about my own disorder it's unreal.
—Alice N., via Facebook
I was in a really dark point of my life and dealt with depression for most of it. This book helped me cope.
—Kristina L., via Facebook
It's Kind of a Funny Story saved my life. In the very beginning when the main character thinks about committing suicide, he calls the police, or contemplates it. And I thought, what an idea... I promised myself if I was ever going to kill myself, I needed to at least call the cops first. It was a promise I made to myself. Years later, I told my mom I needed to see my doctor about antidepressants. I didn't call the police, but I kept my promise to myself and I got help on my own. The day of my doctor's appointment, I was evaluated and sent to a hospital, where my life was changed. I haven't been suicidal since. I always think though, what would have happened if I didn't know getting help was an option? If I never read that book, and I never made that promise?
—Amanda N., via Facebook
6. Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
For every breakup I've been through! It may be about black women in their 30s in Arizona, but their loves and heartaches transcend every demographic. And when Bernadine burns her cheating husband's stuff in his BMW... A big cheer, every time!
—Megan A., via Facebook
7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
When things get bad I just go dive into the pages of Tolkien and hide away in Middle Earth for a while.
—Kirbie A., via Facebook
It's not that I could link it to my issues the first time I read it, but it somehow felt like home. And every time I'm sad and feel like I can't cope, I always feel the urge to read them. It just feels like going to a friendly, safe place.
—Cristina P., via Facebook
The Lord of the Rings reminds me to be brave when I'm afraid, and that it's worth it to fight and wait and fight some more for what you know is right, or is yours by right. It reminds me that there IS evil — truly terrible, horrible shit in the world — but good can also overcome it. And that your friends will be all you have at some point: Choose ones you know will fight for you, and against you when necessary.
—Madonna K., via Facebook
8. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake
I carried a copy of The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake around with me throughout my early twenties, reading it over and over again. Without hyperbole I truly believe that collection of short stories saved my life.
9. Discworld by Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, particularly The Last Continent, which was newly released at the time, got me through a miscarriage. (Ugh, heavy stuff, I know.) I was utterly miserable and bereft and I lost myself in those books, reading and actually laughing when I didn't think anything else in my life was going to bring me to laughter anytime soon. I can still count on that series for a dose of escapism and a true laugh.
10. The Velvet Room by Zilpha Snyder
11. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I give Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed to everyone who's having a rough time, because it definitely helped me.
12. Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright
13. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
I feel really connected to Naoko, Watanabe, and Midori. I'm just like each one of them in different moments of my life. First like Naoko, how she was drowning in pain and had to get away from everything and everyone to heal. Then Watanabe, who couldn't let his past go even though he was becoming a different man. Last, with Midori, because when I let go, I understood my own worth and my own strength, and I didn't need anyone else to remind me of it. Certainly, Haruki Murakami has pulled me through a lot.
—Ethna C., via Facebook
14. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Hyperbole and a Half helped me through my depression. It made me laugh when I thought laughter was impossible, and the last chapter showed me that I was not alone in how I was feeling.
—Morgan R., via Facebook
15. Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
16. The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing was very calming for me during a horrifically heart-wrenching breakup. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was about the book that helped, but I still get sad and nostalgic about that relationship, bust out the book, and feel better.
—Christina M., via Facebook
17. There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar
I was kind of a lonely kid, so for me There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom really helped me get through a lot of tough times brought on by the cruelty of children.
—Amanda L., via Facebook
18. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
I reread East of Eden when I was sick and in the hospital. It's always been one of my favorite books but I don't know how I would have made it through my time in the hospital without it.
I read East of Eden a few times during a particularly rough spring. It helped me transition out of religion without feeling guilty, heal after an unhealthy relationship, and was truly a catalyst in facing my family history. "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."
19. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Got me through my parents' divorce when I was 10!
20. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
I read A Grief Observed when I was 16, a few months after my father passed away. I've been an avid reader all my life, but never had I found words so poignant, honest, and gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I found myself healing a bit with each page. This book taught me that we are all connected through two things: our ability to experience horrible loss, and our spectacular ability to live through it. It's a lesson that has never left me.
—Chloe S., via Facebook
21. The novels of Jane Austen
Anything Jane Austen because even though she didn't get her own happy ending, all of her characters did. She could have been very bitter but she made sure it never affected her writing. That helped me see that just because life isn't exactly what you wanted, you can still create something beautiful.
—Mallory M., via Facebook
Persuasion by Jane Austen. It's a book about dealing with heartbreak and letting time do its thing, and it is just beautifully written.
—Sara K., via Facebook
22. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
The Enchanted Forest series helped me through a difficult surgery and long-term recovery. My husband (he was my boyfriend at the time, though) read them to me while I was getting better but feeling too bad to read myself. Fun, positive YA is a pretty good pain management tool, yo.
—Diesel R., via Facebook
23. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
Tiger Eyes helped me get through my grandmother's death 20 years ago. Like Davey, I lost a loved one at age 15 and was struggling to deal with it.
—Allison P., via Facebook
24. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
The essays and speeches collected in Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde have helped me through so many moments in my life in which, briefly, I was convinced all of the doors were closed.
25. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
I keep coming back to novels and short stories by Ray Bradbury, especially The Martian Chronicles. Many of them don't have happy endings. But there is just something so calming about his prose, and the sci-fi and futuristic elements just take me out of whatever I'm feeling and into some new world.
—Ruby L., via Facebook
26. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella Enchanted is my go-to book for the literary equivalent of a warm hug. Girl power.
—Mykelin H., via Facebook
27. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
I completely became engrossed in this novel and it helped me deal with everything that I couldn't handle. I felt like the boy in number 18, consumed by the "too muchness" that is life.
—Samantha C., via Facebook
28. The novels of John Green
29. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith made me remember the beauty and joy in nature and small things after I came out of a long depression.
—Áine F., via Facebook
30. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I was going through a really rough patch with my sister and I was in a transitional time. I connected with this book on a very emotional level, and cried through almost the whole thing. It's now my absolute favorite book.
—Alexandria C., via Facebook
31. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower helped me a lot and continues to, to this day. I was very lonely at the time. I had made a major personal decision in my life that my family and most of my friends did not support me in. I did not feel like I had anyone that I could relate with. I felt very alone.
I absolutely fell in love with the story. I was able to connect to each of the three main characters in a specific way. The main thing that got me is that the story was real. It wasn't blown up with sappy drama; it felt like a true story. I still live with my family and there is still strong tension. I haven't told most of my friends yet, but because of my circumstances, I have trouble connecting with them.
I've watched the movie and read the book several more times since then. And it has kept me calm and hopeful that things will get better. I know some may think that it's silly to rely on a fictional story to help me through life, but it works for me. And that's ok. :)
—Nathaniel H., via Facebook
32. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Helps me to always remember that no matter how bad you have it in life, it could always be worse and you can overcome.
—Yolanda P., via Facebook
33. Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho
I was so depressed for quite some time, I didn't know where life was taking me. With this book on hand, I went on a vacation in the countryside, out of the noise and busy urban life, away from technology. I had this book, read it, and when I was done, I had a whole new outlook on life and how to deal with it.
—Kristoffer E., via Facebook
34. If This Isn't Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is my current go-to. Really wish this book had been around when I was younger.
—Michelle K., via Facebook
35. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I was going through a terrible breakup and reading about a girl that is too busy with the revolution that she could not think about boys was all I could do.
—Clara R., via Facebook
I read the Hunger Games books right after my dad died unexpectedly. The books have no relation to his death or what was going on in my life at the time but it did get my mind off of the tragedy that struck my family. I used to finish up my classes and go to a local coffee shop and read those books so that I wouldn't have to go home and deal with all of the emotions that were streaming through my family and his close friends. It was an escape and I needed that in my life. For that first year without my dad, reading was the only time I was content in my life.
36. The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
Each time I read it, in each new frame of mind or phase of life, I learn something else and gain new solace from it.
—Madonna K., via Facebook
37. Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K. Hamilton
When my 4-month-old son was having open heart surgery, I read and prayed until they came and told us he did well. Couldn't tell you how long we waited, when I would look at the clock I couldn't breathe, so I stopped looking.
—Jennifer S-G, via Facebook
38. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
Microserfs had a key impact on my life. I reread it in my late 20s after first discovering it in my teens and was shocked by one of the characters' struggle with her eating disorder and the massive similarities it had to my own relationship with food.
I had been in denial for a very long time and was so used to using not eating as a self-punishment it had become an everyday event hidden in plain sight. Before this book I thought that eating disorders were limited to issues with body image and the starving/binging cliches. This was a misconception I have found most people are guilty of and this is why most eating disorders are undiagnosed.
This book was my epiphany moment where I started to understand I had a problem and that I needed help. For that I can't describe how grateful I am and about how positive my life is now I can eat food again without the pressure of eating representing the cloud of self-loathing and control over my happiness.
39. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch helped me change my whole attitude about life and made it so much better.
40. The Selection series by Kiera Cass
After my mom left us earlier this year The Selection series helped me take my mind off the situation. Now it's my favorite book series and I've already read it through three times.
41. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
It wasn't a soothing book but it gave me the good ending I so desperately needed, in a book about something that is very much real.
42. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
For me, it was the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit that my Mom gave me for Easter a year before she died. Three years later and the story still helps soften the blow.
43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders got me through high school by letting me know that it was okay to be different and inspired my dream of becoming a writer.
44. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar helped me understand that my battles with mental illness weren't abnormal, and that there's always a chance to recover.
45. Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger
Nine Stories is full of different characters that lead seemingly ordinary lives until they recognize their fragility and vulnerability that made them come undone.
—Daisy J., via Facebook
46. For One More Day by Mitch Albom
I had just lost my dad to cancer and the thought of seeing him for one more day was brought to life in this book. Tuesdays with Morrie also healed me in ways I didn't know I needed.
47. Loser by Jerry Spinelli
48. On Writing by Stephen King
I was going through extremely rough times with depression and anxiety my first year in college. After dropping out due to the overwhelming stress, I hit the bottle. Hard.
I don't remember how I found it but it was Stephen King's book, On Writing. In it, he talks about his personal demons. He too faced rejection and turned to the bottle. Learning he wrote most of Cujo drunk, as well as other famous stories, I found comfort. Everyone can be broken but being broken doesn't mean giving up. Needless to say I found new love and comfort in King's works from then on.
49. The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
Amazing for someone with anxiety attacks and OCD. It is beautifully written and I have never felt so connected to a character before reading this book. The way she helps herself and remembers who she is in the world touched me. Such an amazing book.
50. The Book Thief by Mark Zusac
The Book Thief made me think that there are other people who suffer more than I did, and it sobered me up when I was being unreasonable and childish.
51. And of course, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
Postpartum depression nearly killed me. Every night when I was up at an ungodly hour, feeding the baby, I read Harry Potter. At first, it was just to keep myself awake. Then, I got curious about the story. A few books in, I started to LOOK FORWARD to the story. I never thought I'd look forward to anything again!
-- Jennifer N., via Facebook
Harry Potter helped me power through my mental breakdown.
-- Nikki D., via Facebook
They save my life. I was so close to just killing myself and then I thought, what if I never know how Harry Potter ends? So I lived, and I couldn't be happier.
-- Brittanie R., via Facebook
I was ten when my grandfather died. One or two days later, my parents gave me Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in an attempt to cheer me up a bit. (It was back when this book was first published, so I’d been waiting for it for a while.) I remember reading it all, closing the book, flipping it over and starting again, to the point that, 14 years later, I still know most of it by heart. Eventually, I stopped being a sobbing mess, and to this day I think of that old, beaten-up book as the one which helped me through the saddest week of my childhood.
-- Giu M.