It’s well known that I bloody love books. I mean, my undergraduate degree was in English Literature & Drama Studies, so I would have been hard pressed for three years if I didn’t. I can’t put a finger on exactly why I love books, but I think that may be part of the answer. To me, books can be anything; they can be an escape, a reality, something to learn from, something to make you think. They evoke more human emotions than any other form of art (bold claim, but I said what I said). I’ve found, on more than one occasion, that they can be life changing.
Here’s are five books that I consider to have changed my life across the years in some way or another; maybe in an earth shattering way, or in a minute manner. This is not to say they are my favourite books by any means (I’m sure I’ll do a blog post on them in the future!). In no particular order, let’s begin!
The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe
Like most of the human population at the age of fifteen, I was an angsty, concerned mess. My brain was solely revolving around my GCSEs and the stresses that come with it, and school was beginning to push the words ‘UCAS’ and ‘university’ down my cohort’s throat at any chance they could get (I guess you can tell I have strong feelings about the current education system). In an effort to cheer me up, my mum offered to buy me a book! At this time of my life, I was obsessed with reading the classics, what I thought was ‘real literature’ (I was a right Holden Caulfield). I had already made up my mind that the poetry we studied at school was not for me (aka all of the flouncy poems from the Romantic period), so wanted to try something a bit different. Enter, Edgar Allan Poe. Admittedly, this book was purchased to cheer me up, and you wouldn’t normally associate Poe with happiness. However, that’s exactly what it gave me. This was a book that I didn’t have to read for an exam, poetry I didn’t have to study, and it poetry in forms I have never truly experienced. In hindsight, it helped to pull me out of what was my first education related breakdown. It helped to create and enforce one of my personal mantras – Feeling down? Read a book. It also introduced me to one of my all-time favourite poems, ‘Annabel Lee’.
Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
We move from teenage-y, angsty, ‘classic rock is the only music’ Rosie, to spritely, blonde, seven year old Rosie, and one of the most prominent series of my childhood; Harry Potter. I could have chosen my favourite Potter book (that’s The Goblet of Fire if you were wondering), but I’ve chosen the book which started the series. I was born in 1996, and Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. My mum started to read the series herself, and my parents read the series to me as I grew. As a young girl, I had a reading age well beyond my years, so I took up reading the Harry Potter series on my own (I also read books like The Hardy Boys and Wuthering Heights, but they didn’t have such a lasting effect on me). But, what made this book, this series, so special, so life changing for me? The answer lies with my younger brother. We have a two and a half year age gap between us, which meant he was four or five when I started The Philosopher’s Stone; the perfect age to be read to. I’d sit in my bed reading to myself, as my parents would read Joe a story. Once they left, I’d sneak into his room, turn on the light, and read out loud from the place I’d left off. He was my first audience and my first student. I like to think reading to him was the moment that my love of theatre and teaching was born.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
If you know me well, then you knew this one was coming. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This is the only book on this list which I can comfortably say is also on my favourite’s list (and would actually be number one on my favourite’s list). I first read this book when I was seventeen, and was considering studying literature at university. I was sick and tired of seeing boring old white men and their (mainly) boring old white stories line my prospective reading lists, so I took it upon myself to find some interesting female authors. One quick Google search later, and I found Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar. This was the first book that ever resonated with me as a woman, not a child, the first book where I saw fractions of myself reflected. Since then, this book has spoken to me in my every hour of need. It’s walked me through getting diagnosed with depression, understanding female friendship, being medicated, struggles with what I want to do with my life, relationships, wondering if I will ever get better – the list could go on and on. I’ve genuinely lost count of the amount of times I have read it, and the quotes I have underlined. In fact, another personal mantra has been taken from this book. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath” AKA – Feeling down? Have a hot bath.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
I know I just said I was sick and tired of old white men and their books, but I started this book before I knew of literary gender imbalances, and cannot deny the affect it had on me. Technically, this is a lot of books squished into one gigantic book; one that I would never recommend carrying around with you because it will kill your bag straps (I learnt the hard way). Shakespeare is an unavoidable phenomenon in the British education system, and is almost always taught poorly. This has led to millions of people growing up hating Shakespeare, and everything he and his works stand for. I too was one of those battened down students, who would rather hit my head with my planner than read Hamlet around the class, one line per student. But then, I started to enjoy my Drama classes, which in turn got me thinking about wanting to be an actor. Not a TV or screen actor, but a stage actor: an actor. And you can’t be an actor without knowing Shakespeare. I approached my dad, keeper of the eBay account, and requested that I use my pocket money savings to buy The Royal Shakespeare Company’s collection of plays. A few days later, a fat parcel landed on the doorstep, and I began to read all of Shakespeare’s works (Dad didn’t take it out of my pocket money as he thought it was a sensible purchase. Thanks Dad). I was quite young, thirteen or so, but I sat in my bed, and read each and every line out loud, trying to learn how to speak with iambic pentameter and have an understanding of the more difficult words. Once I understood Shakespeare, I loved it. Now, I can’t escape it, and I often can’t escape it willingly. I’ve performed in numerous productions of his works, and am producing my second Shakespeare production as I write this. Although I no longer want to be an actor, I can still thank Shakespeare and his works for opening up the world of theatre to me (yes, I know how pretentious that statement sounds).
Becoming – Michelle Obama
This is the most recent book to have a lasting impression on me, and I technically didn’t read it. Well, of course I read it, but I read it through Audible. For those who don’t know, Audible is Amazon’s audiobook service, and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Becoming covers Michelle’s life from her childhood, in education, her time as a lawyer, meeting Barack, and her time in the White House. It was outstanding. It was personable, emotive, and enjoyable; I laughed and cried and felt uncomfortable at all the right moments. The book itself was narrated by Michelle Obama, which I found to make it all the more personable; it was like listening to a friend telling you stories you had never heard before. Michelle accompanied me on the train, whilst I did the washing up, as I fell asleep. It was the perfect book to have filling the air as you got on with your life. However, this book was a lot more than just a good read; it reminded me that hard work can get your anywhere; it enforced what it is to be a strong woman; it educated me on the American political system and the struggles of being a black woman in America. This book was recommended to me by my mum, my aunt, my grandmother, people on the internet, Facebook ads and more! But, that’s exactly what should be happening with this book; it should be everywhere, and you should be recommending it to everyone.
So, there are the five books that changed my life! I want to know, what are the books that have changed your life and why? Let me know in the comments below – I’m always looking for new reading material!