“What are the books that have changed my life?” This is the question that has been on my lips all week – as I’m making my avocado on toast, drifting off in a mid-day daydream, and even when I’m watching the ultimate TV show, Criminal Minds.
And it’s all thanks to the book Atomic Habits. Considering I am only fifteen-minutes into the audiobook, Atomic Habits isn’t a life-changer for me – at least, not yet! However, it has been popping up all over my social media recently. From friends posting about it on Stories, to my favourites Lucy Moon and Jenn Im talking about it in YouTube videos, it’s really made an impact on people’s lives. So, as I downloaded it onto my phone from Audible, I asked myself the question – what are the books that have changed my life? Be prepared, some of the answers are not what you would think…
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – Samin Nosrat
Yes, I am very aware that this is a cookbook. But you know what? It was a life changing cookbook. I’ve loved cooking all of my life, from standing on a stool to help my grandfather peel potatoes, to making a Christmas dinner for my friends in my own home. But after watching the documentary series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix, I thought I’d spend some of my hard earned Audible credits on buying the book. Reader, it shook my chef-y world to the core. It turns out, all you need to change up a dish is just salt, fat, acid, or heat. In the kitchen, my whole brain now works according to those four rules. Dish needs brightening? Add some acid, like lemon juice. How to level up your pasta dish? Make sure that pasta water is as salty as the ocean.
Not only am I a proud hobby-cook, it has made me feel like a mad scientist in the kitchen. If you want to add some oomph into your cooking or pour some love back into your relationship with making dinner, this is the book for you.
Know My Name – Chanel Miller
What a read this book is. You have probably heard of Chanel Miller, even if you don’t know her name. And you need to know her name. To put it bluntly, Chanel is the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, in the ‘Stanford Swimmer’ case that cracked open the discourse on rape culture in American colleges. Chanel’s victim impact statement went viral around the world for its brutal honesty, and since then, she has waived her rights to anonymity and released Know My Name. I won’t lie to you, Know My Name is a hard read, uncomfortable in some parts, and incredibly triggering in others. But, in one way or another, sexual assault has happened to almost every woman you know and we need books like this that talk about the realities and the injustices. But why was this book life changing to me? Because it showed that there is life beyond trauma, just as much there is living through trauma.
And, it was validating. Whilst I haven’t gone through what Chanel has, like 97% of women across the UK, I’ve experienced sexual harrassment in so many different ways. Her writing offered representation and validation, and that’s hard to come by in literature. Know My Name also really hits home about how creativity can be a lifeline. I always thought being creative was just something you were, but it’s shown me that it’s actually a tool. Since reading Know My Name, I’ve picked up that tool and taken it everywhere with me.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
I will say this is every single white person I meet if I have to – if you haven’t picked up Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, PICK IT UP. Go to your local bookshop and buy it. Borrow it from the library. Check out an Oxfam bookshop for it. It’s quite interesting seeing the reaction in some people when I tell them they need to read it. A lot of the time, people get uncomfortable. “I don’t need to read it, I’m not racist”. “No, I don’t feel the need to read a book like that, I’m a good person.” You can be a good person and still have racial biases. You can be a good person and still need to educate yourself. Personally, I think this book is vital reading, no matter your age. Reni Eddo-Lodge discusses how race links with the British understanding of class, gender, and white feminism, and truthfully tells you how the UK system is inherently racist (even if the government would like to turn a blind eye to that). Yes, it’s a heavy topic; yes, it can make you squirm in your seat sometimes; yes, you need to read it.
Just Kids – Patti Smith
I supposed Just Kids is a book that has constantly stuck with me, rather than changed my life. But that in itself is life changing, I would say. It is the memoir of punk rock icon Patti Smith, in her formative years in New York City. Smith’s writing is just so evocative; when I open the book, I just feel like I’ve fallen through the pages and ended up on the streets of New York with her. Whilst it covers her time as a young woman, it also covers her relationship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe. It reads as a love letter to love; romantic love, platonic love, love of a place. In fact, this book made me realise that platonic love is just as important as romantic love and really should be treated as such! Just Kids also feels like a love letter to artistry and being yourself. For some reason, the book feels like Spring. I always read it when I need a change or need to reconnect with my creative self.
The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
Move over self-help books, The Artist’s Way is here. Technically, it is a twelve week programme, designed to put you back in connection with your creative and spiritual self. On paper, it sounds rather flouncy and ~new-earthy~ but following it was actually one of the most grounding experiences of my life. My experience with the book has introduced the tasks of morning pages and artists dates into my life. Morning pages are essentially journaling; once you are awake, write down three pages of whatever comes into your brain, whether that is coherent thought, dreams of the night before, or just the scribbles of a sleepy brain. Most of the time, I find myself writing about my worries and anxious thoughts so they don’t end up crowding my brain in the day, and I’m left with a clearer view.
Artist’s dates are just solo dates; solo dates when you tap into your creative side! For me, the best artists’ dates are walking through museums and galleries, taking time to read, playing my mandolin, dabbling with watercolours, or just planning my bullet journal. It’s all about making time for me – something that I really don’t do enough, but The Artist’s Way reminds me the importance of it.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
Finally, I do have to mention The Bell Jar as a book that changed my life. Perhaps it’s the book that changed my life. But, if you’ve been here long enough, you’ll know I mention it at every damn chance I get. I’ve even just written an essay about it for my Masters. To put it simply, The Bell Jar came into my life when I was a nervous teenager, and grew with me. It grew as I found my first love, spoke to me in my struggles with depression, shouted with me when I felt anger at the world, and sat by my side in stints at the hospital. I can always find something in The Bell Jar to ground me, and pull me back to me.
So, not all of those books are what you would expect for lifechangers, huh? We’ve got a cookbook, some memoirs, and only one book with a hint of spirituality and wavey-baby attitude. I guess it goes to show you never know what’s going to hit you out of the blue and change your life. Tell me, what books have changed your life? I want to know if it’s a celebrity memoir, gothic fiction, seventies style self-help, or even your favourite book from when you were seven. This is a judgement free zone, my friends!