12 Dec Five Non-Fiction Books that Changed My Life
I’ve spent a few days thinking about what type of content I wanted to put on here and if I’m honest I want this blog to be a book-and-life diary for those looking for something new to delve into (be it food or books); or for those who have something in common with me. And, if you know me well enough, then you also know that I love making lists — and this post is one of those: A list of books that changed my life. Honestly, it’s a list that didn’t take me long at all to come up with.
These five books were not only surprising but they somehow seemed to rock me to my core in a way that changed my outlook, or just made me feel something I hadn’t ever felt before when reading. This list sits very far out from what I usually would read, and that’s probably why all of these titles resonated with me in some deep and utterly meaningful way — I love it when a book does that!
Ok, enough jibber-jabber, let’s get into the list — the books are ordered chronologically, from first read to last.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I read In Cold Blood back in 2015, following a recommendation from my supervisor during my Honours degree. He thought it would help show me how to write my mini-thesis in a way that would allow a fully formed non-fiction narrative. I was writing about eating disorders from a personal perspective, and at the time I wasn’t sure how this book would fit into my thesis, but I’m a sucker for buying new books, so I did. I’d read Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s — and of course I adored it — but this was a whole different ball game.
Capote writes with such scary honesty and grit, all the time without losing his signature flair. In Cold Blood recounts the story of a heinous crime committed by two men who murdered an entire family in a small town (children included) and, for me, this was the first book I’d read that detailed the true horror of murder, class and punishment, and it’s an amazing example of a compelling non-fiction narrative.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
I listened to this one on a long road trip to Mozambique. I suppose I was looking for something different. This book, aimed at writers and artists, is a real gem in the self-help/motivation genre. Gilbert puts so plainly onto the page what one must do in order to succeed at what they love, how best to achieve their big magic moment. What I loved about this book was the way Gilbert let me off the hook about feeling guilty for doing the things I love (as long as I wasn’t hurting anyone intentionally). In Big Magic, the core theme is of simply letting go of any fear you may hold and doing what you love and, to this day, this book’s advice stays with me and, while I may not be very good at following its advice, Gilbert’s words do empower me in those moments when I feel like my work doesn’t matter or inspire.
Educated by Tara Westover
This one was recommended to me by a dear friend — one whose reading tastes are similar to mine. I came to this one much later, once the hype had died down some. Westover does something wonderful with this non-fiction narrative, leaving me with the same feelings I’d had while enjoying Capote. She weaves this story of rags to riches in such a compelling way that you hardly notice this is, in fact, her story. I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone looking for a memoir to rip through.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
This book is a collection of essays by the absolutely brilliant writer Joan Didion, whose words, prior to my reading of this title, have only comforted me in quotes. Slouching was the first long form offering from Didion that I’d read and, with her syrupy writing — that is the best way to describe her flowing sentences filled with extra stories, all bleeding together, slowly — that transports you to 1960s America. With Didion, I travelled to New York, San Francisco, Hawaii and back again. I mingled with meth heads, runaways, undercover cops, a murderess and, of course, Joan herself. While I won’t rate this one, it is one for every shelf. Read it and get lost.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
If you haven’t read this, you should. During Lockdown, I finally started rediscovering the gems on my bookshelves. Ephron’s book is one of those I bought during my visit to Blackwell Books on a rainy Oxford afternoon, my hands twitching from too much hot chocolate. Reassuring myself that “I’ll read this one day”, it was promptly shelved after returning home. Today I read it (more than a year later) and it’s a book you should get. Ephron’s writing is pure rapture; funny, light for troubled times, thought-provoking and an absolute joy to read. Each essay is a joy, each slotting into the puzzle of my life. A worthy book to buy as a gift, one to dip in and out of.
I loved each of these books, each title so different and compelling in their own right. If you have read any of the above, I’d love to hear what you thought and whether you agree — and if there are any books you think I should add.
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