When you open a book/swipe to the first page/click ‘play’, you never know what kind of reading experience you’re going to get. Yes, you’ll have read the blurb, it may be a title that’s been recommended to you by someone you trust (library staff are available for just this activity) or it may be an author you have enjoyed previously and so you’re hoping for a similar read. You never can tell though – sometimes, you might get a dud but equally, you may find that the book becomes imprinted on your soul, fixed in your memory and impacts on you long after the last page is turned/swiped/listened to.
Our books today are just that type of book. Below, library staff will let you in on the books that have changed their lives. Some are titles that led to a new way of thinking, others are old favourites that are revisited annually to bring joy and comfort. Some are inspirational, while others are the type of read that stays with you when the final words have been read. Some are books that express thoughts and feelings that couldn’t be put into words, while others generate laughter, tears and leave their mark.
We’d love to know what titles are the ‘Books That Changed Your Life’ so do let us know in the comments or join us on Twitter or Facebook in our #BookChat conversations.
I make no apologies for my enthusiastic advocacy of this book. It did, after all, truly change my life.
‘Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo (eAudio, eBook, physical copies)
I read ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo in January 2019, followed closely by ‘Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying Up’. You may have heard of this. Now, it would be an understatement to say that some of Kondo’s ideas are unusual. She talks about upsetting socks. She talks about thanking cardigans. She talks about how a bit of mildew on a shampoo bottle brought her to tears. She claims she pours her laundry detergent into a plain white bottle and ties a ribbon around the neck (no, I don’t do that!). But she also talks about how her system for getting your clutter under control, done as she describes, will be the last time you have to tidy your house. Here we are, in February 2021, and I can say – she is telling the truth. You’ll still have to clean (as Kondo says, ‘Cleaning is the act of confronting nature. Tidying is the act of confronting ourselves’), but you will never again have to go through the house picking up random stuff and trying to find a place to stow it. At least I haven’t!
In January 2019, I decided to take a chance on Kondo’s method and tidy my house exactly as she sets out. In particular, I resolved to follow the most nonsensical-seeming advice to the letter — to prove her wrong! For example, I was very resistant to the idea of folding socks and underthings into tidy little rectangles and filing them into a small box or drawer. How could that possibly be a thing people should spend time doing? I had thought I was ever so clever because I rolled my socks into balls and flung them into a pretty fabric basket sitting on a shelf in my wardrobe. Kondo annoyed me by writing that rolling socks into balls is disrespectful of the socks, which she claims deserve to be laid out flat with care and folded neatly, because they do such tough work defending our feet from the roughness of our shoes, and keeping us warm. What in the world is this woman smoking, I wondered! But you know what? That – like every other suggestion in her books that I considered particularly bizarre – is one of the best things I did. It took my disorderly, bulky storage system for those items and pared it down to the size of a shoe box, and it takes no extra time or effort to keep it like that.
Believe me, if it took time and effort to maintain, I would not have maintained my entire house as I have for two years and counting. The truly great thing about the Kondo system is that all the work is on the front end. Once everything is sorted, the system runs itself. It’s almost a miracle and I wouldn’t have believed it would work until I did it myself. I highly recommend this book, with one caveat. If you’re going to try this decluttering method, do it as written without variation. Fortune favours the bold!
’84 Charing Cross Road’ by Helene Hanffe
This is a heart warming book spanning a period of about 20 years. It is written as a series of letters between an outspoken but kind and witty New York author (Hanffe) to Marks and Co, who are sellers of rare and second hand books.
She tasks Frank Doer and his staff with finding often rare titles or editions that she has been unable to track down in the States. They form a lovely friendship and everyone looks forward to her correspondence. They start slipping in notes containing details about their lives and families in post war London. Helene sometimes sends them small gifts and food parcels to top up their rations and they are all very touched and grateful.
The author promises to travel to London to visit the bookshop at some point but unfortunately Frank has passed away when she manages the journey. This is a sweet and gentle book that I have probably read five or six times.
Why Sophie Kinsella changed my life.
Yes, that’s a slightly dramatic title but I’m sticking with it.
When I was 14 years old and stuck between that awkward stage of feeling I was too ‘old’ for Young Adult fiction, and the majority of adult books I had read had been for school (As great as ‘Of Mice and Men’ is, it wasn’t my go-to as a teenager…), I discovered Sophie Kinsella and my (reading) life changed.
One of my friends was reading ‘Shopaholic Ties the Knot’ during our reading time – I think there was a rude part in it, and she went out of her way to show me (Don’t judge. We were 14!) I glanced at the synopsis and I just KNEW I had to read it. Cue a weekend spent in Waterstones hunting down all of Sophie Kinsella’s previous titles and one very happy reader.
Sixteen years later, I am still the biggest fan of Sophie’s books. I absolutely devoured her latest, ‘Love Your Life’ – make sure you give it a read if you need cheering up during these uncertain times. Which brings me onto the very reason I love Sophie’s books and they how changed my life. They sparked my love of adult fiction (and this is quite a biggie as I now work in a library…) They make me forget real life whilst I am between those pages and most importantly, they make me LAUGH – and who doesn’t need a bit of laughter in their life?
‘There is no Planet B’ by Mike Berners-Lee (physical copies)
This is a recent read which is an important book to me, and that has the potential to change lives. It confronts the climate crisis in an unemotional, pragmatic way, often with humour. It summarises Mike’s years of research and experience, taking a global view of the emergency and outlining steps that need to be taken, from government to individual level. He shows how issues such as food production, energy use, plastics etc are inter-related.
His aim is to make us feel empowered to do something and that it may not be too late to make a difference if we act now. The statistics and science went over my head a bit but most of the book is chatty and witty and very interesting! It is a book that should be on every school reading list and every politician’s bookshelf. If only!
‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (eBook, physical copies)
I had never wanted to read a ghost story, a classic or re-read a book until ‘A Christmas Carol’ came along. It started my journey outside of my ‘comfort zone’ of reading and now I will read anything.
I had grown up watching the Muppets version with my Grandad on Christmas Eve and then to find it in print was a surprise! But the real joy came a few years ago when I accidentally ordered the audiobook and realised that it made my commute all the better. For four years now, I have listened to ‘A Christmas Carol’ on audiobook. I have settled on Miriam Margolyes reading of it. I have it the week before Christmas and each year it’s a joy. Actually, each year it gets better as I notice quotes or descriptions I hadn’t before. Aptly, this year I noticed the phrase ‘I’ll retire to bedlam’……
‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac (eAudio, physical copies)
‘On The Road’ really did inspire me in lots of ways. It’s a swaggering autobiographical tale about hitchhiking across America set in the late 1940s and written in a free form jazz/stream of consciousness style. We meet a whole host of interesting characters along the way and it encapsulates the freedom of travel, music, friendships and spur of the moment plans that really grabbed the attention of my teen sensibilities. I was fortunate to travel widely even to some of the places mentioned in the book. This really connected me to what Kerouac was saying and ignited a long time interest in America.
What still appeals to me is its wanderlust and bohemian style, but ultimately the take away from the book is; take the chance, don’t worry, sit back and enjoy the ride. Whether it be on a cross country car journey, taking in the atmosphere in a smoky jazz-filled club or making serious life choices on 2 hours sleep in the middle of Americana, Kerouac brings his world to life and gets your blood pumping. The best way to travel given our current predicament!
‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy
‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’ has truly been the book that I have turned to nearly everyday since Lockdown 1 (along with ‘The Poetry Pharmacy’). I ended up buying copies for both of my kids & a friend who lives alone. I particularly like the Mole’s philosophy on cake.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M L Stedman
A title that made me think, that inspired and that bought immense joy? This book did all three! It is beautifully and sensitively written. Tom chooses to lead a solitary life as a light housekeeper, until he falls in love with the bright and laughing Izzy, who he quickly marries and whisks away to join him in his solitary island life. He is the perfect husband – loving, caring and tender – right through to the last twists and turns in their lives.
Life on the island is brutal and hard in many ways and a much longed for child would make their lives complete. Then one day a boat washes up on the shore carrying a dead man and a crying baby. Life changing decisions are made that will have lifelong repercussions. Then we meet Hannah and are drawn into her desperate situation and as paths cross, secrets unfold and guilt dictates actions, it becomes almost impossible to know where, as the reader our sympathies should lie.
A novel that makes you think deeply about right and wrong, inspirational in the love and commitment the characters show to each other, and the strength of character it takes to lead such a remote life. A truly lovely book to read, but it does bring a lump to your throat at the end that lasts several hours.
‘Reaperman’ by Terry Pratchett (eBook, physical copies)
This showed me there was more to the fantasy genre than I had realised. This book is the one that kicked of my love of the genre, and after many re-reads I still love it.
‘The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet’ by Becky Chambers (physical copies)
This book brought me absolute joy, such a wonderful cast of characters and I loved spending time with them. The whole Wayfarers series is worth picking up (the 4th book is due out this year).