5 Books That Have Deeply Impacted My Life

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Books have always been an instrumental element of my emotional and intellectual growth. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember. As a young girl, I would always gravitate towards the encyclopedias and the stationary rather than the toys. As I grew older, I’ve reached for books to make sense of my world and my thoughts. I found so much comfort in knowing that, at some point, someone else felt the way I felt or shared the same thoughts as me. Over time, I’ve curated a bookshelf that I refer to as “if the house is on fire, grab these books first”. I say this because these books have deeply impacted my life and my worldview in one way or another. They are deeply personal to me. Today, I’m sharing them with you, in hope that they bring you equal comfort and joy as they did me.

1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Now here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

This book is special to me because it’s the very first that I read and understood its meaning (in French, no less). My edition is old and weathered because I’ve had it since I was eight years old. The story follows a little boy that leaves his tiny planet to travel the universe and highlights all of the characters that he meets along the way and what they each have to teach him. It’s a short, but imaginative and powerful book, and it has opened up my mind to the notion that through reading, you can escape your current reality and be part of someone else’s for a short while.

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“There is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, and whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth. To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Paulo Coelho is a well-known and loved Brazilian author, who has written dozens of books that have been sold worldwide and translated into multiple languages. The Alchemist is one he’s most known for, and for good reason. He wrote this book after he took a pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella and documented the way it has impacted him. Powerful. Rich. Honest. Packed with wisdom and thoughtfulness. I truly understood the importance of having a strong personal identity and a purpose after reading this book, and for this reason it has impacted my life deeply. I think of this book and everything it has taught me every single time I have to make a decision in life.

3. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, begging for pennies from every passerby, unaware that his fortune was right under him the whole time. Your treasure - your perfection - is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into silence of the heart.”

I can already feel you rolling your eyes because I know that this book has a reputation of being the “basic girl’s paperback” and I might as well be tumbling in fall leaves and drinking a pumpkin spice latte. But, hear me out. This was the first book I’ve read that opened my eyes to the possibility of travel and exploration. Growing up in post-communist country, travelling was a luxury saved for the wealthy and I never, ever, thought that I would have the opportunity to see anything outside of my city. Then, we moved to Canada and, as with all new beginnings, money was tight and there was never time to go anywhere. I didn’t travel for the pleasure of it until I was in my 20s. Reading Eat, Pray, Love when I was in college made me yearn to taste the pasta in Italy and feel the sands of India under my feet and see what the rice fields of Indonesia look like. It opened my eyes to the truth that there is an entire world “out there” and it awakened in me a hunger and a desire to see and experience it all. It also made me understand and appreciate personal growth, after walking in her shoes for 300 or so pages. Honestly, just read it. It’s so, so good.

4. What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey

“If you’re holding anyone else accountable for your happiness, you’re wasting your time. You must be fearless enough to give yourself the love you didn’t receive. Begin noticing how every day brings a new opportunity for your growth. How buried disagreements with your mother show up in arguments with your spouse. How unconscious feelings of unworthiness appear in everything you do (and don’t do). All these experiences are your life’s way of urging you to leave the past behind and make yourself whole. Pay attention. Every choice gives you a chance to pave your own road. Keep moving. Full speed ahead.”

This is the kind of book you read a chapter of, close it, sigh and sit with it. You can’t power through it. You have to let it sink into you because it’s heavy and deeply personal and an invitation to growth. And we know that growth happens slowly, over time.

5. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

"You get to define the terms of your life. You get to negotiate and articulate the complexities and contradictions of your feelings"

This is the most recent addition to the shelf, and even though people have been pushing this book into my hands for years, I just got around to reading it a couple of months ago. I am a firm believer that things happen in their own time and that things find you when you’re ready to receive them, and it was no less true of this book. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of advice columns that Cheryl Strayed wrote under the pseudonym Dear Sugar. From dating, to divorce, to finance, to sexuality, this book covers topics that we all question, struggle through, and wonder about. This is the kind of book you read with a pen in hand (and tissues nearby) because there are so many bits of wisdom you'll want to underline and come back to later on.

What books would make it onto your special shelf? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

Vanda