It’s pretty late on Sunday night, and to tell the truth the prospect of writing felt really intimidating. I decided to make a list of five books that have really changed me. Whenever I’ve been sober for longer periods of time, I’ve relied on books to get me through it. Books, like writing, are how I understand the world. The below books are five that I’ve chosen specifically because they’ve helped me through hard times and helped me have more sympathy both for myself and the people around me. Here are the five in order that I read them, including quotes which really resonate with me, and I feel offer a little window into the books as a whole.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
I love this book for so many beautiful reasons. It’s a book composed of letters, but it’s so much more. Under the pen name “Sugar,” Cheryl Strayed answers people’s letters on everything from love and life to marriage and art. The book is one I’ve returned to continually over the years, since I was first introduced to her via her column on The Rumpus. I highly recommend this book for anyone who aspires to be a writer, but also anyone (and this includes everyone) who sometimes feels like being human is hard enough. Her advice is written with honesty gained from being in some of the very same situations she’s asked about.
“You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.”
Lit by Mary Karr
I was told to read this book more than 10 years ago and it really was a life changing memoir. Mary Karr writes her story in a beautiful and breaking way, that of a coming-of-age girl, into a woman and mother with a serious alcohol problem. Her southern tang will have you captured, as she weaves the tales she overheard from her father, with her own stories. Growing up is never easy, and addiction only makes life that much harder, but this memoir just makes sense. I understood things I couldn’t have possibly as a teenager because this book felt like a right time, right place moment. I love Mary Karr and her other memoirs like The Art of Writing and The Liars’ Club are also high on my favorite reads list. Mary Karr is a gift, and I highly recommend passing her onto your loved ones once you’re done.
“If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then–for me, anywa–a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational. There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.”
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
I remember being a little uncertain when I first came across Bechdel in my sophomore year of college. I had never been into comic books and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it or not. I fully credit Fun Home as making me understand coming out to my parents and how they did/might react. Her writing is beautiful and her story feels familiar. She writes extremely honestly about her relationship with her mother in Are You My Mother, a relationship that has always been somewhat complicated for me with mine, and I immediately felt akin to Alison Bechdel and to her story. This book is the absolute perfect read for any of your Queer friends, but also to understand their stories more intimately.
“What would happen if we spoke the truth?”
This is How by Augusten Burroughs
I swear this book should be read by every human being. I love it. On a visceral level, he just gets me, and I just get him. I don’t even have that much to say on this amazing advice-filled book other than it’s a read worth revisiting every year or so. If you have friends or family in recovery, I’d highly recommend passing a copy of this book onto them.
“Maybe you feel pressure to be positive because so many people rely on your good, fake-positive energy? If that’s the case, screw everybody else. You’re not a bottle of Valium.”
When They Call You a Terrorist by Asha Bandele
I cried on every other page and this is the best book I’ve read this year, if not in the last few years. It’s small, but oh, so powerful. The stories, the anecdotes… everything about it is worth reading, and more importantly, necessary to read. I feel like it should be required reading for all students. I feel like it’s an irreplaceable educational tool. What Asha Bandele has done is amazing, magical, enriching, and most importantly, lifesaving. I recommend this book for absolutely everyone in your life right now.
“What is the impact of not being valued?
How do you measure the loss of what a human being does not receive?”
These books have meant so much to me over the last years and in some cases, the last few months. I know they will be books I return to again and again. Though they are all nonfiction, I definitely have a few novels that I’ve come to cherish, I just don’t turn to fiction as much as I do to memoir. I studied nonfiction in college and ever since I find myself more attracted to so-called “real stories” although of course, fictional stories can be just as real (if not more so occasionally) as nonfiction ones. On the top of my list for novels: We Are Okay, Lucky Boy, and Exit West.
Whichever genre you prefer, I hope you find a book or books you can cherish like these are to me. As Stephen King says, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”