For me, the initial moments of picking up a book are filled with anticipation, wonder, and perhaps most of all, potential. I turn the cover, the familiar feeling of the pages, smooth and papered in between my fingertips, like oxygen. And while the journey from start to finish is never the same for any book, the possibility to learn remains the same. Those moments of potential are guided by the hope that the book can teach me something new, can change the way that I think about the world around me. And quite often, they do, for I have found that some of the most influential people in my life have been the characters in my most beloved books. Books that should have come with a warning: "This book has the potential to change your life." Here are 11 books that demonstrate the power of words and the potential of reading to become a journey to self-growth, development, and a change in worldview.
"To Kill A Mockingbird," Harper Lee
If there was ever a book that needed to be on every school's required reading list, this is it. I read this in ninth grade and remembered thinking that I had never read something that so clearly explained the injustice of the deep south in a time where hatred and prejudice guided much of human interaction. A coming-of-age story, it speaks to me at 21 just as much as it did at 14.
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
"Pride and Prejudice," Jane Austen
A story about love, and a woman fighting the intricacies of social status and what was considered proper, this book introduced me to a strong female character and a successful female author, written in a time where those were both in short supply.
"My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me."
"The Kite Runner," Khaled Hosseini
This book was a powerful example of a story that introduced me to the world outside my America and taught me a lesson in friendship, betrayal, and sacrifice, and the potential of one moment to change your life.
"What happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime."
"We Should All Be Feminists," Chimamanda Ngozi, Adichie
I picked this up off a friends desk once, simply to skim the pages, as I had heard about this short read. I didn't put it down. Not until I had finished the entire thing. And there, sitting on the floor next to that desk I read this woman's definition of feminism in the 21st century, a definition that I have not soon forgotten.
"Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry We should all be angry. Anger has along history of bringing about positive change."
"The Outsiders," S.E. Hinton
This book came into my possession as the result of a reading program at my local library. It was given as a free book as a reward for completing a weekly reading log over the summer, and this is what I chose. I remember reading it for the first time, and being surprised that S.E. Hinton was a woman, and then being more surprised that she wrote the book as a teenager. This was the first example that led me to believe that I too could be a writer and that my own story was within me, waiting to be put down on paper.
"You still have a lot of time to make yourself be what you want. There's still a lot of good in the world."
"Night," Elie Wiesel
I've read many survivor's stories about their World War II experiences and time spent in a concentration camp, each one dripping with their own special poignancy. Yet, in this book, Wiesel's words shine through with a particular lightness, surrounded by horrific truths from this devastating period of world history. Candid, and frighteningly real, he reminds us what happened, and how we must never allow it to happen again.
"To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time."
"The Help," Kathryn Stockett
This book, about amazing women telling their stories with incredible courage, reminds me that there is some personal strength within all of us that can change the world around us.
"You is kind, you is smart, you is important."
"Picking Cotton," Erin Torneo, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, and Ronald Cotton
I read this book before I began my freshman year of college, and I still remember how powerful the words of both the accused and the victim were, and how real the topic of this book was, especially at a time in my life where I was about to start living on a college campus, in a world where one in five college women will experience sexual assault.
"You had to be free in your heart. Guilt, fear, anger--they were all their own kinds of prison. You could be out in the world and still doing time."
"Yes Please," Amy Poehler
Funny, candid, and full of life lessons, this book reminds me of all the reasons I fell in love with Amy Poehler when I watched Parks and Recreation. She talks about life, love, career, and being a woman. Would I like to read it again? Yes, please.
"People are their most beautiful when they are laughing, crying, dancing, playing, telling the truth, and being chased in a fun way."
"Goodnight Mr. Tom," Michelle Magorian
Sometimes you just come across a book that speaks to you. You can't really explain how, or why in particular. But this is one of those books. My mom gave it to me for Christmas many years ago, and it has carved itself a place in my heart. I read it every summer, and am reminded once again, within the first several pages, why I fell in love with it so long ago.
"It occurred to him that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn't quite the same as being weak."
"Small Great Things," Jodi Picoult
I could have put every single Jodi Picoult book on this list. I mean it. Every single one. Her writing and her characters always make me re-evaluate everything I think I know. But this book, in particular, left me speechless.
She brought me into the minds of people and let me see what it would be like to live like them. To not have the privilege of being a white woman. And in doing so she made me recognize how far America still needs to go to overcome our prejudice times. She tackled racism and wrote about justice and compassion, in a way that stays with the reader long after the book is closed.
"Prejudice goes both ways, you know. There are people who suffer from it and there are people who profit from it."