11 Books That Rocked My World

Starting on clay tablets and rock walls, stories in “book form” have evolved through the years into the e-books we have before us in the 21st century. How far we’ve come and yet, at its basic core, storytelling has been a part of humanity for a very, very long time.

I’m a book junkie. I go through them like water and will pretty much read anything in front of me. And I love recommendations because if a book affected someone, I’m down to give it a try.

The written word is intoxicating to me. I know it’s not for everyone but for me, books open the limitations of my mind, introduce me to other people, places and thoughts, and allow me an opportunity to explore someone else’s experiences. It’s a thrill.

And perhaps because of my enthusiasm toward books, or the fact that I’ve been a paid reader for the past ten years, I’m often asked for recommendations. I’ll pretty much always tell people the top three books that not only stayed with me from the moment I read them, but have gone on to deeply affect me, but I rarely delve deeper because I don’t want to overload.

The other day though, when a very smart young man asked me for some book recommendations, I quickly told him my favorite Tolstoy (one of the above-mentioned top three) and then found myself wanting to rattle off many more based on our conversation. So…

11 Books That Rocked My World
(listed in order of impact on me.)

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
After I read this immensely dense book, I had to ground myself. It is a fictitious novel that exemplifies Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy. The prophetic nature blew my mind but more importantly, Rand put into words what I had been feeling about government and my life and she set me on a journey of philosophical exploration ever since I read this over fifteen years ago. I credit this book to the beginning of my philosophical studies.

2. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
A grad student recommended this to me when I was an undergrad at San Diego State and minoring in Literature. I wonder if he knows that he changed my life by recommending this book to me. Not only has Russian lit become my all time favorite reading, but this story in particular made me understand the importance of living honestly and how the truth will always be revealed. Here, Ivan doesn’t find it until his deathbed and the amount of sadness I felt that he couldn’t appreciate in life what he learned as he died made me resolve to live life as honestly as I could and I have ever since.

3. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
I was assisting a producer on the Paramount lot when I was introduced to this book. It was being developed into a feature and copies were all over the office. I took one home to read and probably read it in two days. I couldn’t put it down. Franzen managed to capture the realities of family life in suburbia with such precise awareness and thoughtfulness that I nearly cried when I was finished because I didn’t want the story to end. His observations on life are as keen as they come and I often think of his writing when I am dealing with the realities of my life.

4. Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This book is considered to be one of the first Existentialist novels and it was my study of Existentialism that led me to it. Having already been a big fan of Dostoevsky (Crime and Punishment nearly made this list…), it was only a matter of time till I came to this but little did I know the Underground Man would rock my world. His story, his angst, reached into my core.

5. The Trial (Der Process) by Franz Kafka
This book fascinated me from the moment I opened it, even though I was a bit confused at first. But thats’s how Kafka works and I love it. You aren’t entirely sure what you are reading until you are and then, it’s like an eye-opening experience, one I have not had with many other books. I couldn’t put this down.

6. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoffman
While I was working as an assistant editor for television, one of the editors I worked closely with saw that I loved to read philosophy. He asked me if I had ever read this book and when I said no, he brought me a copy the next day. I read it and lo and behold, my interest in Taoism emerged. Living in harmony with nature has stuck with me to this day and I often buy this book for others who are interested in Eastern Philosophy.

7. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
I can’t remember how I was introduced to this hysterical writer (I think I read something of his in The New Yorker) but after I read this too-short book, I knew I was going to be a fan of Sedaris for life.  (When I went to one of his readings, he made the audience laugh almost as much as a stand-up comedian.) The way he blends keen observations with wit and humor is superior and an absolute pleasure to read. He holds nothing back and I love it!

8. The Plague by Albert Camus
I know, it’s becoming obvious that I am very drawn to existentialism as Albert Camus is widely known as being an existentialist writer/philosopher. I have read practically everything this man has written but this book in particular really got to me because of the way he writes chaos in a realistic setting that explores the human condition. Powerful writing here folks.

9. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
When I read this book by Malcolm X, who collaborated with journalist Alex Haley, I was floored. It is powerful and impactful and thoughtful and telling. It helped me understand racism more. This book made me aware of many sides to a story and it set my search for truth in journalism in motion.

10. How To Be Alone (a collection of essays) by Jonathan Franzen
Yes, Mr. Franzen is on this list twice. The first was for fiction and this is for his non-fiction collection of essays that made my mind think and my heart feel. His observations are what reach into the core of my being and his witty comments on them help me understand that we are not alone.

11. A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song by Steve Turner
I am a huge Beatle’s fan, having grown up with my father playing old school songs like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Rock and Roll Music” and my brother and I dancing around his home office. And though I’ve read many books on this legendary band, this book is special because it details the stories behind each song on every album. I still consult this to this day and keep it right beside me in my office.

What are some of your favorite books? Please share!

And happy reading!

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