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38 Books That Changed Me
A non-exhaustive, unordered list .
I turned 38 this past week, and as with all birthdays, I sat for a few moments of early-morning reflection: where I’ve been, where I’m going, what kind of cake I’ll be eating when I get there. It’s been a wonderful year, made partially so by all of you who supported this newsletter and Banyan Moon. I couldn’t be luckier. And, if I’m honest, I’ll say it’s also been a year of disappointments and failures, moments where I could have been a better version of myself. I’m not sure why, but I go into every birthday thinking I’ll feel magically different. Wiser, more polished, less anxious. Like a light switch of maturity suddenly flicking, illuminating the chaos of life.
Yet every birthday passes with an unsettling sameness. I’m still me, for better or worse, struggling with the same things as the year(s) before. But that’s how it is; evolution doesn’t usually happen in fits and starts. It’s a tectonic plate sliding infinitesimally apart, revealing the vast distance between before and after only through a retrospective lens.
The one constant of every birthday is change, often invisible, but always present, simmering in our veins, pulling us in new directions. And sometimes, we have help along the way. For me, the greatest agent of change has always been books: the ones that push me, challenge me, clang a bell of recognition inside. It’s fitting that I take a moment to honor the ones that have moved me.
Below, a non-exhaustive, unordered list of 38 books that changed me. (I’m already stressed about the ones I forgot! Like forgetting friends in acknowledgements, which I have also done!) Each book touched me at the time of my life when I needed it most. Some introduced me to new worlds, new ways of being, while others made me feel seen.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Matrix by Lauren Groff
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Townie by Andre Dubus III
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Hold Still by Sally Mann
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
What are your life-changing books?
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