The Five Books That Changed My Life

Shel Silverstein’s Poetry Series – Falling Up, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic

There is no way I can start on a list of books that have inspired me without mentioning these three. Long before Harry Potter came along to sweep me off my feet in the fifth grade, I was obsessed with Shel Silverstein’s books of poetry. I’m not sure how I stumbled across these gems because I don’t remember having an interest in poetry in the second and third grade, but I suppose these called out to me. These books are filled with sweet, sad, funny, weird and everything in between poetry and drawings. I know I read through all of them countless times, and being my nerdy eight-year-old self, definitely memorized a few (hey there, Twistable, Turnable Man). These still sit on my bookshelf and provide me with serious comfort and nostalgia. It’s so easy to get lost in its playful, magical, heart-wrenching innocence and somewhat creepy but still cool vibe. These poems may be written for children, but let’s be real. Their meanings go way deeper.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Basic, basic, basic. But I don’t care. This book absolutely changed my life. I even have kalos kai agathos tattooed down my back because of it. This book opened up a whole new realm of spirituality for me, or at least granted me permission to explore it (not to mention a whole array of unforgettable quotes that break your heart open and fill it with wisdom). Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey with depression and anxiety as she embraces her new found spirituality gave me so much insight into my own struggles with anxiety and depression. This was the first book I read that shined a light on mental illness for me, and thus, the first tiny steps I took in embracing my illness rather than being ashamed of it. It gave me lots of hope.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This is a beautiful story, period. The entire book is a metaphor for a person’s journey through life and in fighting for your destiny, but the story itself is enchanting. Yes, I said enchanting because that’s definitely the mood. I read this book when I was going through a difficult time in my life, feeling lost and not really knowing which direction to choose. It gave me strength to keep pursuing my passions and to be patient with my decisions. It’s also a big pep-talk for when you need to be or do something brave.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

Where do I begin with this book? I’m going to go with the language and prose. Cisneros switches from English to Spanish to Spanglish and back again effortlessly and beautifully. She also switches the tense of the book and goes back and forth between family generations. I relate so much to this book because of Cisneros’ Mexican heritage, but it changed my life because it felt like for the first time, I was exposed to the change in languages when I was reading. When I was younger, I was ashamed to speak Spanish in front of my friends. I’m ashamed of saying that now! But I was a self-conscious pre-teen. This book helped me embrace my culture, relate to my ancestors, and be proud of my native tongue and where I come from. All wrapped up in an intriguing fictional story.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

The premise of this book is that Veronika, a twenty-four year old woman who has everything going for her, decides to kill herself. Her attempt is unsuccessful, and she wakes up in a mental hospital where she is told she only has a few days to live. At this point, Veronika begins to understand life and all its gifts and burdens. She doesn’t want to die anymore, but now she doesn’t have a choice. Hooked yet? This story takes a deep dive into mental health, mental hospitals, and the human desire to sometimes just check out. Again, as someone who deals with anxiety and depression, this book helped me on my mental health journey. It was also the first time I realized that people (not just Veronika, but other characters in the story and the author himself) can have everything in life in their favor, and still feel unhappy. It’s an eye-opener for why the human condition functions in this way, and what could happen when we do check out.

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