Life is a really complicated thing; actually, that’s a gross understatement. There probably aren’t even enough words to articulate how complex and confusing this wild sitcom we call life is. But thankfully, that’s what literature is for.
Here’s a list of 15 books that are bound to change your perspective or help you through some troubling times. And at the very least, here’s something to store in your arsenal of wine and cheese small talk.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Not only is this book incredibly poetic (any one of Smith’s lines could easily be made into an artistic Instagram caption), but it’s the perfect trip back in time. You’re instantly immersed in the 60’s and 70’s rock and roll culture of New York City. A 20something Patti Smith deals with everything from being dirt poor to heartbreak to that ever-present question: what the heck am I doing with my life? Also, she meets the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. Read this to realize that not knowing how things are going to work out may be okay after all.
It by Stephen King
Ok, bear with me on this one. Yes, this is a horror novel. And yes, it will probably terrify you at least a little bit. But, in case you haven’t noticed, Stephen King is kind of a literary wizard. (Honorable mention to On Writing: By Stephen King). This novel told through narratives alternating between two time periods deals with some of King’s best themes like the power of memory, childhood trauma, and the ugliness lurking behind a façade of traditional small-town values. Read this to realize how powerful fear can truly be. Or you could watch the movie.
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
If you’ve ever thought the universe is just a random collection of meaningless crap, Stephen Hawking is here to prove you wrong. It’s definitely not an easy read, filled with a good amount of astrophysics concepts, but if you power through, it’s definitely eye opening. He asks some of life’s hardest questions like, How did it originate, How will it end, How is it structured, and Is it finite or infinite?
And don’t worry; Hawking works in some humour and quirkiness along the way. Read this to contemplate things that make your head hurt, but are oh so cool at the same time.
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig
No, I’m not recommending a manual about motorcycles. Well, not completely anyway. This book is an examination of how we live, and more importantly, how to live better. This motorcycle trip of father and son across the country is a story of love, fear, growth, discovery, and acceptance. Read this to learn how to actually care about what you’re doing – whether it’s fixing a motorcycle or solving a chemical equation.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut couldn’t not be on this list – the man is a genius. Some people think that the first Vonnegut book you read ends up being your favourite, but this one’s definitely some of his best work. This book tells the story of Dr. Felix Hoenikker, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, who is the inventor of ‘ice-nine’, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. Read this to realize that the world is full of lies. Good lies, bad lies, and indifferent lies, but lies nonetheless. And we pick and choose the lies that make our lives happiest.
The Diving-Bell and The Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby
Bauby was the father of two young children and the editor-in-chief of a major magazine. He had traveled extensively and was blessed with many friends. After he had a stroke, his exciting life was no more. What was there left to live for? It turns out that Bauby’s mind provided him with the spiritual and emotional fuel to keep him from falling into despair. Read this one to realize how precious the people in your life truly are.
The War of Art: Breaking Through the Blocks by Steven Pressfield
What keeps so many of us from doing what we long to do? Why is there doubt within? How can we avoid the roadblocks of any creative endeavor – be it starting up a dream business venture, writing a novel or painting a masterpiece? Pressfeild embarks to explain all of this. Think of it as tough love…for yourself. Read this book to realize you might be your own worst enemy.
Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion
Play It As It Lays takes us to the rarified world of Hollywood and La-la Land, where life is fast, flat, and apparently as empty as the souls of some of its inhabitants. Didion’s prose is as spare and as stark as the inner life of the character, Maria, and in simple but telling phrases she is able to convey to the reader all the pain and emptiness, and finally the viciousness, that passes for Maria’s life – and makes us happy that it’s not our own. Read this to realize that it’s okay to not be good enough sometimes.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
If you’ve ever taken a post-secondary English course, you’ve probably read or at least heard of this book. Fun fact: originally an unknown writer published it, but after its success it led to Ellison being named one of the key writers of the century. The narrator is an invisible man, not that he is physically invisible, but because people refuse to see him as he is, or so the story starts. Read this to realize that actions speak louder than words.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
A story that actually sprang out of a wager on who could write the scariest story, Frankenstein is a masterpiece – and contrary to popular belief, a lot more of a love story than a horror novel. Shelley originally published this under her husband’s name but ended up selling more copies under her own (all feminists, feel free to applaud here). Shelley is extremely poetic as she plays with the idea of a story within a story, and really makes you think about language. Read this to realize that the monster may not actually be a monster, and that everyone needs a little love.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
From the very beginning, Middlesex draws the reader into its world; the narrator, Cal, formerly Calliope, Stephanides, is living as a man despite being raised as a woman. The story follows just how Cal came to be but along the way. Middlesex discusses the Greek Diaspora following WWI, incest, immigration, assimilation (and its rejection), racial relations, politics, and coming of age in the 1970s. Read this to realize that family and biology might not shape your identity as much as you think it does.
He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt
I’m hesitant to put this on here, but it’ll probably make you think. Definitely in the tough love category, this book doesn’t tip toe around your feelings. Behrendt, a former Sex in The City writer, delves into the idea that while the guy may like you, he probably doesn’t like you enough. Read this to realize that dating jerks doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
What makes 100 years such a compelling read is its incredible blending of the fantastical with realism. Marquez combines detailed accounts of absolutely impossible events with equally detailed accounts of completely plausible or historically known accounts with such equanimity of importance as to make them indistinguishable to the plot. And it works. Read this to realize that reality can be as subjective as people want it to be.
Sheila Levine Is Dead And Living In New York by Gail Parent
If you can’t relate to Sheila Levine, you probably have everything in your life together, in which case, congratulations. Sheila’s family waits, rather impatiently, for her to marry, her friend seems to get all the guys, and she could lose a few pounds. Parent’s writing is very funny, and makes the reader consider points that probably haven’t been discussed before. Read this to realize that everyone’s expectations of how life should be don’t need to be your expectations of how your life should be.
On The Road by Jack Kerouac
This one’s a love or hate. You probably read it in high school – the prime age is probably 17/18, when all you want to do is go out and have wild adventures and leave your troubles behind. But reading it again or later in life can really offer you a new, cool perspective on it and life in general. The prose is impeccable. Half of Kerouac’s lines will just leave you sitting there like, “Holy crap, that was good.” Read this book to realize you don’t have to dream about it: you can have an adventure at any time.
Did we miss any life changing books? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.