I read with an appetite like that of an Olympian athlete in training for competition.
I hungrily lap up the words, savour the ideas, chew the knowledge, and swallow the wisdom that is served by an author who has taken the time and energy to serve up their own particular delicacy in the form of words.
I will go on the record—and I can be quoted on this—to say that I firmly believe that comparing the work of artists (or even creations from the same artist) to another is an act of violence.
Writing is often not given the same artistic status as painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, or design because it’s such a mainstream and accessible art form. But it is an art form; each piece is unique and should stand alone in its creation.
There are so many books that are incredible. As a sort of ritual, I have a habit of leaving books wherever I finish them, complete with my notes and scribbles.
There are few books that have had a profound enough impact on my life to remain on my shelves.
These are the 10 life-changing non-fiction books that have made it into my permanent library:
The Path Made Clear, by Oprah Winfrey
This book found me at a time when I was particularly lost. I was working in a sales job that was crushing my soul, but I didn’t have the courage to walk away from a secure salary and toward my heart’s desire which was (and still is) writing.
Full disclosure: I listened to this on Audible because I couldn’t wait to get it delivered. I listened to it on a flight to Tel Aviv, which certainly made that five and a half hour flight to Israel on EasyJet a more enjoyable experience.
Oprah’s voice sounds like warm caramel sliding off the dome of an upturned silver spoon into a rich hot chocolate drink. And that, on an airplane, is my idea of a heavenly experience.
I have never actually gotten the physical book because I love hearing the inflections, cadence, and rhythm of Oprah’s voice as she has a conversation with a different incredible person for each chapter. It’s too good to pass up.
I often listen to this audiobook when I’m getting ready to do something challenging, or even when I’m struggling to clear my own path.
What I learned from this book is that we are never on the wrong path; it’s just that sometimes we don’t manage the trail very well. By trusting ourselves and trimming life back to it’s simplest of forms, we will discover our path stretched clearly out ahead.
The Seat of The Soul, by Gary Zukav
This book lives on my nightstand and is quite possibly the book that has had the most profound effect on my life. It has provided me the ability to love myself, and the desire to express love for everything that I experience.
I found this book when I was in the stranglehold of depression. My finding it was quite random.
Often, during bouts of depression, I have trouble sleeping, and the only way I can lull myself to sleep is to listen to Oprah Winfrey’s voice. One of her podcast episodes that I listened to featured Gary Zukav. They discussed the power of his book, The Seat of The Soul.
I remember using the last 12 pounds I had in my bank account to purchase the book, and when it arrived, I read it with fervour.
Each part or chapter stands alone, and whilst sometimes it makes sense to read it in order, it’s not a requirement. The magic of this book reveals itself in layers. Oftentimes when I have bought it for friends, they find it a challenge to grasp. I think that’s because Gary makes it clear in The Seat of The Soul that ultimately each one of us is accountable for our own lives, and only we have the power to affect it.
Gary was the first person to coin the phrase “own your authentic power” in this book almost four decades ago and this is a phrase that is thrown around with nonchalance sometimes in the present day. He breaks down self, collective, and whole consciousness with remarkable ease.
It’s a tough pill for some to swallow, especially those who may be looking for someone—or something—to blame for their unhappiness. This book firmly places the responsibility for happiness at the reader’s door.
You are a Badass, by Jess Sincero
This is a straight-up powerhouse of a book that gives you a metaphorical slap whilst screaming at you to buck up your ideas and get out of your own way. This is everything I had no idea that I needed.
I had been in bed for close to a week, refusing to get up and refusing even to eat. I was swaddled comfortably in blankets made entirely of the absence of hope. One day, during a marathon scrolling session on my phone, I came across this bright, almost aggressively coloured book cover that declared, “You are a Badass!”
After my initial scoff, I read the synopsis and it was so compelling that I bought it.
This book got me out of bed.
The message in this book gave me the power to get myself out of my pit of self-sabotage and try again. All I needed was the motivation to try again and I got that from this book!
“…Understand that you are on a journey that has no beginning, no middle and no end…” and “You are the only you there is and ever will be” are the spine of communication in this book that is both decisive and declarative.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
Before I read “You are a Badass,” I would have described my finding Essentialism as a stroke of luck or a happy accident. I can now confidently say that as soon as I accepted that I was completely overwhelmed by life by literally saying so out loud, this book presented itself to me.
Like a lot of other people, I was holding myself to an impossible standard. I expected my navigation of life to be on the same level of efficiency, accuracy, and output as that of a machine designed with computer code and none of the emotional range that comes with being human.
It’s socially accepted—and often promoted—that we need to “do more,” but this book told me that I could, in fact, give myself permission to do better.
As a direct result of this book, I made the decision to “be a writer,” where before, I had held the belief that it was impossible to do so because somewhere in my subconscious I held the belief that being a writer is not a “real” occupation.
Such a simple, yet massively transformational lesson that I had to learn in order to change what I had previously taught myself: that just like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” I’d had the power all along.
You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney
Just the title of this book had my hackles raised and my guard up, but it also piqued my interest. Mr. McRaney will forever have my respect because seeing those five words on a book cover provoked such an emotional response in me that wild horses couldn’t have stopped me from handing over my money in exchange for his book.
When I say that this book blew my mind, I’m not being glib. I had to take actual rests from this book, and then come back to it. Sure, I’d heard of cognitive biases and misfires of perception before, but this took things to a whole different level in a clean language that demystifies the whole concept of active engagement with living.
This book actually changed my reality.
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
I love Eckhart. I have watched so many YouTube videos on his channel that my “recommended” section, whenever I open the app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick, is always full of Eckhart videos.
I have thumbed through this book so many times over the last few years, and whilst I don’t subscribe to organised religion, if I am ever asked to complete the sentence, “Life is…,” my answer will always be Life is Now.
I remember reading this book and becoming strikingly aware of how much of my life I was missing out on because I would allow myself to “be” anywhere other than where I would be physically situated. I was missing out because I was a slave to the thoughts running through my head, and this was robbing me of all sorts of joys, ranging from the smell of my body wash in my morning shower right through to spending time with my dogs on their daily walk.
This book took me from treating my entire life like one big task list, and taught me how to do what I wanted to do and really enjoy it whilst actually doing it. Inevitably, there are things we would rather not do with our time and this book even taught me that accepting these and moving through them brought its own special kind of joy.
Right now, one of two things is true; either you are making your life happen or you are allowing it to happen to you. Either way, it happens.
It took me a while to “get” this, because I was full of so many ideas, concepts, constructs, biases, rules, and expectations that the simplicity of it seemed too, well, simple.
This book is the reason for my understanding that unfolding with life is my power.
12 Rules for Life, by Jordan Peterson
There’s nothing revolutionary in these rules for life, but the way they are presented is a stroke of pure genius. Each rule is actually an idiom or saying that alludes to a larger concept of living.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I read with an Olympian-sized hunger, and even though I really enjoy being a perpetual learner, it can be really easy to get lost in all of that learning. The knowledge all becomes something of a swamp that is difficult to wade through. These 12 rules are excellent signposts along the symbolic path.
This book has helped me to form my own anchorage points on which I can hang my own experiences and learning, meaning I can always find my way back to myself when the stimulation of living and learning becomes a bit too much.
There is nothing in this book that doesn’t ring true to any functioning human being, which is the genius of the book, I’m glad it was extended to twelve rules because ten would have made me break my own rule of not comparing creations, but the temptation to call it the new Ten Commandments would have been too powerful for me to resist.
Becoming, by Michelle Obama
What can I say about this lovely work of art that has not already been said? The short answer is nothing. This has got to be one of the most talked-about books of our generation—and for good reason; it’s brilliant.
I read this book, and very quickly, my habit of annotating the pages of a book when I have a thought or feeling about a particular sentence put me in danger of writing as many words as Michelle herself had written. So I stopped and allowed myself to absorb the book and live in and through my responses to it.
What I love most about this book is how little of it involved The White House. It’s a family book at its core, and the entire tone of it feels like a literary hug of the most genuine kind. I read this book over the course of one weekend on a camping trip with my dogs, and I will forever remember sitting under the eaves of an oak tree that is hundreds of years old, listening to the gentle snores of my dogs and the occasional burst of activity as a result of a particularly brave squirrel venturing toward their food bowls.
I have made furtive scribbles through this book and there are pages that have become rippled as a result of my tears falling onto the paper. These pages, like me, were changed by the experience of my reading it. It truly is a story that reminds all of us that nobody but ourselves has the power to determine our outcomes.
The Wisdom of Sundays, by Oprah Winfrey
This is a beautiful set of stories that come from the Super Soul Sundays conversations that Oprah has with some of the most incredible people to have lived life well.
There’s a really strong message of hope throughout all of this. The lovely thing about Super Soul conversations is that they never attribute the accumulation of material possessions as a measure of wealth. This is where the word abundance makes the most sense because the conversations hammer the point home that resisting situations leads to persisting circumstances.
It can be so easy for any of us to say, “Of course Oprah lives a good life; she’s a billionaire!” but Oprah and the people she converses with all detail that whilst they enjoy the material trappings of their life, their peace of mind comes from knowing that they are following their soul’s purpose on this earth. This book taught me there’s nothing powerful enough in this world to make a wrong thing, right.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
I read this for the first time in my early 20s, when it was fashionable. But the truth is that my young self had no idea how to process the metaphor that is the whole story. It went right over my head, and for the best part of two decades, I discounted The Alchemist as a nonsensical piece of pseudo-witchcraft. My belief is the complete opposite of that now.
I have a real emotional connection to this book because the main character is a shepherd tending to his flock over the rolling landscape of Andalucia, which is where I spend a lot of time and will be relocating permanently in the next few months. This is a story that twists and turns over a lifetime with many learning experiences along the way for the ambitious and unfailingly dedicated shepherd; in fact, the entire story is a metaphor for the concept of the material life that we all lead.
This is a life story that needs the reader to have a bit of life experience before they attempt to access the wisdom encapsulated within.
Reading this incredible story whilst navigating the rough seas of depression was an incredibly poignant experience for me. It allowed me to engage and disengage from a full range of emotions because the story is written with such emotive language that I became a part of the story myself.
The Audible audiobook read by Jeremy Irons is an absolute treat.
Have you read a book that has impacted the way you live your life?
If so, share it with me in the comments below.