What books have changed the course of your life?
I am a voracious reader. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around discovering new books. I remember the thrill of my grandmother taking me to her local bookshop on my summer vacation and telling me I could choose any two books I wanted. My idea of heaven! I spent hours at the library and was never without a book.
As an adult, I have three books on the go at any given time: a non-fiction book that I read for personal growth or professional development during my morning routine; an audiobook to accompany me whilst doing household tasks; and a novel that I read before bed to turn my mind off of the day.
I even have a spreadsheet of all the books I’ve read since I first moved to Germany in 1998. In those days (it was a different millennium after all!), there was no Amazon. Books could only be found in a bookshop. And it was difficult to find English books in German bookshops back then. So I often bought books at the train station or at the airport. But it happened more than once that I bought a book, hopped a plane to my destination, and discovered only once in the air that I had already read this book before! One of the dangers of reading so much: it can be hard to remember all the books you’ve read. 😉 And thus, my Excel spreadsheet was born. I read approximately 50 books a year, which means well over a thousand books since I started tracking what I read!
There are a number of standouts in that list. Books that have literally changed the course of my life. Interestingly, none of those books were read with the intention of changing my life. I was curious about a topic, or had heard about a certain book, and decided to read it. Not knowing that it would permanently change my viewpoint.
The following 8 books are my stand-outs:
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
The title concept alone was mind-blowing to me. Completely life-changing. Fear doesn’t have to prevent you from doing things. The fact that you’re afraid does not mean that you can’t; the fact that you’re afraid means that it’s new and you have to figure it out, but you CAN!
This sowed the seeds of moving to Europe, and turning what had until that point felt like a fantasy into a genuine plan. And what started as a 3-month stint in France has turned into me living in Europe for the better part of 25 years!
Emotional Agility by Susan David
As someone who is very interested in emotional intelligence and growth mindset, the title seemed to me to be a combination of the two. I originally borrowed this book from the library, only to realize within a few pages that this book was incredible and that I would want to have my own copy.
And my copy is dog-eared and highlighted within an inch of its life! The concepts are just so real. For me, the realization that there are 7 basic human emotions [joy, surprise, fear, anger, sadness, disgust & contempt] but that only 1 is “positive” was transformative in how I think about emotions. It has made a massive difference in my understanding of emotional intelligence, and in how I approach emotions. They are data – emotions are giving us critical information. We didn’t evolve to have most of our basic emotions be “negative” without them being essential sources of information for us.
This book really opened my eyes to an entirely different approach to emotions, both in myself and also in my coaching. Using the concept of emotions as data has allowed a lot of my clients to be more comfortable with addressing their feelings and brainstorming around what information that emotional data is giving them.
Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
I’ve spent the better part of 2 decades both teaching language, and becoming fluent in a new one. I find the development of language fascinating (linguistic anthropology is on the list of careers for a future life) and Bill Bryson has a way of making any topic intriguing, educational and surprising. I loved learning about how English developed and what influence it has on our world today.
HEALTH & FITNESS
Slow Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams
After having my second child, I figured I was pretty close to embodying the first two adjectives, why couldn’t I embody the third?! I read the book and realized that it resonated with me. That competing in a triathlon would be about competing with myself, not others. So what started out as a slightly mad New Year’s Resolution in 2009 became an integral part of my identity!
Over the past 12 years I’ve competed in and completed 20 triathlons (sadly 2020 & 2021 seasons were cancelled). My closest friends are my fellow triathletes. I went from essentially being a couch potato to being an athlete – all because I read this book and realized that sports can be fun! You don’t have to be an elite athlete to take part, you can do it to get healthy, to get more activity, to get outside, and just to enjoy what your body can do for you!
Fiber Fueled by Will Bulsiewicz
I read this with the intention of expanding my knowledge of healthy eating. I most definitely did not read this book intending to permanently change my diet or even my habits! I was just curious about how the digestive system works, because I have some issues with mine. I’m a fairly proactive person and thought I’d just brush up on some facts.
In a calm, scientific, research-backed manner, Dr. Bulsiewicz convincingly describes the benefits of eating a plant-based diet and how humans are actually meant to be vegetarian – we have a herbivore’s intestine, and a herbivore’s teeth. Which all sounds fascinating but is more or less just interesting information, not necessarily a reason to change my entire diet.
Frankly, I started eating a vegan diet because one of my least favourite things is meal-planning, and this book has a 28-day meal plan in it, complete with grocery list! I figured I’d try it out just so I didn’t have to think up what to eat every day!
But it turned out that I felt SO. MUCH. BETTER. After those 28 days, I felt more clear-headed, more energetic, and happier. And I’d really enjoyed the meals. So I thought I’d keep going for a while just to see what happened, and well here I am 9 months later, still eating a primarily plant-based diet. And happier and healthier for it!
Health & Fitness Honourable Mentions:
Marathon Woman by Kathrine Sweitzer
Darme mit Charme von Guilia Enders / Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders
Our Babies Ourselves by Meredith Small
One of the very few disadvantages of being a voracious reader is that sometimes you can get bogged down in information. When I was having my children, there was so much conflicting information out there! Add to that the fact that I was having my children in a different country (Germany) than where I’d been raised myself, and suddenly there seemed too many opposed viewpoints on how best to bring up a child.
I enjoyed this book because it looks at child rearing in different countries and concludes that there is no right way to do it!! Each culture has evolved to raise children differently. Does your child sleep with you, or in its own bed? At what age do you feed the child solid foods? Do you speak to your child using nouns first, or verbs? Each culture has a different answer. And yet each culture raises happy children into productive, happy adults. So clearly there is no definitive right way. And that was very liberating!!
Das Lächeln der Fortuna by Rebecca Gable
This was the first book that I read in German without registering that I was reading in German. It was so interesting, and so well-written, that I just sank into it and devoured it! It is over 1000 pages of brilliant historical fiction (my favourite genre) and the first in a series. Reading this book made me realize that my German was actually pretty good. And that in turn led to me being open to the possibility of not only living in German, but also working and coaching in German! A huge step for me.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
This book may not have been life-changing but I didn’t feel that this collection would be complete without it! It is my favourite book of the last 10 years and one that I have shared many many times. In fact, my physical copy of the book is at least the 3rd one I’ve bought, as I’ve loaned my copy to so many friends that I keep losing track of it.
The story is about a man who lives his life over and over. He is born again and again, but remembers each life that went before. It is a great story, but also triggers a lot of self-reflection around what you would do differently if you had to live your life again. What lessons would you learn the next time around, if you already had the knowledge and experience of this life as well? Such a great read!
I hope you find something interesting in this list!! I’d love to know what books have changed *your* life!! Please do share!! Send me an email or a DM on social media. I’ll include all the life-changing books that are recommend in my next newsletter so please do reach out and share!
It’s a scorcher out there today and I am very much enjoying that it is finally summer!! It’s time for some beach reads and outdoor adventures.