Books That Have Changed My Life {Linkup}

Cardigan Way



One of my blogging kindred spirits, Katie from Cardigan Way, has written a most delightful and important post about her favorite life changing books.   She’s invited all of us over to her place for a linkup sharing our own life changing reads.  This is a post near and dear to my heart, as I’m a die hard, life long bookworm.

Its easy to second guess my choices, as I think, “Why didn’t I include the Harry Potter series? Or Jane Eyre? Or “The Little House On The Prairie Series?”.   I did my best to try to distinguish between my ‘favorite’ titles, and books that really shifted something deep in me.  These are books that were my literary game-changers, reads that did a number on my spirit or psyche, and/or helped form and change the way I think.

But as might you know, just because I can be perpetually indecisive, I made a runner’s-up list as well.  Books that if you asked me this question another day, may have made the list.  Books I absolutely loved and adored, and most likely affected me in more subtle ways.

{I’ve taken Katie’s lead and listed my life-changing titles in the order I read them, from childhood to present.}


My first Bible

I wasnt going to include this one at first, but the more I looked through my bookshelves, and kept coming back to the glorious feel of it’s pages in my hands, I knew I had to list it first.

When I was 6 or 7, my sweet Grandfather bought me one of the most beautiful Bibles my eyes had ever seen.  Its a vibrant cobalt blue leather (I’ve never seen another Bible like it!) King James version, with my name monogrammed in delicate silver letters at the bottom of the front cover.  The pages even have a sweet scent I remember as a child. I am amazed as I look through it’s pages how much I underlined and highlighted in that sweet Bible even at such a young age!

I was an Awana kid, and I memorized the books of the Bible and various passages of Scripture with that sweet and beautiful volume of God’s word.  I discovered it a few years ago in a bunch of boxes full of my childhood pictures and memorabilia.  Though I don’t read the KJV translation much at all as an adult, it is a treasured and beautiful book that shaped and shifted my young heart in the most important ways.

 The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I honestly don’t remember the gist of this story, as I read it only once in elementary school. (How’s that for a life-changing book!)

But I remember distinctly, even at that young age, feeling that these words were special, and different than anything I had read up until that point.  I also remember the thrill of going to our school’s library, for a book signing with the author.  (I wish I still had that copy somewhere – I think Ms. Snyder has passed away, and the book is now out of print.  I happily found a used copy on Amazon as a replacement copy).

I still remember the peach outline of the illustration on the cover, and the way the pages felt in my hands. (Perhaps this is when my life-long preference of paperback books was born.)  Holding a signed book in my young hands, and meeting a writer face to face inspired my young heart, and made me treasure books and the written word even more.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I read all but two of these books when I was quite young, I’m pretty sure I was still in elementary school.  For some reason, I never owned The Magician’s Nephew & The Last Battle until I re-read the series in college.  I almost never re-read books, but this time, the experience was incredibly enlightening.  I saw all of the glorious Christian symbolism I missed as a young’un, and savored the incredible characters – I wanted to be Susan, (what girl didn’t?)  and I admired Lucy’s chutzpah.

For reasons I can’t fully articulate, my favorites in the series are The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (I was fascinated by Turkish delight) and The Voyage of The Dawn Treader (I’ve always loved the ocean).

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Little did I know when I read this book in middle school, it would be the start of a life-long love affair with the books of my favorite author,  Madeleine L’Engle.   I adore this book, and still have the dog-eared copy I read so many years ago.

I also read and loved the other 2 books in the ‘Time’  trilogy, A Wind In The Door & A Swiftly Tilting Planet and later, the two books that made the series a quintet,  Many WatersAn Acceptable Time.  I love the character of Meg, and something in me even then resonated with her narrative voice as a fellow kindred spirit.

My Antonia by Willa Cather

This book was required reading for me in high school, and the descriptions of the Nebraska plains felt like their own character.  The feeling and the mood of this book stayed with me.

The Music Lover’s Quotation Book: A Lyrical Companion (compiled by Kathleen Kimball)

This book is associated in my mind with my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college.  I think it was my first book of quotations that began another life-long book love of collecting other people’s words for inspiration.   I made a big black binder my quote journal in high school that I still have–its a treasure.

As I was discovering my love for music and beginning my classical vocal studies, I soaked up this fantastic anthology of music quotations – it’s got the great well known words, and the quirky, slightly eclectic ones too.

 I love how the editor Kathleen Kimball describes quotes: “Some quotes are like little poems, complete in themselves.”  I underlined my favorites that spoke to my heart and wrote them in my journal–just like a slightly dramatic, aspiring artistic and deliriously happy college freshman should.

Come, follow me into the realm of music.  Here is the iron fence which separates the earthly from the eternal.  Have you undone the fetters and thrown them away?  Now come.  It is not as it was before when we stepped into a strange country; we soon learnt to know everything there and nothing surprised us any longer.  Here there is no end to the astonishments, and yet from the beginning we feel it is homelike…
Ferruccio Busoni, in a letter to his wife


Music is love in search of a word.
Sidney Lanier
Walking on Water: Reflections On Faith & Art by Madeleine L’Engle

If I had to name one book as my most favorite and life changing besides the Bible, this one would be it.  

These words felt like they awoke the deepest parts of my spirit, and helped me put words to my life purpose.  I attempted to write in greater detail about what this book means to me as part of my Resources For Creatives series–find those words here.


Four In The Morning: Essays by Sy Safransky

This was one of the books I was introduced to by a fellow employee when I worked at the best bookstore in the world,  Eighth Day Books.  I was at the end of my college years, and antsy to travel and experience life and the world.  I thought the intellectual, academic writers I worked with hung the moon, and if they told me about a book, well then, I had to read it.

Though not a typical title at Eighth Day, this collection of essays written by Sy Safransky, the eclectic editor of the literary magazine The Sun, helped me open me up to the beautiful and personal world of memoir and a unique and personal ‘writing voice’.

This book is filled with words that are painfully honest and unapologetically open, and it was so freeing to me to discover that someone could write publicly with such candor and beauty.  I underlined so many passages,  just because the way he strung sentences together was so beautiful.  This book haunted me in a way, and spoke to my inner artist.

I’m looking for a writer who doesn’t know where the sentence is leading her; a writer who starts with her obsessions and whose heart is bursting with love, a writer sly enough to give the slip to her secret police, the ones who know her so well, the ones with the power to accuse and condemn in the blink of an eye. It’s all right that she doesn’t know what she’s thinking until she writes it, as if the words already exist somewhere and draw her to them. She may not know how she got there, but she knows when she’s arrived.
Sy Safransky
Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Long before I had enough courage to write publicly on a blog, I was (and still attempt to be) an avid journaler.  It’s interesting to me that I became fascinated with books on writing years before I dared to possibly think of myself as (gulp) an actual writer. (Believe me, I’m still grappling with that concept.)

I’m pretty sure this  was the first book on writing that I ever read {independent of school lists required reading.}.     I absolutely adored and ate it up, as I underlined and highlighted the pages like crazy, and quickly went out and read as many of the author’s other books as I could get my hands on.

Even though I don’t share the same world-view necessarily as Goldberg, her words have taught me so much about writing and its link to my spirit. She was one of the first authors {other than L’engle and Lamott} whose words made writing look easy and effortless and wowed me with her writing ‘voice’, while also speaking to the deepest places in me as an artist.

Push yourself beyond when you think you are done with what you have to say.  Go a little further.  Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning.  Probably that’s why we decide we’re done.  It’s getting too scary.  We are touching down onto something real.  It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.
Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Another find at my favorite bookstore, I discovered this book at the seemingly perfect time: my early 20’s.  I particularly love the translation of these words by poet and translator Stephen Mitchell.   I had never encountered a poet who wrote such lovely prose, and this was the first writer to teach me the beauty and merit of solitude.   My copy is lovingly underlined and earmarked.


…Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them.  This love will be returned to you thousands upon thousands of times, whatever your life may become–it will, I am sure, go through the whole fabric of your becoming, as one of the most important threads among all threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys.


…Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside of it.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Along with so many other writers and readers, this book struck a poignant chord with me. (Favorite authors of mine Donald Miller and Shauna Niequist both claim to be greatly influenced by Lamott’s writings.)

Anne can write things that we all think, but can’t seem to articulate out loud.  I read this book the summer I was on the road touring in my first musical theatre job after college, and I think it was the first time I felt a kindred spirit in the words of someone so vastly different than me.  Then again, doesn’t this book show us how alike God has made all of us?  A close runner-up for me by Anne is Bird By Bird, but this was the first book of hers I truly treasured.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools; the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools–friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty–and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.  And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough…


…How can you hear a chord, and then another chord, and then your heart breaks open?…This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway…It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds…


Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I debated putting Miller’s first (out of print) book Prayer & The Art of Volkswagen Maintenance in this spot, but alas, though I loved it and it most surely pointed me in the direction of loving first person narrative and memoir for the first time, my favorite of Don’s books (and I’ve read them all) will always be Blue Like Jazz.

 I still remember the moment I saw this in the bookstore shelves, and gleefully grabbed it, lest it disappear.  {Years before Amazon and Internet shopping}.  When this book came out, other than perhaps Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, people–especially the Christian writers I knew–just weren’t writing books like this one.   It is so honest and funny, and introduced me to my love of spiritual memoir.  (By the way, if you’re interested, Miller re-wrote and added material to Prayer & the Art... and re-released it as Through Painted Deserts–it’s also a lovely read.)

Breaking Free Bible Study by Beth Moore

I did my first Beth Moore Bible study whilst working at the large Christian theatre Sight & Sound the year before I lost my Mom.  My roommate and I hosted a large group of amazing women (and fellow actresses) each week in our house where we feasted on incredible potluck dinners, and bared our souls and prayers to one another as we walked through this life changing BIble study.

This study led me to doing as many of Beth’s studies as I could get my hands on.  (I’m currently working through her lecture series on Deuteronomy, and loved her most recent full length study on James).  Beth has said this study is her life message, and it was life giving and changing for me. {Note: the copy that is linked above and readily available is the updated edition, but I went through the first edition.}

Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers

I am NOT a huge fan of historical fiction, let alone Christian historical fiction.  If I’m honest, the genre bores me (don’t judge), or perhaps I just don’t have the patience for it.  I am happy to say this series by Francine Rivers was not only an exception to the rule, it is one of my favorite series of fiction books ever.

I read these during a summer of performing historical and epic Biblical dramas at Sight & Sound, and I can still remember rushing off stage to curl up at my dressing room table (still clothed in my Biblical garb-like costume) and read what happened next to the incredible heroine of these novels, Hadassah.  My dressing room co-horts/fellow actresses warned me that I would need to have the next volume in the series nearby when I finished one, because I wouldn’t be able to wait to find out what happened next.  They were right.

The ending of the last novel is one of the few books of fiction that made me cry tears of joy.  These books are just.that.good.

Velma Still Cooks In Leeway by Vinita Hampton Wright

I read this novel when living in New York City, and life felt pretty chaotic.  It was a novel that was as far as could be from that current reality, and unlike anything I’d read before.

I’ve read lots of fiction in lots of different locales, but there was something life and peace giving about what these words gave me at that time of my life.  A sweet and captivating story.

…”I write because I must,” Gran Lenny tapped the journal in front of her.  “Of me it is required. These words, coarse through me like blood, Vellie.  That’s what a gift does.  It mixes with everything else that gives you life.  This gift is all I have and God requires everything.”


Fear: A Spiritual Navigation by Jo Kadlecek

I also read this book while living in New York City.  For awhile, I lived in a brownstone in Harlem with some incredibly inspiring women.  I found out that one of the women that used to live in our apartment (she had gotten married and moved to New Jersey by that time) was a wonderful writer, and in fact, the author of this book.

I have been fighting against fear in my own life for as long as I could remember, and especially needed encouragement in this area of my life whilst living in Gotham City.  This book is a beautifully written memoir that spoke volumes of wisdom into my life through the power of story and the life lessons Kadlecek learned.   I was enchanted by the fact that the author had lived in my very home a few years before she penned these words–it made them feel so much more personal.  This is an incredible and little known read not to be missed.

If anyone thinks he can face his fears alone in this world, he is mistaken.  Plain and simple. You see, if God Himself does not first lean down and whisper in your ear, “Fear not, I am with you” then he disguises himself in another recognizable form: humans.  Faces that look you gently in the eye, slip a smile around your tentative soul, and nod to you a certainty that makes you believe you can do this thing, you can face this fear.  With some help.  You walk together, and that is a divine journey.


Runners-Up: (In no particular order)
 What books have changed your life?  Write your posts & link up at Cardigan Way!

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4 comments on “Books That Have Changed My Life {Linkup}

  1. I just read My Antonia this year in my literature class. The Nebraska landscape definitely is a character of it’s own. Wonderful book and an easy read! I’ve heard lots of good things about Blue Like Jazz…guess I should check that out sometime! Chronicles of Narnia would definitely be on my list of books that changed my life. Wish I made more time to read!!!

  2. Yay, yay, yay!!! This post is AMAZING, Sarah! Not only do I love your picks, you have such great summaries and quotes, that I’m almost salivating over the titles of so many! I don’t know that the comment box will allow all of my reactions… Let’s see…

    I was ALSO fascinated by the idea of Turkish Delight. Have you had it? A friend in college gave me some {after he heard me talk about this} for a birthday and you know what? It was disgusting. Now, with my picky-eater-ness, that’s not saying much, but I was so let down. 🙂 Also, I grabbed my first “adult” L’Engle a few weeks back at the library. I wished I’d had your cell phone, because I would have texted you a quick, “Which one do I start with” text? But I just grabbed “A Circle of Quiet” since it was a familiar title. Have you read it? Should I start with one of the others you mentioned? I’d love your advice! {Duke has awesome library perks, so I can easily switch it out!}

    I’ve added many, many of your books {Four in the Morning!} to my Amazon Wishlist. Also, your words from Lamott make me want to pick that up again and read it. Today. I am need of some hundredth winds and she is so, so right. I needed that sentence, so thank you for that perfect quote. The way you described her is perfection.

    And more yes, yes, yesses. Loved Breaking Free and ready to do it again. {My brother works with Beth!} And though I haven’t read Letters from a Skeptic, another Boyd book is currently sitting at the OTHER end of the sofa…in my husband’s pile. 🙂

    Let’s talk soon! And thank you, thank you for this list and for linking up. I’m so glad I can get to it forever. 🙂

    1. Oh my word – I love this comment so much! 🙂 I think I’m going to have to email you about all of this, b/c there’s so much goodness here! 🙂
      Firstly, I’m a total goof – I had NO IDEA that Turkish Delight is a REAL THING – wowza! (Sad that it’s gross…that WOULD make sense though…that Lewis would use a gross kind of candy to make his point. 😉 As far as the L’Engle book – you grabbed a GREAT one! ‘Circle of Quiet’ is my favorite of her Crosswick journals. If you’re hankering for a novel though, instead of nonfiction – I loved ‘The Small Rain’ & ‘The Severed Wasp’ by her. I am honored that you would ask my opinion of Madeleine’s books….she’s my favorite.

      ‘Four In The Morning’ is a great book, but the author definitely has a different worldview – just heads up. I read that when I was young, and in my 20’s, and had never read words like that. (It IS wondermous writing 🙂 Its hard to find in the library, but you can get a copy on Amazon easily, which is nice. I’m glad you liked my description of ‘Travelling Mercies’ – at first, I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate why I loved it.

      Your BROTHER works with Beth???! Agghh, so awesome! (I LOVE her. Can’t believe I’ve never heard her speak in person, that’s definitely got to happen sooner than later). Would love to hear what he does, and how he enjoys working with her! What Greg Boyd book is in your hubby’s pile? I went to Greg’s church in Minnesota for the year I lived up there – it was wonderful, and I had such great worship experiences – it was the first time I really started listening to sermons in earnest!

      Thanks SO MUCH for your words – you are such a kindred! 🙂

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