Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

16 Beautiful Books That Changed My Life


Recently, a couple of girls I’ve worked with asked about the books that changed my life (not counting the Bible). It got me thinking: we’re all collectors, carrying bits of people and experiences and stories inside. And stories are important – we make sense of the world and shape ourselves through the books we read.

I started young, reading more than I played. Books were my most faithful companions. I devoured anything I could get my sticky little hands on. My wanderlust was born as the wide world opened in musty paperbacks. I learned love and loss, wonder and adventure.

My reading ventures were never censored, though occasionally my parents threatened to ground me from books. My heart ripped wide when I read about the Holocaust, slavery and racism. Hatred for injustice and desire to change the world grew up from text on pages.

In fact, I can trace many of my core beliefs and values to books I’ve read over the years. There are far more pieces of text rattling in my soul than I could include in this list. Even so, here are a few (16, to be exact) of the books that changed my life.

  1. One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp. This book may have saved me and has certainly shaped me, more than any other on this list. Practicing gratitude has anchored my soul in a very tangible way.
  2. The Dark Night of the Soul – St. John of the Cross. This spoke to me through many of my own dark nights. It’s super old, but I return to it time and again.
  3. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint Exupery. I reread this often. It’s a children’s story for adults about  friendship, love and questioning the status quo.
  4. The Ragamuffin Gospel – Brennan Manning. I simultaneously laughed and cried reading this, realizing the beauty of grace for my messy and ragged life. It’s simply wonderful.
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain. I loved everything Twain as a kid, but this book taught me about racism and things that make people uncomfortable. As a bonus, check out The War Prayer, a short story about the madness of war.
  6. Shakespeare – He taught me a love of language, of wit and wisdom and rhythm. Hamlet is one of my all-time favorite works.
  7. Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis. Actually, I’ve loved everything I’ve read of his. Two other favorites are Til We Have Faces (“The gods used my own words to probe my wound.”) and Surprised by Joy (a beautiful memoir of faith and longing).
  8. Boundaries – Henry Cloud & John Townshend. I thought the authors pulled Scripture out of context to make their points, which was totally unnecessary. If you look past that, the principles are gold.
  9. A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards. A beautiful allegory of betrayal, forgiveness and healing. If you’ve ever been hurt by other believers, this is for you.
  10. Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller. Reading this in college made my questions okay and hit a chord in my heart. It was also the book that made me want to write my stories.
  11. The Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne. Social justice and love-in-action are a BIG DEAL to God. This book gave voice to my questions about how we do church and faith in the United States.
  12. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. This book exposes western cultural biases that cause us to misunderstand the truth of Scripture. It will challenge your perception of “Christian” values and expose many of them as simply western. It also may offend you if you think God is white, middle-class, conservative or gun-toting.
  13. Do Over – Jon Acuff. Best career book I’ve ever read! It was KEY in helping me navigate my transition last year. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny.
  14. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain. A must-read for introverts everywhere!
  15. The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg. This shifted my mindset on the path to success in life: it’s in habits, not goals. Duhigg is also a master storyteller. I couldn’t put it down!
  16. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield. Not just for artists. This one will kick your butt. PG-13 for language, but worth it for the mindset shift of “going pro” in whatever dream you’re chasing.

What books have shaped your soul and impacted your life? What stories have you collected and carried inside? I’d love to hear in the comments!

5 Replies

  1. Oh man, can we please nerd out and talk about all our favorite books???? Yes!! Ahhhh!!! Oh, how I long for a few hours to sit and read every single day. Alas, the toddlers don’t understand that. If I was truly committed, I would wake up at 5am for an hour and 1/2 of quiet time. But that ain’t happening right now, sister. 🙂

    Okay so first–here’s the ones on your list I have read and loved:
    One Thousand Gifts
    The Ragamuffin Gospel (and every single other book he’s written)
    Huck Finn– SO MUCH YES!!!
    Blue Like Jazz

    You’ve given me a whole new list of books to read now, Sarah. Thanks!!

    As far as others I recommend, here they are:
    The Shack
    Poisonwood Bible
    Abba’s Child
    Death Be Not Proud
    Traveling Mercies (how did that NOT make your list???)
    Daring Greatly
    The Furious Longing of God
    Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
    And…oh my gosh…Same Kind of Different as Me

    Love you, friend!

    Happy Tuesday!

    1. Yes! I love nerding out on books! TBH, Traveling Mercies was a potential. But as much as I LOVED it, I couldn’t say it really changed me that much :/ So it sadly got bumped. I’m starting Daring Greatly now!

  2. Great list. There’s a few on here I still need to read. I’ve been reading like a crazy person recently. Once the kids is in bed it’s book time , who needs clean dishes;).
    I can remember The Sacred Romance being life changing for me. Biggest game changer recently has been Big Magic.

    1. Thanks, Kamsin! I totally forgot about The Sacred Romance! I also got about halfway through Big Magic before I had to return it to the library 🙁 But I loved the first half!

  3. so refreshing to think about books that are truly transformative. Makes me want to go back and read so many of your suggestions.
    Yes, yes, yes, to many of your picks.
    For C.S. Lewis, I find myself coming back to The Great Divorce and his essay The Weight of Glory.
    I’d have to add The Divine Consipiracy by Dallas Willard. Also, The Challenge of Jesus, by NT Wright.
    Lately I’ve been a Marilynne Robinson evangelist. Her novels, Home, and Gilead, made me remember why I used to love reading fiction so much. She’s a wise woman who understands the complexities of relationships and theology, and how precious and essential both are to thriving.

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