Ten Books That Changed My Life

BooksUnderTreeAs Jolina pointed out yesterday, lots of folks have been sharing their lists of 10 life-changing books. I loved Jolina’s picks, and she inspired me to share some of my own.

THESE ARE NOT ALL FOR THE TIMID READER, but if you want a life-changing experience, these might be for you. I list them here in no particular order, other than how they rise in my mind.

  1. The Giver, I love this Newberry Medal winning read by Lois Lowry. This book was penned for young readers, but it delivers a universal tale and a skillful penstroke that is a timeless treat for all ages. It begins with a world where young Jonas knows no pain. Everything is controlled and he has no fear, no risks, no real challenges. He is safe. Until he turns 12. Then, he is forced to face reality and all the emotions it involves. Ultimately, this is a story about the meaning of life — a beautiful, inspirational tale about the human experience.
  2. A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. If you aren’t familiar with Didion’s work, you will find her to be a writer of extreme perfection. She has mastered the craft of storytelling, but here she allows readers into her personal life, sharing a raw and riveting journey through a year of immense grief and temporary madness as she copes with the tragic loss of both her husband and her daughter. She exposes her soul to us, shamelessly and without shield. I respect Didion’s tremendous talent, but I admire her even more for her ability to lay down her guard and bring us in to see what lurks in the shadows, proving, without remorse, that we are all fragile beings.
  3. Life of Pi, winner of the Man Booker Prize, this unique and richly layered novel by Yann Martel left me scratching at something deep within me. With a modern generation seeking answers about religion, faith, and spirituality, Martel delivers us a manuscript of the minds and gives meaning to the belief in something larger than ourselves. Soul-searching, sad, and sensory, this story will end with you wanting to read it again.
  4. The Catcher in the Rye, the book that got me through my adolescence. J.D. Salinger spoke to young rebels across time with his renegade protagonist Holden Caulfield. He was the John Green of his day and this story filled the gap in my life between those younger years with Judy Blume, the awkward phase of Stephen King, and the later search for my literary stride with Camus, Fitzgerald, and Chopin.
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Y’all probably already know I’m a huge Steinbeck fan, but this one moved me to tears and laid a foundation in me that has never been cracked. The highest honor of my author journey to date was a college professor at Harding University leading his class in a comparative study of Into the Free and East of Eden, analyzing the element of choice in both stories. If you never read another Steinbeck novel, please read this one.
  6. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. This book restored my hope in men. And by that, I do mean the male gender of the human species. Conroy does more for the emotional development of the American man than any author I have read before or since.
  7. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Yes, I do mean that Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors who ruled Rome. He left us this eternal gift, his search for the meaning of life, as a collection of philosophical queries and spiritual reflections. His quotes have been used across the centuries, and this book will outlive all others on my list.
  8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer. This post-9/11 novel brings the horror of the terrorists attack up close and personal as we enter the mind of a young boy whose father was killed in the World Trade Center. I love everything about this story, the awkward cognitive processing of the child, his strained emotional relationship with his mother, the quirky strangers who enter his life as he searches for answers, and the mystery of the key. In the end, our hope in humanity is restored and there isn’t a single word of this book I would change.
  9. I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb. Two twin brothers. Two separate paths. Love beyond love. What does it mean to be your brother’s keeper? What does it mean to share such similar DNA and still be so completely separate individuals? What do we really know about another person? What do we know is true? This book kept me from sleeping several nights in a row during college, and it was the single title that convinced me that someday I wanted to write a novel.
  10. The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living, written by the Nearings. I admit I was late in discovering this one, and I found it only thanks to a friend who, like our family, shares a dream of sustainable living. This book inspired me in many ways, primarily by instilling in me a desire to truly achieve a balanced life.

I could list SO many more than ten titles that have had a significant impact on my life, but these are the ten that fall onto the page today. I hope you’ll enjoy reading these titles, and I hope you’re all including some books under your tree this year.

If you still haven’t given Into the Free or When Mountains Move a spin, now’s the perfect time to give them a test drive.

We’re offering an extended FREE preview of the first 12 and 13 chapters of each book across all ebook platforms. PLUS…even if you’ve already read them, you will find a brand new behind-the-scenes interview with the main character, Millie Reynolds, during which I ask her about her struggle with faith and her complex relationship with God. It might be just what you want to read to get you thinking deeply about your own spiritual beliefs this Christmas season. Simply click the links below to see if these are the books for you.





Please be sure to share your list of titles that changed your life. We all need to add to our list for 2014.

Merry Christmas!



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Julie Cantrell

New York Times bestselling author at David C. Cook
Julie Cantrell is a tree-hugging organic-farm girl and mother of two who happened into a mid-life adventure as a novelist. She's having fun parenting, writing, teaching, speaking, and living the dream.

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  1. Lisa Wingate says

    G’morning, Julie! I shared my list yesterday, but I love your list. Another favorite crossed my mind, Gifts From the Sea. The beach always brings me into myself and out of myself and so did that small, quick book!

  2. Julie says

    Oh, girl– you’ve gone and done it now. Several of my favs are on your list, (did you see the film version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close– awesome!) and that means our tastes run close and I simply must check out the others! Thanks for taking the time to compose this list. I still haven’t….but maybe I will soon. Hugs~

  3. Julie Cantrell says

    Guys…we’re having trouble with comments. Our readers haven’t been able to post this week. We’re trying to work out the kinks and appreciate you hanging in there with us. We miss hearing your thoughts and will look forward to getting you back in the conversation asap. Cheers! julie

  4. says

    Love this list, Julie! I also enjoyed The Giver, Catcher in the Rye, The Life of Pi (our book club went crazy with that one!), but I want to read the others as well. Thanks for adding to my TBR pile! :)

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