100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books by Nick Rennison – Bloomsbury Reading Guide – A Post a Day in May

I’m very fond of these little Bloomsbury Reading Guides. I say little because they are just a bit bigger than a hand. I own quite a few of them. I find them well-done, informative, and a good introduction to different kinds of books and genres.

Now “life-changing” might make a few people roll their eyes thinking this is about self-help books. But it’s not. It’s about books that have had a major impact on people’s lives for various reasons. Either because they were ground-breaking, or because the author wrote about something in a new way. Because they talk about social injustice, philosophy, or psychological ideas. Many are novels that were highly influential. Some of these books literally changed a lot of people’s lives. Because they made them see the world in a new way or understand things better. In his introduction, Nick Rennison writes that this isn’t meant to be a best of. Just a varied list.

The idea that there can be a definitive list of the books most likely to change lives, and change them for the better, is a ludicrous one. Books can change lives but they do so in a wide variety of often subtle ways. Very different books can, in different ways, be life-changing and the selection of titles in this book reflects that. 100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books finds space for, amongst others, a children’s novel about a young girl who discovers a key to a secret garden, a Chinese text on a war from the sixth century BC, a black comedy set in WWII, the autobiography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable statesmen, a handbook on happiness by one of the world’s great religious leaders and a fable about a pilot who meets a story-telling child in the Sahara desert.

The authors and their book are presented in alphabetical order. Author and book are then presented in a short bio, summary and history of the influence of the book. These chapters are followed by Read on lists, which either contain other books by the author or books by other authors that are similar.

Throughout the book you can find themed boxes with lists of books.

Here are some of the authors you can find in this book – I’m picking two for every letter:

Isabel Allende, Marcus Aurelius, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Albert Camus, Jung Chang, Dalai Lama, Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud, Ghandi, Jean Giono, Stephen Hawking, Hermann Hesse, C.G. Jung, Helen Keller, Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Primo Levi, Nelson Mandela, Alice Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Sogyal Rinpoche, J.K Rowling, J. D. Salinger, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Henry David Thoreau, Sun Tzu, Kurt Vonnegut, Edmund White, Naomi Wolf, Paramahansa Yogananda

As for the books – you’ll find titles as varied as The Little Prince, Siddharta, The Origin of Species, Walden, The Beauty Myth, A Room of One’s Own, Life of Pi, The Outsiders, On the Road, The Art of War and many more.

Because I have already read many of the books that are mentioned here, I like to use it as a refresher or when I’m in the mood to read books on a theme or books that might be similar.

If this kind of book appeals to you – here is a link to an older post about the Bloomsbury Guide on Historical Novels. It’s excellent as well.

Historical Novels

100 Must-Read Historical Novels (Bloomsbury Good Reading Guides)

I always thought that I didn’t like historical novels or that it was at least a genre that I hardly ever read. Still, when I came upon this little book (it’s a very small size) on amazon I was curious and as it was one that you can open and browse (as you can when clicking on the picture) I had a look and was astonished how many of them I had read or knew. I found Pat Barker’s Regeneration in it as well as Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower. Willa Cather is mentioned alongside with Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. I was so curious that I finally had to order it and I am glad I did. It’s a great little book.

100 Must-read Historical Novels describes 100 books in detail, with a brief introduction to the author and  a summary of the book. Other books of the author are mentioned as well as books that are similar and movies based on the book.

In between the entries on the authors are book lists with themes. You can find a list of books on World War I and its aftermath, a list with books on the American West, a list with historical novels on Asia, a list with historical fiction for children, novels on ancient Greece and Egypt, The Renaissance, The Middle Ages and so on and so forth.

I picked two lists as examples and reproduced them for you:

Black History Fiction

David Dabydeen, A Harlot’s Progress

Barbara Hambly, A Free Man of Colour

Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes

Toni Morrison, A Mercy

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

Caryl Philipps, Cambridge

William Styron, The Confession of Nat Turner

Margaret Walker, Jubilee

Writers’ Lives

Andrew Taylor, The American Boy (Edgar Alan Poe)

Julian Barnes, Arthur & George (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Anthony Burgess, Nothing Like the Sun (William Shakespeare)

Frederick Busch, The Night Inspector (Herman Melville)

Tracy Chevalier, Burning Bright (William Blake)

J.M. Coetze, The Master of Petersburg (Fyodor Dostojevsky)

Michael Didbin, A Rich Full Death (Robert Browning)

Helen Dunmore, Counting the Stars (Catullus)

Carlos Fuentes, The Old Gringo (Ambrose Bierce)

Tom Holand, The Vampyre (Lord Byron as one uf the undead)

Michèle Roberts, Fair Exchange (William Wordsworth)

Steven Saylor, A Twist at the End (O.Henry)

C.K. Stead, Mansfield (Katherine Mansfield)

Colm Toibin, The Master (Henry James)

Of those mentioned here I have Colm Toibin’s The Master and A Mercy on my TBR pile. I did start The American Boy but never really got into it but Devil in a Blue Dress is a favourite.

I realize that my understanding of historical novels was slightly narrower than what is shown in this book and maybe that was based on a misconception. A historical novel had to be set before the 20th century. That’s why I wouldn’t have considered Pat Barker to be a writer of historical novels. According to Nick Rennison, the author of the book guide, he applied the same rule that Sir Walter Scott once applied. In order for a novel to be called historical, the events that are described must have taken place at least 60 years prior to the year in which the writer lives.

My favourite three historical novels (in a narrow sense) are: Françoise Chandernagors L’allée du roi aka The King’s Way, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I know that many of you love historical novels. Which would be your top three?