I'm always searching for the books that actually matter, for those books that will make a significant change to my life. Indeed, one of my favorite openers in a conversation is "What books have changed your life?" It makes for interesting conversation, but the question also acts as a filter, allowing me to vet certain books based on personal recommendations.
Consider me your filter. Through my research and conversations with students and faculty across the curriculum, I've found some fantastic resources to which I turn time and time again. What follows are the cream of the crop, the books that will stand the test of time and change the lives of those who read them.
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Originally written in 1918, but with a ton of new editions along the way, this book single-handedly changed the way I thought about writing. I've read it a zillion times, and I find myself coming back to it often. Now, you'd think that an old book on writing, having the gumption to name itself The Elements of Style, would be boring and pedantic. Let me assure you: it's exactly the opposite. It's practical and, at times, hilarious. For example, the authors intentionally break their own rules in order to make a point (and, I think, to jab the reader). They do this so subtly that many critics argue the authors don't follow their own advice. For me, these mistakes are purposeful. I kept it in the bathroom for a year, as it makes for great morning reading! (Yes, I know. Crazy.)
How to Write A Lot, Silvia
I wrote my master's thesis in 1.5 months, and I attribute that efficiency entirely to this book. Silva (check authors name) writes in a clear, practical prose with the intention of making the book something one can go back to when needed. Everything from tracking one's own writing process to writing for academic publication is included in here, all within very few pages.
On Writing, Stephen King
I received a dog-eared copy of On Writing when our local library was giving away books. I always loved Stephen King's non-horror stuff (Shawshank Redemption; The Green Mile), but I didn't think this book could contribute to anything I was writing about. I was so, so wrong. King exposes his entire writing process in this book. More importantly, King discusses how he dealt with rejection in his earlier years. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that I could not put this autobiography down. Tremendous.
Your Money or Your Life, Robin and Dominguez
Some of my readers have come to graduate school for a money-increasing degree (certifications, MBAs, etc.). Other readers pursue academia with the intention of staying in it. All of us, however, have one thing in common: money. Personal finance has always been an interest of mine. Given the lack of funds available in academia, we need as much financial guidance as we can get. Dominguez and Robin's work single-handedly changed the way I thought about money. This paradigm shift is so common with readers of this book that the reaction "it changed the way I think" has become a cliché. Do yourself a favor and get this book.
Early Retirement Extreme, Fiskar
I've only recently found Fiskar's book on Early Retirement Extreme. Not for the faint of heart, this book will eat you up and spit you out with its razor-sharp reasoning and direct prose. I loved it. I was hooked with the introduction, which forces the reader to come to grips with his or her own imbedded ideas about money and consumption, and then Fiskar successfully argues that those ideas are entirely misguided. This is my new favorite book about money and life.
Whenever I feel tired of the day-to-day, whenever my love of life dwindles, I come back to Thoreau. Don't feel like you need to read it linearly; I find myself flipping through it depending on my own thoughts.
This might need to be in the writing category. Sir Winston Churchill achieved so much in so little time. His writing style is intense, bombastic, at times, but goodness that man had a writing voice. If you're not interested in his life, at least check it to show how this Nobel Prize Winner in Literature writes. Painting as a Pastime is one of Churchill's later works, in which he convinced me of the importance of having something outside of academia and avoiding being a praise-junky.
Are you a LifeHacker? Look no further than the original lifehacker, Benjamin Franklin. His autobiography speaks to how to make your life meaningful to you. Full of everything from discussions of virtue to how he ensures awesome conversation, this book is a huge favorite. I find myself going back to Franklin when I need some advice but have no one to turn to.
What books have changed your life? What books have helped you in graduate school?