10 Novels That Will Change Your Life
Reading the right novel at just the right moment in your life can be profound. Fictions of any genre can greatly influence how we live and see the world when it’s well written with deep characters and believable settings. What this means can be different from person to person, but when a piece of fiction truly clicks with you, you’ll know because you’ll feel the change.
While any book can be a life-changer, these ten novels have been chosen based on certain criteria. They have either proven themselves by standing the test of time and earning endless literary praise; are still relevant to modern life despite being written decades ago and thus offering timeless insight into our lives; or have recently made an impact with readers and are currently carving out their place. So if you’re looking for the next read that will make you think, why not try one of our recommendations below?
1. End Zone by Don DeLillo
Though his books have developed a reputation for their length and complexity, End Zone—DeLillo’s second novel—is much shorter and direct by comparison. College football player Gary Harkness narrates the story. While it ostensibly follows his routine through classes, practice, games, and time spent with his girlfriend Myna, he develops an interest in nuclear weapons that rapidly becomes an obsession, with their imagery and devastation seeping into other areas of his life. The characters he meets all have strange passions and neurotic fears of their own, perpetuating his strange thinking. Written as a dark comedy, End Zone will either put the armed conflict in a different perspective or define it in cold, concrete terms, depending on how you interpret its quirks.
2. The Plague by Albert Camus
It’s 1940 in Oran, a French Algerian city. When thousands of rats are found dead in the streets, the citizens quickly panic, fearing a rapid spread of disease. Unknown to them, their solution—to gather the bodies and burn them—sets a devastating plague in motion. Though the story follows Dr. Bernard Rieux as the city is locked down, the wide cast of characters represents people from various classes and walks of life in society. In the battle to contain and combat the disease, how characters react serves as a mirror to real-life absurdities in human nature when faced with an existential threat. Though it’s ultimately redemptive, Camus’s explorations of faith and hope in the face of seemingly certain death can be difficult to parse at first but are deeply rewarding for those who can.
3. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Percy’s first and most celebrated novel follows Binx Bolling seeking out a greater meaning in life. After returning from the Korean War, he feels estranged from the people in his everyday life and finds the trappings of New Orleans unreal and foreign. His mind often wanders into fantasy and he finds pleasant escapes in entertainment like movies, believing them to be more real than actual living. Eventually, he sets out to discover God and greater meaning to life. More philosophical than spiritual, The Moviegoer’s episodic plot centers around how Binx struggles to defy definition, despite his attempts to be involved with people and places. The book was first published in the 1960s but has even greater relevance now in the digital age.
4. The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
This famously non-linear narrative is almost without a plot. It’s the travelogue of the drug-addicted William Lee and the mysterious Dr. Benway as they try to reach the Interzone. Each chapter of the story tells of strange places, organizations, or people who on the surface seem too absurd to exist, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find they are thin veneers of reality. The cut-technique Burroughs championed makes the book’s fragments feel disjointed at times, adding to the sense that William’s substance abuse has altered his sense of what’s real. Deep down in its strange core, The Naked Lunch turns over stones to reveal the truly unpleasant side of ordinary people and modern life.
5. Catching A Miracle by Mark Spinicelli
Many doctors and scientists have worked around-the-clock to find a cure for cancer, but all have failed. Enter Shelly White. Motivated by surviving her diagnosis as a child, she dedicates her adult life to solving the mystery and finally putting an end to the terrible disease. But she soon discovers that the establishments in place that should be helping the populace are working against them for the sake of profit. Believing she has a lead on the scientist who may already hold the cure, Shelly must track him down before the FBI and CIA can. Blending elements of the thriller, spiritual, and medical drama genres Catching A Miracle is a tense page-turner about perseverance in the face of any obstacle.
6. Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger
While Catcher in the Rye gets the most praise of Salinger’s works (and rightfully so), this collection of nine short stories manages to cover a lot of ground while still utilizing the author’s brief writing style. Most of the stories deal with coming to terms with stark reality, but at different stages of life. The teenage rebellion of Holden Caulfield is instead replaced with the contentment and disgust of an enlightened child (“Teddy”), the end of escapism for a young boy (“The Laughing Man”), and adult regrets about marriage (“Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut”). The same out of place restlessness that underscores much of Salinger’s work is present throughout Nine Stories, but the short story format draws it out in less obvious ways.
7. Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
In 1984, a gas leak at a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed thousands and injured hundreds more. This novel follows one survivor, the nineteen-year-old orphan known only as Animal. His spine is twisted in such a way that he can only walk on all fours. Despite this, he doesn’t see himself as a sad figure, and many of the people in Kaufpur sympathize with him while distrusting outsiders. Elli, a doctor, arrives with the simple goal of treating these people who are still ill years after the disaster but finds herself shunned by them instead. This atypical inversion frames how people can bond together during suffering while at the same time clinging to their scars to justify refusing to change. At times uplifting and frustrating, Animal’s People uses a real-world tragedy as its backdrop to deliver a firm message.
8. Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago
Throughout history, humankind has been obsessed with the end of life and how to prevent it. In a small unnamed country, death simply ceases to occur one New Year’s Day. At first, it’s a cause for celebration: with life’s greatest terror no longer looming, there will be nothing but joy. But the reality of a world without death soon sets in, and soon the underpinnings of society—from religion to simple healthcare—begin to unravel as people question the value of living if it never comes to close. Following in the tradition of magical realism, Saramago’s story unfolds with elements of fantasy and science-fiction, but remains all too real at its heart, painting a stark picture of the necessity of death for life to continue.
9. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Tazaki is a thirty-six-year-old man who feels isolated from his once serene life. In high school, he had a close-knit group of friends who all abruptly stopped talking to him in his second year of college without explanation. Following this, people gradually began to vanish from his life, leaving him to wonder if it’s he is predestined to be alone. It’s not until his new girlfriend Sara prompts him to track down his old friends and confront them that he realizes how stuck in the past he is. This novel loses Murakami’s trademark bent for magical realism, focusing instead on the very real fracturing of relationships. The results are similar to his earlier effort Norwegian Wood but feature a wider cast of characters and an ever-growing conflict.
10. Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski
Considered one of the brutal and controversial novels about the Holocaust, Painted Bird follows the travels of a young boy accused of being Jewish as he travels throughout villages in Eastern Europe after being separated from his parents. What he sees and directly experiences slowly changes his perspective on the war and living in general. Even within the presumed seclusion of small towns and villages, citizens engage in violent acts against each other, openly indulging in criminal behavior. The bleak depiction of wartime life in the region was widely praised upon its original release in the 1960s. Though it has always been marketed as a work of fiction, the author originally insisted it (or parts of it) were autobiographical, leading some to label him a fraud. Despite this, if you can embrace the work as fiction, it’s incredibly touching and troubling in equal measure.