10 Books That Will Make You a Better Human Being
We all have moments that change us. Sometimes, they come to us in unexpected forms – a line in a movie, perhaps a quote from a book. So many songs have brought change to the lives of people, and even paintings have proven to have done the same.
1. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Some stories are like the moon. You read them the first time, and you think you understand. But then time passes, and you grow older; and when you read it again, you suddenly realize that there is so much more to the story than you initially thought. The Little Prince is such a story. It follows the story of a pilot stranded in the desert, who meets a young prince – the eponymous Little Prince.
The little fair haired man then goes on to tell the pilot about his adventures, about his rose on his home planet B-612, the other asteroids and stars he had visited, and all the peculiar characters he met. It is arguably a children’s book, with the soft water color illustrations… but reading it again as an adult, I realized how subtle and emotional the story really was. I was fascinated by how imaginative the story seemed as a child – and as an adult, I took so many nuggets of wisdom from it. The Little Prince is a story for all ages – a must read for anyone.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
2. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Another nugget of wisdom disguised as a children’s book is The Velveteen Rabbit. It follows the story of the velveteen rabbit, who is given to a young boy as a Christmas present. However, the young boy prefers the other more modern toys, and ultimately ends up snubbing the little rabbit. He ends up having a conversation with the Skin Horse, who is the oldest and wisest toy in the nursery, and tells him about toys magically becoming real… and all because they are loved by the children.
We then follow the rabbit’s journey, as he turns into one of the child’s most precious possessions, and strives to become ‘real’…
The Velveteen Rabbit is a touching tale that teaches us that loving means accepting the possibility of hurting – and thus growing. A wonderful tale that touches the hearts of both old and young.
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
3. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Sophie’s World – or as I like to call it, the crash course to Philosophy and Imagination. The story deals with Sophie Amundsen, a teenage girl living in Norway, who starts receiving mysterious postcards… and thus she begins her education under the tutelage of Alberto Knox, a middle-aged philosopher.
The story is very linear, although it is best read in bits and pieces, to allow Alberto’s lesson to fully sink into your mind. As such, Sophie’s World is a reminder for us to never lose our sense of wonder and fascination, and that not everything in this world is truly as it seems.
“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”
― Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World
4. Manual of the Warrior of Light by Paulo Coelho
This book is exactly what the title implies – a manual. But really, it is a collection of Mr. Coelho’s teachings summed up into one beautiful volume. It is a perfect companion for all the dreamers and the fighters, for those who strive to reach for the beauty and miracles that can be found in life.
It takes on the form of being a manual for paladins and warriors, giving apt advice and food for thought. If you wish to become a better human bean this 2016, then reading this manual will be the perfect start for you.
“Although I have been through all that I have, I do not regret the many hardships I met, because it was they who brought me to the place I wished to reach.”
― Paulo Coelho
5. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I’m sure you’ve heard of Fight Club before – maybe even read a quote or two from it. Perhaps you’ve even watched the movie. However, reading the book is an entirely different treat. Fight Club is about an unnamed protagonist who is struggling with insomnia. He finds relief by impersonating a seriously ill person and attending several support groups. He then meets Tyler Durden, a mysterious man, and establishes an underground fighting club. Thus you will be dragged into their world, one that is not always sane and safe…
You’ll be faced with demons you never knew you had. You’ll be challenged. Your thoughts will be challenged. Your beliefs will be challenged. It may want to make you get out of your chair and be punched in the gut, too. Whatever it is, I can guarantee you that this novel will make you feel SOMETHING, at least – a small spark, a lasting impression. You have been warned.
“Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don’t you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can’t think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you’re supposed to read? Do you think every thing you’re supposed to think? Buy what you’re told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
6. Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn
The story of Anna is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Fynn meets Anna one night, while on his usual wanderings. He finds her as this young little thing, frightened and cold. He decides to take her home to take care of her – and his life has never been the same from that moment on.
To quote the book, ““The difference from a person and an angel is easy. Most of an angel is in the inside and most of a person is on the outside.” These are the words of six- year old Anna, sometimes called Mouse, Hum, or Joy. At five years, Anna knew absolutely the purpose of being, knew the meaning of love, and was a personal friend and helper of Mister God. At six, Anna was a theologian, mathematician, philosopher, poet, and gardener. If you asked her a question you would always get an answer in due course. On some occasions the answer would be delayed for weeks or months; but eventually, in her own good time, the answer would come: direct, simple, and much to the point.”
The book is a reminder of how children are wonderful philosophers, and in all their childhood innocence, are capable of truly and honestly loving, as it is supposed to be. It chronicles their three-year stay together – as she tackles the questions of love, life, and death.
“Fynn, I love you.’ When Anna said that, every word was shattered with the fullness of meaning she packed into it. Her ‘I’ was a totality. Whatever this ‘I’ was for Anna it was packed tight with being. Like the light that didn’t fray, Anna’s ‘I’ didn’t fray either; it was pure and all of one piece. Her use of the word ‘love’ was not sentimental or mushy, it was impelling and full of courage and encouragement. For Anna, ‘love’ meant the recognition of perfectibility in another. Anna ‘saw’ a person in every part. Anna ‘saw’ a ‘you’. Now that is something to experience, to be seen as a ‘you’, clearly and definitely, with no parts hidden. Wonderful and frightening.”
– Fynn, Mister God, This is Anna
7. Momo by Michael Ende
Meet Momo – a tiny girl, scrawny almost. She popped up at the amphitheater outside the city one day. No one knows where she came from, no one knows where her parents are. She doesn’t know how read or write, how to count, and she doesn’t know how old she is. However, what she does know is how to listen – and when she listens, she listens real good. She makes a lot of friends this way, including Beppo, the street-cleaner, and Gigi, a poetic tour guide.
However, all of this is ruined when the Men in Grey arrive, and suddenly, everyone is incredibly busy and running out of time, or so it seems… Momo embarks on a journey to find out the origin of these Men in Grey – a journey to bring everyone’s time back.
A sensible commentary on how chasing after the wrong things can, ultimately, ruin you. The characters are lovable, almost like they are good friends you know in person, and the sensible writing underlines the atmosphere of the story.
“…it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop–and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.
You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.
That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.
And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. what’s more, you aren’t out of breath. That’s important, too…”
― Michael Ende, Momo
8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
This particular story has been written twice – it was first published as a short story in 1959, and in 1966, the novel expanded on the events in the short story. It follows the story of Charlie Gordon, a 32-year old man with an I.Q. of 68. He becomes involved with a project that is meant to highly increase his intelligence. He ends up meeting Algernon, a lab rat who also has undergone the same project.
The story touches upon the ridicule that mentally handicapped people have to face, the cruelty of man, and how intellect can become the very thing that wedges a wall between you and other people.
“Although we know the end of the maze holds death (and it is something I have not always known–not long ago the adolescent in me thought death could happen only to other people), I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being–one of many ways–and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.”
― Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 takes place during World War II, following the misadventures of a cast of complex characters. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. He wants out of the war. The war doesn’t want him out, or so it seems. He says he’s the only one sane left, everyone else is crazy for wanting to kill him. They say he’s crazy for not wanting to kill anyone. And so we look into the experiences of these men, as they each try to hold on to their shred of sanity… all written in an incredibly humorous way.
This book is funny when it’s funny and it punches you in the gut when it’s not. All of the characters are described with such richness and in such vivid detail that you can hardly call any of them a “minor character”. And most importantly, the story is told in such an interesting way that you will be constantly kept on your toes.
“They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
And what difference does that make?”
― Joseph Heller, Catch 22
10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
The whole journey of Edward Tulane can be summarized with a quote from the book: “If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.” It follows the journey of Edward Tulane, a china rabbit. He was given to a young girl who treats him with the utmost love and respect, until one unfortunate day when he falls off a ship. Thus begins his journey of transformation – spending 297 days on the ocean floor, before being found by a fisherman… and then being passed on from one person to another.
An incredibly beautiful book, it speaks of love and hurt with such profound sensibility, you will find yourself reaching for it time and time again.
“I have already been loved,” said Edward. “I have been loved by a girl named Abilene. I have been loved by a fisherman and his wife and a hobo and his dog. I have been loved by a boy who played the harmonica and by a girl who died. Don’t talk to me about love,” he said. “I have known love.”
― Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Have any of these books caught your fancy? Make sure to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments, and don’t forget: you can never read too many books!