Power in Words: Books that Change Our Lives
By Lottie Nilsen / January - February 2012

Reading is a wonderful thing. From the time we are children, we learn about the magic of words and how descriptions, conversations, characters and plots can transport us to other places and other worlds. Books can inspire, provoke empathy, arouse anger, and touch us in ways that make us fuller human beings.

Books have the power to change our lives. Sometimes it's fiction, sometimes it's non-fiction. It may be the re-telling of a story that has changed someone else's life, or the vivid imagination and soulfulness of an author that sparks a profound and life-changing wave, the ripple effects of which are felt for a long time. What these books have in common is that they speak to deep-seated needs and desires, which often overlap both personal and professional aspects of our lives.

Journalist Daisy Whitney, who lives in California, counts Tim Ferris' The Four-Hour Work Week and Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture among her life-changing books. "They both say so much about what matters and how to live your life," she says. " The Last Lecture is such a heart-breaking and beautiful perspective on time and transience and focusing on what matters. The Four-Hour Work Week gives the tools to achieve that -- it gives you a framework for how to create the lifestyle you want."
Whitney, author of The Mockingbirds, grew up in South Florida. She said, "For me, applying some of the principles from both books over the last few years gave me the time I needed to be with my kids more and to write more."

For documentary filmmaker Scott Moore of Nashville, Tennessee, a life-changing book focused on creating a life-changing experience for others -- Producing with Passion: Making Films That Change the World by Dorothy Fadiman. "The book basically boils down the fact that, although filmmaking is more difficult than it is worth on the surface, the legacy of a powerful story will continue to impact the world for good long after I am dead and gone," said Moore, who is currently producing Becoming Fools about children who grow up on the streets of Guatemala.

When Boca Raton writer Allison Nazarian read the perennial Judy Blume classic Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret at the age of 9 or 10, it resonated so deeply with her that it sparked her own life's journey toward helping people put their stories into words. "Not only did this book give me more insight into the angst and reality of teenage girlhood than did my own mother or friends, but I kept my tattered copy of the book for some day' when my own daughter could read it," Nazarian said.

Joan Didion's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir about grief and mourning, was a great help to Coconut Creek's Marc Reese. "It was the only thing that helped me process my mother's sudden death at age 62," he said. "It helped me continue on with my life."

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin's memoir about the year she spent testing the wisdom of the ages, scientific studies and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier, became a New York Times' number one best seller, and inspired and motivated Boca Raton's Robin Frankel to do yoga regularly.

Millions of American women felt a connection to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, a 2006 memoir about the author's round-the-world journey in search of a life of integrity and balance. The book spent 187 weeks on the New York Times' bestseller list and was made into a movie starring Julie Roberts. Stephanie Marcus of Boca Raton was a fan of the book, "I really identified with her struggle to accept her life. And her journey, though global in scope, kind of mirrors my own internal journey."

Then there is the good book, the one that has influenced modern civilization, spawning more conflict, devotees, and passion than any other: the Bible. "I have to admit that, when I'm looking for a little bit of wisdom, I go to the Bible," said Korey Sorge, a physics professor at Florida Atlantic University. "It's not intended to be a science book. It's not intended to be a way to browbeat others. Even the Ten Commandments and the 'laws' are not really meant to be a way to judge others. They are a way for you to look at yourself. I think it is a book that is really misunderstood by a lot of people, myself possibly included. There are a lot of non-intuitive, tough lessons in that book, all amid an overall message of hope."

If you're looking for a little change or a big inspiration in your life, look no further than a book. Whether it's an ancient tome or a 20th century masterpiece like The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, books provide a window to life in all its richness and complexity.

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