Two little girls reading books
Jennifer Leach English’s daughters explore books.

Books That Changed Us

Reading is one of the world’s great joys” and “one of the few things you can do alone that can make you feel less alone,” notes journalist Will Schwalbe in a recent Wall Street Journal essay. “It is a solitary activity that connects you to others. Lately I’ve been reminded of the intoxicating, transformative power of reading because my seven-year-old has made the glorious leap from struggling to read to reading for fun. I take great delight in hearing her giggle as she silently enjoys one of the hilarious tales from Judy Blume’s Fudge series, which I vividly remember reading in my ­childhood ­bedroom.

When I call my daughter’s name and she ignores me, I secretly love it because I can see she’s lost in the ­magical world of a good book. I know what that’s like. When Schwalbe says he envies anyone who hasn’t read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, I can relate, because I have that same feeling whenever people tell me they haven’t yet discovered her equally transcendent Beloved. Another of my favorites, for totally different reasons, is The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. I read both books many years ago, and I still think about them all the time.

We’ve heard lots of heated debates about the relative merits of reading books in print or digitally, but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re turning pages or holding a Kindle. What matters is that you read.

Staff Favorites
I asked our editorial team to recall books that left a mark on them. Here are a few of their picks and comments:


The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (“To this day Lily Bart haunts me.
Beautiful and useless. Too moral to do what she has to do.”)

• One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (“The story of an inmate’s day in a post-WWII
Russian prison camp shows humanity can persevere under seemingly intolerable circumstances.”)

• Shogun, by James Clavell (“A richly woven tapestry depicts Japan’s feudal period, and the effect of an Englishman, marooned there by a storm and embroiled in local politics.”) 

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck (“A moving statement about people’s potential to do good and evil.”)

Chesapeake, by James Michener (“This epic tale of early America transported me to another place and time.”)


• The Portable Dorothy Parker, by Dorothy Parker (“Where I learned that as a woman, you don’t have to be ‘nice.’”)

• Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and Emerson’s Essays: First and Second Series, by Ralph Waldo Emerson (“The linear essay format coupled with American exceptionalism speaks to me. The calls for individualism and self-reliance speak to early teenagers.”)

• Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (“I love Gladwell’s contrarian intellect, comprehensive research, and clarity of thought. As a parent, I wanted to understand success, and Outliers broke
it down for me.”)

• The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vols. 1–4, by Robert Caro (“Painstaking research and superb writing elevate these books, which also benefit from Caro’s ability to avoid painting his subject as all good or bad—he shows you both sides of Johnson in full.”)