5 Novels That Will Change Your Life

I believe firmly in the power of fiction. A book is an experience that can change you just as much as any other experience can. Here are five books that influence the way you look at the world, in no particular order….

1. Winesburg, Ohio

What it’s about: This is a series of short stories following the lives of people living in a small town. The book follows George Willard on his coming-of-age journey, offering the reader a peek into the lives of unique, finely crafted characters along the way.
How it will change your life: If you’ve ever felt constrained by the pressures of life and beaten down by the invisible force of society, you will relate to these stories.
Were there ever a book in existence that could explain why people don’t escape the situations they find themselves in, this is it. If you’ve ever personally felt stuck and wondered why things never change for you, Winesburg, Ohio could help you make sense of it. It’s rich, complex characters find themselves in prisons of their own making, and while not all of them find their way out, they each have a lesson to teach. Their stories can help you realize what it is that seems to keep you in the same place, year after year, struggling with the same old problems.

2. Pale Fire

What it’s about: There is more than one way to kill a man. The narrator of this marvelous story claims to be giving the reader the true story behind his relationship with the author of a poem, and the meaning behind it. But as you read, you begin to realize that his story isn’t all that he claims.
How it will change your life: What is worse; bodily death or the twisting of your legacy? Nabokov’s book shows how dangerous and powerful words are, especially fiction. Anyone who wants to be a writer should pick up a copy of this and read it, because this short book will demonstrate to you how much more powerful a story can be than reality. One of the best works of “metafiction” of all literature, it invites you to create a “true” story that goes beyond the one you are being told by the narrator. Once you see Nabokov’s story-behind-a-story unfold in your imagination, you will have a whole new appreciation for what a storyteller can do.
Les Mis

3. Les Misarables

What it’s about: Jean Valjean was imprisoned for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. Afterward, he tries to lead a noble life, but circumstances put him on the wrong side of the law again, and he flees in order to fulfill the last request of a dying woman to take care of her child.
How it will change your life: As Christians, many of us have really simple, black-and-white notions of right and wrong. Victor Hugo’s book challenges those. Can a convict be a hero? Can a devoted and uncorrupt lawman be a villain? Is it always right to tell the truth, even if the life of an innocent hangs on your willingness to tell a lie?
Les Miserables invites you to take a hard look at the world being built around you, and how it treats the poor and the outcast. It portrays a world where prostitutes can be noble and the agents of worldly justice can be cruel. And it gives a keen look at what blind legalism can do when it’s pitted against conscience.
4/This Book is Full of Spiders (Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It.)
What it is: In the sequel to the hilarious John Dies at the End, slacker heroes John and Dave face off against the zombie apocalypse. Warning: contains the same language, violence, and sophomoric comedy found in the first book of the series, but with a tighter, more focused narrative that feels more like a novel than a web serial, which is how the story got its start.
How it will change your life: This is the most important book ever written in the zombie outbreak genre. Serious existential questions masquerade as comedy in a book that asks us why human beings like monster stories. You will never watch The Walking Dead or play The Last of Us with the same mindset after reading this book. David Wong writes a story that celebrates empathy in the face of disaster and harshly critiques a certain selfish survivalist mindset. If you want a zombie story that will make you look differently at every other zombie story you ever read or watch, this is the one. And the ending is one of the most brilliant resolutions to any story of this kind ever.

5. The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

What it’s about: The Pulitzer Prize winning story of a young geek whose life is haunted by his family’s struggles under a vicious dictator, and their immigration to the United States. Full of references that will charm any geek, from The Lord of the Rings to Dune, the story of Oscar Wao is post-colonialist literature meets nerd adventure.
How it will change your life: Just what is a curse? Oscar Wao thinks he knows the forces that have affected his family, but he learns that there are more insidious powers at work.
Readers should know going in that this book has a fair amount of swearing and some sexual content, but to those that are undeterred by that, this is one of those stories that has it all.  Christians will appreciate the examination of family curses. Geeks will love all the references to their favorite stories. Readers will adore the beautiful prose. But the reason it’s on this list is that it shows how real evil can work its power on entire generations. It shows the harm of systematic racism through the eyes of a wonderful geek hero. Oscar Wao is a great example of a Christ Figure in fiction done right, but don’t expect him to behave like one. Diaz’s hero is complex and beautiful, one of those fictional characters that, once met, is never forgotten.


A lover of Jesus and of fantastical fiction, Silas Green talks books and Christian living on Geeks Under Grace. He spends the rest of his free time trying to write stories and exploring the paradise island in the Pacific on which he is stranded.


  1. AshleyXRiot on April 26, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Pale Fire is awesome, and the Jdat sequel too. All around good choices for books that will make you think and change some points of view you have of things. I have’nt read the life of “… Life of Oscar Wao” and Winesburg, Ohio” though. I suggest you consider reading bizarro fiction, mainly Carlton Mellick III, he with his books make fiction like no other, using metaphors and really subtle social commentary in bizarre and strange situations (Crab Town is the best of his work to me). It changed a lot of my perspectives over the years, and let me tell you, there is nothing more thought provoking than reading about post apocaliptic towns and his residents hijacking a bank while talking about the government, satan owning a burger shop and the apathy and desperation of the future and the soul of mankind, ten feet brains that are a for some people art and erotic material from where one can draw inspiration, a society of people living in rubber giant balls and how everything is disconected from one an other person, and one of the best (altough not recognized by the author) social comentary about the industry of porn showed through a short story involving actors, the ocean, madness and jellyfishes.

    Overall, good list and I got here cause “This book if full of spiders”, but it also made me realize that the most fucked up thing you read is often the most insightfull sometimes.

    • silasgreen on April 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve never heard of Mellick before. I’m looking at those book covers and some of them are creeping me out! But… if there is something valuable within the pages of “I Knocked Up Satan’s Daughter” I may try to find it sometime. xD

  2. Maurice Pogue on April 7, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao changed my life alright. It made me second-guess if a career in academia was for me. The casualness of the book dripping with sex had me confused if this was erotica or a Pulitzer Prize winner. After all, the surface plotline of the novel concerns if Yunior can ever get Oscar laid, since Oscar is Dominican and it would be paradoxical for him to not be a womanizer. Then there are all these sub-plots concerning the women and the development of their sexuality, especially Lola, Oscar’s sister (and Yunior’s fling). Prostitution and rape not withstanding, the novel drips with sex…which is probably why it’s popular. Not because Diaz writes about how Oscar gets beat up and takes damage like a critical hit roll in D&D.

    I was least interested in the fuku. And its euphemisms…and the crass language of the novel in general. The novel takes the tone as if it’s audience is YA.

    From an academic standpoint, however, the sub-text/notes are fascinating and an entirely unique narrative in and of themselves. The historiography of Rafael Trujillo serves to inform readers of a character who was actually a real-life person, and sets the tone as to why the De Leons want to flee the Dominican republic.

    Pretty good commentary on intra-racial relations as well.

    • silasgreen on April 8, 2015 at 11:44 am

      Yeah, there’s questionable content. My writing group read this, and I think I enjoyed it the most out of all of them. The young women in the group basically thought the entire book was just about Oscar’s quest to lose his virginity, and were turned off by the character. I had a young friend who adored the novel (post-colonial literary theory was his entire world), and would defend it whenever people criticized Yunior’s character, explaining how suffering as a victim of generational post-traumatic stress was responsible for his inability to be faithful to Lola, or engage with Oscar over his geek pursuits.

      I loved the intertextual stuff (I’m also a huge fan of Magical Realism in fiction), but It was how the author tied everything together thematically, from the Geek references, to the family history under Trujillo, to Oscar’s character arc as he transformed from a person who had given up on life to finally finding himself and risking his life for love at the end. I was really impressed with the way Diaz handled the idea of the fuku, suggesting a real curse while also suggesting that what was hurting the family was nothing more supernatural than deep generational racial oppression. I thought it was a layered work, and while I can’t say I totally identified with Oscar’s personal quest (despite being perpetually single myself), I still thought the character was something special. 🙂

  3. Maddie on April 4, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    11/10 mentioned Les Miserables.

    Okay, but in all seriousness, it’s great. The pastor at my church showed it to us.

    • silasgreen on April 4, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      I haven’t seen the movie yet (or watched the famous stage musical). The book is really long, but so worth it. I really loved the character of Javert, even though he’s the antagonist. There is so much about faith and compassion in that story.

  4. Daniel Rodrigues-Martin on April 3, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    I liked PWOT back in the day. Nowadays, Cracked is just “Five Reasons Blah Blah.” I’ve had just about enough of that lazy format in….everything.

    Might look into picking up John Dies in the End.


    • silasgreen on April 4, 2015 at 9:25 pm

      Yeah, Cracked really sticks to that format, but I’ve noticed even here that when I put articles in list form, more people click on them, so I understand why they do it.

      John Dies at the End is worth your time. I’m a fan of David Wong’s writing, whether its his novels or his articles on Cracked. His newest novel, “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits,” is going to come out soon. I’m excited. =P

      • Daniel Rodrigues-Martin on April 4, 2015 at 10:54 pm

        I suppose I’m more frustrated that we as a culture are more interested in sound bites and punchy quotes than with…well, anything substantial.

        I of course state this as someone who spent the past six years essentially being a professional reader.

        Wong’s “George Lucas Interview” is to this day one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, and a definite inspiration for my own musings in the sci-fi/humor genre.


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