Fiction that changes (daily) lives?
March 16, 2017 3:54 PM   Subscribe

What are some fiction books you've read that changed your outlook on daily life after you finished them? I'm thinking of books that have the potential to make daily life seem more interesting and adventurous, or to give a new perspective on the seemingly mundane. Maybe they cause you to adopt a new persona, or envision yourself as a character involved in some sort of intrigue. Non-fiction will be considered, but I'm not looking for self-help books so much as inspiration to see things in a more exciting light.
posted by iamisaid to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 203 users marked this as a favorite
Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger. Way better than that more famous book of his.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:20 PM on March 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

Fanny and Zooey by JD Salinger, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Merry Go Round by Somerset Maugham. This last one isn't considered one of Maugham's best, but I loved it.
posted by chocolatetiara at 4:21 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

What a great question! All of these books changed my perspective and made me aware of possibilities (some internal, some external):

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

The Poisonwood Bible
, by Barbara Kingsolver

The World To Come by Dara Horn

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters
by Julian Barnes
Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives
(short stories) by David Eagleman
posted by Mchelly at 4:33 PM on March 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

Early Nicholson Baker. The Mezzanine recounts the thoughts of one person as he ascends an escalator on his way to work. Room Temperature does the same thing with a parent giving baby a bottle. I used to reread The Fermata whenever I felt my sense of humor waning.
posted by janey47 at 4:40 PM on March 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

Jitterbug Perfume and Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, w/Haley
Vernon God Little, DBC Pierre
The Plague, Camus

oddly, i adore a quirky modern novel, Rocket City, Catherine Alpert. The characters just stuck to me. And dialog. And...everything.
posted by j_curiouser at 4:50 PM on March 16, 2017

Anna Karenina taught me how to small talk at parties and all sorts of other social skills because I was apparently raised by wolves.
posted by dismitree at 5:02 PM on March 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

Bel Canto always reminds me of the magic of relationship. I read it every year.
posted by anya32 at 5:08 PM on March 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

Not a book, but the movie "My Life As a Dog"
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 5:17 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Robert Sapolsky A Primate's Memoir, is funny, touching and deeply informative. Non-fiction, Science-y Memoir
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on March 16, 2017

I hesitated to suggest this, since you strongly prefer fiction, but Annie Dillard's essay Total Eclipse is a piece of writing that I think about surprisingly often over the course of a surprisingly large number of years. It makes me aware of my awareness simply to recall the story she tells. If you've never read it, I think it will surprise you, and with luck you will relish it as I do.
posted by janey47 at 5:27 PM on March 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

Henry Miller's Tropic Of Cancer.
"I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive."
I left on my open ended motorcycle trip on a bike named Henry.
posted by JohnR at 5:31 PM on March 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

...can it be a book for kids? Because the answer is always Lizard Music.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:32 PM on March 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

Life After God by Doug Coupland
posted by roll truck roll at 5:44 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I just joined MetaFilter after 10+ years of lurking to answer this wonderful question! Making one's daily life seem more interesting and adventurous strikes me as the whole point of D. H. Lawrence. My favorite of his novels is The Rainbow.

(I also second many of these answers, especially "Total Eclipse"!)
posted by 826628 at 5:58 PM on March 16, 2017 [24 favorites]

Kim Stanley Robinson Years of Rice and Salt introduced me to the concept of the Four Great Inequalities that continues to stand me in good stead.

Similarly, Stephen Baxter's Evolution is a fascinating first-person view of the biological development of intelligence. A little hard-sciency but still a fun read.
posted by irisclara at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Can't pinpoint why, but Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar really did it for me.
posted by EL-O-ESS at 6:18 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Lydia Davis, for better or for worse.
posted by Beardman at 6:20 PM on March 16, 2017

This is a nonfiction recommendation, but Colin Jerolmack's The Global Pigeon was an absolutely life-changing work for me. It definitely makes daily life more interesting for me and completely changed the way I think about urban landscapes.
posted by naturalog at 6:37 PM on March 16, 2017

Illusions by Richard Bach for sure.

Crime and Punishment changed my psyche forever.

I won't life, basically all Vonnegut does that to me too.

j_curiouser, I'm as of right now barely in the middle of Skinny Legs and All, and I can definitely see the potential for it to be life-changing already.
posted by General Malaise at 7:09 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic question! There are a few book series that I find myself thinking about the characters and the world they inhabit, and revisit the books from time to time just because I miss them:

The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons - Now, the first book is known to take a bit to get into, but please, if you read it, hang in there!

Hyperion (book 1)
The Fall of Hyperion (book 2)
Endymion (book 3)
Rise of Endymion (book 4)

His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman - Love love love!
The Golden Compass (book 1)
The Subtle Knife (book 2)
The Amber Spyglass (book 3)
posted by vivzan at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn
Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson
The Dark Tower series, by Stephen King
posted by Slinga at 7:26 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Doris Lessing wrote this amazing and long series of novels, the Canopus in Argos series, of which The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, is the best, and most like what you're looking for. It's still a bit out there, but I encourage you to read it. It talks about these two personalities, each a sort of representative of their nations on the same world, falling into a complex yet passionate relationship as a result of a kind of unexplained intervention by a wiser, unseen, distant universal society. It resounds. It puts a deep, undeniable drum beat behind every waking action in daily life and relationships. It's wonderful.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:29 PM on March 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

I will never look at a sunrise or sunset the same way after reading The Age of Miracles.
posted by deadcrow at 7:39 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Annie Dillard's novel The Living. It's about the ever-changing assembly of people who are alive, the richness and brevity of each life, the richness of the world they keep on making and changing, how it feels to be alive and to know it won't last.
posted by Redstart at 7:41 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance taught me about gumption traps and that knowledge helped me my entire working life.
posted by Jesse the K at 7:51 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I love this question.

I first read it as an impressionable teenager, granted, but Aimee Bender's short story collection The Girl in a Flammable Skirt added a formative texture to my life that still shapes my perspective years later. It convinced me of the beauty in the grotesque, and the grotesque in the greatest treasures, and that it's okay to look. And that there is a narrative to be found in absurdity, motion to be found in the incomprehensible. Those ideas are part of my toolbox for interpreting life, either when life feels flat or when it feels overwhelming. The book also fed my imagination with strange possibilities about the lives of seemingly ordinary strangers.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 8:06 PM on March 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Nonfiction: Pilgrimage at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, when you realize it was written in suburbia.
posted by aniola at 8:48 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

The House Of Spirits by Isabel Allende. This book let me embrace the wierd and serendipitous experiences I've had throughout my life. There is a kind of magic in the world!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:15 PM on March 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Letters From The Earth -- Samuel Clemons (aka Mark Twain)
Wikipedia ~~~ Read the full text of Letters From The Earth ==> here
I am so lucky to have gotten a copy of this book in my hands in my teens. I was so angry at religion and all of its foolishnesses, Clemons steps up and calls it exactly how it is; he absolutely lampoons religion, absolutely lampoons humanity. It's fantastic, it's savagely, sarcastically, bitterly funny, no holds barred. Really, anything Clemons wrote in the last years of his life, after having lost his beloved wife, his beloved daughter, his money -- he got creamed, and he wrote about life as he really saw it. No holds barred.

Huckleberry Finn -- Samuel Clemons (aka Mark Twain)
Such a great book in so many ways. Learn all about humanity against the backdrop of two close friends drifting down the Mississippi River on a raft, at night. It's just great to watch Huck stay true to his friend, regardless that he was breaking all societal conventions by doing so -- he protected his runaway slave friend against all that he'd ever been taught. It's got circuses and con men and the Mississippi river on a raft, a great story told in six distinctly different dialects, and in that great story is the real story of Huck being true to his friend, being true to himself, becoming a great person. Hell of a book.

An Unfortunate Woman -- Richard Brautigan
Brautigans last book, written in the months prior to his committing suicide, I've read others who consider it his suicide note but I don't see it that way. His life was coming undone, he was lost in alcoholism, he's living in agony yet he writes as well or better (I think better) than anything he'd written prior. At the top of his game, able to turn inside a sentence as no other writer ever could or will, this book is fun, funny, dark as hell, lots of foreshadowing what was soon to come. Not published until almost 20 years after his suicide; his daughter had all of his belongings and she just could not face him on the page, hurt her too bad. But we got lucky, and she gave us this book. How has it changed me -- you want fiction that changes me. For one, just the sheer joy of reading him. But also to know that he pulled that off while in horrific depression, his whole world crumbling onto him. A remarkable writer.

The Godfather -- Mario Puzo
It's an engaging book but that's not why I'm including it here. The Godfather saw himself as no less a personage than any president or senator or judge, and he acted as they did, by killing whoever got in his way, the same as governments do.

All Quiet On The Western Front -- Erich Maria Remarque
Johnny Got His Gun -- Dalton Trumbo
War is humanity at its very worst. Both of these books detail in depth what it is to be in a war, perhaps the worst fighting conditions in any war. These young men -- boys, really, though they become men pretty much the instant that there are shells bursting and machine gun bullets slapping by, one bullet blowing their friends face apart. These are the people who fight the war, and not the fools that set the war in motion, and kept it in motion. It is not their fault that they are there, and there are moments of pure beauty in the heroism displayed by these men when under these appalling conditions. But all any of them wanted to do was go home, the German soldier more alike with the French soldier than he is with the German generals.

I've thought of about five more but it's bedtime here, fading fast -- gnite all!
posted by dancestoblue at 9:24 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
posted by brennen at 9:43 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is dense, confounding, psychedelic, hilarious, sprawling and blindingly intelligent. I don't even know where to begin to describe it. At least for me, it is the most mind-expanding book I've ever read.
posted by Leontine at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's kind of a Project to get through, but Infinite Jest probably changed my outlook more than any other fiction book I've read as an adult.
posted by potrzebie at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude as a teenager. It's not the only reason I see life as amazing and wonderful and strange, but it is definitely a large part of it.
posted by yankeefog at 2:18 AM on March 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

I love this question.

It sounds like the obvious answer here is James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

It's kind of hard to articulate what the difference between "impacted me in that I still think about them" and "changed my outlook and made me braver and more curious as a result" is--probably Hitchhiker's Guide and Jitterbug Perfume both taught me to take life less seriously. I don't know if Nicholson Baker and Richard Brautigan changed my personality, but they are such. good. writers.

Anyway, you might like this very motley assortment:

Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut (my favorite book, still)
Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder (a novelized history of philosophy)
The Glass Castle, Jeanette Wall (an inspiring but not sentimental memoir)
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (self-help in free verse)
posted by athirstforsalt at 3:26 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel taught me so much about love, compassion and the resilience of women. I read it in high school, and the main character is a very uncompromising old woman who is about to be put in a nursing home. For my teenaged brain, it completely changed how I saw the elderly generally, and elderly women specifically.

Geez now I have to re-read it. It's been way too long.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:56 AM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Anna Karenina.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:00 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

The discussions in Infinite Jest about how hard it is for addicts to get and stay clean made me a much more empathetic person.
posted by tayknight at 7:04 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I periodically reread "The Razor's Edge" by Somerset Maugham. It's a book about a quest for spiritual truth.

I also like "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair and "The Grapes of Wrath" by Steinbeck. When I read those books, I walk around my house feeling extremely grateful that I have food and running water.

And if you've never read "A Christmas Carol," it's really a great book about what's important in life.
posted by FencingGal at 7:20 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

I don't know about more exciting, exactly, but both of them really refocused elements of my worldview, and made certain cultural conventions suddenly look radically different.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:45 AM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a child, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

as an older child, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues by Tom Robbins (whichever book by him that I happened across first would have been life-changing, but it happened to be this one)

I was raised by religious conservative authoritarian parents in a very conservative region, and these two blew my head open, especially Robbins, of course.
posted by Occula at 8:31 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, Going Crazy: An Inquiry Into Madness in Our Time by Otto Friedrich, An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Rene Girard, and Ned Rorem's Paris and New York diaries. I read a lot of fiction but I guess it hasn't really changed my outlook much.
posted by mmw at 8:42 AM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. Am still processing/recovering from his version of the world in 2043.
posted by poodelina at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

White Oleander definitely did this for me. The way the characters experience their physical surroundings made me look at and experience the world a little differently. For example, I started deliberately rolling down my car window occasionally on cold days, just to feel the cold air/wind on my face. Allowing myself to be cold just so I could experience it. It’s been over 10 years and I still do this, so the book made a lasting impression. It kind of taught me to appreciate the good in things that are generally considered unpleasant.
posted by yawper at 12:32 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time absolutely blew my mind open as a 20-year old. I still think of it often, 20 years later, in so many different types of situations.

It made me think about sexuality in a new way. Even though I intellectually considered myself bisexual before reading it, it was the first book that made me really consider sexuality as fluid for everyone, and how much of our sexuality is a social construct.

It made me think about how to raise children to become independent, and I loved the rites of passage that kids completed when they themselves felt they were ready to embrace adulthood. How different would our world be if teens had been taught the skills to live off the land, and proved their readyness to leave childhood behind by surviving 3 days in the wild, then come back as a fully-fledged adult?

It made me think about how we structure our work - in Piercy's future world, everyone worked - kids, seniors - but only about 4 hours a day. So everyone participated and everyone had free time.

It made me think about how cities impact our psyche - the crowdedness, the compromises and things given up in order to make cities work.

It made me think about how the poor and mentally ill are treated in our society.

It made me think - it just made me think. A lot.

I think certain books come to you at a certain time when you are ready for them. If I hadn't read this book, I'm sure I would have learned/thought about these things in other ways. But this book is deeply special to me for all the different ways it made me think. I have recommended it to others, with mixed results. Some love it, some don't. For me, it's in my top 5 of most influential books. If you do read it, I hope you'll memail me and let me know how you liked it.
posted by widdershins at 2:10 PM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have to recommend one of my favorite books, Magnetic Field(s) by Ron Loewinsohn. It's a fairly short book, but his fluid prose has changed the way I look at everyday objects and spaces. It has prompted me to think about their histories and experiences and just slow down to observe what's around me. I really think it should be regarded as one of the all time great short novels.
posted by holmesian at 4:40 PM on March 17, 2017

The Fifth Sacred Thing
In the utopia described in the novel, the streets have been dug up and are replaced with gardens and fruit trees. Additionally, every house is equipped with a small garden plot. The food is available to everyone and access to food is not limited by money, power, or ownership. Farms where the city's fruit and vegetables grow are hidden behind the blocks of homes. There is plenty of food and everyone is said to have more than enough to eat. The gardens are lined with streams that run throughout the city. The only remnants of the pavement that once existed are narrow paths meant for walking, cycling, or rollerblading. These paths are accented with colorful stones and mosaics. The city is depicted as a beautiful town where everything is shared yet nothing is lacking.
posted by aniola at 6:02 PM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrellby Susanna Clark
The Grouse County trilogy by Tom Drury
Regeneration by Pat Barker
posted by Miss T.Horn at 1:48 PM on March 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Intimate Relationships by Rowland Miller is the one psych book that's sticked with me over the years and is an amazing read that helps you have better relationships as well.

Also all of Amy Hempel.
posted by wilywabbit at 6:29 PM on March 23, 2017

C'mon, no love for Joyce's Ulysses? :)
A single day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he crosses the city of Dublin. The universe of all life in the everyday.

Having said this, I would not recommend reading it cold. I'd get a group of likeminded people to read it as a group. And to pick up a copy of something like the New Bloomsday Book to serve as a guide.
posted by storybored at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2017

Ulysses is absolutely a life-changing book. A change for the worse is still a change.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:55 PM on March 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Late to the thread, but... Marcel Proust, "In Search of Lost Time." The microscopic examination of societal relationships - what people say to each other vs. what they say OF each other to other people. The way he writes in thought digressions - if you've ever been sitting and thinking then suddenly thought "how did I get onto this topic," well that's how he writes.

I think I was reading it right around the time my social circles in real life had a bit of a shake-up. Some people moved to town, and though they tried to be nice to some friends of mine, they ended up hated, although to me they were always pleasant, and whenever I tried to learn the motivations behind the dislike all I got was stories where there was easily another point of view to be found if only one chose to be open and empathetic instead of quickly judgmental.

Also the way Proust writes of a certain community over time, and of an outsider's first infatuation with that world and subsequent disillusionment as he becomes part of it. What looked gorgeous and exciting from one side is just a different sort of mundane and boring from another.
posted by dnash at 6:25 PM on March 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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