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The Books That Shaped My Life

Author: Alice Chorley

Hi lovely RMS readers. I’m Alice and I have recently joined the RMLtd family.
I’ve worked in the wedding industry for almost nine years & have known Charlotte for about as long. It turns out Charlotte & I have the same taste in makeup (I.e we like it. A LOT) & I have the same taste in music and podcasts as Adam (i.e. Lauren Laverne on 6 Music and Adam Buxton) so hopefully that means we’ll all get on, too.

I also love reading. I genuinely think that a well thought out book is one of the best gifts you can buy someone. I used to have a notebook where I wrote down new books to read, then the list went on to my phone & now it’s straight onto my Amazon wish list.

Below I have listed the 5 books that have shaped/moulded/affected my life. I maybe wouldn’t go as far as to say they have changed it, but they have certainly made me view the world in a different way.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram

This is not a children’s book post, I promise. Just bear with me. This book will always remind me of my mum, in fact she still says ‘I love you to the moon and back’.
I recently went to a baby shower and we all had to bring a children’s book. I bought this one and the coos from all the women when the mother-to-be opened it was so heartwarming.
I think it’s the most perfect children’s book because its just so simple and beautiful. It teaches to love your family, think about what they meant to you, and most importantly, to say it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is my guilty pleasure. I know it’s not the most eloquent writing, I know there are gaping plot holes, I know the ending of every chapter feels like clickbait but I just love. It.
I’m super happy because they are everywhere at the moment. The Good Girl, The Girl On the Train, The Girl Before. Hell, you put a ‘Girl’ in the title and a massive plot twist and I’m yours. Discovering this type of book was great to me because I find them so easy to read. I’m not a massive fan of the ‘chick lit’/traditional ‘holiday reads’ but with these books, I can just pick up when my brain is tired but I feel I should do something with it to stop myself blindly scrolling through Instagram.

Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley

This is the book that I come back to year after year. The book starts in Cornwall (on the Camomile Lawn, hence the name) in 1939 where a group of cousins meet, as they do every year, at their aunts house. It then follows the family and their friends as the War takes over their lives. Generally, I don’t really read history/war novels but the descriptions of wartime London are just so atmospheric that I get completely gripped.
But also, this isn’t ‘a book about war’. The older I get, the more I understand some of the characters more and some of them less. I have read it so many times that I honestly now feel like the characters are my friends, which just shows how incredible Mary Wesley’s writing it. Essentially, this book is about relationships – with family, friends, the rest of the world. It’s about juvenile lust, adult love and an event that changed everyone’s lives forever.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong era? I do all the time and this books always makes it worse/better.
The first chapter starts when Patti was born in 1946 but then quickly leaps forward to 1967 to when a young Patti Smith moves from Chicago to New York. She quickly meets the creative, inspiring & wild Robert Mapplethorpe. There starts a wonderful love affair that will span years but also sexual orientation & artistic endeavours. They both have nothing, then have something, then they have everything.
I have suggested this book to so many people who are visiting New York. You need to crack the spine on it as you are flying over the Hudson & it will devour you, as New York itself does. It’s the most perfect love letter to the city in the 70’s. Think the Chelsea Hotel, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, smoking too much, drinking too much & redefining what art & love means.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

This book was given to me just after my dad died a few years ago and I was desperately sad, but it’s the book that I feel has helped me more than I can describe at particularly dark moments.

It is essentially a collection of agony aunt letters that were all written to ‘Sugar’ on a US blog called The Rumpus. (‘Sugar’ is actually Cheryl Strayed, who is an author and wrote ‘Wild’ which has since been turned into a film with Reese Witherspoon).

If Just Kids is a love letter to NY, Tiny Beautiful Things feels like a love letter to humanity. I have gifted it to so many friends since, all of whom have been going through a massive, life changing event. At a crossroads and have no idea which path to take? There’s a letter for that. Someone you love died and left a hole in your heart? It’s happened to someone else, too. A friend has let you down in a seemingly irreversible way? Take a deep breath and open the book.

It sounds depressing, I know, but it’s the most life affirming book I have ever read. Sugar doesn’t always have the answers, (in fact, I should put in a disclaimer that her writing can sometimes feel like a Richard Curtis film and I appreciate that I am also guilty of this occasionally), but the biggest lesson that I took from this book is you are not alone. There’s always someone out there on your side.

Maybe you’re a book worm like me or you only read on the train to work, or in the bath. Maybe you are a busy mum so haven’t read a full book since your baby was a tiny tot but hopefully there is something for most styles here.

Which books have moulded you? I’m sure there are some surprising ones in there, if you really think about it. Also, which books can I buy my friends next?!

Have a wonderful, sunny bank holiday, everyone! x

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24 thoughts on “The Books That Shaped My Life

  1. 👏🏻 Love a good book post! (And lovely to meet you, Alice)

    I’ve always identified as a bookworm, but lost my reading mojo the last few years, because full time jobs, not being sure what I wanted to read as an adult, having a baby all got in the way. I’ve been rediscovering it big time this year after receiving an enormous stack of books for Christmas and my birthday. Gone Girl is one of the ones that got me hooked again, as I remember being a bit frustrated by the voice to begin with but was completely hooked in by the end of that first chapter, trying to figure out what could be trusted and what couldn’t.

    In terms of books that have shaped me, I’m a children’s book geek, and Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman are up their, but I’m also an English lit graduate, so I’m as much shaped by the Icelandic sagas, the restoration poets and Vanity Fair, not to mention the books I never even managed to finish (the Mysteries of Udolpho, I’m looking at you) which for some reason still have a hold over me.

    I’m still working my way down the present pile, with the Essex Serpent and The Book of Dust still to read. But I’ll be going on holiday next month, so will be after a few holiday book recommendations…

    1. Hi Rebecca! I also have a stack of books next to my bed and one of them is the Book of Dust. I love Philip Pullman and I’ve heard it’s brilliant.
      I’m currently reading (but not yet finished) Matt Haig – How To Stop Time. I’m really enjoying it, I think it would be a good holiday read x

      1. Hi Alice. Great post! I love that your memories of experiencing books as a child are still with you today. I’m a teacher and make sure that we read something every day – even picture books (albeit more grown up ones by Shaun Tan or Marcia Williams) or just a chapter of a novel. It’s so important to give children the space to lose themselves and develop their imagination.
        I agree with the Matt Haig novel – read it recently and loved it. Incidentally his podcast with Fearne Cotton was a really interesting listen in terms of mental health.

        Highly recommend House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. Very similar to your Mary Wesley as it’s an expanding familial saga but is so delicate in its treatment of relationships. Xx

        1. Thank you, Lianne. I agree with the books for children, I could have basically written an entire post about books I read as a child that I still think about (Roald Dahl, Rudyard Kipling, A.A Milne etc.)
          I haven’t listened to that Matt Haig podcast yet, but I will. Have you read ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’? That’s also brilliant but very different to his other books.
          I will definitely also look up House of the Spirits, sounds perfect! x

  2. Love a good book post and recommendation! I think my favourite book of all time has to be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier but I love a good thriller (the “girl” in the title books) as I can just whizz through them, pure escapism.

    I would say the two books that have shaped my life are A Little Life by Yanagihara Hanya and The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Kirby. I really feel as though EVERYONE should read the latter!! X

    1. Rebecca is also on my bedside table, Sarah! I think we are all going to get along very well 🙂
      Thank you for the recommendations. I’ve heard of A Little Life (but not read it) but never heard of The Optician of Lampedusa. I’m buying it now! x

  3. I read most nights and quite often choose an early night curled up in bed with my kindle rather than sitting downstairs watching tv. I like to blame my crazy 2 year old but I’ve just always enjoyed reading.

    I too love the Gone Girl / Girl on the Train / Girl Before type books, they’re just so easily read and addictive. Diane Chamberlain is one of my favourite authors, for her characters and the twists in each story. I also like the Jack Reacher series but could never watch the films because I can’t get over Tom Cruise playing the character!

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is my all-time favourite book though, I usually re-read it about once a year. It would definitely be my recommendation to everyone. I’m currently reading The Keeper of Lost Things and really enjoying it as it’s different and to all the psychological thrillers that are out at the moment.

    I look forward to getting some new recommendations from this post! Thanks Alice.

    1. Ahh yes The Night Circus! Excellent choice, Suzy. I’m really pleased to hear that other people re-read books. My fiance thinks I’m mad!
      The Keeper of Lost Things has been added to my list, it sounds right up my street x

      1. I’m also a re-reader (that’s how books/characters become like friends family, and also I’m always forgetting details if I don’t pick them up again). I loved The Night Circus when I read it, but it was a borrowed book so I haven’t had a chance to reread it.

        I’ve recently finished The Power – has anyone else read that yet? I’m really curious what other people thought of it if they have?

  4. Hey Alice!! I’m a big reader too.
    I’d say the stand out books in my life have been Under The Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon-McKenna. It’s the story of three kids who have no choice but to travel alone on foot across Ireland during the famine.
    I also loved In The Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (the true story of a ten-year-old boy escaping Taliban rule in Afghanistan).
    Also a big old fan of Paulo Coelho’s famous book The Alchemist.
    Going to add a few of your picks to my Goodreads app. I’m always on the lookout for new reads!

    1. Hey Naomi! I’ve heard very good things about The Alchemist.
      I’ve never heard of Under the Hawthorn Tree but I visited Iceland a few years ago so that will make it to the top of my list now! It’s a magical place. Thank you for your suggestions x

  5. After feeling at rock bottom suffering with Anixety and Depression. I walked around Sainsbury’s in a daze one day wondering why I was bothering with life anymore. I came across Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It was just what I needed to read at that moment, it almost saved me. Sounds a bit dramatic but it really did give me Reasons To Stay Alive.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Kirsty. It is a really wonderful book, the subject matter is incredibly serious but I found it very up lifting. I have read certain chapters of it many times. I would definitely recommend Tiny Beautiful Things for you. I hope you are starting to feel a bit better x

  6. What a lovely post Alice! You’ve made me want to read each and every one on your list. It is so hard to narrow down books that have moulded me/stuck with me but here are a few: Birdsong, Half of a Yellow Sun and Northern Lights. Can we compare notes when you’ve read Book of Dust, please?! X

    1. Oh yes please! I bet you can’t wait for your Lyra to get a bit older and read all about herself in those books 🙂 xx

  7. Love this post … my Amazon shopping list just got a lot longer!!!! I’ve always loved reading, and still manage to read every night, even if it’s only a couple of pages before I fall asleep!! I’m trying to read some different things recently, instead of the always the same genre (or even the same book – one silver lining of my frazzled mum brain is that I can reread Jack Reacher books and not remember what happens!!!), and it’s been interesting reading things I might not otherwise have picked up. The classic one that I can read over and over again is Little Women. I also really enjoyed the Kate Mosse Citadel trilogy, and she has a new book out now, The Burning Chambers, which I’m waiting for paperback … I hate reading hard back novels in bed!! I recently bought The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead for my Mum and really enjoyed borrowing it!! We’ve both enjoyed The Keeper of Lost Things recently too.

    1. Great suggestions, thank you Amy! Really pleased you liked the post. I also love Kate Mosse and feel the same about hard back novels in bed!

    2. Haha, I’m the same. I re-read all the Jack Reacher books while I was pregnant! I just wonder how one man can be so unlucky.

  8. Great post, Alice
    Books I loved to read, inspired me
    In teen years “Just like everybody else” by Lillian Rosen
    “Last Chance to see” by Douglas Adams (and of course the Hitchhikers books)
    Ian Rankin, everything with Rebus. (That started, when I went to a language course in Edinburgh and I loved that I was able to follow Rebus around the city.)
    Several by Rita Mae Brown (“Six of one” in my opinion the best)
    “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg that adds a new dimension to the film with Mary Stewart Masterson, Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy and Mary-Louise Parker

    I’m going to check “The Optician of Lampedusa”

  9. Love this post and all the comments! I lost my reading mojo after having my first baby, but I’m trying to get back into it now number 2 is sleeping a bit more and in her own room. Ive always been an avid reader since I was a child, and I flirt between different genres. My all time favourite books are The beautiful and damned and Atonement. I absolutely love Fitzgerald, the way he writes is like nobody else and I find myself re reading lines over and over because his way with language is so beautiful. I think Ian McEwan is also a beautiful writer, describing the smallest thing so carefully that I can see it perfectly. Neither of these books changed my life but I could read them over and over again and they strengthened my love of reading.

  10. Fab post! I am a total bookworm always with a book or two on the go! And for me nothing beats breakfast in bed at the weekend with a good book 😊🤓The books that have stayed with me and touched my heart in some way:
    A Little Life – Yanagihara Hanya (which I came across on a different post on here and someone had recommended it)
    Life after Life – Kate Morton
    Wild – Cheryl Strayed (I read this when I was feeling very lost in myself and I found it an inspirational read…and the film with Reese Witherspoon in it is also good)
    Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts (I just love this book so much)
    The Secret History – Donna Tartt (all about human relationships and what lies beneath)

    My wish list on Amazon has got bigger this morning…which is great with an upcoming holiday 😊

  11. I have been reading Harry Potter since I was 13 years old and I can wholeheartedly say that it has saved my life on a number of occasions. I know that essentially it is a child’s book, but it continues to teach us all about what it means to be good, what true friendship looks like and that perseverance in the face of difficulty gets you everywhere. Those books are my best friends. As an adult, I have loved Laura Barnett’s The Versions of Us. It is such an interesting story and has really made me think about the people in my life and how they are meant to be there and how they shape you – it is completely moving. I also write notes of books to read. I think I will add Camomile Lawn to the list – it sounds very different to what I usually read!

  12. The book that has most made me stop and think is Veronica Decides to Die by Pauli Coelho. I tend to remember books that move me as well, Xinran’s Good Women of China is such an amazing book that I always recommend. My other favourites are Lolita, Bel Canto and Perfume, for the beautiful writing as much as the stories they tell.

  13. I second a lot already listed here, (especially Shantaram!) but one not mentioned is Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s a great one for book lovers and I’ve read it several times but always forget the twist at the end!

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