Books that changed my life: the sequel

Following a survey this week of books every woman should read, we asked readers to nominate their choices. Terri Judd reports
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The Independent Culture

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested," wrote the renaissance author Sir Francis Bacon.

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested," wrote the renaissance author Sir Francis Bacon.

It is this latter category which appears to have inspired so many Independent readers to write in and propose your preferred life-changing novel.

Earlier this week, we published a list of 40 books every woman should read, selected by female academics and artists surveyed by the team behind the Orange Prize for Fiction, and asked you to send in your own suggestions. The response proves a salutary lesson to any newspaper proprietor who has a stereotypical view of his (or her) readership. The selection was as unpredictable as it was diverse, ranging from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath to John Dos Passos's USA. Some were obvious classics, such as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, while many were obscure gems.

Several strong themes radiated through - equality (whether sexual, cultural or racial), empowerment, social justice and political consciousness. And while the original survey was about the choices made by women, many male readers opted to join in.

"The book that changed my life was Light in August by William Faulkner. The relationship between Joe Christmas and Miss Burden helped me to understand the dilemma of the mixed race person and their relationship with white people. No other writer as far as I know has written so well and so clearly about miscegenation," wrote Isabel Adonis, a writer herself on multicultural identity.

While Eryl Williams said of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell: "Its depiction of hopeless rage against the capitalist system ... turned me into a (so far) lifelong socialist. I suspect that Tony Blair has never read it."

Some books were chosen for inspiration, others for knowledge or humour. The life of Beatrice Khine, 29, might well have taken a very different turn without the inspiration of A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf. Arriving in the UK from Burma aged six, Ms Khine was caught between growing up in Eighties Britain and her traditional family. "As an Asian, female immigrant I was a triple outsider. I read this book when I was 16 and it crystallised and vocalised everything I had ever thought and considered about life for a woman. As a woman you were always somebody's chattel, their daughter, their granddaughter. This book taught me I could escape that. It made me think that I was not alone." She paid her own way through university and is now a corporate banker with Citigroup in London. "I had two jobs at university and that was the book that kept me going."


The Ladder of Years

Anne Tyler

"I believe that Tyler wrote this book for me. She taught me that although my children will grow up and leave me, I will survive and continue to grow as a person. I will weather the storm."

Miriam Halahmy

Brother of the More Famous Jack

Barbara Trapido

"This was my introduction to Trapido and an inspiration. Beautifully written, funny, whimsical and sad. Read everything by her: it will enhance your life."

Alison Moffatt

A Doll's House

Henrik Ibsen

"Reading this play gave me the courage to leave my dominating - sometimes physically dominating - husband after 20 years with him!"

Diana Hart

Color of Water

James McBride

"This is the most life-changing book I've ever read. It deals with a white Jewish mother with 12 black children: how they grew up, how she handled her life and kids. She's the strongest woman: it shows that if it can be done, you just do it."

Elaine Bramwell

If this is a Man

Primo Levi

"This is about humanity and survival against all odds. Levi didn't shrink from talking of the terrible actions concentration camp inmates had to take to live. I read it as a very young woman, and was profoundly moved."

Caroline Woollett

In the Beginning

Catherine Dunne

"About the strength of a woman, who has to find within herself the will to reinvent her life, after being left by her husband. I felt so strong when I finished that I had to read it again."

Claudia Alborghetti

Light in August

William Faulkner

"The relationship between Joe Christmas and Miss Burden helped me understand the dilemma of the mixed-race person and their relation to white people. No other writer I know has written so well about miscegenation"

Isabel Adonis, writer

Notes from the Underground

Fyodor Dostoevsky

"Read in my adolescence, it allowed me both to see that I was not alone, and that a vast complexity of thought and motivation existed in the people around me. I discovered the beauty of getting my mind off myself."

Katherine Carroll

Of Human Bondage

Somerset Maugham

"This was the first really adult book I read in my early teenage years which explored the relationships between men and women.''

Lesley Walker

The Raj Quartet

Paul Scott

"The quality of structure and writing skill captures the British abroad, colonialism, injustice, class, but also how strong, challenging personalities can strive to make things better"

Janet Drysdale


Emmet Grogan

"This book gave me a political consciousness and way of living and looking at the world. A great sex,drugs and rock'n'roll road novel, and also a political polemic and primer in anarchism and socialism as a way of life."

Anthony Owen

Stones From The River

Ursula Hegi

"It gave me a new appreciation of life. Trudi's life and hardships made my little problems seem frivolous. Ms. Hegi's writing is wonderful and the characters were so well developed that I felt they were part of real life."

Dot Karlsen Flushing, New York

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

"I was brought up to believe that the only authors worthy of my time were men. Then I discovered this book. The language was economical and the story absolutely gripping."

Felicia Davis-Burden, poet, clerk

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

"The feeling that women are powerful, intelligent, strong human beings comes through more in her writing than any other's, and in particular in this book, which sends me off into long reveries when I think about it."

Althea Cribb

The Collector

John Fowles

"This is a book that made me think differently about cause and effect.

It could so easily have ended differently, if only ...."

Sue Taylor

The Curious Incident...

Mark Haddon

"It changed the way I look at people with learning disabilities. Probably not a very original choice."

Henriette van Kuffelerr

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula Le Guin

"I first read the novel when I was going through a re-evaluation of my life and relationships. The sense of reorientation and self-discovery jumped out at me."


The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist

Robert Tressell

"It's depiction of hopeless rage against the capitalist system and knowledge that little had changed since the turn of the century, turned me into a lifelong socialist: I suspect Tony Blair has never read it." Eryl Williams


John Dos Pasos

"It taught me as a teenager at the height of the Vietnam war that America must always have an enemy, internal or external, to fight. To this day, the heroes are a reminder that oppression and injustice are everywhere."

Alastair Palmer

What A Carrve Up

Jonathan Coe

"It made it as clear to me why my country is such a mess as Michael Moore's films do about the United States. It made me want to change the world. Straight away."

Delaina Haslam