Books That Change Lives

Published on: September 1st, 2019

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Whether by transporting us in time and space or showing us the world through another’s eyes, books hold the potential to broach new ideas, broaden perspectives, and even change lives. Chosen for their unique stories—some familiar, others not—the 16 titles below represent the transformative power of literature, and will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Enjoy our reading list!

Let us know what you think by emailing us reviews at editorial@yellowscene.com.

 

Sing, Unburied, Sing

by Jesmyn Ward

$17.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,
20% off at Barbed Wire Books

Sing follows 13-year-old Jojo, his drug-addicted mother Leonie, and the ghosts that visit them as they set out on a road trip to retrieve Jojo’s white father from prison. Ward’s lyrical prose weaves an intricate tapestry of inter-generational trauma, strained relationships, and growing up black in a society marred by racial tensions—yet despite all this, there is sweetness, too. One part road novel, one part ghost story, and altogether stunning, Ward’s portrait of a Southern family fractured by grief and injustice will leave you feeling haunted.

 

The Fifth Season

by N.K. Jemison

$15.99 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,
20% off at Barbed
Wire Books

The first installment in Jemison’s Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy takes place in a world wracked by apocalyptic geological disasters called Seasons. Only orogenes (magic users) can control the tremblings in the ground, but they are shunned, hated, and feared for their power. After a massive eruption sets off the worst Season in memory, three such orogenes—Essun, a mother; Damaya, a child; and Syenite, a young woman—tell their stories. Jemison’s tale of oppression, ecological catastrophe, and resilience turns the fantasy genre on its head, daring us to question: Does the world deserve to be saved?

 

Kindred

by Octavia Butler

$16.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,
20% off at Barbed Wire Books, used at 2nd & Charles

In this sci-fi classic, 26-year-old Dana is wrenched from her life in 1976 Los Angeles and transported to a Maryland plantation in 1815, where her skin color unquestionably marks her as a slave. The story unfolds as Dana travels back and forth between time periods, called repeatedly by the pull of her ancestor: Rufus, the white son of the plantation owner. Dana’s 20th-century sensibilities make her narrative that much more relatable as she attempts to influence and protect the boy who will become her great-great-grandfather. Butler’s most beloved work is poignant and relevant, with issues of power, gender, and race at its core.

 

Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

$16.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,
used at Barbed Wire Books

Framed as a memoir, Never Let Me Go relates the lives of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, students at Hailsham school in the idyllic English countryside. Hailsham students have a special purpose, and within the walls and grounds of their boarding school, the children are well cared for and educated in art and literature—though they are insulated from the outside world. Through Kathy, Ishiguro slowly reveals a chilling alternate future reminiscent of those imagined by the likes of Atwood and Huxley, crafting a subtle yet incisive narrative about the human condition and the inevitable fate that awaits us all.

 

Hunger A Memoir of My Body

by Roxane Gay

$16.99 – Available at
Boulder Book Store

From the author of Bad Feminist comes a powerful, vulnerable account of what it’s like to be fat, black, and female in America. With unflinching candor, Gay explores her complicated relationship with food and her body, describing how both trauma and cultural attitudes inform her experiences. Hunger begins with the admonition that it is not meant to be motivational, but many will find empowerment in Gay’s rejection of society’s contempt for overweight people, and her admission that she struggles with maintaining a positive self-image anyway. Readers of all shapes and sizes will discover wisdom within the pages of Gay’s bold memoir.

 

Just Mercy

by Bryan Stevenson

$16.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed
Wire Books

As a young lawyer, Stevenson made history when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice created to defend the most marginalized members of the Montgomery, Alabama community. One such individual was Walter McMillian, a young black man who had been sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Stevenson’s compelling memoir tells how, like a real-life Atticus Finch, he sought true justice for McMillian and others. This eye-opening read exposes a criminal justice system that is often anything but just, yet offers hope that it can be reformed.

 

Man’s Search for Meaning

by Viktor Frankl

$13.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed Wire Books

This psychiatrist’s gripping account of life in the Nazi death camps during World War II has inspired readers for generations with its message that while suffering is inevitable, we can choose how we cope with it. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl recounts how he endured the extreme suffering of the Holocaust by searching for purpose in the face of unspeakable horror. He shares his theory of logotherapy, which hinges on the idea that the pursuit of meaning, not pleasure, is what makes life worth living, and that by finding meaning in even the most dire circumstances, we can survive anything.

 

Written on the Body

edited by Lexie Bean

$19.95 – Call to order,
or available online

A collection of letters by trans and non-binary survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Written on the Body will break your heart and mend it more than once. Each letter is written to a body part, blending narratives of identity, gender, trauma, and healing. Bean’s stirring anthology showcases the courage of its contributors—members of a community so often silenced—as they speak their truth through various literary forms. At once both horrifying and hopeful, this intimate glimpse into the experiences of trans and non-binary survivors is a gift like no other.

 

The Complete Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi

$25.95 – Available at Barnes & Noble,

used at 2nd & Charles

Persepolis is a graphic autobiography that begins with Satrapi’s childhood in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution. Interwoven with the universal struggle of growing up are the challenges and contradictions unique to Satrapi’s life: coming of age in a time of political upheaval, her feelings of isolation while studying abroad in Austria, and her difficulties reintegrating into Iranian society after her return home. Sometimes sad, often funny, always honest, Persepolis provides a window into the realities of life as an Iranian woman at the time of a major cultural shift.

 

Fun Home

by Alison Bechdel

$16.99 – Available
at Boulder Book Store, used at 2nd & Charles,

used at Barbed Wire Books

Bechdel’s graphic memoir details her life growing up in rural Pennsylvania, where her father ran a funeral home before his untimely death. Through non-linear storytelling replete with enough literary devices to make an English teacher blush, Bechdel chronicles the story of her family, specifically the complicated relationship with her father, Bruce, as well as her journey of coming out as a lesbian. Fun Home is darkly witty and deeply moving, and a landmark achievement in graphic literature.

 

Rising Out of Hatred

by Eli Saslow

$26.95 – Available
at Barnes & Noble

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow tells the true story of Derek Black, describing his upbringing in a radically far-right family and his eventual renouncement of white nationalism. Black, whose father founded the largest white nationalist community on the Internet and whose godfather was a KKK Grand Wizard, was committed to his racist beliefs until he attended a liberal college, where he had a change of heart. Saslow renders Black’s transformation with thoughtful empathy, and his book could not be more timely during this difficult period in the United States, our country riven by a vast ideological divide.

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

$15.99 – Available at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed Wire Books

Junior, an aspiring cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, decides to leave his poverty-stricken school on the reservation for a farm town high school 22 miles away instead. The problem is, he’s the only Native American there—besides the school mascot. Unwavering in its depiction of sexuality, alcoholism, and other difficult topics, The Absolutely True Diary is as raw as it is funny. Alexie’s personal experiences inform this coming-of-age tale about a boy who takes his future into his own hands, despite the challenges it brings.

 

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

$14.99 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed Wire Books

Narrated by Death himself, The Book Thief is the story of a girl named Liesel growing up in Nazi Germany with her foster parents. She steals her first book when she picks it up out of the snow next to her brother’s grave. Soon, Liesel steals books from wherever she can find them, even from Nazi book-burnings. When her foster family hides a Jew named Max in their basement, Liesel befriends him, and her world is changed forever. Zusak’s gorgeous prose brings every page to life in this enduring tale of love, friendship, and the power of books.

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez

$16.99 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

used at Barbed Wire Books

García Márquez’s captivating novel chronicles the rise and fall of the fictional town of Macondo, Colombia through its ties to seven generations of the Buendía family and the many misfortunes that befall them. Founded by José Arcadio Buendía, Macondo becomes the epicenter of frequent strange and miraculous events. Ultimately a story about love, family, fate, and the cyclical nature of time, this seminal piece of magical realist fiction weaves myth, magic, and history into one profoundly beautiful work.

 

Annihilation

by Jeff VanderMeer

$14.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed Wire Books

The mysterious biome known as Area X has been abandoned for decades, and nature has reclaimed all evidence of civilization within. Yet 11 expeditions sent to survey Area X have failed—some committed suicide, some turned on each other, some returned traumatized, and some simply disappeared. Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, follows the women of the 12th expedition: a biologist, a surveyor, an anthropologist, and a psychologist. With a creeping, existential horror that can only be described as Lovecraftian, VanderMeer’s novel explores epistemology and the human urge to know the un-knowable.

 

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

by Haruki Murakami

$17.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

20% off at Barbed Wire Books

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is perhaps one of Murakami’s most acclaimed novels, with his telltale blend of gorgeous prose and surreal storytelling. What begins as a search for a missing cat develops into the exploration of Tokyo’s grim netherworld as Toru Okada, recently unemployed, unravels a philosophically-driven mystery unlike any other. Surrounded by a strange cast of allies and enemies, including a psychic prostitute, a morbid 16-year-old girl, and a grizzled veteran, Murakami’s unlikely anti-hero embarks on an adventure as profound as it is bizarre.

 

House of Leaves

by Mark Z. Danielewski

$22.00 – Available at Boulder Book Store,
20% off at Barbed Wire Books, used at 2nd & Charles

How to describe that which defies description? Structurally, House of Leaves is a story within a story: On one level, the chilling account of award-winning photojournalist Will Navidson, whose family moves into a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside; on another, the dissertation-like manuscript of Zampanò, discovered and annotated by the increasingly paranoid Johnny Truant after his death. Thematically, House of Leaves is rather like if The Blair Witch Project had been a book instead of a movie. Terrifying and ambitious, this book is not for the faint of heart.

 

The Only Harmless Great Thing

by Brooke Bolander

$10.99 – Call to order,
or available online

What is the cost of progress? Bolander’s heartbreaking alternate history asks this question as she imagines a connection between the Radium Girls, female factory workers who died of radiation poisoning in the early years of the 20th century, and Topsy, an elephant put to death by electrocution during the same time. In Bolander’s retelling, the dying workers train an enslaved race of sentient elephants to replace them, but one woman  and her elephant friend devise a way to fight back.

 

The Sun and Her Flowers

by Rupi Kaur

$16.99 – Available
at Boulder Book Store,

used at Barbed Wire Books

The second collection of art and poetry by the acclaimed author of Milk and Honey brings us on a healing journey of growth and self-love, using the life cycle of a plant as a conceit throughout. Reading Kaur’s work is no less intimate an experience than in her first book, as she describes the pain of love lost (wilting), the darkness of sexual violence and depression (falling), the importance of origins and family (rooting), the joy of new love (rising), and the celebration of becoming at home in one’s skin (blooming).

 

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

by Terrance Hayes

$18.00 – Available
at Boulder Book Store

In his resonant collection of 70 poems with the same title, Hayes explores what it means to be a black American in a country fraught with racial injustice. His sonnets are scathing, tender, hilarious, personal, and political, and his wordplay is simply unparalleled as he imbues the form with the frenetic energy of a man possessed. Heavy with its themes of hatred and hope, binaries and contradictions, American Sonnets firmly anchors itself in the heart of our time, a painfully raw portrayal of the contemporary American experience. 

 

 

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