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3 Books that Changed My Life

A friend recently asked me, “Tammy, what books have had the biggest influence on your life?”

I had to pause for a minute and ask if we could come back to the question. It seems like an easy question to answer, however I read one or two books a week and most the material is informative and meaningful. I continued talking to my friend about our upcoming move and eventually we circled our way back to the topic of books. I finally had an answer to her question. So I told her a few stories about three different books.

1. The Culture of Make Believe

Right before Logan and I got married, my Grandpa sent me a generous $1,000 check as a wedding gift. Sleeping on a lumpy mattress was difficult with my bad back and contributed to my sleep deprived college experience; so I decided to splurge and buy a pillow top mattress with the money from my Grandfather. Then I had to have a $400 bed frame because I felt like our bedroom didn’t look good enough. I was constantly comparing our apartment to Ikea catalogs.

At this time, we were living in Davis, California and my Mom visited frequently. On a Friday afternoon she came down and I suggested we spend the evening shopping at Ikea in Sacramento. We ate dinner there and wandered around for hours. Subsequently, we walked out of the store with a bed frame, a love seat, and new sheets. All of the new stuff wouldn’t fit in our tiny car, a Honda Fit, so we had to drive back to Davis, get my mom’s small SUV, and return to Ikea for the final load of stuff.

Right after this shopping escapade, I started reading The Culture of Make Believe. As I lay snuggled under my new sheets reading the first few chapters of Jensen’s book I started to feel like a buffoon. Jensen’s words made me realize that happiness couldn’t be bought at the mall.

The Culture of Make Believe isn’t an easy book to digest. I had to confront my own privilege and figure out how I could spend my time, energy, and money in ways that were meaningful.

2. Your Money or Your Life

When I picked up Your Money or Your Life some of the pages were falling out and the last half of the book was splattered with coffee stains. Despite the book’s dilapidated condition, it was pivotal read. It was the first time I began to think of money as life energy and ask myself questions like:

-How much is enough?
-Is my stuff detracting from my character?
-Is my career a calling or just a generic job that converts life energy into money?
-Am I spending my time the way I want?

After I read the book, I sat down and created a plan to hack debt, save money, and began the process of exploring alternative careers.

3. Bird by Bird

Creative work isn’t easy. Even people that are “successful” struggle with the resistance. The resistance is the voice in your head that speaks in harsh tones or urges you to go get ice cream instead of sitting down and writing. Even Lamott, a prolific and successful writer, struggles with the resistance. Her words were comforting and made me feel less alone for pursing my dream of writing. I’ve read Bird by Bird three times and with each read something new is cemented in my mind.

There are scores of other books that I could list, but these titles were pivotal reads at poignant times in my life. I checked out each of these books from the library and when I opened their crinkled and well loved covers, I knew I was onto something good.

If you have a chance, either check these books out of your local library or buy a copy. The authors will make you think and reconsider what it means to live well.

Want to read more? Read this article by Leo.

What books have changed your life?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Heather October 12, 2011, 7:32 am

    Putting these on hold at the library riiiiight now. Thanks, Tammy!

    • Stephanie October 12, 2011, 8:26 am

      I have added these to the reading list! One book that has changed my life is “Curious?” which is in your picture on this post.

      Thank you for the posts- I am enjoying your insight on simple living and am inspired by your tiny house project. Good luck! I can’t wait for you to move in so we can hear all about it!

      • Tammy Strobel October 12, 2011, 7:12 pm

        @Stephanie – I love Curious?! It’s such a good book. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Weston October 12, 2011, 7:56 am

    My top 3

    1. Your Money or Your Life (my most influential book . Nothing else comes close)

    2. The E Myth Revisited (an enormous help in simplifying and understanding my role as a small business owner)

    3. Non Violent Communication A language of life. ( I never use formal NVC because I find that usually inhibits communication but I believe the underlying principles are priceless.)

    I will definitely check out Culture of Make Believe.

    • Tammy Strobel October 13, 2011, 6:06 am

      @Weston – A few people have recommended Non Violent Communication to me. I tried to check it out of the library, but they don’t have a copy. I might have to buy the book and then donate it to the library after I’m done.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Katie October 12, 2011, 8:43 am

    Love Bird by Bird. I’d also recommend Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way – both life changers for me. Thanks Tammy.

    • Tammy Strobel October 13, 2011, 6:07 am

      Hey Katie – Thanks for the recommendation. I was in Powell’s last week and they had a whole section devoted to Cameron’s work. She’s written so much good stuff! 🙂

  • M.C. October 12, 2011, 8:52 am

    “Reading Like a Writer” by Francine Prose and “On Writing” by Stephen King. Both of these books made me realize that books and stories are my passion and both propelled me into my new life. I quit my job, went back to school, and shed my materialistic idea of happiness like an old skin.

    • Tammy Strobel October 13, 2011, 6:08 am

      @M. C. – That’s awesome! Thanks for sharing a little bit of your story.

  • Vicki October 12, 2011, 10:29 am

    I have ust finished reading The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell.
    I also recommend The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer.

    • Tammy Strobel October 12, 2011, 7:18 pm

      @Vicki – Sweet! I’ll check them out. They sound fascinating and right up my alley.

  • Rob October 12, 2011, 1:48 pm

    Ok.. So I started reading the free chapter of “the culture of make believe” and decided you must have linked to the wrong book, as it doesn’t seem to relate to money or possessions.. Wrong link?

    • Tammy Strobel October 12, 2011, 7:11 pm

      @Rob – I never said it was about money and possessions. Although that’s what it made me think about. Hence, the Ikea story. As a warning, The Culture of Make Believe is intense. I don’t agree with all of Jensen’s points, but he woke me up and that’s a good thing. 🙂

      • Rob October 12, 2011, 10:24 pm

        OK, then. I have to say, after a couple of pages I wondered why anyone would write, or read for that matter, a book on how depraved people can become. Just as I don’t watch or read the news because it’s all about people elsewhere doing things I can’t control, I think I’ll skip this book and lead a life blissfully unaware of how twisted humans can become. …

        • Tammy Strobel October 13, 2011, 6:00 am

          @Rob – Well, we can agree to disagree on The Culture of Make Believe. 🙂 When I read the book, I literally felt like I was going crazy. After reading it I realized that I wasn’t crazy, our culture is crazy and that we all have a responsibility to change the world for the better.

          Jensen’s written other books that aren’t as in your face. Walking on Water: Reading, Writing and Revolution was powerful and not as negative. Although he doesn’t sugar coat problems like failed educational policies.

          Have a great day!

  • Lindsey October 12, 2011, 2:06 pm

    Night by Elie Wiesel is by far, the most life-changing book I’ve ever read. I’m so convinced — I think every person on the planet should have it as required reading. It just teaches a spirit of gratitude and reminds me that we’re all HUMAN no matter where we come from.

    Next to that, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin has been the most “profound” book of late.

    I read lots of mindless trash too. It’s good for my soul too 🙂

    • Tammy Strobel October 12, 2011, 7:17 pm

      @Lindsey – Ohhh I love mindless trash. I turn to vampire novels when I’m in the mood for something fun. 🙂

  • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear October 12, 2011, 2:52 pm

    Have read 2 & 3 and I agree with your assessment of their quality…guess it’s time for #1! Thanks for the recommendations, Tammy ~ I check your booklist before I head to the library!

    • Tammy Strobel October 12, 2011, 7:16 pm

      @Caroline – Right on! The Culture of Make Believe is very intense. It’s not a happy go lucky ready. It’s good, but there were parts that made me cry. Just as a heads up.

  • Victoria October 12, 2011, 5:23 pm

    Finding Your Own North Star by Martha beck was pivotal for me when I way trying to figure out what to “do/be when I grow up.” I no longer struggle with this question, but it’s a great book for those who are.

    Now that I know I want to be a farmer, books by Mary Jane Butters & Joel Salatin – organic & grass-based farming – are my “go-to” reads.

    For writing inspiration I turn to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love.

    I haven’t read any of the 3 books you highlighted in this post – they are all on my list now!

  • John Hayden October 12, 2011, 7:51 pm

    I hadn’t heard of “The Culture of Make Believe,” but I see that it is 600 + pages and “intense.” This looks like a book I want to read when I grow up.

    Marsha Sinetar’s “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow” on finding your “right livelihood.” And her book, “Real People As Monks and Mystics.”

    • Weston October 13, 2011, 4:18 am


      In case you’re interested, there was a rather extensive thread on the Simple Living forum a few weeks ago discussing Sinetar’s book ‘Do What You Love…”


      It’s been a long time since I read (and was inspired by) the book. Unfortunately when I did what I loved the money most certainly did not follow.

      Just wondering, did you do what you truly loved, and did the money follow?

      • Joe3 October 14, 2011, 8:39 pm

        Weston, Yes, I do what I love and the money does flow…..
        I believe I’m blessed to do what I love, and make a living from it,
        and it’s enough to provide for my needs (simplicity).
        I have put the book on my reading list, that should be an interesting read.
        I was unable to find the thread referenced above.
        Life is good, My mantra: Have Fun, work less, Play More

  • pattie October 13, 2011, 2:54 am

    Only Pack what you can Carry by Janice Holly Booth. I have read it 3 times and I keep finding more things to think about.

    • stephanie October 13, 2011, 5:53 am

      Pattie that is also one of my favorite books. Bought it randomly after seeing an ad in Travel Magazine and needed a new book and it really spoke to me. I ended up doing trip out west last summer and did the slot canyons etc. A great reminder to keep life in perspective, the importance of solitude, challenging yourself and keeping full of adventure!

  • Lindy October 13, 2011, 4:48 am

    I have just ordered all 3 books from Amazon on your recommendation. I am looking forward to reading them

    • Tammy Strobel October 13, 2011, 6:09 am

      @Lindy – WOW! I hope you like them. 🙂

  • Donna October 13, 2011, 5:39 am

    Since the mid-’90s, I have been reading and re-reading 3 volumes in ‘The Tightwad Gazette’ series by Amy Dacyczyn about living a more frugal life. (I think she was acquainted with the authors of ‘Your Money or Your Life.’) Her ideas are more geared towards families with children, and by now, some of the tips are a bit out-of-date, but there is much valuable info. for anyone looking to save dollars and get off the materialistic bandwagon. I was shocked the first time I read her article on ‘How to Save on Funerals,’ but hey, death happens – sooner or later, so it’s good to get educated on the subject. Also, in the ’90s, I started reading Don Aslett’s books on clutter-busting, which greatly cut down on my packrat habits.

    • Jenny October 13, 2011, 2:53 pm

      I love the TWG books! I just got rid of a number of books I don’t need any longer and those 3 books immediately went into my keep pile! Lots of good articles in those books.

  • Gwyn Michael October 13, 2011, 6:26 am

    Derrick Jensen has been pivotal for me too. Disturbingly so as I try to extract myself from “the culture”. I so admire what you and Logan are doing. We live in a big house that is mostly bank owned. Now would be a bad time to sell, but we are downsizing in every way we can and finding ways to make our big house functional.

    Bird by Bird is another of my faves along with “Life is a Verb” by Patti Digh, and long ago “The Artist’s Way”.

  • Victoria Smith (nee Vargas :) October 13, 2011, 6:27 am

    Hi Tammy!

    Loved this post! Your Money or Your Life was also a life-changer for me for some of the same reasons you list. Bird by Bird is fabulous! I’ve read it a half a dozen times myself. I haven’t read the Culture of Make Believe, but now it’s on my library list.

    David Allen’s Getting Things Done was pretty pivotal for me as well – I’ve hacked his system considerably over the past few years to be much more simple, but it put me in the driver’s seat when my overloaded work life was making me neurotic. Since then Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky has taken its place as the book I consult when I’m feeling stuck and need to move something forward.

    Hope you and Logan are doing well and I’m so EXCITED for you about your move!

    Take care,

  • Steph S October 13, 2011, 2:11 pm

    The Culture of Make-Believe rocked my world too! In retrospect, I would’ve done that book as a book club because I wanted desperately to be able to process it with someone else. As it was, I tried to talk about it with my friends and family who hadn’t read it, all of whom looked at me like I was a crazy person.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

  • Derek October 13, 2011, 4:26 pm

    Funny as it may seem, the book Singularity by William Sleator was the first book that turned me on to the idea that living simply could be much more enjoyable than the current status quo
    It’s a middle school(I’m guessing) level book, and you have to read it almost 3/4 of the way through before you’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s very easy reading and fiction but I’m pretty sure my whole simple living journey started from that book.

  • Karen T. October 13, 2011, 11:03 pm

    “The Tightwad Gazette” was a real life-changer for me in the mid 90s as well. I’ll never forget the article where Amy D. advised that instead of buying your kids bigger and bigger ice creams (or whatever), until eventually you’re buying them a giant sundae every time you visit the park or the mall, that you buy them something small and only occasionally. This not only saves money, but keeps your kids satisfied with less and more thankful/excited when they are given something. It was the whole concept of limiting consumption in order to allow more contentment into your life that was a wakeup call to me. I’ve applied this thinking over and over in many situations.

    C. S. Lewis’ classic “Mere Christianity” continues to inspire me every time I read it. Recently I’ve been motivated by “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath.

  • Rachel B. October 14, 2011, 5:53 am

    Fifteen years ago, I read The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs and I was so completely thrilled to discover it! Finally, there was confirmation that other people were living authentic lives with purpose rather than mindlessly pursuing a material lifestyle. Then I read Your Money or Your Life and I was forever changed by the thought of exchanging life-energy for money. After that I became a Christian and the Bible confirmed to me that things aren’t important and that the only lasting substance on this earth is people. Therefore, people are of utmost importance. – Thanks for introducing this topic! It is cool to realize that my whole life has been altered since I discovered these three books.

  • Mich October 14, 2011, 5:56 am

    The War of Art by Steven Pressfield changed my life. Growing up I was a total planner who never deviated from a plan once I had “decided” on it, and I had perfected this technique so much that by the time I moved into my college dorm room I had a poster mapping out the next four years, including all possible electives, internships and summer jobs. Nevermind that midway through my sophomore year I was miserable and had outgrown my program. All I can say is I picked up this book and it woke me up. Within two weeks I had decided to move from Michigan to Florida, (this would be the first move for me, EVER. My parent’s still live in the house I was born in) had picked out a college that I have never seen, in a town I had never visited, and completely chucked all my old plans. Best decision EVER! From time to time I will re-read parts of this book, and they always find a way to speak to me about a current problem in a totally new way. Sometime we all need a little help “waking up” to the fact that the lives we planned for yesterday may not be the lives we are meant to live today.

  • Brenda October 14, 2011, 6:44 am

    Hi Tammy,

    Loved Bird by Bird! One book that changed the way I look at the world was Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. That book alone, let me to a career change, to try new things like writing a blog. The book just blew my mind away. Another book that gave me the encouragement to do something bold like start cooking was Molly Wizenberg’s book called A Homemade Life. The way she wrote just gave me the confidence I was lacking to get in my kitchen and cook. Now I can’t stop.

  • Deb Weaver October 14, 2011, 5:32 pm

    Two books that are currently impacting me: The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge (the chapter about disowned desire spoke directly to me) and Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge (opening my mind up to the power of words, has gotten me reexcited about writing). Reading is such a gift!

  • Caroline October 15, 2011, 2:54 pm

    I think the book that changed my life the most was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (we became vegetarian, downsized our lives and started buying most of our food at the farmer’s market. It made my household think more about sustainability and our personal impacts on the environment and our local community). But probably my life was changed just as much by the New York Times article on you! That was when we realized that it was okay to change our lives radically, without feeling like big weirdoes. It’s been an adventure!

    • Tammy Strobel October 15, 2011, 3:58 pm

      @Caroline – WOW! That is so sweet of you to say. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the NYTs article. I’ll take a look at Barbara’s book. It sounds amazing.

    • Rob October 15, 2011, 10:12 pm

      That’s a great book, and inspired a summer of (almost) local-only eating for me. Winter will be harder, but I’ll be the first person there at next spring’s first farmers market!

      You make a good point about articles (web, paper, or other) that talk about folk like Tammy. I’ve been making changes in my life because of them. More (albeit different) inspiration can be found at http://www.marriedwithluggage.com and reading about how another couple implemented their dream.

  • Esther October 16, 2011, 5:06 am

    Hi Tammy, I was wondering who is the author of the book living yoga in your picture? It’s great to see you’re almost living in your Tiny home, it looks beautiful!

    • Elizabeth October 28, 2011, 6:07 am

      I’m curious about the author of this book too. There appears to be several books with this title. Thanks in advance, Tammy. 🙂

      • Tammy Strobel October 28, 2011, 6:29 am

        @Esther and Elizabeth – I volunteer with an organization called Living Yoga and what you see in the picture is their teacher training manual. It’s not something you can purchase. However, you can check out their website > http://living-yoga.org/

  • David October 16, 2011, 3:17 pm

    The three that come to mind for me are:
    Gift from the Sea
    The Stand

    The first two are probably self-explanatory. The third made me think of what was important and what it would be like to have to rebuild a civilization.

    Thanks for the inspirations.

  • Eeleen Lee October 18, 2011, 12:25 pm

    Very interesting choices!

    “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene, “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu and “Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite” by Paul Arden had an impact on creativity and business dealings.

  • Wsqrd October 19, 2011, 3:38 am

    1) Catcher in the Rye – I AM/WAS Holden……

    2) Jude the Obscure – Contains the most violent scene ever. Very disturbing.

    3) David Copperfield – They’re called “classics” for a reason.

    Honorable mention: Lord of the Rings – Every time I read it I find something new!

  • Mônica Pinheiro October 19, 2011, 2:15 pm

    I would say the portuguese novel “Pessoas como nós”, from the portuguese author Margarida Rebelo Pinto .

  • Heather October 20, 2011, 2:59 pm

    Hey Tammy, just wanted to stop by again on this post and thank you. I’m reading Bird by Bird now, just as I’m about to launch into NaNoWriMo and holy crap, what perfect timing. I may get Dave to read it to, so he might get a better understanding of my neuroticism. I love it. It’s perfect. Thank you.

  • Sunday November 13, 2011, 7:21 am

    I know this is a super old post, but I just wanted to let you know that I finally got Bird By Bird from the library and I’m gobbling it up. I love Anne Lamott but had never read this book before and for some reason had it confused with Operating Instructions which I had read and loved. Anyway, I just want to thank you, again, for this recommendation as it’s coming at just the right time for me and I’m absolutely loving it!!

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