03/26/2013 06:47 pm ET Updated May 26, 2013

The Books of Our Lives

The books that change our lives. It sounds like the dramatic segue into the credits of a soap opera, but it's kind of true right? There are those books that change the way you see the world, a person or yourself that stay with you forever.

For me, a lot of these books were forced upon me by the American education system. Whether I was reading them in the classroom or on summer vacation, they were "classics" that someone else told me I had to read, and not in the super enthusiastic way that I now tell my friends "OMG you have to read this book because I need someone to squee over it with!" These books were more of the "If you don't read this by the time you come to class, you will be in big trouble young lady."

That didn't make them better or worse in my mind. They just made me procrastinate until there was nothing I was allowed to do but read.

(Not that I really minded being told I had to read. I mean, come on.)

This topic has been on my mind because the writer of one of those books that I was forced to read, and ended up adoring, died last week. Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in 1958. I read it in 8th grade I think, and it ushered into my life an actual appreciation for literature that wasn't solely in the English canon and that took place in the real world and not a fantasy world with magic, dragons and talking animals.

Most of the other books that fall into the category of changing my life were thrust into my life at the same time. Titles like I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Things Fall Apart, Bridge to Terabithia and Island of the Blue Dolphins were all a part of my education, and still influence the decisions I make and the lessons I have taken to heart.

If you haven't read these books, you should.

Even now, out of school, inhaling books with a speed that surprises most of my friends and relatives, I am able to find books that continually change the way I see the world. Last year, I read Room, The Night Circus, and Infidel. I also revisited classics I hadn't read in years like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Rascal. While the lessons may not always be immediately apparent, though sometimes they really, really are, I have found ways with every reading to take something new from the characters or the story.

Books have always been the medium I have connected to most. My peers take lessons from film and television. Some tie into video games and music. The stories, people, and voices I hear from writers and their books are where I really connect with myself, with other people and with my community. They give me a depth that I don't think I would be able to get anywhere else.