TIME Books

50 Great Books That Will Change Your Life

Real Simple asked renowned authors from every genre in the bookstore to name the title that moved them most. Here are the works they passionately recommended—from classic to obscure, wisecracking to wistful—and the discoveries that they found inside. Visit realsimple.com to read the full list.

Here are the first five books:

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    “If you have never read this classic, or pooh-pooh it as being only for kids, think again. Alice and her adventures will make you see things with childlike curiosity. The story helps us remember that we need to be playful in love, life, and especially words.”

    Recommended by Lily Koppel, the author of two nonfiction books, The Astronaut Wives Club ($28, amazon.com) and The Red Leather Diary($15, amazon.com).

    To buy: $25, amazon.com.

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  • Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips

    “I took a fiction workshop with Phillips in college and was shocked when she assigned her own book. (It’s a collection of stories about everything from serial killers to mothers and daughters.) But I’m glad she did. Never before had a book given me permission to write so frankly about sex and sexuality, to try on different voices, male ones included, and to write from a dark, honest place. The stories are varied, some emotional and others shocking, but they are all authentic and utterly compelling.”

    Recommended by Jennifer Gilmore, the author of three novels, the most recent of which is The Mothers($26, amazon.com).

    To buy: $14, amazon.com.

  • The Best American Short Stories

    “I first read this collection in the early 1990s. Culled annually from magazines, the anthology was my introduction to legends of the short-story form—John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, as well as then-newcomers Lorrie Moore and Charles D’Ambrosio. I was amazed by the ability of these writers to bring a page alive with sly humor and perfect sentences. To this day, I still consider the anthology the ideal place to discover a new writer or remember why I love one to begin with.”

    Recommended by Curtis Sittenfeld, the author of four novels, includingPrep ($15, amazon.com) and the forthcoming Sisterland($27, amazon.com).

    To buy: $15, amazon.com.

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  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards

    “I once confessed to a girlfriend (who is a designer) that I was inept at drawing, and she told me about this book. It breaks drawing down into five basic perceptual skills—of edges, spaces, relationships, lights and shadows, and the whole—and provides instruction on dipping into our right brain, which helps develop overall creativity. And who couldn’t use a dose of creativity?”

    Recommended by Elaine Griffin, an interior designer and the author ofDesign Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator($25, amazon.com).

    To buy: $20, amazon.com.

  • The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

    “I read this punchy romantic comedy while finding the courage to leave my job as an attorney. The story, which centers on a Jewish girl’s fixation on an anti-Semitic hotel in Vermont, stayed in my mind and heart and filled me with the notion of becoming a writer: I can do this, I thought while turning every page. At the very least, I have to try.

    Recommended by Emily Giffin, the author of Where We Belong($16, amazon.com), as well as five other novels.

    To buy: $15, amazon.com.

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