Life Lessons I’ve Learnt From My Favourite Books

millie ryan books

Photos by Fordtography

So here's the thing. I've always been a bit of a bookworm. I remember having that 30 minutes of reading time in year 5 and 6 at primary school and how it was without a doubt the best part of my day and I would be SO sad when it was over because I really just wanted to chill with my copy of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets all day and not do sums or any of the other boring stuff I actually had to do that day.

I feel like our favourite books reveal SO much about our personalities, our values and the inner workings of our brains. It's actually quite a telling insight into just how somebody views the world, as I know that undoubtedly so many of the books that have inspired me have changed the ways that I view it.

So whether you're looking for some new reads from a self confessed literary geek, or just wanting some insight to how these novels have changed my life.

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

If you follow me on social media or read my blog often enough, you'll know that it's no secret that I want to write and be a published author. Writing for me, is something I've always done simply because I can't not. I've always been so drawn back time and time again to a certain Sylvia Plath quote whenever I'm asked about why / what I write and what my inspirations are.

I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be stilled.

Sylvia Plath - 1948

It's from one of her earliest poems, and gosh my love affair with Sylvia plath began early. We studied one of her poems in my GCSE English class and I just remember being so mesmerised and captivated by the way that she wrote that I simply had to know more. I read her journals and poems religiously and The Bell Jar is one of the first books I ever read that truly stuck with me and affected me on a deeper level.

Sure, the Bell Jar probably isn't a complete autobiography of Sylvia Path's life, but you can't deny the distinct similarities between her and the protagonist Esther, it's the best insight that we have into what she was thinking and feeling during her twenties in New York. What surprises me most about this novel, is how much I bloody adore Esther. She's so full of life, so vivacious, and an undeniable feminist - she has so much anger at men and the place of women in the world. Her outlook on the world is lightharted and witty, phrases like 'There nothing like puking with someone to make you into old friends." sum up living in share apartments in your twenties and the friendships I still have with those girls SO well.

The fact that Sylvia Plath committed suicide only really added to her cult status as an author and poet, especially given the fate of Esther. But this book has taught me such important lessons about life and well, living. About being yourself unapologetic-ally, even if society isn't quite ready for you and about letting your vivacious nature run free. Every time I re-read the book I see Sylvia as less of a dark and depressed soul, and more of a kindred spirit, one that was loud, full of laughter and most of all, happiness.

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Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

A middle class white girl in her 20s who loves Jane Eyre? I know just what you're thinking guyzzzz. Iconic, inspirational, so unique. Okay sarcastic laugh at myself ending now.

I feel like everyone and their mother has read Jane Eyre, but with SUCH good reasoning. I believe it was so ahead of it's time in the lessons that it teaches us about growth, about changes and about defying expectations. This year marks the 10th year that I've read Jane Eyre, I've sort of made it become a literary, annual pilgrimmage into evaluating my life and the choices I've made. Every summer without fail, I will read Jane Eyre from cover to cover, and every summer it will teach me something new about myself, my life and the relationships I have.

If you haven't read Jane Eyre, I honestly couldn't recommend it enough. It's the book that I singlehandedly credit with getting me out of the worst relationship of my life, well more specifically this line.

[Who will care for me now I've left Rochester?]  "I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself."

That single sentence taught me more about self love and self acceptance than a million meditation and help books / podcasts ever could. Of course I'm not saying those help books won't work for everyone, but for me - that single sentence resonated deep inside and instilled a sense of pride and self love that I don't think was there before my eighth read of the book. For me, Jane Eyre is the book that keeps on giving. It's the story of a life in several chapters, it's really a novel about the interior of being a woman and how that affects us in each stage of our life.

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The Girls - Emma Cline

So this one kind of exploded onto the book scene last summer, I'm pretty sure it became the go to book for everyone's summer holidays. Now true crime is one of my guilty pleasures, and I adore a true crime book as much as the next gal. But I didn't expect to fall in love with this book as much as I did, nor did I expect to experience a whole new feeling of gratitude towards my female friendships and grow a completely new found sort of respectful awe of the way teenage girls work and how their friendships intersect their lives and shape how our adult friendships feel to us.

This book really is marvellous, and an absolute triumph for such a young author. The idea to write a true crime novel, but have the murder as an afterthought, an event B is just so fascinating in itself. Instead of focusing on the gritty details of the crimes committed, instead as the reader we focus on the relationships within this cult and it seems to answer so many questions about human nature and the nature of human friendship.

Cline seems to capture exactly what it means to be teenage. To feel emotions at such intense highs and lows, and not having the gift of perspective quite as much as our adult selves. Reading this book, I really became 14 again, and experienced everything with Evie on such a deep and personal level. This book taught me so much about friendships, the human nature of looking at life through rose tinted glasses and what perspective can teach us about looking back on events.

millie ryan booksBig Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert

So this one is steering away from the novels and more into the non fiction camp, but this book is an absolute essential for anyone that considers themselves creative in any way / shape / form. Again I know I'm super groundbreaking - middle class British girl likes Elizabeth Gilbert, I hope the floor didn't hurt when you fell off your seat out of shock there.

I mean we've all read / seen / know the gist of Eat Pray Love, as much as I loved that book and it really did resonate with me. I mean you're looking at the gal who ran away from heartbreak by basically running towards any country that wasn't home, and really did find myself through travel. But Eat, Pray, Love didn't make this list, purely because as much as I love it, I love Big Magic all the more.

Big Magic single handedly changed the way that I looked at not only creativity, but creative living and what exactly it means to live a creative life. Whatever it is you create, if you're a blogger, a writer, a designer, or just someone who wants to live their 9-5 life with a little more creativity, this book will inspire you.

I've read it cover to cover in one sitting several times, and each time it just leaves me so ready to create and just busting with ideas of more things that I want to make, more content I want to create, more creative processes I want to add to the usual dreary admin tasks of my life. I'd especially recommend this book if there's a pet project you are wanting to work on more, but you're a little scared to. The whole idea of ideas floating in the universe and they'll be snatched up by someone else if you don't grab yours is a little on the fuddy duddy side to get your head around, but I think it's one of the ideas that has really inspired me to put so much more of my time, effort and heart into both my blog and my creative writing projects.

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Nobody is Ever Missing - Catherine Lacey

I feel like Catherine Lacey is one of those authors that should be talked about a lot more. Her second novel, The Answers is what I'm reading at the moment and it's truly incredible. It's sort of like a post modern Handmaid's Tale, but with a Hollywood Twist and darkly analyses our obsession with fame and reality TV. It's hauntingly dark and I love it.

Her first novel Nobody is Ever Missing, captivated me beyond belief. It's strikingly similar to Eat, Pray, Love, but it delves much deeper into trying to understand the human psyche and human nature in itself. The protagonist one day leaves her husband and jumps on a plane to New Zealand, a country she has never been to and decides to hitch hike around the wilderness.

Lacey's writing is mesmerisingly beautiful, and this book made me analyse my own actions of my life to a startlingly honest degree that my therapist would be proud of. There's something about Lacey's writing that seems relatable, yet intellectual and as much as you'll be frustrated with the choices that the protagonist makes, it's a wild journey into understanding human nature at it's core and why exactly it is that we do anything.

It's hard to put into a few sentences, what exactly I learned from this book, but I suppose, an incredible amount about myself, and why I have made the choices I have. Why did I run away from having my heart broken by my high school boyfriend, all the way to the US and Australia? Why did I fight so hard to stay there, when coming home has made me happier than years? Why did I want to tread a path so different and so similar to my parents one at the same time? This book helped me delve into the inner most workings of myself, and answer those questions.

millie ryan books

Photos by Fordtography