43 Powerful Books That Make You Think Differently

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Uncover powerful and thought-provoking books that make you think differently about the world – including areas like work, mental health, life, and love.

If you are soul-searching for unique and diverse books that will make you think differently about the world and change your life, you are in the right place.

Discover deep books that open your eyes and expand your mind. Many of these books will make you think about love and life.

Read powerful books that make you smarter and more open. Find books that force you to reconsider the meaning of life or old ways of thinking.

These thought-provoking books will teach you something new and maybe even change the way you travel, cook, interact with others, or organize your home.

Find life-changing fiction novels and encounter books about racism and mental health.

Lastly, explore books to improve the way you work (and don’t work), and nonfiction books that will make you think more deeply.

You may also enjoy these sad books that make you cry.

Best books that make you think differently about the world with woman walking down the middle of the roadPin
Uncover powerful books that make you think outside of the box, inspire, or teach you something new. Learn how to be a better person, writer, lover, traveler, and global citizen.

Table of Contents

Nonfiction Books That Make You Think

LGBTQ+ nonfiction that will make you think, Untamed by Glennon Doyle colorful book cover with turquoise, red, gold glitter, and pinks swirled aroundPin

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

One of TUL’s top books of 2020, Untamed will make you think about life and love.

A must-read LGBTQ+ memoir, Glennon offers vulnerable insight about love, addiction, divorce, and living your truest and most beautiful life.

Untamed will discuss how to find your inner peace and make healthier decisions.

Throughout the book, we laughed, nodded our heads, and championed Abby’s and Glennon’s love story.

Doyle is an engaging storyteller who is not afraid to put herself out there. You might just close this one feeling more courageous.

For inspiring and powerful books, you might not agree with every sentiment, but that’s OK too – that’s part of the point.

Read Untamed: Amazon | Goodreads

Nonfiction books that make you think like Nickel and Dime by Barbara Ehrenreich book cover with woman serving coffeePin

Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Before entering Smith College for undergrad, we read Nickel and Dimed for assigned summer reading. It’s easy to see why.

In 1998, Ehrenreich explores what it means to live (and not live) off of low-income wages under the poverty level. 

Offering realistic and hardcore insight into the impossibility of surviving in lower working-class America – even when you hold three jobs – Ehrenreich exploits a system that still plagues America today.

Nickel and Dimed is one of those eye-opening books that will make you think about the income gap and the assumptions we make about poverty in America.

Discover more famous books from the 90s.

Read Nickel And Dimed: Amazon | Goodreads

The Beauty In Breaking by Michele Harper orange and turquoise book cover with image of the internal organsPin

The Beauty In Breaking by Michele Harper

For meditative books that make you think more deeply about the healing process, we loved Harper’s The Beauty In Breaking.

A Black ER physician, Harper shares her experiences overcoming trauma, sexism, divorce, and racism. As Harper says, there is beauty in breaking.

Harper not only examines the world as she sees it but also through her interactions with patients. Even though Harper has science-based schooling, she advocates for yoga and meditation.

Readers watch as Harper is unfairly overlooked for promotions as well as witnesses faults in the healthcare system.

Read The Beauty In Breaking: Amazon | Goodreads

Nonfiction Books That Make You Smarter include Quiet by Susan CainPin

Quiet by Susan Cain

Are you looking for nonfiction books that make you think differently about your personality type?  

Quiet is one of the books that changed the way we think about ourselves as introverts while pretending to be extroverts.

Cain examines the first impressions and stereotypes that we assign to introverts and extroverts in a world where sound trumps quiet. 

Discover the contributions of introverts. Seek reassurance that it is OK to be who you are, even if that means you prefer to work silently in the background.

Quiet is also the perfect book to listen to while driving and is one of our favorite books that makes you think about stereotyping and collective values.

Read Quiet: Amazon | Goodreads

Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab book cover with blue, green, orange, and yellow square on white backgroundPin

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab

Set Boundaries, Find Peace is one of the best thought-provoking books for those wanting to work on their relationships as well as their own mental health, including burnout, anger, frustration, and depression.

As a licensed therapist, Nedra Glover Tawwab shares fantastic insight into boundaries – and their importance – based on interactions with her therapy clients and through her social media polls.

Learn how much of our stress and anxiety comes from our own failure to set and enforce – and reinforce – clear boundaries at work, at home, in a marriage, and with friends, family members, and ourselves.

She ends each chapter with journaling questions, and although setting boundaries is hard – and causes guilt – her methods are simple and laid out in short, digestible chapters.

Get that highlighter ready!

Recommended to us by Jules of The Literary Lifestyle, Set Boundaries, Find Peace may just change your life.

Read Set Boundaries, Find Peace: Amazon | Goodreads

Books That Make You Think Differently About Travel

Nonfiction travel books that make you think outside of the box like A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain book cover with Bourdain traveling and foodPin

A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures In Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain’s travel books make you think outside the box.

Whenever we travel, we hear his whispered wanderings in our ears.  Bourdain saw people for who they were, never idealized a culture, and almost always realized his privileged errors.

A thought-provoking book, A Cook’s Tour talks about common ground across humanity.

Food brings people together.  Food is the conversation starter and a shared language, trailblazing a discourse about history and politics.

A Cook’s Tour lays out Bourdain’s life as a chef and his initial travels.  Bourdain wasn’t always an infamous TV traveler, and his humble beginnings are guides for us all.  

A Cook’s Tour is a powerful book about human connection.

Read A Cook’s Tour: Amazon | Goodreads

A Walk In The Woods By Bill Bryson book cover with brown bear in woodsPin

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk In The Woods is a nonfiction hiking memoir that will make you laugh and re-rethink inexperienced hiking.

As a famous travel writer, Bryson takes on an unlikely challenge: he amateur hikes parts of the Appalachian Trail. 

Not exactly a role model for physical fitness or being outdoorsy, Bryson and his boozy friend, Katz, traipse into the woods. 

An adventure of a lifetime, they learn about their friendship, survival, and a different way of life.  Perseverance is everything.

A Walk In The Woods is one of those books that challenges the way we think in regard to perceived impossible challenges. Bryson smashes stereotypes.

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth GilbertPin

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Who hasn’t dreamed of finding oneself in pasta, rice paddies, and meditation rooms?  

Eat, Pray, Love is one of the many great nonfiction books that make you think about the true meaning of life.

Gilbert finds herself at the crossroads of divorce and unhappiness. She travels around the world to Italy, India, and Indonesia, embracing, love, culture, and friendship, learning the power of compassion and how nature and silence can spark peace within.

Travel to Europe with this Italy-based reading list and these books set in Indonesia.

Life-Changing Books That Will Alter Your Habits & Work Flow

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie KondoPin

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Whether you read or watch Marie Kondo, her tidying advice will most definitely change your life — as long as you are open to it.

Kondo is a pro and loves tidying. She believes the act of organization greatly enhances your life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up teaches us how to find joy and reduce clutter, literally and figuratively.

Kondo recommends tidying as a way to connect in your relationships and surround yourself with meaningful memories.  Through cleaning, we learn who we are (and how much crap we collect).

If you are looking for advice on how to declutter your workspace and digital files, don’t miss Kondo’s coauthored book, Joy At Work. Joy At Work seriously improved our workflow.

Kondo’s ideology will have you profoundly examining your bookshelf, closet, and even relationships. 

Dont Keep Your Day Job by Cathy HellerPin

Don’t Keep Your Day Job by Kathy Heller

Although not one of our all-time favorite motivational books, Heller forces entrepreneurs and creatives to think outside of the box in regard to their careers.

Heller believes that the way to overcome depression or unhappiness is to find meaning in our lives. By fulfilling our purpose and using our creative talents, we can be both successful and content.

Don’t Keep Your Day Job is filled with inspirational business owners’ stories and how they achieved their dreams.

Each chapter ends with journal prompts, and we encourage you to check out Heller’s Don’t Keep Your Day Job podcast. Amazon | Goodreads

Big Magic by Elizabeth GilbertPin

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Although parts of Big Magic are a little more spiritual or ‘magical’ than we fully buy into, if you are looking for inspirational books that make you think about passion and creativity, Big Magic is your writing Bible.

Big Magic will encourage, inspire, and tell it like it is. You will close this powerful book more curious, brave, and uncaring.

Gilbert is both real and hilarious.

You’ll appreciate her direct and intellectual advice drawn from her experiences as well as other great creatives. We’ve all been the red lobster at a medieval costume party.

And hey, if you don’t like our art, go make your own.

Gilbert shares why perfectionism is fatal, how we are meant to create, and how to work more easily and happily. Amazon | Goodreads

Atomic Habits by James Clear book cover with eggshell background color and golden letteringPin

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Imagine if just the act of taking out your yoga mat for a week or two could eventually turn you into a yogi – or more importantly, a calmer and more flexible and healthy person.

Can it really be that easy?

James Clear sets out to prove how one small act can create a ripple and larger effect in one of the best books that will make you think about your (fluid) identity, goals, and habits.

It’s no wonder that 2 million+ people subscribe to his newsletter – and now we do too.

Find endless takeaways and simple formulas about how to succeed at creating sustainable and healthy habits by making them easy, attractive, and attainable.

We most appreciated the parts about changing your environment, not just writing goals but actually doing things, and creating habits around identity and the set of values you want.

Start small and be consistent.

For powerful books, see why quantity is sometimes better than quality and how we get stuck in patterns. Atomic Habits is utterly life-changing.

Read Atomic Habits: Amazon | Goodreads

Books That Make You Think Differently About Mental Health

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi black and pink divided book cover with black woman with hands in a prayer like steeplePin

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

A BOTM selectionTranscendent Kingdom is a thought-provoking book about racism, mental health, and science versus faith and religion.

This is an unputdownable book, too, if you love fiction that reads like nonfiction or are looking for a book club novel.

Follow a family of Ghanaian immigrants whose lives are filled with tragedy, depression, and prescription pill addiction.

Moving from Ghana to Alabama — where they are met with poverty and racism — feeds into their hardships, causing Gifty to question why her family is struggling so much.

A med student at Stanford, Gifty studies addiction to see if science can help her mother while trying to reconcile her belief in God. The relationships, pain, and storytelling will rock you to your core. Amazon | Goodreads

You’ll also find Transcendent Kingdom on our books about Ghana and Southern books reading lists.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig deep blue book cover with large library structurePin

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

One of the absolute best books of 2020 about mental health, Matt Haig will stir up all of the emotions in his thought-provoking novel, The Midnight Library.

Set in England, Nora attempts to take her life.

In a pill haze on the verge of death, she time travels to the Midnight Library where there are endless possibilities with different routes her life could have taken.

Nora is given the opportunity to see if changing her endless regrets – by living them again – would make her happier. 

The Midnight Library is also one of our favorite time travel novels and is a great selection for library story seekers.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang red book cover with woman's bust sprouting through flowersPin

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Translated by Deborah Smith

One of the best award-winning and translated books that will make you think differently about society, don’t miss The Vegetarian.

Set in Seoul, South Korea, and a Man Booker Prize Winner, The Vegetarian is a beautiful and mesmerizing but also intensely disturbing novel about a young woman imprisoned within her own body and society.

Told from three different perspectives, Yeong-hye’s lives an ‘ordinary’ life married to a terrible husband. One night, she has an awful dream filled with blood and brutality.

She decides to become a vegetarian, which is taboo to her family and Korean society.

Yeong-hye’s life begins to spiral into chaos, with more abuse, abandonment, and entrapment.

A hard but thought-provoking and powerful novel with many triggers, explore messages about women’s bodies, society, and mental health.

Explore even more poignant Korean novels in translation.

Turtles All The Way Down by John GreenPin

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

A bestselling YA novel from John Green, Turtles All The Way Down follows Aza as she works to uncover the disappearance of a billionaire on the run.

Aza struggles through her own inward battles, and Turtles All The Way Down will leave readers cheering along for her in a world that sometimes feels like it’s spiraling out of control. Amazon | Goodreads

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Books That Make You Think About & Fight Racism

Books That Make You Think The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasPin

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

One of the extremely powerful YA books that make you think about racism and BLM, The Hate U Give (THUG) is a must for adults and teens.

As a young black woman, Starr is trapped between two worlds: her preppy white school and her home in Garden Heights, a poorer neighborhood. 

When her unarmed and innocent cousin is shot and killed by a white police officer, Starr has to make the decision of her life.  Does she fight?  Or does she stay silent?

Racism, stereotypes, activism, and identity are just a few themes dissected in THUG. 

THUG is one of many newer YA books that makes you think more deeply about racism and racial tensions in the U.S — and their effects on teens.  

THUG is also a book that will make you rise up. Amazon | Goodreads

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi book coverPin

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

One of the most talked-about books of 2020, even though it published in 2019, Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist will teach you how to combat racism.

Kendi’s philosophy is that you are either a racist or an antiracist, and at times, we all alter between both.

In order to be an antiracist, you have to be “one who is supporting an antiracist policy” through your words and actions.

Kendi discusses racism in our biology, ethnicity, culture, spaces, gender, and sexuality. He also points out how growing up as a young Black man, he perpetuated many of his own racist beliefs.

How To Be An Antiracist will teach you how to do the antiracist work needed to charge forward in a more equal society filled with equal opportunities.

Small Great Things Jodi PicoultPin

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Set in Connecticut, Ruth Jefferson is a black nurse facing white supremacist patients.

When their baby goes into sudden cardiac arrest, Ruth — who was taken off of their case the previous day — must make a decision whether or not to intervene.

Ruth’s hesitation lands her in a heartbreaking trial where even her defender doesn’t fully understand how much race and the color of someone’s skin affect Ruth’s life.

Grow and change with the characters until the suspenseful and somewhat shocking ending. Small Great Things will expand your mind about race and tolerance in the US. Amazon | Goodreads

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid book cover with blue objects floating around like a fish, apple, and airplanePin

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

If you are looking for a fictional book to read that will further your knowledge of the Black Lives Matter Movement and systematic racism that exists today, don’t miss Such A Fun Age. 

Through her strong characterization and diverse relationships, Reid tackles racism, classism, privilege, and prejudice.

Alix hires 26-year-old Emira to take care of her unique daughter, Briar. Emira is struggling to find her career while her other friends are becoming ‘adults.’

When a grocery store security guard stops Emira late at night and questions why she is with a white child, Alix becomes more and more obsessed with forming a relationship with Emira.

Alix has a lot of guilt spurred from her past actions in high school.

A story full of loaded characters and toxic relationships, Such A Fun Age is one of the books that will make you think more deeply about the detrimental white savior complex and white women’s tears.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler white book cover with gold leafPin

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

When the yuppie Whitman family moves into Oak Knoll, North Carolina, building a fancy house and killing Valerie’s tree, no one can predict the tragic outcome of this story.

Told via the perspective of an omniscient neighborhood (or neighbor), racism, corruption, and disgusting men abusing power are at the heart of this story.

From the beginning, you are aware of imminent tragedy, and the story carries you there until the bitter end.

Reminiscent of Little Fires Everywhere with a tad of Romeo and Juliet, uncover compelling characters in a relevant and provocative plot that will leave you thinking long after you close the novel.

Read even more powerful books set in North Carolina.

The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph book cover with young Black man with beard and mustachePin

The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph

One of the newer books that will make you think more deeply about racism, The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph is a less academic version of Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist in memoir form.

Joseph and prominent members of the Black community — including Angie Thomas — discuss racism and how to be a better white person.

Joseph uses his own personal stories to discuss everyday racist acts to say, yup, that was racist regardless of what you think, and here’s how to fix it. Amazon | Goodreads

Friendship Books That Make You Think Outside The Box

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakPin

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

A classic book that will make you think outside of the box, The Book Thief brings home the power of words and books.

You’ll find yourself questioning traditional definitions of friendship, prejudice, and family. A WWII novel for teens and adults, friendship and heartache engulf this story. 

Liesel is an adopted child and befriends the Jewish man hiding in her basement.  Together, we learn how music, art, and words can shape and define our worlds and relationships.  

Warning: The Book Thief will probably make you cry, too. 

Check out more books like The Book Thief on TUL’s World War 2 historical fiction reading list.

Fiction Books That Make You Think Outside the Box Stargirl by Jerry SpinelliPin

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Although Stargirl is a middle-grade read, you cannot help but love the protagonist.  Stargirl is one of those younger books to make you think outside of the box, including with your own name.

Stargirl is transitioning from homeschool to high school.  Unlike the other kids in school, Stargirl walks to her own tune. 

Although she tries to fit in and even has an admirer, Stargirl knows that she has to be true to herself. 

A bit eccentric and mature for her age, we just adore Stargirl’s attitude on life. 

She is truly a role model for the nonconformist. Stargirl teaches readers how to think differently about societal norms and acceptance. Amazon | Goodreads

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane book cover with blue and green residential neighborhoodPin

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

If you are looking for coming-of-age and friendship books that make you think, Ask Again, Yes is both poignant and relatable.

Peter and Kate are childhood friends with European immigrant fathers that work together on the police force. One day, Peter’s mother shoots Kate’s dad, testing their friendship and love.

Over the course of 40 years, we watch both families evolve, fall apart, love others, disappear, and try to grow and move on from inescapable and intertwined pasts.

The perfect book club book, Ask Again, Yes is a must-read to get you thinking about forgiveness, pain, and guilt. This is one of those stories that changes you after reading it.

Head to NY and across the U.S. with our 50 States reading list.

In Five Years by Rebecca SerlePin

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

If you are looking for books that make you think that you can also finish in a day, In Five Years is a 4-hour read. 

One of the best books set in NYC, this novel will leave you in tears and having all of the feels.

Would your life change if you had one seemingly real dream or premonition? What if some key facts were missing but you had no idea? Can we change the future?

Dannie Kohan has had the perfect life planned out ever since her brother died in a drunk driving accident.

On the night of Dannie’s planned engagement, she falls asleep only to ‘see’ herself, 5 years in the future, in the arms of another man.

Books To Make You Think About Different Or Unique Perspectives

Books That Change The Way You Think include A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult Book ReviewPin

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Are you looking for books that make you think about others’ perspectives?

In A Spark of Light, Picoult examines abortion with characters ranging from pro-life to pro-choice — and those on the fence.

Teenage Wren finds herself trapped in a hostage situation.  Wren is seeking birth control at a clinic when the gunman enters.  Unfortunately, Wren’s father is also one of the lead mediators.

Picoult forces readers to think differently about the black and white way we see abortions, pointing to the gray areas.

Books That Make You Think include Woman at 1000 Degrees Pin

Woman at 1000 Degrees by Hallgrímur Helgason

As we headed to Iceland, we delved into Icelandic literature, both new and old. 

Woman At 1,000 Degrees is one of those books that will make you think differently about the world, humanity, and brutal histories.

Based on the first Prime Minister’s granddaughter, Helgason recreates a true story about Iceland during WWII.  Unique to books about WW2, the protagonist’s father heads into battle to fight for Hitler.

Readers learn more about growing up as a displaced child of war, and how we either overcome or succumb to a devastating past.  You’ll both love and dislike Herra.

Be careful; Woman at 1000 Degrees is another book to make you cry. 

Books That Make You Think About Class, Socioeconomics & Wealth

Empire Falls Richard RussoPin

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

We rarely declare a book as one of our all-time favorites, but we truly love Richard Russo’s Empire Falls.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, readers enter the working-class, blue-collar town of Empire Falls, Maine.

This decaying town reminds us exactly of Riverdale…before underage Veronica somehow opened up a speakeasy and Archie took part in a fight club. You know what we mean.

Miles runs the local burger joint (Pops, anyone?!), is getting a divorce, and wants nothing more than a normal life for his daughter.

Empire Falls is one of those books that make you think more deeply about wealth, love, disappointment, and survival in America. Amazon | Goodreads

Blood and Sand by Jennifer M LanePin

Blood And Sand by Jennifer M. Lane

If you liked Empire Falls or Nickel And Dimed, check out indie title, Blood and Sand. As thought-provoking, new-adult fiction, watch as once rich Logan Cole loses it all.

With her father’s name ruined, Logan flees to Ramsbolt, Maine with hopes to start all over again. Welcomed by the kindness of strangers, Logan slowly falls in love with her new bartending life.

These cocktails are life-changing and each holds meaning and personality. Logan is a reverse rags-to-riches story.

Nonfiction Books That Make You Cry include The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls Pin

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is one of those books that make you think about the balance of living a happy life versus paying the bills.

Also a movie, readers follow along as Walls learns what it is like growing up with parents’ heads stuck in the clouds.

With a dreamer father, Walls spends her childhood living in a precarious situation of having nothing but still possessing the undying love of her irresponsible family.  The siblings band together to care for each other.

Walls perseveres and succeeds as an adult while her parents choose to live homelessly. 

In a story of resilience, The Glass Castle is a thought-provoking book with insight into living a fantasy life that never comes to fruition versus finding the balance of a healthy, happy, and productive existence. Amazon | Goodreads

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson book cover with black and white photo of peoplePin

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

One of the most relevant and thought-provoking books of 2020, Wilkerson discusses how like India, America has its own caste system. Ours began with slavery.

Most eye-opening to us was learning that the Nazi party looked to America as an example of how to manage marginalized groups and guard white supremacy.

Wilkerson defines caste as a system that holds everyone in their place and withholds privilege, resources, humanity, and kindness from people who are lowest on the contrived hierarchy.

Caste is a social order that is so woven into the fabric of American society, it is second nature to us to uphold it.

Books That Make You Think About The Role Of Government

Fiction Books For Deep Thinkers include The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodPin

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the books that make you think about women’s rights and government power. Could this be our future?

Offred tells the story of how modern society transforms from what we know today into a strict social order.  The Handmaids are used to procreate in a disturbing and wordless act of sex with others’ husbands. 

Kept like prisoners, readers enter a bizarre world of intolerance mixed with religion.

Perverse yet somehow witty, The Handmaid’s Tale is a satire in an overly regulated and hypocritical society.

It’s also one of the best books written in the ’80s that is still relevant today. Amazon | Goodreads

A Burning by Megha Majumdar book cover with orange, red, and yellow flamesPin

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Jivan is Muslim living in a poverty-stricken area of India. When a terrorist organization attacks a commuter train in her neighborhood, the police arrest her.

Although innocent of the crime, the government needs a scapegoat, especially with a new corrupt political party hoping to win the elections.

Watch as three people in similar situations destroy each other to save themselves.

Atmospheric and heart-wrenching, A Burning is one of the best sociopolitical books to make you think more deeply about corruption in the government and abuse of power.

Read more books about India.

Books That Make You Think Differently About Societal Expectations

Convenience Store Woman by Sakaya Murata book cover with bowl of balled up rice in shape of a woman's facePin

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

If you are looking for books that will make you think differently about the world, Convenience Store Woman follows the life of a convenience store worker, Keiko Furukura, who lives in Tokyo, Japan.

Keiko believes that she can live a ‘normal’ existence only if she makes others and society happy. She must follow a prescribed way of life: get a ‘real’ full-time job, marry young, and have kids.

Even though Keiko tries to be the perfect convenience store worker, comically shouting out promotions and making sure the shelves are always stocked, she knows that everyone else critically judges her.

When Keiko tries to conform, nothing feels right. She is miserable.

Convenience Store Woman is also the perfect thought-provoking book for Women In Translation Month and one of our favorite Japanese novels.

Find even more books set on islands, big and small.

Paper Towns by John GreenPin

Paper Towns by John Green

Although people either love John Green or don’t, all of his books make you think differently about the world.  Green also writes the perfect YA books for those wanting more in life.

Paper Towns criticizes those overdeveloped gated communities that we saw so much in our former Florida home.  Conformity. 

Sure, Margo might be a self-indulgent twat at times, but that is part of the reason why Quentin loves her.

Margo disappears in the midst of their high school career, causing Q to follow a scavenger hunt where he learns about life, friendship, and coming of age.  

Paper Towns is a book that is sure to make you think about your life’s purpose. It’s also one of the best YA books about Florida.

Find even more books with hints at maps.

Books That Make You Ponder The Meaning Of Life

Nonfiction Books To Make You Think About The Meaning of Life include The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch book coverPin

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Once diagnosed with terminal cancer, Randy Pausch decides to give his last lecture about the meaning of life.

Seize every day and every moment because it is true that life goes by quickly.

Help others, move on, and dream big are just a few messages in this book that makes you think about life and death. Amazon | Goodreads

Powerful Classic Books That Make You Think

Deep books and most powerful books include Beloved by Toni MorrisonPin

Beloved by Toni Morrison

A Pulitzer Prize Winner, Beloved is one of many classic books to make you think and look at the world through new eyes.  It will also stay with you for a long time after finishing it.

Born into and eventually escaping slavery in Kentucky, Sethe finds freedom in Ohio.  Is she really free, though? 

Sethe can never fully escape her memories or past, including the death of a child. This is a novel about ghosts, love, trauma, and family.

Middlesex by Jeffrey EugenidesPin

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

If you are looking for a contemporary classic book that will make you think, Middlesex lands on almost every list – as it should.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, uncover a world of family secrets, gender fluidity, and how we battle social constructs. There are also themes of migration from a tiny Greek village and assimilation to Detroit.

Oprah featured Middlesex for Book Club, and this stunning title has been deemed “The Great American Novel.” Amazon | Goodreads

Fantasy And Science Fiction Books That Make You Think Differently About The World

Fantasy Books That Make You Think Include The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson Pin

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

Did you know that there are also fantastic and faith-based YA fantasy books that make you think differently about the world?

The Warrior Maiden is one of many global books that will force you to reexamine the treatment of women in the world. 

This Mulan retelling is about taking charge of your family and fate as a woman in Lithuania.

Mulan replaces her dead father’s spot in the war to save her mother’s home. 

Dressing up as a man, Mulan leads an army against the Teutonic Knights while finding love and her place in a male-dominated society.

Dickerson, a Christian writer, questions the role of faith in our lives.  Does religion dictate tolerance or condemnation? Feminist yet fairytale, this YA story obliterates stereotypes.

Explore even more books set in the Baltic States.

The Unfortunate Expiration of David S Spark by William F AicherPin

The Unfortunate Expiration Of Mr. David S. Sparks by William F. Aicher

Do you ever feel like the world is fighting back after all that we have done to it? Are we creating our own Doomsday?  

The Unfortunate Expiration Of Mr. David S. Sparks is the perfect fantasy book to make you question reality.

David is struggling to determine which of his perceived worlds is real. 

One day he wakes up with his fairly normal family while the next, he is involved in a field of eyes, political movements, and modified plant engineering gone wrong. 

While trying to stay alive, David must determine whose side he is on, and who he can trust.

In a world that is filled with wires and people connected to storage clouds, you don’t want to miss this philosophical sci-fi thriller.

Beautiful Children’s Books That Make You Think

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExuperyPin

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince is one of our favorite stories of all time — perfect for any age.

Also a childhood classic, this is one of those illustrated books to make you think differently about the fast-paced world and what is truly important.

A book about love and life, our Little Prince tries to figure out our motivations for work and how we interact with others.  Why do we count the stars?

As the Little Prince learns to tame the fox, we discover what it is like to build trust and cultivate connections and friendship.

The Little Prince is also a book that might make you cry. Amazon | Goodreads

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy book cover with blue binding and all animals sketched together and talkingPin

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

One of the sweetest, simplest, and most powerful books that we’ve read in a long time, we can now see why everyone is talking about The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse. 

An illustrated graphic novel perfect for the entire family, this story is a modern-day The Little Prince. The Boy… is mandatory reading for humanity. Plus, cake.

A mole and a boy begin talking about who they are and the imprint they wish to leave on the world. Success is love, connection, and kindness.

Fear has no place in our lives. We can only control our own reactions. It’s OK to ask for help, and listening is just as important as talking.

What Books Make You Think Differently About The World?

What books have made you think outside of the box or changed your life’s perspective? What books have caused you to question the world around you and encouraged you to make small life changes? Lastly, what is the most thought-provoking book that you’ve read recently?

Looking for more books that make you think? Try these book lists:

Best LGBT YA Books
Audiobooks For All Types Of Road Trips
Inspirational Books From Famous Travel Writers
Inspiring Women In Historical Fiction

Christine Owner The Uncorked Librarian LLC with white brunette female in pink dress sitting in chair with glass of white wine and open bookPin

Christine Frascarelli

Christine (she/her) is the owner, lead editor, and tipsy book sommelier of The Uncorked Librarian LLC, an online literary publication showcasing books and movies to inspire travel and home to the famed Uncorked Reading Challenge.

With a BA in English & History from Smith College, an MLIS from USF-Tampa, and a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship in Christine's back pocket, there isn't a bookstore, library, or winery that can hide from her. Christine loves brewery yoga, adopting all of the kitties, and a glass of oaked Chardonnay. Charcuterie is her favorite food group.

54 Comments

  1. I have read one of the above books and found it interesting.
    The one book I found to be totally consuming, in that I thought a lot of the stories for weeks after.
    Is
    Sands of Time by Beatrice C Snipp.
    I bought it last year during lockdown. Looking on Amazon it has not sold many. But a very interesting novel, in that the stories make you think not once but many times in the meaning of your life and all that means.
    I think I only paid a pound for a kindle version .
    I read it straight off and my wife like wise.
    May interest you it may not.
    Stay safe
    Larry

    1. Hey Larry,

      Thank you so much for the book suggestion. I will have to check it out. I love stories that leave you thinking about them for days and days after you close the book. Stay safe and healthy, too. Thanks!

  2. I absolutely loved Becoming by Michelle Obama. I found myself crying while reading it so many times. Often I could not quite identify what was bringing me to tears but I was so moved. After reading the book my husband and I were watching the documentary on Netflix. He was kind of laughing and made a comment about he couldn’t believe why all these women were crying just meeting Michelle. I was on the couch trying not to opening weep lol.

    1. I just love Michelle Obama and her book, Becoming. Have you listened to her new podcast? It’s my favorite. We watched the documentary, too. I would most definitely weep if I met her in person.

  3. I’ve found that Tipping Point and David and Goliath both by Malcom Gladwell have stuck with me other the years. The little nuisances of how we react to things and trends is really interesting.

    I had forgotten about a few of the books on this list like Glass Castle and The Book Thief. I think I would personally have to add The Jungle by Upton Sinclair to this list too

    1. Yes, I actually really enjoyed The Tipping Point, too. I don’t remember if I’ve read The Jungle — I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the new thought-provoking book recommendations.

  4. Recently the most thought provoking book I have read/listened to is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I listened to the audio book and felt his words deep in my soul. I think frequently about it. I would highly recommend everyone listens to this book!

  5. This is unconventional but Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast — it prompted me to think a lot about things I avoided for a long time. It was given to me at a time when my father was very ill — by someone who went through the same type of family event. It was comforting, and made me laugh & cry & made me think more deeply about aging, family ties and relationships in general.

  6. I would say “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I read this in middle school (way beyond my maturity level) but it opened my eyes to the existence of so many other worlds. It introduced me to the existence of gay people, drag queens, and “others” who were not the married with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence.

  7. If I could only choose one thought-provoking book, it would be A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. Years after reading it, I still think about it. The syntax is bizarre and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but it opened my eyes to how trauma can cause lasting brokenness.

  8. Untamed was so inspiring for me. Every time I have felt myself falling into the cycle of being what people want me to be, I remind myself that I am a GD cheetah and it has definitely helped me stick up for what I know I want.

  9. Ahhhh, the most thought provoking….there are a few. The one that changed my life would be Blue Like Jazz. It really helped open up my (then 23 year old) mind to understand and respect the view points and interpretations of others in various aspects of life.

  10. I absolutely loved “Me Before You,” and found “Paper Towns” by John Green and “In This Moment” by Karen Kingsbury to be very thought-provoking as well. 🙂

  11. This is an excellent list. I think the most thought provoking book I have read is Unwind, which I read with my eighth grade students. It really makes you think of how far a society will go trying to solve problems only causing a larger, more insane issue.

    1. Oh wow! I had never heard of Unwind — although I do read Neal Shusterman — and that book sounds incredibly unique and thought-provoking. Shusterman is a great author for young deep thinkers.

  12. I don’t have a thought provoking book but a thought provoking author, Jodi Picoult. Her stories make you think, What if I were in this situation. What would I do? how would I act? The themes are everyday themes, this could happen to me.

    1. Yes! Jodi Picoult definitely writes some of the most thought-provoking books. She is hit or miss for me, but there are so many titles by her that I love. Picoult covers difficult subjects and examines them from a variety of viewpoints. I do love that they cover everyday themes, as you point out.

  13. One thought-provoking book for me was “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, which is still a required book at our high school. Although written nearly a half century ago, it’s disturbingly relevant today. The USA has *not* made significant progress in quashing racism, and I wonder if we’ll make any gains within my lifetime.

    1. I ask myself that same question. I just hope more Americans work on educating themselves, volunteering, donating, and supporting a diversity of artists, businesses, writers, leaders, etc.

  14. The book that comes to mind as the most thought-provoking for me is Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. I learned so much from his accounts and examples.

      1. I’ll look at that one! I just realized Talking to Strangers isn’t technically on your list of thought-provoking books. :). My favorites from TUL’s list are definitely The Book Thief and The Last Lecture!

  15. I think that the two books that have made me more aware and to think differently are Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. Both books gave me a different cultural view point but n a respectable manner. I couldn’t recommend both enough.

    1. I love listening to Emmanuel Acho’s Instagram videos and have wanted to read his book. I’m so glad to hear that Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man was as thought-provoking as I expected. Thanks so much for the book suggestions.

  16. There are SO many good ones on this list! “Big Magic” stands out to me, especially, of having changed my life and made me think, as well as “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” 🙂

    1. Yay, Big Magic! I know that you and Kathy both recommended it to me, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I really enjoy Elizabeth Gilbert, and I find her real and inspiring.

  17. This is a hard one because there are so many good ones on the list.
    I thought the Hate You Give was amazing. My high school classmate’s son is Tony Robinson, killed by a Madison Police officer that killed another man with mental health issues. Don’t get me started.
    My kids read A Long Walk To Water which was also thought provoking. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
    I have to say that The Handmaid’s Tale is probably my choice for most thought provoking. I couldn’t stop seeing how much the current world was turning into the things that happened in the book. So much so I’ve never watched the show nor have I tried to start the Second book. Maybe after tomorrow it will see something so far off and I could consider reading about it again.

    1. Thank you! It really is so hard to pick the absolute best books that make you think…and for me, it’s always changing. I think I update this list every year.

      The Hate You Give was so good, essential, and relevant at just the right time — it really helped talk about the BLM movement. Along with Angie Thomas, I really love Nic Stone for similar reasons.

      I haven’t yet read The Testaments, either, but after the last couple of years, The Handmaid’s Tale felt wayyyyy more realistic, as you mention, too. It’s terrifying. I watched the first season of the Hulu series, and it’s amazing but really hard to watch.

  18. Jason Reynolds’ young readers adaptation of Kendi’s Stamped has stayed with me for months. Especially recommend the audiobook version!

  19. The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton was the most thought provoking book I’ve read. I couldn’t believe that he JUST got out of death row in 2015 after 28 years. Our justice system is crazy and this book makes me want to learn more about it. I also want to meet Anthony Ray Hinton because he is one of the strongest people.

  20. The most thought-provoking book I’ve read is A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I’m not finished with it yet, but it’s opened my eyes to the parts of history I was not taught in school.

    1. I haven’t read A People’s History of the United States yet. I can’t wait to hear your final thoughts. There was SO MUCH history we learned incorrectly or didn’t learn at all in school. It wasn’t until college that I learned how Eurocentric and quite frankly, white, our curriculum was, too.

  21. The most thought provoking books I’ve ever read were “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson & “The Sun Does Shine” by Anthony Ray Hinton. Both of these book helped me to learn more about the injustice of the criminal justice system, especially when it comes to people
    Of color.

    1. Just Mercy is a book that I have wanted to read. I am learning so much about our in-justice system from all of my recent anti-racist reading and documentary watching, which I feel is SO important for working toward antiracist policies and systems. Caste was definitely a history lesson that I didn’t know I needed. Nic Stone writes a lot of fictional YA books about the juvenile in-justice system that are essential, too.

  22. This is an excellent list! I have read many of these books, and read CorkDork after seeing your recommendation. It is now one of my all-time favorites. Along that same line, you should check out Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. He has a similar approach of submerging himself into a competitive culture.

    1. Hey Kevin! Thanks so much. I still find myself snobbily quoting Cork Dork when I am out–lol! I am so glad that you loved it just as much as I did. Thanks for the book recommendation, too. I will have to add Moonwalking with Einstein to my pile. Have a great weekend.

  23. This list is so thorough!! I appreciate all of your work to delineate these reads for us 😉 I’m seeing lots of nonfiction titles here that I’m interested in. Hopefully, I can get around to reading them this coming year!

  24. So, I’ve only read Eat Pray Love out of that list…and I have seen the show A Handmaids Tale (which I LOVED!) but just from those two books alone they really were powerful! I have added The Book Thief to my list! It sounds right up my alley. I’ve also heard so much about the little prince – I mean praise for it but I never really knew what it was about. If I am in the need for a good cry I will finally give it a read!

    1. I still need to watch Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale. We finally caved and bought Hulu this year. I also read the book, and I have to say, for once, I think the series is a *tad* better.

      You must read The Little Prince. I have an LP tattoo…that’s how much I loved it!

  25. I’m definitely going to get into Kondo in the new year. I need her!! A Walk in the Woods sounds great. I loved reading Wild. If I had any survival skills and had a good sense of direction, I’d totally go on one of those kind of treks. Maybe I can one day just not to that extent.
    Me Before You was so heartbreaking. When I picked up that book, I had no idea what it was really about. I couldn’t believe it was ending like that. I was definitely in tears while reading. The controversy is a tough one. I actually dated a guy with a spinal cord injury a couple years ago and wondered what he would have thought if he knew I read and saw the movie.
    Anyway, great list! I’m going to go with Kondo!

    1. I think everyone needs Kondo and Queer Eye in their lives! After watching Kondo fold clothes on Netflix–as I mentioned on IG–I started following along with some of my drawers and clothes. I have yet to fold my towels in a triangle, though. We also bought quite a few baskets to keep everything in one spot and more neatly organized. Our new closets in the NC house are not amazing, which calls for creative and better organization on our behalves. I just love the idea of only keeping things that spark joy. I cleaned out my bookshelves and old memory boxes too. Kondo is perfect before moving.

      Bill Bryson is so witty and intelligent. I just love him.

      Me Before You stirred up a lot of controversy because of that ending. I am not sure how I would feel in a similar situation. Definitely not the outcome most of us were expecting, which makes the novel so powerful and shocking–Me Before You is highly thought-provoking and such a tear-jerker.

      Can’t wait to hear what you love about Kondo!

  26. As you know, I already downloaded Cathy Heller’s “Don’t Keep Your Day Job” and will be listening to it on Audible next month, if not sooner. I mean, I am going to get my wisdom teeth out next week and I’ll be in a mood because of pain, probably feeling sorry for myself (I’m being dramatic lol), so why not. Cathy Heller’s always seems to inspire and motivate me with her words. I can’t wait to read her book!

    I am ashamed to say that I have never read “Eat, Pray, Love”. Don’t hate me! I’ve seen the movie though. I do still want to read this book. I feel like it is some sort of passage for travelers that I’m missing. I know I will love the EAT part of the book.

    Adding a few others to my TBR list!

    1. Oh man, I forgot that your wisdom teeth were coming out so soon! And, I know that Enzo has an appointment this week for things too…Ugh, let me know how it goes.

      You should be dramatic! I got my wisdom teeth out in college, and I was good until the painkillers made me sick (when I had my implant, I asked for a special, light, and nonaddictive one–Tramadol–that was much better), So, hopefully, you can listen to Heller slightly high lol. That sounded terrible. Plus, you can eat all of the ice cream that you want.

      I didn’t listen to Heller’s book, but I bet that Don’t Keep Your Day Job will be better that way, especially since she is such a good podcaster. Let me know what you think. Is she reading her own book?

      Honestly, I have a love/dislike relationship with Eat, Pray, Love, but at the time, the book spoke to me. Plus, Gilbert paved the road for that type of lifestyle and literally trashing a life that made you sad. If you want just the EAT part, read the section on Italy!

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