Survey Reveals How Books Have Influenced Us

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Posted Sep 05, 2018

Thinking back to when you were young -- was there a book that touched you, that you feel influenced your life choices as you grew up? Maybe a book that became a favorite and is still on your bookshelf today (for more information on hard copy books on bookshelves see Our Relationship with Books -- It’s Complicated) Or what about those books that made their mark because they were a struggle to get through in school - for me it was The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I still have no idea what that book was about, but I digress. We were curious to find out which books consumers felt were influential in their lives, so we surveyed 1,000 respondents to find out. There was no shortage of strong opinions about books, read on to find out what our respondents had to say.

Step One: Make A List

Read, read, read — William Faulkner

How many grains of sand are there on a beach? About the same amount as reading lists found on Google -- best books, influential books, top books, favorite books, books for high schoolers, must-read books, books to read before you die. After reading through A LOT of book lists, we settled on these three to create the list for our survey:

And from these we compiled the following list of 28 books:

  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • The Bell Jar
  • Brave New World
  • Catch-22
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • The Color Purple
  • The Diary of a Young Girl
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Flowers for Algernon
  • The Giver
  • Grapes of Wrath
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Hamlet
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Night
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Outsiders
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • Siddhartha
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • The Stranger
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Things Fall Apart
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Wuthering Heights

Picking Favorites

Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose. ― Neil Gaiman

Among the 28 books listed, two stood out as favorites amongst our respondents -- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Both books resonated with readers for what they learned when they read them back in school and how relevant the issues discussed still are today. These two books were also cited as the top choices for books that everyone should read in their lifetime.10% chose Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as their favorite and here is what they had to say about it:

  • I think it touches on subjects that are still very relevant today.
  • Eye opening. Made me see something at a young age I didn't understand and hadn’t experienced. Made me a lifelong activist for racial justice and equity.
  • It's about a good man doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences. How that affects his children is just such a good story.
  • It was a story about dignity and honor. I have reread it many times and it still makes me think.

9% chose Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl as their favorite. Women and consumers with some college were more likely to choose this book as their favorite. This is what they had to say about it:

  • So poignant and sad, but shows that the spirit can still survive in the worst of times. I read the book when I was the same age as Anne when she died.
  • It gives you a young innocent child’s view of the nightmare and madness around her.
  • Sad but wonderful insight into what actually went on in the life of someone fairly close to my own age. Every young girl, even males, should read this book just for the perspective and reality..

The books we read in school weren’t always compelling or interesting — 16% of respondents cited Shakespeare’s Hamlet as their least favorite book on the list. The dialect was the main reason for our readers’ dislike and as you can see below Hamlet brought out no shortage of emotional responses:

  • The dialog was so confusing and at times, hard to get a grip on as a teenager trying to understand it. It was just not a book for me.
  • Billy Shakespeare needs to write in an easier-to-understand fashion.
  • Who in the HECK cares about Shakespeare? WHO can even understand his stuff? WHO likes it? NOT ME! I don't see what all of the ruckus is about, really!

The Book That Changed My Life

Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled “This could change your life.” ― Helen Exley

Books bring out our emotions and their stories stick with us long after we have finished that last page. There are numerous ways that books influence our lives -- they give us insight into how other people live, they broaden our worldview, they influence our thoughts on politics and social issues, they show us how to be better people, and they help us to not feel alone. The respondents were 50/50 on whether any of the books on this list influenced their lives. Consumers ages 18-34 and those with a 4-year college degree or higher were most likely to say they were influenced by a book on the list. Among those who said the books listed did have a lasting impact, these were their top three:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird (10%)
  • The Diary of a Young Girl (9%)
  • 1984 (8%)

Men were more likely to choose George Orwell’s 1984 as the book that influenced their life while women were more likely to choose Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

The Takeaway

Do books influence our lives? The short answer is “yes” and the long answer is also “yes”. Our respondents had no dearth of opinions about the books they read when they were young and the ways these books still resonate with them today. Books opened them up to walking in the shoes of another and learning about those different from themselves. There is comfort in re-reading our old favorite books and passing them on to our children.

For the full results please see below

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