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7 successful women reveal the book that changed their lives

Seven successful women share the book that had the most impact on their life in this wide-ranging reading list featuring novels and nonfiction.
woman reads
Some books are just life-changing.Tom Werner / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

A book can offer escape and transport you to a place you’ve never been before. It can also open your mind to different views and thoughts. The right book can even change your life.

Remember back in school when teachers would assign certain books that would elicit good discussion or maybe (if you were lucky) introspection and inspiration? As adults, it’s nice to get to choose the books you read, but sometimes it’s also nice to be transported back to the old days of having recommendations to guide you.

And that’s what we have here today. But instead of having teachers assign the books, TMRW reached out to seven inspiring and successful women for their must-read recommendations. Each of the books listed below changed the life of the woman who read it, and perhaps it can do the same for you.

Below, see a wide range of novels and nonfiction books to add to your own reading list.

1. “Sula,” by Toni Morrison — recommended by bestselling author and speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones

Luvvie Ajayi

New York Times bestselling author of “I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual” Luvvie Ajayi Jones read Toni Morrison’s “Sula” in school, but said it’s still a book she goes back to over and over again to reflect and laugh. “Books that you read when you’re older have a different meaning,” said Jones, who is also the host of the podcast "Rants & Randomness with Luvvie Ajayi."

Jones said the character of Sula had a huge impact on her because she's so intriguing. "Because Sula is a character that could be easily hated, there’s a lesson," she said. “Even the worst of us exist for a reason. They keep us honest because we don’t want to be them.”

“Toni Morrison’s words are always like poetry,” Jones said, adding that the writing also inspired her to create her own work.

2. “Everything is Figureoutable,” by Marie Forleo — recommended by nonprofit founder Tammy Tibbetts

Tammy Tibbetts

“I believe the best books don’t just sit on your shelf,” said Tammy Tibbetts, co-founder and CEO of She's the First and co-author of "Impact: A Step-by-Step Plan to Create the World You Want to Live In" (coming Nov. 17). “They offer you a mindset and tool kit that becomes a part of your daily life.”

And that’s exactly what Marie Forleo’s “Everything is Figureoutable” did for Tibbetts. “This book’s very title, ‘Everything is Figureoutable’ is one of my favorite mantras now,” she said. “Marie’s book is a pep talk that I regularly turn to whenever I feel a challenge is too big or I doubt myself — and despite my success, that happens a lot."

Tibbetts said she recommends this book to anyone who has a dream, especially entrepreneurs.

3. “Slow Motion,” by Dani Shapiro — recommended by podcast host Zibby Owens

Zibby Owens

“Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” podcast host Zibby Owens has certainly read her share of books, but one of them truly stands out: Dani Shapiro’s memoir “Slow Motion.”

“Dani Shapiro wrote so beautifully, openly and personally about all the trauma she had gone through and how she’d coped with it, in such a vibrant, open, even helpful way,” Owens said. “I’ve followed Dani’s writing ever since. Her books have been like the older sister I never had, showing me what to watch out for in life — and, more importantly, how to handle it.”

Owens added that the coming-of-age story is beautiful in its own right but that she would recommend it for the author’s soulful, unique point-of-view and “how she’s able to continually reflect on the ins and outs of life, arriving at a conclusion that helps all of us.”

4. "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston — recommended by bestselling author Tia Williams

Tia Williams

Tia Williams picked up a tattered copy of “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston at a vintage bookshop when she was in college and ended up reading the whole book in one sitting.

The bestselling author of novels, including “The Perfect Find,” and editorial director at Estee Lauder Companies was moved by the words on the page. “It was the most deeply romantic novel I’d ever read,” she said. “And I don’t mean in the ‘romance novel’ sense — Hurston’s words themselves were so intensely lush.”

From the love story to the depiction of the town to the dialect, Williams was captivated. “You see the brilliance of Black people, who had an alien language forced upon them and bent it and shaped it like magic into something they could own,” she said.

Williams said she recommends this book for anyone who wants to get truly lost in a story. “No phone, no Instagram, no Netflix,” she said. “Just a total escape. Plus, it’s truly a writer’s novel — Hurston’s word choice and construction is a perfect primer on how to add seasoning and color to any story.”

5. “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” by David Sedaris — recommended by author and former comedian Suzanne Park

Suzanne Park

This collection of essays from humorist David Sedaris was actually the inspiration for Suzanne Park, author of rom-coms, including her latest, “Loathe at First Sight,” to put pen to paper. “I could relate to the awkwardness and family dysfunction showcased in his absurd, unforgettable stories,” she said.

Park recommends this book for anyone who needs escapism right now (“And who doesn’t?” she added.) She also said it’s perfect for anyone who’s in a reading slump because the essays are relatively short and easy to devour. “I rarely laugh out loud while reading, but this book had me wiping away tears that streaked my oil-free foundation and matte powder during a work commute. You won’t be disappointed.”

6. “The Complete Stories,” by Flannery O’Connor — recommended by bestselling author Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter
Alison Cohen Rosa

New York Times bestselling author Karin Slaughter, author of numerous crime novels, including her latest, “The Silent Wife,” first read Flannery O’Connor's “The Complete Stories” when she was around 12 years old, but said deeper meanings come out every time she reads the author’s work.

“I feel when I read O’Connor that she’s asking the same basic question that I always start one of my stories with: Why do people do the bad things that they do?” Slaughter explained.

She added that she thinks the layers to O’Connor’s stories mean they are written for a wide audience. “If you’re looking for religious meaning, it’s there,” she said. “If you’re looking for great moral questions that still resonate today, you’ll find that on every other page.”

7. “Eat Pray Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert — recommended by interior designer and author Erin Gates

Erin Gates
Michael J Lee

“People either love this book or hate it, and I squarely fall into the former category,” said Erin Gates, interior designer, blogger and New York Times bestselling author of two books, including her most recent, "Elements of Family Style."

The memoir, which follows a woman who sets off on a journey of self-discovery and was turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts in 2010, came at a time when Gates had just gotten married, didn’t have a job and felt uninspired in life.

She said the book impacted her concept of bravery and risk, and the following year she opened her own business. “I love the way Gilbert wrote with such truth and openness,” she said, adding that she recommends this book for everyone, but mostly women who feel lost in the direction their life is going.