I couldn’t think of enough books to do a Stranger than Fiction post last week (though Tunnel 29 would have been at the top of the list), but I’m back for this week’s Nonfiction November theme of “Worldview Changers”. I tend to think that our worldviews evolve slowly, so singling out a few books that had a discernable impact on my worldview was challenging. Books that are too preachy tend to wind me up, so I couldn’t think of any books that are specifically designed to be worldview changers – outside of Christian nonfiction, I tend to steer clear of them. Instead, what I’ve tried to do is come up with a few books that I read in my twenties as I was learning about how to live alone, how to look after my flat, how to be a nurse, how to be a postgraduate student etc – I feel all like these books shaped my worldview implicitly.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. This lovely essay collection about cooking and eating alone was a much-valued companion as I moved in by myself after living in student housing for three years. It’s not all strictly nonfiction, as there are one or two short stories, but it’s mostly essays. I still think back to the essay about someone (Laurie Colwin?) hosting friends in her tiny New York studio flat for the first time – I referenced it constantly as I was getting over my nerves around cooking for friends. This book really helped me to see cooking and eating alone as a privilege and a mark of independence, not a lonely activity, and I’m very grateful for that.

How to Get a PhD: A handbook for students and their supervisors by Estelle Phillips and Derek Pugh. This is a classic of doctoral student life, inevitably recommended by senior PhD students to the newbies just joining the office/lab. There’s something in it for everyone. For my part, I found the sections on managing your supervisor and notetaking in sessions most helpful, but for people who are completing a PhD mid-career there are sections on readjusting to student life, and for international students there is a chapter that is basically “an intro to UK higher education, culturally and structurally”. Invaluable if you are embarking on doctoral studies!

Raised Right: How I untangled my faith from politics by Alisa Harris. Although churches in the UK do not typically get involved in politics in the same way that they do in the US, where Harris is from, the church where I grew up was a bit more Bible Belt-y than is typical for the UK. One of the things I had to do once I moved to a new town was work out what I myself believe about a whole array of issues. This is the case for everyone, of course, whether you grow up in a staunchly atheist or a deeply devout home, or somewhere in between – but because Harris’s experiences were in some ways similar to mine (though hers were much more extreme), I found this a very useful and interesting read.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right by Atul Gawande. I’ve already mentioned this this month, in the context of books that I regularly recommend to my students, but it’s also one of the most useful project management texts I’ve ever read. I still refer to it when I’m troubleshooting a project at work that isn’t going to plan – and as I slowly start to make mentoring and perhaps management a part of my role going forward, I expect I will refer to it again as there are good tips in here about managing team as well as individual projects. (Also, if anyone has any recommendations for readable books on people management, I’m all ears!)

Lab Girl: A story of trees, science, and love by Hope Jahren. This memoir by botany professor Hope Jahren focuses on her experiences making a career in science at a time when it was much more difficult for women, and on her relationship with her best friend and scientific collaborator Bill. Although it seems like books about friendships have been more popular in recent years, when I first read this it was still quite a rarity to find one – especially one like this about a non-romantic relationship between a man and a woman. I read this towards the start of my PhD studies, and her excitement and enthusiasm for discovery was infectious along with the pleasure of reading about their friendship.

The Four Loves by CS Lewis. A little like Lab Girl, I loved this book for taking friendship so seriously. There are quotes in this that, even though I haven’t picked it up for years, I know almost by heart. I have read and loved most of Lewis’s Christian work (with the important caveat that he says a lot of quite ridiculous things about women in the early part of it), but this is probably my favourite. His famous quote that “to love at all is to be vulnerable” is the highlight of the book for me – but I often see that quote out of context as it floats around the internet. It is pretty meaningless divorced from what is essentially a thesis-length argument that loving other people is worth the fact that they will at some point break your heart. In fact, writing up this post has made me think that it might be time for me to revisit The Four Loves! A real favourite of my early twenties – I wonder what I will make of it a decade on.

There you have it! I’m not sure if these are worldview shapers, exactly, but although our worldviews are always evolving and changing, mine was doing so quite rapidly at this point, especially the first couple of years after I finished my undergrad degree, and these books were my valuable companions during that process. I hope that qualifies them for inclusion in this week’s topic!