Change your point of view and your perspective thanks to books

Books contain just about every point of view about humanity. Different points of view means different perspectives. When I say books, I mean thought process and creation, passing on ideas through words. Writing is putting ideas down on paper, emotions, the past and the futures. Above all, possibility. Reading is conveying.

What books am I talking about? All books, non-fiction and fiction. The walls between the two genres are porous. Sometimes a work of fiction can offer more than a practical handbook or an essay on personal development. There is a word – bibliotherapy – for novels that can do you good, or question you, in any case help you to change the way you think or do things. Essays or other non-fiction writings can broaden our horizons, help us to better understand life, our destiny, and what we are reading or writing, depending on whether you are a reader or a writer. Books exist to make us better, or more conscious, sensitive, empathetic, powerful. They create bonds, they bring meaning.

Note: This is a guest article written by Florence from the website Les passagers des mots.

Change your point of view

My non-fiction recommendations

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari. Harper 2015

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Change your point of view

I loved this book!

There was a lot of talk about it and it made a big splash. This is a phenomenal book, essential reading. Why? Because it offers an overview of humanity, at its best and at its worst. We owe our development to our great flexibility, the capacity to communicate with a large number of individuals. Hey, it’s just like social media!

The historian also writes that creating fiction led to the creation of a shared culture that cements our bonds. This is something given to prestigious authors, a role that is really quite significant. It is hard to summarise this book, because it touches on so many things. The morals of our ancestors, agriculture, the extinction of megafauna… Biology, archaeology, history, the author offers us a broad approach to the subject of humanity, placing our evolution in perspective on a large scale (and we are tiny!) and questioning some of our beliefs. Sapiens is not very old, very powerful, and paradoxical! 

This enthralling documentary reads like a novel, easily, provided you have some free time to spare. Plan for around ten hours of reading. Bearing in mind that the work is complemented by Homo Deus, a brief history of the future, and a third volume, 21 lessons for the 21st century. I read all three with interest, although with a little less for the third volume. I highly recommend them! You will never look at humanity in the same way again.

What I took away:

  • Man is by nature a destroyer. 
  • Agriculture may well be the biggest catastrophe in history.
  • We are all collaborative beings, with collective intelligence (being alone is something else).

I never went to school

André Stern. (In French) Actes Sud Editions (domaine du possible), 2011.

Change your point of view

A promising title, don’t you agree? I read this book ten years ago, because I was thinking about allowing my son to be home-schooled. But that recalcitrant ingrate, with strong and wilful opposition, decided that he preferred to go to school (even though he didn’t like it). 

André Stern, son of Arno Stern, talks about his childhood out of the school system, with no programme and no pressure. But with enthusiasm and freedom. It is a captivating autobiography of a brother and sister who take the time to learn about the things that interest them. They grow and develop in an open and benevolent environment. The author learned a great deal, passionately and deeply. All the topics and areas of interest could be explored at the right moment, taking as long as necessary. Curiosity is natural during the period of awakening, and it asks only to be encouraged.

It all seems so logical and so very tempting! But could this really work for all children, for all families?

You need a certain freedom of spirit to dare to swim against the current. I didn’t have it, and neither did my son. I am probably too inclined to want to control things, in fear and doubt, disheartened by the mould, but unable to break free from it.

What I did not do in life, I tested in my fiction. Most of my characters do not fit in at school and get along very well without it: Julie Julot in Miss Rabat-joie, Manon in Quand tout menace. Erwan and Thomas in Le ventre de BK. In Grégo de l’île, the relationship with national education is a complicated one, if not with the teaching itself, with other people.

For my part, institutional learning was a form of violence, akin to torture. To this day, I think it is crazy. So, reading this book got me thinking, and it also made me sad, thinking about how everything could have been different. Can we learn without pressure, without violence? The question remains open. What do you think?

What I took away: 

  • The enthusiasm that is and should remain our main driver.
  • By becoming better at what we love, we can find our place in the working world.
  • Learning to be happy should be a national cause.
  • Learning and becoming proficient requires all our attention, and our enthusiasm.

Also read:

Deschooling Society

Ivan Illich. 1971

Deschooling Society Change your point of view

This is the original book for people with an interest in this topic. Ivan Illich is also one of the fathers of degrowth. Nevertheless, we remain in the field of theory, however interesting, in a society that is already overwhelmed (although…). Other more recent books complement the thought process of this Austrian author.

The Way of the Intelligent Rebel

Olivier Roland. Hay House UK Ltd., 2021.

the way of the intelligent rebel olivier roland

This weighty tome will change your point of view, whether about school or the world of business. Not only does this book talk about possibility and hope, which is already a lot to take on in these dark times, but also about tools to move along the path towards independence.

For my part, I read the book after reading several other books about education outside the school system, so it consolidated my point of view. It did, however, open up some exciting perspectives, offering current tools and other knowledge.

Olivier Roland is the founder of several blogs, including Books that Can Change Your Life. You will find many other life-changing books on that blog, that at the very least will have you question the way we move through the world and in society.

L’ado (et le bonobo) : essai sur un âge impossible

Nathalie Levisalles. Ed Fayard, 2014

L'Ado et le Bonobo Change your point of view

This is for all parents of a teenager who are exasperated by their progeny. It is essential reading for better understanding and to reduce any guilt you may be feeling. No, you didn’t necessarily mess up in your upbringing when your child was very young (raising a child is a complicated thing). There are quite simply some huge physical transformations taking place in their lives. This explains why they collapse into anything resembling an armchair, sleep late, slouch around (to better support the growing body)… And there is no doubt that the same happened in the days of Cromagnon (note this fabulous link to the previous books mentioned above!).

By tackling this age group from a physiological point of view, we can better understand our children, which does not exclude some legitimate annoyances! We should remember that the brain reaches maturity at around the age of 25. Anticipation coordination and empathy develop last. This is a rich and passionate book and it is worth dipping into regularly to ingest all the information. At the very least, reading it may help work off some of our anger. It helps us understand that the teenager is not built for what we ask of him. For example, the sleep cycle changes. He is tired later, and wakes up later. So heading to school at 8am can be a very difficult task. 

This is a rich and funny book, and an easy read. We understand better and feel less guilty. Essential reading for any parent at the end of their tether!

What I took away

  • Physiology turns our education on its head. We cannot take responsibility for everything.
  • Video games are not so diabolical after all.
  • In the history of humanity, the teenage period has never been so long.

The Transition Handbook – From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience

Rob Hopkins, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008. 

The Transition Handbook. From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience Change your point of view

Rob Hopkins, a permaculture teacher (systemic science whose goal is to design, plan and create ecologically sustainable human societies), has founded transition towns in Kinsale, and in Totnes. In practice, they are testing the post-petrol experience, as part of the movement towards a more sustainable world. As we saw in Sapiens, one of the most efficient solutions remains collaboration, at the heart of cities undergoing change. We can move forward collectively. So, why not make your town a place of transition, one that allows everyone to become independent, capable and offer mutual aid.

Together we can bring the tools in our possession: shared gardens, local currency, soft forms of transport, etc. We have all heard about how we need to take action, but often we don’t know where to start.

If we adopt these goals as a community, it becomes easier for all the inhabitants. 

What I find interesting is the author’s enthusiasm. He is asking us to create the future we want. A lot of books are very pessimistic, with depressing reports and scary catastrophe scenarios, so why not turn things around by imagining the future in a positive way?

Other books by the same author: 

From What Is to What If: Unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want

From What Is to What If:

By Rob Hopkins Chelsea Green Publishing, 2021.

What I took away this time:

  • It is up to us to imagine the future, and fiction is nothing more than what is possible. Insert it into the real, the basis for our future.
  • We can draw parallels with the other books I have mentioned.

Le livre est-il écologique ? Matières, artisans, fictions

By the Association pour l’écologie du livre. Editions Wildproject, 2020

Le livre est-il écologique ?

This short essay complements the world of Rob Hopkins for any book artisan, author or librarian, and even readers. The publishing industry needs to be rethought. “A new form of speed has taken over the world of books. The speed is that of the machine, leading to a loss of value of the lengthy process of creation and reading”. Overproduction and pulping do not fit in with an ecological perspective. “Every year, 1 in 4 books remains unsold, and 15% are pulped. At the same time, generalised relocation of printing has led to the closure of 34% of French print works since 2007.” Some stakeholders are giving thought to the book transition. Some of them have even created fictional works to invent a possible future. This short essay makes us want to change things, to work together on a new form of publishing.

Why do I care? Because I am a writer and librarian, and I am interested in the ecological transition. But this is a short book, and I find it hard to picture what I can do as a reader and writer.

What I took away:

  • Once again, through collaboration, we can change things.
  • The current publishing model is not sustainable and it will need to change.

My fiction recommendations

This is not about bibliotherapy or personal development. As a logical extension of the books mentioned above, this is an opportunity to reconsider our lives.

Without hesitation, the first work of fiction is:

In Search of Lost Time

By Marcel Proust, from 1913 to 1927.

In Search of Lost Time

In 7 volumes, the author describes the life of a child, teenager and later a man at a turning point in society between the 19th and the 20th century. Proust’s writing is fabulous, and most especially it deploys psychological human characteristics, from the most insignificant to the grandiose. It shines a light on the complexities of our personalities, our virtues, our vices, the way we move through the world, in darkness and in light. The idea that enlightenment redefines history, and helps the narrator leave the cave where fictitious shadows dance on the walls, to confront reality (reference to the allegory of the cave expressed by Plato).

Proust said that Beings are infinite. And indeed, the narrator, like ourselves, never knows at first glance what is hidden beneath an action, a reaction, a life… He therefore tells the story of different periods in his life, from his own point of view, what he knows, believes or understands. As we move forward in time, we feel like so many rising suns that light up the part previously hidden in the shadow, which automatically allows us to change our ideas, our point of view, and therefore our perspective.

That is how I see life and people. It does not make me a better person, just a person who is waiting to see what another person can reveal of themselves.

Sagas that cover decades often present this major upheaval in how things are viewed. Take for example My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

My Brilliant Friend

Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions, 2012.

My Brilliant Friend

Many readers have already written about My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. This saga, which I came to late, is one of my favourite works from recent years. I often wonder what this hinges on. A combination of an intriguing literary style and literary intrigue, identification and learning (book mentioned in my article in French Les vacances d’été, héroïnes de roman).

To remind readers, we follow the story of two friends, from the 1950s to the current day, in a varied and changing Italy, from Naples to Florence, or from Milan to Turin. But which of them, Lila or Elena, is the genuine brilliant friend of the title? The two little girls grow up in a poor area, and study could be their way out. Only one will stick with that path, while the other, endowed with extraordinary intelligence, will evolve differently, in a working class and violent environment. Their friendships, their loves, their passions and defeats weave a captivating life story, especially for a woman, mother and writer.

There is something Proustian about this tale. It takes the reader into the lives of a multitude of people in a non-linear way, encounters with people bogged down in their dissatisfaction with humanity. What is analysed at one point can be deconstructed later when a new element arrives to blow theories, hopes and resentments apart. The points of view evolve, are camouflaged, are displayed and add up to give us as broad a view as possible of the complex human relationships that bind the two heroines, from kindness to jealousy. They also bind an entire community, or even a country. The social, political and historical dimensions add interest and depth to the natures of the characters.

In fact, I think of this image shared by Elena as exponential, unlimited in space, while Lila experiences what she calls delimitation, a blurring of the very edges of her body.

Apparitions and disappearances contribute to this game of hide-and-seek that itself contributes to unpicking and sewing together the work of a lifetime. The author also plays hide-and-seek, and their true identity is unknown.

I like when there is play between fiction and reality, when the thread of the plot is drawn beyond the book. There was a great deal on discussion on social media after volume 4 was published. Many questions raised remained unanswered. Is this a space left for the reader to get involved in the story? This story is one that is very important to me, and I could talk about for much longer. This is also because of the heroines is a writer, and my desire to become one too underpinned my whole life. Novels that can change my life are those that question me about this part of my life.


Paul Fournel, publisher P.O.L.  

This novel tells the life story of Geneviève, a singular young woman who loves the cinema. She finds a publisher for her first novel, and writes quickly, without rereading (the dream). Robert Dubois works according to the old school. He is passionate and patient, with an appetite. He guides our heroine, who publishes a book every year, visiting over the years a variety of book fairs to apparent indifference (which reminds me somewhat of my own experience and I tease myself). She makes progress, gaining enough notoriety to attract the attention of a bigger, stronger publisher.

Jeune-vieille (Young-Old), a nickname given by a schoolmate, also questions the book publishing industry, old and modern, writing at the age of twenty or forty, readers of yesterday and readers of today. I like to dive into the merciless and interesting world of commercial literature, but above all, I I love the writing, sensory, fleshy, illuminating. The language bites, making us feel the sand-covered bread stuck to the palate.

It is one of three novels I read over a short period of time that talk about young writers who find a publisher on their first attempt (how do they do it??), about the writing process, publishing, this literary perception of the world, a world weighed down by words.

The two other novels are:
  • The first two volumes of My Brilliant Friend
  • Trois, by Valérie Perrin

Stories of a childhood brought into the present day through the eyes of adults who have the power to be able to turn the bedraggled sensations in which we float into sentences.

Three novels with similarities, their own style of writing, a story that draws you in, and the kind of complex characters I love. What about you? Is the prose as important as the story? Or even more so?

The Most Secret Memory of Men

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. Published by Simon & Schuster 2023

The Most Secret Memory of Men

This is a story about…. But do we really have to tell the story of a novel? Say what it is about? The hero of this novel hates that question. He himself is an African, living in France. Disturbed since he studies by an unusual work The Labyrinth of the Inhuman, he sets off on a quest to find the author, who is also African, and disappeared shortly after his book caused some controversy when it was published in 1938.

This is a book about literature, but also about culture, history, philosophy, memory, magic, darkness and points of view (yes, we keep coming back to points of view). Who reads a black author? A Western reader? A writer? A philosopher? A literary critic? An African? A human being? Whoever reads and understands, who gives meaning, and how…

This carefully written novel won the Goncourt literary prize. I recommend it to budding writers, because it asks questions about literature, about writing, as well as understanding what we read, an author’s goals, expectations, the meaning of the phrase, the acts to lay out, involvement, commitment, the role… The story is a complicated one that extends over time, with several storytellers, and therefore points of view, that create echoes, flashbacks, thoughts, digressions, mirrors and misunderstandings, a play on light.

In the footsteps of Proust or Ferrante, getting into this book improves us as humans, and if we are writers, makes us better at our job.

Dystopian and sociological novels

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley (published in 1932) and other dystopias.

Brave New World Change your point of view

Among dystopias, this could be the one that most affected me. The author was a true visionary. He anticipated several elements that can be found in today’s society. In our search for perfection, happiness and facility, we are leaning towards totalitarianism, overarching control and the loss of humanity (read Homo Deus, in agreement with this idea).

Test tube babies, mass holidays, chemical satisfaction… Utopia or dystopia? Divided into different castes, superior or inferior, this society also includes savages, beings born from a woman’s womb, like John the Savage. As with any novel, this juxtaposition creates the plot, upsetting the established order. The order here is Ford (Henry), which is not unrelated to the word Lord (and master).

In the dystopian novel Pretties by Scott Westerfeld (YA series), the same process is used. In a manipulated society under physical and chemical control, everything appears to be perfect. But some individuals prefer to choose nature, and have left a system that through the desire to make us all better has sapped human conscience.

In 1984 by George Orwell, controlling humanity in order to improve it is also at the heart of the story.

One question we can ask ourselves is “Can we be happy without control?”. Does our species still have a future, such as it is?

These works of fiction take us back to the essays mentioned earlier. In Sapiens, we are potential destroyers who do not always make the best decisions. And in Homo Deus, the question of our future is asked. What is to become of humanity, with superhumans, people who are more than human, and the gods of new technology? Should we abandon our freedoms for a perfect world? Can fiction, the foundation of our collective societies, still improve our condition?

For Rob Hopkins, the choice is simple: we have to work together and invent the world we want to live in. So the question is – What world do we really want? What are the fundamental values? What fiction should we be writing to change the disorder in the world?

Les Rougan-Macquart

Émile Zola, series of 20 novels written between 1870 and 1893.

The Rougon-Macquart Cycle Change your point of view

The first book I read in this series (with the sub-title Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire) was Germinal, when I was 15. It was a real encounter for me. Undoubtedly an important book in my attraction towards writing as a profession. Writing well is key, and Zola’s writing still captivates me. But the social and human condition must be a part of fiction, whether fantasy, science-fiction or historical. Zola describes a family influenced by its social standing and its history, from a psychological rather than a social point of view. 

The author was an activist writer and journalist, with a scientific soul. He depicted the human and psychological condition of a certain time in our history and considered his books to be part of the naturalist movement. From our western point of view, we say that misery is a terrible thing and that we don’t want it to exist anymore. But have we escaped poverty? Doesn’t it still exist? What society must we build to get rid of it?

While dystopian novels talks about invented, albeit probable experiences, realistic novels immerse us in an everyday life that is not necessarily ours, but one that could be. We are human, from every point of view. 

The Human Comedy

by Balzac (over 90 books written between 1829 and 1850)

The Human Comedy Change your point of view

He also took on the task of enlightening future generations by presenting the different sections of society at a specific moment in history. For the author, “a novel is truer than History”. The author wants to describe what is real, all of it. Showing what literature at the time did not show, people, the strata of society, the different regions, class psychology, even universal psychology. He wants to take fiction further, for fiction to become an essay. He encountered great success with these novels that he grouped together under the heading of La Comédie Humaine. Different heroes appeared in different novels. This was genuinely revolutionary. Zola was inspired by La Comédie Humaine to write Les Rougon-Macquart.

Conclusion about these books to changes points of view and perspectives

Change your point of view book

Books, whether essays or fiction, have the power to pass on knowledge, empathy and understanding. They can change the way we see and understand the world. Each of us has their own experience, their own reading. We will create our own bonds, come to own conclusions, although conclusions do not really exist as part of human evolution or that of society. Because we are infinite…

In any case, read. It will certainly change something inside you. It may not be your life, but at least your perspectives, and that’s a good start.

And as for us writers, it is up to us to invent the future.

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