The best books about making huge life changes and the stories behind them

Who am I?

I have lived on or around sailboats for over thirty years. I had never sailed before meeting my husband. Many people dream of sailing off but few actually go. In 1996, we sailed away to the Caribbean with our seven-year-old daughter. Although I didn’t want to go, by the end of the voyage I found an inner strength that has stayed with me. The books I chose are all about making huge changes, taking leaps of faith. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

I wrote...

Holding Fast: A Memoir of Sailing, Love, and Loss

By Susan Cole,

Book cover of Holding Fast: A Memoir of Sailing, Love, and Loss

What is my book about?

Holding Fast: A Memoir of Sailing, Love, and Loss is Susan Cole’s story of leaving everything behind to follow her husband's lifelong dream of sailing away. Blond, blue-eyed, irreverent John bursts into Susan’s life in her twenties with dreams of sailing off. Susan dreams of settling down. A three-year voyage with their young daughter to the Caribbean profoundly changes their lives.

Susan’s journey took her from the glitzy world of Madison Avenue advertising to riding out Hurricane Mitch, the largest hurricane on record at the time, on a sailboat in Guatemala. She hadn’t wanted to go in the first place but ended up on a life-changing odyssey. A gripping adventure story and an inspirational memoir of finding our power in the unlikeliest of places.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Why did I love this book?

I loved Strayed’s raw, honest, vivid writing and fearless dive into her deepest, ugliest feelings following the death of her beloved mother. Strayed deals with her grief by smashing up her life and heading out on a grueling, lonely hike. My husband had just been diagnosed with cancer and I was working on my book about our sailing adventure at the time. Little did I know how helpful Wild would be both in dealing with my husband’s passing and in writing my book. I read Wild when it first came out and aspired to write like her.

By Cheryl Strayed,

Why should I read it?

22 authors picked Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the…

Book cover of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Why did I love this book?

My sailor husband and I both read this book in the early 1970s when we were living on a romantic, leaky 48-foot Fire Island ferryboat that he talked me into buying in our twenties. The book depicts Pirsig’s cross-country motorcycle trip with his teenaged son, with whom he’s had trouble connecting. They learn about each other and themselves on the journey, and Pirsig, a philosophy professor, discourses eloquently about classical vs. romantic approaches to life. My husband and I named our second boat after Pirsig’s alter ego, Phaedrus, whose search for a higher quality of life drove him insane. I still have my dog-eared copy of the book.

By Robert M. Pirsig,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

H is for Hawk

By Helen Macdonald,

Book cover of H is for Hawk

Why did I love this book?

Macdonald’s fierce determination to train a wild goshawk is at first puzzling: why is she choosing such a difficult, aggressive bird to train and sticking with it when she clearly is failing? As we learn about her close relationship with her recently deceased father, it becomes slowly, beautifully clear that the bird and the falconer--both injured in their own way—have much to give each other. I happened upon the book the year after my husband passed away and it was more helpful than any grief therapy.

By Helen Macdonald,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked H is for Hawk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of the Year

ON MORE THAN 25 BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR LISTS: including TIME (#1 Nonfiction Book), NPR, O, The Oprah Magazine (10 Favorite Books), Vogue (Top 10), Vanity Fair, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle (Top 10), Miami Herald, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Top 10), Library Journal (Top 10), Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Slate, Shelf Awareness, Book Riot, Amazon (Top 20)

The instant New York Times bestseller and award-winning sensation, Helen Macdonald's story of adopting and raising one of…

Sea Wife

By Amity Gaige,

Book cover of Sea Wife

Why did I love this book?

Gaige’s writing is terrific, insightful, fresh, and fast-paced. As I read about the fictional couple and their conflicts at sea, I was struck by the similarities to our real-life sailing experience. In a fabulous first scene, the wife hides in a closet, unable to deal with reality. She reluctantly goes on a voyage with her husband and their lives change, much as ours did. I never hid in a closet, but before the voyage, I was someone who if I didn’t like reality, ignored it. At sea, that’s not possible. 

By Amity Gaige,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sea Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Taut as a thriller' Claire Messud

'A gripping tale of survival at sea - but that's just the beginning' Jennifer Egan

'A smart, swift and thrilling novel' Lauren Groff

From the highly acclaimed author of Schroder, a smart, sophisticated literary page turner about a young family who escape suburbia for a year-long sailing trip that upends all of their lives

Juliet is failing to juggle motherhood and her anemic dissertation when her husband, Michael, informs her that he wants to leave his job and buy a sailboat. The couple are novice sailors, but Michael persuades Juliet to say yes. With…

Book cover of The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape

Why did I love this book?

James Rebanks was born in England’s Lake District into a family who valued the hard work and ancient traditions of shepherding in the high hills. Later, he winds up at Oxford, seemingly headed for a life of financial success in the city, and realizes that while the world at large may value such success, he values the quiet, steady, solitary shepherd’s life and chooses that instead. He beautifully depicts a life steeped in tradition, honoring the seasons, and filled with characters. I loved learning about a slice of life that I knew little about.

By James Rebanks,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Shepherd's Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Affectionate, evocative, illuminating. A story of survival - of a flock, a landscape and a disappearing way of life. I love this book' Nigel Slater

'Triumphant, a pastoral for the 21st century' Helen Davies, Sunday Times, Books of the Year

'The nature publishing sensation of the year, unsentimental yet luminous' Melissa Harrison, The Times, Books of the Year

Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and…

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