Author’s note: This is a list of ten books that have changed my life and which I absolutely think you should consider reading, regardless of where you get them. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
When people find out that I was an English Major (it seems that once an English major, always an English major), they often ask for recommendations of books to read. At one point of my life, I’d have replied, “Oh, you must read Middlemarch, I adored it.” And while it is true that I occasionally read George Eliot or Thomas Hardy, and I even more occasionally enjoy it, ultimately I think there is more to be gained from reading other, more graspable, books.
So, in answer to those people who have asked for recommendations on books, here are ten books that have changed my life. Many of these aren’t necessarily “beach reads,” if that’s what you’re looking for, but each book has fundamentally changed how I view myself, my life, and/or my relationships.
To view the full list of books I like to recommend, use the Resources tab at the top of the page to select Recommended Reading or click here.
Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness
“Coming to our senses involves cultivating an overarching awareness of all our senses, including our own minds, and their limitations, including the temptation when we feel deeply insecure and have a lot of resources, to try to control as rigidly and as tightly as possible all variables in the external world, an impossible and ultimately depleting, intrinsically violent, and self-exhausting enterprise.”
This book is long, so I read it in chunks, but the first half of the book COMPLETELY changed how I viewed meditation and mindfulness. Prior to reading this book, I "didn't get" mindfulness and "didn't have time" for meditation. I thought that, because I was bad at meditation, I shouldn't do it. I now understand why mindfulness is so important, and the fact that I'm bad at meditation is all the more reason I should do it.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead
“Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
I first discovered Daring Greatly a couple of years ago, and it fundamentally changed how I view connections with other people. I've never been one to try to "fit in," but I've often struggled with allowing myself to be vulnerable and depend on other people in my life. This book showed me that this self-protective attitude not only leads to less real connection and more loneliness, but also doesn't allow others to be real and vulnerable with you. Highly recommended.
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life
“The most effective way to transform your life, therefore, is not by quitting your job and moving to an ashram, but, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, by doing what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
This book was a difficult listent for me (Audible audiobooks ftw), mostly because it was the first time that I realized that a lot of the ways I naturally react to stress and anxiety are absolutely unhelpful, both short- and long-term. Dr. David was the first person in my life to suggest that I can decide not to deal with everything at once, and put aside things that either have no solution or have no immediate solution. It's been a game-changer for me.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
“In fact, I’m starting a whole movement right now. The FURIOUSLY HAPPY movement. And it’s going to be awesome because first of all, we’re all going to be VEHEMENTLY happy, and secondly because it will freak the shit out of everyone that hates you because those assholes don’t want to see you even vaguely amused, much less furiously happy, and it will make their world turn a little sideways and will probably scare the shit out of them.”
Jenny Lawson is a hilarious, relatable, beautiful human being. The first chapter of this book made me cry. You should absolutely read it. Also, she lives in Texas, and I like to find cool things from Texas to point out to my family in California so maybe they’ll come visit more often… or ever.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and ...
“I cope with it the best way I know - by being completely unreasonable and trying to force everything else in the world to obey me and do all the nonsensical things I want.”
Allie Brosh's writing on depression is some of the most honest, on-point, and relatable writing I've ever seen about it. Her drawings, combined with her hilarious observations about herself and her life, make this something I think everyone should read.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
I think all adults should read this book. Not only does Dr. Brown talk about her research into shame and joy, but she talks about how she reacted to its results and ultimately used them in her own life. Beyond just being hilarious and awesome, Dr. Brown also provides activities to DIG deep (being Deliberate in thoughts and behaviors, being Inspired to make new and different choices, and getting Going). (Also, she’s from Houston and teaches at the University of Houston. Go H-Town!)
Gilead: A Novel
“I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem to you to be no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.”
There are no words for how much I love this book. It is the story of an old man, John Ames, facing the end of his life as he writes a letter to his seven-year-old son. It is heart-breaking and wrenching and beautiful and hopeful and all things I would want my own work to be. Read it.
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
“Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just 'real life.'”
Radical Acceptance was the first Buddhist-written book I'd ever read. It offers a gentle, kind way of viewing yourself when you're struggling with negative emotions. Dr. Brach shares some of her own struggles, as well as meditations that can help you build self-compassion and connections with other people.
Then We Came to the End: A Novel
“The funny thing about work itself, it was so bearable. The dreariest task was perfectly bearable. It presented challenges to overcome, the distraction provided by a sense of urgency, and the things made work utterly, even harmoniously bearable.”
Then We Came to the End is one of my favorite books. I think anyone who works in a white-collar job should read it. It so perfectly encapsulates how we feel about our work, how we feel about our jobs--and while it doesn't ultimately provide a "fix" for some of the problems, it helps point our how un-alone we are in our feelings about where we spend the majority of our time. I love this book, and I had the biggest intellectual crush on Ferris for years because of it.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
“If we are to develop an intimate relationship, we need to know each other’s desires. If we wish to love each other, we need to know what the other person wants.”
This book is a great way to start to understand how the people around you--not just those you're romantically involved with--give and receive love and caring. I think it should be required reading.