I know that most book recommendations are for "summer reads," but I think that fall is a time when we especially need a good book.
First of all, after taking a breather over the summer to just enjoy life, we may find ourselves ready to ask some bigger questions, like: "what do I want out of life?" and "who am I?"
Also, for many of us, life gets crazy in the fall! So it's awesome to have something you can do to de-stress that doesn't involve a screen.
I love reading, and I love getting recommendations from friends about books to read. So today I wanted to recommend books to you in two categories: books that changed my life (of the smart self-help variety) and books that are just fun, fabulous fiction.
We need some of both to keep things interesting, you know?
5 Books That Changed My Life
I know that’s a bit of a dramatic thing to say, but it’s true. These five books were incredibly influential in shaping the person I am today.
1. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
The best way I can put it is that Cameron shows you how to live a productive and creative life in the world, without feeling like the type-A, personal trainer part of yourself needs to take over and really “push” you to get things done. No one had ever told me that I could “befriend” myself, trust myself, and also do the work I wanted to do in the world. Again, what I love about this book is that it is both incredibly warm and encouraging, but also entirely practical (Are you sensing a pattern?).
Cameron's book takes the form of a 12-week course that you can do by yourself or with a group of friends. I’ve “done” the course multiple times – both alone and in a “creative cluster,” and I've always been delighted by the results. I am always both more productive in the work I want to do and more delighted with life. Her “assignments” have even led me to do things like bake pies and learn to play the ukulele.
2. Finding your North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, by Martha Beck
I know that the title might sound a bit flakey or new age-y, but Beck is funny and smart and writes in such a delightful and practical way (and even graduated from Harvard, for what it’s worth). She gives you all sorts of different exercises and approaches to figuring out how you want to be in the world – from the work you should do to romantic relationships to how to spend your days. This is another book I go back to time and again.
3. Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, by Geneen Roth
If you struggle in any way with your eating, I can't recommend this book enough. My copy is worn out and dog-eared, and every time I re-read it, I feel like Roth is speaking directly to me. What I love most about it is that it is incredibly emotional, personal, and compassionate – how did she know exactly what I’ve been going through? – and also completely pragmatic. Roth provides practical solutions for questions from “How do should I choose what to eat?” to “How can I deal with showing up at a family gathering after I’ve gained 40 pounds and I feel so embarrassed I want to explode?”
I’ll be honest: I don’t usually like to read books about people who die from cancer. But this book is so moving and wonderful that I can’t recommend it enough.
Ken, an influential modern philosopher/spiritual dude (This is a provocative summary of his work, which is worth checking out on its own.), and Treya fall madly in love and marry five months after meeting. A few weeks later, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. This book makes it on my top five list because of (1) the way that Treya works through questions of how to be a woman and how to contribute to the world and (2) Treya and Ken’s thoughtful, authentic, purposeful relationship. They provided really powerful examples of how being in the world and loving in the world could be done at a time when I was figuring those things out for myself.
5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
In case you haven’t heard, I am a strong introvert. But for years, I didn’t know it. I only knew that I seemed to be different than other people – I didn’t want to socialize as much as others, I was always staying home, I needed to be alone a lot, and I got drained easily. I’ll be frank: it caused me a lot of guilt, and I often felt pretty weird.
I realized that introversion was a thing when I took my first Myers-Briggs test, but reading Quiet took it to a whole new level. It helped me understand that it was okay to feel the way I felt, that other people felt the same way, and that there were even (shockingly) advantages to being introverted. It helped me feel much more comfortable asserting my needs: they weren’t weird or abnormal.
5 Great Fiction Reads
And then, because I couldn’t resist, I wanted to share five more of my all-time favorite fiction books. It’s not always the right time for deep personal development and introspection – sometimes you just want a great book to read!
These ones range from books that are almost too painful to read, they’re so good and truthful, to the juicy, finger-lickin’ good page-turners (hello, hunky Scottish men!) :
1. Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs
Just a really meaty, juicy adventure story with a female protagonist you’ll love. I think Jennifer Weiner (also an amazing author) says it best: “Isaacs writes great, big-hearted heroines, sassy girls who win the day through their wit and their work, not their beauty.” My mom turned me on to Susan Isaacs, and my mom is a smart, feisty and bad-ass lady herself.
2. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Outlander is 600 pages, and I read it in 5 days. An English nurse who has just served in WWII is somehow transported back in time to 1743 Scotland. Yeah, it kind of sounds hokey, but the book is filled with Scottish hunks and incredible adventures. I also think it handles feminism and gender issues in an interesting way. You will tear through it.
3. Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
I’m going to be real with you: this is a romance novel. But Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s books are really the only romance novels I read, and it’s because her heroines are always smart and empowered. They care about getting the guy, but they also inevitably have a business they want to start and a life they want to figure out, and I dig that, you know?
This one is about a woman who is trying to start a matchmaking business and the hunky sports agent who is her first client (and ultimately becomes her…you know). It is such a joyful, fun book that you will eat it up. Also, my grandma recommended it to me, if that convinces you.
4. The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer
This is the story of friends who meet as teenagers at an artistic summer camp, and what happens to them over the ensuing decades as they grow up and experience different levels of success, love, and fulfillment. The characters are so real and truthful, and I’ve never seen an author describe that everyday, did I make the wrong choice? jealousy so perfectly. Just a fabulous, truthful, at-times-painful-because-it’s-true book. Also, this book turned me onto Meg Wolitzer, who is such a gem.
5. Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
A story about a scholarship student at a prestigious boarding school who never quite fits in. But this book isn’t really for teenagers, and it’s much deeper than it sounds. Sittenfeld really taps into that feeling of someone who never is quite seen for who they are and never quite rises to her true potential. It’s one of those books that sometimes makes you cringe because it feels like real life. A fantastic read, and again, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors.
I’d love to hear from you! Have you read any of these books? What do you think of them? And much more importantly, do you have any book recommendations for me? (I’m looking to compile my reading list, and I bet that everyone else would love more recommendations, too! :)