A book can change your life. It can change the way you feel about yourself, how you see the world and treat other people. These ten books explore the different facets of our lives. They attempt to better understand how we move through the world, dissecting everything from creativity and happiness to grief.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
“You can be lonely anywhere,” writes Olivia Laing, “but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people.” The Lonely City is a meditation on loneliness and creativity. It’s about art and New York City, part memoir, part cultural criticism. Isolation is something we’ve all experienced and Laing’s open, honest account is a salve for a feeling that is rarely discussed.
The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin
The principle behind The Novel Cure is bibliotherapy, healing through reading. Whatever ails you this book has a recommendation, with conditions ranging from the serious to the trivial. For existential angst, try Siddhartha, a broken heart, Jane Eyre. If you’re feeling listless or ambitious, nervous or abandoned, there are books that may help. This is a wonderful reference guide of literary cures, filled with inspiration for what to read next.
The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer
Following his TED talk, Pico Iyer further explores the benefits of spending time being still, whether that’s with yoga, meditation or just sitting. It only takes an hour to read but the message is vital: “In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott
Bird by Bird is both a memoir about creative living and a writing guide. Novelist Anne Lammott shares practical advice on how to abandon perfectionism, get through creative blocks and start paying attention to the world. She writes about the darker side to creativity, the self-doubt and bad first drafts, with humour and honesty. A wise, intelligent book, and an essential read for writers.
The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
This changed the way I think about myself. I’ve discussed it at length with friends; working out which category we fall into, trying to place the people in our lives. It comes down to how you motivate yourself, whether you are an upholder, obligor, rebel or questioner. Gretchen Rubin’s insight into these personality types will help you to understand how you work best and improve your interactions with other people. It’s an important reminder that we aren’t all the same.
The Heretics by Will Storr
In The Heretics, chapter by chapter, Will Storr debunks our delusions, examining the psychology of belief. He interviews UFO spotters, homeopaths and creationists, but also sceptics and rationalists, who he finds aren’t as rational as they may think. In a world of fake news and conspiracy theories, this nuanced and intelligent book couldn’t be more relevant.
The Year of Magical Thinking By Joan Didion
Joan Didion, one of America’s most iconic writers, lost both her husband and daughter in one year. Hers is a grief that is difficult to imagine, but in The Year of Magical Thinking she has dissected it for us. She writes about the difference between the sadness of loss and the paralysis of grief in such a clear, precise way. It is intensely personal and moving but never sentimental: “you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends”.
Quiet by Susan Cain
Quiet started an introvert revolution. Being an introvert isn’t about being shy or serious – although they sometimes are – it’s about what gives you energy. Susan Cain is an introvert: “it’s the private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world,” she writes. Here, she brings together research, case studies and her own experiences to help introverts understand themselves better.
The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
A few years ago I went through a self-help phase, hungry for everything I could learn about myself and the world. And then, at some indefinable point, it all started to feel like the same advice on repeat. That’s when I read The Antidote. Oliver Burkeman is rigorous in his examination of the self-help industry and the notion of positive thinking. He argues persuasively for the opposite, that it is negative thinking, accepting the things we can’t change and embracing Stoicism that will actually make us happy.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
When Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity, she doesn’t just mean making art, she means living. Big Magic is about living a creative life full of curiosity and joy and experimentation. It’s both reassuring and practical, like an encouraging friend pushing you to try something new, not to wait for inspiration or a big idea, but to have a go today.