A Book for Every Mood
As a self professed bibliophile there’s likely to be a stack of no less than five books on my nightstand (or these days in my Kindle queue as I’m often traveling) at any point in time. Ever since I was an adolescent I have loved reading, a trait largely inspired by my childhood best friend, who opened my eyes to the power, beauty, and depth of literature and fiction. From the ancient tales of Greek mythology, to quippy, feel good chick lit, and fantastical stories of young heroes harnessing their innate goodness to battle the powers of evil, I witnessed my friend, the literary pioneer of my youth, forge her way through endless adventures in the depths of her mind. I suppose it was only a matter of time until I found myself swept away in my own version of literary wonderland as well. As I’ve grown older, I’ve often turned to literature as a form of therapy, my favorite authors possessing a certain kind of magic in their ability to transform experiences and feelings into prose so precise it’s as if they were writing directly to me. Yes, perhaps one of the greatest pleasures I’ve found in reading books is the power of words on a page to make me feel seen, heard, and ultimately less alone.
A good book speaks to the innermost sacred spaces inside of us, leaving us better, wiser, and softer than we were before. A story well told transforms our hearts and opens new pathways in our minds, creating room for fresh ideas, theories, and feelings we may have never considered otherwise. In the list below, I’ve consolidated a handful of my favorite books into a list I’m calling “A Book for Every Mood”. Depending on the day, my head space, and even the weather, I tend to switch up what I’m reading on a daily basis (hence the stack of at least 5 books on my nightstand at all times). On Monday, I might reach for a dramatic memoir, taking an intimate peak at someone else’s life. By Tuesday, I need a little pick me up so I’m reaching for a book that keeps me laughing. Come Wednesday, I’m on a mission to change the world so I turn to some (written) life coaching in the words of my favorite inspirational authors. If you can’t tell, my reading interests run the literary gamut, as evidenced by the list below. However, one thing that each of the books on this list have in common is that they all left a lasting impression on me long after the last word on the last page was uttered in my mind.
A Book for Every Mood Reading List:
For the days when you are...
Pondering Life’s Big Questions:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist tells the tale of a young shepherd boy who wakes from a dream (the kind you could almost swear was so real it might not have been a dream at all) that catalyzes his journey toward fulfilling his Personal Legend. However, as you may have guessed, no quest for personal fulfillment is ever easy. Throughout his journey the boy is met with heart wrenching obstacles nearly every step of the way and must learn how to intuit the wisdom of the Universe and his own heart in order to persevere. The Alchemist is a genre bender, one that weaves together elements of fiction, fantasy, and spirituality into an artful story, in a way that only a literary master like Coelho could do. I would highly recommend this book if you’ve ever found yourself mulling over your life’s purpose.
The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer - I credit this book as the catalyst of my spiritual awakening (which I’ve learned is a journey, not a destination, unless you’re Siddhartha Gautama...aka Buddha). I randomly picked this up in a bookstore in Pittsburgh during my junior year in college, a season of life when I was feeling particularly lost. This book introduced me to the notion that I am not the collection of thoughts that ping around my head all day (often referred to as the ego in spiritual teachings) but rather, I am the observer of said thoughts. I am the space in between the thoughts. I am the recognition of the sometimes judgmental, fearful, self-conscious, and self-righteous voice in my mind. I am the consciousness that is aware of the voice, but the true essence of who I am (who we all are) is not the voice itself. If this sounds a little heady, it’s because it is, but if any of the above resonates with you I’d highly recommend picking up this book, as it ultimately changed my life and began the unraveling of my purpose on this planet.
On the Quest for Exploration (Self, Worldly, or Otherwise):
Wild by Cheryl Strayed - In this memoir style book, Cheryl Strayed recounts her epic journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast of the United States as a young, solo female backpacker. In her story, Strayed bravely and honestly shares the most human details of her life including the tragic series of events that inspired her trek in the first place. At times amusing, at times nail-biting, and incredibly vulnerable throughout Wild is a work of introspection and self reflection about summoning the strength to persevere through seemingly insurmountable odds. Throughout her journey, Cheryl is forced to reckon with her grief (stemming from the demise of her mother and subsequently her marriage), the forces of mother nature, and her physical and emotional limitations. If you’ve seen the movie and didn’t love it, please don’t write off this book just yet. I promise you it is worth reading and it just might inspire you to do some self reflection (or epic backpacking) of your own.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - If I could channel the writing style of any author in the world, I would choose Liz Gilbert. If I could grab a beer with any author in the world, I would choose Liz Gilbert. That being said, perhaps this review is a bit biased, but Eat, Pray, Love is one of my favorite books of ALL TIME. Even if you’ve seen the movie, in which the stunning Julia Roberts portrays our protagonist, this is not a book that you should pass up. So many beautiful pieces of Gilbert’s wisdom and self reflection aren’t fully explored in the film adaptation. Gilbert is an author whose not afraid to look at her own shit. Throughout her memoir, Gilbert reveals intimate observations about herself and her journey towards self-discovery (one that brings her to Italy, India, and Indonesia) with a sense of humor and honest realism. It’s book that will leave you wrought with laughter, filled with compassion (I may have shed a tear on several occasions...), and overcome with wanderlust. To experience the full magnitude of this story, it’s a book you’ve gotta read at least once. Or maybe twice.
Feeling Like “the Nail”:
I’d like to preface this category with a quote recently relayed to me by my best friend, while in conversation about our careers. She’s a doctor completing her residency in Pittsburgh and I’m a tech consultant turned English teacher in Thailand (...clearly I’m confused). I was confiding in her that some days I love this teaching gig. I love seeing the students faces light up when they understand something. I love chatting with them in between classes. I love our community of coworkers and friends. But other days, it’s a struggle. My students are late to class. My lesson plan doesn’t work out like I envisioned. No one seems to want to learn anything. You get the drift. And to this my sage friend replied with these wise words: “sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.”
This section of the list is dedicated to anyone who feels like the nail... today, this week, or even this year.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed - (A second book by Cheryl Strayed - say whaaattt!?) Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of letters (originally submitted on TheRumpus.net) written by real people seeking real advice from Strayed’s lesser known pseudonym, an advice columnist named Sugar. For several years, Cheryl served as an unidentified, radically compassionate yet stern Emily Post, doling out wisdom and healthy realism to anonymous (and oftentimes absurd, amusing, melancholic, dramatic, celebratory, and very vulnerable) requests for advice. The book is divided into five parts, each with a different theme (ex: Part IV is titled You Don’t Have to Be Broken for Me) and a collection of letters that reflect that specific theme. The letters cover a range of personal stories and intimate experiences spanning romance, grief, family drama, money, etc. It’s a book dealing in the sometimes harsh, often beautiful, and unavoidably heart breaking realities we encounter as human beings. And it’s a must read for anyone seeking solidarity and the wisdom of an incredibly brilliant and well written outsider.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer - The story of Arthur Less is a rollercoaster of hope and defeat. As a nearly 50 year old gay man, Arthur’s heart is cracked wide open when his significantly younger lover (of almost a decade - good for you, Arthur Less) hits him with the news that he’s marrying another man. For God knows what reason, said lover decides to invite Arthur Less to his wedding. This prompts Arthur to accept every conference invitation, speaking gig, and temporary faculty position he’s ever received as a semi successful author, just so he has a valid excuse to avoid the wedding of the man who broke his heart. Along his travels, Arthur is forced to sit with his grief and reconcile his new identity as a middle-aged man who has lost the one he deeply loves. It’s a tale of passion, love gone awry, self-discovery, and new beginnings. And it’s one that will leave you thinking of Arthur Less long after you’ve turned the last page.
Open to a New Perspective:
This May Be My Undoing by Morgan Jenkins - I think it’s important that as readers and human beings, we challenge ourselves to read literary work that we know will make us uncomfortable, for the sake of broadening our perspectives and teaching us something new. This May Be My Undoing was that book for me. In a collection of radically personal essays, Morgan Jenkins provides a brave, honest, and vulnerable look at her life experience as a black feminist woman in white America. As a white woman around the same age as Jenkins, I found myself cringing many times throughout reading this book on account of the author’s unfailingly truthful, powerful, and often painful recounts of her experiences with white people. I forced myself to persevere, however, because I knew that I needed to. I knew that I needed to fight the voices in my head saying “but i would neverrrr act that way, towards anyone” to hear this woman’s experience. I knew that I needed to see how it might feel to be someone whose shoes I can never fully step into, no matter how “woke” I think I am. I knew that I needed to feel even a microscopic shred’s worth of how it might feel to be judged, slurred at, looked over, looked at, attacked, and ridiculed because of the color of my skin. Reading a book does not give me complete insight (or even a fraction of it) into the pain and isolation felt by black women in America today and I would never claim that it has. But it does offer new perspective, that I may have never considered otherwise because of my own life experience. It does illuminate what reality might be like for many women in our society that I have unknowingly had my eyes closed to. And for that knowledge, I am grateful. I would recommend this book to anyone who's willing to challenge their mental construct of what life must be like for someone who is different than you are, especially if that someone is a black woman in America. It’s a deep book, it’s a heavy book, but I am certain it’s a worthwhile one.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow - Randy Pausch was an esteemed professor and founder of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) when he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer that quickly metastasized. A computer science aficionado, virtual reality pioneer, devoted husband, and father of three, Pausch lived more in his too short 47 years on the planet, than some people who live to be 100. You may have heard of the famous last lecture, titled “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, he delivered to a packed room of nearly 400 attendees at CMU in September 2007. His impassioned speech resonated so deeply that it was picked up by major TV networks and shows (including ABC and Oprah) and later turned into a book, published by Disney and Hyperion. The Last Lecture is a collection of personal anecdotes from Randy on how he planned for and succeeded in achieving many of his seemingly, unrealistic childhood dreams. It’s a book filled with sharp insight and humor that will ultimately challenge you to believe that anything is possible with enough hard work and passion. Pausch passed away in July 2008, but his legacy lives on through his powerful last lecture and the indelible impression it leaves on those who read it (or view it on YouTube).
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis - Rachel Hollis is a force of nature. An event planner, turned lifestyle blogger, turned media maven Hollis is a self made mogul and rightfully proud of it. The latest credential on Hollis’s impressive list of achievements? Best-selling author. Her memoir style book, Girl, Wash Your Face, went “viral” in the literary world, rising to the top of the coveted New York Times best-seller list and becoming Amazon’s second most purchased book of 2018 (behind only the beloved Michelle Obama’s own memoir, Becoming...currently in my Kindle queue). Girl, Wash Your Face presents a series of deep seated lies sold to and felt by thousands (no, scratch that - millions) of women across the world, such as “The Lie: I’m Not Good Enough “. Throughout the book, Hollis proceeds to persuasively and impassionately debunk the myths lain dormant (and often unrealized) in the collective female psyche for generations and generations. Whilst reading Rachel’s intimate revelations of her deeply personal, yet staggeringly universal life experiences, you’ll wonder if it’s possible for Hollis to have had a direct channel to the most private thoughts you’ve ever had in the most cobwebbed, unvisited, and vulnerable corners of your mind. The book is a refreshingly honest and highly relatable delivery of the age old wisdom that you and only you have the power to change your life. If you’re ready to do some serious upleveling in your relationships, career, business, or self-image, do yourself a favor and Girl, Wash Your Face.
Jonesin’ for a Happy Ending:
The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines - If you haven’t yet been introduced to the Texan, powerhouse couple that is Chip and Joanna Gaines, allow me the honor of doing so. Self-made business moguls, Chip and Jojo (as her husband lovingly calls her), tried their hand at several business ventures before creating their hugely profitable home remodeling and design business, Magnolia Realty. Their quirky relationship and house flipping process was documented in the 5 seasons of HGTV’s hit series Fixer Upper. It was only a matter of time before the American public became smitten with this adorable couple, their wholesome family, and their farmhouse chic design style. Since their first foray into reality TV, the Gainses’ have found creative ways to continue expanding their empire, including: a homeware line at Target (Hearth & Hand with Magnolia), a furniture line (Magnolia Home), several books (including this one), a seasonal magazine (Magnolia Journal), a restaurant and bakery, and of course their sprawling compound in Waco complete with a HomeGoods style shop and food stalls galore, known as the Magnolia Silos. The Magnolia Story chronicles the Gainses’ “come up” (millennial jargon for making it to the big leagues), detailing their meet cute, the early days of their marriage, and the incredibly rich and rewarding life and business they’ve built together since. It’s a story that will leave you believing there are still good people in the world. And you just might walk away having fallen a little bit more in love with the Gainses (if that’s even possible).
Going Through It:
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle - This book is for the sensitive ones, the canaries, as Glennon would say, that sing truth with their every word, thought, and feeling. Love Warrior is the strikingly honest tell-all of a brave woman’s journey through self hatred and heartbreak (after her husband of thirteen years reveals he’s had numerous affairs) to liberation and self acceptance. Doyle offers the reader an intimate invitation to revisit some of her most painful memories from battling bulimia, to a stint in a mental hospital, to the implosion of her marriage, on the premise that if we can overcome the fear of sitting with our pain, it will illuminate the pathway to the fullest, most authentic part of ourselves. In the midst of her lowest moments, Glennon teaches us that “we can do hard things”, a phrase which has become like a battlecry among her fierce community of love warriors. Love Warrior is a work of art, one that will touch the rawest parts of you. Approach with caution and prepare to be broken, but ultimately renewed.
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur - I never considered myself as someone who was “into poetry” until I came across the words of the magical Rupi Kaur. Rupi’s words resonate on a soul level... with not only me, but millions of readers around the world. Her second book of poems (the first collection is titled Milk and Honey) has been translated into more than 35 languages and has sold more than 3 million copies. The Sun and Her Flowers is a five part (re: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, blooming) collection of poetry exploring the depths of heartbreak, grief, surrender, revival, resurgence, and growth. Rupi’s talent for encapsulating emotion into written word is felt in every line. The Sun and Her Flowers is a book I continually find myself returning to. On the days when my emotions and my spirit feel heavy, Rupi’s words are like therapy for the soul.
In Need of a Laugh:
Bossypants by Tina Fey - It’s no surprise that a book written by the effortlessly hilarious Tina Fey will have you crying with laughter. I mean the woman wrote the screenplay for Mean Girls, for goodness sake. That makes her an artistic genius in my book. In her memoir, Fey takes the reader on a hysterical ride through her awkward childhood years, to her time working on Saturday Night Live, to her current role as an actress and mother of two. Tina delivers each personal anecdote and story with the humor and wit she has mastered throughout her career as a comedian. It is a book that will leave you lighter for having read it and will quickly catapult Fey to full blown girl crush status, if she’s not there already. My one piece of advice before reading this book: give your significant other a head’s up that they’re likely to be serenaded by several bouts of bedtime snorting, jovial giggling, and some downright laugh attacks as you thumb through this story.
Looking for a Thrill:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones - An American Marriage is a powerful story of love irreversibly transformed by a false conviction. Celestial’s reality is swiftly altered when her husband is falsely convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. The story that ensues chronicles the couples’ strained relationship and uncertain future, while artfully exploring socially relevant themes like racism, paternity, love, betrayal, loyalty, and redemption. Tayari’s ability to create dynamic characters with layers of depth and personality will have you second guessing which character is most deserving of your compassion and whose “side” you’re really on. It’s a book that I devoured within a week of landing in Thailand and it just so happened to also make President Obama’s list of favorite books in 2018. If you’re in the market for a literary thrill, An American Marriage delivers (and Prez Obama agrees).
The Godfather by Mario Puzo - The Godfather is a classic coming of age tale, exploring how Michael Corleone, the son of a prominent Italian businessman must rise to meet the expectations of his family by assuming leadership of the family business. Wait...did I mention that the family “business” is actually the Italian mob? A not so classic “coming of age” tale after all, The Godfather is widely recognized as the story (and movie series) that gave us an inside look (albeit a fictional and highly glamorized look) at the inner workings of life as an Italian mobster. Chances are, if you’re into watching crime drama series you’ve seen the film adaptation of Mario Puzo’s novel, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1973. The Godfather is an enticing story which dissects the concept of loyalty to one’s family vs. one’s self, fueled with a backdrop of calculated characters, gruesome murders, and complex family dynamics. It’s a hefty read, but ultimately a fascinating one.
A good book has the power to change your perspective, your day, and even your life. I hope this list serves you. I’m assuming if you’ve made it to the bottom, then you’re someone who enjoys a good book as much as I do. What are some of your favorite books? Let me know in the comments - I’m always looking to expand my reading list!