This year I read a lot – and my reading fell into two camps – nonfiction, and what I’m calling fiction I can get lost in (more on that later). Reading is one of my true pleasures, and I read some great stuff this year. Since it’s the season (in this hemisphere) for curling up with a good book, I thought I’d share some recommendations with you. While these are books I enjoyed this year, many have been around for awhile. Enjoy! Full disclosure: the links below are affiliate links which means I may earn a few cents if you purchase a book using the link. If this makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to use a different link.
Part one: Nonfiction Books I Love:
Much of my reading this year has been about change. It’s no coincidence I also spent the year creating The Emotional Eating Toolbox Program – some of my best training on how to create new habits and make changes that last. The books below weren’t all published this year (many weren’t), but they were my favorites and the ones I found most valuable and inspiring.
Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi
Based on her excellent Ted Talk, Bored and Brilliant is about the power of boredom and step-by-step challenges you can use to break numbing patterns with technology and grow your creativity, focus, and happiness at the same time. This is a small book filled with stories, research, and actionable food for thought. I loved the way she shows how even small changes can have a big impact and gives the specific steps to take.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
This book was one of several I read this year about how to create deep thinking and meaningful focus in a world that reinforces multitasking and superficial scanning. In Deep Work, Newport delves into the problem of using busyness as a proxy for productiveness (the two are definitely not the same thing), and shines a light on depth-destroying habits that can lock you into a perpetual cycle of reactivity and chasing your to-do list (sound familiar?).
I love this quote: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love— is the sum of what you focus on.” So why are we starting our day by checking email, or losing hours on social media?
How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh and Jason DeAntonis
True story – I checked this book, part of the Mindfulness Essentials series, out on impulse when I found it on the “new” shelf at the library. It was so small and cute and the title caught my eye. Plus, it was by Thich Nhat Hanh. This tiny little (pocket-sized) book can be read one page at a time, and is a gem if you want to stay grounded and mindful – with conflict, difficult people, or a challenging interaction – or – if you want help pulling yourself back on track when you’ve lost your way. I loved just picking it up, thumbing through it, and reading whatever short chapter spoke to me. Sometimes I would read a page and find myself thinking about it all day. I know that I handled some very difficult situations more calmly and clearly as a result of having this book handy.
This series on mindfulness also includes another book, How to Eat, also by Thich Nhat Hanh with short meditations on mindful eating. Good stuff!
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
I was late to reading The Happiness Project, and thoroughly enjoyed Rubin’s quirky style and her systematic (borderline obsessive) approach to creating more happiness in her life. The book is engaging, easy to read, and her emphasis on choosing one target at a time (and taking do-able steps) warmed my heart! I loved that her topic-a-month approach mirrored what I was creating in The Emotional Eating Toolbox Program.
After reading The Happiness Project, I jumped right into another book by Rubin, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)
As a fierce advocate for finding the style of change that fits you, I find Rubin’s concept of four pathways to change interesting and useful. You can take a short quiz to determine your tendency and what fits you best when you’re working to create and maintain new habits, and learn why what worked for your best friend might be the worst approach for you.
I read this book on vacation and had my husband and a friend take the quiz too. The results were dead on. We are all three different tendencies and once we understood the framework, it was SO clear why what works for me just makes my friend Carol mad – and why my husband is motivated when I’m just standing there rolling my eyes. If you’re trying to figure out your best pathway for change, Rubin’s Four Tendencies might be an eye opener.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
Why does your motivation fail you and why don’t you act on your good intentions? The answer may be your timing. This book is all about when and the importance of knowing your individual rhythm – then honoring it so that you’re doing “the right things” at the right times. Again, I geeked out with the interesting stories and research – including how to take the perfect power nap (I am so not a napper, but I actually have used this trick a few times), and when to drink your coffee. This is yet another powerful book about how to create successful habits and lasting change that I loved learning from as I created The Emotional Eating Toolbox Series this year.
Why Won’t You Apologize: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts by Harriet Lerner
Relationship hurt may be the most painful type of hurt. Feelings and situations that feel beyond our control are certainly a major trigger for overeating and stress. Harriet Lerner has been writing wonderful books for years, and this is another favorite. It’s a powerful book on how to apologize and truly ask for forgiveness, how to forgive and approach situations where an apology isn’t forthcoming, and how to restore connection and create more healing in our relationships. This is another book I think we all should read, and Lerner’s writing style makes it easy to do.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown
Okay, true confession. I haven’t read this yet. I’ve been putting it off because I know I’m going to love it. Last year I was lucky enough to take a six-week course from Brené Brown on the material she turned into this book. The course and the book are about how to be an authentic, strong leader and melds her research on how to grow your ability to be courageous, vulnerable, and authentic – and move beyond shame, guilt, and perfectionism. The course I took affirmed so much of what I believe and also changed me. It helped me put into practice new ways of being and thinking, and helped me take more risks.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
This is another book I put off reading for a few years and I’m glad I finally got around to it. Grit is what makes us successful, and Angela Duckworth explains why and how to grow your grit. Successful people don’t rely on talent, they leverage a combination of practice and passion. If you struggle with overeating, you know that success is not a one-and-done quick change – it’s a process. Grit helps, and this is the first book I’ve ready that homes in on the topic.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
This one is a must read. Not only that, I found it extremely readable. We need to be having more conversations – communication can heal – and to do this, we need to know how to have them. Race is a topic that so many people (myself included) aren’t always sure how to approach in conversation, and yet, learning how to listen better, and how to speak up effectively are some of the most powerful things we can be doing today. This book gave me insight into blind spots I didn’t know I had, made me uncomfortable, and reminded me that paralysis from shame and guilt serves no purpose – and keeps us stuck. This is definitely a book that changed how I see, hear, and interpret things and gave me tools for more effectively using my voice.
Since we’re talking about good, actionable, nonfiction, I’ll include my own book:
The Emotional Eating Rescue Plan for Smart, Busy Women
This is a 28-day, step-by-step plan for creating peace with food and breaking cycles with emotional eating. The book guides you through creating the steps that fit you and your life. You’re going to fill in the blanks and do some writing here – I strongly suggest you invest in the paperback version for best results.
Part two: Fiction books I got lost in this year
I’ve always been a voracious reader. As a child, I was that nerd who won the prize for most library books read over the summer. This year, I found myself craving fiction that I could get lost in. With all the stress and strife in the world, I wanted to wind down at the end of the day with characters I could grow to know and love and revisit over and over again. Thus explains my year of reading (and rereading) authors who have created great fiction series. Again, these books weren’t released this year. Part of the appeal for me was being able to binge read from one book to another, get lost in unfolding plots, and watch characters unfold.
If you’re looking for some ways to escape, distract, or just relax, here are my favorite series. Enjoy!
The Chief Inspector Ganache Series by Louise Penny
Yes there’s a murder in every book, but I find the real intrigue in the characters that I quickly grew to love, and their complicated, sometimes dark and sometimes hilarious, relationships in the idyllic, mythical town of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. A trip to the region is now on my bucket list, mostly thanks to these books. Still Life
is the first book in the series. The newest book, which I’m eagerly awaiting is Kingdom of the Blind.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith
I have enjoyed these short novels for years, and they are always fun to revisit. Precious Ramotswe decides to open a detective agency in Botswana, to help people with their problems. As she is the only female detective in Gaborone, she fittingly names her business The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. There are now 18 books in this series. Each is short, sweet, and sneaks up on you. The characters, who grow more real with each book, make me smile with their idiosyncrasies and their wisdom. These books are smart and heartwarming. Sometimes I put off reading them because I don’t want the enjoyment to be over. The most recent book in the series is The House of Unexpected Sisters.
The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
Well now that it’s a TV series, everyone seems to know about Outlander. If you haven’t read them, the books are 1000-percent better than the TV version. It took some convincing for me to start reading this series. A woman time traveler in Scotland? Romance through the stones? Really? Set aside your judgment for the first 100 pages. You may be hooked after fifty. Diana Gabaldon creates amazing characters – and not just the two protagonists – that you may find yourself thinking about after you’ve finished the book (they’ve even wound up as characters In other works of fiction). Not only are the storylines compelling, there’s some very interesting fictionalized history to absorb. Gabaldon puts a lot of research into these books, and the pictures she paints are fascinating. This is escapism at it’s best. If you haven’t started the series, here are books one through four.
The most recent book is Written in My Own Heart’s Blood (book 8).
The Kate Shugak Series by Dana Stabenow
This is another series about an interesting woman in a beautiful, dramatic place, this time it’s Alaska. Kate is an Aleut who left her home village to pursue education and a career. She returns to her village to retreat from the world, but her skills, background, and expertise continue to pull her back into situations she wants to avoid. While not my favorite series, these books make my list. Kate is complicated, and the cultural worlds she negotiates create an interesting tension. I loved reading about different facets of Alaskan culture, and again, Stabenow has written a series of books – so the story doesn’t end when one is over. The first book in the series is A Cold Day for Murder
and the most recent book is Less Than a Treason.
Whew – I just covered a lot of ground – both in topics and geography. If you’re looking for something to read this month, I hope I whet your appetite – or inspired you to go off in search of your own great book.