1. The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer is a musician with an inspiring message about leaning on others. In the book, Palmer discusses her life as a performer and how she learned how to ask for help. Watch her TED talk “The Art of Asking” if you want a taste of what the book is like.
2. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin was a pioneer for women writers in the U.S. and this novel gives a voice to dissatisfied women of her time through her main character, Edna. Edna’s community expects her to act “as a woman should” as a housewife, but Edna has other needs and desires.
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
A memoir by former First Lady Michelle Obama to inspire us and remind us of better times. Michelle Obama shows the reader a personal account of the major events in her life, not just of her experience in the White House, but of her childhood, her role as a mother and her career.
4. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
For the more scientifically/medically minded, Gawande brings years of experience and thoughts to the public. The book is a memoir with fascinating true stories about Gawande’s and his colleagues’ lives as surgeons, and the unfortunate truth that surgeons are only human and make human mistakes.
5. The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich
If you are interested in some more dense philosophical content, Tillich provides an important text to help you live better and to think better. Learn what the fundamental anxiety of being and nonbeing means to Tillich, and why it is something we should all think about.
6. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The book your mom probably kept talking about when it came out, for good reason. Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her own dissatisfaction with her life and how her adventures travelling the world helped her enjoy herself again. Maybe we could all learn how to enjoy ourselves a little more.
7. Esperanza Rising by Paul Munoz Ryan
An enchanting, riches-to-rags immigration story packed full with hope. Follow the story of a young Hispanic woman torn away from her life on a beautiful ranch to the deafening struggle of the Great Depression in California.
8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein (the book) began the genre of science fiction. Frankenstein (the character) begins the art of scientific discovery without any prior consideration for consequences, and then he proceeds to worsen these consequences for himself and others for the rest of the novel.
9. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
This memoir is heartbreaking and heartwarming, revealing how Walls struggled through a difficult childhood and came through it. Relatable and alienating all at once, this novel will strain your tear ducts through woeful struggles and inspire you to overcome obstacles.
10. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A beautiful story about second chances, the difficult life of existing within the foster system and the healing power of flowers. The novel follows Victoria Jones, a troubled young woman whose life seems to revolve around the the Victorian language of flowers.
11. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I had the pleasure of reading this book in the original French, but it is still a philosophically important tale in English that can be enjoyed by philosophers and inquiring minds alike.
12. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
While not one of the more upbeat stories on this list, it is an interesting dive into changing mental states and new beginnings of sorts. The book chronicles Gregor Samsa’s life after one day he transforms into a bug. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.
13. On Writing by Stephen King
Get ready to write that novel you’ve always meant to write with Stephen King’s excellent part-memoir, part-instructional manual.
14. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
You’ve probably heard about this book, but have you ever read it? It provides some helpful insight on how to be less miserable, something we can all appreciate. Tolle brings a thoughtful mind to the task of clearing one’s mind of thoughts.
15. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Revisit the classic tale of a woman who must wear a bright red “A” on all her clothes for her adultery. Throughout the novel, Hester struggles to reinvent herself within a society that will never forget her mistakes.
16. Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
Actress Portia de Rossi delivers a heartfelt and inspiring novel which follows her journey through anorexia and bulimia — into recovery. De Rossi begins the novel as a closeted, miserable woman with an illness and ends it as a happily married (to Ellen DeGeneres, of course) woman who has done the work — years of it — to live a happier, healthier life.
17. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
For fans of Victorian literature, Villette follows Lucy Snowe as she grows up and starts her life away from home. The novel weaves together themes of identity, religion, purpose, and morality through Lucy’s experiences working as a teacher in Belgium.
18. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Most are probably familiar with Murakami because of his fiction, but his creative nonfiction is also excellent and inspiring. If you run or want to start running, read this. Murakami describes the ups and downs of his life through his running training, often training for marathons and the like. The result is a calming contemplation of life through exercise.
19. When Things Fall Apart by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
The title says it all.