Although movie theater screens outnumber bookstores in the US (40,759 screens to 24,611 stores in 2016), many of us name bookstores and libraries among our favorite places to be. Few things beat thumbing through pages we can’t turn away from or scrolling through a mesmerizing tale on a backlit screen. Books are magical, lifelong friends.
Despite constant predictions of their demise, books remain very much alive and—among their many charms—serve as vibrant catalysts for helping us connect with our own humanity in all its varied and messy forms.
So, in appreciation of our dear, old, irreplaceable friend—the good book—we recommend these five titles as steadfast companions on your journey.
1. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett
Why It’s Compelling: Tippett has a gift for inviting deep thinkers to think even deeper. After years spent interviewing many of the world’s brightest minds, she wove together threads of her fascinating conversations into this gem of a read. The book features civil rights icon John Lewis, Brain Pickings master Maria Popova, renowned meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein, and many others.
Great Takeaway: “Sometimes the pain of the world seems incomprehensible and unbearable to me. And I think if there’s anything that balances it, it’s wonder at the world, the amazingness of people, how resilient they are, how people will take care of others they don’t know. If somebody falls or someone’s in trouble in a public place, people take care of them. Human beings have that ability. I don’t think they have to learn it.” —Sylvia Boorstein, MSW, PhD
2. How to Be Here, by Rob Bell
Why It’s Compelling: Life kicks you down sometimes, and Rob Bell is here to lift you back up. Purpose, joy, and meaning aren’t just catchphrases in this masterful account. Bell walks the reader casually and thoughtfully through chapters designed to give you hope right at the moment when you’re not sure hope is a real thing.
Great Takeaway: “How we respond to what happens to us—especially the painful, excruciating things that we never wanted and we have no control over—is a creative act … We have power, more power than we realize, power to decide that we are going to make something good out of even this.”
3. Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed
Why It’s Compelling: Brave Enough is a little book, in both size and length—and sometimes that’s just what you need. Strayed offers 135 pages of short aphorisms and affirmations to make you smile, think, and keep going. This book isn’t going to change the world, but the refreshing thing is that it’s not even trying. It’s just a book you can toss into your bag, car, or locker—and grab hold of when you need a kick in the pants.
Great Takeaway: “Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill.”
4. The Emotional Life of Your Brain, by Richard J. Davidson, PhD
Why It’s Compelling: When a world-class neuroscientist tells you how to use your mind to train your brain, pay attention. Davidson skillfully explains his 30 years of research on the neuroplasticity of the brain, and offers steps on how to recognize your own emotional style and employ practical ways to modify your own behavior.
Great Takeaway: “Just as each person has a unique fingerprint and a unique face, each of us has a unique emotional profile, one that is so much a part of who we are that those who know us well can often predict how we will respond to an emotional challenge.”
5. Soul Shifts: Transformative Wisdom for Creating a Life of Authentic Awakening, Emotional Freedom, and Practical Spirituality, by Barbara De Angelis, PhD
Why It’s Compelling: No one has all the answers, but we’re lucky to share the world with people who have clues as to a few of them. De Angelis calls this book “a practical handbook for awakening” and that seems to fit. Dive in, and let her speak to that part of your mind that keeps wondering, “What should I do now?”
Great Takeaway: “What is this powerful inner turn of events that starts us off on a serious path of growth? I call it the Cosmic Alarm Clock. It’s as if an alarm goes off suddenly inside you, and it dawns on you that you’ve been asleep in your life, and need to get up … The thing about the Cosmic Alarm Clock is that once it goes off, no matter how many times you push the snooze button and try to ignore the alert, it is going to keep ringing until you pay attention.”