Today as the snow fell in Seattle for the first time this winter, I looked at my pile of to-read books. I thought about what might be on other people’s lists. In online interviews, many published authors say they’re reading author memoirs for inspiration. Or maybe the classics (yawn…) Friends who aren’t writers usually say they’re reading popular bestsellers. Those who aspire to be published often share that they’re reading books in their genre. My “to-read” pile of books reveals a lot about what I’m currently focused on. What does your pile reveal about you?
To-Read Books About Changing the Mind
In December, I often look back at what I accomplished in the previous eleven months. I start thinking about changes I might make in the coming year. In my current short stack of eight books, a whopping seven are self-help books. The first four have to do with changing the mind.
Debbie Tung: Everything Is OK
Tung’s graphic memoir is a collection of comics about overcoming anxiety and depression. If you are looking for a quick, inspiring read to help you through the long, cold, dark winter months, this one is perfect. Whether you experience SAD or general angst around the holidays, you are not alone, even if it feels like you are.
Her number one piece of advice for getting through dark, overwhelming thoughts (p. 166), is “To make small changes in your life and dedicate more time to work on things that matter to you.” For me, that includes keeping up with my weekly blog. It acts as an anchor when everything else feels like it’s spiraling out of control. It helps me recognize those thoughts that are keeping me stuck while inspiring others to do so as well.
Tama Kieves Books
I first came across Tama Kieves in January 2022 during a journaling seminar through the IAJW. She so inspired me with her delivery that I reserved several of her books from the library. As soon as I came across “Doing one thing” and “Keeping it simple, stupid,” ideas I shared in my blog last year, I knew I had found a kindred spirit.
I read a page a day from A Year Without Fear, a book that shares daily 5-minute inspirations. Thriving Through Uncertainty provides helpful jump-starts, thought questions, and exercises. I pull it out when I have time to reflect on how I might change faulty messages I’m sending myself. Inspired and Unstoppable supplies wisdom when I most need it, including her opening line: What if everything you thought you needed to do to succeed was actually standing in the way of your success?
Pam Grout: A Course In Miracles Experiment
Kieves, a life and work coach, combines wisdom from her self-help books with tips for the layperson from A Course In Miracles. I recently joined one of her online groups. She repeatedly said that we either act out of love or fear, and we have complete control over which we choose. I recently added Grout’s “Cliff notes” version of the dense program, A Course In Miracles, to explore more deeply in the coming months.
All four of these books reveal to me that I rely on motivational messages to move forward. Since I am a visual learner, I prefer books in written format. However, I have been listening to audiobooks in the car. Such books reveal that “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
Books about Self-Acceptance
The next three self-help titles on my reread list deal with self-acceptance and self-understanding. I own all three, but I find I have to keep reviewing the material to get it to fully sink in. I often joke that I move at glacial speed, pondering and musing until suddenly, one day, it sinks in and I push forward like there’s no stopping me. How do you move forward?
Brene Brown: Gifts of Imperfection
Ever since I heard Brown’s Houston Ted talk, I’ve been a huge fan of hers. I’m currently listening to her audiobook, The Power of Vulnerability, for the second time. Her message in this book, letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be (there’s that dreaded word, should!) and embracing who you are, overlaps beautifully with the next book.
Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff
Neff is another Ted Talk inspiration. I’ve recommended her book more often than any other, except perhaps Dan Sullivan’s Gap and the Gain. The message that stands out is using the same empathetic and compassionate techniques you would with a best friend, on yourself. She also insists that everyone suffers; everyone has pain — it’s a necessary part of being human. But we must not beat ourselves up over mistakes and hardship; we can recognize we’re struggling and still move forward with grace and compassion. Of all the books on my list to read, this one has been the hardest for me to tackle.
As I write this post, I recognize it’s probably the one I need to study most of all. In books I own, sometimes I make notes in the margins. Exactly a year ago, I finished the first chapter. Armed with that knowledge, I am moving it onto my “High priority reading list.”
The Emotional Life of Your Brain: Richard Davidson
Of all the books in my pile, this one is the most scientific and newest acquisition. In 30 years of research, neuroscientist Davidson discovered that we each have an “emotional style.” Chapter 3 has a quiz to assess it.
Our emotional style consists of resilience, outlook, social intuition, self-awareness, sensitivity to context, and attention. Our pattern constitutes our “emotional fingerprint.” I’m eager to learn more about mine and what it says about how I relate to others. He also has a chapter titled “Plastic Brain.”
To-Read Books: Survival Fiction, including Falcon Wild
Finally, we reach my favorite escape category, fiction. I have been racing through middle-grade survival stories, where youngsters find themselves in the middle of the wilderness and have to survive (NOT surviving middle school itself. Those are ubiquitous!)
I have a particular fondness for books for 10 to 14-year-old readers. I have been working on several, myself, for a number of years. Some of my favorite authors in the genre include:
- Gary Paulsen — his famous novel, Hatchet, the first in a series of four, was a Newbery Honor-winning Young Adult book from 1986. Sadly, Paulsen died of cardiac arrest in October 2021
- Dusti Bowling — she writes desert survival stories including The Canyon’s Edge, Across the Desert, and 24 Hours in Nowhere. I’m thrilled to hear that her latest book, Dust, comes out in 2023.
- Terry Lynn Johnson — the book I am currently reading is Falcon Wild. She’s also written a dogsledding series and a Survivor Diaries series. If an author combines birds, survival, and clean reading about pre-teen protagonists, I will read it.
Takeaways From Examining My To-Read Pile
Before I close, I should point out that I get zero commission from referring to any of these books. If you find them interesting, check them out at the local library, put them on your wishlist, or offer them as holiday gifts to those who might benefit.
My takeaways from examining my to-read pile are that I am:
- Curious about how the brain works, in particular, whether neuroplasticity applies to the emotional life of our brain.
- Interested in finding accountability, support, and encouragement around books that have been difficult to work through on my own.
- Ready, willing, and able to make significant changes now that I’ve been developing a growth mindset.
- Eager to change those thoughts that keep me stuck.
How about you? What takeaways have you discovered around your reading list? If you have insights or suggestions for further blog posts about getting unstuck, please share them in the comments. And if you have additional resources that fit the takeaways above I’d love to hear about them. Joyward!