The Top 10 Books that
Everyone who reads has books that have changed their life. You pick up a book and open the pages and find yourself mirrored back at you. Our longing to be understood, to be reassured we aren’t the only one who has ever felt this way. The desire to find someone else who has come out the other side of a challenge we are facing. Or even just a description of the kind of person we want to be…and a roadmap someone else has followed to get there.
We read to be inspired and understood. To understand ourselves better and recognize our common humanity.
Some books I have loved to hate. Some I have wished would never end. Some have entertained me briefly and have moved on. And some have come into my life to stay.
These 10 books are only a small selection of the books that have influenced me over the years. Some of them were obvious choices I could have named right away, if you had stopped me on the street. Others took a little reflection to choose. But these 10 are, at this stage at my life, the ones that have impacted my life and my thinking the most. I hope you find one (or more!) of them useful in your own journey.
Simplify Your Life (100 Ways to Slow Down
and Enjoy the Things that Really Matter)
by Elaine St. James
Simplify Your Life was first published in 1994, well before the minimalism lifestyle entered the mainstream. I was trying to figure out how to be a grownup, and the idea of downsizing, not for retirement or any financial reason, but just because it would make life easier, was radical to my young adult mind. St. James’ little book introduced me to Speed Cleaning, keeping a master list of staples for my kitchen, and was the first (but not the last) time I heard anyone talk about a simplified wardrobe. She introduced me to the radical idea that you can (and should) limit your stuff to fit in your space, instead of continuing to increase your space to hold all your stuff. (An idea that didn’t really take until much later.) And the most impactful idea was #30: Don’t Answer the Phone Just Because it is Ringing.
Codependent No More
by Melody Beattie
I was introduced to Melody Beattie by my very first therapist while I was in the process of getting divorced. And within the pages of this book, I saw myself clearly, maybe for the first time. Being married to someone with an addictive or controlling personality is a trainwreck. When you have been brought up in the church to believe we are supposed to forgive and forget (and many other great teachings that become muddied when you are in an unhealthy situation), it becomes a disaster of nuclear proportions. This was the guidebook I needed to come back to life. I have re-read it 100 times in the years since; it has so many different colored pen and highlighter marks at this point it looks like it has been decorated with graffiti. It is for not only those who find themselves in relationships with someone who has an addictive personality, but for anyone who finds themselves desperately trying to control outcomes and so desperately afraid of what might happen next.
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
by Peter Scazzero
Peter Scazzero wrote the next book I needed to reconcile my churched upbringing and my life experiences. I was plagued by the disconnect between everything that I had always believed and the trainwreck my life had become.
Many people of faith use God as an all-purpose panacea against all emotions and conflicts instead of doing the hard work of actually growing into more mature, emotionally healthy people. And it’s very hard, dare I say impossible, to be a spiritually mature person while ignoring your emotional maturity. This book took everything I had been taught, and validated it through an entirely different way of looking at faith. It took everything I had learned in Codependent No More and expanded it to include my struggles with my spirituality. It was insight I desperately needed that helped me move forward in my faith journey with more confidence and clarity.
Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You
by Richard O’Connor
Undoing Depression was originally written in 1997 (and updated in 2010), when the effort to de-stigmatize depression was in its early stages. But from Page 1 of the Introduction I knew I had found something that was going to help me gain some clarity about the complexities of depression. Understanding where it comes from, how it is diagnosed (in all it’s many different forms) and the numerous skills one has to learn to effectively manage it have changed my life.
This was the book that helped me to voice exactly what I was going through and reassured me that I may not be responsible for my depression, but I could own my journey through it.
The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin
When I first read The Happiness Project I was so excited to recognize a kindred spirit in Gretchen Rubin! Here was a woman who concocted an elaborate plan as an exercise in self-improvement. And then proceeded to do a cartload of research on the subject of happiness to aid her in her project. Namaste, Gretchen…the Nerd in me honors the Nerd in you.
The action steps she created to improve her level of happiness in different areas of her life were super relatable and her stories describing the process are charming. And funny. Her Personal Commandments are an exercise I have adopted for myself. This is a fun book that has continued to encourage and inspire me in the years since I first picked it up.
by Jen Hatmaker
Interrupted follows Jen Hatmaker and her family on their journey as God disrupts their lives and aims them (somewhat painfully) in a new direction. This was the first time I ever really heard the term ‘missional living’. But it resonated with me: the idea that our faith is supposed to include the way we treat the least of us, and whoever we consider ‘other’.
Hatmaker’s style of writing is simultaneously irreverent and spiritual, and she speaks about her own wrestling matches with her faith in a completely relatable way. And while I don’t believe we are all meant for exactly the same calling (and I don’t think she does either), this book made me really think about how I was choosing to live out my faith in a practical, down-to-earth way.
by Gary Thomas
Sacred Pathways introduced me to the concept of spiritual temperaments. I had never really thought about it, but the idea that we all should want to worship in exactly the same way is a little ridiculous. We are all created uniquely, so it follows that each of us would gravitate to a slightly different style of worship.
Each of the nine spiritual temperaments have strengths and weaknesses, which Thomas outlines clearly in his book. If you have ever looked sideways at someone who claimed that they experienced church in the outdoors, or wished the church music was a little more (or less!) traditional, this book will provide a fresh and thoughtful perspective on the different ways that people were created to commune with God.
Everything that Remains
by Joshua Fields Millburn
Millburn’s memoir (along with remarks by his best friend, Ryan Nicodemus) details his journey from so-called ‘successful’ businessman through his transformation to becoming a writer and one half of the popular minimalism duo, The Minimalists.
Millburn does a great job of writing about the internal struggles he traversed as he let go of the generally accepted ‘ladder of success’ paradigm we are all familiar with. His realizations, along with the subsequent freedoms he experienced, are an inspiration for entertaining the idea of doing life a little more simply. His memoir is this generation’s perspective of the same realization Elaine St. James experienced twenty years earlier in Simplify Your Life. Everything that Remains is a poignant reminder that consumerism is nothing more than a habit, and not necessarily one that improves our lives.
The Highly Sensitive Person
by Elaine Aron
Aron’s book is the one I could have used in my 20s, but was thrilled to read this past year. Her premise (backed by 25 years of scientific research) is that 15-20% of the population is what is now known as Highly Sensitive. This sensitivity has nothing to do with having your feelings easily hurt, and everything to do with the way your brain processes the world around you.
If you have ever been called ‘too sensitive’, this book is for you. The truth is a HSPs nervous system is simply highly attuned to stimuli. (Think: the volume of the world, in noise and in tone, turned up…all the time.) Reading about the research on this tendency and the ups and downs involved in learning how to thrive as someone who is Highly Sensitive put my entire life in a new light. This book (along with Quiet by Susan Cain) really shows the value of a calm and reflective life in a culture that prizes extroversion.
A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
And the last book on my list is the one that first impacted me as a child, and continues to inspire me as an adult. A Little Princess is my second favorite childhood story (right behind Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) but is first in its impression on my life.
Sara Crewe’s fictional character is, in fact, one of my heroes. When her father dies and she loses everything, she continues to listen to the better angels of her nature and remains polite and gentle, even with those who mistreat her. She recognizes that it is much harder to act like a princess when one has no position or power. Harder, but not impossible. Which is a continual reminder to me that no matter who we are in life, we should choose to act like a princess.
If you have ever struggled with reading, I encourage you to persevere! A love affair with reading requires the same attention as any relationship. My feelings about my books can ebb and flow, but I always come back to reading!
If you are a reader, I would encourage you to think about which books have been impactful on your life. It can be useful to revisit them from time to time and reflect on the ways they have changed you. Lessons learned can always stand to be reinforced!
What books have changed your life or inspired you?!
Share in the comments below!
(I’m always looking for recommendations. )