To be completely frank, narrowing down this list to only my top five has been a lesson in ancient water torture. Okay, maybe I’m slightly heavy-handed with hyperbole in this instance, but my point is, whittling the list to only five was no small task. If nothing else, please know that these books have not been chosen haphazardly. I edited this piece several times, swapping out honourable mentions because I felt torn. Ugh, thank goodness it’s not the 1980s, and I’m typing this out on a Smith-Corona.
AND…I wanted to deliver this piece in time for Christmas in case you are looking for that perfect gift to send your good book-loving friend.
Best book for improving your writing – Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
There is so much pressure to write a review of a book on how to write. I can’t help but think that you’ll all be scrutinizing every word I choose to see if I learned anything. I have read many books on how to improve my writing. And not surprisingly, books on how to be a great writer are often well-written, so the truth is, this category was the toughest in which to choose a winner. But Anne Lamott – gets to walk away with the golden ribbon draped proudly over her shoulders.
Lamott is quirky. For that reason alone, I highly recommend getting the audio version. I loved everything about this book. She’s your quintessential bruised and battered self-deprecating writer that seems like she’d be most at home teaching an English-lit class, but also the type of woman you’d expect to smoke a few spliffs by the firepit while sipping a glass of scotch.
The book title comes from a story about her brother, who, as a child, was paralyzed by fear over a school project on the science of birds. So many birds, he thought. How will I ever get through describing them all? And her father, also a celebrated writer, gave the solemn advice to just take it “bird by bird, buddy.”
How many times have we felt overwhelmed by lists of projects – tasks waiting — to the point that our solution is to do nothing? But everything is solved simply by taking one step at a time.
My favourite quote in the book is this one:
Lamott talks about the first rule of great writing which is to find your voice and use it. The more vulnerable one is, the more the piece will strike a chord with the reader.
And finally, good writers write. Her advice is to choose a time, ideally at the same time every day, and force writing to become a habit. Sit down in the same chair. Twirl around if you have to. Count the number of spiderwebs forming in the crevices of your office if necessary but do not allow your butt out of that chair until you’ve written something…anything. Every day…word by word….bird by bird.
For a quick fix on Anne Lamott, check out her TED talk entitled Twelve truths, I learned from life and writing. You’ll quickly see why I’ll forever be a fangirl.
Click HERE to get your copy of Bird by Bird.
Best book on relationship advice – Mating in Captivity – Esther Perel
I’ve read a lot on the topic of relationships this year. 2020 was my year to struggle, and I imagine I’m not alone. They say you never know someone until you travel with them. I say, you never know someone until you are locked up inside four walls for an infinite amount of time! Suffice it to say; my marriage was one of the casualties of Covid-19. And as such, I did a lot of deep reading on the topic.
The best book this year by far… was “Mating in Captivity,” by Esther Perel. Even if you are still in the honeymoon phase, this book can offer some cautionary advice that anyone could adopt to help build a more solid foundation.
Are we even meant to play the long game, or should we question the whole institution of marriage at its core? These are the things that Perel explores.
I even gave a copy of it to my husband to read. I firmly believe it’s helped us both heal and get through one of the most challenging times any couple can endure…as friends.
Perel also has several TED talks however, the one that best compliments this book is The Secret to Desire in a Long-term Relationship.
You can get your copy of Mating in Captivity HERE.
Best book for breaking the ceiling on your limiting beliefs – The Big Leap – Gay Hendricks
Forget Hamlet. I think The Big Leap should replace that classic on the required reading list of every high school curriculum. Have you ever really challenged your existing belief system? — Turned it over, looked at its underbelly…wondering how it ever came into existence in the first place? We don’t come into this world with a belief system. That statement alone is a belief I hold but is it empirically true?
This book explores how our belief systems, created from external sources from who knows what, continue to shape every decision we make and ultimately every outcome we experience.
Hendricks suggests that we all have an inner thermostat that dictates how much love, success, and quality of health we deserve. This thermostat is often programmed in our youth by external sources.
“Betty, don’t get too big for your britches.” Sound familiar?
And as we move closer to the upper limits of that thermostat, we self-sabotage. We prevent ourselves from breaking through that upper crust. We fear judgement from what others might think.
If you take a closer look at your own life, chances are, you’ll see evidence of this. Maybe it’s a relationship you are in that is going swimmingly until that becomes too comfortable, so you create a bit of drama where there was no need for it. Because after all, who deserves to be that happy?
Hendricks also talks about our Zone of Excellence vs. our Zone of Genius. The first being the place that many of us live. It’s our current job. We are good at it. It’s comfortable but is it where we are serving our highest purpose? Or is it time that we get uncomfortable and break through the crust of that self-imposed upper limit and move into our Zone of Genius? I would suggest that the Zone of Genius would be equivalent to Abraham Maslov’s highest tier on his pyramid of needs – the level of self-fulfillment.
All this to say…fantastic book. I highly recommend you give it a read. Click HERE for your copy.
Best book on unleashing your creativity – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
I am one of the 3% of the population who read “Eat, Pray, Love” and didn’t love it at all. I gave it many chances, hoping to find some seed that I could attach myself to, but I came up short. So I was loath to read Big Magic. But it was often recommended to me by people I admired and respected, so I decided to give it a shot.
The premise of this work is that we are all artists. Maybe we don’t wield paintbrushes and wear funny hats slightly askew, but we all have art within us. When someone says…” meh, I’m not very creative.” It merely means that they have not massaged that muscle yet, but it’s there.
Others grapple with creative thoughts and with knowing what project to pursue because newsflash — most of us have various talents to choose from – not just one. Gilbert believes that ideas are entities that float around in the universe, looking for some human form to bring them to life.
An idea could show up one morning, just as you reach for your second bowl of Cheerios. It settles in your mind, and for a moment, you think…hmmmmm, what if? But the next thing you know, you hear a “Bing” from your cell phone, your mind wanders, and just as quickly as that idea appeared to you, it realizes that you are not the right human to bring it to fruition, so off it goes…to find another host.
That’s how ideas work thinks Gilbert. I have to agree. How many times have you had a great idea that, for whatever reason, you didn’t pursue only to hear that a few months later, some neighbour just struck gold by appearing on Shark Tank — with YOUR idea!?
And how do you know which ideas to follow? Well, I love how Gilbert summarizes it like this: Everything is going to suck at some point. Everything is a proverbial shit sandwich. You can’t just sign up to eat the bread…you have to be willing to eat the crappy filling too, and if you aren’t, then don’t pursue that avenue of creativity. It’s not yours. Move on to something you are willing to endure including the crusty and stinky bits that nobody else wants. That’s when you know.
All this to say, thank goodness I gave this book a shot. It has become one of my all-time favourites and the one I most often gift to friends who are “stuck.”
Best book overall – My Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes
No surprise that the creator of seventeen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, one of the best additions to Thursday night’s “Must-See” TV programming, knows how to craft a page-turning memoir.
I’d read some of the reviews on Amazon that claimed it was self-indulgent and arrogant – Again, funny how this idea of “Betty, don’t get too big for your britches” shows up everywhere.
What kind of human beings are we to expect that people should act small in order that others don’t feel uncomfortable?
So as a result of those reviews, I’d shelved the book for two years.
It was only early 2020 that I decided to give it a chance. I found her witty, relatable and incredibly inspirational. What I gained from listening to “My Year of Yes” on Audible was a feeling that anything is possible. Rhimes is a single mother of three girls. She is an executive producer and responsible for creating seventy hours of TV programming per season. She’s clearly found her Zone of Genius but it’s not without cost, or rather…as Elizabeth Gilbert says…a bit of shit layered in between. She’s figured it out. And my take away…if she can do it, so can I — so can you.
I recommend this book to anyone who isn’t threatened by someone else’s success but is open to allowing it to be a pathway to their own greatness.
You can watch Rhimes blow up the TED stage HERE.
And for your copy of the book, click HERE.
What has been your favourite life-changing book to date? What do you recommend to friends — non-fiction or otherwise. I’m always looking to add to my bookshelf. Drop your suggestion in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.