10 must-read books to kickstart your new year

December 27, 2019

Have you got high hopes for the new year? Have you made a list of resolutions, hoping to turn your life around for the better? Looking to break old habits and set some new ones? Look no further than these 10 inspiring reads to get motivated for 2020. 


Educated - Tara Westover

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.
Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.
Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it. 

I am a huge fan of memoirs, but Educated is the most unique I have ever read. I guarantee you will never have heard a story like it, and it truly is a story of how self-determination can lead to remarkable achievement. If you want to feel inspired heading into the new year, look no further. 

Becoming - Michelle Obama 

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

As inspiring as Educated, but in a completely different way, Michelle Obama's memoir is a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes of one of the world's most famous women. 


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Mark Manson

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be "positive" all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.
For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. "F**k positivity," Mark Manson says. "Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it." In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.
Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—"not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault." Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.
There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

I wouldn't say this book is particularly original or life-changing, but it does what it says on the tin. If you want to go into the new year with a bit more of a down-to-earth attitude, give it a read!  

Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert 

Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be.
To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly.

This one might be a little bit cringy for some, but I do think it carries important messages of the good things that can happen when you remove yourself from the bounds of societal standards to focus on yourself and what you enjoy. If you're looking to live a little more freely, this is the one for you!

A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara 

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

I'm reading this book for the first time right now and can already recommend it as one of the most impactful I've ever read. It's endlessly raw and touching, and has a way of reminding you of moments of your own life which makes you feel deeply connected to the characters. I'm glad this will be the book I'm reading at the turn of the year because it's making me think about the way I live my life in a way I never have before, and I can only see it having a positive effect on my life in the future. If you want a book which is - admittedly difficult - but truly life-changing, this is for you!


Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom 

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, and gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.
Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you?
Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying of ALS - or motor neurone disease - Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final 'class': lessons in how to live.

This book, for me, carries some of the most important messages (which are also some of the most overlooked) - taking these into the new year could only make it a much more fulfilling one for all involved. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.

This is one of the best stories of coping with loss and grief that I've ever read, packed full with social commentary and a lot of dark humour. Whether or not the main arc resonates with your personal situation or not is somewhat irrelevant, because the messages delivered are so universal and profound.

The Fringe Hours - Jessica Turner

Every woman has had this experience: you get to the end of the day and realize you did nothing for you. And if you go days, weeks, or even months in this cycle, you begin to feel like you have lost a bit of yourself.
While life is busy with a litany of must-dos--work, child-rearing, keeping house, grocery shopping, laundry and on and on--women do not have to push their own needs aside. Yet this is often what happens. There's just no time, right? Wrong.In this practical and liberating book, Jessica Turner empowers women to take back pockets of time "they already have "in their day in order to practice self-care and do the things they love.
Turner uses her own experiences and those of women across the country to teach readers how to balance their many responsibilities while still taking time to invest in themselves. She also addresses barriers to this lifestyle, such as comparison and guilt, and demonstrates how eliminating these feelings and making changes to one's schedule will make the reader a better wife, mother, and friend.

I don't usually recommend non-fiction books in this genre on my blog, but I am a big believer in making the most of every day and really making the most effective use of your time possible. If this is something you're looking to focus on in 2020, this is the book for you!


Love Your Life, Not Theirs: 7 Money Habits for Living the Life You Want - Rachel Cruze 

The Joneses are broke. 
Life looks good, but hidden beneath that glossy exterior are credit card bills, student loans, car payments, and an out-of-control mortgage. Their money situation is a mess, and they’re trying to live a life they simply can't afford. So why exactly do we try so hard to keep up with the Joneses?
Are we really living the lives we want, or are we chasing someone else’s dream, just trying to keep up appearances on social media, at church, and in our community? Why are we letting other people set the pace for our own family’s finances?
In Love Your Life, Not Theirs, Rachel shows you how to buy and do the things that are important to you—the right way. That starts by choosing to quit the comparisons, reframing the way you think about money, and developing new habits like avoiding debt, living on a plan, watching your spending, saving for the future, having healthy conversations about money, and giving.
These habits work, and Rachel is living proof. Now, she wants to empower you to live the life you’ve always dreamed of without creating the debt, stress, and worry that are all too often part of the deal. 
Social media isn’t real life, and trying to keep up with the Joneses will never get you anywhere. It’s time to live—and love—your life, not theirs.

Again, this is a very different genre to what I usually recommend - but as a trainee accountant I can hardly recommend books for the new year without including one to do with finances. I also think the messages in this book surrounding what social media portrays vs real life is extremely important to remember in this day and age - something we all need to remind ourselves of as we move into the new year. 

Hope in the Dark - Rebecca Solnit 

With Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argues that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next.

If you're looking to head into 2020 full of optimism and positivity, this is the book for you! Rebecca Solnit explores how to see the good in everything, big and small, and how to never give up, even when times are tough.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ellen, I just stumbled across you blog and LOVE IT! Keep up the reading!

    Melissa aka Nonna

    ReplyDelete

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