I’ve always been an avid reader, but until the last few years I’d mostly dabbled in fiction. Sure, I read some essays here and there, but for the most part my reading was dominated by young adult, fantasy, and science-fiction books.
That is, until I hit rock bottom.
It happened in the fall in 2016, when I moved back to my hometown in Florida for a little while to figure myself out. I wasn’t taking very good care of myself back then, just trying to run away from all of the pain and anxiety that pursued me all the way across the country, but one thing I did do for myself was read voraciously.
This collection of books got me through that hard time and gave me hope for the future. I hope one or all of them resonate with you.
1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
From an Amazon review:
“If you’re in pain, read this book. If you’re scared, read this book. If you are lost, read this book. If you are happy, read this book. If you have time, read this book. If you don’t have time, read this book. Read this book, read this book.”
Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the greats, and by that I mean it may just be my favorite nonfiction book of all time.
It is the kind of book that inspires me to be a writer, to go out and pursue my passion with vigor and virtue, for it showed me that books truly can change the human spirit.
I won’t lie: this book is gut-wrenching. It is not an easy read by any means. But one great thing that Frankl does is intertwine the narrative of his struggles in concentration camps with his own psychological analysis, so that the story is both a true tale and a philosophical treatise on the meaning of life.
I remember the night I found the book: I was so lonely that I felt like my stomach had dropped out of my body when I came upon a quote from this book on Goodreads. It was like feeling the hug of a warm friend around my aching, tired mind.
I’ve quoted Frankl before in my writing, but it was a different quote that reeled me in that dark night:
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
The biggest takeaway I had from this book is that suffering is always temporary. If we have the ability to imagine a better future, we will be able to endure just about anything in order to achieve it, and that is the true beauty of the human spirit.
2. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
I’ve written about this book before as well, but only because it was so pivotal in allowing me to take control back over my life. I was turned onto it by a FaceBook friend of mine who has continued to be an incredibly inspirational woman to this day.
I read it in two days, absorbing every single bit of information and wisdom that Elrod had packed between those pages. I even took notes, which I only do when I want to remember everything I can from a book.
The gist of the book is this: the tone you set each morning from the very moment you wake up determines your attitude for the rest of the day. So why not start off your morning with a routine structured to put you in the best possible mood? Why not also use it to help you excel and reach your goals?
I’ve since adopted my own morning routine to follow along with Elrod’s guidelines for a perfect day — hell, I recently came up with a point system for myself to motivate me to complete said morning routine, and it’s been working fantastically!
It’s insane the effect that one book can have on the human psyche. And I’m still feeling the reverberations of reading this book, even years later. I definitely suggest you add it to your to-read pile if you have any interest in productivity or self-improvement.
3. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
“Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize — they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.”
I’ve always struggled with establishing and sticking with habits, so the title of this book immediately intrigued me. I found it while I was looking for books on personal development for my morning routine and boy, am I glad I read it.
The author looks into the science behind why and how we form habits and how we can use that to our advantage in life and in business. He shows us how to identify a habit loop, which is the foundation of every routine we have, good or bad, and talks about the importance of not breaking bad habits, but changing them.
This book enabled me to understand just how I’d established such bad habits as far as eating, sleeping, and taking care of myself — and it also gave me the power to modify those habits into ones that can provide me with a better life.
4. Grit by Angela Duckworth
This book really showed me how important it is to stay persistent and fierce in the face of obstacles. The authors put years of scientific study into this book, so every claim is backed up with anecdotes and evidence to support it. The best summary I can give is this: people with grit (AKA those of us who persevere and persist through failure) have a tendency to be happier and more successful overall than those who give in at the first sign of trouble.
As someone who grew up in a pretty troubled environment, this book gave me hope that the skills I’d learned in my early days would help me become a stronger, more persistent human being.
I’ve always been the type to give up on things easily, willing to allow a bruised ego or a stray insult color my consciousness, but the research shows that the more persistent you are, the more successful you can become.
Failure also teaches us more than we can really appreciate and allows us to build up towards achievement.
If you’ve ever doubted yourself or your abilities, read this book.
5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Everyone knows this book. But back before it was made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon (which I still haven’t seen, oops), I found this book in my mom’s discarded book pile. She’d gotten it from the library and enjoyed it, but then a few months later she accidentally borrowed it again and set it aside, which is when I found it.
I’ve always loved the outdoors. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to hike the Appalachian trail in its entirety, so reading through Strayed’s steps on the Pacific Crest Trail was a good way to get myself familiar with it.
I walked away from the book having a greater respect for thru-hikers but also knowing the power of physical and mental transformation. A journey like that changes you, and it allowed Strayed to reflect on her past in order to build a better future for herself.
I am one for adventures, and I still have that thru-hike on my bucket list. Let’s hope I can find as much wisdom as Strayed’s words gave me.
Part of the reason that I am a writer is because I know first-hand that books have the power to transform lives.
As a child, they taught me how to be a kind, moral person and as an adult, they teach me to live in our fractured world with a little bit more fire in my step.
The world around us is a fascinating place, full of wonder and terror, and books help us to understand and integrate those larger ideas into our smaller consciousness. I hope one of these can help to transform your life in a meaningful and lasting way, just like they did for me.
Sam Ripples is an essayist and novelist living in southern Colorado. She has an interest in words that provide the mind, body, and soul with rejuvenation and hope. You can follow her on Twitter here.
More by Sam Ripples: