The other day I asked clients, friends and family about a book that had a real impact on them. A book that inspired their life views, their values, their mindset or was so memorable that the book’s story or message continues to live in their minds.
Most people had read at least three to six books that had touched them personally or professionally. Some brought about immense self-awareness and personal change whilst others brought clarity to family matters and life circumstances. Others brought calm during difficult times or shed light on the wider meaning of life.
If I had to pick my top 13 to read in 2018 based on my own book therapy practice, including endorsements from literary circles on both sides of the pond, the below would be it. The combination of writing, stories and characters creates a powerful reading list, built to energise, restore and seed a long-lasting impact for the better.
Great for: Fighting for your rights and beliefs, restoring your faith in humanity and gaining an insight into Gandhian philosophy.
Banned in Russia, this classic was the inspiration for many of Mahatma Gandhi’s values and way of life. Often labelled the book that influenced him the most, the book emphasises morals, compassion, social justice and equality, particularly for the working class and the poor. It shines a light on humanity and its capacity to impact society for the better.
Raw yet radical writing that is not afraid to question outdated philosophies. A brilliant book that will keep you thinking long after you have read it.
Great for: Learning about the history of slavery in America. Illustrates the capacity of the human spirit to tolerate inconceivable suffering.
I originally saw the miniseries, however had to read the book after watching it. An epic account of six generations of slaves, the book chronicles the journey of Kunta Kinte (the ‘African’) who was taken by force from his homeland in West Gambia and dragged to the shores of Maryland across the ocean and sold to a Virginia planter. Over the next two centuries and six generations of slaves, freed men, farmers, blacksmiths, lumber mill workers, lawyers and architects later comes this beautiful story about the strength of the human spirit, overcoming the harshest of adversities.
The book recounts the loss of Kunta Kinte’s family back in Africa, his heritage, his challenges fitting in with second and third generation slaves born in America and the loss of his children sold as slaves.
Great for: Inspiring hope and overcoming adversity during difficult times
A memoir and true story about unconditional love within a dysfunctional family. The author Jeannette Wells, a gossip columnist, comes to terms with her upbringing by an alcoholic father and a mother who struggled with mental health issues.
One of four children, she spent a large part of her childhood living a nomadic existence, in poverty, across the West Coast, where she and her siblings were left to fend for themselves.
Despite their difficult upbringing all the siblings go on to have successful careers becoming productive members of society. A stunning non-fiction narrative that reads like fiction.
Great for: Difficult family relationships and managing inner conflict.
The tale of two families, living in California’s Salinas Valley, whose lives mirror the stories of Adam and Eve and Abel and Cain. Adam Trask, a wealthy ranch owner comes to settle in the valley, newly wed and due to have twins with his wife. His life completely changes post the birth of the twins. His promiscuous wife leaves him to raise the twins on his own and he falls into depression. With the support of his Cantonese cook and the Hamilton family, he raises the twins himself. Both brothers are like chalk and cheese; one good-natured and loving and one like his mother — scandalous, difficult and lonely.
As they approach adulthood, the difference becomes even more apparent. Both looking to love and be loved, one destroys the other in this quest, despite great intentions on both parts. A tragic saga, Steinbeck is at his best with mesmerising characters in an epic masterpiece, reenacting the Book of Genesis.
Great for: Restoring faith in people, humanity and the universe. It literally will change the way you approach life for the better.
A powerful little book that will literally change your mindset. Those who have read the book report a shift in mindset and the way they look at the world. Based on Eastern philosophies and the Hindu concept of Vedanta, the book discusses how we are all part of a greater consciousness, rather than isolated beings. In fact acting in isolation removes joy, brings discontent and is destructive — we view everyone and everything with hostility, abusing nature and our own people. It leaves us helpless, angry and traumatised. By recognising that we are connected to everyone and everything around us, we act differently, make better decisions, leave the ego at the door and become more self aware.
Great for: A vicarious ‘out-of-body’ reading experience, that will question everything about the world as you know it.
A spiritual masterpiece and fascinating autobiography by Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the most incredible spiritual masters of our time. The book articulates his journey to ‘self-realisation’ or ‘enlightenment’. A childhood filled with strong mentors and teachers, Paramahansa trained under the strict and disciplined teachings of his highly regarded guru. Through the study of yoga and meditation, he achieves great feats unheard of for humans (and which would conventionally be termed as ‘magic’).
Observing regular miracles and living an extraordinary existence, he sheds light on a whole new type of spiritual existence that is far removed from everyday life. He brought his teachings to the United States where he taught for 30 years, crossing paths with other great spiritual leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Everyone should read this book at least once in their lives.
Great for: Difficult sibling relationships, bereavement and loss.
A bittersweet, heart-breaking account of twin brothers, one who suffers from devastating mental illness and is on the brink of suicide; the other who struggles with his brother’s illness and has his own challenges.
Their strict maternal grandfather who passed away before their birth, unaware of his daughter’s pregnancy (borne out of wedlock), continues to have a haunting presence in their lives.
Adopted by their abusive stepfather when they are toddlers, the author narrates a fictional story about profoundly human family dynamics, the relationships between twins, living with mental health issues, family secrets, death and loss.
A page turner, the book explores serious issues about love, embarrassment, guilt, ambivalence and conflicting feelings within family relationships. Despite the sad themes, the books offers inspiration, hope and illustrates the power of forgiveness, affirming faith in family.
Great for: Family relationships and rediscovering unconditional love.
A New York Times bestselling author, Mitch Albom’s third book explores the beautiful relationship between Charley Benetto and his mother as he tries to reconcile this relationship after discovering that she is still alive.
Charley hits rock bottom after not being invited to his own daughter’s wedding. Debt-ridden, a failed marriage, an alcoholic and on the verge of suicide, Charley gets to spend one more day with his mother whom he abandoned a long time ago. A beautiful novel about the opportunity to make good, relationships with loved ones. If you got to spend one more day with a loved one you thought you had lost, what would you do?
A touching story, about a mother’s unconditional love for her children. It will make you want to call your own mother and tell her how much you love her.
Great for: Relieving guilty feelings about the choices we make. Understanding power dynamics between people.
An explosive and innovative novel, combining, murder, suspense and philosophy; easily qualifying as Fyodor’s Magnus opus. Unforgettable characters, two stories weaving together centred around the murder of a woman, Fyodor truly captures the inner workings of human nature and how we play out our deepest, darkest desires even if they lead to our demise. An insightful story that shows how our own inner consciousness can be more punishing than any legal system. You will feel that you are part of the story.
Great for: A great source of comfort during challenging times. Provides incredible insight for dealing with loss and bereavement.
A beautiful narrative on the interconnection between life and death — about living well but also dying well. Death is seen as an opportunity to achieve a higher state of being and how best to prepare for it. A modern take on ancient Buddhist practices, the books discusses karma and the cycle of rebirth, compassion for all living things, the practice of meditation, caring for the dying and a person’s overall spiritual journey. A book that you will read over and over again.
Great for: Understanding the way we are built. Illustrates that our similarities far outweigh our differences and makes a compelling case for storytelling.
A captivating take on mythology and how they explain human nature and the psyche. All cultures have similar mythology and stories that act as metaphors for human psychology and behaviour.
As a race we all ultimately have one story, a monomyth, with elements of creation and destruction. For example, there are many parallels between Greek and Hindu myths centred around similar story lines. The Hero With A Thousand Faces brings together mythology across the full spectrum of human cultures, ancient and modern, ranging from Hindu, Greek, Jewish, Maori, Buddhist, Romans amongst others.
A fascinating examination of the human psyche, including our natural desires to explain our inner world through the power of stories.
Great for: Coming to terms with suffering, making sense of tough situations and finding our purpose of life.
The author, an Auschwitz Nazi death camp survivor, illustrates, that through suffering, we find meaning and the drive to keep us going. Our goal in life is not to attain pleasure or power but to ‘discover meaning’ and it is the pursuit of this meaning that provides the purpose of life.
Specifically, the book advocates finding meaning in three different ways: through making ourselves useful to others, through unconditionally loving others and through suffering.
A significant book that continues to shine its wisdom whatever your circumstance.
Great for: Parents of all ages but particularly parents of newborns. Great to read to your little ones. Perfect as a mother’s day gift too.
A sweet book about unconditional and everlasting love; no matter how much our children upset us or how difficult parenthood can be, we will always love them no matter what they do, how old they are and the choices that they make. It will reaffirm your belief in family (and might even make you shed a tear or two).
Would love to hear your thoughts on the books above. Feel free to comment below!
A big hello and thank you for reading! I am a bibliotherapist/book coach, psychodynamic counsellor, author and founder of Book Therapy. Passionate about literature, psychology, life and mental health I launched Book Therapy as a form of non-conventional therapy and personal coaching using the power of literature. If you enjoyed the reading list above, feel free to reach out to me and I will create a book prescription for you based on your individual circumstance, needs, interests and reading habits.
Book Therapy offers an alternative to conventional therapy using the power of literature. We offer a confidential therapy session with a book therapist, exploring your current needs; prescribing both fiction/non-fiction literature. Or if you prefer we can simply curate a personalised reading list based on your needs. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential, free initial session with a book therapist.
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