My Favorite Books about Music (And a Reading Playlist!)

I’ve enjoyed music even longer than I’ve loved books. My parents listened to “oldies” growing up, so the first artists I remember knowing about are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Beach Boys. Unlike some of my friends, I loved the music my parents played. They were just listening to music they liked, but I was soaking up a musical education. I had a boy band phase in middle school and wanted a Spice Girls CD more than I cared to admit even at 11, but my musical foundation is solid thanks to the songs I grew up hearing.

It makes sense, then, that I enjoy two of my favorite things coming together: music and books. Today I want to share some of my favorite books about music and explain why I like them so much.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones is an up and coming singer in the late 1960s. She’s beautiful and talented, but also a drug addict. Billy Dunne (who also has issues with substance abuse) is the lead singer/songwriter for a band called the Six which he’s in with his brother and four others. When a producer realizes that Daisy and Billy are magnetic together, Daisy joins the band. Soon the group becomes one of the most popular rock bands in America.

Daisy Jones & The Six is the book that inspired this whole post. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s a novel, but it’s written as an oral history which makes it seem as if every word is real. You might not think oral history about a fake rock band would result in a page-turner, but this novel is an addictive read from start to finish. It’s utterly original and full of songs you’ll wish you could hear. Thankfully, Daisy Jones is becoming a 13-part series for Amazon. I’m excited about the soundtrack more than anything else.

The Song Is You book cover

The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips

This novel was released in 2009 when people still used iPods. Julian is obsessed with his and uses music as a way to connect with memories of his past. After something tragic happens to Julian and his wife, he loses interest in everything, including music. It’s only when he hears Cait O’Dwyer sing in a bar one night that he starts to feel things again.

The Song Is You follows Julian and Cait’s relationship through their correspondence. The way Arthur Phillips portrays grief, longing, and marriage in this novel is consistently compelling. I remember one particular scene that made me physically ache. This book feels true, and I think that makes for the best fiction.

The Music Shop book cover

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988, and Frank, the owner of a small music shop in London, is getting pressured to start selling CDs. He’s devoted to his vinyl records, however, and refuses to change. His life is a simple one, and he’s okay with that. But then, of course, there’s this girl. She walks into the store one day, and Frank (along with all of his friends in the neighborhood) is instantly captivated. She ends up asking him to teach her about music, which forces Frank to face some painful memories.

The Music Shop is a sweet story that never feels saccharine. The supporting characters are colorful, the love story is heartfelt, and the music references throughout are delightful. If you had your heart broken by Daisy Jones & The Six and The Song Is You, this book will help put it back together.

Signal to Noise book cover

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche is a teenager in the late 1980s. She isn’t cool and hangs out with two equally uncool friends, Daniela and Sebastian. The trio often listens to records and one day they realize that Meche has the power to cast spells through music.

Flash forward to 2009 when Meche’s estranged father dies. She’s forced to return to Mexico City where she grew up. She runs into Sebastian and is brought face-to-face with memories she’s tried to bury.

Through these two timelines, readers learn about Meche’s musical power, how she uses it, and what happened with her family and friends to make her want to leave everything and everyone behind. This book is more fantastical than what I usually read, but I love it and wish it had a broader audience.

Sometimes when I’m reading, I like to have some background music playing. If you do too, here’s a playlist I made full of slow, folksy songs that pair nicely with a good book for a cozy night at home. Happy reading (and listening)!

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8 of My Favorite Long Books

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Last week I was listening to episode 173 of What Should I Read Next, my favorite bookish podcast. The guest in this episode was talking about how she enjoys long books and wants to read more of them. While listening to this episode, I realized that I don’t read long books nearly as often as I do short books. (I define long as being over 450 pages.) As much as I love reading, sometimes I’m intimidated by long books, though I’m not sure why. To remind myself that I shouldn’t pass over long books, I’m sharing eight of my favorite lengthy reads today.

1Q84 book cover

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami; translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
925 pages

1Q84 might be the longest book I’ve ever read, but it never feels long. (It was published as three different volumes in Japan, but I read all three in one hardcover edition.) This novel is weird, suspenseful, a little creepy, and wholly original, but never dull. It’s about a woman named Aomame who happens to be an assassin and a man named Tengo who teaches math and is working as a ghostwriter. Aomame realizes she’s living in a parallel reality which she doesn’t understand. Tengo is becoming so involved in his ghostwriting project that his dull life starts to seem anything but ordinary. Murakami converges these two narratives in a way that makes total sense for the world he has constructed. This novel is hard to explain, but know it’s a phenomenal accomplishment by one of my favorite writers.

Anna Karenina book cover

Anna Karanina by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Richard Pevear
and Larissa Volokhonsky

838 pages

Do you ever pick up a book and expect to put it back down shortly after that? That’s the way I approached Anna Karenina. I was intrigued enough to begin the novel, but finishing it seemed like a huge challenge. I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Reading this translation of Tolstoy’s classic was a delight, not a problem. Anna is a complex character who chases her passion, even though it leads to her downfall. Who among us can’t relate to that? If you’re intimidated by this novel like I was, try this particular translation, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Goldfinch book cover

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
771 pages

The good news about Donna Tartt is that she’s a gifted, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. The bad news is that she’s only published a book every ten years, so there’s a lot of waiting and expectation associated with her work. Thankfully, The Goldfinch was worth the wait and surpassed all of my expectations. It’s about a boy named Theo who loses his mom in a tragic accident. He clings to her memory by holding on to a small painting of a goldfinch. This painting and his connection to the art world ends up shaping the course of his life in extraordinary ways.

A Little Life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
720 pages

A Little Life has haunted me from the moment I finished it. It’s a story about four male friends in New York City, though the focus is mostly on Jude, a wounded man both emotionally and physically. Yanagihara follows these four men throughout several decades. We see them advance in their careers, fall in love, get hurt, and come face to face with their secrets. A Little Life is a heartbreaking book, and Jude’s story is especially brutal. This book isn’t for sensitive readers or those who are triggered by references to abuse, but if you like beautifully told stories that will stay with you long after you read the last page, pick up this novel ASAP.

The Habit of Being book cover

The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor
edited by Sally Fitzgerald
640 pages

Flannery O’Connor is one of my most beloved writers. She’s funny, thoughtful, challenging, and smart. Her fiction has a voice that’s undeniably hers, and her nonfiction is full of intelligent thoughts about God, the writing life, and how to do creative work. This collection of her letters combines all of the things I love about her work. I know an extended selection of correspondence might not sound too exciting, but I read each page of this book and loved every minute. Die-hard O’Connor fans will appreciate The Habit of Being for being such an enjoyable and charming book that reveals what life was like behind the scenes of O’Connor’s success and battle with lupus.

The Nix book cover

The Nix by Nathan Hill
640 pages

Samuel Anderson is coasting through life. He wants to be a great writer, but instead, he’s a mediocre college professor who spends his evenings playing video games. One day he sees the mother who abandoned him as a child show up on the news for throwing rocks at a political candidate. Samuel owes his publisher a book, so he decides to track down his mom and write her life story in an attempt to show her true colors. As Samuel gets to work, readers are taken through the latter half of the twentieth century as his mother tells her story. There is so much happening in this novel, yet Nathan Hill never lets it get away from him. It’s an epic book, and it still astounds me that The Nix is Hill’s debut. I want everyone to read this book and love it as much as I do. (The audiobook narration is outstanding, by the way.)

Night Film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
592 pages

Journalist Scott McGrath hears about the suicide of Ashley Cordova, the twenty-something daughter of Stanislaus Cordova, the iconic and reclusive horror filmmaker, and feels something’s not quite right. He immediately suspects that Ashley’s death wasn’t a suicide. McGrath has been interested in Cordova for a long time, but his attempts to chase the truth about the mysterious man and his life have never ended well. Still, Scott’s curiosity gets the best of him and he, along with two unequipped strangers, start looking for the truth. Throughout the novel are photos, newspaper articles, website screenshots, and other visual elements that make this story even creepier than it already was. If you’re a mystery and thriller fan, this is a must-read. It’s one of my favorite books of all time.

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
529 pages

Like several of the books on this list, Middlesex tells an epic story. At the center is Cal who was born as Calliope Stephanides, a girl growing up in Michigan during the 1960s and ’70s. Readers learn a secret about Cal and trace generations of her family to better understand her story and history. This novel is utterly unforgettable and deserves its Pulitzer Prize.

What are you favorite long reads? What books would you recommend I pick up next? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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10 Books for Women’s History Month

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As you might know, March is Women’s History Month which is all about “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” The majority of the books I read are by and about women. That hasn’t been a conscious choice; I’m just naturally drawn to stories about female empowerment and experiences. With that in mind, today I want to share ten books I’d recommend if you want more women in your reading life.

American Jezebel book cover

American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante

I first heard about Anne Hutchinson in one of my college history courses. My professor talked about her with great respect, so when I saw this biography on the library shelf, I knew I had to read it. Hutchinson was a woman who stood up to men who wanted her silenced. She vocalized her religious and political opinions in a time when women’s voices were not welcome in the public sphere. Hutchinson’s story would be an inspiring one if it happened today, but her life is made even more amazing considering the time in which she lived.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

In the 1700s, half-sisters Effia and Esi are born in Ghana. Their lives take different paths, and Homegoing is the story of them and their descendants until the modern day. This novel reaffirms the horror of slavery, explores the pain of mothers who have lost their children, and shows how racism still runs rampant even in modern America. Despite the dense subject matter, Homegoing contains sweet, tender, and joyous moments, too. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s stunning.

Me, My Hair, and I book cover

Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession edited by Elizabeth Benedict

This book is a collection of essays about hair. That might sound weird or boring, but I assure you it’s neither. Most of the women I know (myself included) genuinely care about their hair. It’s easy to assume that’s because of vanity, but a lot of times there are broader issues at play, including cultural expectations, hair loss due to illness, attachment to hair that feels like a shield, or messy feelings about self-worth. There’s no denying that women are expected to look a certain way, and this book does a good job exploring that pressure.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This novel focuses on two women, Elena and Mia. Elena Richardson is a longtime resident of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a wealthy, nearly perfect town where she and her husband raise their four children. Elena rents out an apartment to mysterious Mia and her daughter Pearl. Mia is an artist who never tends to stay in the same place for long. She’s raising Mia on her own and trying to make ends meet. As the novel progresses, Elena and Mia end up in the middle of a custody battle. Elena’s friend (who’s white, of course) is trying to adopt a Chinese-American baby, but Mia questions to whom the child truly belongs. A lot is happening in this book, yet Ng’s pacing and storytelling never falter. Little Fires Everywhere is an outstanding novel that digs deep into what it means to be a mother, sister, and friend.

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

I can’t stop talking about this book. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Educated is Tara Westover’s story of being raised off the grid by a fundamentalist Mormon family. Her survivalist father didn’t believe in doctors and certainly didn’t believe in public education. She grew up isolated from the world and was forced to educate herself, eventually ending up at Harvard and Cambridge. Westover beautifully depicts resilience and how far education can take a person in their quest for a different life.

All Grown Up book cover

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Andrea Bern is living an ordinary life. She’s in her late 30s, unmarried, childless, and is working a dead-end job for which she has no passion. Andrea’s not yearning for a husband or baby, though. She treats herself to quality things. Life is progressing normally until her world is shaken up when her niece becomes ill. Andrea sees the cracks in her brother and sister-in-law’s marriage for the first time and watches her mother grow fully obsessed with the baby’s needs. Like all of us, Andrea is complicated. I love this novel because it dares to have a complex woman at its center who is both occasionally unlikable (gasp!) and entirely relatable. All Grown Up is an utter delight.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This brief book is an essay adapted from Adichie’s TED talk. This is an excellent primer for anyone interested in feminism who might be wondering what it means and what it looks like in the modern world.

What Happened book cover

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Hillary Clinton is one of the most important political figures in modern American history. In What Happened, she talks about the 2016 election and addresses what it was like running against Trump, how her campaign stumbled, and what life is like after a massive defeat. If you feel as if you’ve never honestly gotten to know Clinton, this book is worth your time.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood book cover

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans

Like the title suggests, Rachel Held Evans decided to spend one year following the Bible’s words about women as literally as she could. This premise could have easily turned into a joke, but Evans’ work is based on her deep love and respect for Scripture. There’s certainly a lot of humor in this book, but Evans is extremely intelligent and she uses her knowledge of the Bible to discuss some of its most difficult passages. Whether you’re a believer or not, I think you’ll find this book eye-opening and entertaining.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
by Nora Ephron

Most of the books on this list are addressing serious topics, so here’s a book that’s hilarious and fun. I adore Nora Ephron and think her wit shines in this essay collection about aging and navigating womanhood in life’s later years.

I thought long and hard about this list. There are so many other titles that could have appeared here, but these are the ten I feel most strongly about right at this moment. Have you read any of these? What books would make your list?

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Reading Recap | February 2019

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

February was another good reading month for me. I read five books and liked all of them. I own three of the books I read, so I’m thrilled my owned books outranked my library books this time around. Yay for reading goal progress!

Spoken from the heart book cover

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
Rating: 4/5


Spoken from the Heart is a memoir by the former first lady about her childhood in Texas, her early career as a teacher and librarian, her husband’s early political aspirations, and the eight years she spent in the White House.


Last month I read and loved Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and what I liked so much about that book is here, too. All of the political stuff is wonderfully interesting, but I also enjoyed learning about Bush’s life growing up. I certainly relate to her passion for literature and libraries and admire her journey from someone who was promised she’d never have to give a speech to someone speaking out on the world stage on behalf of women and girls around the world.


People who are interested in politics will be the best audience for this book.

The Dreamers book cover

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Rating: 4/5


A freshman girl falls asleep in her bed and doesn’t wake up. And then it happens to another girl in her dorm. And then it happens to another one. Soon there’s an epidemic and doctors can’t figure it out. The patients aren’t dead; they’re breathing and dreaming, but nothing can wake them up. Chaos and panic soon run amok in the small, idyllic Southern California town where sleep is to be feared.


The Dreamers is a page-turner. The plot is fascinating, the characters are well-developed, and I never knew what was going to happen next. In addition to all that, the writing is quite lovely.


I’d recommend this to literary fiction fans who appreciate unique tales.

The Fire This Time book cover

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward
Rating: 4/5


The Fire This Time is a nod to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a classic examination of race. Using that as inspiration, Ward has put together a collection of essays and poems about what life is like for people of color in modern America.


Ward recruited some wonderful writers for this collection, such as Claudia Rankine, Natasha Tretheway, and Kiese Laymon. As with most essay collections, some pieces are better than others. That’s true with this book, but the good essays easily outnumber ones I thought were mediocre.


People interested in race and social justice will be inspired by this book.

The Lost Man book cover

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Rating: 4/5


Nathan is the oldest of three brothers. Right before Christmas, his middle brother Cameron is found dead. Like Nathan, Cam had spent his entire life in the Australian outback, so he knew the risks and how to survive the oppressive heat. The family questions the circumstances of his death and eventually face a disturbing rumor about Cam’s past. Meanwhile, Nathan is forced to confront his grieving mother, the widowed sister-in-law he always avoids, and the terrible memory of his abusive father.


Jane Harper might be the queen of settings. When I read her work, I feel like I’m actually in the outback, thirsty and covered in dust. Her descriptions of the landscape pull you even further into her expertly crafted mystery and family drama.


Fans of Harper’s first two books (The Dry and Force of Nature) will love The Lost Man. Mystery and suspense fans will undoubtedly be satisfied with Harper’s first standalone novel.

The Hunting Party book cover

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Rating: 4/5


A group of friends from Oxford always spend New Year’s Eve together, and 2018 is no exception. This year, Emma, the newest member of the group, has planned a getaway to a remote lodge and cabins nestled into the snowy woods. Thanks to a snowstorm, there’s no way in and no way out, so when a member of the group is found murdered, everyone knows the killer is in their midst.


The Hunting Party has a delightfully creepy atmosphere and setting. The pacing is fantastic, and the twists are a fun surprise. This book is a highly enjoyable murder mystery.


Mystery fans who want a perfect winter read will enjoy this one.

What did you read in February? Leave a comment below and share!

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A Presidential Reading List

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Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S. I like this holiday primarily because I get a day off from work, but also because it’s about presidents. I’m fascinated by the presidency and the people who have occupied the White House. I love reading presidential biographies, and I thought today was the perfect time to share some of my favorites. I’m going to focus on the past six presidents: Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. No matter your political views, there’s certainly a book on this list that you’ll enjoy.

Reagan: the Life book cover

Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands

Ronald Wilson Reagan: February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004
Served from 1981-1989
Party: Republican

When I picked up this book, I went into it with low expectations. I’d read other books by H. W. Brands and knew I liked his writing, but I had never found Ronald Reagan that interesting. I want to read a biography about every one of the forty-five U. S. presidents, so I thought I might as well give this one a shot. I’m glad I did.

Despite my apathy toward Reagan, Brands brought him to life for me in ways I didn’t expect. I enjoyed learning about his time in Hollywood, his deep devotion to his second wife Nancy, and how that devotion to her put up a wall between him and his children. Brands is a wonderful writer and historian, and I appreciate how his skill helped me come to know a figure I often overlooked.

Destiny and Power book cover

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

George Herbert Walker Bush: June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018
Served from 1989-1993
Party: Republican

Of all the presidential biographies I’ve read so far, this one might be my favorite. Jon Meacham is Bush’s officially biographer and was granted intimate access to Bush’s life and family which, paired with his beautiful writing, led to this fantastic exploration of a man who lived an extraordinary life. Bush served as a congressman, ambassador to China, director of the CIA, and vice president before being elected himself in 1988. Meacham tells all those stories with vivid detail, but my favorite parts of this biography are Meacham’s discussions of Bush’s time serving in World War II. Bush’s plane was shot down, and though he was ultimately rescued, he lost two men. That haunted him the rest of his life, and Meacham tells that story with compassion and care.

Meacham, who was unusually close with his subject, was asked to give a eulogy at Bush’s funeral. You can watch it here.

A Complicated Man: The Life of Bill Clinton as Told by Those Who Know Him by Michael Takiff

William Jefferson Clinton: August 19, 1946 –
Served from 1993-2001
Party: Democrat

A Complicated Man is a perfect title for a book about Bill Clinton. Good biographies are ones that show the complexity of their subject, revealing strengths and weaknesses in a delicate balance. Michael Takiff does that in this book, which is indeed an excellent biography of a man who defines complicated. Bill Clinton is a fascinating figure for a lot of reasons, and Takiff does a good job addressing those reasons by structuring this book as an oral biography by those who know Clinton well. This book doesn’t provide a final answer on Clinton’s legacy, but it does raise a lot of interesting questions and delivers some surprising anecdotes. Whether you hate him or love him, this book is a must-read for those wanting to know more about our 42nd president.

Days of Fire book cover

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

George Walker Bush: July 6, 1946 –
Served from 2001 – 2009
Party: Republican

I’ll admit that books about presidents and politics aren’t always the most unputdownable reading material. Some can be a bit dry in certain sections, but that’s not the case with Days of Fire. This book reads like a great suspense novel from beginning to end. It’s different from the other books on this list because Peter Baker doesn’t just examine George W. Bush, but explores his relationship with his vice president, Dick Cheney. Based on an enormous amount of research, Baker delivers a fascinating piece of political reporting that stands out as one of the best presidential books I’ve ever read.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Barack Hussein Obama: August 4, 1961 –
Served from 2009-2017
Party: Democrat

This book is a collection of photographs by Obama’s primary White House photographer, Pete Souza. (Souza also served as a photographer in Reagan’s administration.) I read an interview with Souza in which he explained that before he accepted the position, he made it clear to Obama that he needed unlimited access to his administration. Obama granted it, so for eight years Souza documented the 44th president up close and personal. This book contains some of Souza’s most remarkable photographs. Obama: An Intimate Portrait is a beautiful visual guide through a historic presidency. This book is one you’ll read over and over again.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Donald John Trump: June 14, 1946 –
Assumed office in 2017
Party: Republican

No matter what you think about Donald Trump, you have to admit that we’ve never had a president precisely like him before. New stories are breaking all the time about things Trump has said and done. In Fear, legendary reporter Bob Woodward examines the beginning of Trump’s presidency and explores how Trump thinks and governs. If you pay close attention to the news, I doubt much of this book will be too surprising, yet I think it’s a must-read if you’re looking for a deeper understanding of what’s happening in our current administration.

Are you interested in presidents and politics? Do you know of other presidential books I need to add to my TBR? I’d love to hear about them.

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The 10 Nonfiction Books I Wish My Patrons Would Read Before They Graduate High School

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For nearly eight years now, I’ve been working with teenagers in public high school libraries. I’ve interacted with students who love to read, who like to read but don’t know what books to choose, and students who would rather die alone in a terrible freak accident than read a book. (Or so it seems sometimes.) It’s not up to me to assign books, yet I have titles floating around in my head that I’d love students to read before they graduate. I want to share ten of those titles and what I think kids can learn from them. I’m focusing on nonfiction. If I could assign books, these are the ones I’d hand to those 17-year-olds who are on the cusp of new and exciting things.

Please note: there are mentions of sexual assault.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Hard work and education can take you places you’d never imagine.

I just finished Becoming and enjoyed it just as much as I thought I would. As a lover of presidential history, I went into the book knowing for sure I’d like the discussions of government and politics, but what turned out to be my favorite part of the book was the beginning. Learning about Mrs. Obama’s humble upbringing in Chicago’s South Side was fascinating. I’d heard pieces of that story, but reading about her kind, loving parents and their passion for knowledge was inspiring. Michelle Obama isn’t successful because she married a man who became President of the United States; she got into Princeton and Harvard Law School before she knew he existed. Becoming is a story of perseverance, drive, and demonstrates how education can change everything.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Being rich and famous doesn’t guarantee a perfect life.

Steve Jobs was famous, ridiculously wealthy, and lauded for his contributions to technology. As the force behind Apple, he changed the way the world communicates. Because of this, it makes sense to assume that being Steve Jobs’ daughter would be nothing less than an unbelievable stroke of luck. Lisa Brennan-Jobs corrects that belief with her honest, unputdownable memoir about the turbulent relationship she had with her father. The two loved each other, but their bond was shaky from the very beginning when Jobs questioned whether or not Lisa was even his daughter. It’s easy to envy those in positions of power or who have great wealth, assuming their lives are perfect. The truth is never that tidy, and this book is a reminder of that.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

There are unfair power structures that will hold you back. Keep trying anyway and fight to change those structures.

Whether we’ve read this narrative or not, most of us are familiar with Frederick Douglass and his story. That familiarity might keep someone from reading this book, but it shouldn’t. This was a text I was assigned in college, and I wish I’d read it even earlier. It provides an eye-opening account of slavery, and it’s essential for citizens to fully understand America’s history. Besides that, Douglass’ story shows a man that just won’t give up, even when his humanity has basically been stripped away. Once he was free, Douglass worked and fought to end injustice. Being free gives all of us the opportunity to try to free someone else.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

Don’t take your freedom for granted.

As a teenager, it can be difficult to see beyond yourself. Everything feels like a big deal. School can seem unfair. Life can seem overwhelming because of all the choices before you. It’s easy to take something like freedom for granted when you’re told you can do anything, be anyone, and achieve your dreams. Nothing to Envy reveals a world without those promises. Demick forces her readers to confront a country unlike any other in the world today. North Korea is a fascinating place, and this book is a fantastic exploration of it. What amazes me most about North Korea is that it exists at all, especially in 2019. This book is a sobering reminder that freedom is a gift, one that millions around the world don’t have.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

You have to take things as they come.

Lamott’s older brother was panicking over a homework assignment. He had to write a report on birds, and it was due the next day. He hadn’t even started yet. His father tried to calm him down by saying, “Just take it bird by bird.” As Lamott says, this is good advice for writing but also for life in general. Sure, not every student is going to enter into a career that requires them to write all the time. But they’ll have to write emails. They’ll have to write memos. They’ll have to text their coworkers or boss. Writing well is a skill we all need, and this book teaches those skills with a lot of other wisdom thrown in, too.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town 
by Jon Krakauer

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
by Jon Krakauer

Crimes against woman are often just seen as stories.

Before I opened up this book, I knew rape cases didn’t often result in convictions or much prison time. I knew women weren’t always listened to and taken seriously. Knowing those truths didn’t prepare me for this book. Missoula is an unflinching look at how sexual assault is frequently dismissed. Some people will always care more about the poor football player accused of rape than the girl he assaulted. This is heartbreaking and wrong, yet is information we all need to know. A lot of times, the pressure is put on women to protect themselves, but men need to be reminded they have a role to play in all of this, too. There’s much work to be done, and it involves everyone.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Humor can help you survive anything.

Trevor Noah is known as the host of The Daily Show, but long before his fame, he was just a kid in South Africa whose very existence was against the law. He was born to a black mother and a white father, a union prohibited under apartheid. Born a Crime is the story of his life in South Africa, his struggle to belong somewhere, and how embracing humor changed his life. This book talks about racism, abuse, and poverty, yet it’s also incredibly funny. Noah recognizes that humor isn’t a luxury for the privileged, but a necessity for everyone.

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

Education can be your escape from awful circumstances.

Tara Westover was raised off the grid. Born to a survivalist family, she was kept out of school, away from doctors, and insulated from society, yet she ended up studying at Oxford. Educated is the story of how she got there. If this book had been written as a novel, I would have thought it was too over the top. Knowing it’s all true makes it a compelling story about how seeking education can be the key to a new, freer life.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Vulnerability is the key to nearly everything.

If there is one lesson I wish I could have learned sooner, it would be the importance of vulnerability. Vulnerability doesn’t come easily to me, and that was especially true when I was entering adulthood. Around that time, there’s so much about yourself and your life that you’re struggling to understand that being vulnerable just seems like another difficult task. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown presents her groundbreaking research that reveals how people have used vulnerability to achieve success, overcome obstacles, and reinvent their lives.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Heartbreak will not destroy you.

After Cheryl Strayed’s mother died when Strayed was in her early 20s, she felt lost and adrift. Her marriage and family were falling apart. Grief was wrecking her. She needed a change, so she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Wild is the memoir of that journey and how it changed her life. Not only is this book beautifully written, but it reveals a woman who overcomes so much to build a life in which she can be happy and proud.

I went back and forth on a lot of titles before I decided on these ten. I would love to hear what titles you’d suggest for young adults. Leave your list in a comment below.

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9 Books to Motivate You in 2019

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I’m always a bit sad to see the holiday season come to an end, but I look forward to the possibility of a new year. January 1st feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. Change can happen anytime, of course, but there’s something about a new year that makes me feel extra hopeful and eager to make changes.

Today I’m sharing 9 books that have motivated me in different ways. If you too are excited about acquiring new habits and letting go of some old ones keep on reading. 


Book cover for The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

This book contains a lot of research and information, but Duhigg presents much of it through stories, so it’s never dull. Readers learn how habits helped Tony Dungy lead his NFL team to the Super Bowl and how habits helped a woman stop gambling. Habits impact everything from our diets to our routines, our relationships to our safety. Building a new habit sounds simple enough, yet we all know how difficult it can be. I learned a lot from this book and think of it as essential reading if you feel stuck and defeated by the failed habits of your past. 


Book cover for Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff

Like many people, I’m great at starting things. But finishing what I start? That’s another story. If you too are a chronic quitter, read this book. Jon Acuff encourages people to complete their goals with doable steps and helpful advice. One of the things that stood out to me in Finish is Acuff’s advice to cut your goals in half. I tend to dream big, so being able to focus on smaller goals has helped me many times. This book is only around 200 pages, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it. 


Book cover for The Year of Less

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

I have a sweatshirt I wear around the house that reads, “Shopping is my cardio.” The mall has felt like a second home since I was a child. I consider T. J. Maxx a close friend and have a deep, everlasting love for Nordstrom. As I’ve worked on decluttering and minimizing over the past few years, I knew my shopping habits had to change. They have, and that’s partially due to books like this one. I’ve never cut out shopping completely or gave as much away as Flanders does, but this book is still worth reading even if you don’t want to take all the extreme steps mentioned. Learning how someone else learned to live with less is inspiring and will help you see your buying in a new light. 


Book cover for Reading People

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

When I first discovered what an introvert was and realized that label fit me perfectly, so much about my life and personality made sense. I saw myself in a new way and was able to understand my preferences for the first time. If you want a lightbulb moment like that for yourself, Reading People is a good start. Bogel presents a survey of different ways to understand and determine personality types, such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and several others. Find what interests you most and then pick other books to dig a little deeper. 


Book cover for My Life with Bob

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
by Pamela Paul

Pamela Paul has kept a record of the books she’s read for nearly three decades. Bob, her book of books, comes with her everywhere and its pages tell the story of her life. Paul reads widely and will inspire you to do the same. Seeing how essential her reading record is to her will motivate you to get your own Bob. Book nerds will genuinely enjoy this story of how reading shapes a life. 


Book cover for Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s work has changed my life. I can’t say that about a lot of things and don’t say it flippantly. If I were to make a list of things I hate doing, being vulnerable would be listed between laundry and running, yet it’s essential for a rich, fulfilling life. Brown explores what it means to live with courage and openness, explaining that vulnerability isn’t a weakness but a great strength. If your life needs a tune-up, Daring Greatly is an excellent place to start. 


Book cover for The War of Art

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield introduced me to the idea of Resistance, which is anything that stands in the way of a creator finishing her creation. Whether you want to write, take photos, bake, or start a small business, Pressfield’s words will help you. This book is like a serious pep talk perfect for those moments when you need someone to remind you that if you want something, there are no excuses. This book should be required reading for all creative people. 


Book cover for Food Rules

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

I’m easily overwhelmed by information about nutrition because there’s so much of it. There are countless diets out there and shiny magazine covers that tell you how to lose 10 pounds in a hurry. If your goal is to eat healthier, Food Rules is a simple, understandable guide that will help. Michael Pollan presents a rule per page and explains why it matters. I appreciate that this book gets to the heart of the matter and makes healthy eating seem like a doable endeavor. (There’s an illustrated version of this book by Maira Kalman that I’m dying to get my hands on.)


Book cover for Every Body Yoga

Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body
by Jessamyn Stanley

We all know we should exercise more, but it can be challenging to find a routine that works. If you’re a perfectionist like me, the pressure to perform a certain way or look like a traditional athlete can be overwhelming. I like this book by Jessamyn Stanley because she encourages readers to move their bodies and to celebrate those bodies, no matter what they look like. The world needs more body-positive exercise guides. 

What are your goals for 2019? What motivates you to reach them?

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