It’s hard to overstate the impact that books have had on my life, developing my understanding of people and society as much, if not more than, human interaction. Whether the power of integrity in The Crucible, the strength of love in Jane Eyre or the paradox of man in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, books hold a mirror up to nature and reflect every nuance of what it is to be human. They can be life-changing and deeply grounding all at once and wonderful tools for reflection, expansion and growth.
Combined with travel, writing and a few relationships that were love stories in themselves, my top ten book recommendations below have been major catalysts for emotional, spiritual and intellectual growth. They’ve deepened my strengths as a friend, girlfriend and coach, with every one developing my understanding of myself and the world around me significantly. I hope the below recommendations will help inspire your life as they have mine.
1. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer
This New York Times bestseller really expedited the healing process after a life-changing relationship ended. Co-published with the Institute of Noetic Sciences, ‘The Untethered Soul’ begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions and helping you uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. This book will be a truly eye-opening if you’ve ever struggled with anger or frustration that life isn’t how you want it to be, the sense that you’ll only be happy once you have certain things or certain people around you and that any other way means unhappiness, compromise or misery. It also helps clarify why some people feel resistance towards certain types of people or places and what’s really going on when you feel judged by others for not being what they want you to be. Michael Singer’s pearls of wisdom help you manage your negative inner voice and understand how this is key to spiritual growth. He also helps you understand how to overcome blocks within yourself that may threaten relationships whether romantic, platonic, professional or otherwise. Offering simple yet profound answers to achieving happiness and self-realization, Singer opens the door to a life lived in the freedom of your innermost being – the plain where the enlightened exist.
2. The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle
This international bestseller taught me about the power of mindfulness and what it really is – quietening worries about the past, fears about the future and living more consciously in the present. It opens with the author’s sudden transformation from suicidal crisis to spiritual enlightenment and lasting inner peace. Tolle goes on to explain, with powerful insight, where stress comes from, why you are not your mind and how you can control your thoughts and emotions. He gives actionable steps about how to turn your mind off and live more fully in the present, where you respond from a place of deep consciousness, in alignment with your true self. In doing so, you can better fulfil your inner purpose and change the world at cause. This book is intense and a love or hate read but if you give it a chance, it will leave you feeling like you’ve uncovered the secrets of the universe.
3. A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson
I read this book in the wake of a painful but necessary break-up. It clarified the different kinds of romantic love, how they’re part of your wider journey and why self-love is the most important of them all. The number one bestseller, ‘A Return to Love’ explores how miracles start to happen when you resolve to trust the universe and learn to love yourself. Marianne Williamson was in her mid-20s, a self-destructive product of the ‘me generation,’ when she made a discovery that changed her life. In 1965 Helen Schucman, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, had started transcribing a ‘voice’. The result was the massive ‘A Course in Miracles’, a self-study psycho-spiritual philosophy based on love and forgiveness that gave birth to discussion groups around the world. Williamson’s full embrace of the ‘Course’ led her to give talks and lectures on it, which eventually resulted in the publication of ‘A Return to Love’. A masterful summation of the ‘Course’, Williamson’s book guides the reader to deep spiritual awakening — which may explain why it spent over six months at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
4. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama XIV
This book deepened my knowledge of the most important aspect of human nature in any relationship: empathy. I read it at a time when I felt lonely and unsupported in a romantic relationship and the teachings were a catalyst for me leaving that partnership for a while. In collaboration with Howard Cutler, a western psychiatrist, the Dalai Lama incorporates stories and meditations on how to overcome challenging emotions, what makes some people more loving than others and what good relationships are built on. Whether you’re experiencing family, health or relationship problems or just interested in happiness at large, the 2,500 years of Buddhist teachings within will help you understand how to find peace in your daily life.
5. A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax
This read inspired me to develop mindfulness workshops in companies, charities and prisons. Outrageously witty, smart and accessible, Ruby Wax’s book on mindfulness explains the well-known term with humour, simplicity and compelling appeal. With mindfulness advice for young professionals, parents, children and teenagers across a range of subjects from stress and relationships to careers and mental health, Wax’s book is a bite-sized guide for leading a healthier, happier life. And if you thought Wax was just some silly comic, think again. She has an OBE for her services to mental health, her book is inspired by her studies of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy at Oxford University and she believes that mindfulness is the only thing that has eased her crippling depression. If you’ve struggled to understand what mindfulness is about and enjoy a light-hearted read with lashings of comedy, this one’s for you.
6. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this worldwide bestseller while I was in New York after emerging from a toxic relationship which left me feeling completely unlike myself. It starts at 3am, with Elizabeth Gilbert sobbing on the bathroom floor. She’s in her thirties, she has a husband, a house, they’re trying for a baby – and she doesn’t want any of it. A bitter divorce and a turbulent love affair later, she emerges battered and bewildered and realises it’s time to pursue her own journey in search of three things she’s been missing: pleasure, devotion and balance. So she travels to Rome, where she learns Italian from handsome, brown-eyed identical twins and gains twenty-five pounds. She then travels to an ashram in India, where she finds that enlightenment entails getting up in the middle of the night to scrub the temple floor, and ends up in Bali where a toothless medicine man of indeterminate age offers her a new path to peace: simply sit still and smile. Slowly happiness begins to creep up on her and changes the course of her life entirely. Having unconsciously followed Liz’s path over the last four years, I would highly recommend this book if you’re at a cross-roads in life, whether in a relationship you’re unsure of, newly single or wondering what makes you tick. It’s a love or hate read but I had more laugh out loud moments and feelings of comfort and catharsis than I can recall.
7. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this book while knee deep in the highs of Chamonix’s Alps, deep in the throws of the most joyful love and the most liberating period of freedom and creativity I’ve ever experienced. I’d left law not long before and was training to be a life coach while writing my blog against the backdrop of Mont Blanc. I was moving closer and closer to who I was meant to be and closing the gap between a life lived by ‘shoulds’ versus ‘wants’, so it seems apt that I read ‘Big Magic’ at this time as it centres on connecting with yourself and expressing that creatively. More specifically, it focuses on finding the courage to access this creativity (something Oprah Winfrey says we all have and are meant to exercise), shattering the struggles and suffering that surround the process and showing you just how easy it can be. By sharing stories from her own life, as well as those from her friends and the people that have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges you to embrace your curiosity, commit to what you most love and overcome what you most fear. Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream or simply make everyday life more vivid and rewarding, ‘Big Magic’ will take you on a journey of hope filled with wonder, humanity and joy.
8. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma
Just thinking about this book gives me tingles. This was the seed of my awakening to what really matters in life – the beginnings of reconnecting to my true self – bridging the gap between the conventional past life I’d known as a lawyer and the new, more inner-directed life I was starting to forge. Teaching about the difference between ‘shoulds’ and ‘wants’, prestige and inner power, feelings over thinkings, the pearls of wisdom in this number one bestseller have contributed to reshaping my views on careers, love and life at large. This book is, quite simply, one of the most powerful stories you will ever read. Described by Brian Tracy, as a ‘fun, fascinating, fanciful adventure into the realms of personal development’, this is an inspiring story full of insightful messages on how to achieve greater balance, control and happiness in your daily life. Written by one of the world’s leading experts on leadership and personal development and author of 12 international bestsellers, Robin Sharma knows a thing or two about success in the widest sense. Read it if you want a short course in life’s most powerful learnings and top tips for finding lasting happiness. If it doesn’t change your life, it will certainly change your perspective.
9. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food & Love by Kristen Kimball
I read this book at the beginning of a journey that would change my life. I’d just moved to Madrid after leaving law, I was embarking on a love affair with a Mowgli lookalike French man nobody would have ever put me with and I was beginning to connect with my true self – closing the gap between who I thought I should be and who I really am. Based on Kimball’s unconventional journey from the glitzy world of Harvard and New York journalism to the rugged wilderness of the countryside with a farmer she falls in love with, ‘The Dirty Life’ is a powerful tale about love, fulfilment and the power of instinct. I could almost have been her for the outwardly shocking decisions she made which were essential to her happiness. Exposing stark ironies about conventional perceptions of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’, Kimball takes us on a journey full of surprises, a world away from the corporate sphere she might have settled into in favour of a world full of simple pleasures. ‘The Dirty Life’ is a heart-warming must-read if you’re feeling disillusioned with the daily grind or conflicted by society’s expectations of you versus your inner longings. Whether you’re at a romantic or professional cross-roads or are wondering about exploring less well-trodden paths, read this book. It will certainly change your perception of ‘wealth’ and it might just change your life.
10. The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman
I met a woman in Chamonix who said this book saved her marriage. I can see why. Its pocket sized dimensions are completely disproportionate to its power, for though you can read it in two hours straight, ‘The Five Languages of Love’ is a life-changer in the relationship game. A New York Times bestseller, with over 5 million copies sold and translated into 38 languages, this book is a sales phenomenon, which outsells sales the prior year, every year. Not disimilar to Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, New York Times bestselling author Dr. Gary Chapman, guides you to identify, understand, and speak your partner’s primary love language – quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service or physical touch. By learning the five love languages, you discover how we each have unique love languages and learn practical steps in how to make the other feel more loved. Chapters are categorized by love language for easy reference and each one ends with specific, simple steps to express a specific language to your partner and guide your relationship in the right direction. A bit like Myers Briggs, once you understand how people are different and how you can adapt to their needs, your relationships flow with greater ease, joy and abundance. Whether single, in a relationship or married, this powerful toolkit is like a little love bible. You won’t regret reading it.