One of the upsides of the corona virus lockdown is how much time I find for reading books now. For my birthday, my lovely husband surprised me with a long-time wish - a Strandmon armchair from IKEA in yellow - which has swiftly become my designated reading space.
I surmise that many people now have got plenty of time on their hands - and what better way to spend it than to relax and read books, delving into magical worlds or learning more about something new. Reading, for me, is still the most relaxing and fantastic activity, but sadly I often don't make time for it, and I can imagine many people face similar issues, but there is no excuse anymore!
In the past months as I was struggling through another depressive episode and the turmoil of pregnancy, I found particular support and joy in reading non-fiction autobiographical work in which people like you and me tell about their lives - sometimes as part of a "guide book", sometimes just to impart their story. Reading other people's stories fascinates me immensely, as you learn you're not alone with your thoughts and troubles. Regardless how successful someone has been in their lives, they may still have had periods of hell and now share their insights and stories to relate and support.
Some of the books on this list are more fun reads than deep transformative pieces, but I feel a little fun can never go amiss - especially not in times like these. Others gave me the feeling they were only written for me in a particularly difficult time of my life - and maybe they can give you perspective, too. Others tell of everyday life and how "normal" people made something magnificent with their lives by trusting in their abilities.
So let's delve in and give you something to read until the stores finally open again and we can all indulge in mindless consumerism once more :-)
1. Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
If you've read my blog post Some Fantastically Narrated Books to Read, you will already have stumbled upon Matt Haig and my passion for his books. He is a prolific author who publishes children's books, fiction and non-fiction. In his book Notes On A Nervous Planet, he ponders about which aspects of societal life contribute to the quickly deteriorating mental states of many people. Drawing on his own experience with depression and anxiety, he presents his thoughts in succinct chapters that resonate and convince. By inserting so much of his own experiences with mental illnesses, the book is irresistibly relatable without bringing your mood down. On the contrary, it has a very positive and hopeful outlook as to how we can change the world and ourselves in it to become happier. The topics he touches range from the perspective of our bodies to panic attacks and which places often trigger them. This book came to me almost as an epiphany when I was going through a particularly dark month in my depression and consoled me inasmuch that I didn't feel alone.
2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I have already written about Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project in my blog posts A Summer Reading List and How To Keep Christmas Alive With Books, but it definitely deserves its place on this list, too. Gretchen Rubin is an acclaimed happiness researcher and has published numerous books and a successful blog where she writes about how we can become happier in everyday life. Her approach is more towards ideas like decluttering, organising, prioritising, etc. The Happiness Project is her autobiographical take on her attempt to bring more happiness into her life over the course of a year. Per month, she includes a new goal into her schedule, for example: Lighten Up or Pursue A Passion. This book can be used as an incentive to do the same or even copy her happiness strategy, but as it is written humorously and candidly, it is also a great read for a lazy afternoon during lockdown. Her chapters are inspirational and don't need to be read in order necessarily, so it's also a great book to flick through. It has a lighter tone than Matt Haig's books, in my opinion, but the truths spoken are no less resonating. Her keen eye for detail and organisation can help create a specific time template to bring more happiness into your life, too, and to exit this lockdown situation stronger than before.
3. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Consider me a crazy fan, but Matt Haig makes it onto this list with two books - and deservedly so. While the book I mentioned before deals more with the world as a general place that nurses mental illnesses with a few personal insights into his own life, Reasons To Stay Alive is a genuine and deeply intimate take on how Haig dealt with his own depression and anxiety. Once more, this is one of the top books that helped me resurface from depressive episodes, and I can imagine that many people do not cope well with the isolation in regards to their mental health, so this book may be a good guide to keep optimistic until we all can leave our apartments again.
The key aspect of this book and how it helped me was the unapologetic way Haig describes how the illness limited his life for years and how he lets you know you're not alone if you feel this way. Depression, for me, has always been about isolation. Why can I not cope with the world as well as others? Why always me? Why can't I be normal? I am certain no one feels as low as I do... By sharing his thoughts that resembled my own so much, the certainty I was alone in this lifted and I could see a different perspective - because if he could resurface from his depression, so could I. You may think the book is more depressing than anything, but his hopeful attitude and acceptance of his condition make it truly inspiring and optimistic for me and definitely a read to give hope.
4. Further Under the Duvet by Marian Keyes
It's time for some truly cheerful literature. Further Under The Duvet is Keyes's sequel to her hilarious anecdotes collected in Under The Duvet. As I have not yet read the first collection, I present you with the second collection that is choked with fantastic column-style written narratives about Marian's chaotic life, her ups and downs and her general struggles as a milky-white Irish writer. While this book is far less of a guide book than the ones previously presented, you can still take many life lessons from the cringeworthy and hilarious anecdotes she candidly shares. She gives you a glimpse into her world and her mind that will allow you escape any turmoils and troubles of the present one, and simply snicker alongside about why sunbathing is terribly boring, the problems of sliding off your pillow due to too much night cream and why, despite being Irish, she hates noise. Especially when you fancy a relatable and warm read that is not too heavily laden with complex emotions, this is a great book to read. There was more than one "laughing-out-loud-moment" for me when I read it and I enjoy returning to it occasionally as well.
5. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
This book has become one of my all-time favourites of inspiring books and also features in my Summer Reading List. In the auto-biographical book, Sankovitch writes about her undertaking to read 365 books in one year - one per day. Her idea is triggered by the untimely death of her sister and Nina's quest to find meaning in her life. The book is not only wonderfully written and shows the ups and downs over the course of a year, but is also an ode to book lovers and reading fanatics. It shows how healing reading can be and how, despite having four kids, a husband and a household to run, you can always find the time to snuggle up with a book and create some "me-time". She tells about the books she reads and how she got to putting them on her reading list, which is an special treat for book aficionados. And what could be a better way to spend quarantine than reading about reading? Interspersed with her project and book descriptions, she writes about her family supported her during this time and how she healed from the loss of her beloved sister - a truly vulnerable and beautiful glimpse into someone's life who took action to find new meaning. Speaking of inspirational.
6. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
Speaking of inspiring people who pursued their passion against all odds. You may know Chip and Joanna Gaines from their massively popular TV Show Fixer Upper, which is how I got to know them. As a couple, I found them very nice and their way of pursuing their projects inspires me incredibly. So, who are they? In their autobiography The Magnolia Story, they tell their story of how they started flipping houses in their homeland Texas and gained regional recognition with their work. While Chip is the entertaining muscles behind their house-flipping endeavours, Joanna is the calm and reasonable decorator who puts the final brush (literally) on everything. Their concept is to turn rundown houses in good neighbourhoods into true gems. However, this is not where the projects of busy couple end. Together they fulfilled their dream of living on a farm where they hold all sorts of animals, have five children, a shop, wrote a cookbook and children's book, and whatnot else.
The biography concentrates on their beginnings and how their idea morphed into a massive success story. Candidly and humbly, they give insights into their family life and business undertakings. As a family they seem very strong and connected, which is possible where the strength for their many projects comes from. For me the book was a great read that inspired me to "just do it" without overthinking too much. You don't need a degree in interior architecture to become one of Texas most acclaimed decorators, and you don't need to have grown up on a farm or gone to farming school to become a farmer. Their undaunted attitude to tackling life has been particularly inspiring for someone as scared as me. And it's humorous, too, if you fancy an entertaining read.
7. Tu Es Einfach und Glaub Daran by Thomas Brezina
The last book on today's list of inspiring non-fiction reading is written by acclaimed Austrian writer Thomas Brezina. Unfortunately, it is only available in German, but as many of my readers are bilingual or German native speakers as well, I still thought it was worthwhile including it on the list.
Thomas Brezina is one of Austria's top writers and he has published well over 500 books in his career, ranging from children's fiction to adult fiction and guide books. In his book Tu Es Einfach Und Glaub Daran, he presents methods that have helped him bring more joy into his life. In succinct chapters he tells about mantras that have helped him (This Also Shall Pass) and how he approaches writing and deals with writer's block or the frustration that his thoughts cannot simply flow from his brain onto the screen. What distinguishes this book from others is that after each chapter he has a Tu Es! section where you can immediately grab a pen and implement his aforementioned methods. This way, the book is very interactive (for which he is known) and acts wonderfully as a project to pursue during the lockdown. Especially for writers, this book is helpful, as it focuses particularly on his writing methods and how to handle with problems as well.
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