Best Books for Difficult Times

Last Update: September 27, 2022

If reading has become an almost-daily practice in recent weeks, you’re not alone. The Atlantic finds as people tire of streaming services, books are helping fill the void and provide the deeper connections we’re collectively craving. “As watching a sitcom starts feeling too passive, we might turn more and more to reading, precisely because it is so demanding of our attention,” the article notes. Exactly what kind of escape doesn’t matter as much—you might love historical novels while your neighbor prefers revealing celebrity memoirs. With a diverse staff of many bookworms, we knew our Thrivers would offer spot-on suggestions. Here’s a look at what they’ve been reading during quarantine, including novels, books for dealing with stress, and the best books on building resilience.

If You’re Looking For: Introspection

Turning inward is a natural reaction to the times. These books are here to help you go deeper if you’re feeling extra contemplative.

The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a poet and peace activist known for his mindfulness teachings. One staffer recommended this particular book because of how beautifully it’s written. “I always find myself slowing down and breathing deeper when reading,” she shares. “This book is one of my favorites because it teaches mindfulness in a way that’s relatable and easy to incorporate into a busy life.”

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Diffenbaugh’s enthralling novel centers on the Victorian-era method of communicating romantic feelings through flowers (like honeysuckle for devotion or red roses for love). For protagonist Victoria Jones, her difficult childhood makes it challenging to connect with others, but a mysterious stranger is poised to help her change. Our staffer enjoyed how the story showed that “even if you’ve been hurt, it’s possible to learn how to love and trust again.”

Open Heart, Clear Mind by Thubten Chodron

Written by an American Buddhist nun, Chodron applies Buddhist psychology to modern life in an approachable way, and lights a path for better understanding ourselves. This wholehearted recommendation came from someone with a habit of overthinking and overanalyzing. “Reading this book always regroups and recenters me, reminding me to take deep breaths and see things from a different perspective.”

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

Technically, this 25-year-old book might fall into the classics category—but is more relevant than ever. Rinpoche offers an introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom that serves as an enlightening, inspiring, and comforting manual for life’s seasons.

If You’re Looking For: Food Escapism

Restaurants might be closed and trips to exciting foodie destinations put on pause, but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a food-focused book to help satiate your hunger. Some reads even have recipes to make at home!

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl

Reichl spent years as a New York Times restaurant critic before taking charge of Gourmet Magazine. This memoir chronicles her rocky transition, including the years leading up to the magazine’s unfortunate end after the 2008 financial crisis. There’s a poignant chapter sharing what it was like to live in New York City during 9/11, and her description of making turkey chili (recipe included) to bring to first responders at Ground Zero is a reminder of how we can all come together, even in turbulent times.

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

Gabrielle Hamilton (of Prune Restaurant) makes it clear from her subtitle that she was a reluctant chef. This riveting memoir follows her from a teenage stint washing dishes in her hometown restaurant to waitressing in Manhattan and then to working in professional kitchens. It’s a page-turner that’ll have you counting down the days to when your favorite local establishments will be able to welcome you back.

If You’re Looking For: Motivation

Using this time to be extra productive or improve aspects of your life and work? Curl up with these motivational books.

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Drawing inspiration from stoicism—the ancient Greek philosophy of persevering through adversity—Holiday outlines a plan for taking life’s tough moments and transforming them into your ultimate advantage. One Thriver notes: “It helped me reframe my challenges as opportunities for growth and progress.”

The Big Life by Ann Shoket

On the hunt for the best self-help books for women? Gals with big ambitions (or an entrepreneurial streak) will appreciate Shoket’s no-nonsense approach to being able to embrace the mess while simultaneously tapping into your biggest dreams. She serves up a cocktail of career, work, passion, respect, money, and relationships that’s easy to knock back.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Humans have always been on a quest to find meaning, and especially in uncertain times. Frankl published this book in 1946, and it chronicles his experience as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. During this time he developed a unique psychotherapeutic method—involving identifying a positive purpose, then imagining the outcome—that can apply to myriad circumstances.

If you’re looking for: Self-Care Support

To upgrade your self-care regimen, order one of these titles from your favorite local bookshop and dig in.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

We recently put together a list of online therapy resources, but if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to give it a try, read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone first. By showing what it’s like to be on both sides of the conversation (the author chronicles conversations and insights with her own therapist), Gottlieb illuminates the profound experience of being human.

Burning Bright by Kelsey Patel

If you’re tired, burned out, anxious, or unhappy, Kelsey Patel offers suggestions for overcoming cycles of negativity and stress, including practicing reiki on yourself, tapping and breathwork, journaling prompts, and simple rituals to experience more peace. This book fits firmly in the “books for people with anxiety” camp—our Thriver is only halfway through it, but says “it’s a must-read for anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed right now.”

This article is related to:

Mental Health, Well-Being, Wellness Tips

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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