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There are many things to love about summer: cold rosé, rooftop dining, and beach season. And, of course, what is the beach without a good book? Although it feels like our grueling winter just ended, summer is here, and it’s time to start stacking our summer reading lists. But just because it’s a good beach read or a summer book doesn’t mean it has to be fluffy or frivolous (although, those are fun, too).
If you’re looking for a summer read with a little more substance—something that’s not only enjoyable, but also informative, inspiring, and motivating—we’ve got you. We rounded up a list of seriously life-changing books, broken down into five categories: fiction, inspiration, killing it at work, self-awareness, and wellness. We also talked to real women (and the ladies working at HealthyWay HQ!) about why they loved each and every one of these books.
With that, here are the life-changing books that every woman needs to read at least once in her life.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
Life-Changing Fiction That Will Get You Thinking
1. The Bell Jar
By Sylvia Plath
Following the realistic and intense journey of the brilliant and talented Esther Greenwood’s loss with reality, Sylvia Plath’s iconic novel paints a realistic picture that is not only intensely emotional, but relatable to so many women today.
“‘I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.’ I think this book should be required reading for every person. It’s so candid about how it deals with depression and general feelings of inadequacy, especially as a woman. I think this quote really reminds us that simply existing can be enough, especially amidst the stressors and expectations set out for us.”
By Paulo Coelho
The story follows the journey of the Andalusian shepherd Santiago, a boy in search of the world whose dreams extend far beyond his flock. His journey hits notes of wisdom about listening to our hearts, seizing opportunities, and following our own paths.
“The line, ‘So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you,’ reminds me of my relationship with my girlfriend and taught me to believe in destiny.”
By Therese Anne Fowler
Fowler pieced together this faux autobiography from Zelda Fitzgerald’s diary and letters between her and her husband, famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The novel, written from Zelda’s perspective, tells the volatile tale of their tortured love, the rise and fall of the writer, and the gilded glamour of the Flapper era.
“The Fitzgeralds were the golden couple of their day, and Zelda was the Jazz Age Priestess. These years were followed by the long decline of their relationship, exacerbated by their peripatetic lifestyle, Scott’s worsening alcoholism, and Zelda’s troubles with what may or may not have been mental illness.”
By Stacy Mitchell
Ean Montgomery and Dani Adams were brought together by the same catastrophe. Each was forced to see the same grief counselor following the deaths of Dani’s husband and Ean’s wife and 6-year-old son, who were killed by the same drunk driver. It is a beautiful love story about finding happiness and starting over in the face of tragedy and allowing yourself to become vulnerable again.
“I read Stacy Mitchell’s Saving Each Other in just a few nights. The plot drew me in as my empathy for the two individuals who lost their spouses in the same car accident grew, chapter after chapter. I thought of a friend of mine who lost her husband that way, wondering if she’ll date again. It’s a moving, tender love story with twists and turns.”
Inspirational Books That Will Shift Your Focus
By Emily Nagoski
This transformative book teaches women that each of us is an individual with a unique sexuality and sexual response that cannot be generalized. There is no “Viagra” for women, so to speak. It also teaches women that sex happens in a context, and to expect arousal, desire, and orgasm to be a given is unrealistic.
“This book completely changed how I view myself and my partner, and a lot of the shame-based lies women are told about sex. I literally scream it from the rooftops.”
By Jen Sincero
Twenty-seven digestible chapters packed with inspiring stories, advice, practical exercises, and a heavy dose of humor. Success coach Jen Sincero helps readers identify and change their self-sabotaging beliefs, encouraging them to take risks, set goals, and achieve them.
“The book is just real. The author kind of smacks you in the face and just tells it like it is and causes you to think about life—your life—in a different way. You can control your outcome and Jen Sincero is absolutely on to something.”
By Susan Cain
Susan Cain gives a voice to introverts in her book that proves how much society undervalues them. She introduces the reader to successful introverts and explains why the world has such a misconception about the image and capabilities of introverts.
“Of the books about introversion and empathy I’ve read, I found Susan Cain’s Quiet to be the most thorough and thoughtful without presenting introversion as a special art. The book helped me understand more about the ‘why’ of personality and overall become more accepting of sensitivities I previously resented.”
By Saroo Brierley
When Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who was adopted by an Australian couple, starts to wonder about his roots, he begins a meticulously researched journey to find his home town and his birth mother.
“I always felt like I wanted to adopt a child, but it was more of a rough sketch. This made me see that adoption is not a last resort for when you are infertile. It can be just as completing of an experience for women who are capable of having children, as well.”
I laughed out loud on the airplane and alone in my room multiple times while reading it, and it also gave me even more confidence that I am on my way to a bright new path and where I should be.
By Shonda Rhimes
Household name Shonda Rhimes inspires and empowers women yet again in this life-changing story about her Year of Yes. The book follows her journey of how saying yes to everything for one year changed her life, and how it is a model that can change any woman’s life.
“Shonda Rhimes is not only the funniest writer, but she is so inspiring and writes in a way that is empowering, entertaining, and as if she is only speaking to you. Now I have learned why people love her shows. She not only tells it like it is, but lets the world know that even in Hollywood, we are all living the same lives and having the same feelings around the world. I laughed out loud on the airplane and alone in my room multiple times while reading it, and it also gave me even more confidence that I am on my way to a bright new path and where I should be. Shonda becomes your friend in this book and as much as you are rooting for her, you can feel her rooting back for you.”
Practical Advice for Killing It at Work
By Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Challenging the Old Boys Club world of business, Women Don’t Ask explores the personal and societal reasons why women rarely ask for what they want and deserve at work as well as at home. The book teaches how this skill can be developed through real-world stories and practical, applicable skills.
“This is one of those books that just makes you think. It has forced me to pay attention to nuances that I never would have noticed before, as well as pointed out more glaring discrepancies between the way men and women are treated that I had previously just thought to be ‘normal.'”
11. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs
By Grace Bonney
The age of the entrepreneurial woman is here, and no book celebrates that better than In the Company of Women. Full of profiles of successful, creative, and inspiring women of every age, race, industry, and background, this book is brimming with practical advice, interviews, and keys for success. It highlights everything from listening to your gut and building relationships to the effective simplicity of meditation and to-do lists.
“I recommend this book to so many of my friends because it showcases a really diverse group of women and their experiences. The interviews that are included with each of the women are intimate and give another point of view compared to other interviews I have read. From interior designer Genevieve Gorder to true trans soul rebel Laura Jane Grace, this book illuminates what it means to be a great woman. It’s a timeless read, good for any woman at any stage of their journey.”
By Sallie Krawcheck
Wall Street wolf Sallie Krawcheck turned herself into an entrepreneur, and she’s urging other women to follow their own passions too. In this groundbreaking book, where she details the Fourth Wave of feminism, she challenges women to play by a new set of rules that build on their natural strength in order to get ahead in the business world.
“Passionate about closing the gender-investment gap, Krawcheck reveals why we need to play to our strengths in the workplace and recognize the tremendous financial power we possess. Too many women live in denial about their financial health. Own It is a wakeup call to tackle the topic and start investing.”
Life-Changing Books That Will Make You More Self-Aware
By Mark Manson
Blogger superstar Mark Manson calls it like he sees it in this book that topples “positivity” off of its pedestal. His book makes the argument that the improvement of our lives hangs on our ability not to make the best out of a bad situation, but to handle bad situations better. He teaches how to learn our limits—that we are not superheroes, and that’s okay. Once we learn to embrace our limitations, fears, and faults, we can find the courage and honesty to overcome them.
“I try to put on a front about the whole #yolo way of living, even when I indeed give many f***s (like we all do). Of course, I still give f***s after reading this book, I just focus my energy on more important issues, and not the ones out of my control. This has led me to choose how I respond to things (and often that means not responding to things). I feel as a woman I have felt the pressure to say yes to people, whether in a work scenario, a date I don’t really want to go on, or even something sexual. But by learning to actually limit my yeses, and, in turn, get damn good at saying no, I have become empowered with my own time and appreciation of it.”
By Leslie Jamison
Leslie Jamison’s personal and revealing essays challenge readers’ basic understandings of others. Jamison began her career as a medical actor who acted out symptoms for medical students to diagnose. Her experience has given her enormous insight on how we should care about each other, feel pain, and understand empathy.
“I appreciate the way Leslie Jamison explores empathy as an active choice a person decides to engage in or not. I found the book to be enlightening without being preachy.”
By Emily Hanh
A re-publication of the memoir originally titled Times and Places, which was published in the 1970s, No Hurry to Get Home tells the story of Emily Hahn’s incurable wanderlust that led her to explore each corner of the world‚ on her own. Her journeys took her to the Belgian Congo, to Shanghai, where she became the concubine of a Chinese poet, to New York City, and everywhere in between.
“It felt like I was reading the diary of another version of myself. Here was this kindred, unapologetic spirit providing the necessary reminder that there wasn’t a thing wrong with me. Emily Hahn was a prolific, talented writer and bold and fearless traveler 70 years before me, when her insistence on seeing the world was a thousand times more bewildering to the people around her than my own. Her words have provided endless comfort and inspiration to me ever since.”
By Carrie Morgridge
Two professionals, Morgridge and her husband, both in their fifties, decided to attempt what others might consider downright crazy: the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Hardly for the faint of heart, the most challenging bike route in North America crosses the Canadian Rockies, down into Montana, across Wyoming, up to nearly 12,000 feet in Colorado, and back down to New Mexico. It’s a book about testing mental and physical strength, pushing limits, and exposing sides of people we thought we knew inside and out.
“Carrie Morgridge does not sugarcoat how unexpectedly difficult their experience was. But she speaks with an inspiring and empowering voice, telling readers that with preparation, determination, and belief in yourself, hard challenges can be overcome.”
Life-Changing Wellness Books (With a Side of Woo)
By Lou Schuler, Cassandra Forsythe, and Alwyn Cosgrove
Strong is definitely the new sexy these days, and more women than ever are getting amped up about lifting. No longer is there a stigma that if you “lift like a man” then you will “look like a man.” In Lou Schuler’s weight training book, he speaks to women on an equal playing field in the weight room, encouraging them to put aside the “Barbie weights” and develop their muscles.
“It was an easy read and a really careful introduction to lifting. There’s just something really empowering about gaining actual physical strength. It changes your perception of yourself to a strong energetic person who can grab life as it comes.”
By Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the world’s most recognized Zen masters weighs in on the art of living. His book discusses seven meditations that can crack windows into new perspectives on life, love, and our inner selves.
“There are so many lines in this book that make me stop and reevaluate everything. For example, ‘There is a marvelous inner world that exists within us, and the revelation of such a world enables us to do, to attain and to achieve anything we desire within the bounds or limits of nature.’ That line has resonated with me and motivated me to seek more from life, [to get] myself in the best mental headspace to achieve whatever it is I set my mind to.”