Fitter, happier, more productive —that’s how Radiohead described ’90s aspirations. It’s still relevant to the self-help lexicon today: manufacture normalcy, insert inspirational quote, job done.
While the genre means well, it’s often scoffed at for being softcore, suited only to those who are already fanatical about positivity. When life gets chaotic, sometimes the last thing you need is a book that reads like Morgan Freeman’s voice. The struggle is real and so should be the advice you search for.
Finding answers is like finding the perfect product for your skin: not everything works for everyone, but something might just be right for you. So if you’re the type who’s allergic to the literature of self-help, here’s a list of books that share interesting insights on how to live life, whether you’re a mindfulness advocate or a contrarian artist. The best part? Not one of them promises anything.
Ruby Warrington – Material Girl, Mystical World
Meet Madonna and George Harrison’s lovechild. Author Ruby Warrington can talk endlessly about shopping and surviving Burning Man while tackling the ramifications of astrology and meditation. As the founder of The Numinous, a site that specialises in articles about cosmic consciousness, she goes deep into what she calls the “Now Age”. Her new book discusses abstractions such as dharma and tarot, without forgetting to address the concrete joys of owning designer shoes. Warrington acknowledges this balance and by doing so, enables people to craft a reality that’s intentionally lived.
Yoko Ono – Grapefruit
Finally credited for being a co-songwriter of “Imagine”, Yoko Ono no longer lives in the shadow of her late husband John Lennon. Outside of spending six solid hours scrolling through her Twitter feed, Grapefruit, her book of instructions and drawings, is the best starting point to discover her unique perception of the world, expressed fully in terse yet evocative verses. Sometimes she’ll tell you to “listen to the sound of earth turning” or “light a match and watch till it goes out.” But most of the time, she’s challenging you: “Think that snow is falling. Think that snow is falling everywhere all the time.” Before Ono was popular for simulating outlandish, vocal cries in response to Donald Trump, she was writing beautiful lines that will make you want to figure out how to live in peace with all living things.
J.D. Salinger – Franny and Zooey
Joan Didion may have dissed J.D. Salinger’s novel as spurious self-help for Sarah Lawrence girls, but there’s no better time to read Franny and Zooey than now—a time when young people (not just the privileged) can relate to the characters’ burden of intelligence and fleeting fame. Franny and Zooey show off their genius as kids in the popular radio show, It’s a Wise Child, but then the grown-up Franny realises adulthood can be dull and meaningless, leading to her nervous breakdown and delirious piety. She goes home and indulges herself on a candid verbal crossfire about entitlement and enlightenment with Zooey, extolling the wisdom of the greats, from Epictetus to Sappho. Even if you already read it as a precocious pre-teen, tuck in again.
Mark Manson – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
Author and blogger Mark Manson begins his book with anecdotes about the poet Charles Bukowski, a self-confessed loser who thinks his success happened because he just did what he can’t help but do: write. He failed horribly until someone discovered him later in life. It’s not surprising that his epitaph reads: “Don’t try.” This echoes the whole not-giving-a-fuck code of Manson. It’s all about picking your battles, accepting your limits, being honest with yourself and quitting the need to always feel good.
Judith Orloff – The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People
One of the recurring authors in Mike Mills’ Difficult Times – a self-portrait in the form of a book list concerning spirituality – is Dr. Judith Orloff. She’s a seasoned practitioner in mixing medicine, intuition, energy and spirituality for healing. An empath herself who knows how it feels like to always be told to toughen up in a world of overstimulation, her newest release is a tactical walk-through for highly sensitive people who want to turn their sensitivity into strength. Orloff gives precise advice like adding Himalayan Red Salt to your diet or “Earthing” – a way of decompressing by grounding your body to the Earth’s energy. She even shares shielding techniques against “energy vampires,” which makes this compendium a priceless defence against everything toxic.