Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and relax – but it’s not always that easy. Reading a calming book can make it simpler, though.
Carving out regular reading time with a good book (even if you have to force yourself to sit still) can be one of the best ways to help you rebalance and get back on track when you’re stressed.
When we need to chill out, especially before bed, we can turn to calming books that slow our heart rate, reduce anxiety, and help us to check in with ourselves.
Note to self-improvement fans: business books and most personal development books usually aren’t very calming. I love these books, but I know they’ll make me want to start a new project and achieve things rather than slow down and let go of tension.
The selection of books below is a mix of relaxing fiction, memoirs, non-fiction, and poetry. I’ve included some of my favourite bedtime reading, too. Read on to find the perfect peaceful books to calm your mind and unwind…
The best calming books to help you relax when you’re stressed
Notes from an Island by Tove Jansson
Read Notes from an Island for… Tove Jansson’s most personal book that’s a memoir and homage to the island that she and her life partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, loved intensely.
In her late forties, Tove Jansson built a cabin on Klovharun, an almost barren outcrop of rock in the Gulf of Finland. For twenty-six summers, Tove and Tuulikki retreated to the island to live, paint and write, inspired and energised by the solitude and shifting seascapes.
Featuring subtle washes and aquatints by Tuulikki and Tove’s sparse prose, Notes from an Island wonderfully brings together the meditative beauty of the two artists’ work.
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World by Haemin Sunim
Read The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down for… a relaxing book you’ll want to return to again and again about slowing down, breathing deeply, and paying attention to the world.
In this stunning and soothing book, Haemin Sunim, a Buddhist meditation teacher born in Korea and educated in the US, shares his advice for wellbeing, mindfulness, and joy in love, friendship, work, and spirituality.
The book is beautiful, and not just for its writing. As one of my favourite illustrated books, it contains over thirty full-page colourful and calming illustrations to help you slow down. To best enjoy these, get the little hardback edition if you can.
The Bear by Andrew Krivak
Read The Bear for… the most gorgeous end-of-the-world book you’ll ever read, set in an Edenic future of calm streams, towering forests, and wildflower-covered mountainsides. It offers a wonderfully poetic tribute to nature’s dominion.
This poignant yet peaceful book is about the two last inhabitants on Earth: a girl and her father living in the shadow of a lone mountain. To prepare his daughter for adulthood, the father teaches her how to fish, read the secrets of the seasons, and navigate by the stars.
But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through the vast wilderness. His greatest message to her is that there are lessons all around, if only she can learn to listen.
Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga by Sylvain Tesson
Read Consolations of the Forest for… the modern counterpart to Thoreau’sWalden, about one man’s summer spent in a wooden cabin by Siberia’s Lake Baikal.
“As long as there is a cabin deep in the woods, nothing is completely lost,” shares Sylvain Tesson in this peaceful memoir about escaping the chaos of modern life and rediscovering the luxury of solitude.
In this adventurous yet calming book, Sylvain Tesson shares the story of his time living a full day’s hike from any neighbour with his thoughts, his books, a couple of dogs, and many bottles of vodka for company.
Mirrors in the Earth: Reflections on Self-Healing from the Living World by Asia Suler
Read Mirrors in the Earth for… a nature therapy session for the soul, sharing twelve essays on the benevolence of the living world.
In this relaxing book, herbalist and writer Asia Suler braids poetic nature writing with exercises and reflection prompts to help us more deeply nurture and accept ourselves.
By doing so, she shares, we unlock healing connections to the Earth and best remember our innate goodness, empathy, and capacity for compassion.
Collected Poems by William Wordsworth
Read The Selected Poems of Wordsworth for… a doorway into the majestic world of the great English poet, where you can marvel at the power of nature world and realise how small your worries are.
Alongside W. B. Yeats and Edward Thomas, Wordsworth will always be one of my go-to poets. I find so much magic in his writing.
I’ve also memorised a few of Wordsworth’s poems to mull over on train journeys, while hiking in beautiful places, or when I need some time to myself. There are far worse ways I could use up my mental space.
Nothing Much Happens: Calming Stories to Soothe Your Mind & Help You Sleep
If you struggle with insomnia, you might have heard of the podcast Nothing Much Happens. This is the companion book, offering peace-engineered stories in which unnamed, gender-neutral narrators recount their days and evoke the distinct comforts offered by each of the four seasons.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Read Kafka on the Shore for… Murakami at his best: weird yet soothing, escapist yet still so perceptive about what it feels like to be human.
In a Reddit thread about the most relaxing books, one reader shared: “there was a period of life when I had really bad anxiety. And for some reason, reading Murakami was very calming.” I couldn’t agree more.
Comprising two distinct but interrelated plots, the narrative of Kafka on the Shore runs back and forth between the life of fifteen-year-old Kafka Tamura, who has run away from home, and an aging man called Nakata. It’s one of my favourite books to get lost in.
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
Read A Thousand Mornings for… one of the most soothing books and some of the most perceptive and gently wise writing, about the natural world and our place within it.
The podcast On Being with Krista Tippett has a lovely episode with poet Mary Oliver called “Listening to the World”. It offers wonderful insights into the uniquely wise, calming, and grounded universe of Oliver’s poems.
For some truly relaxing reading, grab a copy of one of Mary Oliver’s anthologies and head outside, find a lovely spot to sit, and take in her peaceful words surrounded by fresh air and with the sun on your face.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet for… an easygoing, wholesome book from the queen of hopeful sci-fi.
Commenting on the first book, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Reddit user Synney writes: “I can’t recommend this enough. It leaves you feeling incredibly warm and wholesome and like everything will be ok”.
A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts to Nourish the Soul by Leo Tolstoy
A Calendar of Wisdom is Tolstoy’s spiritual guide and collection of the quotes that formed his worldview, from the New Testament to Greek philosophy and the essays of both ancient writers and contemporary thinkers.
I love to keep my copy on my desk rather than hidden on a shelf – it’s perfect to pick up for some wise and calming reading when I need it most.
Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki
Read Goodbye, Things for… not only a remarkably peaceful book to read, but also a fantastic guide to decluttering your life and making room for what’s most important.
Fumio Sasaki doesn’t claim to be a minimalism expert or a decluttering guru – he’s just a regular guy who wanted to say goodbye to everything he didn’t absolutely need. This book is the story of his journey and the results.
The Haiku of Bashō
Read Bashō’s poetry for… the special magic that comes from reading a haiku to help calm your mind and feel less stressed.
I keep a collection of Bashō’s poetry near me when I’m working and often read a calming haiku or two when I need a break. This is one of my favourites:
and the grass grows, by itself.
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Read Wind, Sand and Stars for… one of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s best-loved books (after The Little Prince, that is).
Wind, Sand and Stars is one of the best books from the master of aviation writing. It’s a great little book to take with you when travelling, or it can be the source of another adventure – sitting at home and leaping into a book.
I can’t help but feel calm when I read Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s calming descriptions of the natural world:
“When I opened my eyes I saw nothing but the pool of nocturnal sky, for I was lying on my back with out-stretched arms, face to face with that hatchery of stars. Only half awake, still unaware that those depths were sky, having no roof between those depths and me…“Wind, Sand and Stars
If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.