Create a reading list for where you are in life with this selection of my favourite books for bibliotherapy.
What is bibliotherapy?
Bibliotherapy is all about feeling better with books. It’s the practice of using books to help you solve issues you’re facing at a particular time in your life. It’s about finding the books that resonate with you on a deep level, at this very moment in time. Read more about it in my complete guide to bibliotherapy.
There’s research behind bibliotherapy too, especially when combined with therapy for deeper struggles, backing up every fond reader’s intuitive sense that books can help them feel better. Quick Reads has found that people who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction.
Books can make us feel less alone, improve our mental health, help us to relate to others, guide us through the difficult parts of life, and motivate us to make changes in our own lives.
You don’t need to go to a bibliotherapist to get started with bibliotherapy. You don’t need to pay or sign up for anything. Just pick up a book from your shelves or head to the library. See what interests you right now. And when a book speaks to where you are in life, follow that trail – enjoy more by the same author, other books in the same genre, or similar books that other readers have enjoyed.
Finding great books is the journey of a lifetime, and books can be lifelong companions. Enjoy the adventure.
My favourite bibliotherapy recommendations
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Books to help you get out of a rut when you feel stuck
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa – A delightful slice-of-life book tells the story of Sentaro, a man who dreams of becoming a writer but in fact has a criminal record, drinks too much, and spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling sweet bean paste pancakes. But when he meets Tokui, an elderly woman with a troubled past, everything changes for both of them.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Rekindle the magic, adventure, and daring in your own life with this classic tale of characters who have more power than they could know.
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven. This is the story of Sven, a man who leaves a restless life in Stockholm for a solitary life in the Arctic Circle, where he’s saved by good friends, a loyal dog, and a surprise visit that changes everything.
Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want by Dr. Grace Lordan How would your life change if you started thinking bigger? If you dream bigger dreams, set bigger goals, and made bigger changes?
Books for when you’re feeling anxious
Hope and Help for Your Nerves: End Anxiety Now by Claire Weekes. Analyse your own symptoms of anxiety and understand exactly how to overcome them for good in this simple bestselling guide.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. This feel-good classic shares the story of four women who find each other—and the Italian castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon. Next to the wisteria under spring sunshine, they rediscover their true selves and their joy.
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig. This is Matt Haig’s vulnerable and comforting memoir of the realities of living with anxiety, which anyone who has experienced anxiety will be able to relate to. Here are some of my top takeaways from the book to remember.
The Anxiety Journal by Corinne Sweet. With this soothing journal, manage your anxiety with inspiring quotes, mindful exercises, helpful coping mechanisms, and writing prompts backed by cognitive behavioural therapy.
“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W. B. Yeats. “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made…” Take a minute to rest and reset with this gorgeous poem by Yeats.
Books for remembering the beauty of life
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – My all-time favourite book, about life by the mountains during a summer in bloom.
Circe by Madeleine Miller – A stunningly intricate work of fiction imagining the story of Circe, daughter of the sun-god Helios. I adored following Circe’s time alone on the island of Aiaia, honing her craft and learning to read the natural world.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry – This is a collection of love letters to the land: short, simple, and profoundly wise hymns to the cycles of nature and the hope, love, healing, death, friendship, and belonging we witness.
Long Life: Essays and Other Writings by Mary Oliver – The essays of one of the most loved poets from the last century on the beauty of the natural world.
Books for when your heart is broken
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim. This beautifully illustrated little book gave me so much comfort and wisdom during a breakup. It’s a lovely guide not just to romantic relationships, but to approaching life with an open heart, kindness, and curiosity.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This bestselling novel is about the infinite number of directions a life can take: all of the people we can end up with, the careers we can pursue, the trips that can change us, and the individuals we become. During a breakup is the perfect time to read it.
You Can Heal Your Heart by Louise Hay and David Kessler. Self-help bestseller Louise Hay collaborates with grief and loss expert David Kessler to explore how we can heal from grief and rediscover peace, including after a breakup.
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton – The book I wish had been published a decade before to teach me what love really means – and doesn’t mean.
Books for when you’re struggling with depression
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. Turn to the best-loved writer on mental health from the last decade and learn from his own struggles with depression and journey to rediscovering meaning in the world. Here are my top takeaways from the book.
The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb, PhD. This self-help book for depression offers a starting point with actionable and neuroscience-backed strategies to help you reshape your brain and create an upward spiral towards a happier, healthier life.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. This beautiful and comforting book about rest and retreat in difficult times explores how we can navigate the “winters” that should be just as expected and acceptable as sunny, happy, and high-energy days.
The BFG by Roald Dahl. Warm your heart and rediscover some of the joy of childhood with this classic piece of children’s literature.
Books for working out who you are
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. An immersive novel of a flawed and fascinating protagonist recreating herself in the energy and creativity of the 1940s theatre world of New York City.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. A stunning novel about twins born in Ethiopia that, between Ethiopia and New York, weaves a stunning tale of becoming and working as a doctor, learning about the world, and experiencing love and heartbreak. Read it to explore themes of home, making big changes, and finding your place and purpose in the world.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. An incredibly uplifting, feel-good book about a man with autism finding a relationship.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang – This is the first book of a trilogy in which Helen Hoang embraces the wonderfully unique themes of discovering autism spectrum disorder, understanding yourself, and uncovering the joy of sex. Hoang writes excellently about protagonists who need to let go of their old way of doing things to step into a new way of living.
Books to help you navigate PTSD and trauma
Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Francine Shapiro. EMDR therapy changed everything for me. Francine Shapiro’s self-help book is such a valuable resource to complement therapy or (for mild trauma) to give you a gentle introduction.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. The books in Strout’s Lucy Barton series are some of the most relatable and quietly therapeutic novels about living with trauma.
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. The bestselling books about trauma, helping millions of readers to better understand how the past is still showing up in their bodies.
“Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson. This poem is one of my all-time favourites. I memorised it when I was a student and really struggling with my mental health. These lines always remind me of the strength inside of me when all feels lost: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though / We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Books for getting through a difficult time
The Odyssey by Homer. This will always be the ultimate story of a quest, charting Odysseus’s long and arduous journey home after the Trojan War.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This huge classic is actually an accessible, compelling, and unputdownable epic of betrayal and revenge in disguise that makes blockbuster hits such as The Shawshank Redemption pale in comparison.
Books to soothe your soul for some self-care
The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim. The protagonist of this lovely book intends to spend a summer wholly alone to rediscover her joy, and although she isn’t wholly successful, her effort is valiant. Here we can share her wonder at magnificent larkspurs and nasturtiums, forest walks, and the refuge of her beloved plants and books.
Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki. Inspire a simpler, lighter life with this elegant guide to minimalism.
Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton. A gorgeous guide to cultivating your own beautifully imperfect life.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer – A true love letter to the land, combining indigenous wisdom, science’s findings on the mysteries of nature, and the teachings of plants.