August is National Wellness Month, and we've got a list of books to support you year-round. We see you and we read you.
It feels really hard to achieve wellness because it’s really hard to define wellness. It’s more than not being sick. It’s more than self-care shopping trips. It’s more than looking a certain way or achieving some form of success.
It’s being at peace with being less than perfect, with failing and succeeding differently than others around you, with all the variables you can’t control. Wellness involves setting boundaries, balancing your mental, emotional, and physical needs, and acting with compassion for yourself and others. It sounds like a lot of work, but wellness is a practice of recovery and rest too.
Ironically, being faced with this enormous and amorphous goal of wellness can feel very stressful and isolating. Thankfully, there are books to guide, support, and validate us at every stage in our lifelong wellness journeys. Here are some of our favorites:
PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD WINNER | Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, Riverhead Books
Katherine May’s Wintering is the loving guide we need to gently redirect our thoughts, create new habits of kindness, and walk with a grounded determination through this most difficult time. We don’t need to be fervently productive right now, or reconfigure our time management tools. What we do need is to be kinder to ourselves and others. We need to learn how to keep going in the face of it all. And, most importantly, we need to be able to spot our own personal times of wintering coming across the horizon, and discover how to move through them without paralysis. May’s book provides a season’s worth of survival strategies to shed new light on old habits, from the unexpected pleasures of winter swimming to the hopeful greeting of the post-solstice dawn to mark the turning of the year. Her tenderly observed stories and beautiful use of the language will surely reframe the season for her readers.
Here’s to hoping this time of global suffering will allow a more compassionate spirit to shine through on the other side. Even though we have all walked different paths in 2020, they have all been paths strewn with rocks and fallen trees. We have seen the world we know fall apart in bad and good ways, and from that wreckage we will build something new together. Or as May says: “We, who have wintered, have learned some things. We sing it out like birds. We let our voices fill the air.”
VIDEO INTERVIEW | Susan Cain in Conversation with Sally Haldorson, on Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
The author of the bestselling phenomenon Quiet reveals the power of a bittersweet outlook on life, and why we’ve been so blind to its value.
Susan Cain is a renowned speaker and author of the award-winning books Quiet Power, Quiet Journal, and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Translated into more than forty languages, Quiet has appeared on many best-of lists, spent more than seven years on the New York Times bestseller list, and was named the #1 best book of the year by Fast Company, which also named Cain one of its Most Creative People in Business. Her TED Talk on the power of introverts has been viewed over forty million times.
WRITTEN INTERVIEW | Do I Feel Better Yet?: Questionable Attempts at Self-Care and Existing in General by Madeline Trebenski, Chronicle Prism
Madeleine Trebenski’s new book Do I Feel Better Yet? is a refreshingly sarcastic, witty, and occasionally heartfelt commentary on the increasingly inaccessible and impractical culture of self-care, and the search for the right things to buy for self-actualization. The book reminds me of Mia Mercado’s Weird but Normal and Jonny Sun’s Goodbye, Again, meaning I love it a lot. Each essay calls attention to something in our everyday lives and magnifies it, stretches it out, occasionally embellishes it nearly to the point of unrecognizability, and then lets us laugh at and reflect on these ridiculous (read: human) experiences that constitute our everyday. Do I Feel Better Yet? made me laugh at and with Madeleine, followed by feeling a desperate hope for a world with less shame, stigma, and loneliness.
Read this interview by Gabriella Cisneros
BESTSELLER | Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Ballantine Books
Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?
Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn
- what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
- how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
- how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
- why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout
With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach.
CHANGETHIS MANIFESTO | "The Regenerative Life: A Non-Heroic Approach to Change" by Carol Sanford
“The non-heroic path is a journey. It comes from learning how to live one’s life and play one’s roles in ways that are designed to create change. … It is slow, steady, cumulative, and powerful, like water shaping rock.”
REVIEW | Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace by Minda Harts, Seal Press
In 2019’s The Memo, Minda Harts offered women of color advice on how to overcome obstacles at the office. She proved herself a fierce and resilient mentor in that book and on her active and engaged Twitter account, so when she begins Right Within with a sensitive look back at the difficulties of last year, I’m immediately paying attention. Society has always been skewed away from women and people of color, and yet Harts asserts “I had never felt worried about being a Black woman in this country until 2020.”
Right Within came together both despite and because of the stressful and triggering year. While workplaces are still struggling to figure out how to incorporate and support diversity, Harts has advice for those who are figuring out how to cope with racial trauma inside and outside of work:
Too often, workplace burdens will other you in some way, shape, or form. And while you can’t control everything, you can center yourself and find ways to heal.
Keep reading this review by Gabriella Cisneros
REVIEW | Disconnected: How to Stay Human in an Online World by Emma Gannon, Andrews McMeel
We are constantly connected to the internet, our eyes glued to a screen, consuming, scrolling endlessly at work and at home. Do you remember a time when you did not look at your phone for 90 minutes, when you put pen to paper or merely existed as you meandered into the woods?
Emma Gannon, host of the beloved podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete, brings us a glorious book to reevaluate our relationship with technology. I was drawn to this book as disconnecting is something I have been meaning and striving to do in my everyday life. For work I am constantly on a screen of some sort, I teach yoga sometimes virtually, and connect with family and friends via social media. I am also an artist and feel obligated to constantly freshen up my Instagram feed so people don’t forget about my work, with the ultimate hope that someone will see it and give me a show. After all that I somehow find myself in front of yet another screen. Screens, screens, screens. It can be incredibly exhausting being continuously plugged into the abyss of the internet.
Keep reading this review by Emily Porter.
THROWBACK | Balance is B.S.: How to Have a Work. Life. Blend. by Tamara Loehr, Wiley
Balance is B.S. is an unflinching and honest look at the challenges today’s working woman faces in balancing her professional and personal lives. In the United States, women comprise over 40% of household income. Increased gender diversity in the modern business landscape continues to have a positive impact on bottom lines and revenue reports across the economy, and offers significant benefits for ambitious women in the workplace. This increase of women in the workforce does present a serious problem—women are working longer and harder outside of the home, but their workload has not lessened inside of the home. While their career prospects rise, expectations of their family and personal lives remain flat. Women pursue the mythical “work-life” balance, and feel guilty for not reaching it. There is a better way.
This insightful book provides working women with real-world advice, enabling them to blend their personal and professional lives, avoid burning out, and raise expectations of themselves and those around them. Every chapter presents practical exercises to identify values, and focus on what matters most. Following the path laid out by this essential guide, you will learn how to:
- Blend business and personal lives together without compromising your values
- Adjust expectations of yourself and others around you
- Use practical exercises and effective techniques to combine work, social, family, and parenting lives
- Stop feeling guilty about your work-life balance, and embrace the best parts of both
Balance is B.S. is an invaluable resource for working women regardless of profession, experience, and status. Author Tamara Loehr draws on her years of entrepreneurial success to share her proven methods of merging work, play, and family to map out and reach the life you actually want to live.
STAFF PICK | Who Is Wellness For?: An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind by Fariha Róisín, Harper Wave
Recommended by Dylan Schleicher
Growing up in Australia, Fariha Róisín, a Bangladeshi Muslim, struggled to fit in. In attempts to assimilate, she distanced herself from her South Asian heritage and identity. Years later, living in the United States, she realized that the customs, practices, and even food of her native culture that had once made her different—everything from ashwagandha to prayer—were now being homogenized and marketed for good health, often at a premium by white people to white people.
In this thought-provoking book, part memoir, part journalistic investigation, the acclaimed writer and poet explores the way in which the progressive health industry has appropriated and commodified global healing traditions. She reveals how wellness culture has become a luxury good built on the wisdom of Black, brown, and Indigenous people—while ignoring and excluding them.
Who Is Wellness For? is divided into four sections, beginning with The Mind, in which Fariha examines the art of meditation and the importance of intuition. In part two, The Body, she investigates the physiology of trauma, detailing her own journey with fatphobia and gender dysmorphia, as well as her own chronic illness. In part three, Self-Care, she argues against the self-care industrial complex but cautious us against abandoning care completely and offers practical advice. She ends with Justice, arguing that if we truly want to be well, we must be invested in everyone’s well being and shift toward nurturance culture.
Deeply intimate and revelatory, Who Is Wellness For? forces us to confront the imbalance in health and healing and carves a path towards self-care that is inclusionary for all.
STAFF PICK | Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price, Atria Books
Recommended by Jasmine Gonzalez
Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth. Price was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.
Laziness Does Not Exist explores the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie,” including its origins from the Puritans and how it has continued to proliferate as digital work tools have blurred the boundaries between work and life. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.
Filled with practical and accessible advice for overcoming society’s pressure to do more, and featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist “is the book we all need right now” (Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet).
UPCOMING RELEASE | The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care by Rina Raphael, Henry Holt and Co.
Women are pursuing their health like never before. Whether it’s juicing, biohacking, clutching crystals, or sipping collagen, today there is something for everyone, as the wellness industry has grown from modest roots into a $4.4 trillion entity and a full-blown movement promising health and vitality in the most fashionable package. But why suddenly are we all feeling so unwell?
The truth is that deep within the underbelly of self-care—hidden beneath layers of clever marketing—wellness beckons with a far stronger, more seductive message than health alone. It promises women the one thing they desperately desire: control.
Vividly told and deeply reported, The Gospel of Wellness reveals how this obsession is a direct result of women feeling dismissed, mistreated, and overburdened. Women are told they can manage the chaos ruling their life by following a laid-out plan: eat right, exercise, meditate, then buy or do all this stuff. And while wellness may have sprung from good intentions, we are now relentlessly flooded with exploitative offerings, questionable ideas, and a mounting pressure to stay devoted to the divine doctrine of wellness. What happens when the cure becomes as bad as the disease?
With a critical eye, humor, and empathy, wellness industry journalist Rina Raphael examines how women have been led down a kale-covered path promising nothing short of salvation. She knows: Raphael was once a disciple herself—trying everything from “clean eating” to electric shock workouts—until her own awakening to the troubling consequences. Balancing the good with the bad, The Gospel of Wellness is a clear-eyed exploration of what wellness can actually offer us, knocking down the false idols and commandments that have taken hold and ultimately showing how we might shape a better future for the movement—and for our well-being.