What to read in difficult times

Difficult times

 I see it in their eyes, the look of desperation.  The look that tells me she needs relief from the pain and she’ll take it wherever she can find it  – in a class, in a book, in whatever form that will bring a little comfort and guidance.  I get asked so many times for resources to help people get from the place where you can’t think straight to the place where you feel like your life is on track again.  Here are three books that helped me move from the times when I was on my knees, sobbing to the times that I was able to stand up and move forward with hope, and I’ve added one that I wish was available when I needed it.

1.  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The title of this book has become shorthand for the post-divorce journey but there’s a reason.  Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t a self-help author, she’s a truly talented writer and a gifted storyteller.  I didn’t want to read this book.  I thought it sounded silly and pretentious.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to just pick up and take off on an all expenses paid vacation instead of facing the hard crap that you have to deal with when you are going through a divorce?  It seemed like the story was going to be about a wealthy woman with no kids spending nine months traveling from spa to spa to recover from her divorce.  It’s not that.  At all.  In fact, I have read this book over and over.  First, because Gilbert crafts compelling tales filled with raw honesty and biting wit.  Second, because she does face the hard crap and she tells you how she did it.  If you haven’t read this book yet, go read it now.  And then go get all her other books – because they are all really, really good tales.

2.  Slow Love by Dominique Browning

Like Eat, Pray, Love, I didn’t think I would have much in common with this author.   In many ways, I did not identify with her upper middle class New Yorker life (she raves about her Brooks Brothers pajamas, I’m more likely to pick up mine at Target).  But, like Elizabeth Gilbert, she is an incredibly honest writer.  She shares the details of how she rebuilt her life after losing her job and ending a long term relationship.  What I love about this book is that she shares the really specific details about how she went about not just re-creating the life that she lost, but really doing the work to figure out what she wanted her new life to be and then building that life for herself.

In both Eat, Pray, Love and Slow Love, the authors show you how they went from spending days holed up in bed being miserable to building lives that are even better than they ever imagined was possible – I believe that reading truly honest, vulnerable memoirs like these can help us find our own paths to creating lives that we love after difficult times.

3.  A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

This kind of deep, philosophical book is hard for me to read straight through and, somehow, I ended up with two copies.  I don’t know if I was such a mess that multiple people sent it to me or if I loved it so much I bought it twice (which often happens if I love a book, lend it out and then buy it again before I get it back).  There are so many “a-ha” moments in this book, that I would find myself talking back to it, “Yes!” and “Why have I been such an idiot?!”.  So, before you start reading this book, I would write yourself a note that says, “I’m not an idiot, I just didn’t know this stuff.” and use that as your book marker.  You can thank me later.

As a side note, in addition to the two hard copies, I also bought the audio version of this book, which was completely awesome – because Tolle sounds a lot like the love child of a Hobbit and Yoda.  When I go back and read passages, I hear it in his voice and it makes me so happy.

4.  Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

This is the book I wish had been written when I needed it the most, several years ago.  The chapters are short – perfect for the days (or nights) when you can only make it through a few pages before falling to pieces.  Anne Lamott is so charming, you want to show up on her doorstep and ask for a hug.  She shares stories that remind you not just that the world isn’t such a terrible place but that you can be a better mother, better friend and just, generally, a better human.  She does this not by telling you what a jackass you are, but instead, by sharing her own mistakes and missteps.  It’s a super-human talent that she has.  Like Elizabeth Gilbert, reading just one of Anne Lamott’s books will make you want to read all of her other books.  If you do that (and I have) you won’t regret it.

Is there a book that has helped you get through hard times?  I hope you will share your recommendations in the comments.  I believe with all my nerdy heart that the right book, at the right time, can save a life.  I’d love the Comments to this post to become a long, long list of life savers.

Please share your thoughts.