The sound of a cracking spine, the smell of musty pages deep within an old book, the scratch of a pen underlining masterpiece sentences—there is absolutely nothing I dislike about reading books. Real ones, the kind you can dog-ear, highlight, lend to someone, and stack up on your shelves like souvenirs from all the places you’ve traveled. Because what are books if not reminders of the journeys you’ve taken?
Through books, you can visit new places, learn new things, and even get into bed with new people—all the while drinking a cup of coffee on your lawn chair, the cool breeze tickling your arms the only reminder of your reality. Reading, to me, is one of life’s greatest adventures.
Because it’s summer and reading is a stunning complement to all seasons, but most especially the lazy, sitting in the sun kind, I’ve rounded up a handful of books I’ve read recently that I think will elevate your mood. They include recent bestsellers and old gems, books that I will read again and again. Female and male authors, authors of different races, fiction and nonfiction—these books have touched my heart and expanded my thinking, and I hope they’ll do the same for you.
In no specific order—with the exception of the first on the list, which is the one I vote for if you only choose one—six books to read when you need a mood lift:
1. The Book of Delights by Ross Gay (nonfiction, 2019)
On his 42nd birthday, poet Ross Gay decided he’d write an essay a day for the next year chronicling everyday delights he experienced. As we learn while reading the book, one can find delight in just about anything: a message from an old friend, a good nickname, an argument on whether the phrase “whoop-de-doo” is good or bad. This collection of beautiful and humorous essays doesn’t skirt around darker topics, though, such as loss and the realities of being a Black man in America. No matter the topic Gay gets into, he reveals to readers that delight is everywhere; sometimes you just need to decide to search for it in order to see it.
2. Untamed by Glennon Doyle (nonfiction, 2020)
My copy is destroyed with pen markings and underlines. While flying through it, I found myself rereading sections not because I didn’t understand them, but because I wanted to feel them again. Untamed is the telling of author Glennon Doyle’s journey going from a tamed girl who checked all the boxes of what was expected of her—to the detriment of her body, psyche, relationships, and nearly her entire life—to the untamed, daring woman she is today: herself. This story is as brave as it is heart-wrenching; as funny as it is infuriating for the truths it reveals. But ultimately, it’s one of inspiration and empowerment, and we could all use a little dose of that this summer.
3. The Essence of Happiness: A Guidebook for Living by Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler (nonfiction, 2010)
On a couple of occasions, when close friends have gone through hard times, I have lent them my copy of this book. It’s loved: it no longer has a dust jacket, there’s a granite-like pattern of coffee stained to its front cover, and, naturally, a lot of it is underlined. This speaks to the power of this small book, which is based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Western psychiatrist Dr. Howard Cutler. The Essence of Happiness is a collection of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on how depression, anxiety, anger, and more get in the way of happiness. You need not read more than one sentence to learn something positive from this book.
4. All Adults Here by Emma Straub (fiction, 2020)
This brand-new release, which the New York Times calls “literary sunshine,” is a book for just about everyone. It tells the story of the Strick family: matriarch, Astrid, her three adult children, and the delicate relationships woven between them—relationships with which we are all familiar. The challenging, messed up kinds. All Adults Here touches on the loss of a parent, infidelity, and high-stakes business decisions. It challenges the gendered body, heteronormative relationships, and what it means to be a good parent. With so much to relate to, this book uncovers the intricacies of adult life while simply providing readers with a joyful story.
5. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction, 2019)
This might be considered an uncanny selection for a list of books that will lift your spirits, as the protagonist’s story is darker than a summer storm, but there are a number of reasons this story of loneliness, depression, and addiction made the list. To start, Eleanor is simultaneously one of the most charming and peculiar narrators I’ve read in recent years. Even if what she’s saying isn’t funny, like that she survived a housefire while others were less lucky, she says it in such a way that you can find lightness in the weight of it all. She lives a life of solitude and schedules, a regimen for everything her life includes. As her history unfolds for the reader, so, too, does her uplifting future. If you feel like the sky is falling, this book will validate your troubles, make you feel less alone, and then prop you up so you can make a recovery like our hero Eleanor Oliphant does.
6. Poems by Maya Angelou (poetry, 1986)
No two words evoke the feeling of peace more than “Maya” and “Angelou.” Her poems cut through bone and straight to the heart, leaving readers more aware of their surroundings; they make you feel, hear, see, even taste things differently. Her voice like velvet, she built a window into a world few of us today lived through, and we readers get to peek through the window at a safe distance, with her words ready to support us when we fall. This collection of poetry is stunning, chilling, and classically Maya Angelou, which is to say: beautiful.
Reading can take you anywhere you want to go. It can also take you where you need to go. Whether you use reading as a vacation or education, I hope you’ll consider supporting your reading habit by buying from independent bookstores. These little places—the ones that elevate voices that get less time in the spotlight, the ones that create safe spaces to explore books, the ones that organize storytimes—make the world a better, more educated place. Amazon doesn’t need our money, but these indie booksellers do, which is why I’ve linked all of these books to my favorite local shop.