What does it mean to call a book inspirational? Almost any book—self-help, psychology, religion, sports, health and fitness, memoir, business, even fiction—can inspire a reader. That means a definition can be elusive, notes Joel Fotinos, publisher of Penguin Random House’s TarcherPerigee imprint: “Inspirational books are a little like that famous line about pornography—I can’t define what it is and isn’t, but I know it when I see it.”
Although religion publishers often describe their books as inspirational, it is rarely the first BISAC designation they choose. The term is more often applied to a generic spirituality that is aimed to appeal to readers of any faith, or no faith. These books might not refer to God or a supreme being at all; if they do, it is in a decidedly nonreligious fashion. For those who have no interest in religion yet feel a spiritual void, these titles meet a need for uplift, for truth that transcends the everyday, for reaching higher—yes, for inspiration.
To Claudia Boutote, v-p and publisher of HarperElixir, “an inspirational book is one that offers a reader a transformative experience, whether it is personally or spiritually uplifting or as a catalyst for growth or change.”
People especially look for that inspiration when facing life’s harsher truths. In Tears to Triumph (HarperOne, June), bestselling spirituality writer Marianne Williamson urges readers to transcend suffering and use it for personal transformation. She writes, “The wisest question when we are deeply sad is not, ‘How can I end or numb this pain immediately?’ The wisest question is, ‘What is the meaning of this pain? What does it reveal to me? What is it calling me to understand?’ ”
Author Sarah Gray had to dig deep to answer those questions. A Life Everlasting (HarperOne, Sept.) tells how, when Thomas, her son, was diagnosed in utero with a terminal condition, Gray chose to give his death lasting meaning by donating his organs for research. She found solace by tracing Thomas’s gifts to the grateful scientists and physicians who used them to help others.
Another memoir that plumbs pain for inspiration is Janine Shepherd’s Defiant (Sounds True, Nov.); the author suffered a spinal injury that ended her dreams of competing in the Winter Olympics. Her book tells how she confounded doctors’ expectations for her recovery to become a stunt pilot and inspirational speaker.
A different journey is taken in Alex Seymour’s Psychedelic Marine (Inner Traditions/Park Street Press, Aug.). Seymour, who was a Royal Marine Commando who served in Afghanistan, discovered that ayahuasca, the mind-altering brew used by the indigenous peoples of Amazonian Peru, helped quell his PTSD.
Terri Tate, a humorist and oral cancer survivor, tells her story in A Crooked Smile (Sounds True, Nov.). In the foreword, Anne Lamott writes, “She’s come through a mess, and like all great people you’d love to know better, she’s a bit of a mess.... She found and fell in love with her wild divine gorgeous screwed up and deeply human self.”
It’s not only the sufferers of illnesses and accidents—and their families—who need comfort and inspiration, but the caregivers as well. Miracles We Have Seen by physician Harley A. Rotbart (HCI, Sept.) recounts the spiritual experiences of doctors and nurses; Scalpel Moments by Ben Reaves (Florida Hospital Publishing, Aug.) tells the stories of medical professionals as well as the patients they treat.
In The Red Bandanna (Penguin Press, Sept.), Tom Rinaldi writes of Welles Crowther, the mystery man who carried others to safety in the World Trade Center on 9/11, then went back to help others and lost his own life. Another victim of terrorism, Antoine Leiris, lost his wife in the November Paris attacks. You Will Not Have My Hate (Penguin Press, Oct.) is his story of overcoming the loss while raising his 17-month-old son. The book grew out of an open letter to his wife’s killers that he posted on Facebook. He wrote, “For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.”
On Heights & Hunger by Josh MacIvor-Andersen (Outpost19 Books, Sept.) is a memoir by a professional and competitive tree climber, who, with his brother, found spirituality, a fresh relationship with their family and a new perspective on their triumphs and failures. The book has earned advance praise from Andre Dubus III, who calls it “one of the finest memoirs I’ve read in quite a while.”
There also are books to help readers face the inevitable. In Five Meditations on Death (Inner Traditions, June), poet/philosopher François Cheng (with a translation by Jody Gladding) encourages readers to see their lives with their own death in mind, embracing it as part of the journey of living.
The Happiness Project
Inspirational books can not only encourage those who are struggling; many help readers become happier and more joyful, whatever their circumstances.
Fostering happiness has been an important topic for TarcherPerigee. Along those lines is the new The Four Questions by Byron Katie with Hans Wilhelm (July). Spiritual teacher Katie (Loving What Is) uses the classic The Sky Is Falling fable to frame answers to life’s tough questions and relieve doubt and stress.
In Ordinary Goodness (TarcherPerigee, Jan. 2017), New Thought minister Edward Viljoen shows how faith, compassion, and kindness create happiness. The book includes practical exercises, tips, and stories and illustrations.
Discover Your Authentic Self by Sherrie Dillard (Llewellyn, June) collects 150 essays to nudge readers toward self-awareness and the pursuit of their passions. It includes practical tools: meditations, exercises, question prompts, and affirmations. Also from Llewellyn is Joyful Living by Amy Leigh Mercree (Oct.), which provides similar techniques.
Edward Hoffman is a college professor who created a much-talked-about course in positive psychology. In Paths to Happiness (Chronicle, Aug.), he offers 50 ways to find joy. He also provides the scientific data that underpins positive psychology.
Spiritual teacher, poet, and author Roger Housden has a timely message in Dropping the Struggle (New World Library, Sept.), his paean to self-acceptance and contentment in a culture that worships achievement and acquisition. Housden tells readers they are enough just as they are and encourages them to stop wasting energy on a constant push for more.
In the same vein is New World Library’s Make Peace with Your Mind by Mark Coleman (Nov.), founder of the Mindfulness Institute and author of several books on that meditative practice. He writes that mindfulness can help us quell our inner critic. In short, accessible chapters, Coleman offers insights and inspirational stories of people who have overcome negative mental messages, and he gives meditations to practice in that quest.
In The Way of Rest (Sounds True, Oct.), author Jeff Foster writes, “This book is about rediscovering that you are perfect even in your imperfection, and that your pain, confusion, and exhaustion are saturated with intelligence and sacredness.” He teaches readers to cultivate, rather than fear, their vulnerability, and to find peace with it.
To See with Fresh Eyes
Many inspirational books offer transformation by giving readers new ways to see themselves and the universe. New Harbinger, best known for titles in psychology and self-help, acquired U.K.-based Non-Duality Press and will publish its first frontlist titles under that imprint this fall. Non-duality teaches that the universe in all its facets expresses a single, undivided truth. “We’re making a major commitment to increasing our presence in the spirituality category,” says Matt McKay, publisher and cofounder of New Harbinger. In August, NH releases second editions of foundational books on non-duality by Rupert Spira that have never before been released in the U.S. trade; the debut frontlist title is Non-duality Questions, Non-duality Answers by Richard Sylvester (Sept.).
For those who want inspiration over philosophy, New Harbinger has Liberation Unleashed by Ilona Ciunaite (Oct.), who cocreated the online Liberation Unleashed forum to dispel the notion of a self separate from the rest of the universe. The book provides seven steps toward being liberated from the idea of an individuated “I.” Fiona Robertson also wants to dispel common illusions in The Art of Finding Yourself (New Harbinger, Dec.). She writes, “Everything you think you know about yourself is untrue, and only by living with inquiry can you find the truth and let it transform your life: there is no one who is unlovable, or bad, or clever, or alone, or anything else.”
Dondi Dahlin uses principles from Chinese medicine to offer a way toward self-knowledge and better relationships in The Five Elements (TarcherPerigee, Sept.). Five elements—water, wood, fire, earth, and metal—form the foundation of a personality system that can help readers achieve physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional balance.
Whether religious or not, we are all doing theology—thinking in spiritual terms about the universe and our place in it—all the time, argues Arthur Dewey in Wisdom Notes (Westar/Polebridge, July). That realization can be life changing, he asserts.
Wisdom Publications, publisher of books on Tibetan Buddhism, also offers general spirituality books, such as The Grace in Living (Nov.) by Kathleen Dowling Singh (The Grace in Dying), which uses the spiritual biographies of five teachers to influence seekers. In June, Wisdom will publish The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore, a collection of insights on creativity and the craft of writing.
The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected by Marcelo Gleiser (ForeEdge/University Press of New England, June) is subtitled A Natural Philosopher’s Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. While learning to fly-fish, scientist and author Gleiser thinks about the ways physics connects to fishing, and how science deals with questions of meaning and spirituality.
The Search for Guidance
Red Wheel/Weiser publisher Michael Kerber says, “The books we’re publishing in the second half of 2016 are not just inspirational—they provide hope, direction, and spiritual wisdom.” The publisher’s new book by Karen Casey, 52 Ways to Live the Course in Miracles, coming in October from Red Wheel’s Conari imprint, offers practical ways to incorporate the teachings of this popular self-taught way of achieving personal transformation. Also in October, the publisher’s Hampton Roads imprint will publish Rumi’s Little Book of Love and Laughter, a collection of the 13th-century poet’s work, translated by Coleman Barks. “Rumi’s words of passion and compassion resonate with today’s spiritual seekers,“ Kerber says.
For those not put off by the God word, TarcherPerigee has The Wisdom of the Universe by Neale Donald Walsch and Sherr Robertson (Nov.). Walsch’s Conversations with God was a phenomenon when it was released in 1996 (1.4 million in sales, according to TarcherPerigee) and spawned another two volumes. The Wisdom of the Universe, illustrated in full color, features teachings from the Conversations with God trilogy.
Skylight Paths, the spirituality imprint of Jewish Lights, takes an interfaith approach to the quest with Finding Peace Through Spiritual Practice by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman (July).
In Intuitive Being (HarperElixir, Nov.), medium Jill Willard—spiritual guide to Academy Award-winning actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Patricia Arquette as well as to executives at Google and Facebook—says we are all “intuitives.” She writes, “We all have a knowing. It’s really just a question of whether we’re willing to acknowledge and honor what we know, and act on it in a positive way. Often, we let our fears get in the way, or we shut it down because we don’t want to believe there is another way, and we don’t want to listen.”Willard teaches readers to tap into that power and use it for personal growth.
Shamanic teacher and paleoanthropologist Hank Wesselman, in The Re-enchantment, published by Sounds True (Dec.), also urges the restoration of our intuitive connection to nature and to our own spirituality through the practice of an ancient art. He writes, “Shamanism is a method, not a religion. When practiced with humility, reverence, and self-discipline, the shaman’s path can become a way of life, one that may enrich our experience beyond measure.”
Love might be the ultimate in inspiration, and in July St. Martin’s Griffin publishes The Power of Love by Osho, the 10th book in his Life Essentials series. The experience of love has been corrupted by society’s values and by religions, Osho writes, so that for many, loving and being loved is a struggle. He offers a wider view of love in all its forms, not just as the relationship of one person and another. And that can’t help but be inspiring.
Here are more titles for readers seeking to fill a spiritual void.
The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani (Rodale, May, paper, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-62336-708-4)
Lakhiani, founder and CEO of educational technology company Mindvalley, provides a blueprint for breaking through destructive routines and unproductive feelings by blending computational thinking with modern spirituality and evolutionary biology.
Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura (IVP, May, hardcover, $26 ISBN 978-0-8308-4459-3)
Fujimura unearths universal implications about faith, suffering, and art in this focused literary study of one novel, Shusaku Endo’s Silence.
A Ceremony Called Life by Tehya Sky (Sounds True, July, paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-62203-713-1)
Sky challenges readers to bring the focus and energy of important ceremonial events to everyday life.
Grace Without God by Katherine Ozment (Harper Wave, June, hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-230511-4)
Journalist Ozment sets off on a quest through secular America to find spirituality uncoupled from traditional notions of God.
Walking in Beauty by Harry K. Roberts (The Press at Trinidad Art, July, paper, $13, ISBN 978-0-9664165-4-1)
An exploration of wisdom and beauty through Roberts’s study with Yurok Indian spiritual leader Rober Spott.
Walking with Plato by Gary Hayden (OneWorld, July, paper, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-78074-656-2)
Hayden contemplates the nature of philosophical thought, from David Thoreau to Bertrand Russell, and fine living while tackling one of Britain’s most challenging hikes.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude by Amy Newmark and Deborah Norville (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Aug., paper, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-61159-958-9)
A collection of 101 inspiring true stories of people who changed their lives through practicing gratitude for what they have, instead of focusing on what they don’t. Being thankful has been scientifically proven to improve health, cognitive function, and relationships.
This Life Is Joy by Roger Teel (TarcherPerigee, Oct., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-399-16587-0)
Spiritual teacher Teel offers fables and discussions of fundamental principles to open up thinking about how to live a more joy-filled, authentic life.
After Awareness by Greg Goode (Non-Duality/New Harbinger, Nov., paper, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-62625-809-9)
Goode, an adherent to the Direct Path philosophy of non-dual spirituality, which attempts to collapse concepts of mind and body, aims to show the path toward more awareness, openness, and love.