The pandemic prompted many people to reassess what they prioritized in the “before times.” Among them is Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Sophie Blackall. Her Things to Look Forward To (Chronicle, Mar. 2022) details 52 simple, and sometimes idiosyncratic, moments of joy: learning a new word, not opening a present—even making a list.
“Many of us have been working ourselves too hard for too long, and the pandemic only made things worse,” Blackall says. “After stress and exhaustion got the better of me in 2021, I have a newfound respect for maintaining a healthy balance between work and taking the afternoon off to wander a museum or have lunch with a friend. If we view time as a gift, we’ll be less likely to squander it.”
In that spirit, here are a dozen books and their life-enhancing suggestions.
Meet yourself where you are
Yrsa Daley-Ward. Penguin Books, Nov.
PEN/Ackerley-winning memoirist and poet Daley-Ward (The Terrible) encourages readers to ditch what she calls the “hows and how-tos” delivered by “every place of retail, fitness, worship, and entertainment.” Instead, she advises, “When you lie in bed tonight, or next go for a long walk, consider a new story.” PW called the book “a tender, hopeful meditation” and a “gratifying exploration of the self.”
Take things one step at a time
Annabel Streets. Putnam, Mar. 2022
Streets conceives of walking as a creative endeavor. Each week of the year has a theme, e.g., “Take a Foraging Walk,” “Walk Backwards,” and “Walk Deep and Seek Out Fractals.” Streets also, as Annabel Abbs, is a novelist and the author of the recently released memoir Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women, which PW called a “lush narrative.”
Make room for creativity
Eve Rodsky. Putnam, Jan. 2022
In what PW called an “energizing invitation,” Rodsky, author of the 2019 Reese’s Book Club Pick Fair Play, gives women a “permission slip” to pursue passion projects. “Much of the guide deals with how to carve out time for such endeavors, which she terms ‘the unicorn space,’ ” the review continues. “She takes aim at the guilt-driven sense of constant obligation people often feel and offers concrete tips for enlisting the help of partners in assigning equal time for individual pursuits.”
Cultivate your own garden
You Grow, Gurl!
Griffin (349,000 Instagram followers) debuts with a playful home-gardening guide that doubles as a self-help manual. “Through caring for plants, I have learned how to better care for myself,” Griffin writes. “This plant kween has over 200 green gurls in her lil Brooklyn apartment, has gone on numerous botanical adventures, [and] has learned a ton about houseplant care and self-care.”
Dance like no one’s watching
Caroline Williams. Hanover Square, Jan. 2022
Williams, a science journalist in the U.K., observes that as a species we’ve become more sedentary than ever, thus missing out on the mental health benefits of movement. Her reporting illuminates research in support of leaving behind our “way of the sloth,” culminating in what she calls a “movement manifesto.”
Have more fun in bed
Laura Delarato, illus. by Amber Vittoria. Chronicle, Jan. 2022
“Not only do we need to hear that we are good from others, but we also need to hear it from ourselves,” Delarato, a sexual wellness educator and a creative director at Vox Media, writes in her sensuality and body-positivity guide. With tips such as “be as naked for as long as you can” and “get to know your body better through masturbation,” Delarato emphasizes loving yourself first.
Whitney Goodman. Tarcher Perigee, Feb. 2022
Goodman, a self-styled “radically honest
psychotherapist” known on Instagram as Sit with Whit (439,000 followers), defines toxic positivity as “the advice we might technically want to integrate but are incapable of synthesizing at the moment.” For instance: you call a friend in a panic to say you’ve just lost your job, and they reply, “At least you have all this time off now!” The response, Goodman says, “typically leaves us feeling silenced, judged, and misunderstood.” PW said the author “doesn’t mince words as she runs through the basics—what toxic positivity is, why it’s harmful, how to combat it,” adding, “In a genre dominated by the upbeat, Goodman’s realism both stands out and takes the edge off.”
Feel your way
Ashley Bernardi. The Collective Book Studio, Dec.
Through daily affirmations, exercises, and journaling prompts, 2 Girls Talking podcaster Bernardi walks readers through her FEEL framework—focus, enter, experience, and learn— to help them find a way forward after experiencing trauma.
The Anxiety Healer’s Guide
Alison Seponara. Simon Element, Mar. 2022
This handbook leads readers through what therapist Seponara calls “body breakthroughs” (e.g. breathing techniques) and “mind tricks” (e.g. visualization exercises), in order to create “your own healing tool kit.” The goal, she writes, is to “help train your brain on how to focus more on the present moment and less on intrusive, anxious thoughts about the future.”
A Queer Dharma
Jacoby Ballard, North Atlantic, Nov.
Ballard, a yoga teacher, grew up bullied for being queer. Crediting meditation with saving them, they explain how to “turn toward pain with compassion practices,” merging healing-for-justice and mindfulness. Ballard guides readers in yoga and meditation techniques grounded in their experience of building resilience as a trans person.
Recover a sense of awe
Andrea Scher. Harper Design, Nov.
People tend to lose their sense of wonder as they get older, artist Scher posits in her guide to seeing the world anew. Featuring colorful photographs, plus rituals, activities, and journaling prompts, the book encourages readers to train their eyes on “magical moments in your everyday life you might be missing.”
Reach for the stars
Christopher G. De Pree and Sarah Scoles. HarperOne, Jan. 2022
Coauthored by Popular Science and Wired contributor Scoles and De Pree, director of the Bradley Observatory and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Astronomy, this examines personal growth through a cosmic lens. By orienting to the sun, moon, stars, and planets more mindfully, the authors propose, we can better understand our place in the solar system, and ourselves. Some of the activities involve drawing or sketching; for others, all that’s needed is a view of the sky.