16 Inspiring Books to Help You Start Fresh in the New Year

The new year is the perfect time for reinvention—and more reading!

New Year books - tout grid
Photo: courtesy of publishers

The new year is the perfect time to start over, create a healthy habit, or keep the good things going. That isn't to say you absolutely have to make a New Year's resolution. If you make one and you don't stick to it, that's OK, too. Changing the calendar doesn't mean you have to change everything.

No matter your goals for this new year, there are many science-backed benefits of reading inspiring books. The right book at the right time can help you set your priorities and intentions. For starters, you can read inspiring memoirs or pop psychology books that blend science and narrative.

However, books for the new year come in many genres. Find the kind of book you love, or try something new. (It is that time of year!) Regardless, there are motivating books out there for you. Even if you're a fiction-lover, some non-fiction books can satiate your appetite for a story and spark the change you've been hoping for. Choose one of these "new year, new you" books, and prepare to start your journey (whatever it is).

01 of 16

Survival of the Thickest: Essays by Michelle Buteau

New Year Books - Survival of the Thickest: Essays by Michelle Buteau
Simon & Schuster

This collection of essays from Michelle Buteau touches on the ridiculously funny comedian's rise to fame, her experiences growing up as a Caribbean girl in New Jersey, the journey to motherhood, and more.

Buteau is honest and heartfelt as she reflects on her body image and interracial marriage, among other things. Her insights will both make you laugh (hard) and encourage you to be a little braver in your own life and journey to self-love.

02 of 16

Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) by Mindy Kaling

New Year Books - Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling's 2020 collection of essays is definitely worth a read: The hilarious writer, actress, and mother (among many other things) explores single mom-hood, social anxiety, and the quest to have it all with her signature humor and wit.

If you're looking for a little self-insight and some big laughs, this collection is just the thing. The essays—including "Please Like Me (But Keep Away)," pictured—are available for individual purchase, or you can pick up the full collection. Once you're done, read about Kaling's self-care routine and how she envisions the future of mental health.

03 of 16

This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me) by Marisa Meltzer

New Year Books - This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World (and Me) by Marisa Meltzer
Little, Brown

Instead of starting a new diet (please don't), try reading this emotional exploration of weight and weight loss—it might just help you figure out the best path to acceptance for you and your body.

Written by a woman who has struggled with her weight since childhood, it follows her journey and chronicles the life of Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers. The book draws plenty of parallels between each woman's weight loss struggle. Funny and genuine, this book will have you thinking about much more than a number on a scale.

04 of 16

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama book cover

With all its accolades, the Netflix documentary, and the status of an Oprah's Book Club pick, you've likely already heard about this emotional, poignant memoir from former First Lady Michelle Obama—you might have already read it, too.

But if you haven't, the start of the new year is as good a time as any. Becoming has a powerful, uplifting message about perseverance and defying expectations, things we can all benefit from practicing.

05 of 16

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Therapy is for everyone—even therapists. Lori Gottlieb did so many things before she became a therapist. Before a drastic midlife career change, Gottlieb had been a writer for the hit TV show, ER. While researching for her work on the show, she discovered a passion for helping people and for listening.

Gottlieb's memoir isn't self-help, but when you're reading it, you'll end up working through your own problems while Gottlieb works through hers and finds self-compassion along the way.

06 of 16

Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan

Sorry I’m Late, I Didn't Want to Come by Jessica Pan
Courtesy of Andrews McMeel Publishing

From the title alone, you know you're in for a hilarious and totally relatable ride. Many of us are guilty of shrinking into the background. Jessica Pan saw this in herself a little too often, so she decided on a year of living dangerously (or at least that's how she felt pretending to be an extrovert).

Under the tutelage of extroverted mentors, Pan put herself in a series of situations that filled her introverted soul with dread: performing stand-up comedy, hosting a dinner party, traveling alone, and more. After a year of living on the edge, Pan discovered more about herself than she ever thought possible.

07 of 16

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

If you want to get your life together, step one is to create good habits. But if you're like most, that's easier said than done. You've bought the running shoes or signed up for the fancy new gym, but after a strong start, you fizzle out.

That's because creating new habits is hard without understanding the science behind the process. Atomic Habits not only explains the psychology of habit formation and why so many good intentions fail. James Clear also gives step-by-step instructions on how to make healthy habits stick.

08 of 16

Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo

Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

A book that both Cheryl Stayed and Elizabeth Gilbert like? Count us in. Marie Forleo has the answers to all your life's problems. If you want to face your fears, fulfill your dreams, and finally figure out the seemingly unsolvable puzzle that is your life, try Everything Is Figureoutable.

Within those pages, Forleo will set you up with everything you need to change your way of thinking. She'll help you go from beating yourself up to lifting yourself up, even when life gets rough. This light, inspiring book will pump you up with optimism, so even if you're staring down the hardest year of your life, you'll be able to take everything that comes your way and make something from it.

09 of 16

The Friendship Formula by Caroline Millington

The Friendship Formula by Caroline Millington
Courtesy of Anima

The older we get, the more difficult finding and keeping friends becomes. Even maintaining friendships we've had for a lifetime can feel like a lot of work. Luckily, most of us know that the best things in life don't come easy. A positive addition to your new year will be to take time to cultivate meaningful relationships and nix the toxic ones in your life.

Caroline Millington's book is here to help. The Friendship Formula will show you how to improve the relationships you already have by setting boundaries. Millington also offers advice for those trying times, like helping a friend through grief when you might not know what to say.

10 of 16

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Penguin Random House

Reinvention doesn't always have to involve devastating loss or birds of prey. Mindy Kaling's second memoir, Why Not Me? is a delightful ode to finding your own self-confidence without the impetus of tragedy. Kaling shares insights on her successful career as a TV writer, as well as plenty of juicy gossip and polarizing opinions on romantic comedies.

Her wit and humor are infectious, like staying up all night to talk to your very best friend. By the end of the book, you'll stop saying, "I'm not good enough," and start saying, "Well…why not me?"

11 of 16

Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
Haymarket Books

If you're trying to go into the new year with optimism, read Hope in the Dark. Rebecca Solnit makes a case for radical hope in the face of despair. Solnit isn't suggesting that we all shove down our fears and pretend to be happy, but she does encourage everyone to celebrate small victories and to avoid giving up, even when the future looks grim. After all, the positive effects of our actions are not always seen right away.

12 of 16

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes

Whether you're already a huge Shondaland fan or only vaguely aware that Shonda Rhimes makes some kind of TV show, you should pick up Year of Yes. This book is an account of a year-long challenge that Rhimes took on: She would start saying "yes" to everything.

For one year, at her sister's request, she reluctantly agreed to accept all invitations and take on all unexpected projects. The result was transformative. Even if this book doesn't inspire you to set off on your own "year of yes," you'll certainly be tempted to try out some new experiences.

13 of 16

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Santiago is an Andalusian shepherd boy who dreams of greater things. He's off on a quest to find worldly treasure, but of course, his travels don't go quite as expected. The Alchemist is already a modern classic for dreamers of every kind.

The book is somewhere between The Little Prince and a self-help book: a fable that will resonate with everyone who's ever wanted something more out of life. It's a fantasy novel that will inspire you to achieve your goals in the real world with unforgettable characters and simply beautiful prose.

14 of 16

Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe, by Yumi Sakugawa

Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe by Yumi Sakugawa

Many of us go into the new year with high expectations of ourselves: This is the year that we're all going to be wildly productive, athletic, and lucky in love. But before you start trying to hit all those ambitious goals, take a moment to breathe.

Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe is an excellent book to read if you're feeling stressed or overburdened. Yumi Sakugawa employs beautiful ink drawings and calming text to help you breathe deeper, let go of stress, and just allow yourself to exist as a being in the universe. We could all use this book to stay centered in the new year.

15 of 16

H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

When Helen MacDonald's father died suddenly, she found herself completely at sea. Not sure how to process her overwhelming grief, MacDonald turned to her old love: falconry. Ordinary falcons wouldn't do this time, though, so MacDonald resolved to raise and train a goshawk, one of the fiercest predators that nature has to offer.

H is for Hawk is a poignant and humorous memoir about dealing with grief, hawks, and self-discovery. It's also the perfect read for anyone looking to give themselves a bold new challenge this January.

16 of 16

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a friend a few years ago asking how to raise her baby daughter to be a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is her answer. Equal parts fierce and funny, this essay is a powerful reminder that we can all do more to treat everyone in our lives with respect.

Adichie reminds us of simple realities, like the fact that everyone matters and no one gender is inherently better at cooking. Most of these 15 suggestions are just as helpful for Americans and Nigerians alike. You'll read this book in about a day, but its lessons will stay with you all year.

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