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

By Rebecca RennerReal Simple Editors and Charlotte Ahlin
Updated December 09, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
New Year books - tout grid
Credit: courtesy of publishers

The new year is just around the corner. Now is the perfect time to start over, create something new, change your life, start 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.

Instead, the new year offers us a time to reflect on the time that has passed, and it gives us a chance to look toward the future. Did we have our priorities straight last year? Did we make time for our friends and family—and for ourselves? Or were we too focused on one goal to see the good things around us?

No matter your goals for this year, reading inspiring books can help you set the right priorities and intentions. If you’re looking for “new year, new you” books, try reading inspiring memoirs or pop psychology books that blend science and narrative. These books can come in many genres. Find the kind of book you love, or try something new. (It is that time of year!) Regardless of your favorite genre, there are inspiring books out there for you. Even if you’re a fiction-lover, you can find books that will satiate your appetite for story and spark the change in your life you’ve been hoping for.

Choose one of these “new year, new you” books, and prepare to start your journey, whatever it is.

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

Survival of the Thickest: Essays by Michelle Buteau


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, and 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.

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

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


Mindy Kaling does it again: The hilarious writer, actress, and mother (among many other things) released this collection of essays earlier in 2020, exploring 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 January, 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.

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

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


Instead of starting a new diet in 2021 (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 own journey and chronicles the life of Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watchers, drawing 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.

Becoming by Michelle Obama book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama


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 in 2021.

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

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb


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.

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

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


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 life on the edge, Pan discovered more about herself than she ever thought was possible.

Atomic Habits by James Clear
Credit: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Atomic Habits by James Clear


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, but James Clear also gives step-by-step instructions on how to make healthy habits stick.

Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
Credit: Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo


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.

The Friendship Formula by Caroline Millington
Credit: Courtesy of Anima

The Friendship Formula by Caroline Millington


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 for cultivating the important relationships in your life and nixing the toxic ones. 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.

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling
Credit: Penguin Random House

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling


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?”

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
Credit: Haymarket Books

Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit


If you’re trying to go into 2018 with optimism, read Hope in the Dark. Rebecca Solnit makes the 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.

Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, 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 in 2018.

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. It’s 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.

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, though, you should 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. If 2018 is anything like 2017, we’re all going to need this book to stay centered.

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 who’s looking to give themselves a bold new challenge this January.

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 is here to remind 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 adults as for babies, for men and for women, for Americans and Nigerians alike. You’ll read this book in about a day, but its lessons will stay with you all year long.