This article originally appeared on moreloveletters.com 25 May 2022.
Most of the time when I read I want to escape: to go on an adventure, to be thrilled and satisfied. Other times (and I am often unaware of this craving), I need a book that makes me think–a book that perhaps asks more questions than it answers, but nevertheless has me feeling better about what I don’t know.
This is a list of those types of books. Thoughtful books. Books that are calm and comforting amidst chaos and confusion. Books that get readers thinking differently, yet don’t ask too much of them. Mindful books. Not books about mindfulness or its practice, but rather books that practice at being mindful.
Here they are, in no particular order:
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim. 265 pages. Written alternatively in short 2-6 page stories and even shorter 2-6 line anecdotes, this book is easy to dip in and out of. The author is a Zen Buddhist monk and professor and shares the wisdom he has gained from his monastic practice, travels, and friends. Also includes calming, thoughtful illustrations.
Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim. 259 pages. A follow-up to his title mentioned above and similarly structured, Haemin Sunim expands on ways to be at peace by accepting ourselves first. Only when we practice proper self-care to ensure our well-being within can we fully care for and interact with others in rewarding ways.
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. 158 pages. This book is a comparison between Winnie-the-Pooh from the stories by A. A. Milne and Taoist philosophy. Taken from the back cover: “While Eeyore frets…and Piglet hesitates…and Rabbit calculates…and Owl pontificates…Pooh just is. And that’s a clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.”
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig. 256 pages. A hug in book form. Written in small snippets of reflective, encouraging wisdom that span 1-2 pages each (there are a few longer exceptions), this book offers sincere empathy whenever the reader needs it. Also a strong and convincing proponent of hope.
The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green. 293 pages. A collection of essays that assign ratings from the ubiquitous 5-star scale to a broad range of topics in our human-centered world. John Green reminds us to take the time to notice things, grand or inconsequential, good or bad, and celebrate what we can.
Bébé Day by Day by Pamela Druckerman. 144 pages. Intended as a guide for new mothers and caretakers of small children, this book contains wisdom that can be applied far beyond that niche. This book encourages readers to worry less, trust more, simplify, and treat others (no matter their age) with respect and support.
Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket. 158 pages. A philosophical work of fiction. Ultimately a book about bewilderment and how it is very hard for any of us to understand what is really going on. It is also about the inevitability of death and how we live our lives before it comes, continually floating between nothing and something. A book almost as hard to describe as the meaning of life itself.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 83 pages. A classic children’s book that reveals new meanings and insights each time it is read. Originally published in 1943, its relevance, however vague and meandering, remains to this day.
Very Good Lives by J. K. Rowling. 69 pages. A published version of her 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University. This is a quick read full of wonderful insight for anyone at a crossroad in their life or worrying about their future.
Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid by Lemony Snicket. 168 pages. The title of this one pretty much says it all. While it seems it might be depressing, the humor helps a lot, as does the realization that we’re all dealing with this horseradish together. And bitter truths are probably the most helpful for us to know, as bitter vegetables are often the healthiest for us to eat.
Creativity by John Cleese. 103 pages. Short enough to breeze through in an afternoon, this book is great for encouraging thinking outside the box and how to harness that elusive butterfly known as creativity. Because if anything requires the freedom of mindfulness, it is creativity.
Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver by Mary Oliver. 455 pages. By far the longest book on this list, it still shouldn’t intimidate the reader as the poems are often less than 2 well-spaced pages long. Full of pondering nature poems, this book often calms as it stirs. Well-suited for reading, say, one poem a day to spark a reflective thinking session.
I know there are many more books than what I’m listing here that would fit with the theme of this post. My sample collection was created from only the books I happened to have read that fit this category, and from there, I chose a selection that I thought achieved this distinction the best, according to my humble opinion.
I’m always on the lookout for more thoughtful books to read in the future. Please share any mindful books that you love in the comment section!