5 of the Best Books I’ve Read This Year not Published in 2020

Jessica Lynn


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Books make us wise. They allow us to see from another’s perspective through story. A good book can take you out of your own life and drop you into someone else’s, taking you to a place you’ve never been while giving you lessons you’d never learn otherwise. Books feed the soul, as well as the mind.

Twyla Tharp said,

I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.

All the books on the list I would read a second time. I’ll never recommend a book that I wouldn’t read again. Because when you evolve through different life experiences, reading a book you’ve already read can give you new insights when you come at it with a different perspective. That is just one of the many glories of reading books.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha — Tara Brach, PH.D.

If you need self-healing of any kind, read this book. Tara Brach hangs with Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield; she is a healer, a therapist, a yogi, a mother, and a teacher.

If you carry any kind of suffering that shows up in relationships, trying to be perfect, crippling self-judgments, addictions, this book will help you work through them.

Reading Radical Acceptance can shed light on your struggles if you have not yet done any work on yourself and don’t know why you’re suffering from fear and anxiety or what to do about it.

Radical Acceptance talks about leaning into fear instead of getting caught up in worrying or looking for something to eat, instead of getting busy and trying to fix things. Fear makes us feel contracted and small. But if you widen the lens of awareness and shed light on your fears bringing them your full attention — and into the open — you are carried into “love and awareness that are beyond the reach of fear.”

Our deepest nature is awareness, and when we fully inhabit that, we love freely and are whole. This is the power of Radical Acceptance: the more we awaken from the grip of fear, the more radiant and free becomes our heart.

Radical Acceptance teaches you how to get there — to freedom. Brach doesn’t deny that fear is an intrinsic part of our makeup. As long as we are alive, we feel fear. It is human nature but only by letting it go do we come into freedom.

As someone who struggles to let go, to not control everything so that I no longer delude myself into thinking nothing bad will happen to those I love, this book helped me get on the other side of that.

When you get on the other side of gripping tightly and realize that you can’t stop bad things from happening, only then can you experience joy by not clinging to what you can’t control — like something terrible happening to someone.

Letting go of control allows you to let go of fear and anxiety.

Facing fear is a lifelong training in letting go of all we cling to — it is a training in how to die. We practice as we face our many daily fears — anxiety about performing well, insecurity about certain people, worries about our children, about our finances, about letting down people we love. Our capacity to meet the ongoing losses in life with Radical Acceptance grows with practice.

All fear prevents us from living fully.

Radical Acceptance helps you transcend fear — the ultimate refuge.

The Intelligent Investor — by Benjamin Graham

This is a heavy hitter and has been around for decades. 500 plus pages of sound advice to turn you into an intelligent investor. I have the latest version with updated commentary by Jason Zweig. The preface and appendix are written by Warren Buffet. This is the book Warren Buffet started with.

In the preface, Buffet writes about Graham, “More than any other man except my father, he influenced my life.”

If you want to be in charge of your investment portfolio and make investments for yourself, as I do, this is a great foundational book to start with. It isn’t light reading. Benjamin Graham (1894–1976) is considered the father of “value investing” and has inspired today’s most successful investors.

Value investing teaches investors to develop long-term strategies. I’m all about the long-term when investing my money.

The Intelligent Investor remains the best book on investing for the general public. According to Jason Zweig, it is “the first book to describe, for individual investors, the emotional framework and analytical tools that are essential to financial success.”

One of Graham’s truisms is “all bull markets must end badly.” This has borne out again and again like clockwork. If you come to terms with this, believe it — because it is true — you will not be emotionally whipped around by dives in the market every ten years or so.

Graham comes at investing with profound common sense and vast experience. His core principles are as valid today as they were when he wrote The Intelligent Investor.

Here are a few:

  • The market is a pendulum that forever swings between unsustainable optimism (which makes stocks too expensive) and unjustified pessimism (which makes them too cheap). The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to the optimists and buys from the pessimists.
  • The future value of every investment is a function of its present price. The higher the price you pay, the lower your return will be.
  • No matter how careful you are, the one risk no investor can ever eliminate is the risk of being wrong. Only by insisting on what Graham called the “margin of safety” — never overpaying, no matter how exciting an investment seems to be — can you minimize your odds of error.
  • The secret to financial success is inside yourself. If you become a critical thinker who takes no Wall Street “fact” on faith, and you invest with patient confidence, you can take steady advantage of even the worst bear markets.
  • By developing discipline and courage, you can refuse to let other people’s mood swings govern your financial destiny. In the end, how your investments behave is much less important than how you behave.

Graham urges you to invest “only if you would be comfortable owning a stock even if you had no way of knowing its daily share price.”

I have many paragraphs highlighted; it’s hard to write a short review of this book; it is a treasure trove of solid advice to develop the right investment mindset to have the least investment drama. Slow and steady wins the race.

Go read it if you want to add wealth to your life, and you love investing your hard-earned money as I do.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

OK, maybe this one won’t feed your soul like it did mine, but it sure will make your habits stick for good if you follow Clear’s advice.

This may be the most useful book I have ever read. No hyperbole. It is clear, concise, and teaches you basic ways to form a habit, keep a habit, and change your life.

This is not your usual everyday productivity book. I like Atomic Habits and James Clear because he is realistic about changing habits with tiny shifts in behavior that are doable and set you up for success.

Atomic Habits concentrates on systems, not just goals. Goals are important, but you will be treading your wheels without systems to support your goals.

The information he lays out in this book is invaluable to learn how to add habits for any objective you want to achieve. Whether that is writing a novel or losing 30 pounds. Without a system to support these objectives, they won’t happen. I refer to it often, and it is one of my most highlighted books. He walks you through ways to change your habits. Meaningful changes that work.

He starts the book by talking about a fundamental shift that starts with identity. What we call ourselves matters. For example, let’s take the habit of writing. You want to be a writer, but you don’t know how to form the habit. James Clear takes you through the process.

The first step is to call yourself a writer. This may sound silly. You may be thinking, “well, I only make a few dollars from writing,” or even a few cents.

That doesn’t matter; if you write, you are a writer. Start with the name — I am a writer.

Identifying with the word “writer” is the first step to creating a writing habit that sticks. When we identify with a value we see in ourselves — or we want to see in ourselves — it gives our habits a more significant impact.

Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. — James Clear, Atomic Habits

If you want to be a professional writer and make an income having a goal is necessary. But what drives success is setting up a system to support the goal — the habit of writing.

Clear gives more time in his book to creating systems, which are the backbones of habits. He walks you through each step, giving concrete hacks to start habits, changing them, and keeping the good ones for a lifetime.

There are so many gems in this book, I couldn’t include them all here. He gives a two-step process to change your identity, four simple steps to build a habit — cue, craving, reward, and response. And then the “Four Laws of Behavior Change.”

The best way to form a habit is by naming the time and place you will partake in x activity; this is called “Implementation Intentions.” Hundreds of studies have shown that Implementation Intentions are useful for sticking to our goals. He talks about environment and triggers to build habits. There is so much useful information in this book, everyone should read it.

On Writing Well— William Zinsser

I don’t know why it took me so long to find this book. One of my readers recommended it to me. I bought it right away and devoured it.

Whether you are a beginning writer or an experienced one, William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well is a must-read. It is like taking a class on great writing.

The chapters on “Simplicity” and “Clutter” alone are worth the price of the book. I became a better writer after I read this book with a highlighter in hand.

Zinsser gives hundreds of examples of writing well that it feels like you are in his class with him.

In the second chapter, he confirms what I’ve said several times, writing is hard.

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is.

Zinsser’s book taught me to cut 20% of my writing when editing, 20% can be cut, and it will be better for it. Cut the clutter. Even in a third revision, there’s something to edit out. Step away from your writing; let it breathe. Then go back, read it aloud, and take out all unnecessary words, making it tighter, more readable. The goal isn’t to hit a word count; the goal is to keep the right words that count.

With each rewrite, I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that’s not doing useful work. Then I go over it once more, reading it aloud and am always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life Samantha Irby

This book of essays compiled from Samantha Irby’s wildly popular blog, Bitches Gotta Eat (great title!) is laugh-out-loud funny and spectacularly profane and will keep your reading well past your bedtime.

Irby understands and describes suffering and anxiety better than any writer I’ve read. As well as the working class’s economic struggles and what it feels like to be poor with the constant threat of living on the streets one missed paycheck away, you’ll be sweating it out with her.

My favorite essay is “Thirteen Questions to Ask Before You Get Married.” It’s brilliant writing. You’ll be laughing and crying in the same paragraph.

Each essay is one of the most brutally honest accounts I’ve read describing struggles with illness, weight, and living in a body that lets you down. All in the context of dealing with the economic realities Irby faces after both her parents die within six months of each other when she is only a teen.

Her writing is raw, authentic, and descriptive; she has one of the most distinctive writing voices I’ve read, one that stays with you long after the last page. Irby owns her life — her flaws, her vulnerability, her rawness, her swearing. I feel like I know her intimately after spending a week reading her brilliant essays.

Irby is now a writer for the TV series Shrill and pitching her own series to Netflix. I haven’t read her other books, but We Are Never Meeting in Real Life is unforgettable and a perfect example of writing that shows and doesn’t just tell.

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Writing on all things California and Texas. It unfolds here. Your daily dose of local news. From politics to food, from celebrity culture to current events. Follow me for the latest updates. Twitter: @girl_thriving

Los Angeles, CA

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