This past year of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders put a hard stop to my “too busy” excuse. My work slowed down, trips were cancelled and social activities came to a halt. That all sucked, of course, but I was able to read more again. If I didn’t have a toddler and newborn baby (goodbye sleep!), I’m certain I would have read even more!
I enjoy meaningful fiction, memoirs, self-improvement, and books that celebrate and empower today’s modern women. So, if any of those genres interest you, read on for my most recommended reads from my time in quarantine. The list is in the order that I read them.
The 10 Best Books I Read During Quarantine:1. Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, a self-improvement book by Rachel Hollis
I found self-help guru Rachel Hollis in what I think was a backwards type of way. I think most people were fans of her Instagram first, then her books, then listened to her podcast, and then watched her Netflix special. I became her fan the complete opposite way around. My husband was on a conference trip and I was home alone for the first time since having baby Landon. I decided I’d watch the girliest thing I could find on Netflix that still had substance (no housewives or other reality shows)… Voila! Rachel Hollis’s “Made For More” special. This is no diss to Rachel, but from the Netflix description, I didn’t think my manly husband would be interested in watching a cute empowering lady dance on stage while inspiring women that they’re “made for more.” So, I watched it… And, Oh. My. God. I was crying. I LOVED Rachel Hollis! That Netflix special was the impetus to kickstarting a plan for achieving my life’s dreams. Then, reading her “Girl, Stop Apologizing” book provided me additional moments of self-reflection as well as tools to move forward in achieving those dreams. Rachel’s book taught me that I can always be thinking big and working toward big dreams, even while having a newborn, being a mom, working another job… There’s no excuse, really. I got a lot of valuable information from this book, but here are a couple of takeaways worth sharing that I dog-eared while reading:
1. The only thing standing between me and my new goal is the willingness to find time for it. It’s not whether or not I have the time, but whether this goal I have is so compelling, so beautiful, so necessary to my future happiness that I’m willing to trade my current comfort in order to achieve it (page 23). If I can’t commit the time in my schedule to becoming the person that I want to be, what am I even doing here? (page 25)
2. CONFIDENCE is a skill. And, we don’t need to apologize for it. A key part of confidence is how you look, and it only matters if YOU like the way you look, not from you looking any certain way. This felt important to me, because I’d already been working from home for over a year prior to COVID quarantine, and I was letting my daily appearance slip. I actually didn’t think it mattered much since many people never see me at home every day. And, according to some beauty influencers, I was actually doing the best thing possible for my skin by not slathering a bunch of makeup on every day. But, what’s very real is that WHEN YOU LOOK GOOD, YOU FEEL GOOD, AND WHEN YOU FEEL GOOD… YOU DO GOOD WORK! (pages 168-175). Now, I try to put on a little mascara every day and not look so homeless haha.
2. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, a self-improvement book by Steven Pressfield
This book was a much-needed wakeup call for why there are certain things in my life that I was struggling to get accomplished. This was a good book to read right after Rachel Hollis’s “Girl, Stop Apologizing,” because it sort of connected the two. This book is not just for artists. It’s for everyone. The WAR of art is resistance. And, resistance is fear. We all struggle with some resistance in our life. This book is a great guide to getting past that resistance and start doing the work you were put on this Earth to accomplish. This is a very quick read, so anyone and everyone should read it.
3. Little Fires Everywhere, a novel by Celeste Ng
This book was a fun read, because the setting and many of the characters reminded me of movies from the 90s while the story followed high school kids around in their day-to-day life. It was “10 Things I Hate About You” but with more substance, because the book also examined clashes between social, race and economic differences. The book follows three different mother-child relationships, and it really had me thinking a lot about what it means to be a good mother. Consider this scenario: Two families want the same Asian child and both can offer unconditional love. Is it better for the white, well-off family to adopt the child because they can provide everything the child will need for success, or is it better for the natural mother to raise the child, even though she can hardly pay her bills and may be considered “unfit” as a mom? Read to decide for yourself!
4. American Dirt, a novel by Jeanine Cummmins
This book had me hooked from the first page. Not only was this novel a page-turner, it was a very relevant read while following the trials of a Mexican immigrant woman and her young son fleeing Mexico’s violence for a safer life in the U.S. – all while being romantically pursued by a top drug lord. This book received a lot of praise but tons of criticism, as it was written by a white woman and many felt the main characters were not true representations of real immigrants and drug lords (the book’s immigrant was middle class and the drug lord was sophisticated and romantic). I can certainly see this misrepresentation being a problem and understand why critics are concerned that American readers may assume the book is loosely based on a true story. But, I know that this book is fiction. And, for me, it was helpful reading the book from the immigrant’s middle class perspective, because her journey was more relatable to me. I was able to get on her level throughout the whole book and understand her thinking. It helped me understand what ALL immigrants go through to get to a better life by reflecting on my own life. With that said, I understand most immigrants are poor, come from horrible backgrounds and abusive husbands, and their stories are important to be told. So, I’d love for there to be more books on this topic that also receive as much press attention and praise as “American Dirt.” If you have any curiosity about the Americas’ immigration crisis and also enjoy a thrilling romance novel, I recommend this book. Hopefully, we’ll see more novels on this subject.
5. Untamed, a memoir by Glennon Doyle
I think every woman should read this book, as it brings a lot of self-reflection while uncovering what it means to be female in today’s society. Doyle’s “Untamed” follows the notion that every woman has been caged in some way, whether by our patriarchal society, silent misogyny, her appearance, her sex preference, fear of judgement, her mental disorder, etc. As humans, it is our instinct to live free, uncaged lives, like animals. That feeling we have that something’s not right and we’re being held back is not us being disobedient, bad or strange – it’s that we’re being restricted from being our true selves.
The two most important ideas I took away from “Untamed” were this:
1. You don’t start living a beautiful, fulfilled life until you let go of others expectations. No one has lived your life before, so stop trying to follow someone else’s roadmap.
2. You’re not supposed to be happy all the time. You’re supposed to FEEL EVERYTHING. Stop trying to protect yourself from feeling the hard stuff. Some of my most profound moments of insight, self-discovery and Knowing have come during or after grieving or suffering.
6. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, a self-improvement and leadership book by Brene Brown
I love Brene Brown, and her book about the importance of vulnerability was a homerun for me. I’ve always had lots of feelings (LOL) and enjoy connecting and sharing with others. So, reading this book was a relief and a greenlight for me to continue being myself without guilt or worry. I especially enjoyed the section about shame. We all feel shame. Opening up, verbalizing and understanding your shame is the key to releasing yourself from shame. I also loved that she highlighted the importance of being vulnerable for our children. They can only be what they see, so be a role model and be brave enough to be vulnerable.
7. The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears, Christian literature by Mark Batterson
Since we couldn’t attend church during Covid, I was craving a good book to reconnect to my faith and stir some spiritual reflection. This book wasn’t perfect – it was quite repetitive and sometimes felt a little cheesy. I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you are at the beginning of your faith journey, because it might seem a little too “woo-woo” for skeptics. But, if you are like me, and you attended church growing up and have some familiarity with Christianity, I would recommend it to reignite your prayers. I had gotten in the habit of praying for simple acts of help from God, like “Please help me do this… Please help heal him… Please help here and please help there…”. I realized with these small requests that I was limiting God’s potential to do ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. This book reminded me that He is ALMIGHTY God, and can do ALL things. I used to feel embarrassed to ask God to answer my big prayers, because I thought, “Who am I to ask for such a big thing when there’s so much suffering in the world? Surely God should take care of the REAL needs first.” But I was reminded that God wants to answer all your prayers of need and want. He’s probably offended that you doubt his ability to answer them! He put that prayer on your heart for a reason. Pray for it and pray hard. If you’ve been neglecting prayer or need a push to pray bigger, I recommend this read.
8. The Healing Self: A Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge Your Immunity and Stay Well for Life, a health and self-help book by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi
I found this book interesting but not as revolutionary as I was hoping for. I’ve been on a new health journey for the last several years, and there really weren’t many ideas in this book that I hadn’t heard before. For your best immunity possible, Chopra and Rudolph challenge readers to start thinking of their health with a whole-system approach, or the “bodymind,” which is summarized as this: “body and mind are one domain, and every organ, tissue, and cell works toward the same goal: sustaining life.” This is an approach I’ve personally been working on for the last few years, so it wasn’t major news to me. What I did like, though, was all the scientific research that Chopra and Rudolph included in this book and how they emphasized how important it is for modern medicine to accept this whole-system approach and stop treating ailments as separate from the rest of the body and mind. What I ultimately got from the book is that I am responsible for supercharging my immunity to lead to a longer, healthier life, and to do that, I need to become the most whole person possible. I need to love more, connect more, continue my education, move more, strengthen my spirituality, stress less, and make a conscious effort to eat healthy. For those looking to kick-start their mind-body health journey, there was a great, easy-to-follow 7-day plan toward the back of the book.
9. Winging It: Stop Thinking, Start Doing: Why Action Beats Planning Every Time, a nonfiction business book by Emma Isaacs
Attention all working women (or any woman with a dream): Read this book! Even if you are not an entrepreneur, like Isaacs, this book has so many wonderful tips for women to follow their dreams and career goals. The book’s concept follows the idea that we’re all just “winging it.” Everybody. Do you think Steve Jobs knew how to run one of the world’s largest computer and consumer product companies before he did? No. He figured it out as he went. Don’t wait until you have all the experience, the right timing, all the money, or perfect people around you. You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do? Stop giving excuses for why you haven’t done it, and start doing it! Isaacs’s book provides advice and the confidence boost you need to get started and “wing it!”
10. Greenlights, a memoir by Matthew McConaughey
As a fellow Texan and UT Longhorn, I’ve always been a big McConaughey fan. And, let’s be real, he was my celebrity crush for a long time, too. For the last couple of years, I’ve been impressed by his publicized desire to make a difference in areas of life that are important to him and his attempt to inspire others to do the same. I was interested in this book with all the press hype built up around it, but honestly did not expect to love it as much as I did. I think I read this book faster than any other book on this list. Not only has McConaughey lived a very fascinating life that’s detailed throughout this book, he shows us how to truly LIVE – make the mistakes, follow your intuition, don’t apologize for who you are, and make a conscious effort to make a difference in this world. Just keep livin’…
Now that I’m back on my book reading train, I don’t want to get off! Please send me your favorite books, so I can add them to my reading list. Email me at maggieholmesjackson at gmail dot com or connect on Instagram.
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love.