If you're not a huge fan of self-help or business books, or if you've read so many that you're feeling burned out on the genre, it might be time to explore memoirs, biographies, and autobiographies. Reading about prominent people — whether from recent times or ancient ones — and their struggles, what they've learned, and how they've overcome different mistakes, trials, and tribulations can be a productive way to learn new ways to work and live.
Here, a few memoirs we've been reading to get out of our work/life slumps:
A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney (foreword by Margaret Atwood)
Dealing with the comparison trap? Check out A Secret Sisterhood, the story of friendships that four of the most iconic women authors of all time nurtured during their respective writing careers. Often, we think of writers as solitary geniuses, but these women not only had friendships with local women, they also reached out to other writers and creatives. You might feel like it's impossible to make friends with other people in your industry if you're in constant competition, but these women proved it's possible — and beneficial. Bonus: The book is fittingly written by two friends.
If you’re struggling with creativity in a dull job, or being creative on demand, this biography of Nikola Tesla will help you make new connections and imagine creative possibilities. It’s a speedy read that explains how imagination isn't just for children's playtime, it's essential for changing the world. Considered the father of modern technology thanks to his work with electricity, Tesla's story sounds like it should be dry and science-fueled, but it requires wild imagination to change the way the world views power and electricity. Read this and you'll instantly feel creatively revitalized and recharged (Tesla pun intended).
Not every memoir offers tips for productivity and creativity at work, but memoirs like Riding the Bus with My Sister offer a new way of looking at the people around you, and a renewed appreciation for the people in your life. This heartwarming memoir is a look at Simon's relationship with her intellectually disabled sister. Simon's story is one of emotional isolation and loneliness hidden behind a packed schedule until her sister invites her to spend a year riding the public transit bus with her every day. The result of their year on the bus together is this book, and a special time when Simon is learning to pay attention to what matters most in life, and how to enjoy it rather than just trying to get through.
One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot Cohen
If the past year has made you consider selling the house and taking off for parts unknown, you're not alone. But you might want to read One Year Off before you start packing. Cohen has done the legwork for you and can give you a good idea of what it really looks like, from the first stages of selling off possessions and packing up to the travel itself. Of course, your adventures might include more RV camping in national parks than getting charged by a hippo during a motorboat ride in Zimbabwe, but to each their own. The book details the amazing adventures the Cohens went on, but also gives a very realistic (and funny) view of what it looks like when you spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with just your family, often in places where you don't speak the language.
It's not the lightest read, but if you're an entrepreneurial type looking for inspiration and philosophy to go with your memoirs, Carnegie's book is an excellent place to start. You may know Carnegie as one of the original titans of business in the U.S., but did you know he was an immigrant who started his career as a young boy working in a textile mill before moving to the telegraph industry, the railroads, and eventually settling on the steel industry where he made his fortune? While we know the idea of the American dream is flawed, Carnegie's insights into entrepreneurship, business, and education, and his need to give back is a good reminder for all of us. In fact, Carnegie ultimately gave away more than 90% of his wealth over the course of his lifetime.
The past year and a half has made most of us feel like we're languishing to some degree. But The Art of Eating reminds us that joy can be found in the little things, like a great meal (whether you're eating at a Michelin-star restaurant or chowing down on takeout at home). The series of essays ranges from memoir to biography as Fisher travels the world, enjoying each meal to the fullest. As one reviewer noted, she has "the extraordinary ability to make the ordinary seem rich and wonderful." We could all use a bit of that right now.