Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Self-Help and Inspirational Reads

No comments











2017_Jan_ER SelfHElp and Inspiration_heatherV_for websiteHappy New Year from all of us at Literary Mama! This month, we are featuring books that help us find inspiration and those that help us achieve our goals. I set similar resolutions every year—to write, edit, and submit more; to clean up my life (and bedroom); to save more money; to lose a few pounds; and to stop being perpetually late. This year, I'd like to achieve these goals for different reasons, so that I might concentrate on my real resolution of improving my mental health, healing, and becoming a better, more mindful person. Instead of worrying about how messy my house is, I want to concentrate on being a new mom, one who is present and calm. But, I also want a clean and organized home. In order for me to do this I must complete at least one of my perpetual resolutions—to declutter and clean up my life. I am using Marie Kondo's philosophies from her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I am a total pack rat and recently experienced the "nesting" part of pregnancy, but since reading this book, I have become more willing to part with objects that have caused me more stress than happiness. While I haven't completed Kondo's suggested item-by-item purge—her philosophy recommends that you gather all of your books and papers or all of your clothing (sorted by garment type) and purge all at once, and in one day—I have purged quite a bit, over 20 trash bags full to be exact. There is something about Kondo's guidance and philosophies, those that question if an item sparks joy, that have helped me part ways with things that I once found important.

Reviews Editorial Assistant Hope Donovan Rider offers a book suggestion for anyone trying to get into both physical and mental shape. She writes, "Here is a pair of books I have relied upon in the last couple of years as I have transitioned from a decided non-runner to an enthusiastic runner: Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother, both by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea. These books, along with their website and Facebook page, provide runners of all abilities with an uplifting, supportive community by sharing stories of other mother runners. The books and website provide advice for specific mother-related running issues—from how to cope with physical changes that accompany pregnancy, birth, and postpartum stages, to how best to run with a stroller, to how to fit training into a busy family schedule. Train Like a Mother includes a pair of training plans—'Finish It' and 'Own It,' for races of lengths from 5K to marathon, for beginners to experienced runners. I have used the training plans to complete two half-marathons—something that I never imagined I would be able to do, and in the process have fallen completely in love with running for itself, not just its health benefits. If you are looking to make running a habit in the new year, or want some help reaching new goals, this is a great resource."

Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani shares, "Last January, I read The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna. I'd asked for the book for Christmas after reading Luna's essay by the same title, but I think if he'd realized how reading the book would inspire me to upend our lives, my husband would have thought twice about buying it for me. Luna contends that every day we are faced with choosing between Must, by which she means our dreams and passions, and Should, or the expectations others place on us. In her whimsically illustrated book, Luna spends a lot of time discussing ways that people can figure out what their Must is, but I had already written three Musts down in my journal on January 1: 1. Quit my job; 2. Hike the Colorado Trail; 3. Write a book about it. I already knew what I Must do in order to extract myself from the rut I had dug into, personally and professionally, but Should had held me in place for years: I Should keep working an unsatisfying job to provide my family food and health insurance and a retirement plan. Luna's book helped me visualize the possibility of embracing my Must, overcoming my Shoulds, and taking my family on an amazing adventure. I reread the book in December, but it didn't move me as much now that I've accomplished my first two Musts and am deep into work on the third. Should continues to intrude—I still have to feed my family and keep our home from descending into chaos—and fears that hover in my peripheral vision, mostly related to the future of health insurance and what living on a single income will feel like once we've plowed through our savings, threaten me with thinking I Should get another job. But I'm a much happier, more contented person now that I am living my Must, so for now I try to keep Should at bay."

Kate Ristau, Columnist, found inspiration and a bit of happiness in her pick. She writes, "Good stories—and great books—have the power to take you out of your everyday life and draw you into a majestic or magical world. The Hour of Daydreams by Renee Macalino Rutledge is one such book. I was lucky enough to read an early copy of this book and I fell right into it. Renee reimagines a Filipino folktale, drawing her reader into a world of endless possibilities where a woman with wings swims in a river then flies with her sisters to the stars every evening. But, her world changes as she meets a rural doctor, falls in love, and leaves her wings on the shore. As their worlds collide, Renee’s story takes flight. Personally, I’ve had a devastating month, with deaths and illnesses that have rearranged me. Everything has felt too real, too awful. It didn’t seem like magic was possible. To have the pleasure to slip into a story where the very city is recreated and where magic can literally move mountains—well, that was exactly what I needed. It reminded me why I write the stories I do, and how words really do have the power to change the world. As we step into a new year, with a new president, and a new understanding of our country and of each other, I encourage you to pick up The Hour of Daydreams from Forest Avenue Press, and think about the stories you want to tell. Words matter. They create and they can destroy. It's my hope that we can keep working together, building worlds of wonder and possibility."

Creative Nonfiction Editor Rae Pagliarulo found a book to guide her into the new year. She shares, "I'm a huge fan of Sara Benincasa's essays and fiction, and her latest book, Real Artists Have Day Jobs, will keep me company well into 2017. The premise is exactly what you'd think, but the hilarious, poignant, and honest essays within provide endless surprises and laughs. What's great about Benincasa is that she is 100% without pretense—her self-deprecating humor and relatable nature make reading this book feel like you're having a cocktail with that one particularly snarky and witty friend. But beyond all that, the advice and insights are thorough and spot-on. 'Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Don't ever let them tell you you're not a success. No matter how much time you spend at the office, it's just a side gig. You are an artist, full-time, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.' With chapter titles like #23, 'Life is Too Short for Shitty Friends,' #35, 'Ask for Exactly What You Want,' and #47, 'Realize Your Dress Size Doesn't Matter,' it's hard to find a part of this book I DON'T resonate with. And at a time when so many other aspects of life are competing for the precious energy I need to write, think, edit, and create, and I'm feeling like I'll never write another half-decent essay again, it's great to have someone like Sara around to make me laugh and remind me that (at least according to #48) 'The Darkness is Where the Good Stuff Starts.'"

Are you reading a book to help you with your 2017 resolution? Leave a comment below or tweet us @LiteraryMama and tell us about it. Follow us on Goodreads for more inspirational reads.


Abigail Lalonde lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three cats. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Sanitarium Magazine and Pretty Owl Poetry. She writes about books and writing on her website.


More from

Heather Vrattos is pursuing an interest in photography by taking courses at the International Center of Photography. She is the mother of three boys, and lives in New York City.


Comments are now closed for this piece.