A Little Light Bibliotherapy
It’s hot. Really hot. And it’s easy to start to lose it in the city at this time of year.
So this week, we called upon our expert NYPL staff members to engage in a little light bibliotherapy. We asked them to recommend books that helped them stay sane and navigate life in Gotham. Here's what they suggested.
Advice & Self-Help
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm was suggested to me in college by a professor, and it was my saving grace to staying calm in this bustling city. It’s a practical guide that made me mindful of other people and myself. What’s also great about this book is that it has been meaningful with every read from then til now. —Lori Salmon, Mid-Manhattan
One of the best most entertaining, pragmatic, and helpful books—perhaps the king of all self-help books—is Augusten Burroughs’ This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More—for Young and Old Alike. I borrowed a copy from the library and liked it so much I had to buy it. I’ll refer to it every now and then. I read it like some folks might take aspirin, only with none of the stomach churning side- affects. —James E. Soucé, AskNYPL
I would recommend Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham for the weary summer parent who’s looking for practical advice for maintaining patience and empathy amid the day-to-day ups and downs with kids. I read aloud passages from this book to my husband because they sounded so familiar to situations we’ve faced with our two young boys (think evening tubby-time battles). Next on my list: Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings! —Susie Heimbach, Mulberry Street
The only sure thing I’ve found that gives me inner peace (no matter what the situation) isn’t a book at all, it’s just moving around. Now, NYPL has a few books in particular that taught me how to move around better! Swinging kettlebells, sprinting once in a while, and lots of walking handles whatever stress might otherwise accumulate. Try Enter the Kettlebell! by Pavel Tsatsouline or The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss. —Andrey Syroyezhkin, Dorot Jewish Division
My suggestion for a self-help book that really does help is Jon Kabat-Zinn’ s Full Catastrophe Living. It helps the reader validate feelings and find ways to cope—and promotes yoga. Of course, escape helps too… when I most needed to cry but couldn’t, I turned to the Zeffirelli film of La Traviata. Two measures in to the Overture and I was sobbing. —Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Exhibitions
I read philosopher Alain De Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work this past long winter and now have been totally sucked into his School of Life YouTube Channel (sorry, you’re welcome?) and I’m waiting for How Proust Can Change Your Life. Sounds high-brow, but actually the aim is to make useful ideas in “high” culture accessible. —Emily Nichols, Children’s Programming
I also turn to Alain De Botton for solace, especially his The Consolations of Philosophy. In this book he describes with sly humor the very human problems of some of the worlds’ greatest Western philosophers, and how their theories can be applied to everyday life. And anything by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh will provide a grounding dose of Zen towards approaching a maddening city with mindfulness and joy. —Sherri Machlin, Mulberry Street
I’d recommend Seneca’s Moral and Political Essays, released by Cambridge University Press. In this collection of essays, Seneca expounds upon anger and forgiveness—two opposite forces within our nature, the former being the most base and impulsive, the latter being close to divinity. Not only does Seneca delve deep into the bitter harm of anger on society as well as the sweetness of mercy, but he includes a very early example of self-help: a guide on how we may avoid the pitfalls of anger itself. Certainly, such skills may come in handy in a city like New York... —Andrew Fairweather, Seward Park
I first came to New York when I was starting college. Feeling alone and out of place, I turned to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to get me through my first week in my new city. I sat by the fountain in Washington Square Park, eating raspberries and devouring this book. Though not a traditional self-help book, I found Holmes’ command of his surroundings and confidence to be the inspiration and help I needed to settle into my new home. —Alexandria Abenshon, Yorkville
Books have always been my happy place. Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit which involves an intrepid female, a mysterious man, a trip to Africa, and a diamond heist. You start reading and suddenly the noise and crowds of New York fall away. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
The mystery novels that Carolyn Heilbrun wrote under the pen-name “Amanda Cross” by brought me back to New York City. I read Death in a Tenured Position in the year after I finished grad school at Columbia University. This novel had just the right combination of setting and philosophy (feminist/literary) that appealed to me at the time, and it presented a vision of a life well led in New York. Firmly cognizant of the inequalities and struggles of all New Yorkers, Heilbrun’s character Kate Fansler seemed to be able to live life as it actually is, with all of the messy bits and unfairness intact. It took me a few years to return, but once I did I stayed. I’m still here in New York and enjoying every minute of living life in the city. —Virginia Bartow, Special Collections
For heat wave therapy on a sultry August day, how about a tall cool read of Scandinavian noir? For instance, Jo Nesbø’s The Leopard, the eighth in the author’s series about the brilliant, burned-out Oslo cop Harry Hole. In this one, among other catastrophes, Harry and two fellow cops are buried by an avalanche that crushes a remote ski hut somewhere on a mountain in Norway. With the oxygen fast running out, Harry must summon all his resourcefulness to save himself, and if possible, at least one of his companions—but should it be the one showing signs of life, a fishy Finn he dislikes, or the fair Kaja, who may be past help already? —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials
I reread Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul every few years to get myself to chill out. I relate to the state of mind of pinning all your desires on getting a pizza delivered to your hospital room in a backwards, non-pizza-delivering country, and then trying to deal with the pouty god Thor. The Hitchhiker’s trilogy (of five books, or six now) is especially good on airplanes if you’re scared of flying but will face anything to get out of the sweltering city, because what can possibly matter when you’re sharing Arthur Dent’s frame of mind while listening to Vogon poetry executions? —Jill Rothstein, Andrew Heiskell
I’d recommend How Starbucks Saved My Life. It’s a memoir about a high-powered ad executive who loses everything—his job, his house, his family—and is "reduced" to working at Starbucks. However, he ends up learning more than he ever thought possible about people, hard work, and life in general. —Ronni Krasnow, Morningside Heights
When in need of a good laugh or to get away from it all, I would recommend Will Not Attend by Adam Resnick. Sharp, cynical, and painfully awkward, Resnick recounts his life through short hilarous stories. —Susen Shi, Seward Park
I would recommend Split by Suzanne Finnamore. It’s a memoir about when she had to go through a crushing divorce and raise her son on her own. She’s very genuine and readers going through something similar will feel themselves saying “I felt that!” throughout the book. She’s also very funny and witty. —Angie Miraflor, West Bronx Network
Children & YA
I remember a particularly hard time—I was new to New York, my family was more than 2,000 miles away, my beloved father’s health was beginning to deteriorate—and for one year I read William Steig’s little masterpiece Sylvester and the Magic Pebble to every class old enough to listen to it. A reworking of the old “be careful what you wish for” folktale motif, the line that lifted me every time I read it was “I wish I was myself again, I wish I was my real self again. And in less than an instant, he was.” Ah! Perfect. —Danita Nichols, Inwood
When I was a teenager, I read the YA book I Am the Messenger by Markus Zuzak and it changed how I saw the world and the people I interact with on a daily basis. A story about a man in a dead-end place in his life and how his sense of purpose is revived by a mysterious benefactor who sends him playing cards with names and addresses on them. Our hero visits these people and changes their lives in small ways, figuring out what they need the most, and how he can help them (and himself). A beautiful novel I often revisit if I am feeling a bit lost. —Alessandra Affinito, Chatham Square Branch
For all the new (or not-so-new) parents out there, On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier is a lovely picture book that brings me some perspective when I read it out loud to my son. Despite the incredible newness that a baby brings to your life, there are old rhythms—the cycles of the moon and stars, the tides of the oceans, the patterns of animals and plants—that ground us all in the natural world. —Gwen Glazer, Readers Services
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend.
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