Our Favorite Things: Books that Light Our Fire

Looking for a good book to cuddle up with that will light your fire? Here are a few favorites of ours that are all about growing, adapting, and creating!

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

“... an artist is a person first. He is an individual. If there is no person, there is no artist.”

Asher Lev, a Hasidic Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, learns how to see things with an artist’s critical eye, how to express himself through art, and to follow his heart despite familial and societal pressures. Asher’s journey is easily relatable to anyone who has been on the artist’s journey, or who has ever felt like their passions are misunderstood. There are so many lessons to be learned in the context of Asher’s story, in both the artist and the person he becomes.

I first read this in high school (disclaimer: it's a Young Adult novel), and I couldn’t put it down. I felt it so deeply, and related so clearly to this young boy just trying to show the world as he sees it, that it has stuck with me for the almost 20 years since. I highly recommended it for anyone who is struggling with their artistry in a time of uncertainty.

Recommended by: Amy

Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams

“At its most complex, ambition should be an animation of soul. Not simply a job, but a disquiet that requires you to take action.”

Stacey is a self-proclaimed introvert who made the decision to take leadership roles because she understands that the work and the purpose is more important. Anyone see Georgia turn blue in 2020? This book is a wonderful reminder to BIPOC, women, and “anyone who exists outside the structure of traditional white male power” that we absolutely deserve a seat at the table. We might need to fight for it, but it’s a fight worth having.

This isn’t very different from applying to a job that you aren’t sure you’re qualified for especially for femmes. Did you know men apply for jobs if they feel like they are 60% qualified, whereas women wait until they are 100% qualified? (Harvard Business Review did a whole article on it in 2014!) But the funny thing is, if you're applying for a job where you meet 100% of the qualifications, you're already overqualified. This is where we need to remember that we are very qualified to have a seat at the table, and Stacey’s book will ABSOLUTELY fire you up.

NOTE: There has been an update to this book, and it is now titled Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change

Recommended by: Beth

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

“The answers to making it, to me, are a lot more universal than anyone's race or gender, and center on having a tolerance for delayed gratification, a passion for the craft, and a willingness to fail.”

Ali Wong is one of my favorite comedians and comedy writers. She is just so unapologetically unapologetic. Just like her comedy specials (Baby Cobra, Hard Knock Wife), this memoir does not hold anything back. She is not afraid to set fire to cultural norms, but she does it with such brilliant insight and sincerity. I listened to it in audiobook form, so it was basically like an extended comedy special that had me laughing out loud frequently. But it’s also written in the form of a letter to her two young daughters, Mari & Nikki, and touches on truly important life advice such as dealing with and working through the marginalization of women and Asians in both life and in entertainment, the value of hard work and personal connection, relationships, marriage, and parenthood, and so much more. Ali stresses how important it is to be smart, genuine, hardworking, and open-minded, which I really admire. This book is great if you're looking for a laugh, but also if you're looking for a unique perspective on life in entertainment and entrepreneurship, or the journey to self-acceptance.

Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead--My Life Story by Cecile Richards

“It’s going to take all of us - the trail blazers, the leaders of tomorrow, and all the troublemakers in between to light the way forward.”

Most of us know Cecile Richards as the BAMF who led Planned Parenthood for many years, and continues to support women. This book has a lot of text, but she does a great job of bringing her history and what has inspired her to life.

One of the cool things that I didn’t expect was to learn about was how her mother influenced her. “My mother decided she wasn’t going to wait until she had the perfect resume, and she certainly wasn’t going to wait until she was guaranteed success. Every political race she’d gotten into, it was because she knew that she was qualified and could do a better job than the incumbent, even if she was the only one who thought so.”

While Cecile talks about entering the campaign life and politics early on, she continues to talk about fighting the good fight. This includes helping her mother's campaigns, working for Planned Parenthood, and continuing to fight for women everywhere. The journey is worth enjoying.

Recommended by: Beth

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

It almost feels like a cop out to recommend The Little Prince. You’re not going to find it in New and Notables at the bookstore - it’s been around for almost 80 years and has been touted as a favorite the world over. It was read to me as a child once upon a time, and I grew up with it as a nebulous “favorite.” But I re-read it this year, shortly after quarantine began, and let me tell you - as a creative professional adult, it hits differently. It is so charming, and both delightfully escapist and deeply life affirming at the same time.

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart.”

It can offer such beautiful perspective to any artist, creative, or dreamer who is down on the world right now. For anyone who just wants to be reminded of what it is to look at the world with the innocence of a child - read it.

Recommended by: Amy

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin

Freedom is a funny thing. I have my freedom, but in some ways, I am still locked down on the row. I know what day they are serving fish for dinner. I know when it’s visiting day and at what point the guys are walking in the yard. My mind goes back there every single day, and I realize it was easier for my mind to leave the row when I was inside than it is now that I’m free.”

Letting go is hard.

Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly 30 years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit. He is now an advocate for prison reform and talks about the power of faith and forgiveness.

I personally had gone back and forth on the death penalty, but the older I get, the harder it is for me to justify. It’s also harder to justify when you read these stories and actually make some connection with the subject beyond abstract financial considerations. Even while in jail for crimes he didn’t commit, Hinton found ways to engage with those around him. It hit me particularly hard when he talks about the men who were sentenced to death and when their time had come. He talks about their last meals and their last moments.

This is a journey I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But this book does a great job of reminding us that...

  • Change is possible; and

  • We have some work to do in the world.

Recommended by: Beth

Unique Ability: Creating the Life You Want by Catherine Nomura and Julia Waller, with Shannon Waller

“Unique Ability is the essence of what you love to do and do best. There are four characteristics of Unique Ability: It's a superior ability that other people notice and value; you are passionate about using it and want to use it as much as possible; it's energizing both for you and others around you; and there's a sense of never-ending improvement—you keep getting better and better and never run out of possibilities for growth.”

This one is a bit of a technical read in comparison to the others we've already talked about, but I recommend it because it helps you think and develop an actionable plan for growth and happiness in your career. Similar to our Find Your Perfect Job Venn Diagram and Worksheet, this book helps you analyze your skills and needs, and turn it into a real life plan for career and life. Almost like a workbook or textbook, it presents ideas, facts, and activities to identify and develop your Unique Ability.

Recommended by: Amy

This is not even close to an exhaustive list. But we chose these books because they helped fire us up in times when we needed a little inspiration - not only as artists, but as humans trying to make our way in the world. We'd love to hear what has gotten your juices flowing! Follow us on social media @outofthearts. Give us a like, subscribe to our podcast, and please leave a comment below with questions or feedback - comments help us connect with you and build more content to help this community! So tell us - what books got you to get up and go??