My 2021 top picks for thought-provoking books
I get sent a lot of books by publishers to review but I don’t always get a chance to put them on the blog. I enjoy reading (when I find the time!), so I also buy a lot of books. To spread the love, I thought I’d do a quick round up of the most thought-provoking non-fiction books I’ve read this year that might be relevant or inspiring to other working parents too. And I have even included the links to Amazon so you can put them straight onto your Christmas Wishlist!
Not all of these books are newly published, I just happen to have read them this year. I have focused on those non-fiction books that really taught me something – the books that stayed in my mind or made a difference in some way to the way I live, love or parent. I hope you enjoy them (and please do share your own recommendations in the comments too!).
*This post contains affiliate links
Like a lot of working parents, I am not very good at resting. I have fallen hook-line-and-sinker into that classic trap of seeing time resting as time wasted. This book examines the different activities that adults say they do in order to rest and explores through multidisciplinary lenses (psychology, history, sociology etc) why these activities are restful and how to make them work for you. These aren’t big new ideas – they include watching TV and having a bath – but a whole book’s worth of thinking about how I find rest (or more often, don’t) was definitely thought-provoking. Especially on the back of a major case of post-pandemic parental burnout….. The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age is by Claudia Hammond.
Do you find yourself constantly rushing to get through everything on your To Do list so you can finally get around to the things that really matter to you (children, partner, relaxing, making a difference…)? But then you never seem to get through that To Do list with enough time to spare to do those things you really value? This book has reset my relationship with time and helped me rethink how I use it – I can’t recommend it enough! It was exactly the antidote to parental burnout that I needed. I also went out and bought a campervan as a direct result of reading this book – so be warned, it might actually change your life! Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life is by Oliver Burkeman.
I asked the publisher for a copy of this book because I was feeling really glum about the amount of time children had been spending on screens (both before, during and after the pandemic). I was in need of some glimmers of hope about 1) how tech might be a positive force in children’s lives and 2) how we can equip children to be resilient to its harms. I didn’t necessarily find all the answers, but it was a super-informative read on so many levels – as an adult tech-user, a parent and a professional.
Digital for Good: Raising Kids to thrive in an online world by Richard Culatta
If you are the parent of a teenager (or soon-to-be teen) please do exactly what it says in the title – read this book. It will give you such an insight into your teenager’s life. Ben Brooks (a recent ex-teenager) describes in alarming detail what it’s like to grow up in an age of self-harm, sexting and selfies. And, seriously, he pulls no punches and omits no details (be prepared to be shocked). But it’s so well-written, so funny, so human, so insightful. You will never look at your teenager the same way again. It will enable you to actually stand in your teenager’s shoes – and that has got to be the best starting place for parenting a teen.
Every Parent Should Read This Book: Eleven lessons for raising a 21st-century teenager by Ben Brooks (originally published in hardback as ‘Things They Don’t Want You To Know’).
The simple act of breathing has been on my mind a lot during Covid. Partly because of the threat the disease poses to the human body but also because of the anxiety and stress that living through Covid has caused. “Just breathe,” I tell myself often. Then a few moments later, I have forgotten and my mind is racing again. This book helped me develop a far greater awareness of how I breathe and how I can use my breath to manage my emotions. I loved the intellectual understanding of how breathing impacts the nervous system. I have memorised many of the practical exercises and also use the book as a visual prompt on my desk to remind myself to stop for a moment and bring things back to something simple. Let It Go: Breathe Yourself Calm is by Rebecca Dennis.
I have been meaning to read this book for a very long time (it was published in 2016). As an advocate of free play who often rants about the importance of unrestricted outdoor play for children’s development, I always knew I would love this book. But it was still a complete pleasure to read. Angela Hanscom has such an accessible writing style (and a knack of putting things I often say to parents into words and phrases much better than mine!). It might not turn you into a free-range parenting devotee but I guarantee that this book will make you rethink how you supervise your children and where/how they play. Read it for your children’s sakes!
I will admit to picking up this book with huge trepidation. Fiona Spargo-Mabbs set up the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation in January 2014 in response to the tragic death of her 16 year-old son Daniel, having taken ecstasy. This books interweaves the story of what happened to Daniel with practical information for parents on what we really need to know and how to talk to teenagers and young people about drugs. It’s a moving tribute and at times a hard read – putting yourself in the shoes of a bereaved mother is not comfortable. But it is also relatable and empowering and a treasure trove of simple practical information that you will be glad you know.
I Wish I’d Known: Young People, Drugs and Decisions by Fiona Spargo-Mabbs
Isn’t that what we are all trying to do with our kids – raise good humans? Parenting isn’t really about managing children, it’s about managing ourselves. And our biggest challenge is often those deeply held beliefs and triggers that we got from our own upbringings. This is a parenting book that is as much about parents’ own personal growth as it is about raising mentally healthy kids. I was already a big fan of guided meditation apps but reading this book taught me a lot about using meditation not just to manage our thoughts and moods but also to explore and challenge ourselves in a therapeutic way.
*I received some of these books free from their publishers, some were gifts from friends and family and some I bought with my own money. I have not been paid to include any particular book – these genuinely are my recommended reads from this year! This post does, however, contain affiliate links, which means that if you click through to Amazon and buy one of the books, I will receive a small commission (see Disclosure Notice for more info).