6 Reasons Why Self-Help Books Are the Ultimate Vacation Read (Really!)

published Jul 15, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Asian Woman reading book on summer days
Credit: Getty Images | AerialPerspective Images

Whether your kids are off from school or you can’t wait to escape from work for a few days — or both — chances are you’re looking forward to a vacation in the days ahead. As you pack your toiletries and select swimwear, you may be culling potential books to read while you log off. This year though, if you usually opt for fiction, think about trading out your go-to novel for a self-help book, which may help you work through personal stuff in a different way.

A self-help book on vacation? Isn’t the point of your getaway to not think at all? Yes and no — and besides, great novels will likely provoke thought, too! So this summer, why not come back from your time away relaxed, refreshed, and with a slightly different frame of mind? From profiling powerful women to discovering how to think better, here are six empowering books that can alter your thinking and create better habits.

“How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books” by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer

“‘How to Be Fineis hands-down one of the best self-help books I’ve ever read,” offers Lucy Perkins-Wagel, the assistant manager at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda, Florida. In each episode of their real-life podcast, the authors document living by the rules of a specific self-help manual. After evaluating 50 books, they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.

How to Be Fine” curates the best advice from each book while also covering why specific tips aren’t practical. “The advice that Greenberg and Meinzer offer is sound and kind, and they take care to stress that what works for them may not work for every reader — and that that is perfectly okay,” states Perkins-Wagel. “This book also just reads in an easy, genuinely funny, and ridiculously relatable way.

“Iconic Women of Colour: The Amazing True Stories Behind Inspirational Women of Colour” by Candi Williams

“Another book everyone should pick up this summer is ‘Iconic Women of Colour’ by Candi Williams,” says Savannah Oaks, the owner of Wonderous Books & more in Salem, Virginia. For those who prefer snippets of information instead of reading a book from cover to cover, this collection of real-life inspiration is perfect. This book features inspiring stories about 38 women of color who are leaders and trailblazers.
Oaks also recommends “Voices of Powerful Women” by Zoë Sallis, which features 40 women who were asked questions about their motivations and fears while advising younger women. “Both books are great at empowering women of all ages,” adds Oaks. Of course, if you’re vacationing with a child, the stories would also make great discussion topics while you’re soaking up the sun.

“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo

The term “sparking joy” first became popular several years ago, as folks watched Marie Kondo fold and store t-shirts in a way many people had never seen before. The visual satisfaction of seeing others tidy up their spaces caused many to purge their belongings. However, Kondo’s KonMari method is also available as the perfect beach read. “I love the dichotomy of Kondo’s gentle and calming tone paired with her no-nonsense and pragmatic approach to decluttering,” says Emily Mook, the youth services librarian at Lynchburg Public Library in Virginia.

Mook also stresses that the KonMari method works, as does asking if an item “sparks joy.” “Her category-by-category organization system works … I also appreciate Kondo’s focus on gratitude and joy as beacons that can lead us to creating and maintaining spaces that allow us to live our best lives,” she explains. “This book has helped me immensely, especially during a couple of big life changes I’ve been through, and I can’t recommend it heartily enough.”

“Do/Death/For a Life Better Lived” by Amanda Blainey

Whether you need a refresher on your perspective of life or are personally grieving, “Do/Death/For a Life Better Lived” helps the reader ponder what really matters. “The book ultimately gives perspectives on how to live a life more consciously, as well as how one can plan for their finality,” offers Jennifer Stavros, a California-based freelance writer.

In particular, Stavros appreciates how Blainey’s book “discusses the straightforward and pragmatic — rituals, processes, legalities that lend themselves to a more heavily nuanced emotional and vulnerable journey. You may be surprised at how positive death can affect you when you are prepared.”

“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell

“If you are looking for an excellent non-fiction summer read, I highly recommend ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’ by Malcolm Gladwell,” Oaks says. “This book will get you thinking about the way you think and your decision-making.” Understanding the human psyche and why people do what they do is a thought-provoking way to idle your vacation days away.

Thinking about thinking may seem redundant, but this eye-opening book will help you understand and possibly change your thought processes. People make daily decisions seemingly on auto-response, and realizing what goes into choosing one path over another can result in more purposeful choices in the future.

“Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving” by Celeste Headlee

With mini-computers at our fingertips, folks are connected 24/7. Although this may be okay when dealing with friends and family, it can cause stress when people get work emails and texts when they’re technically off-duty. So make your summer vacation truly life-altering by learning how to detox truly. 

‘Do Nothing’ literally changed my life and the way I thought about productivity (both as a concept and as something that I frequently tried to maximize in my life),” states Perkins-Wagel. “Headlee’s examination of the history of work itself, the many facets of our productivity centered culture, and how technology has drastically changed our relationship to work and productivity, is absolutely fantastic — as are her suggestions on how to prioritize your well-being and your happiness, all while still being productive (just in a more healthy and holistic way.) Seriously, read this book.” And your summer vacation is the best time to do so.