When you think of reading, what goes through your mind?

I think of curling up on my couch during a cold day, frantically flipping through the pages on the subway, or getting situated in a comfy corner of a coffee shop. Sometimes I think of it as a chore, but most of the time it’s an act of self-care that I’ve done since I was a kid.

What I don’t think of reading as? A chance to build up one’s capacity for empathy or happiness—but research shows that’s exactly what’s going on when we immerse ourselves in the pages of a good book.

There's even a fancy name for it: "Bibliotherapy is a very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect," writer Ceridwen Dovey explains in the New Yorker.

A 2011 study showed that the same parts of your brain that light up when you’re empathizing with someone are the ones that also light up when you’re reading. By immersing yourself in the worlds of others, you’re able to have a better handle on what other people might be going through IRL.

With that in mind, we wanted to share the books that we (and the Shine community) are reading, have read, or want to read in the near future.

Take a deep breath, pretend you’re back at the Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school, and get to reading—aka flexing those empathy muscles.

1. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

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Elaine Welteroth gets real in this book about what it means to take up space, just as you are.

2. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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This book is a fun tale that follows a mother and daughter building a new life in a new city (P.S. It'll soon be turned into a limited series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington!).

3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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Trevor Noah opens up about his childhood in this moving memoir about life as a mixed race child during apartheid in South Africa.

4. Educated by Tara Westover

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From the trails of mountains to the halls of Cambridge, Tara Westover retells her life journey from starting as the child of survivalists in Idaho to building a brand new life for herself.

5. Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

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Jenny Slate has a lot to say, and she puts it all on the line in a beautiful manner in this book. Plus, you can see it's companion, Stage Fright, on Netflix.

6. Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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This book will help you unravel how you think and live your life, and help you rebuild it in ways that will benefit future-you.

7. Where to Begin by Cleo Wade

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Cleo Wade's a poetic sensation on Instagram, and she uses her unique style to do the same in this touching book.

8. Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell

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Malcom Gladwell breaks down what happens when we interact with people we don't know in this book—it will definitely give you something to think about.

9. All Along You Were Blooming by Morgan Harper Nichols

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This poet is known for her beautiful Instagram musings. Flip through her work in this gorgeous physical format for an even more powerful impact.

10. She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

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This powerful and important nonfiction book is written by the two New York Times reporters who exposed producer Harvey Weinstein's history of sexual harassment and abuse—a story that helped kickstart today's #MeToo movement.

11. The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

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This year we lost the legend that is Toni Morrison, but reading this collection can let you still experience the magic of her words.

12. There There by Tommy Orange

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This beautiful novel follows twelve characters from different Native American communities, weaving history and modern Native American life into one unforgettable story.

13. Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

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The New Yorker columnist penned this can't-put-it-down collection of essays. They'll have you laughing out loud in one moment and questioning everything in another.

14. Find Me by André Aciman

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André Aciman is the man behind the revered Call Me By Your Name, and in his latest, he explores what happened next between Elio and Oliver.

15. Dominicana by Angie Cruz

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Take it from this perfectly worded review: "This is a page turner and a must read for anyone interested in the American dream, migration, or identity more broadly."

16. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

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There is so much to learn about humankind, and this is the perfect place to get started.

17. Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney's Normal People follows two students over the course of early adulthood and how they navigate growing up and the different kinds of love you can experience.

18. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

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Writer and sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller—who spoke out as Emily Doe four years ago in a sexual assault case against 19-year-old Brock Turner—opens up in this memoir about her journey navigating a biased criminal justice system, a culture that stigmatizes survivors of sexual assault, and so much more. It's a painstaking but important read.

19. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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If you're on Oprah's book list again, then you know you've made it. Ta-Nehisi Coates' first published work of fiction is worth reading a million times over.

20. Dear Girls by Ali Wong

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Ali Wong's letter to her daughters (yup, the ones in her belly in both her specials) are moving and hilarious—exactly what you'd expect from the comedic genius.

21. Little Women by Lousia May Alcott

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The movie is on its way to theaters, and this timeless tale is always worth diving into, time and time again.

22. Becoming by Michelle Obama

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In what might have been one of the biggest books of the year, Michelle Obama gets candid about her life and the pieces that came together to make her who she is today.

23. How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

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Attention is a rare commodidty, and Jenny Odell's book breaks down how to reclaim your time.

24. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Take it from Reese Witherspoon herself: "I can't even express how much I love this book! I didn't want this story to end!"

25. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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This fun book about the first son (of a female president) and his love affair with a British prince is a great read for cozying up by the fire.


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