Summer’s here, and it’s about time to kick off your sandals, grab an iced tea (or beverage of your choice) and relax into the comfort, pleasure and excitement of a good novel.
Many therapists particularly enjoy the kind of heartfelt, emotionally meaningful writing that Brene Brown might describe as ‘wholehearted’. We love a good book that touches our heart, makes us shed a tear or tingle with excitement. And we tend to get quickly bored by fiction that doesn’t engage us on an emotional level.Heartfelt summer reading suggestions from therapists Click To Tweet
Here are some books that some of my respected therapist colleagues have recommended this summer. Most of them use a therapy modality called AEDP as part of their work. This means that they each know – and deeply value – the sense of expansion and depth that can come with feeling able to freely move in and out of emotional states. And they tend to like fiction that reflects that.
Patsy Nicole Dennis-Benn
‘I love a book called Patsy, written by Nicole Dennis-Benn about a Jamaican lesbian woman who emigrated to New York in the late nineties at the behest of her best girlhood friend whom she’s in love with. She leaves her six year old daughter Tru who is struggling with being non binary in a very restrictive culture. Their parallel journeys are richly drawn. The writing is beautiful. Literally fiction at its finest!’ – Kate Marshall, Ph.D, Psychologist
Motherless Brooklyn Jonathan Lethem
“I want to read Motherless Brooklyn (by Jonathan Lethem) again. It was written 1999 and I read it back then, and I adored it. I believe I could love it even more with my AEDP eyes. It’s a sweet and gritty story of an adult who grew up an orphan and quite feral. He manages on the fringes with Tourette’s. It’s about making families out of scraps of lost souls, resilience, love anyway, any how. I still love the main character so I want to hang out with him again 10 years later. Also, the author gives the most amazing inside out phenomenological description what it is like to live inside a tourettic mind. The narrative through self observation and reflection is so brilliant. It’s also very funny but not at the expense of this guy’s disorder.” – Carrie Ruggieri LMHC
My Brilliant Friend Elena Ferrante
“I loved the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, beginning with My Brilliant Friend.” – Meira Cohen Hansford, LCSW
The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock Imogen Hermes Gowar
“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock, by Imogen Hermes Gowar, is a novel that has really stuck with me this year. It’s historical fiction with a bit – just a bit! – of the supernatural. Beautifully written and quite a journey. Fantastic read!” – Robert Blondeau, MS, NCC, LPC
Educated Tara Westover
“I found Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, to be a profound and affecting read”. – Sam Clark , UKCP psychotherapist
A Man Called Ove Fredrik Backman
“A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. There’s a lot of AEDP-ish stuff in that one!” – Debra Walker, LMFT
The Truth is a Theory Karyn Bristol
The Truth is a Theory, by Karyn Bristol MSW, LCSW. Karyn explains, “This novel is a labor of love. I wrote it over 10 years, balancing a full time psychotherapist job and 3 kids while writing and editing before dawn and late into the night.”
Little Fires Everywhere Celeste Ng
“Just finished Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Recommend!” – Wendy Briggs LCSW, CYT
Love Medicine Louise Erdrich
“I loved Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich” – Anonymous therapist
Swing Time Zadie Smith
“I just read Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I loved the story… and the interweaving of cultural critique (embedded in the fiction) and how she conveyed lived experience of race (and class and first-worldness) and being racialized.” – Richard Harrison, Ph.D., R.Psych.
Last Day Domenica Ruta
“One of my friends just wrote an awesome novel, mentioned by the NYTimes called Last Day. Her name is Domenica Ruta. Check it out.” – Jumana Grassi, LCSW, CASAC
I Know This Much Is True Wally Lamb
“Wally Lamb is a wonderful author, especially right for the therapy-minded.
His book “I Know This Much Is True” is one of my all-time favorites. “She’s
Come Undone” is also excellent.” – Andrea Chilton, MFT
More heartfelt fiction recommended by therapists…
“Sylvanus Now, by Donna Morrissey, is a fascinating book about life in the Newfoundland fishing industry in the 1950s, and the relationship between two people with very different emotional styles and very different emotional needs. It took me a bit to get into it, and then I was really hooked. Another book I just read and really liked: Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams. It’s about a Black British woman whose conservative family is from Jamaica, and who finds her way through deep psychological distress. It touches on issues of trauma, friendship, racism, the objectification of Black women by white men, and it’s painful, funny, and very sharp.” – Liz Zoob
“Lost and Wanted, by Nell Freudenberger. The main protagonist is a white physicist at MIT whose oldest friend from Harvard is a black screenwriter. Amazing study of physics, friendship, parenting, etc. The Humans, by Matt Haig – alien comes to Earth and falls in love with what it means to be human. Tumbledown, by Robert Boswell: community of mentally ill people, who is and who isn’t – great characters.” – Patricia A. Geller
“Last summer-fall, I read a string of absorbing, well-written, emotionally rich books that I loved. Here are my favourites from then: Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee; The Leavers by Lisa Ko; Educated, by Tara Westover; Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng; The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui; Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng; On Such a Full Sea, by Chang Rae Lee; The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin; The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai; Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese; A Place For Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza.” – Mariam I. Habib, LCSW-R
“Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi–beautiful and wrenching, and The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer – for an easy read that is also well-written and thought-provoking” – Dr. Martina Verba
“Barkskins by Annie Proulx: settling of the North American continent, initially by the French in Quebec into modern times. Barkskins are loggers, usually Native Americans. Fascinating family dynamics of both indigenous peoples and whites over 300+ years, the logging industry extending globally and environmental issues. You may know Annie Proulx as the author of Shipping News. There There, by Tommy Orange: follows characters from Native communities in Oakland CA. A Long Long Way Home, by Sebastian Barry: The profound story of an Irish youth off to WWI as the move for Irish independence arises. This book touches the soul. One of my all time favorites… The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry: A compassionate psychiatrist working with an old woman approaching 100 in an Irish mental hospital uncovers the story of her life set amidst Ireland besieged by conflict.” – Clarisse V. Lula MFT
“If you are looking for something to read this summer that is a little sexy, romantic, or just plain escapist, you might like Anne Rice’s (aka, A. N. Roquelaure) Sleeping Beauty trilogy, Claiming Sleeping Beauty; Delta of Venus, by Anais Nin (anything by her): Vox, by Nicholson Baker; Bad Behavior, by Mary Gaitskill; and The Sexual Life of Catherine M., by Catherine Millet.” – June Martin
“Normal People, by Sally Rooney. It’s set in fairly contemporary Ireland, and shows the evolution of a relationship between a boy and a girl both agonizingly afflicted by shame and the lack of capacity for emotional expression. Not exactly an easy read, but a realistic and authentic view from inside the characters’ experiences. Also The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Again, not a light read. It’s about the relationship of each of the characters with trees, over time. It’s also something of a political history of the devastating over-logging of the Pacific Northwest. The poignant and moving descriptions of the trees and the people who love them is a counterbalance to the deeply painful material about the ecological abyss on whose edge we are balanced. A novel that’s a combination of science, history, call to action, and good story telling. Also Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows; a novel, by Balli Kaur Jaswal. A lovely read; touching, humorous, brave.” – Kate Halliday, LCSW
Also, Don’t Miss These…
What the Robin Knows Jon Young
“What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young, a lifelong naturalist who decodes the language of common backyard birds and teaches us what our ancestors knew – how to communicate with our natural environment.” – Anonymous therapist
“A Hope More Powerful than the Sea, by Melissa Fleming, Lightless Sky, by Nadene Ghouri, and The Last Girl, by Nadia Murad. Three books that are personal stories of refugees coming from completely different backgrounds – all are a testament to the strength of the human spirit.” – Dina Miqdadi
And Me? What Have I Been Reading Lately?
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone Lori Gottlieb
I really enjoyed Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb, which is a cross between a memoir, fiction, and non-fiction. Gottlieb is a therapist who in this book explores her own experience of being in therapy over a particularly challenging time in her personal life, interwoven with stories about her work with clients. It’s a great illustration of the power of therapy, and also gives highly readable insights into what happens in therapy sessions.
Are You a Therapist? What Heartfelt Fiction Would You Recommend?
Let us know your personal recommendations in the comments below. (Even if you’re not a therapist yourself, but just love heartfelt fiction!)