4 Must-Read Books for a Successful Summer

UPDATED: May 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 28, 2021

In the pre-ebook days, I was the person whose biggest vacation dilemma was which books to bring with me. (Which meant I was also the person with the heaviest suitcase.)

I’m a big reader all year round, and I like to use summer to dig into books that I really love and can’t put down. That includes fiction, but I also enjoy personal development books that connect with my own experiences and teach me more about myself, my attitude to life and the world around me.

I’ve put together a list of four of my favorite self-improvement books that I think deserve space on your shelf and in your summer schedule. To be honest, choosing just four was tough.

The first two focus on very practical advice, whereas the second two delve into the magical realm. I’m a firm believer that these are two sides of the personal development coin, and you’re missing out if you try one without the other. I talk more about my selections in this week’s SUCCESS Stories. Take a listen! 

Disclaimer: I didn’t include my book Stories That Stick, which is available now, or the upcoming Choose Your Story, Change Your Life, which is available to preorder. My sincere hope is that you’ll enjoy them as much as I love the books on my list. 

Here’s my summer hot list and why I love them.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business is a favorite among entrepreneurs, but I discovered it at a time in my life when work was secondary to caring for my babies, who were both under 2. In between orchestrating naps, managing feedings and changing mountains of diapers, I devoured Duhigg’s book about how habits are formed and how to break them.

The teaser trailer is that a habit is made up of three different parts:

  1. The cue: A trigger that pushes you to behave in a certain way, often subconsciously (e.g. boredom).
  2. The routine: The behavior itself (e.g. snacking when you aren’t hungry).
  3. The reward: An outcome that feels good temporarily but can be bad in the long term (e.g. snacking on cookies relieves boredom, but as a habit it can cause health problems).

Duhigg’s simple but effective solution to breaking your habits is to recognize the cue and enact a different behavior in response. For example, when you’re bored, notice the feeling and make yourself some tea or move around, instead of automatically reaching for the cookies.

Not only is Duhigg’s advice very practical, his writing style is easy to get swept up in—essential for a summer read.

Do Less by Kate Northrup

Kate Northrup’s book Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Ambitious Women is in the tradition of great productivity books, but with a twist. She explains how the different stages of your menstrual cycle affect the way you think and perceive the world, and how to optimize your schedule to align with your cycle.

Reading this book opened my eyes to my own experiences. I’d noticed that there were certain times of the month when I had less energy and enthusiasm for networking than usual. I wanted to shut out all my distractions and dive deep into my projects. 

Northrup explains that there are two particular phases of your cycle that lead to this type of thought. Not only did this affirm what I had observed in myself, it helped me think about ways I could use this understanding to lean into the strengths that come at different times of my cycle.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you’ve ever had an idea that keeps popping into your head no matter how busy you are, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert will help you get to grips with it.

Gilbert believes ideas are not just electrical waves zapping through our brains. They are life forms with their own personalities, and they need humans to bring them into the tangible world.

Ideas choose the human they want to team up with. Some ideas are patient and loyal, and they stick with one person until that person is ready to give them life. Other ideas get grumpy if you keep ignoring them and move on to someone else. Gilbert believes she once transferred an idea to another writer just by hugging them; ideas move in mysterious ways.

This book reflected my experience with one particular idea that found me when I was 11. It was what inspired me to tell stories for a living and kept me on that track. If you have an idea that keeps nagging at you, or you’re wondering how to attract some into your life, Gilbert will show you what to do.

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

I’m a little behind on reading Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, but better late than never. It was published in 1992 and its message of love as the road to internal peace is just as relevant today. 

You’ve probably already read quotes from A Return to Love without realizing that was the source. For example: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” This line is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela, but it’s Williamson’s work.

I particularly love Williamson’s definition of success as ending every day knowing that you did what you could to make the world a little better. That doesn’t have to mean being a brain surgeon or a firefighter. Everyone has something positive to contribute, from the bus driver making sure people can get to work safely, to the hairstylist who gives their clients the confidence to be bold in the world.

Whatever is on your reading list, I hope this summer brings you the good kinds of habits, new ideas, and the opportunity to spread a little love.

SUCCESS Stories is no longer releasing new episodes on the SUCCESS Podcast Network, but you can still listen to the full conversation below.

SUCCESS Newsletter offer

Kindra Hall is the bestselling author of Stories That Stick and a sought-after keynote speaker. She is the president of Steller Collective, a marketing agency focused on the power of storytelling to overcome communication challenges.