We all know that we can make life changes at any time of year. But there’s just something about the new year for reinvention and starting afresh.
To inspire your best year yet in 2023, I’ve compiled some of the best books for taking stock and inspiring life changes in the new year. Read these for hope, optimism, and motivation.
These recommendations include memoirs and fiction books about people starting afresh, finding their courage, and following their dreams. I’ve also included a few self-help and personal development books too.
Complement these inspiring books with a goals journal (I love the migoals journal) – alongside plenty of self-love and gentleness – and head into 2023 with inspiration, energy, and motivation.
The best books about starting over and new beginnings
1. The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller
The Arctic is one of my happy places, so as soon as I heard about this book about new beginnings on the archipelago of Svalbard I knew I had to read it.
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a novel about a man who leaves a restless life in Stockholm for a solitary life in the Arctic Circle, where he’s saved by good friends, a loyal dog, and a surprise visit that changes everything.
2. Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid has written some of the best can’t-put-down books from the last few years, including The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones & the Six.
Now in 2022, Taylor Jenkins has published Carrie Soto is Back, her story of a tennis legend supposedly past her prime at thirty-seven, brought back to the tennis court for one more grand slam. Carrie Soto sacrificed everything to become the best, and now she needs to give everything she’s got to defend her record.
This isn’t precisely about new beginnings, but it is about setting a lofty goal and finding the courage and motivation to reach it. For more like this, you might like this collection of inspiring books about strong women.
3. Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
If you’re looking for a book to inspire you to get in shape or push your physical limits, read Finding Ultra. Nearly fifty pounds overweight and unable to climb the stairs without stopping, Rich Roll experienced a chilling glimpse of his future on the night before he was to turn forty.
This story of superhuman personal transformation shows how – through a plant-based lifestyle and daily training – Rich morphed from out of shape, mid-life couch potato to endurance machine and Ultraman competitor.
4. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
At the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth, Nora finds herself transported to a library. There she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived.
Which leaves her with the all-important question: what is the best way to live?
The Midnight Library will inspire you to think about the decisions you make every day as well as your big-picture vision for life, but it will also help you to realise that you can’t do and be everything (because that’s impossible).
5. A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers
I love this cozy book about starting over. In the main city of Panga, the world of A Psalm for the Wild Built, we meet Sibling Dex: a non-binary twenty-nine-year-old gardener who has no idea what they want to do with their life.
However, Dex knows one thing for sure: that despite the beauty and livability of a metropolis, “sometimes, a person reaches a point in their life when it becomes absolutely essential to get the fuck out of the city”.
Dex decides to become a tea monk instead, serving tea that’s perfectly personalized for every customer. When they find themselves still searching for meaning, they head towards the unknown and the wilderness, where they find more kindness and connection than they ever could’ve expected.
6. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
The beautifully-written story has three parallel plots, all focused around a farming community in the Appalachians, including Lusa, a young woman from the city who must unexpectedly start over and find her own way.
7. Bewildered by Laura Waters
Usually there’s a reason why someone would ditch their life and take off into the wild for five months. For Laura Waters, the author of this inspiring travel memoir, it was the implosion of a toxic relationship and a crippling bout of anxiety.
Armed with maps, a compass, and her life in a bag on her back, she set out to walk the untamed landscapes of the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand: 3000 kilometres of raw, wild, and mountainous nature winding from the top of the North Island to the frosty tip of the South Island.
Laura hadn’t planned on a solo trip, but when her walking partner dropped out on the second day, she was faced with the choice of whether to continue alone or abandon the journey.
She chose to walk on, battling not only treacherous terrain and the elements, but also the demons of self-doubt and anxiety. However, at the end of this once-in-a-lifetime journey, Laura realised that she really could face anything that life threw at her
8. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
In boyhood, Louis Zamperini was a delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a talent that carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943 in which his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific.
Surviving against the odds – and about to contend with even greater trials than the ocean – this cinematic page-turner shares the unimaginable story of how Zamperini was driven to the limits of human endurance and forced to answer desperation with ingenuity and suffering with hope.
9. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
If you want to read a fun, quick, and light romance book about fresh starts, read Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. Bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid describes it as “a quirky, sweet, and splendid story of a woman coming into her own.”
It’s been a year since Evvie Drake’s husband died, but she still can’t leave the house. Dean Tenney was once a sports star, now he’s a former sports star who can’t understand why he’s lost his ability to throw a ball better than anyone else.
When Dean moves into the apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s dead husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s failed career.
But as Dean and Evvie grow closer, they wonder if these rules could actually be the one thing in the way of them starting over.
10. Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön feels like a balm for the soul. Eternally wise and comforting, Pema draws on time-honored Buddhist teachings on shenpa (all the attachments and compulsions that cause us suffering) in this book.
In Taking the Leap, she shows how certain habits of mind tend to “hook” us and get us stuck in states of anger, blame, self-hatred, addiction, and so much more – and, most of all, how we can liberate ourselves from them for a new way of beginning.
For more books to read in the new year, complement this with my collection of the most inspiring books to read to change your life around, or the best self-help books to read for when you can’t get to therapy.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.