a reading list to improve your mental health
By Awa Gueye
May 22, 2019
The best part about post-school life is also the worst part: no homework. This newfound freedom is very sexy until you realize it means an entirely new challenge — sometimes called, “create your own homework and hold yourself accountable.” Boo. When you suddenly have autonomy over your time it can be hard to create a healthy balance, because these aren’t conversations you have with adults as a student.
Often the lows of my mental-health journey manifest in a feeling of being so overwhelmed that I have a hard time knowing where to begin to work on myself. Everything feels intense, so I resort to doing nothing at all. This looks like a routine of work and social life without checking in with myself. My personal mental health strategy these days is learning to put in the effort with myself — as much effort as I would on my own work, or on others. I am learning how to take things one step at a time, instead of deeming them all impassable. It sounds pretty generic but when I can get the small things right, I feel healthier mentally — which, in turn, translates physically.
Reading is one way for me to regain this stability. It takes me out of me-ville, a reminder that other human beings exist, and some exist with problems like the ones that I experience. Even more, these people have made headway in solving them. Additionally, reading provides me with routine. It teaches me to grow, not as a task but because it brings me pleasure.
As I grow, I learn the pleasure of, and need for self-check-ins. I learn what it means to take good care of myself, and am not so extreme in my life balance. What seem like the smallest efforts can create a domino effect in building myself back up.
Here then is a small reading list, in case you need a small push into learning how to give yourself homework for the betterment of you.
THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison
Really anything by Toni Morrison should do the job, but if you can’t decide where to begin, I’d go with The Bluest Eye, the book that got me out of my novel-hating phase. This book heals many but is especially dear to Black women. There really isn’t anything like Ms. Morrison’s poetic words and perspective.
THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK by W.E.B. Du Bois
Another suggestion for anyone setting off on their woke journey. Souls can help broaden your vocabulary to understand your Black experience. Double Consciousness for the win.
WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru
I find this to be a good book to read if you are a Black person who grew up in an environment with white people. Even if you weren’t one of few Black kids but grew up in a diverse city with all kinds of people, this book gives insight on white male culture-vultures, who mean well in their heads. It helps question these people, who you may even be friends with!
THE FIRE NEXT TIME by James Baldwin
If you’ve been meaning to fall in love with James Baldwin, here you go. When I was in my novel-hating phase, I was obsessed with essays and autobiographies — so this was the perfect book for me. Fire is for everyone and anyone, at any and all phases of life, and will only be non-required reading once this whole race problem is sorted out. I read these essays a few years back, upon leaving my teens. They helped me grow into a person who realizes you do not need to (and cannot) solve everything alone. Look at your history, and at the people who came before you, in order to move forward.
PASSING by Nella Larsen
Passing is about the reunion of two childhood friends in Harlem in the 1920’s. Through their interest in each other’s lives we learn about “racial passing.” In the case of this book, one of the characters attempts to pass as white for her husband. A great book for everyone to learn more about the history of the mixed race experience in America.
SISTER OUTSIDER by Audre Lorde
Black lesbian poet and feminist Audre Lorde’s essays and speeches in Sister Outsider discuss sexism, racism, homophobia, and much more. An introduction to Lorde’s idea that social transformation must begin with individual change can be a non-overwhelming way for the individual to begin tackling oppressions of all sorts.
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Poetry lovers! Elizabeth Acevedo’s YA novel takes us on a journey of family tension and conflict through her verses. A great book for young people.
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