The Transformation Book Club


Can a book club change your life? 

In the last year, I made my own book club of one.

And yes, I think it did. 

It was a tough year. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say it was a year of major heartbreak, chronic health problems, questioning my whole career, a bit of a crisis of confidence, and it ultimately resulted in me moving cities and uprooting pretty much everything

For a while, though, I wanted to hide under the covers. 

But they say our toughest times are often our biggest teachers, and I didn’t want to miss the lessons the universe was offering. 

So I loaded up my Audible app and went to town on my commute to and from work.

I found some gems. This is some of my reading list that had the biggest impact for me in the relationships category — with myself, with others (or moving on from others).

I’ll try and give a rough sense of what the book is about, and I’ll tell you why it knocked my socks off or what I found to be especially amazing. “Transformation Book Club” will be a series of posts on life-changing books. Look for more this month in the category of work and career.

Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (Esther Perel)

One of the best therapists out there writing on relationships, Esther is a practicing couples’ therapist, and her areas of specialty are relationships, marriage, sex, and eroticism. I particularly like how she writes about the very practical challenges of maintaining desire in long-term relationships. I think many of us adopt a “set it and forget it” approach to this — and the reality is that it is hard work and takes intention and effort from both people. Extra credit: Esther has an amazing series (free if you have Audible) called “Where Should We Begin?”  that offers a brutally real look at relationship issues. Even if you’re not experiencing it, the couples and themes she selects hit some very universal experiences in relationships. I also highly recommend.

The Power of Vulnerability; Men, Women, & Worthiness (both recorded talks) and Rising Strong (Brené Brown)

Brené is the absolute best; I will beat the Brené drum for powerful personal development until I die! I think she ought to be required reading for anyone not living under a rock. Her research on vulnerability and shame illuminates powerful, powerful stuff that none of us gets to escape from — you can hide from it, or you can acknowledge it, learn about it, and have better a better relationships with yourself and others. The best part about Brené is that she has a tremendously funny, authentic voice. Listen to her speak (the on recorded talk options here) or her many talks on YouTube, and you will hear her “realness” and her tremendous gift for speaking. Brené teaches us that learning to be vulnerable is actually the bravest thing to do, and a requirement if we want to truly live whole-heartedly. Rising Strong is also exceptionally powerful for how it dissects the process of dealing with heartbreak, or any major blow in life where we feel “face down in the arena.”

Come As You Are (Emily Nagoski)

This is basically a masterclass on female sexuality. It runs the gamut from anatomy to desire to self-confidence. Not everyone may feel everything here is applicable, but I found some really helpful takeaways. So many of us assume that sex should just “work” great and are confounded or despair when it doesn’t. My biggest takeaway: rather than different levels of “sex drive,” we all have sexual “accelerators" and “brakes.” Figuring out what activates or deactivates yours and your partner’s is really important in figuring out a healthy sex life.

Why You’re Not Married Yet (Tracy McMillan)

Imagine a 70-something, married guy reading this on a cross country flight (that would be my dad). He then comes home and calls you and says, “I read a book I think you should read. It’s called Why You’re Not Married Yet.” Aaaaand… you spit out your coffee and laugh.

The thing is, once you can get past that title and the very Cosmo-esque, flip, funny style Tracy writes in, there is actually really good stuff here. Turns out it’s actually much more about your relationship with yourself than it is about husband-hunting. Included gems:

“The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when you feel they don’t necessarily deserve it. And loving is always spiritual in nature - because people are flawed and it’s hard to love flaws. You can count on the fact that, most of the time, your partner will not be doing what you want him to do. But because you are loving him anyway — because you have made up your mind to transform yourself into a person who is practicing being kind, deep, virtuous, truthful, giving, and, most of all, accepting of your own dear self — you’ll find that you experience the very thing you wanted all along: love.” 

Give & Take (Adam Grant)

Although Adam is an organization psychologist often writing about management & business, this book I found super applicable to relationships too. Although the book sets out to identify different types of people — givers, takers, and matchers — in a professional sphere, I found myself gaining insights into these ideas in my personal relationships as well. Helpful for reflecting on how you behave, how you want to behave, and how to navigate (or avoid) others and their behavior as it impacts your life.

The Book of Forgiving (Desmond Tutu)

Please, please get this on audio. Read by Desmond Tutu, his voice could not be more beautifully deep and powerfully calming to listen to. If you find yourself having difficulty getting over pain from past relationships — or forgiving yourself, perhaps the hardest of all — this is powerful stuff. He outlines four steps: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. Here’s where I found the real kicker: ultimately we do not forgive to be magnanimous toward others. We forgive to heal ourselves.

“I will forgive you. The words are so small, but there’s a universe hidden in them. When I forgive you, all those chords of pain and resentment and sadness that had wrapped themselves around my heart will be gone. When I forgive you, you will no longer define me. You measured me and assessed me and decided that you could hurt me, that I didn’t count; but I will forgive you. Because I do count, I do matter, I am bigger than the image you have of me, I am stronger, I am more beautiful, and I am infinitely more precious than you thought me. I will forgive you. My forgiveness is not a gift that am I giving to you. When I forgive you, my forgiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me.”

I know, I know what you’re thinking. “Those sound great! Aaaaand I’m never going to find the time to read them.”

My practical suggestion is that you find a task and time in your week when you are doing something repetitive and mindless, and you make it a habit of turning on your audiobook then. For me, it was my commute. If you don’t have a commute, maybe it’s an hour doing laundry on the weekend. Or while you’re cooking. Doesn’t really matter, you just want to get in the habit. Turn off the TV and the radio and do some good self-help (although I hate that term!) books instead. Putting in the work can be truly life-changing.

I would love to hear what you have read in the “relationships” category that has benefitted you. Join the conversation here. 


{Heads up, if you use my links here to read these wonderful things, which I would whole-heartedly recommend regardless, Amazon throws a few pennies my way. It's called affiliate marketing, and it's a way bloggers like myself can turn their writing into a job. If you do that -- thanks. If you'd rather just head to Amazon and buy the regular way, no offense taken. Here's the fine print Amazon needs you to read: “We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.” }