When we need a major dose of inspiration, career tips, or life advice, there's one place we always turn: books. These humble tomes seem to cure our inner struggles, fuel our inner fire, and open our eyes to change at the flip of every page. They're a therapist in our hand and our go-to for answering the questions we have on our personal and professional journeys.
When we're not reading a book (which is very rare), we're hunting down in-depth interviews and tips from female leaders. From how they hustled their way to the top to their morning and evening routines—and for the record, they never do this in the a.m.—we all want to know what drives their career cogs. So we decided to bring our two favorite things together and ask 12 of our favorite successful women to share the books that changed their lives in 2016. Get ready to fill your Amazon cart.
Emily Weiss, Founder and CEO of Glossier and Into the Gloss
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
"Shoe Dog is Phil Knight's memoir—he's the founder of Nike. I initially thought it would be about how he built Nike from a business perspective, but it's actually more focused on the early days. The way he tells his story is so matter-of-fact and just very straightforward. It was shocking for me to see how many speed bumps he encountered on the way. But what I loved most about it was how he just didn't ever stop. His tenacity and unwillingness to fail are what drove the company forward over every hurdle.
It was inspiring, as a founder, to read about a guy who started selling Japanese shoes out of his car and ended up building one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the world."
Whitney Wolfe, CEO of Bumble
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
"It's a thrilling book about an Australian prison escapee who flees to India. What feels like the end of his life is really just the beginning. He is thrust into the hustle and bustle of India and takes a wild journey through the caste system. You feel just as attached to the people who live in the borders of the slums as the sophisticated elite, which is a rare feat in literature.
"This book impacted me because it illustrates humanity in its truest form. At the end of the day, everyone has struggles and dreams, and no matter how humanity is separated—whether by geography, wealth (or lack thereof) or societal norms—we are all made of the same fiber. This book shows you that no matter how hard life might seem, there is always another adventure and opportunity to expand your horizon if you are brave enough to hunt it down.
"When I reread it this year, I realized that a lot of my marketing ideas stemmed from this read. Shantaram's lesson is to never overlook anyone, even if you feel you have nothing in common. You should listen to your taxi driver as much as you listen to your teacher and constantly seek stories that put yourself in others' shoes. Every single human lives within their own world that matters to them. At Bumble, it has aided in our perspective in how we approach, listen to, and delight our users and has added an element of sociological thinking."
Hillary Kerr, Co-Founder and Chief Ideation Officer of Clique Media Group
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
"Reading is my favorite sport, so when I tell you I go through loads of books in a year, I'm not exaggerating. Of all the many amazing stories I read in 2016, Sweetbitter is unquestionably at the top of my list. This book is centered around the 22-year-old Tess, who has just moved to New York and starts working as a glorified busboy in a very exclusive Manhattan restaurant.
"On the surface, it could be your typical sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll story—which I'm not knocking, for the record—but this one is layered with enough oysters, champagne, and serious heartbreak to make it even more interesting.
But that said, a confession: The book is set in my old neighborhood during the time I lived in New York, so I'm a bit biased, but I still think you'll love it, even if you don't have the same nostalgia factor."
Emily Henderson, Founder of Emily Henderson Design
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
"Man, I was searching for some answers before the election, and this book really helped enlighten me and brought me outside of my bubble into the middle of the country. J.D. Vance has experience and a viewpoint that is unique, with the articulation needed to really explain a very large group of Americans in the Rust Belt."
Jen Rubio and Stephanie Korey, Co-Founders of Away
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
"Commonwealth tells the story of six stepsiblings growing up in Virginia and California. The novel (which spans 50 years) is somehow both restrained and dramatic, but it's the writing that stuck with me. I actually get the most inspiration from other creatives who are working far outside of my field." — Jen Rubio
Originals by Adam Grant
"Fortunately, running a startup allows for (in fact, requires) a lot of nonconformist thinking. But there was lots of new inspiration to be found in Adam Grant's book on original thinking—and cultivating original thinking in the workplace. I especially appreciated the part where he claims that procrastination encourages originality!" — Stephanie Korey
Jen Atkin, Celebrity Hairstylist and Creator of Ouai Haircare
The Career Code by Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power
"This book is such an inspiration for any go-getter. There are amazing career advice and personal stories that will jump-start and motivate every #girlboss in the making!"
Lily Kanter, Co-Founder of Serena & Lily
Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
"This is a book about love, hope, inspiration, and how two people can make a major difference in the world. It's my top pick because I love autobiographies of people who write about the discovery of their purpose. It's the type of read you can't put down; I believe I read it in just two days. It's a beautiful love story of a young college woman from Denver who falls in love with a man from the Kibera slum in Kenya. The book is all about how you can achieve anything you set your mind to, about people devoting their life to their purpose, and how one person can have a serious impact on the world and change lives."
Melanie Chandra, Actress
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
"Most of us are familiar with the story of The Alchemist—a young shepherd boy who journeys to Egypt to pursue a dream of finding treasure there. I first read this book as a child, but it is even more impactful to have read it this year as a grown-up. Primarily it serves a reminder that we should continue to dream. Dreams, with persistence and hard work, are what got many of us to where we are today, and we must never forget that. I love this excerpt: 'When you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire so that your wish comes true.' If anything, the book is fundamentally magical and will reignite your inner child, at any age."
Vanessa Stofenmacher, Founder and Creative Director of Vrai & Oro
The Tao of Wu by The RZA
"My favorite book of 2016 is The Tao of Wu. It's the autobiography of RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, and it follows his spiritual journey from the projects to fame. It's a moving and impactful book because it proves that we're not prisoners of our circumstances. A reminder that real success (not the monetary kind) comes from shifting your mind-set and turning struggles and failures into opportunities."
Janessa Leone, Founder of Janessa Leone
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
"In a novel filled with supernatural complexities, you are left questioning life and its purpose. Murakami proposes that through birth we are born with certain fates that have to be fulfilled, but through existence, we decide the meaning of the journey to those predestined fates. Although I don't identify or even agree with the philosophy, this book is so well-written and deeply compelling that I found it hard not to become engrossed after a few pages."
Sara Panton, Co-Founder and CEO of Vitruvi
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
"This book has been on my bookshelf for years since my parents practically raised my brother and I with its underlying principles. Of all the books I have read (and I am an avid reader), none have influenced my personal and professional life as much as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I reread the book again this year and was reminded of how incredibly inspiring it is. It's an easily digestible read with so many lessons on how to live a life based on fairness, integrity, honesty, and dignity.
"The book outlines nine habits or 'practices' that are split into two themes: independence and interdependence. This in itself is a huge lesson because it helps to create a dialogue and method of working in a team and about the importance of one-on-one relationships. The second, third, and fourth habits are perhaps the ones I use on a daily basis.
"The second habit, 'Begin with the end in mind,' is how I like to start our team meeting each day. So I kick it off with the 'first things first' method in order to prioritize and accomplish only what is truly important and relevant to our company goals. The fourth habit, 'Think win, win,' is how I look at all business and personal interactions in that it's much better for all of us to land on a better foot than for just one person while others do not. It's a brilliant read and a great way to set new goals and for creating personal and professional relationships in the New Year."
Joanna Vargas, Celebrity Facialist and Founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection
The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen
"I just finished reading The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen. He was an amazing artist in every sense of the word. I love how he can paint a picture in your mind complete with the deep emotions you feel when you listen to his music."
Do you have a favorite book of 2016? What read changed your life?