Back-to-School Reading for Grownups: A Curriculum for Personal Growth and Happier Living, From the Boardroom to the Kitchen

Today’s post is by Musing founding editor Mary Laura Philpott.

Ah, remember how life used to give you a fresh slate at the end of every summer? Back-to-school season offers students everywhere an opportunity to reinvent themselves, stretch their comfort zones, and learn new things. Don’t adults deserve that chance, too? After all, everyone’s still growing, on the inside at least. On that note, here are a few books with fascinating, timely lessons to impart. Consider them required textbooks for your own personal 2019-2020 school year, even if you’re decades removed from the days of backpacks and No. 2 pencils.

Get to reading, and discover ideas that can change how you live:

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy Cover ImageHow to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

If it’s time to renegotiate the terms of your love-hate relationship with social media, this is the book for you. Written in Odell’s approachable voice, thoroughly researched, and packed with both pop-culture references and scholarly sources, How to Do Nothing reads like a text from a college course with your favorite cool professor. She argues that where you spend your attention — on your phone screen, in a rose garden, face-to-face with a friend — determines how you experience the world. Enroll yourself in Odell’s approach to life and enjoy your rising levels of contentment, creativity, and calm.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle Cover ImageBurnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Speaking of calm: Make this the year you get a handle on stress. This collaboration by sisters Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski was Cat’s staff pick earlier this year. You’ll find it on our shelves with Cat’s shelf-talker, which reads, “We all get stressed, but most of us don’t know how to manage our stress in a healthy way… If you are a woman at any stage of life, you need this book. It’s wonderfully conversational and also full of applicable and eye-opening solutions.” It’s a conversational, fun read you’ll want to discuss with your friends.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters Cover ImageThe Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

Hate wasting time? Whether you’re part of a corporate environment, a social committee, or a small business or nonprofit, you need this book. Parker explains the essential questions you must ask before scheduling a get-together, as well as how to structure delightful, engaging gatherings from board retreats to lunch meetings to birthday parties. Make it a required read at work, and watch as the productivity and effectiveness of meetings skyrocket. Never fall asleep at a conference table again!

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do Cover ImageBiased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do

Are you biased in how you interact with others? Are you sure? Even when we intend to treat all people equally, ingrained stereotypes may be affecting our attitudes and actions without our even realizing it. A psychology professor at Stanford, Eberhardt consults with companies and law enforcement professionals to apply what she has learned in her extensive research into the subtle, implicit biases that affect everything from our social lives to our business interactions and courtroom decisions. Read this eye-opening book, look at the human beings around you in a new way, and make yourself part of a movement toward a more peaceful, fair, and empowering world.

The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World Cover ImageThe Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World

For everyone with a sense of constant, low-level dread about climate change, this book will help you wrap your mind around — and maybe even get excited about? — what lies ahead. With the world’s population exploding, crop production dropping, and water supplies in jeopardy, we can no longer ignore the question of how human beings will feed themselves in this century and beyond. To find the answers, Vanderbilt journalism professor Amanda Little traveled the world and turned years of reporting on energy, environment, and technology into a book that’s fascinating, surprising, even oddly comforting. After all, when you know what the future looks like, you can make choices accordingly. Listen to Little discuss soil-free farming, 3D food printers, and more with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air here.

While we’re on the subject of food, here’s a quartet of cookbooks for broadening your culinary horizons. Add them to your kitchen and make this the year you embark on your own Cooking Adventures 101 course:

Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family Cover ImageIndian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family

Named one of the best cookbooks of the season by The New York Times, Eater, and Bon Appétit when it came out earlier this year, Krishna’s collection of recipes and entertaining anecdotes is a tribute to her mother’s unique style of cooking — a hybrid of Indian and American dishes that are easy to make and appealing to all ages. (Get a feel for the dishes in “What a Cookbook Author Actually Eats for Dinner.”)

Tu Casa Mi Casa: Mexican Recipes for the Home Cook Cover ImageTu Casa Mi Casa: Mexican Recipes for the Home Cook

By Enrique Olvera

Sure, you could blow your budget going out for Mexican once a week. Or you could learn to make 100 essential Mexican dishes on your own from Enrique Olvera, the celebrated chef who runs restaurants in both Mexico City and New York. (He’s also featured in the Netflix docuseries Chef’s Table.) Epicurious, Food & Wine, and Grub Street praised this beautiful, practical guide, and you’ll be thrilled by the flavors it brings to your nightly meals.

Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors: A Cookbook Cover ImageVietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors: A Cookbook

Nguyen’s books have been recognized by the James Beard Foundation, International Association of Culinary Professionals, and National Public Radio — not to mention home chefs across America and beyond. In her newest book, she helps readers who may not have access to specialty grocers create authentic Viet food using ingredients found in most major supermarkets. Nothing here is too complicated or intimidating, which means before you know it, you’ll have new favorites to add to your regular rotation.

Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration Cover ImageCarla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

We at Parnassus have always been big fans of Carla Hall (she’s the nicest), and we’re not alone. The celebrity chef from The Chew and Top Chef has gained a following for sharing her knowledge with genuine, contagious enthusiasm. Here, she offers up dishes from her childhood in Nashville as well as contemporary spins on traditional fare. In the process of learning how to make Hall’s signature recipes, you’ll also learn about the true history of soul food, from Africa and the Caribbean to the American South.

What have YOU learned lately from a book? We’d love to know! Chime in on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share your back-to-school reading choices.