The best books about not quitting

Tania Aebi Author Of Maiden Voyage
By Tania Aebi

The Books I Picked & Why

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

By Candice Millard

Book cover of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

Why this book?

What Roosevelt and his party go through in this story of their expedition down an unexplored tributary of the Amazon is insane. Quitting isn’t an option, they have to go forward until they either make it, or don’t. And most of the original crew and all their expedition equipment don’t. Images of the vividly described characters arriving at yet another waterfall, or dangerous rapid, around which they have to portage increasingly fewer people and belongings, over near impenetrable and hostile jungle terrain, still gives me the willies. Pure distilled perseverance here—not a choice, but necessary for survival.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Wall

By Marlen Haushofer

Book cover of The Wall

Why this book?

Read during a jag of dystopian fiction, this one stuck with me. First published in Austria in 1963, it only got translated into English in 1990, which suits the story’s timelessness. For some reason, the world ends and traps a woman behind a glass wall. Not important why the world as she knows it is gone. It just is, and she has to keep living, and part of that means writing about it. Success will not know recognition, her words will not be read. Stripped of all need to answer to any other human or societal expectation, the story stretches through the seasons and years of her learning how to stay alive entirely on her own, with whatever she can find on her side of the wall. The slow and deliberate pacing of days accumulate hauntingly into years of unconditional perseverance.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Sailing Alone Around the World

By Joshua Slocum

Book cover of Sailing Alone Around the World

Why this book?

Of course, I’ve read lots of sailing books. It’s a genre, it’s my world, I’m a reader. So, I’ve chosen the proto solo sail, lived and written before anyone else had lived such an experience and written about it. Slocum took off at the end of the nineteenth century, when engines were replacing sails, and before sailing morphed into sport, leisure, and nomadic lifestyle.

The first person to sail around the world single-handedly, he did it on The Spray, a leaky old wooden boat he salvaged from a beach and restored himself, a journey in and of itself. Without a Panama or Suez Canal, around Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, making landfalls where nobody had ever seen a solo sailor, incomplete and inaccurate charts, engineless, no self-steering. Plenty of reason and opportunity to quit, but no. Instead, he launches 120 years of people heading off to sea. What an adventure, what a story! A classic.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Alchemist

By Paulo Coelho

Book cover of The Alchemist

Why this book?

This book has sold gadzillion copies. I read it when it first came out, and as experienced by many, it resonated as a beautiful parable about having to live life, follow dreams, and not give up, to come home on another turn of the screw and truly understand who we are is the treasure that lies within.

Many years later, I underwent a big voyage with my children that took a lot of perseverance to pull off successfully. Throughout, as the adventure unfolded, I kept reminding myself of how, until we’ve pushed past the doubts and fears and taken off down a new and potentially problematic path, we can never know how much the universe will conspire to help us along. I thought living this for myself had inspired the revelation and I wrote about it.

Then, recently rereading The Alchemist, I found this very sentiment in its pages, almost verbatim, something I’d internalized and held onto as a guiding inspiration before leaping into new unknowns. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Believing this is key to not quitting.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë

Book cover of Jane Eyre

Why this book?

This 19th century classic is the only book I’ve reread multiple times—other than children’s books with my boys. The first go was as a teenager, and about once a decade thereafter, always appreciated for its richness of detail and developed thought. The story is about principle, about Jane falling in love with Rochester, and finding out at the altar that he already has a wife, a madwoman living in the attic. She cannot be with a married man, regardless of the wife’s insanity, and Jane sacrifices love, security, comfort, and stumbles away from him, out into the world and the abyss of sorrow.

Her resolve is firm, and with time and hundreds of pages, she learns she has the strength to resurface. Her intellectual and physical horizons broaden and she gains a whole other life. Even though this is fiction, the core tenet for me is how Bronte’s Jane doesn’t quit or abandon integrity. When she is eventually returned to Rochester after he loses his wife, house and sight to a fire, the eponymous heroine’s moral compass remains intact.

Ultimately, the common thread that holds these five disparate books together is how they are each about people taking on and completing deliberate inner and outer journeys with conclusions that wouldn’t be possible without tenacity and perseverance. They all teach what it means to keep struggling, keep living, keep making mistakes, and keep learning from them by not quitting.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists