The best books on self-perception

7 authors have picked their favorite books about self-perception and why they recommend each book.

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Painting the Black

By Carl Deuker,

Book cover of Painting the Black

There was no way that I could ever put a book list together and NOT recommend one of Carl Deuker’s books. This book is aimed at the Young Adult crowd, but I first read it as an adult because Carl was my favorite author as a kid and I also happen to teach students in the YA crowd. 

Carl is the master of weaving complex societal issues and internal conflicts into plots that revolve around athletics. In Painting the Black he does just that as the main character, Ryan Ward, is faced with a choice that I am sure many readers can relate to.

Whether you are looking for a quick and poignant read, or you have a YA student at home who loves sports, Painting the Black is a must-read. 

Who am I?

Before he became a bestselling author with his debut novel, Before We Ever Spoke, Dan Largent spent the better part of two decades as a high school baseball coach. In 2010, he guided Olmsted Falls High School to its first-ever State Final Four and was subsequently named Greater Cleveland Division I Coach of the Year. Dan stepped away from his duties as a baseball coach in 2017 to spend more time with his wife, April, and their three children Brooke, Grace, and Luke. He has, however, remained close to the game he loves by turning doubles into singles as a member of Cleveland’s finest 35 and over baseball league.

I wrote...

Before We Ever Spoke: A Novel

By Dan Largent,

Book cover of Before We Ever Spoke: A Novel

What is my book about?

Cleveland, Ohio. 2006. After a chance encounter, three people soon find out that life can sometimes thrust us into the public eye - even when taking great measures to avoid it. Cooper Madison was the best pitcher in baseball after being drafted number one overall in 1996 from the small Gulf Coast town of Pass Christian, Mississippi. One year after announcing his sudden and shocking retirement, he finds himself seeking anonymity in Cleveland, Ohio. Cara Knox is the youngest sibling to three older brothers. After a tragic work accident to her closest relative, she has built up a tough exterior as she begins her final year of college at Cleveland State University. Jason Knox, Cara's oldest brother, is the lead detective on Cleveland's Edgewater Park Killer case. After months without a suspect, he is feeling the heat from his media-hungry chief. Serendipity intervenes, and all three learn that perception and reality are paths that rarely ever intersect.

The Body Image Book for Girls

By Charlotte Markey,

Book cover of The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless

There’s been a lot of research on how girls fall prey to diet culture, lose their self-confidence, disappear into disordered eating/eating disorders/low self-esteem at puberty. A lot of that is triggered by living in a culture that’s so messed up around food, eating, and body image. So I’m always looking for tools to give girls to help them navigate that treacherous time, and this is one of the books I like to recommend.

Who am I?

I’ve been reporting on and writing about food, eating, health, and body image for the last 25 years. So much of what we’re taught about those issues, it turns out, is wrong, inaccurate, and often damaging. I’ve made a point of uncovering the truth in those areas and to write about it in ways that help other people through this difficult terrain. My writing philosophy can be summed up in six words: I write so I’m not alone. And, I would add, so you’re not alone, either.

I wrote...

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

By Harriet Brown,

Book cover of Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

What is my book about?

Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, "fat" has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, "I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat." How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is "fat"? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

Body of Truth systematically unpacks what’s been offered about ‘truth’ about weight and health.

Strangers to Ourselves

By Timothy D. Wilson,

Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

This book isn't about politics per se. But in summing up the social science literature about the way our brain works, Timothy Wilson helps us understand why voters often seem to act so irrationally. It's because, as Jonathan Haidt would agree, we are largely unaware of what drives our decisions. In a phrase, we are “strangers to ourselves.” To take one example. We privilege the knowledge we already possess. This has the effect of us discounting new information that seems in conflict with what we already feel we know. You can see how politicians play on this keen insight. They try never to convince us of anything we don't already believe. And now you know, dear reader, why politicians often seem afraid to lead.

Wilson usually doesn't explicitly address how the insights he shares can help us understand political behavior, but the reader will easily make the connections on their…

Who am I?

Rick Shenkman is a New York Times bestselling author, historian, and journalist who, after reading and writing history books for 40 years, decided to spend the past decade discovering what social scientists have to say. To his great joy, he learned that since he had last studied their work in college they had come to a vast new understanding of human political behavior. He now uses their insights into political psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and genetics to help explain our fucked up politics.

I wrote...

Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

By Rick Shenkman,

Book cover of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

What is my book about?

My book begins with a question: Why are we so bad at politics? The answer turns out to be that we evolved to thrive in a world vastly different from the one in which we find ourselves. Our gut instincts, designed to help us cope with a community of about 150 people, fail us repeatedly and nearly completely when facing the challenges of a society composed of millions. This is why we elect morons, are taken in by nonsense, and are susceptible to conspiracy thinking.

I wrote my book before Donald Trump was elected. But a Washington Post reviewer wrote that my book explained Trump's election better than others that focused on Trump. We don't have a Donald Trump problem. We have a human being problem.


By Milan Kundera,

Book cover of Immortality

If you were to read one of Kundera’s novels, let it be this, Immortality! It’s the last of a trilogy (that includes The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being), and Kundera’s masterful attempt to answer questions such as: What’s the meaning of life? And is immortality so unbearable as our brief existence?

Its plot is Kunderian, light, and poetical. The story initiates from a simple gesture by Agnes, one of the protagonists, but as it progresses the reader begins to feel the heaviness of mortality and the endless challenges of love. It’s a beautiful discussion on the nature of one’s legacy, and how one changes (or not) through the passage of time, and unfortunately can’t do much about it.

Who am I?

In the small Greek village I grew up in, my father read poetry to me when I was too young to understand any of it, and likely because of this I was pulled to the sound of the words and to reading anything that came my way. In high school, I fell in love with Plato’s writings, and later, as an undergraduate, philosophy saved me from my official major: economics. I continued in my Psychology Master’s, with Paul Kline’s “exceptional abilities” course, a philosophy class about consciousness. I read tons of books and I am enticed by writers who search for life’s questions and self-awareness.

I wrote...

Life is Big: For Life’s sake, Death has to meet, Alma-Jane, the happiest girl alive!

By Kiki Denis,

Book cover of Life is Big: For Life’s sake, Death has to meet, Alma-Jane, the happiest girl alive!

What is my book about?

Alma-Jane, an impossibly curious 11-year-old girl and the most genetically happy person alive, is about to die due to a rare mutation. Ayrton, Alma-Jane’s older brother, and a math prodigy, declares war against Death, “the destroyer of Life,” and then suddenly takes off to Oxford, UK, to examine Albert Einstein’s brain. Meanwhile, Death and his younger brother are overworked and in desperate need of a short vacation.

At the heart of all this, a motley crew of “Minor & Major Immortals” mingle: Socrates, Alma-Jane’s dead grandfather. Dr. Harvey, a neuroscientist who conducts research on “Pure Mighties,” lab engineered mice that lack a fear gene. And, finally, ΩNING, a 7-year-old humanoid who loves playing the piano. What connects all these characters is the belief that “wise-thinking” leads to a longer and happier future, and that it’s the only way to guarantee a “Life bigger than Death.”

Mirror in the Sky

By Aditi Khorana,

Book cover of Mirror in the Sky

Mirror in the Sky is about what happens to a girl who’s just trying to navigate through high school and family situations when a planet incredibly similar to Earth is discovered–and news spreads that people may have doubles on the new planet, called Terra Nova. (The main character’s name is Tara, so there’s a play on words, and a riff on the theme, here.) Mirror in the Sky is more about reactions on Earth to news of the new planet and less a sci-fi adventure.

Readers wanting hard sci-fi–tentacled aliens with ray guns–may be disappointed, but readers who want a contemporary with another world as a backdrop might take a look.

Who am I?

I’m a history instructor and often think about alternate historical outcomes, but you don’t get to choose those. Wish the Spanish Armada hadn’t sunk? Tough luck. But you can take a novel in any direction—kill a character, bring them back, let them fall in love, make them eat an egg salad sandwich… When the book itself is about parallel worlds, it increases those possibilities exponentially. In What Goes Up, Rosa and Eddie have very different backgrounds—Earth is two different worlds for them. What happens when there’s another world out there and they meet themselves in a different place? As one character asks, how much do you trust yourself?

I wrote...

What Goes Up

By Katie Kennedy,

Book cover of What Goes Up

What is my book about?

Rosa and Eddie are among hundreds of teens applying to NASA's mysterious Interworlds Agency. They're not exactly sure what the top-secret program entails, but they know they want in. Rosa has her brilliant parents' legacies to live up to, and Eddie has nowhere else to gohe's certainly not going to stick around and wait for his violent father to get out of jail. Even if they are selected, they have no idea what lies in store. But first, they have to make it through round after round of crazy-competitive testing.

And then something happens that even NASA's scientists couldn't predict...

Parenting from the Inside Out

By Daniel J. Siegel, Mary Hartzell,

Book cover of Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive

Siegel is a child psychiatrist who deeply understands the importance of attachment theory and neurobiology. This book, written with child development specialist and parent educator Hartzell, invites parents to deeply examine their own childhood experiences and how they have shaped us. It provides clear exercises for making sense of our past in an effort to provide the best, emotionally, for our children. As a therapist, I believe there is no greater gift to ourselves and our children than working towards our own healing, which helps prevent the transmission of “generational trauma” to our children. This book also focuses on the importance of “repair” after there have been ruptures in the relationship with our children. This in itself is invaluable.

Who am I?

As a trained therapist, educator, and coach for expectant and new parents, I understand on a deep level the importance of creating a strong foundation in building a family. I also was personally humbled at how difficult the transition to parenthood was for me and the challenges it presented in my relationship with my husband. While we’ve grown exponentially, I wanted to make it a little easier for other expectant parents to avoid some of the pitfalls that aren’t spoken about as much in becoming parents. I also wanted to help the new little beings arriving in the world to have more resourced, present parents. It’s a win-win.

I wrote...

Preparing for Parenthood: 55 Essential Conversations for Couples Becoming Families

By Stephanie Dueger,

Book cover of Preparing for Parenthood: 55 Essential Conversations for Couples Becoming Families

What is my book about?

Couples often spend surprisingly little time getting ready for this huge rite of passage. The first of its kind, this interactive book provides couples with essential conversation-starters and action items to complete before becoming parents. In Preparing for Parenthood, you’ll discover how to transition to parenting in ways that align with your own beliefs and values by: learning the biggest concerns couples face when becoming new parents and how to discuss them; finding your unique strengths as a couple, and addressing challenges as you embark on this journey; and developing greater confidence as parents so you can feel more relaxed and prepared.

This small and indispensable book will help you alleviate stress and answer some of the biggest questions you’ll want to address before your baby arrives.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

By Carolyn Mackler,

Book cover of The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

This book was one of the first I read that featured a main character who looked like me. I love the humor, honesty, and insight of Virginia, which is perfectly captured in the diary format of the writing. And the book takes a hard but hopeful look at the ideas of perfection and expectations and all the ways we are flawed, but also worthy of love.

Who am I?

I have always felt like a bit of a misfit. I was taller, bigger, and clumsier than the other kids. I listened to the wrong music, wore the wrong clothes, and read the wrong books. I wasn’t cool. And when I became a high school teacher, I saw many kids, especially young women, who I could see felt the same. When Young Adult literature came into its own, I really loved all the wonderful ways YA stories were telling the stories of the kids who didn’t fit in, and it made me want to read them, and eventually write one of my own.

I wrote...

You And Me And Him

By Kris Dinnison,

Book cover of You And Me And Him

What is my book about?

Maggie and Nash are outsiders. She’s overweight. He’s out of the closet. The best of friends, they have seen each other through thick and thin, but when Tom moves to town at the start of the school year, they have something unexpected in common: a crush on the same guy. But what if getting the guy means losing your soulmate? This warm, witty novel—with a clear, true voice and a clever soundtrack of musical references—sings a song of love and forgiveness.

The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

By Kody Keplinger,

Book cover of The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend)

Two words: Wesley Rush. I’m a sucker for a bad boy with charisma. And Bianca—my girl!—definitely gives Wesley a run for his money. I love her feistiness. Wesley dubs Bianca the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” which is a huge no-no, but somehow he and Bianca began a steamy enemies with benefits fling and I lived for it. Naturally, their walls began to come down the closer they got, and there’s a line in the book (I will not spoil it) that took my breath away and made me fall completely in love with Wesley. Skip the movie, read the book! I loved Keplinger’s authentic uncensored teen voice in this. It made me a fan.

Who am I?

I’ve been reading ever since kindergarten, and when I entered high school and discovered YA books, I found my home. Even when I read adult books now, I tend to gravitate towards rough-around-the-edges male leads. There’s just something fun and tempting about an anti-hero, bad boy, or morally gray male lead that always delivers spice and yearning. I’m a sucker for those bad boys who are only good for the girl who has their heart. While not all of my male leads are “bad boys,” naturally, I do tend to find myself writing quite a few of them and enjoying them, especially when you can show they’re multidimensional and have a soft side. 

I wrote...

The Right Side of Reckless

By Whitney D. Grandison,

Book cover of The Right Side of Reckless

What is my book about?

Guillermo Lozano is getting a fresh start. New town, new school, and no more reckless behavior. He’s done his time, and now he needs to right his wrongs. But when his work at the local community center throws him in the path of the one girl who is off-limits, friendship sparks…and maybe more.

Regan London needs a fresh perspective. The pressure to stay in her “perfect” relationship and be the good girl all the time has worn her down. But when the walls start to cave in and she finds unexpected understanding from the boy her parents warned her about, she can’t stay away.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

By Mary E. Pearson,

Book cover of The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Jenna Fox wakes from a year-long coma after a terrible accident and tries to figure out who she is now. This is a book with futuristic medicine and technology, but the feelings and emotions are universal. Jenna’s struggle to find out the truth about her past, and her place in the present make this one of my very favorite books, which I’ve read and reread many times.

Who am I?

I went into foster care at nine months old, was adopted three years later, and as an adult I was reunited with five siblings I never knew I had. I’ve spent my whole life wondering or searching for the truths about my past. 

I wrote...

The Name She Gave Me

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Name She Gave Me

What is my book about?

Rynn was born with a hole in her heart—literally. Although it was fixed long ago, she still feels an emptiness there when she wonders about her birth family. As her relationship with her adoptive mother fractures, Rynn finally decides she needs to know more about the rest of her family. Her search starts with a name, the only thing she has from her birth mother, and she quickly learns that she has a younger sister living in foster care in a nearby town. But if Rynn reconnects with her biological sister, it may drive her adoptive family apart for good.

This powerful story uncovers both beautiful and heartbreaking truths and explores how challenging, yet healing, family can be.

An Abundance of Katherines

By John Green,

Book cover of An Abundance of Katherines

I was hooked after the first sentence. The story starts with Colin, the main character, having just been dumped for the 19th time by a girl named Katherine, because he only dates girls with that name. To me, the premise is so funny, and so are Colin’s explanations of each relationship. As Colin embarks on a road trip with his best friend, he hilariously recounts his time with each Katherine, referring to them by their numbers such as Katherine V, Katherine X, and the most current, Katherine XIX, who he hopes will be different. But come on Colin, haven’t the first 18 Katherines taught you anything? I love that Colin is such an oddly adorable insecure teen. I loved following him through this story as he learns a little more about life and a lot more about love.

Who am I?

I love to laugh! Laughter is a universal sort of magic that helps us connect with others, build rapport and trust, reduce stress, and overlook differences. It’s hard to be mad at someone you’re laughing with. How do I know so much about humor? Because I wrote the book on it. Literally. My debut book, The Joke Machine, teaches middle graders how to create a funny line. I wrote it after researching humor for years, analyzing jokes, and trying to figure out why each one made me laugh. I found patterns and my joke-making philosophy was born! Since then, I’ve been reading funny books, writing funny books, and best of all, laughing at funny lines.

I wrote...

Calling Dibs, Jinx, Shotgun and Other Things No One Knows the Rules To: Funny Try-Not-to-Laugh Challenges for the Whole Family!

By Theresa Julian, Kim Griffin (illustrator),

Book cover of Calling Dibs, Jinx, Shotgun and Other Things No One Knows the Rules To: Funny Try-Not-to-Laugh Challenges for the Whole Family!

What is my book about?

Who gets dibs on the last slice of pizza? Who's "it" when two people call "not it" at the same time?

Stop wondering and start learning the rules to these and other *must know* things in life like: Frontsies; Saving Seats; Rock Paper Scissors; Crossing Your Fingers. This tween book lays out the rules for the everyday stuff no one knows the rules to in an attempt to restore peace in family rooms across the globe. It includes try-not-to-laugh challenges in each section. This very funny book is great for road trips, family time away from screens, and fun kid and teen parties. It encourages creativity and helps kids learn through play by using their imagination. No matter how you use this book, it's hours of ready-to-go fun!

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