An unusual booklist on connection and belonging

What do you think of when you hear “connection and belonging”?

For me, the first name that comes to mind is Brené Brown. Her work on shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy has changed so many lives, mine included.

If you haven’t watched her famous TED Talk on the power of vulnerability or read her books on leadership, embracing our imperfections, and rising after we fall — she lays out a beautiful path for connection and belonging.

But I wanted to go outside the box and explore more unconventional ideas of what connection could mean.

From therapy to urban planning, from sacred Indigenous beliefs about the natural world to performance art, there are so many ways we can feel connected to ourselves and the world around us.

Explore the booklist below to find new ways to think about connection and belonging!

1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

We’re all having more conversations about mental health and therapy, and Lori Gottlieb is one of the best-known psychotherapists out there. What makes this book even more interesting is that it talks about her relationship with HER therapist, proving that there’s always more to learn and untangle about ourselves.

Sometimes, the best way to invest in our relationships is to take the time to understand ourselves. What we want, what we need, the stories we tell ourselves, the patterns we keep playing out. The more we can understand and accept ourselves as we are, the more we can do that for the people around us. And that’s where connection comes from.

This book is for anyone who’s curious about therapy and getting to know their own internal world, stories, and patterns. Lori Gottlieb covers the territory with a lot of heart, humour, and experience.

“The second people felt alone, I noticed, usually in the space between things — leaving a therapy session, at a red light, standing in a checkout line, riding the elevator — they picked up devices and ran away from that feeling. In a state of perpetual distraction, they seemed to be losing the ability to be with others and losing their ability to be with themselves.”

Lori Gottlieb

2. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs is a pioneer in urban planning. She shaped the way we think about what a thriving community looks like, and what it takes to build one. This book is a classic from 1961, and it’s arguably still the most influential book on urban planning and cities.

In it, Jane Jacobs writes about what constitutes a neighbourhood, the role downtown plays in cities, and the dangers of too little diversity. She celebrates mixed-used neighbourhoods that crowd people and activities together as the backbone of where communities can actually thrive.

This book is for anyone who wants to know why we feel the way we do in different neighbourhoods and cities, and how the way a city is built can shape our lives.

“Our difficulty is no longer how to contain people densely in metropolitan areas and avoid the ravages of disease, bad sanitation and child labor. To go on thinking in these terms is anachronistic. Our difficulty today is rather how to contain people in metropolitan areas and avoid the ravages of apathetic and helpless neighborhoods.”

— Jane Jacobs

3. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

We belong to the cities we live in, yes, but also to our natural environment. To the animals, plants, and the changing seasons. In this book, Robin Wall Kimmerer, an Indigenous botanist, brings together scientific knowledge and Indigenous wisdom to look at our relationship with the living world.

Using those two lenses, she paints a moving vision for restoring our reciprocal relationship with the living things around us, a way we’ve largely forgotten. A way to notice and accept the gifts the natural world gives us, and to make use of ours in return.

A beautiful blend of science and storytelling, this book is for anyone who wants to feel a stronger sense of belonging to the natural world all around us.

“Each person, human or no, is bound to every other in a reciprocal relationship. Just as all beings have a duty to me, I have a duty to them. If an animal gives its life to feed me, I am in turn bound to support its life. If I receive a stream’s gift of pure water, then I am responsible for returning a gift in kind. An integral part of a human’s education is to know those duties and how to perform them.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer

4. Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

This is a memoir by “the grandmother of performance art”. Marina Abramović’s work focuses on the relationship between the performer and the audience, the physical limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind.

This book outlines her thoughts on the relationship between the artist and the audience. How we can provoke reactions in each other, and the often brutal and violent ways she’d experiment with that connection. It explores her growth as an artist, a woman, and a partner, and how her work came to be.

This book is for anyone who wants to know how art can connect people in both brief moments and permanent ways.

“Human beings are afraid of very simple things: we fear suffering, we fear mortality. What I was doing in Rhythm 0 — as in all my other performances — was staging these fears for the audience: using their energy to push my body as far as possible. In the process, I liberated myself from my fears. And as this happened, I became a mirror for the audience — if I could do it, they could do it, too.”

Marina Abramović

5. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Cheryl Strayed

Sometimes, before we can feel connection, we need to feel cracked open. We need to let other people’s stories beneath our walls. We do that by understanding their fears, their hopes, the questions they grapple with — by allowing them to be as human as we are.

And there’s nothing quite like the compassion and open-heartedness Cheryl Strayed, national advice columnist and author of Wild, brings to the people who write in to make you feel exactly that.

From dealing with the loss of an abusive parent to deciding whether or not to have children, from the uncertainty of who you’ll become to figuring out what not to do with your life — each story is a bridge of connection to the secret lives of everyone around you.

This book is for anyone who wants to see the vulnerable side of other people, to see struggle and kindness and feel like they’re not alone.

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

Cheryl Strayed

What’s next?

  1. Subscribe to the Good People newsletter. We write every week about how you can meet new people, deepen your friendships and build the community that lets you live your best life. Think of it as a DIY toolkit for connection and belonging 😉
  2. Share this article with one friend. Who loves good books as much as you do? Send it to that friend and pick a book to read together. Think of it like a mini book club with twice the tears, laughs, and learning.

Other recommended reading:

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

Finding better ways to bring people together. Co-founder at Good People ✨ wearegoodpeople.co.