5 Inspiring Reads for the Start of the New Year

The new year is the perfect time to start over, to let go of whatever went wrong in the previous year and look ahead to the possibility of something better. 

In reality, though, this isn’t as easy as it seems. It can be difficult to move beyond any disappointment, pain, or major changes from the past year.

It can also be hard to make meaningful change that lasts beyond just the start of the year. Often, New Year’s resolutions fail or seem hollow if they aren’t rooted in something that really matters to you. 

That’s where stories and poetry come in. If you’re in need of some solid inspiration—nothing shallow—turn to the texts that can help you feel ready to embrace what the new year brings. Let’s look at five stories and poems to help encourage resilience and hope in the new year.

1.) the sun and her flowers

Author: Rupi Kaur

Genre: Poetry

Similar to: Other contemporary poetry collections by young women, such as Wild Embers by Nikita Gill, Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav, and The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace.

Within five distinct sections—wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming—this poetry collection employs a metaphor of a flower that seems to die in winter but regrows come spring to explore themes of loss, depression, emigration, family, self-love, and healing. The poems are short and pared-down, which makes their impact stronger. They’re full of simple but profound statements, both wise and commonsense. Some poems are painful, exploring the hurts and shame we’d rather forget but can learn from. Other poems build on that pain to show how resilience can grow from difficult experiences. The revelations are both universal and intimate, and there’s something for everyone to relate to and draw strength from.

2.) A Wizard of Earthsea

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

Genre: Fantasy

Similar to: Works by other barrier-breaking speculative fiction writers such as Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood.

Continuing with powerful metaphors, this novel, the first in a series, is an intimate exploration of the self through the story of a young wizard named Ged discovering his power—and the consequences of using that power. After formative experiences learning magic from his aunt and from the wizard Ogion, Ged joins a school for wizards to further develop his craft. His pride and ambition get the best of him, though, and he ends up unleashing a dark and powerful shadow spirit into the world. As the shadow haunts Ged wherever he goes, he comes to realize that his best chance might be facing the shadow instead of running from it. 

The novel is both a traditional bildungsroman—a coming-of-age story—and a subversive work of high fantasy that defies genre conventions. Though the narrative stands strong on its own, it can also be read as a metaphor for confronting what holds us back and recognizing the darkness in ourselves—so we can move past it.

3.) won’t you celebrate with me

Author: Lucille Clifton

Genre: Poetry

Similar to: Poetry by other groundbreaking 20th-century feminist poets who incorporated social issues into their work, such as Audre Lorde, Denise Levertov, and Maya Angelou

This poem is both a victory cry and a celebration of resilience. The speaker talks of making herself into who she is today with no guide, how the odds were stacked against her as a woman of color, and how she prevailed anyway. The speaker describes how she was “born in Babylon,” which is a reference to the ancient Mesopotamian city. The phrase also invokes the famous “By the rivers of Babylon” psalm in the Bible which depicts Jewish people speaking of their longing to return home to Jerusalem after being taken captive by the Babylonians. This reference makes it clear the speaker in the poem feels out of place where she takes a certain pride in her survival nonetheless. The poem acknowledges the hardships she faces without dismissing or diminishing them, and ultimately focuses on her self-reliance and how it has guided her through life. 

4.) Redefining Realness

Author: Janet Mock

Genre: Autobiography, memoir, nonfiction

Similar to: Other biographies and memoirs by writers who challenge the status quo and don’t shy away from delving into their most personal experiences, such as Hunger by Roxanne Gay and Sissy by Jacob Tobia.

Janet Mock has had to deal with a lot of adversity in her life, from being molested by her stepbrother as a child to growing up poor to dealing with medical and social barriers to transitioning as a young trans woman. Though her autobiography doesn’t shy away from any of these situations, it also doesn’t rely on them to hold up the narrative. Her story is full of profound realizations of self and the world around her, of moments of true connection with others, of life-changing friendships and learning to forgive those who have hurt us the most. Mock’s voice is honest with herself and readers, recognizing and owning her mistakes while also showing compassion to her younger self. Her autobiography is inspirational not because of what she went through, but because of how she handled it and the perspective she brings to her experiences after the fact. 

5.) “Hope is the thing with feathers

Author: Emily Dickinson

Genre: Poetry

Similar to: Works by other Victorian-era poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Brontë sisters who wrote about the ways women’s inner lives and experiences were just as rich as men’s.

This list wouldn’t be complete without an Emily Dickinson poem, and her famous one comparing hope to a bird is the perfect fit. Though much of her poetry deals with heavier themes—loss, death, the soul—it also regularly showcases the resilience of the heart in times of great distress or change. In this poem, the speaker marvels at the way hope is like a bird perched in one’s soul that never stops singing even during the most trying times. The speaker goes on to describe how it would take a very dire situation to silence hope entirely, how it exists everywhere, and how maintaining that small amount of hope takes nothing out of the person but offers them so much. At face value, the poem is heartening and the bird metaphor is lovely, but taken more seriously, the poem is also a powerful reminder that even when all seems lost, hope will prevail.