Six small books that make a big difference

Living Well | Blanche Clark | Posted on 30 September 2020

These six inspiring short reads offer comfort in uncomfortable times.

Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to books. Sometimes authors get to the heart of an issue with brevity and clarity without writing a tome. Books such as War and Peace, The Luminaries and The Lord of the Rings have their place when you have time on your hands, but a small book can sometimes help you feel more connected to the world. Here are six small books that make a big difference, especially in times of uncertainty. 

When You're Not OK by Jill Stark book cover
cover of Six Square Metres: Reflections from A Small Garden, Margaret Simons
Cover of On Travel by Tony Wheeler

Six small books that have big impact

When You’re Not OK: A Toolkit for Tough Times

Jill Stark, Scribe, 160 pages 

Author and journalist Jill Stark knows a thing or two about coping during tough times. Her first book, High Sobriety, explored her tumultuous relationship with alcohol, and her second book Happy Never After documented her struggles with chronic anxiety and periods of depression. In her latest book, When You’re Not OK, she writes that there are days when we need reminding that we are not alone. She shares strategies she finds helpful when dealing with anxiety. Although the book has been written to help people struggling with mental health issues at any time of life, there is a growing demand for mental health support as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.  Available in hardback, $19.99, eBook $12.

Six Square Metres: Reflections from A Small Garden

Margaret Simons, Scribe, 128 pages

Journalist and author Margaret Simons was “profoundly ignorant” about gardening until her 20s when she planted some runner bean seeds in the barren backyard of an inner-city share house in Melbourne. After being rewarded with a crop of crisp green beans, she was hooked. In this beautiful little hardback, she takes the reader on a journey of her life through the seasons, with a six-square-metre garden at the heart of her tale. She has discovered that chard and silverbeet are the “hero vegetables of partial shade”. And although you’ll learn about gardening, including gardening on a budget, the joy of the book is the snippets of history, literature, politics, her stories about family and neighbours and the things that make us human. If you want to read something weightier, she has also written the latest Quarterly Essay, Cry Me A River - The Tragedy of the Murray-Darling BasinAvailable as hardback $24.99, eBook $22.

On Travel

Tony Wheeler, Hachette Australia, 128 pages 

At a time when travel is restricted, it’s wonderful to reflect on what makes other countries and cultures so fascinating. In this literary essay, Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler writes about why he has trekked the globe for more than 50 years and why he has never tired of the view from a window seat on a plane. “We travel for all sorts of reasons, it can be a simple escape, a change from the working week routine, a chance to get away from our problems, to forget everyday life,” he writes. “Or it can be much more.” It might seem a torturous proposition to read or listen to a podcast about travel when you can’t travel, but it’s actually relaxing to consider the psychology and philosophy behind our wanderlust. Although unfamiliar places have always intrigued Tony, he has equally loved the simple pleasure of coming home.
Available in paperback, $16.99, eBook $6.99, audiobook, $21.26.

Tiny Habits by Sarah Maitland book cover
Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything book cover
The Sustainable Home, Christine Liu book cover

How to Be Alone

Sara Maitland, The School of Life, 176 pages 

Actor Greta Garbo was a famous loner. She made 28 movies but tired of Hollywood and, after retiring at the age of 35, adopted a lifestyle of simplicity and leisure. What can we learn from Garbo? Sara Maitland delves into the way society shuns solitude. She writes that it is seen as antisocial and odd, especially in these times of selfies and oversharing on social media. She explores changing attitudes throughout history and offers experiments and strategies for overturning our fear of solitude. She encourages readers to discover the joys of walking alone, argues that solitude can help children become more creative and resilient, and promotes the art of learning something off by heart because that knowledge can comfort us when we are alone. Available in paperback $19.99, eBook $16.99.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything

Brian Jeffrey Fogg, 320 pages

Okay, this isn’t a little book, but it’s about something tiny that may be big news to many people. Based on 20 years’ research, psychologist Brian Jeffrey Fogg has found that the key to changing habits isn’t willpower. What you need is motivation, the ability to make the change (e.g. time, money, health, physical space) and, importantly, a trigger or cue to act in a new way. Talking about weight loss, for example, he says many factors contribute to our weight and most of those factors are habits. The key is to take an existing habit and insert a new habit immediately afterwards. For example, have a meal and then insert the new habit of rinsing the plate. It could stop you thoughtlessly having a second helping of food. Tiny Habits outlines the baby steps you need to take to reach those big goals. Available in paperback $32.99, eBook $14.99, audiobook $39.50 (free with 30-day trial on Audible).

The Sustainable Home

Christine Liu, Murdoch Books, 176 pages 

If you’re spending more time at home, you may start to notice clutter, lights left on in empty rooms, food waste and all the clothes you never wear. Lifestyle blogger Christine Liu has written this book for others, like her, who want to live a more simple and sustainable life. She takes you on a tour of your living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, offering tips, tricks and projects to help you reduce your impact on the environment. You can make toothpaste, convert to renewable energy, stop using plastics, grow a herb garden and ‘upcycle’ old furniture. A Roy Morgan online survey of 1054 Australians aged 14-plus last year showed 41 per cent regarded environmental problems as the major concern facing Australia. Available in hardback, $29.99.