The holiday season is traditionally a time for charity and warm fuzzy feelings, but sometimes we need a little extra inspiration. That is, a captivating read that will also make us want to be a better person — whether because of the sterling example of a character, some choice lines of world-wisdom, or something a little more nebulous. After the jump, try out ten books that will inspire your better self to make an appearance — we’ve veered away from self-help books of any kind, though we’ve allowed for a mix of fiction and non — and let us know if we missed your personal go-to good-guy read in the comments.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery
“All grown-ups were once children,” Saint Exupery reminds us, “but only few of them remember it.” Every time we read this book, we resolve never to forget again — and always to look with our hearts, not with our eyes.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Seriously, doesn’t everyone want to be a little bit more like Atticus Finch? All we can do is try, folks. We’ll probably never get there.
The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
This book doesn’t inspire any particular sense of morality in us, though it does remind us not to send vengeful letters to lovers who have spurned us, lest our cruel wishes manifest and/or we have to face them later. Instead, it makes us want to go out and do things — travel the world, make something of ourselves, be great — rather than resign ourselves at the earliest opportunity to the quiet, average life like Barnes’s Tony.
We may have idolized Ben Franklin as children, but now we know him to be a dirty old man — which kind of makes us idolize him even more. In his autobiography, he famously lists the thirteen virtues according to which he tried to cultivate his own character. They’re not a bad road map.
The Art of Living, Epictetus
Epictetus may have been born in 55 AD, but some ideas just never get old. Namely, the philosopher’s core principle: “Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” Note: repeat to self when waiting for the subway.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
We don’t know about you, but every time we get finished reading about Holmes, we fancy ourselves a little smarter. Or at least, we start peering around at our friends, imagining that we can divine secrets about them from the dust on their collars. We can’t, but it’s fun to try.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby
Because damn, if one man can accomplish so much with only the use of one eyelid, we don’t want to get caught doing nothing with all our functional limbs. Talk about inspirational.
Tintin in Tibet, Hergé
Tintin is tirelessly, blandly, sometimes frustratingly moral. And he still gets to have way better adventures than we ever do. Just goes to show you that doing the right thing really can get you wherever you want to go.
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
After all of the holiday-related feasting and present-related capitalism we’ve been indulging in over the past few weeks, we’re more than ready to contemplate the lessons of Hesse’s classic novel, set in the time of the Gautama Buddha. Hey, we’re just looking for a little enlightenment.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor
The characters in O’Connor’s stories often have revelations, changes of heart, awakenings — though it usually takes some bizarre act of violence to get them there. Every time we read the title story, we resolve that no one will be able to say of us, “She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” We’ll be good, we’ll be good!