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It’s typical and quite maddening, actually. You’ve spent the last six months dreaming of a break from the daily grind. But now you’ve taken time out to relax; you can’t settle. You keep getting bored and find yourselves sneaking a glance at your work emails… you know, just in case.

A good way to avoid this trap is to keep your mind active with a good book. One that you can pick up and put down at will. One that has one toe dipped in the creative waters but doesn’t come too close to actual work.

In this list, we’ve pulled together the best options for summer 2021. And please note that the links we’ve included here don’t go to Amazon but to Bookshop.org, an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.

1. How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak

Holidays are a great opportunity to dive into a book that introduces a ‘big idea’ and really makes you think. And this pocket-sized 2020 book is the perfect candidate.

In this beautifully written and illuminating polemic, Booker Prize nominee Elif Shafak reflects on our age of pessimism, when emotions guide and misguide our politics, and misinformation and fear are the norms.

But rather than just wallow in all the misery, she offers a tender, uplifting plea for optimism and delves into the power of stories to reveal how we can move towards a new age of democracy, tolerance and progress.

2. Ways of Seeing by Jon Berger

Originally published in 1972, Ways of Seeing is a true classic that every creative should read today. It’s basically a riposte to the more traditionalist view of Western art and culture, which accepted everything at face value.

Ways of Seeing, instead, questions the hidden ideologies that lurk behind iconic visual images and explores the social and political systems under which they were created. This was groundbreaking at the time, and even half a century on, many of its insights will really make you think about what art is and where it comes from.

3. The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age by Claudia Hammond

There have been a lot of great books about how to sleep, such as Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, but the topic of rest has gone relatively untouched. Until now, that is. Shortlisted for the British Psychological Society Book Award for Popular Science, The Art of Rest draws on groundbreaking research, which author Claudia Hammond herself collaborated on.

‘The Rest Test’ was the largest global survey into rest ever undertaken and revealed some fascinating insights into how people get rest and how it is directly linked to your sense of wellbeing.

Claudia examines the science behind the results to establish which activities really work and offers a practical roadmap for living a new, more restful and balanced life.

4. Great TED Talks: Creativity: An unofficial guide with words of wisdom from 100 TED speakers by Tom May

Settling down with a good TED talk is a joy. The best talks are full of amazing insights and really get your motivation and energy levels rising. But there are two problems. Firstly, no one has time to watch them all (there are literally thousands). And it’s also quite difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and find the really good ones among all the so-so offerings.

Written especially for creative professionals, this book from Creative Boom writer Tom May solves both these problems. Tom hand-picks the best talks TED has to offer, by everything from art directors to rock stars, and distils down each lesson they have to offer into one or two pages. That way, you can get all the education and inspiration without having to watch the full talk. If, however, you are inspired to see the full thing, Tom includes a URL so you can dive into it on YouTube for free.

Covering a neat 100 talks and insights, there’s something for everyone here. And whatever type of creative you are, you’re sure to find at least a few ideas and tips that will recharge your creativity and passion for your career.

5. On Connection by Kae Tempest

We all know what creativity is, but we don’t often discuss what it does and how it affects us as people and in our relationship with society. Here’s a rare and remarkable exception.

In On Connection, award-winning poet, rapper and storyteller Kae Tempest explores how and why creativity – however, we choose to practise it – can cultivate greater self-awareness and help us establish a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world. Personal, hopeful and written with the kind of piercing clarity that typifies her work, this is a call to arms that anyone working in a creative field can’t help to respond to.

6. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World by Haemin Sunim

When we’re stressed, we often think it’s other people who are putting us under pressure. But often, we’re doing it to ourselves… and we don’t need to. That’s the underlying concept behind this life-changing book: that the world moves fast, but that doesn’t mean we have to.

Author Haemin Sunim is a Buddhist monk born in Korea and educated in the United States. And in the book, he offers advice on everything from handling setbacks to dealing with rest and relationships.

Combining his teachings with calming full-colour illustrations. Haemin’s messages are simple but profound, speaking directly to the anxieties that have become part of modern life. If you’d like to slow down the pace of your existence but don’t quite know how, this is a great place to start.

7. If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair: A Manual for Life by Anya Hindmarch

If you want to know how to be successful, you ask a successful person. Unfortunately, in response, you often get a lot of glib platitudes about working hard and believing in yourself, which, however well-intentioned, aren’t particularly useful or actionable. This book, however, is different.

Anya Hindmarch is a mother of five, stepmother, entrepreneur and globally renowned businesswoman. In If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair, she shares what she has learned during her busy and eclectic life, what she still worries about, and what advice she has received along the way. Best of all, she’s less interested in ‘big sky thinking’ than practical tips and quick fixes, such as why sometimes, the answer can be as simple as washing your hair.

In short, this feels less like a pretentious ‘business guru’, and more like a chat with a friend. And which would you rather have while chilling out this summer?

8. How to Work Without Losing Your Mind by Cate Sevilla

Bosses are maddening. Colleagues are irritating. And balancing family and work seems impossible. So how do you cope? Cate Sevilla is here to help you out.

Having worked at both giant corporations like Google and scrappy start-ups, she’s seen it all: aggressive bosses, stressful work situations and lots of ugly crying. But she’s come out the other side stronger.

Here, then, she presents a relatable and reassuring guide to the messy, stressful and sometimes bizarre side of work that everyone experiences but no one talks about. It’s a must-read for anyone who works with others – if only to reassure yourself that you’re not alone.

9. Twice As Hard by Raphael Sofoluke and Opeyemi Sofoluke

This insightful and easy-to-follow book looks at another topic that’s vitally important yet rarely discussed: how black professionals can succeed in today’s business world.

You will learn what obstacles limit opportunity for black professionals to progress, how to understand and overcome racial stereotypes, and how to be productive, find purpose, and ultimately thrive in business.

Authors Opeyemi and Raphael Sofoluke explore the challenges they have faced in their careers and the learnings they took from them before inviting other successful business people in a range of industries to share their experiences and the practical measures they’ve taken to realise their goals.

10. Get Your Play On: Creative Ways to Have Fun in a Serious World by Coralie Sleap

Do you play? It seems like a strange question to ask an adult. But author Coralie Sleap’s contention is that being playful is what makes life worth living. And in this eye-opening book, she offers some practical ways to do so, which won’t make you feel foolish.

Each chapter in this book focuses on one of the key aspects of play: Create, Connect, Imagine, Think and Move. Featuring more than 100 unique activities and ideas, tips from experts and fascinating explorations of the science behind it all, this book will inspire you to forget the rat race for a while and re-learn how to have fun.

11. Belonging: The Ancient Code of Togetherness by Owen Eastwood

England’s football team set their nation on fire this summer, and here’s one of the secret weapons that propelled them to their biggest success in over 50 years.

Given to each team member before the European Championships, this self-help book is based on the concept of Whakapapa, a Maori idea that embodies our universal human need to belong. Author and performance coach Owen places this concept at the core of his methods to maximise a team’s performance.

Whether you’re part of a sports team, a design team, or any other kind of collective, this innovative and well-explained approach helps you understand the ‘silent dance’ that plays out in groups and how you can use this knowledge to your advantage.