11 Reads to Spark Inspiration - EleVen by Venus Williams

11 Reads to Spark Inspiration

Ah, spring: the lazy, hazy days of warm-weather bliss. It may not be the spring of vacation reads for much of America this year, but that doesn’t mean spring is without inspiration — if there was ever a time to soak in extra encouragement to ignite your ambitions, this is it. Below, eleven of our favorite titles — new and old — that motivate, rouse, and remind us that setbacks are opportunities in disguise. Enjoy.


The Beautiful No by Sheri Salata

To anyone who has ever needed to dig deep to find that last drop of resilience and force one foot in front of the other, this book is for you. Sheri Salata has an extraordinary story: from toy store manager and 7-Eleven clerk to the executive producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Salata’s journey from wandering nomad to media executive is impressive on its own. But equally as inspiring is her story after Oprah: she had spent so much time helping others achieve their dreams that she had neglected her own wellbeing. With honesty and humor, Salata shares how she found the spirit and fortitude to reimagine her future — as a fifty-something woman. She walks the walk: it is never too late to create the life of your dreams.

The Beautiful No by Sheri Salata, Harper Wave, 2019.


Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Imagine this: you’re married with three children, have a successful career as “the world’s most famous Christian mommy blogger,” and one day your life is flipped completely upside down when you fall madly in love with a woman — and not just any woman: soccer star Abby Wambach. Sound crazy? That’s what happened to Glennon Doyle. In Untamed, she chronicles falling in love — real love — not just with Wambach, but with life. Returning to a central theme of wildness throughout her memoir, Doyle shares deeply personal experiences and lessons on motherhood, unlearning social norms, and how she found the courage to do hard things. Because we can do hard things.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle, The Dial Press, 2020.


Together is Better by Simon Sinek

At first glance, it’s easy to mistake Together is Better for a children’s book: an illustrated gold crown in the grass graces its small, playful cover. But flip the pages and Sinek’s short read takes on a life of its own, weaving a narrative about a team searching for meaning into pages sparkling with motivating reminders like: “A vision is like a dream — it will disappear unless we do something with it. Do something big or do something small. But stop wondering and go on an adventure.” Perfect to keep on your desk or share with your team, Sinek’s words are a lovely gift on a cloudy day. Plus, the smell of optimism (turn to page 5) is hard to resist.

Together is Better by Simon Sinek, Portfolio, 2016 


Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

You don’t have to be an athlete or a businessperson to appreciate the story of Nike — and Phil Knight’s memoir is so much more than just the story of Nike. With $50 borrowed from his father, Knight created a company to help solve a real-world problem he saw in the market. If you dare think it was easy, think again. The Nike of today almost wasn’t — and it almost wasn’t more than once. With remarkable detail, Knight articulates how, whe, why, with whom, and for whom he built Nike. It is a candid story of grit, sacrifice, and perseverance — one that will help keep your flame burning on those days when you question whether it’s time to throw in the towel.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, Scribner, 2016


The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg

It’d be easy for a cynic to write off Diane von Furstenberg’s life as charmed — but in her 2014 memoir, she peels back the layers of her life in a poignant, whimsical, “you only live once” kind of way. From her dalliances to princess life, to the creation of her iconic wrap dress and the confidence to reinvent her business, she chronicles the fun, the good, the bad, and the real — all in service of helping other women become just as emboldened to take the reigns in their own lives. At times sad, at times joyful, she champions a refrain often all-too-easily lost in the rush of life: “I want every woman to know that she can be the woman she wants to be.”

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg, Simon & Schuster, 2014


Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

It’s hard to imagine a story as unusual, gripping, and fascinating as Deborah Feldman’s. Raised as a sheltered member of the religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism in New York City, Feldman was, among other things, married off at seventeen to a man she had known for hardly thirty minutes. Escaping into the forbidden worlds of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her discover a life beyond the one she was living -- and ultimately fueled her path to freedom. This memoir-turned-Netflix-miniseries is “riveting,” “unprecedented,” and “triumphant.”

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman, Simon & Schuster, 2012


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Described as the book that “struck the spark that would eventually light the fire of Black Lives Matter” and dubbed “the most important book published in this century about the U.S.,” Michelle Alexander’s powerful bestseller has been cited in judicial decisions, helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project, and brought an irreversible attention to the criminal and judicial systems in the United States. If you are looking for a book that will open your eyes, pick this one up.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, The New Press, 2010

Open by Andre Agassi

For many, hearing tennis legend Andre Agassi’s name conjures thoughts of his eight singles grand slam titles, his rivalry with Pete Sampras, or even his memorable hairpieces. But Agassi’s story is so much more than what tennis fans saw on the court or read in the tabloids. “Coaxed to swing a racket while still in the crib,” Agassi’s journey to becoming a tennis legend was fraught with resentment, conflict, and, at times, depression and self-destruction. With poignancy and authenticity, Agassi bravely recounts the details of his journey, from career highs and lows, relationship learnings, and, more recently, his transformative efforts in education. His story is moving, candid, and flows with an uncommon vulnerability you can feel as you flip the pages. 

Open by Andre Agassi, Alfred A. Knopf, 2009


The Culture Engine by S. Chris Edmonds

At the core of every organization, an intangible engine hums: culture. But what is culture, why is important, and how can you develop a healthy, positive, performance-oriented culture that propels not just your company, but your people forward? In The Culture Engine, S. Chris Edmonds tackles just this. Culture doesn’t just materialize out of thin air; rather, it’s built and defined purposefully. For anyone thinking through how they can build a better, more inspiring, more outcomes-driven culture, this book is a thoughtful must-read with practical frameworks and advice.

The Culture Engine by S. Chris Edmonds, Wiley, 2014


Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir by Daniel R. Day

There is no shortage of superlatives to describe the man known as Dapper Dan: “an icon,” “a legend,” and the “the sharpest man you will ever see” are just a few. Daniel R. Day’s story isn’t linear -- it’s a story in multiple acts, with twists, turns, and surprises that invigorate even the most seasoned reader. Living through and profiting from drug epidemics, inventing credit card fraud schemes, and ultimately learning how to treat fur himself when no one else would sell tanned fur coats to a Black man, Day’s triumphant, liberating story will capture your attention and forever rouse your soul.

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir by Daniel R. Day, Rando House, 2019

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth

Elaine Welteroth was 29 years old when she was named the Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue, making her the second youngest editor in Conde Nast history and the first African American to hold the position. Her climb to the top of the magazine journalism ranks was a hard-earned ascent, with her time at the magazine marked by its energized focus and smart reporting on social justice and politics. In her memoir, Welteroth shares her story with verve and spirit. Described as “a gift,” “a call for young women to find their voice and spark their courage,” and “powerful,” Welteroth’s words are a sublime splash of light not to be missed.

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) by Elaine Welteroth, Viking, 2019


Written by: Emily K. Schwartz

Check out A Letter From Venus: Looking Back at 2021 written by Venus Williams
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