We have a little bookshelf in the guest room in our house. Until recently it was fairly empty, with just a few books and some photos and paintings on top of it. But as I glanced at it the other day, I realized that it's become the holding spot for some the books, which have opened my heart, my mind, and usually both this past year. It's been a challenging year of change and learning, but also of many new beginnings, friendships, and hope.

I've done more reading than I had in a long time and while it's difficult to narrow down the list, I wanted to share five of my absolute favorite books with you. Each one is a special journey that might take your mind to places you don't expect -- and I think that's the one of the greatest gifts of reading.

The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer

I've given this book as a gift more often than any other in recent memory. It's a beautiful, wise, and unexpected story of the author's spiritual awakening, one that he started by giving up all worldly possessions and meditating for hours in the woods and ended with him running a multi-billion dollar company. I've re-read this book several times, each time learning something new, and feeling my heart open in a new way. I can't recommend it enough.

Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass

Ram Dass is one of the leading spiritual visionaries in the US, but what I love about his journey and his writing is how real and authentic they are. He went from being a Harvard professor to living with his guru in India, and then back to the US, where he has been sharing his teachings for decades. He doesn't purport to be perfectly enlightened and shares his struggles as well as his wisdom with a voice I find easy to read and understand. This book is one of my favorites of his.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

I have to preface this by saying that I've become a total Adam Grant groupie after reading this and his other book, Originals. He has a way of narrating great stories, filled with both emotion and scientific research, and his writing gives me something I treasure: hope. This book makes a powerful and incredibly well-researched case for why giving to others and doing so in an intelligent, self-preserving way, doesn't just increase our well-being and make life more pleasant to live, but leads to career and personal success.

Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James Doty

The author shares his story of going from a poor and relatively lost teenager to becoming one of the leading neurosurgeons, specifically focused on kindness and compassion. At the core of his path and success is a kind woman, who took him under her wing when he was 12 and taught him meditation and mindfulness techniques that changed his life. The book is not at all technical, but the narrative is intertwined with scientific research that taught me a lot about compassion and kindness.

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer

If there is a way to hug your soul, this book will do it. That's the only way I can describe it. As I started to read it, I kept underlining essentially every line. It's wise, it's warm, it's simple, and it speaks with truth to the complexity of our lives. One of the lines in it is one I have been quoting so often: "We are born as souls, but then as we grow up, we start to play different roles."

Happy reading!