We all make mistakes, and it's not just an adage — I know it better than anyone. Why, just yesterday I lost track of time and completely spaced on dinner party I had RSVP'd to weeks ago. Sure, I know, it's not the end of the world, but combine a liberal amount of guilt with the fact that I was entirely in the wrong, mix in a dash of pain I caused for the people I care about, and you wind up with a fairly lethal does of, "Oh my god, what have I done?"
If we stay stuck on instant replay, going over and over what we've done wrong without ever moving forward, how can we possibly hope to make our way toward bigger and better things? Sure, moving forward after mistakes are made can be tough, but when the going gets rough, I get myself to the library. That's because when I want to know about lives changed, futures altered, and mistakes transformed, I head straight for a book.
Want to join in? Cool. With these nine on your bedside table, you'll find all sorts of new ways to take what could have been trouble and turn it into real progress. I know I have.
Collapse by Jared Diamond
Along with Girl Scout cookies, snails, and sequins, I'm a big fan of perspective, especially where my many mistakes are concerned. After years of experience, I've found that sometimes the best way to move forward from a minor mistake is to consider some truly epic fails that put a day to day misstep into perspective... and that's where Jared Diamond comes in. Collapse explores the ultimate fail — the downfall of civilizations from time immemorial. And, if there's any way to put your parking ticket into perspective and find a way to make a fresh start going forward, perhaps giving world history a glance is a good first step.
Mistakes I Made at Work edited by Jessica Bacal
The office space is where I achieve some of my biggest wins... which puts me in a bit of a quandary when I check my inbox only to discover I've hit "reply all" when there was only one intended recipient (yeah — major oops). Jessica Bacal's Mistakes I Made at Work is not only a heartfelt retelling of on-the-job missteps made by some of the world's most impressive women, but also a vibrant recollection of lessons learned and lives changed. So if you're looking to learn from what you've done and do oh-so-much better the next time, Bacal's rich and inspiring book is a must read.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
There are mistakes, and then there is the mother of all mistakes — pun very much intended. Once you've killed off your father and slept with your mother, it's almost physically impossible to make it much further down the path of failure. Personally, I like to read Oedipus Rex as a cautionary tale where relationships are concerned, and let's face it — we can all use a little help weeding out the winners from all those bad apples. So, If you're looking to transform your missteps in the romance department into real wins, why not take Oedipus Rex as your guide?
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation metaphorically picks up where Oedipus Rex left off, examining the mistakes that can pop up in the middle of a relationship, long after you've made your initial choice. As someone who's partaken of my fair share of failure in the love department, I like to consider the road not travelled courtesy of the divine Ms. Offill's authorial wisdom, and then make my way towards better choices.
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead's shimmering stunner of a novel brings mistakes into the realm of the speculative future with this strange, effervescent story of competing schools of elevator inspection in a time when the word "colored" still stands strong in the vernacular. Speaking poignantly to some of the largest mistakes we've made as a society, Whitehead doesn't fail to shine a light on the smaller troubles of the daily grind along the way. Whether you're looking to develop your own intuition or simply root out some of the more obvious pitfalls of structural inequality, Whitehead's work points the way towards a brighter future with unruly elegance.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird may just be the book that taught me right from wrong — this classic story of a miscarriage of justice and one young girl's struggle to find what's right in the world offers the perfect model for how to make up for mistakes and come out on the side of the angels. Now that's what I call success.
Atonement by Ian McEwan
It's never too late to do what's right — the message comes through loud and clear in Ian McEwan's dark, romantic novel chronicling the devastating ramifications of one young girl's tragic mistake. When you're looking for a little incentive to make the right choices, turn to Atonement and you'll have no trouble following your heart.
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
John Fowles' dirty and disturbing period masterpiece The French Lieutenant's Woman harkens back to what just may be the most iconic American story of a woman scorned — Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. And, much like Hawthorne's Hester, Fowles' Sarah makes her own choices. When the going gets tough, Sarah sticks by her guns, through right and wrong, thick and thin, and in the aftermath of every mistake, making her the kind of heroine to whom I can relate. Without giving anything away, I'll say this is one story you want to read if you're interested in moving away from mistakes toward something far sweeter.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Chinua's breathtaking pre-colonial novel follows the life of Okonkwo, a wrestler who becomes a vaunted elder and the guardian of a young boy from a neighboring village proffered to the tribe as a part of a peace settlement. As the title suggests, things do in fact fall apart, and when they do you'll want to pay careful attention to what comes next — it's when the going gets tough that you really learn how to get going.