Revered for her deeply personal comedy around mental illness and dysfunctional family dynamics, iconoclast comic Maria Bamford is the star of a slew of experimental specials and the surreal, semi-autobiographical Netflix series Lady Dynamite. By tapping into her own experiences with anxiety and bipolar depression, Bamford advocates for the normalization of mental health issues with unabashed compassion and humor.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that she’s deeply invested in personal growth, describing her love of self-help books as “emotional Sudoku.” In a 2016 interview with the LA Times, Bamford shared six of her favorite books for working through mental blocks, taking charge of personal finance, and keeping creativity alive in midlife and later.
Explore a list of Maria Bamford’s favorite self-help books below.
“This book is awesome. It’s step by step. I’ve thought about calling the writer myself, she just sounds so great. (She works with individuals to help get them unblocked.) One thing I do with books that people would probably hate, I cut things out of them that inspire me, so my copy of this book is all cut up. I put the pieces in my calendar or my journal. For example, ‘A Supportive and Practical Guide to Working Through Writer’s Block,’ which is just the subtitle of the book, I cut that out because I felt that’s what I need. I have a couple of ladies who I check in with via email, updating them on what I’m writing every day — my two pages a day. This book encourages thinking small. ‘Making your writing world safer’ is one of the topics. It was very helpful. I may have searched ‘Writers Block’ on Amazon and this book came up. I apologize to small, independent bookstores in my neighborhood.” -MB
Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson
“When I was finally able to save a little extra money and wanted to know what to do — how to prepare for retirement, how to learn about investments — I thought I’d pick this up. [Before that] I’d watched a lot of Suze Orman, which had terrified me: ‘You have $2.5 million. You cannot retire until the age of 75.’ I’d see that and think ‘Oh my God!’ This book is airtight and has a lovely way of writing. The first chapter especially is just really hopeful! It’s like, ‘calm down.’ It’s great.” -MB
Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well by Ralph Warner
“[While] Personal Finance for Dummies is definitely an education in financial terms, Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well is about quality of life. This writer interviewed hundreds of people and found that the ones who had the most personal connections — who are reaching out and creating meaning in their lives, who have a plan and a vision for it — are happiest. There’s a whole chapter on friendship. Make younger friends, make friends outside of work, and get involved in your community. I’m much more work-oriented. The first part of my life was all about trying to achieve things, and then realizing that if you don’t have anyone to enjoy it with, who cares? A lot of people already know that inherently, but I certainly didn’t. My husband and I have been having people over for dinner a lot more. We go to an open mike in our neighborhood and see comedy there. We’re trying to connect. Get a Life has interviews with real people. It’s from NOLO press, a wonderful publisher in Northern California. They’re all about doing things yourself, including self-help law.” -MB
“The Gottman books are about the science of bid response. This is hilarious; my husband and I are driving to the airport right now, and I hope I’m giving him accurate directions and ‘responding to his bids.’ I hadn’t been putting [that practice] towards work, friendship, or my community. I’d think, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I’d love to be involved in the neighborhood,’ but how many times have I said no to community-oriented things? Oh, almost every time. My husband and I were reading [The Relationship Cure] out loud to each other. Sometimes self-help books are like science fiction. They take place in a land where everyone says their part in the conversation, exactly as it’s written, like in the Gottman book.” -MB
Swimming With Elephants: My Unexpected Pilgrimage from Physician to Healer by Sarah Seidelmann
“This is my sister’s latest book. It’s her story — a memoir about reinvention. She was a pathologist for about 15 years, lived in Duluth, Minn., bought a giant house and had four children… She was kind of a super-doer. She slowly started going part time and eventually transformed herself into a life coach and a practitioner of shamanic healing. It’s very brave. In L.A. it’s OK to do something like that, but where she lives it’s a risky choice. She has two other books, Born to Freak and What the Walrus Knows, both self-published. For this one she got a book deal. She’s really funny. In one of my favorite scenes there’s the chaos of their home — a giant kitchen remodel — and she’s lying in her bathroom thinking, ‘What am I doing? What’s going on?’ She went to Thailand and swam with elephants. That’s where the title comes from. She used to be a very logical person and now she has a spiritual guide. It’s very inspiring to me.” -MB
“This is on my reading list. I’ve read [Julia Cameron’s] The Artist’s Way so many times that the words have lost all meaning to me. I’m like, ‘I know, I know. I understand! I’m doing my pages. I’m doing my artist dates.’ So I just want to read it again, but with different stories. This book is co-written by her business manager Emma Lively. It’s about memoir writing too, which interests me. [In addition to the Artist’s Way exercises] this book adds ‘solo walks’ to ‘quell anxiety and clear the mind.’ I’m excited to have some new ideas that are in [Cameron’s] same style, because I love her writing and point of view. If I were to begin again, I think I’d like to be an extrovert.” -MB
(via The LA Times)