Apart from complaining about the reality that it does get uncomfortably cold in California, winter is also a great time for reading. This is my third time recommending books, the first two being here and here. Along with the books here, I highly re-recommend the books on those earlier lists. If I had to dedicate this post to anything, it would be to the public library system. It’s been making me appear smart for 22 years now, and it can do this because it’s filled to the ceiling with the most interesting and inspiring stories humanity has to tell. Whether you’re into travel narratives, history, or cheesy drama, whether you’re confused about your career or embarking headstrong into a field, there’s a book that was written for you.
Right now, go to your local one and check out a book. Do it. If you don’t know what to check out, here are my suggestions:
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor E. Frankl was a Jewish psychologist who lived through the Holocaust. This small, powerful book is the result of his efforts to make sense of his experiences. It is every bit as terrifying and inspirational as you would expect. It is short, to-the-point, and I think everyone will walk away with their own interpretation of its intended message.
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah
I didn’t learn about apartheid in school. At most, it was a vocabulary word with a one sentence description. And I’m glad, because if I had met apartheid earlier in class or in the news, it would have been just another thing happening far away that didn’t really concern me. Instead, I met apartheid through Trevor’s eyes, and Born A Crime introduced me to apartheid with his story.
But saying the book is about apartheid would be like saying Forrest Gump is about ping pong. The book is about life. It’s about Trevor’s relationship with his mom, with owning a dog and being a DJ, with domestic abuse, with jumping out of buses and seeing his friends getting arrested. This book taught me that things happening far away to people with very different destinies than me can still be meaningful. I behaved differently after reading it, and I think it made me a wiser person.
“I was blessed with another trait I inherited from my mother, her ability to forget the pain in life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold onto the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new. If you think too much about the ass kicking your mom gave you or the ass kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules. It’s better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on. You’ll have a few bruises and they’ll remind you of what happened and that’s ok. But after a while, the bruises fade and they fade for a reason. Because now, it’s time to get up to some shit again.”
How do you read that and not go like
The Distant Land of My Father, by Bo Caldwell
Those of us who’ve moved in our lives know that we didn’t just leave a place behind, but also a time. Bo Caldwell imbibes pre-WWII Shanghai with the luster of a city lost not only to war, but also to time. The Distant Land of My Father is about growing up and making peace with the world. I read this book in high school, but I still think about it today. It showed parts of the world I’d never seen before, and more importantly, it introduced me to aspects of people I hadn’t met before. Distant Land taught me that we are small and the world is vast, and that life is long if you can let go of the past.
Last but not least:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo
The lives of the poor rarely make it into our popular culture, not unless they’ve made it “out” somehow. But a story with all of its ups and downs in the slums is rarely told. Katherine Boo tells that story, and in telling it, she shows that the world’s poor aren’t that much different from the rest of us. Everyone feels longing, everyone gets mad at their parents, everyone has that ticket to a better life waiting around the corner. By humanizing those who we often dehumanize, Boo shows the reader the divide is less about money, race, or religion than it is between lucky and unlucky.
This one really reminded me what it meant to be Indian. Apart from my language, choice of food, and vacation destinations, my heritage also connects me with people living difficult lives. There is still work to do, and there is a lot to be grateful for. I hope these books spark your imagination and rearrange the furniture in your subconscious bedroom. Don’t let the babies of the future take our jobs, visit your local library and read.