Writing this list has been a life-long dream of mine. I remember making top 10 lists of books from different categories (fiction, non-fiction, self-help, global issues, etc.) and thinking that maybe one day I’ll be able to share my reviews with others and inspire more people to read. It is amazing that this wish is finally coming true! Here are ten books that I read and loved in 2015:
1. A House in the Sky – Amanda Lindhout’s story of survival. I lost myself reading this book. I related to her a lot, a woman who wants to venture out on her own, explore the world, discover other cultures and ways of being, and experience life to the fullest. She is courageous and strong and you can see it clearly when she survives the most horrifying situations. There is one moment that I especially loved, where she sees life differently, realizing that everything is ok in this moment, and she starts to transcend her pain. “The voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice asks, “In this exact moment, are you ok?” She answers, “Yes, right now I am still ok”. I read this book in my bed late at night, I read it on the subway, I read it at Balzac’s. This book will stay with me always.
2. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – This is my third time reading Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, and as my writing teacher says “You must be a glutton for punishment.” That I am! My favourite book of all time. Oh Tess, you were doomed from the start. But your tale of love and devotion is like no other. When Angel asks Tess’s friend to come with her to Brazil in a moment of lapsed judgment, she says to him that Tess loved him so much, and he asks her if she loves him too, and she replies “not in the way Tess does. She would give her life for ‘ee.” That’s when he realizes the strange and quiet intensity of Tess’s love. I read this book on the train to Ottawa, I read in on the subway, I read it in every moment I could find, and it opened up my heart and soul every time.
3. The Blue Castle – Incredibly beautiful story about Valency Sterling, who is an unlikely heroine. Poor Valency can’t do anything right when it comes to her family. She is getting older, unmarried, and is just a disgrace to the family. But she has a spark inside and a fiery attitude, and decides that she won’t stand for it any longer. I read this book mostly in my apartment, lying on my sofa. The last scene of love reunited made me cry and cry (what can I say, I’m a romantic!). I didn’t think anyone in the world could appreciate this quirky tale of love the way I do, but then I underestimated how similar my sister and I are. She loved it as much as I did, and cherished every word.
4. The Untethered Soul – This book changed my life. The words echo in my mind throughout my days, and it gives me perspective on who I really am. Who am I if not the voice in my head? Michael Slinger says that “consciousness” is the most sacred word that you will ever utter. This book basically clarified human experience for me, especially the inner workings of the heart. I was amazed to discover that past hurts and even past highs and positive experiences are stored in the heart as samskaras (Sanskrit for ‘impressions’) that literally make impressions in your heart and prevent you from fully experiencing life in this moment because of the blockage. He talks about how to become aware of this and how to release – how to keep your heart open no matter what is happening – it doesn’t matter if you are in a prison cell or on top of Mount Everest or talking to a friend – there is never a reason to close your heart. Never. Learning how to keep your heart open no matter what the situation is the key to happiness and boundlessness.
5. Days of Abandonment – Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I read this entire book in one sitting. I devoured it on a magical day, when I went to Type Books near Trinity Bellwoods Park, and ran into Kyle, the guy that works there who I have the best conversations with. I bought the book after searching far and wide for the perfect book, and then I went to R2 cafe just down the road. And I sat. And I ordered tea after tea. And I read. For 4 hours straight. I got up once to use the bathroom. I was taken through the mind of a tortured woman, who is lost and unravelled without her husband (who leaves her for another woman), ravaged by grief and anger to the point of insanity. After I finished reading it, I ran back to Type Books and bought Elena Ferrante’s next book, the first book of the Neopolitan series.
6. Second Suns – Second Suns is the moving, unforgettable story of how two men with a shared dream are changing the world, one pair of eyes at a time. (From the inside cover). I loved this book. Dr. Geoffrey Tabin and Dr. Sanduk Ruit embark upon a journey to restore vision to communities in the Himalayas. They encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles but never stray from their vision. It is interesting to observe the inner conflicts one experiences while trying to stay true to their purpose, especially when that purpose involves disappointing people you love, or forgoing other interests. It is true that pursuing a goal requires some sacrifice, but once you are focused, nothing else matters. Because all you are focused on is this one surgery, this one moment, this one life. I often drew a parallel between the symbol of ‘sight’ to the concept of ‘clear seeing’ in Buddhism and other spiritual traditions. Most people walk around blind, unable to truly see what’s in front of them, unable to see that they are trapped by their own beliefs and conditioning. Life experiences help us to see more clearly – especially if we are fortunate to have a Guru or a mentor to help remove our blindness.
7. Struck by Genius – This is a book that I read one quiet morning at Balzac’s at the Toronto Reference Library, sipping orange pekoe tea and eating a coconut chocolate chip brownie. It is about a guy, Jason Padgett, who is a regular college jock, interested in girls and looking good, when he suffers a traumatic event that leaves him brain-damaged. He loses all sense of who he is, and for years isolates himself and lives in fear, confusion, and seclusion. At the same time, the years where he boards himself up also reveal to him the depths of his soul, and the insights gleaned allow him to forge a new path and uncover a new purpose. He sees the world differently. He sees mathematical shapes (fractals) in ordinary phenomenon; the world through his eyes has a perfection about it, it is beautiful, it is more deep and meaningful than meets the naked eye. He perceives the world differently. I related to Jason and his experiences, and felt they closely mirrored my own. I have a hard time explaining what I’ve gone through, and I’ve often felt that if someone wants to know, they should just read this book! One day I will put it into words, and until then I’m thankful for the countless others who have had the courage and insight, and the passing of time, to access their memories and bring them to life on the page.
8. Outliers – I discovered this book when I went to Beamsville for Gosia’s wedding. I stayed in this beautiful B&B and shared a room with my friend Daniela. I found this book in the living room on the second floor, and I was so happy to discover it. I read this book late at night in the evenings when I would come home from wedding festivities – after the late night bonfires, the barbeques and the singing. It was a beautiful time. The book talks about the factors of success – what makes certain people more successful than others, and are there certain groups of people who are outside of the norm. It was actually uncanny how I could relate this phenomenon to the Waterloo engineering class graduates, particularly those of us who graduated between the years of 2000-2005. I have seen so many grads go on to start their own businesses and do big things in the world. Success beyond the norm. I wonder what the secret ingredient is?
9. The Diary of Anne Frank – There is nothing I enjoy more than reading the true writings of a human soul. In unabridged, authentic form. I guess that’s why I write this blog – to share my diary with the world. I started writing when I was 9 years old, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time. This last summer, I read it again – at Centre Island, on my way to the refugee centre, in my bed at night, with my sister when I read to her a quote that touched me so deeply and of course made me cry. What is expressed through this little girl’s soul shall be our redemption. In her captivity, she manages to find the love within her own heart, a love that cannot be dimmed.
10. I Am Malala – Perhaps I saved this until last because it is the most difficult to write about (or maybe it excites me the most!). I read this book slowly, one chapter every time I came across it, at the Indigo at Mount Sinai hospital during my 10 km walks, or at the chapters at the Eaton Centre. Or wherever it happened to be. The story of a young girl that is shot in the head by the Taliban, but does not give up on her quest to pursue her own education, and stand up for the rights to education for all. This girl shows what we are capable of, at a personal level and a human level and as a collective humanity. She represents integrity and truth and hope. I will follow her lead until my grave. She is my inspiration when I give up hope, that there is a way for us to get to a good place – that there is hope for us yet.
Other Notable Books
- Then Again – Diane Keaton
- Drunk Mom – Jowita Bydlowska
- Dropped Threads – anthology of women’s stories compiled by Carol Shields and Marjorie Andersen
- The Bookseller of Kabul – Asne Seierstad
- Writing the Circle – Native Women of Western Canada
- Bring Me a Unicorn – Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
- The Little Way of Ruthie Leming – Rod Dreher