Books I Read and Loved in 2017

Here are the Top 10 books I read and loved in 2017! It was a wonderful year for reading, with lots of memorable stories, twists and turns, and inspiring prose.

1. The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – I initially chose this book for my Toronto book club, long before it became a bestseller. I was intrigued after reading the first few pages at Chapters; at the time I thought that it was some type of dramatic romance novel. When I eventually got further into it, I was amazed to discover that it was actually about reincarnation and past lives. The three main characters, Janie, her son Noah, and psychiatrist Dr. Jerome Anderson are on a journey to uncover what is haunting young Noah, and to help prove the truth about reincarnation. The story is a page-turner, and makes you think about your own beliefs and encounters with the paranormal. I read this book mostly on my phone, nestled in my bed late at night.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This startling memoir describes a man’s end of life journey with terminal lung cancer. I first read an excerpt from Paul’s book in a famous article, which included a poignant letter to his daughter. My friends got me this book as part of a care package before I moved to Ottawa. Reading about Paul’s gruelling days while his body was wracked with pain is astounding – I have no idea how he did it, other than that he was so immersed in his work that he literally forgot himself. Kalinithi writes: Every morning at 5:30, as the alarm clock goes off, and my dead body awakes, my wife asleep next to me, I think again to myself: ‘I can’t go on.’ And a minute later, I am in my scrubs, heading to the operating room, alive: ‘I’ll go on.’ I read this book mostly on my phone, while travelling with my Mom to a wedding in Boston. It’s a story that will stay with me for a long time.

3. The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami  This is a really beautiful book. It’s written as if the author is an artist painting a beautiful landscape. It’s about a man named Sripathi Rao, who undergoes a huge life shift when he discovers that his eldest daughter has been killed in a car accident, and him and his wife must care for their granddaughter Nandana, who arrives from Vancouver to Sripathi’s home in Toturpram, India, shy and scared. The characters in this book are memorable – Sripathi himself, his cantankerous mother, his loyal yet fed-up wife, and his son, who is a source of disappointment in his life. I first heard of this book when I attended the taping of Canada Reads at the CBC studios in Toronto, and watched in awe as actor Vinay Virmani defended it (it ended up losing out to Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal).

4. A Space Between by Ranjita Ghosh  Oh my ghosh this book was good. Haha, see what I did there. It’s not every day that you get a read a book written by a friend. This amazing book is a tale of romance, conflict, and the impacts of breaking societal norms, with a shocking twist. Daniel falls for Aahna, an Indian girl who works as a cleaner at his company in India. They fall in love but it is forbidden by society and their families. I read this book mostly at the kitchen table at home in Kanata, while having tea or eating breakfast. Being rebellious by nature myself, I found myself getting irritated every time that Daniel and Aahna ‘couldn’t’ do something because it was forbidden, and also very impressed by their courage to risk everything for true love. The twist made my jaw drop, and added to the depth of the story – it’s at this point that the story became a real page-turner for me; I couldn’t wait to find out how it ended! I was inspired not only by the story itself, but also how Ranjita found the time to write it, given her busy schedule! Definitely a sign that anything is possible.

5. The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh – This is a book for all of us math geeks and nerds, especially those that are fans of the Simpsons. Did you know that all the writers on the Simpsons are mathematical geniuses? Many of them chose a career of comedy writing over a path of academia. It’s because of this you will find hidden references to mathematics throughout episodes of the Simpsons, from Bart’s calculus equation in his first class at a private school, to Maggie’s blocks spelling out E = mc². I learned so many cool math tidbits in this book, many of which I shared with my students. The author, Simon Singh, manages to take us on an intriguing mathematical journey, with humour, insight, and creativity. You definitely don’t need to be a math whiz to enjoy this book.

6. The Buddha in Brooklyn by Martha Sherrill  I discovered this book in the Religion section of the Toronto Reference Library (a place that brings me great peace). I sunk into it immediately. It’s written as part journalism and part biography. Martha Sherrill follows the unlikely path of Jetsunma, a Jewish-Italian woman from Brooklyn who becomes a Bodhisattva after a high-ranking lama sees divinity and great leadership potential in her. In what begins as a journey to document the building of a stupa, Martha discovers shocking secrets about Jetsunma and how she treats those that believe in her. This book is well-written, informative, and provides an in-depth portrait of a complex person who in desperately seeking perfection, which paradoxically heightens her flaws.

7. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh  I read this book for my Ottawa book club. It is written by Clare Mackintosh, a former police officer who was greatly moved by a case in England where a child was killed in a hit-and-run accident. She used that incident as a basis for this fictional novel. The main character, Jenna Gray, is harbouring an awful secret, and hopes to rebuild her life anew in another town. Yet the memories of the accident cannot stop playing through her mind. I want to fix an image of him in my head, but all I can see when I close my eyes is his body, still and lifeless in my arms. I let him go, and I will never forgive myself for that”. Meanwhile, two police officers are investigating the case, and will stop at nothing to uncover the person responsible. The book touches on themes of mystery, betrayal, domestic abuse, and the quest to uncover the truth. Highly recommended.

8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce  It’s a good thing I don’t list these books in order because this one might’ve been my favourite. Harold Fry is on a journey to save his friend Queenie, and he is going to do it by walking from his home in Queensbridge to her hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I read this in the summertime, mostly at home and outside near the Beaver Pond. One afternoon, I sat on a bench at a park and a man walking his dog saw me reading and said “that’s something I always want to do but I never get a chance to. Enjoy.” Another lady smiled and said “Good for you”. So friendly and nice!! Harold’s journey starts out as a one-man show, but eventually it becomes much larger than he anticipated. It is up to him to remember why he started and not get carried away by all the fanfare. One of the best parts of this book is Harold’s relationship with his wife, and how they both discover how much they mean to one another.

9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  I read this book in the fall, and it lingers with me still. It is about Victoria, a broken girl in the foster care system, who is trying to find purpose in her life through her love of flowers. Sometimes the flowers say things that are trapped inside of her, and at other times the flowers allow her to communicate with others, and say more than she could ever say in words. The book could be frustrating at times, because, as one reviewer put it, you continually find yourself wanting to shake Victoria and say, “Why can’t you just let yourself be happy?”  Time and again, she lets love slip because she feels unworthy. The book is extremely well-written, emotional, and beautiful.

10. The Girl With Seven Names by Hyenseo Lee – This book was selected as the November read for my Ottawa book club. I literally could not put it down. It’s a book about a girl who escapes North Korea and goes on a long, arduous path to reunite with her family and find her identity in a new country. We had a lively book club discussion about this book, and wondered how one person could possibly endure so much, and if she feels as though the pain was all worth it in the end. I posted a picture of all of us from the book club, and it was so cool when Hyenseo herself came across the photo on Instagram and liked my picture! (yep I am easily excited). Hyenseo Lee (her seventh name) is now a human rights advocate and has given one of the most-watched TED talks of all time. This book shook me to my core. It was equal parts inspiring, tormenting, and riveting. I highly recommend it.

Notable Mentions

  • Ruling Your World – Sakyong Mipham
  • Brain Rules – John Medina
  • Save Me – Kristyn Kusek Lewis
  • Proof of Heaven – Eben Alexander
  • The Path of the Dreamhealer – Adam McLeod
  • Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

Nature by Numbers

Can you see fractals in the treetops?
A pattern that knows itself, like the laughing Buddha
Meditating under the Bodhi tree.
Branch by twig, and twig by branch,
Spinning, whirling, multiplying –
Writing into the sky.

Count the spirals on a pinecone:
Eight, thirteen, or twenty-one;
Knowingly, they turn to the centre,
while Fibonacci’s rabbits dart across footpaths,
scurrying onto their next adventure.

In the stillness of the hummingbird’s flutter,
Swirling eights form a sequence:
Down and around, up and through –
Weaving a piece of the infinite.

Numbers come to life around me,
Tallying nature’s score;
The gentle stream carries eternal sounds 
Leading us to that without limits.

* * *

This poem is inspired by my daily walks to the Beaver Pond in Kanata (my current home), where I witness the beauty of nature every day and often relate it to the beauty of mathematics. I tutor kids in math, and I’m always looking for creative ways for them to learn and appreciate math, beyond the standard curriculum. One way is to recognize that there are definite patterns in nature, which make it even more beautiful – you can literally see fractals in treetops, the golden ratio at play, and spirals in flowers and pinecones that follow the rules discovered by the mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci.

A few years ago, I was asked to do a creative writing assignment on choosing a shape for a story of my choice. I had chosen the Ramayana (an ancient Hindhu epic), and I found it impossible to choose a linear shape to represent such a mystical sequence of events. The only phenomenon I could think of was a fractal, which is a pattern that repeats itself based on a defined set of parameters. The Fibonacci sequence is as follows:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …….

Each number in this sequence is the sum of the two numbers that preceed it.  These numbers appear everywhere in nature – seashells, trees, pinecones, etc. If you count the spirals on the bottom of a pinecone, you will see that the number of spirals that weave to centre will most likely be one of the Fibonacci numbers. I commonly find pinecones that have either 8, 13, or 21 spirals. Next time you pick up a pinecone, count the spirals and see if the number is in the Fibonacci sequence!

Fibonacci also discovered rules that predict how rabbits multiply – as commonly known, rabbits are pretty frisky and tend to multiply rapidly. I am lucky to see rabbits everywhere I go in Kanata, and I especially find their fluffy white tails so adorable. Rabbits are known for eating twigs, grass, herbs and clover; four-leaf clover if they’re lucky.

Alright, I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there is more to math than  trigonometry and boring equations – it may even make you appreciate the beauty of the universe a little more!

 

If Nuns Ruled The World

Week 38. I’m sitting in bed at Jasmine’s place, just finished watching another episode of The Night Of, a stirring, beautiful HBO series about a Pakistani boy who is accused of murder. His parents are played by two amazing actors, Peyman Moaadi (a great Iranian actor who was in the movie “A Separation” that premiered at the film festival a few years ago), and Poorna Jagannathan who I am a huge fan of. It took me about halfway through the second episode last night to realize that she was the producer and one of the stars of the play Nirbhaya, that I saw last year and shook me to my core and caused me to set this goal of walking every week. She is also one of the 50 most beautiful women in India, a humanitarian, and a wonderful actor.

Ok so back to the walk. I’m hesitating a little because it felt slightly uninspired. I awoke on Sunday after my Mom’s Laksharchana that she hosts every year and I think after being surrounded by so many people and so much love, I didn’t really want to go for a lonely walk through the streets of Kanata. I talked to Hara for a bit and tried to help her with her engineering assignment, but was pretty useless when it came to remembering steel and stress and alloys.

It was a really nice day, and I walked my usual path, with a plan to go to the library to pick out a new book since I haven’t been reading anything related to women’s rights lately… or should I say, related to powerful, inspiring movements that are changing the world. You know, like another “I Am Malala” or “The Underground Girls of Kabul”. I just haven’t found anything of that calibre recently. I walked past the golf course, and the sun shone through and I met it with my weary gaze.

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Kanata Lakes golf course

I approached the library and the anxiety and irritation hit me, and so I took a detour and walked around my old high school, Earl of March, adjacent to the library. I remembered my days there, especially being picked up after school by Manar’s Mom, or missing school because of a painful period, or being dropped off in the morning by my Dad at exactly 8:42 AM, when the bell would ring. Actually I think there were two bells, the warning bell and then the actual one. Either way, I was always late!

It was Sunday so the fields and buildings and portables were deserted, and I was free to snoop around. It was gorgeous with the leaves changing colour.. can’t believe it’s already fall!

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I didn’t remember there being portables when I was there, but I think they had to add them because Earl now includes grades 7 and 8 so it must be at full capacity. At the library I was overwhelmed by the choices, and narrowed it down to these fabulous five books (I plan on reading them all at some point):

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All great book contenders, Kanata Public Library

I ended up choosing “If Nuns Rules The World” by Jo Piazza, about ten feisty, inspiring, no-nonsense, blessed, high-spirited women, who surrender themselves to Jesus, society, and are utterly devoted to their missions. I’m almost halfway through already! Jo is a contributer to the Wall Street Journal and a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. She states that she doesn’t believe in God, but she fiercely “believes in nuns”. It’s hard not to after hearing these inspiring stories. There is Sister Jeannine Grammick who supports gay Catholics and has tried to be silenced and dismissed by the Catholic church time and again. But she doesn’t let it faze her, because her compassion and principles know no bounds.

“People always emphasize sex, sex, sex….. And it isn’t about sex. It is about love. It is who you fall in love with that makes you lesbian and gay. Love is the important thing here, not sex.”
– Sister Jeannine

Then there is Sister Megan Rice who campaigns against nuclear weapons, and was sentenced to three years in prison for breaking into a nuclear complex in Tennessee to call attention to a nuclear threat. What a hero!

Following the library, I walked to Walmart where I bought some conditioner and sifted through magazines, and read a great article in O magazine by Elizabeth Gilbert. Then I was saved by the bell. My brother sent a snapchat of my cute mother sitting in Home Sense with a picture of the Buddha behind her. And I said “Where are you? I’m at Walmart!” and then I didn’t hear back so I wandered over to Chapters and got a latte. Eventually my Mom and brother came there and picked me up. I glanced at my phone and confirmed that I’d walked at least 8 KM (over 10,000) steps and decided to call it a day! As we drove back we chatted about the day. It felt good to be home.

 

 

 

One Flame Uniting People Worldwide

Week 36. This was a special one because it was in North Wales, where my Dad used to hike in his school days. We left from Coventry (where I was born!) and piled into the rental car and got comfortable for the 2-hour drive. We stopped to play with the sheep… well I did and everyone laughed because the sheep just ran away when I approached them. I felt a little agitated, wondering how I was going to make it through the day, staring at the sun and the mountains in awe yet still a little angry at God or whoever, but mostly just unable to process the amount of gratitude I was feeling. Roshni, Mom, and I sat in the back, crowded and trying to feel comfortable. Dylan sat in the front with lots of room and a big smile on his face. Dad drove, and led us through the hills and valleys, as we entered the place that he had fallen in love with as a child.

We parked close to Mount Snowdon, but we still needed to take a bus to get to the base. We discovered that we didn’t have enough change so Mom ran to a nearby taxi bus and asked him for change for a 10 pound note. She came back and we stood there waiting, then Dylan had the idea that we should just take the taxi instead of waiting for the bus, and so Mom ran back and asked him how much it would be and he said that it would be 2 pounds each (so 10 pounds in total). She came back and we agreed it was a better option (well first my Dad said that the bus would be cheaper, then realized it was just a small difference) and we all piled into the taxi. We enjoyed the smooth ride after being trapped in that small car for so long. It felt like the start of an adventure! Once we got to the base, we stopped to use the restrooms and geared up for our climb.

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Base of Mount Snowdon, North Wales

The sun was shining brightly and it was very windy. We decided to take the Miner’s Path, a beautiful hike encircling two lakes, that is perfect for people who want an enjoyable hike without going to the summit. Throughout our hike, my Dad would find hills off the beaten path and him and Dylan would climb up them and almost get blown over by the force of the wind. We stopped at one of the lakes and had a rock-throwing contest – mine didn’t go very far!, Dad won, with Dylan came in a close second.

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There were waterfalls and sheep and the views were beyond beautiful. I stopped at a waterfall and started to sing “I Would Die for You” – a flash of inspiration.

On our way home we stopped for lunch at a cute little café – I had a vegetarian breakfast consisting of eggs, veggie sausage, hash browns, mushrooms, and toast – all for just 3.99 pounds! I had to use the bathroom which was a porta-potty type thing, and on my way stumbled upon a beautiful little stream. I paid my 20 pence for the bathroom, got inside and pressed the LOCK button. Then the automated message voice announced “This door will open automatically in 15 minutes” which gave me a heart attack (how was I going to survive in there for 15 whole minutes?!!), immediately followed by “At any time you may press the button to unlock.” Phew!

We drove on and encounted a cute little place that looked like a B&B that turned out to be a yoga/retreat centre. We stopped outside and we were in awe of the World Peace Flame (image above).

The World Peace Flame is a universal symbol of global peace and unity. Peace is the change that you and I can make here and now by the way we think, speak, feel and act to create harmony in our day to day life and relationships.

There were seven flames in 5 continents that were lit across the world. In 1999 they were united in Bangor, North Wales to create the World Peace Flame. Since then the flame has been taken to every country in the world and serves as a representation for the unified desire for world peace. The flame is a call to action, and is associated with many humanitarian projects around the world. The World Peace Flame Foundation runs trauma healing programs in Sudan, Northern Ireland, and Nepal, and most recently programs to help Syrian refugees. In India, there are programs to empower local communities and provide free health care to impoverished areas.

We walked into the main office of the centre and met the owner Sue, who took us through and explained some of the programs related to yoga, meditation, mantras, the power of sound, and retreats. She was so lovely and animated, and made us feel right at home!

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Me and Sue, Owner of Dru Yoga Centre, North Wales

In the picture you can see Saraswati in the back and the Bhagavad Gita! I wish I’d taken a picture of the passage it was open to. Sue handed us lots of brochures and guided us through the centre. I saw the book Full Catastrophe Living there, which was written by Jon Kabat Zinn, whose meditation I do on a daily basis. Then I said hi to the sleeping Buddha who was hanging out by the window.

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It felt like a long drive home, but thankfully we all slept and were konked out for most of it. We arrived back in Coventry at around 9 PM, where my Foi was waiting for us and had a wonderful dinner prepared.