1. Michael Kinsley, Old age: a beginner’s guide
Michael Kinsley was an American political commentator and journalist. He wrote this book after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and this book was mostly about how he coped with Parkinson’s disease. Michael Kinsley has quite a good sense of humour and I think life would be so much better if we could all detach ourselves from our problems and laugh at them.
2. Amitav Ghosh, The glass palace
This is a fiction book on Myanmar and it spans a century from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Mandalay, through the Second World War to modern times. Through this book, we can see how the changing power structure in the nation affects the lives of its people. I really like the characters and sometimes I wish they have better endings…But all in all, it is a great book and it keeps you turning the pages.
3. Amanda Ripley, The smartest kids in the world
This book attempts to comment on the educational landscape and culture in 3 countries: South Korea, Finland and Poland through the lens of the author as well as American students who studied for a short period of time in each of these 3 countries. There are quite a bit of fair points raised in this book but I must say a lot of things are really a matter of perspective and sometimes there is no “right” or “best” approach. Quite an interesting read!
4. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?
This book is about Finnish education and how it has changed over the years. It gets quite dry at some point as the author gets a bit repetitive. All in all, it is rather heartening to see how the education landscape has transformed in Finland over several decades and how it has helped Finland economically. This book reminds me yet again that change is possible even though it may be painful at times. There is no yellow brick road and most of the time, people need to negotiate to agree on the way ahead.
5. Jojo Moyes, Me before you
This is a book about this girl who have a beautiful love story with a quadriplegic, who had lost his meaning in life. This girl set out to try to help the boy to find meaning and joy in life again and the boy taught the girl to live boldly and chase her dreams. It is a sad story but it is that kind of story that forces you to think what love actually means and whether quality or quantity is more important in life.
6. Oliver Sacks, Gratitude
This book is a compilation of 4 essays that were written by Oliver Sacks after he was told that his cancer had recurred. In his words, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude…. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” The dominant theme of the book is gratitude towards life and this book serves as a good reminder that life is very short and life itself is a great gift from God.
7. Paul Kalanithi, When breath becomes air
This has become one of my favourite books. This is a non-fiction autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi about his life and illness as he battled stage IV metastatic lung cancer. He wrote, “You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” It is true that the key characteristic of an organism is striving and personally I think that meaning in life is related to striving hard to give back as much as I can to this beautiful world that I live in. He wrote honestly about his struggles as well as his uncertainties. I especially like that part when he asked ,”Why me?” He answered his question with another question, “Why not me?” Sometimes life may seem unfair and we feel like we don’t deserve what we get…but frankly, how many people in the hospital deserve what they get? What makes us so special? What makes us above them?
8. Brene Brown, Rising strong
This is a book that tells you to be kind to yourself and the people around you. I love the part when Brene Brown asked the readers to consider if the person whom they despised most could possibly be doing the best that they can right now. People are products of both their choices and circumstances so sometimes we end up judging people too quickly because we have little information about their circumstances. This book taught me to withhold judgement and to grow the heart to forgive people for their wrongdoings. We got to try to live and let live.
9. Brene Brown, Daring greatly
In Daring greatly, Brene Brown wrote about the need to be vulnerable and to engage with our hearts especially in difficult times. From her point of view, we need to be brave to face our own vulnerabilities and find out why we have reacted the way we have done. I think it’s important to read a book like this to start a conversation about vulnerability. This is especially so because in this era, we tend to be so pre-occupied with “protecting ourselves” and sometimes we lose ourselves in this process.
10. Lang Leav, Love & misadventure
This is a collection of short poems and proses written by Lang Leav on love. It is quite an interesting read and there is a mix of good poems and some rather corny ones.
11. Jean-Dominique Bauby, The diving bell and the butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby was a well-known French actor, author and editor of a French magazine. He suffered a massive stroke at the age of 43 and found himself in a locked-in syndrome – his whole body was paralyzed with the exception of his left eyelid. This book was written by blinking when the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabet over and over again using a system called partner-assisted scanning. The book was mostly about his life after the stroke. I think this book really puts life into perspective. I can type so effortlessly now and I may take it for granted but this ability is not a given.
12. Fredrik Backman, A man called Ove
This has also become another of my favourite books. Ove is a grumpy old man who does not like many things in the modern world. Mostly, he misses his wife who has passed away and he wants to die as he does not see the meaning in persisting. However, his rather “useless” neighbours keep interrupting his suicide attempt as they need his help with some mundane tasks. Over time, these neighbours slowly help him to find meaning and purpose in life again. It’s funny yet moving at the same time. Great book!
13. Nick Vujicic, Limitless: Devotions for a Ridiculously Good Life
Nick Vujicic was born without hands and legs. In this book, he wrote about his struggles as well as how he managed to reframe his problems and live a bold and good life. He is a very courageous and optimistic person. I don’t really like the “God’s plan” rhetoric though so I will not re-read the book.