Ah, the daily grind. Isn’t it just so easy to slip into it? You wake up, brush your teeth (hopefully), make coffee, get on the bus, work, get on the bus, workout, make dinner… And so it goes, day in, day out.
I’m a huge advocate for adding variety to your life. Whether it’s through diet, exercise, socialising, nail colour… But sometimes, even changing up your morning coffee order isn’t enough to make you feel alive. And then you are faced with those days you just want to pack a suitcase and genuinely escape.
Reading is a powerful practice. It’s been a pretty uncertain and unsettling time in the history of our world, and many of us are in search of a deeper meaning. And think about it, when was the last time a book completely blew your mind? Wouldn’t you like to feel that way again? So consumed by a story you couldn’t put the book down, or stop think about it?
This year, I made it my resolution to read at least one book a month. For someone who often finds themselves on instagram instead of reaching for my bedside read, I’ve done pretty well. [I’ve read 10 books, and we’re in September!] And the best reads were those that made me forget who and where I was, or reminded me how amazing life can be, or taught me a valuable concept that I could apply to my life. They’ve all left a lasting impression, and changed the way I see the world.
I love a good book recommendation, so I thought I’d put together a list of my own favourites. I would love love love for you to contribute and drop your own favourites in the comments!
1. when breath becomes air, Paul Kalanithi
Well this was an emotional read. If you’re in the mood for a dramatic introspection and exploring the journey of life and death through the eyes of a neurosurgeon turned terminal cancer patient, this one’s for you. I marvelled, I smiled, and yes, I even cried a little bit. A great reminder that life is beautiful but fleeting, and that science and faith are not polar opposites.
Read when: you’re experiencing change in your life, or are trying to find meaning to your life. It was also a great plane read, although make sure you bring along some tissues!
2. the pillars of the earth, Ken Follett
I didn’t think I would enjoy this brick of a book so much. It took me a couple of months to work through, but I couldn’t wait to jump into bed to read another chapter of this great story. Set in England in the 12th century, we follow the story of Tom Builder, a stonemason, and his family. Political intrigue, cathedral vernacular and romantic encounters are to be expected! It was historical fiction at its best for me; I learned a lot about English history and found the intricate storyline very captivating.
Read when: you’re feeling mentally sharp and clear, but need a break from non-fiction. This’ll keep you engaged, but not mentally exhausted from information overload!
3. a thousand splendid suns, Khaled Hosseini
I feel like this one’s quickly become another modern classic – it’s from the same author as The Kite Runner, which I also highly recommend. A beautiful story of friendship and a raw depiction of the lives of many Afghan women under the Taliban regime. Feelings of unjustice and anger were frequent for me when I read this; it’s a powerful story!
Read when: you’ve lost faith in humanity a bit. Yes, it’s a terrible story, but also a stark reminder that if we stick together, we can conquer anything. Especially women!
4. eat, pray, love, Elizabeth Gilbert
Maybe cliché, but when I read it at only 16, I was completely transported. Of course, I was nowhere near a mid-life crisis or working through any adult stuff, but I feel this book has shaped my ability to be aware of overcommitment and taking things too seriously. Because at any point, I could pack a bag and leave for an Indian ashram, or flee to the Mediterranean for a culinary adventure. It’s a great story of what’s come to matter the most in my life – to eat well, to embrace a spiritual practice and to cultivate deep relationships.
Read when: you’ve got any kind of life crisis, or need a reminder that you’re capable of anything. I will not be held accountable for the spontaneous holidays or trips that may ensue!
5. freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner
I also read this one in high school, after it being recommended by my economics teacher. Little did I know economics would become a career for me! Economics is everywhere – from drug dealing to the bagel industry. This is a highly approachable and entertaining read for all of us who enjoy understanding the underlying infrastructure of society. And if you’re not sure, just listen to an episode of the Freakonomics podcast.
Read when: you want to learn something new, in a fun and entertaining way, or need a new repertoire of dinner party anecdotes to tell. Guaranteed winner!
6. the handmaid’s tale, Margaret Atwood
Anything dystopian – count me in. This was a powerful read; devastating, disempowering at times, frightening and very eye-opening. I also thought the recent TV show did it justice. Patriarchy is taken to its extreme in this read; women are turned into baby-making machines and stripped of their rights, names and independence. It also shocked me to be reminded of how quickly and easily society can spin out of control.
Read when: NOW! This is so incredibly relevant, given current discussions on women’s rights and gender equality.
7. never let me go, Kazuo Ishiguro
This was a weird, memorable book. I don’t know why it was so impactful. Another dystopian story, set in an English boarding school, where children turn out to be clones designed to be organ donors. It’s a story of friendship, rebellion and acceptance all at once, but not for the faint-hearted!
Read when: not when you’re feeling down. I remember it being moody and dark at times. Best read in fewer sittings, since it is so weirdly intense!
8. the help, Kathryn Stockett
Fun, light, uplifting and also dead serious. I couldn’t recommend it more (as I do the film!). Set in Mississippi in the 60s, the story is that of Skeeter, the daughter of a white family, and Aibileen, a maid, who collaboratively write a newspaper column on household tips and develop a wonderful yet challenging friendship. There’s so much tenderness and truth to this story!
Read when: it’s the summer and you want an easy read, or an autumn book to snuggle up with on a rainy night!
9. wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail, Cheryl Strayed
Another cliché classic – Cheryl Strayed hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and finds herself, has many footwear issues and makes peace with the loss of her mother. I stayed up all night reading parts of it, because it’s easy to read, and yet so gripping. I think we can all relate to a character who’s feeling a little lost and embarks on an extreme adventure to self-realize.
Read when: you’re lacking inspiration, or need some motivation for a challenge you’ve set yourself (both physical and non-physical!).
10. attending: medicine, mindfulness and humanity, Ronald Epstein
A great read relating to my field of study (Health Economics!) on the importance of ‘mindful medicine’. Ronald Epstein discusses some key principles of becoming a better clinician by leaning in and being more responsive to their patients, embracing their own humanity to make patients feel supported. It was also a reminder that we have a responsibility towards our doctors to shake up the status quo and make them listen when we’re not feeling cared for!
Read when: you’ve lost faith in modern medicine, like I had!