Expand your worldview.
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Books are magical, aren’t they? Stories can whisk you off to parts of the world you’ve never seen. They can introduce you to customs and cultures you’ve never encountered. And they even send you back in time. Or thrust you headlong into a possible future. Books expand our experiences. They are vehicles we use to safely explore the world around us without ever having to leave home.
The books in this post contain stories that have had a profound impact on my life. Some are traditionally published prizewinners. Others are the more humble creations of indie authors. All of them explore what it means to be human. And I have listed them in no particular order.
Expand Your Reading List
1. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Genre: U.S. Political Fiction
Print Pages: 304
Though I’d heard about this book way back in high school, I read it for the first time a few years ago. This is NOT light reading. The storyline is depressing, realistic, and tragic. Contrary to popular belief, this book isn’t about meat packing or sausage factories in Chicago. Yes, there’s meat, but it’s not the star. Instead, the narrative opens with a wedding. A Slavic family full of hope, immigrates to Chicago. But the foreign customs, language barriers, and economic differences leave them ripe for the picking. This book captures a hauntingly accurate depiction of poverty and hopelessness in early 20th century America— a condition which hasn’t improved nearly enough over the past hundred years.
2. When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Genre: Asian American Historical Fiction
Print Pages: 322
I found this book via NetGalley earlier last year. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but this story had a perspective on World War II that I had never learned in school. It takes place in Malaya (or Malaysia) shortly before, during, and after the Japanese occupation. The main character is an ethnically Chinese woman, wife, and mother. The family experiences the horror of bomb blasts and the brutality of the Japanese military. These hardships strain their bonds and force her to stay strong. It is a fascinating story with a bittersweet ending.
3. Love is Love by Mette Bach
Genre: YA LGBT Romance
Print Pages: 176
And here is another NetGalley jewel I picked up last year. This YA romance features a troubled country teen moving to the big city. She has a lot of adjusting to do but feels more freedom to be herself. And she falls in love with a transgendered boy who rocks her world. This is the first queer book I’ve ever read (even though I am queer, ha!), and I loved every minute of it. The fact that it’s set in the city I live in makes it all the more meaningful to me.
4. Loreless by P. J. Whittlesea
Genre: Australian Historical Fiction
Print Pages: 263
This is another read I found on NetGalley last year. The storyline follows an Australian man uncovering his aboriginal roots. Though the author isn’t indigenous, he crafted this book with great care, research, respect, and with the permission of aboriginal elders. And that is something I deeply appreciate.
5. The Transgender Manifesto by Ian Thomas Malone (she/her)
Genre: Transgender Studies
Print Pages: 160
And here is one of the few nonfiction books on my list. This book is both a celebration of life as a transgendered person and a defense of the transgender identity. Powerful, logical, and wonderful. (Also discovered on NetGalley last year.)
6. Feast: A Gitksan Story by Roy W. Russell
Genre: Native American Studies
Print Pages: 202
This book is especially meaningful to me. The author, a Gitksan man now living in the U.S., was excited when he discovered I live so close to his ancestral lands. I had professionally reviewed one of his other books, and he requested that I review this one, as well. It is a somber story with hints of magical realism and steeped in the Gitksan rituals and traditions of his native village. Though there is a slow and steady sadness, it also contains fellowship and a gradual healing of wounds.
7. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Genre: Historical Thriller
Print Pages: 465
I discovered this story on audiobook via Audible about 5 years ago. It’s a devastating and haunting glimpse into life in North Korea. Though it’s a work of fiction, the author spent some time researching in North Korea. And it shows. There’s a reason this won a 2013 Pulitzer Prize.
8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Genre: Literary Fiction
Print Pages: 326
Another story from my audiobook days, this book is equally as haunting as the last. It provides a fascinating glimpse into memory, trauma, and the stories we create to protect ourselves.
9. Native Son by Richard Wright
Genre: U.S. Literature
Print Pages: 550
And here is another read from way back in high school. It provides a powerful glimpse into 1930s Chicago and explores issues of blackness and systemic poverty/oppression.
10. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Genre: Metaphysical and Visionary Fiction
Print Pages: 112
I fell in love with this book in high school. The main character undergoes a gradual transformation as he struggles with various religious paths. (Little did I know at the time that I would undertake the same journey.) My favorite moment in this book is a philosophical discussion of time that the character conducts while gazing at a river. Poignant, beautiful, lovely.
11. Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey
Print Pages: 322
My brother introduced this book to me about 6 or 7 years ago. This memoir delves into the author’s childhood in India. But since the author is also a chef, the book brims over with descriptions of food, ingredients, and taste memories. Since my own sense of taste is dull, this book enabled me to experience flavors I never dreamed possible.
12. The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan
Genre: Asian American Fiction
Print Pages: 378
I came across this book about 6 years ago via Audible. It’s an intriguing and bittersweet story about struggle, myth, and the bond between mother and child.
13. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Genre: African Political Fiction
Print Pages: 209
This book was assigned reading in one of my undergraduate history courses. And I am so grateful for it. The story not only showcases the culture and beliefs of an Ibo village, it also presents the true horror of European colonialization.
14. The Butcher’s Tale by Helmut Walser Smith
Genre: European History
Print Pages: 272
And this book also assigned reading for the same course. In this nonfiction work, the author studies historical documents surrounding a murder trial. During the actual trial, a Jewish butcher was accused, convicted, and executed. However, the author uncovers that community’s flawed thinking, fueled by prejudice. And he uncovers the real killer.
15. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
Genre: Religion and Spirituality
Print Pages: 96
A friend recommended this book to me when I was in undergrad. She mentioned that her parents had taken a particular passage from this book to quote at their wedding. And there is no doubt that this book glows with wisdom.
P.S.: Don’t forget to share this post so your friends can expand their reading lists, too!