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If You Only Read Five Books in 2017…
There are many lists to be found declaring the top 100 or 200 books you simply must read — lists which put emphasis on the importance of having read most of them already. I want to get away from such indomitable lists, which seem to be about shaming ignorance or bolstering ego, rather than fostering thought and reflection and a stronger connection to humanity.
I appreciate the power of the written word but also that there are few books, fiction or non, that everyone must read. Writing, like any art, is subjective. The value of a book is not inherent.
With this in mind, I have put together the following recommendations for books which I believe a majority of people would benefit from reading, for their own sake as much as the sake of others. I have included ten books, five non-fiction and five fiction, but conclude that even reading just five books in a year is valuable. Indeed, even reading just one of these books will be meritorious.
For the benefit of beings, I offer these suggestions:
They are in no particular order despite being numbered
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People — Mahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald
Beautifully presented, well referenced and poignant, this book is by the co-founders of the Implicit Association tests (IAT), which you can take via the Harvard website.
The information is easy to digest and the message is important:
Overt discrimination is not nearly as big of a problem as unendorsed implicit biases held by consciously egalitarian people.
It’s not enough to think of ourselves as good people; we need to develop tools to notice implicit biases so we can counter-act them.
You can read the book, take the tests and/or listen to Professor Banaji’s interview with Krista Tippett on On Being.
2. The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality & Gender — Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
This book is a fantastic presentation of spirituality and emptiness. It’s so refreshing for someone to say: “This whole ‘the path is beyond gender, sexuality and race’ approach to spirituality is massively unhelpful and dismissive of the importance of understanding individual suffering to relate to collective/universal suffering.”
Zenju speaks to the importance of truly recognising how we are all in relationship, and that no one is free from the harm caused by distorted views of the many embodiments of humanity. To relate better as human beings, we must see and understand that no embodiment is superior and all are necessary.
This book is truly beautiful in its presentation of compassion, tender-heartedness and how to cultivate self-awareness.
3. My Stroke of Insight — Jill Bolte Taylor
Easy to follow and read, this is anything but a dry scientific account of neuroscience. Dr. Bolte Taylor brings incredible insight to the workings of the mind and the relationship between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
What I learned from this book has helped me immensely with my meditation practice, my relationships and in my professional life.
If you don’t have time to read it, Dr. Bolte Taylor has a TED talk!
4. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living — Krista Tippett
This book is a fabulous collection of reflections, insights and teachings. I found myself needing to take breaks because the wisdom it holds is overwhelming.
Now more than ever, the world needs people like those interviewed in this book. Now more than ever this is the sort of reading material we should be turning to to bolster us.
Also, if you’ve not listened to On Being, today, right now, is a great time to start. I particularly recommend the interviews with Congressman John Lewis, Civil Rights activist and historian Ruby Sales, technology morality and ethics advocate Anil Dash, Civil Rights lawyer Michelle Alexander and therapist and professor Pauline Boss.
This book is the most wonderfully insightful journal and collection of letters written by a young Jewish woman striving to cultivate compassion. She writes so beautifully of the need to reflect inwardly, to be kind and generous of spirit, most especially in the face of great adversity.
Timeless, truly. Etty Hillesum is a shining example of what it is to be a Bodhisattva.
Alas, I have no video or audio to references to go along with this recommendation.
The fiction list proved far more challenging as it falls into the ‘art’ category very firmly and lacks the objectivity of some of the non-fiction works which are conveyances of empirical evidence. That being said, these are my subjective recommendations, taken from about twenty or so works of fiction which have had a transformative effect on my life.
The Color Purple — Alice Walker
I found this book poignant and incredibly valuable as a white person seeking to address her implicit bias around race. I am ashamed to say I only read this book for the first time last year. It won the awards it has for good reason.
While I am not ‘ranking’ these books, if you are white and you only read one from this list, make it The Color* Purple.
*As a Canadian it’s REALLY challenging for me to type that without a ‘U’. For the Canadians out there, respect the spelling. No matter how much your brain wants to change it.
2. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater — Kurt Vonnegut
This book is a delightful commentary on the societal notion that anyone who thinks of others must have a screw loose. For something published in 1965, it sure is relevant!
I’m just going to add, while this is my Kurt Vonnegut ‘pick’ for this list, you can’t go wrong with Vonnegut. He intertwines humour with his examinations and reflections on humanity and is often blunt in his assessments. A bluntness that I find delightful.
If you have read ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ or any of his better-known stuff and enjoyed it, you won’t go wrong getting more of his writing. He was truly a prophet for our times.
3. The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite — Beatrice Colin
A view of Berlin in the early 20th century through the rather whimsical life of Lilly Aphrodite, a performer and ‘free spirit’. Her life is in stark contrast to the economic downturn faced by the people of Germany following World War I. This is one of those historical fiction pieces that puts a human story into a setting about which many of us consider ourselves to ‘know’.
4. A Fine Balance — Rohinton Mistry
Another ‘historical fiction’ type piece, in which we are transported to India in 1975, to see how significant political events play in the day-to-day lives of a small cast of characters. This richly woven narrative is instilled with compassion for the human condition and was eye-opening for my narrow Western view of the world.
5. Lamb — Christopher Moore
This book has been on my favourites list for most of my adult life. Told from the point of view of Levi Who is Called ‘Biff’, this alternative gospel is the story of Jesus’ life from the age of twelve until his death.
It is humorous and delightful, challenging and blasphemous, and downright fun. As a Buddhist, I take such a book as a reminder not to take what I believe in too seriously.
I should probably mention two more recommendations, one non-fiction and one fiction, both of which you can purchase through my website: Wise at Any Age & Friends We Haven’t Met, authored by yours truly!
You can toodle on over to www.KaitlynSCHatch.com to find out more about what I do, because writing is just one aspect of my work.
Originally published on Medium.