Okay, with a leap of faith, I will risk turning into a listicle blogger with this post… but here goes nothing. I really made it a point to read this holiday because I used to be such an avid reader as a child all the way through sekolah menengah but then college and iPhones happened, and before long I realised I just wasn’t reading anymore. I always had a to-read list, and I even read a book or two throughout college (apart from assigned texts!) but I felt like I had lost that mojo, so to speak and I really wanted it back. And if you know me, you’d know that if I really want something I will go get it. So this summer, I did. All in all, I’ve read 9 books so far which isn’t amazing but I’m happy with it (in comparison, I only read 4 last summer*).
Anyway, here are my 9 books in the order I read them:
Originals, by Adam Grant
Adam Grant is one of the highest rated professors at Penn. I’ve had the privilege of attending his talks before and it’s not hard to see why—he’s very engaging. That trait of his also comes through in his writing, I think, because I found the book quite hard to put down. Much like Malcolm Gladwell, he writes for the lay man so the book was really easy to read through. That’s saying a lot because reading non-fiction can be quite boring for me.
Originals is about creativity and non-conformity. He talks about how being atypical can be an advantage and also how anyone has what it takes to be creative. I really recommend it because it’s a great book which employs psychological findings to make up well-written essays. Plus, I personally felt quite inspired by it because Originals convinced me that creativity is accessible and not exclusive to inherently talented individuals.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is probably one of my favourite books of all time. Americanah is written so beautifully. Maybe I just don’t read enough, but I’ve never read a story that sounds so much like it’s an elaborate poem until I read this one. I wrote about Americanah just after I read it a couple of months ago, and this was the author’s description of the book which I included in that post:
“Americanah is about a young woman, Ifemelu, who leaves Nigeria when she’s a teenager, comes to the U.S., spends 13 years and then goes back to Nigeria. And in those 13 years, many things happen. And it’s also about Obinze, who’s her childhood love, who leaves Nigeria to go to the U.K. and who then returns to Nigeria. So for me, it’s a novel about leaving home as much as it is about going back home, and really about what “home” means, and if you can go back home.” (Source: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
If you’ve ever lived away from home or felt like a foreigner, I think there’s so much of this book you can relate to!
Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
Ok, I’m gonna be totally honest and say this one was a bit of a pain to go through. It was an insightful book, no doubt, but at that point in time, I had just recently read Originals and… well, Dan Ariely’s writing kind of pales in comparison to Adam Grant’s. It took me quite a while to get through this book, but I did it eventually so it wasn’t that bad. And to be even more honest, part of the reason I found it difficult to read could have even been the fact that the font was so small! So I’m just saying, if you want to read a popular psychology book, this might not be where you want to start.
Anyway, Predictably Irrational is interesting because it challenges a lot of the assumptions of rationality commonly hold. For example, I learned that we tend to overreact to things that are free, that sometimes being paid to do something takes the joy out of it and that we arbitrarily overvalue the things we own just because we own them. Ariely uses psychological experiments and findings to demonstrate these propositions and as a psychology major, it was both cool and boring to read about just because they were really interesting findings but I had already been reading a lot about these kinds of things in class. So make of my review what you will.
#Girlboss, by Sophia Amoruso
This is another book I also have written about a while ago. Sophia Amoruso is a classic rags to riches kind of story and while that’s certainly not representative of everyone’s journey, her can-do spirit is very contagious and I loved that. She espouses the relatively-cliché mantra, which is: experiment, find something you love to do and work very very very hard at it. I’ve heard it so many times before, but I loved it anyway because she talks a lot about how she was a misfit, how she was under-qualified, how she felt like a fraud, but also how she worked her way through that. And she became successful because of the internet and eBay, things we all have access to. It just really made me feel like the digital age has opened up so much more space for people to be successful with so much less.
Some takeaways I remember are: the ability to persist through something you hate at least for a while and to learn something from that is a skill; your possessions are just “emblems” of hard work which transcends the objects themselves; you need both an idea and the ability/willingness to execute it; take care of the littlest things you do and treat them as “promises to your own future” and have unshakeable confidence. K now go get the book.
Bossypants, by Tina Fey
I’m not really a huge fan of Tina Fey (I’ve never watched 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live), but I do love women who have successful creative careers and can write about it well. I’ve read Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, Mindy Kaling’s two books and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and loved them all, so I thought, why not try this one as well. It’s safe to say that I think Bossypants is the funniest one of all the books in this category, by far. Tina Fey had me laughing alone in restaurants and trains and kept me company many mornings on the commutes to work. It’s not as beautifully written as Lena Dunham’s book and it’s not as inspiring as Sophia Amoruso’s, but it is hilarious.
Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
About 3 years ago, I read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami and I’ve been meaning to read another ever since. I finally did this summer when I bought Norwegian Wood. Obviously, I don’t remember much of Kafka on the Shore at this point, but I remember liking that one more. I think Murakami is probably better at the fantastical and mystical. Norwegian Wood was, in contrast to a lot of his other work, more true to real life. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, I just wasn’t in love with it. If anything, I liked how the tone of the book was true to the main character, Toru Watanabe’s, loneliness; it seemed like everything around him was moving so quickly and he wasn’t… he wasn’t really doing anything, and it was like the supporting characters had a lot more agency over him and he was just going through the motions. Or at least that’s how I felt (what do I know?).
Lullabies, by Lang Leav
In an Instagram post recently, I wrote about how I really wanted to love Lang Leav’s poems. I have seen some of her stuff here and there on Tumblr and etc. so I was really curious, but I was ultimately let down when I realised that her poetry was adorned by this romanticisation of heartbreak and loss. I think that’s a totally valid thing to feel, and I can understand where that comes from but it was hard to read through all of that and feel what she felt. Which could be a good thing for her, because it’s, at least, impressive that how she feels is made so clear through her words.
Yasmin How You Know?, compiled by friends and family of Yasmin Ahmad
I loved this book. I really did. I’ve been meaning to read it for years now, since my friend Jian Wei recommended it over social media. The book is a compilation of “Yasminisms” as recollected by her friends, family and coworkers. It is made of stories, speeches, quotes, pictures, poems and lots of insight and laughter. She was clearly unique, and yet I related to her quirkiness—like her, with my close friends and family, I also speak in tongues and say weird things. The book reveals how she truly believed her work was just a medium and that all her inspiration came from God. She was humble, giving, bold and just really funny. The book is printed in a “yet to be finished” form. The grey thingy is just a sleeve that encapsulated a very bare book, and I loved that the publishers did it as an homage to her life which ended too soon.
If you’re Malaysian, I strongly recommend this book because it has such a Malaysian spirit and tone to it which I find difficult to put my finger on, but it’s what will keep me returning to this book for a piece of home when I’m away.
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
After seeing this book everywhere in shops and online, I decided to get it last week. Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the famous Eat, Pray, Love but this time, she’s written more of a “self-help” book.
Big Magic is all about overcoming the fear to work with your inspiration and to live creatively. I think a lot of times people get inspired to do things or create things, but we’re paralysed by worries that it won’t work out as well as we want to or we won’t get recognised/paid for it, etc. Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing in Big Magic is like the friend who sits you down and dismantles each and every one of those fears, one at a time, steadily and gently.
In it, Gilbert talks about how she kept her day job because she never expected her creative work to support her financially because it might “burden” her. She also talked about how creative work is as much about discipline as it is about inspiration because inspiration (which she in this book refers to as a magical entity—hence, the title) favours people who are committed to it. As a person who is considering dabbling into the ~creative life~ so to speak, I found this very encouraging and assuring. The things you want to make don’t have to be earth-shaking and groundbreaking, they don’t need to change people’s lives and they don’t even need to be perfect; you just have to keep doing your best at the things you enjoy making.
And that marks the end of my list!!! Gosh, that was long, it took me 1.5 hours to write this haha. I hope I did at least a decent job at describing the books. I definitely do them no justice at all. I’m like sat here on my bedroom floor flipping through these books trying to remember what they’re all about because some of these I read almost 3 months ago, lol.
My reading list is still pretty long though! In the next few months (hopefully by the end of the semester, if that’s possible) I want to read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. All three of these books were recommended to me over and over again so I can’t wait to read them and I’m hoping the semester (which, as of now, is already looking hectic) permits me to.
*Last summer, I read Give and Take by Adam Grant, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, Quiet by Susan Cain and 1984 by George Orwell. I wanted to blog about it but I was like “I’m not gonna create a blog just to write about these 4 books” haha.