I do my best to not judge a book by its cover, and to read a variety of genres: business, fiction, biographies, philosophy, etc. I’ve always enjoy reading, but lately I’ve found that reading is like eating, you need to find what is going to nourish your mind. In my case I need a book that is going to challenge me, teach me something new, or leave me entertained. Hence, I don’t bother finishing a book unless I get engrossed in it. I want the books I read to leave a lasting impression on me. If I find that its not going to then I just move on. While I do read books that are popular I also look for gems. This past year I read 10 books that I think are worthy of sharing.
1. Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves
I began 2012 living in Paris and London. It had always been a dream of mine to live and work abroad. While I enjoyed my stay, and got a sense of life abroad, I was really happy to be back home. This happiness led me to question whether I was actually cut out to be a wanderlust.
Before casting myself as a homebody, I decided I’d read about what life is like as a true wanderlust. I picked up Eaves’ book which recounts how she spent her youth traveling across 5 continents. Living vicariously through her adventures and explorations, I realized what it means to be a true wanderlust: the desire to constantly be on the move.
Faced with constant change, adapting became second nature, and visiting various cultures made her more worldly. Despite her many adventures and romances, she admits to the fact that spending more than 10 years roaming the Earth left her without a sense of a true home or identity.
2. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read Eat, Pray, Love a few years back, a veritable manifesto for the woman who wants it all in life: career, love, and adventure. Due to her divorce, and depiction of matrimony as having held her back, I sensed her cynicism when it came to marriage. I’ve always been a little confused by the institution, given my parents had an arranged marriage, and having grown up in a culture that scoffs at it. I’ve never been satisfied by either the East or West’s attitude towards it. The East limiting individual freedoms, especially of women, while those in the West are too susceptible to whimsical dissolutions that threaten the stability and security of family.
When a friend of mine suggested that I read Committed, I was mildly curious as to what led Gilbert to change her mind on the institution of marriage.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about the book was how Gilbert covers marriage not just in the Western world as we know and experience it, but across the globe, and throughout time. This to me was the most fascinating. Being able to understand how marriage has evolved and where it is headed is necessary. She also deconstructs the elements that have led to those who have long and enduring partnerships. The book gave me a better sense of how marriage has evolved from a purely contractual obligation to one of companionship.
3. True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart by Thich Nhat Thanh
Most people probably know that I’m pretty demanding of myself. My younger self would have demanded perfection, but over the years I’ve realized that isn’t healthy or realistic. What I do expect is a level of progress and self-improvement. However, after a series of both professional and personal setbacks in 2012, due to what I perceived as forces beyond my control I decided it was time to learn how to give myself a break!
What I enjoyed most about the book was Thanh’s simple language, and poetic delivery. Reading Thanh’s writing leaves you feeling like you’ve just talked to a best friend. Thanh has a level of empathy that I suppose you can only get from a monk. Every one of his words exudes compassion. As silly as it sounds, at the end of each chapter I learned how to give myself a hug.
There are elements of religious edicts, because after all, Thanh is a Buddhist monk. But there is also a level of consistency that comes from being a religion that cares about introspection. Despite the religious overtones, the book is a worthwhile read, leaving the reader with a sense of what appropriate self-nurturing entails.
4. You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Thanh
Its just damn hard to live in the present, but it is what is necessary to be happy and feel fulfilled. Living in the present requires a level of focus, and detaching yourself from events of the past, and anxiety for the future. I’ve always strived to live in the present.
This book not only reinforces the need to live in the present, but for those of us who need a how-to guide, Thanh covers simple and effective techniques to make this happen.
5. Why Girls Are Weird by Pamela Ribbon
Not a book I would have personally picked up to read, despite its catchy title. I had been given this book by Lyndi Thompson, who got it from her best friend. Hence, I felt like I was being presented with an heirloom, and I had to comply by reading it! I read it while I was traveling though France in September. The book was indeed entertaining. It depicts the life a 20-something girl from Austin, TX, who begins writing a blog before blogging became the widespread phenomenon we know today.
What made the book hysterical was how much Anna K’s life (the protagonist) was shaped by the Internet and her blog. As a fellow blogger I saw how elements of my own experiences were uncannily similar to her.
6. Emerald City by Jennifer Egan
My standard for good fiction writing has been if an author can write a short story that is worth reading. Due to their obvious brief nature, an author is tested by having to set the stage for a reader. I enjoyed Egan’s stories because you got a sense not only of the current predicaments that the characters were in, but their rich past and relationships to others. Also like Wanderlust, Egan covers the globe, putting her characters in situations that span Manhattan to China.
7. The Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount
This might be one of my favorite business books. I know it seems silly to call it a business book given that it is a historical account of how wine has shaped and been shaped by Argentina, but I thought it was the perfect synergy of history, politics, and entrepreneurship. Spanning 200+ years of wine and Argentina’s history, you get a sense of how wine itself has evolved, and how Argentine entrepreneurs challenged common wine-making practice.
What astounded me the most was the patience and perseverance of Argentine entrepreneurs. Unlike technology products, that can be built and improved upon within months, wine needs time, in the form of years and sometimes even decades. It is indeed a labor of love, and while it can be manipulated and improved upon by men, so much of its success depends on mother nature. Combine the intricacies of vineyard developing and wine-making with an unstable political climate, and stiff competition from competitors who have hundreds of years of tradition and recognition from the world, namely the French, the book is indeed eye-opening and a worthwhile read, for wine-enthusiasts, history buffs, and entrepreneurs.
8. The Sandler Rules by David Mattson
I received this book after attending Sandler’s one day training in Oakland, CA. I was originally interested in the training because as an engineer I have never gone through formal sales training. The book does a good job of recounting the Sandler sales system, which is a refreshing approach to how people traditionally do sales and perceive it. I really don’t want to give too much away but this is a gem for those who are interested in sales!
9. As Always Julia edited by Joan Reardon
Julia Child has always inspired me a lot. Her lifestyle and career were unconventional given the era she lived in, and of course she shares my love of French cuisine.
However, French food and Julia take a backseat in this book. Instead what is brought into the limelight is the rich friendship that develops between two women, Avis DeVoto and Julia Child through a series of letters, and how their friendship nurtured the popular classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, now in its 50th edition! As you read you witness how these two women grow together, and how their lives often get in the way of their creative pursuits. But ultimately their love for each other, and their passion for the project enable them to endure the tests and trials they are put through while birthing the classic.
10. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Turned off by common vampire novels, I decided to go back to where it all began with this classic. While Stoker starts this novel off slowly, towards the middle I became raptured with the plot much like Dracula’s victims are with him. There are also elements of a simpler life and period of time, combined with a language structure from 100+ years ago that I found fascinating. Having characters who tell the tale also gives a perspective on how humans think and in this case fear.