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A wholesome reading list

There are both fiction and non-fiction in this list that we have come up with to try and read books that we wouldn’t normally pick up

A wholesome reading list

One of the things I love about being a reader is people always ask me for recommendations and that way I get to talk about the books I love. Whenever I have book discussions with friends and colleagues, I find that most people tend to stick to a particular genre. There’s a friend who loves rom-coms. A colleague is obsessed with fantasy. My boss will only read non-fiction. He thinks spending time in imaginary worlds is for those who aren’t happy with their lives. I vehemently disagree but that is a topic for another time. I love fiction. The genre doesn’t really matter as long as it’s a good story and it’s well written.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me about the book I was reading at that moment. When I told him I was reading a memoir (‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner), he was clearly surprised. He said I always seemed to be reading a variety of things. Sometimes it was self-help, sometimes it was psychology, and other times even children’s books like ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl and ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle. This is something I have been doing intentionally. As a reader, I want to read across genres and read authors from all over the world.

This wasn’t easy. There was a time I’d have to find materials online or ask a cousin or a friend to send certain books from the US. But now bookstores in Nepal have started stocking a wide range of books. I was surprised to find an entire bookshelf worth of graphic novels (manga) at Bookverse in Civil Mall in Sundhara, Kathmandu. Even Pilgrims in Thamel has quite a good selection of comics. So, it’s now easier than ever before to want to read something and have immediate access to it—which really leaves us with no excuse no to read anything and everything.

While discussing the importance of reading and reading different authors and topics, a few of my colleagues and I came up with a list of 10 books that we felt we should all read—books that would give us a better understanding of the world around us and the times we live in. We have made a pact to read these books within one year. It might be a little too ambitious given we all have full time jobs (and are also reading other things simultaneously) but we are committed to completing the challenge. We made sure to include books from different genres. With special permission from our little unofficial book club, I’m sharing the list with you all with the hope that these books will inspire us to become more attuned to and accepting of people’s differences.

The Stationery Shop of Tehran by Marjan Kamali

Roya and Bahman are in love. They quickly get engaged and are looking forward to a life together. But then the coup happens in Tehran and the two get separated. When Bahman doesn’t come to meet her as planned one day, Roya is devastated and leaves for California where she meets Walter and gets married. But she can never forget Bahman and this dictates her entire life. ‘The Stationery Shop of Tehran’ is essentially a love story but it’s also about a woman’s strength to overcome life’s challenges. It’s a story of hope and resilience and how the past shapes you but doesn’t have to define you.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

Yeonmi Park is a North Korean defector—someone who escapes from North Korea into either China or South Korea. Park was born in the North Korean city of Hyesan, which is close to the Chinese border. North Korea is under the brutal regime of the Kim dictatorships. When Park was 13, she and her mother fled to China. ‘In Order to Live’ is her harrowing account of her life in North Korea as well as her time in northern China when she was trafficked by gangsters running prostitution rackets. It’s an eye-opening read and will tell you a lot about an isolated part of our world. Trigger warning: There are references of extreme sexual and physical assault.

The Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen

This book was published in 2009 but the ideas presented here are as relevant today as they were back then. Sen, Nobel Laureate in economics and thinker, gives great insight into an aspect central to human life and democracy. Sen’s idea of justice isn’t about creating a perfectly just society. It’s about finding ways to remove injustice prevailing in society. The book is over 400 pages long and has footnotes and a long preface too but we have sworn not to be intimidated by its size as Sen’s concepts and ideas are critical to how we view and understand social justice and contemporary jurisprudence.

Severance by Ling Ma

This slim book is a dystopian novel that we would have probably thought was a bit too far-fetched before the Covid-19 pandemic. Shen Fever sweeps across New York City and there is utter chaos—a fungal infection is turning people into zombies. But Candace continues her routine at a publishing company. She coordinates with overseas Chinese factories (rumored to be the source of the microspores of Shen Fever) who print and source their Bibles. The story reminds us that we live in bleak, unpredictable times where nothing is impossible. The book goes back and forth in time, alternating between Candace’s office job and her travels across post-apocalyptic America.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

I read this book a few years ago and I didn’t like it much. But everyone I know, including my husband, raves about it. It will completely change your attitude, they argue. I thought it was a bit too cliché but I’m going to give it another shot. In this 2016 nonfiction self-help book, American blogger and author Mark Manson argues that life’s struggles give it meaning and says that most self-help books offer meaningless positivity which is neither practical nor helpful. The book presents a strong case for not trying too hard to be happy. Rather, it focuses on letting things slide and not trying to control everything. Manson argues that we should only engage in those things we can control and not be bothered by everything that happens to us.

The Lives of Strangers by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author and poet. She mostly writes on Indian experience, contemporary America, women, immigration, history, myth, and the joys and challenges of living in a multicultural world. Her books have been translated into over 29 languages, including Hindi, Japanese, and Dutch. All of us had read ‘The Palace of Illusions’ and we had loved it so we thought a book by Divakaruni would refresh us while we were reading some heavy topics while also opening our eyes to different cultures and people’s experiences around the world. ‘The Lives of Strangers’ is a collection of short stories that delve into the immigrant experience and the complexities of relationships.

Why Men Rape by Tara Kaushal

This book, according to a friend who knows the author, is a labor of love and meticulous hard work. Kaushal has traveled extensively through India, talking to both victims and perpetrators of violence. She has interviewed those who have been accused of rape and men involved in gang rapes as well. Many times, she received threats and had to seek police protection. Kaushal argues as well as shows through anecdotal evidence how patriarchy and misogyny have armed men with a deep sense of entitlement, one which leaves them unable to understand the meaning of the word no. We thought this would be a good book to understand the psychology of men who choose to commit violent crimes as well as discuss an issue that is so often swept under the carpet in Nepal.

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Geetanjali Shree is the first ever Hindi writer to win the International Booker prize. She’s 65 and she’s been writing for about 30 years. ‘Tomb of Sand’, translated by Daisy Rockwell from her book Ret Samadhi, is her fifth novel. The novel is about a depressed 80-year-old, whom we get to know as ‘Ma’. At the beginning of the book, she refuses to get out of bed. Then things take a strange turn. She disappears, and when she turns up later, just as unexpectedly, she’s full of life, ready for adventure. It’s a long read, at over 600 pages but the chapters are short and the story moves swiftly as we follow Ma in North India and Lahore in Pakistan, where she lived as a girl. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I read that Joan Didion wrote ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ in 88 days. It chronicles the first year after her husband’s death when grief and loneliness were her constant companions. The couple had been married for 39 years when John Gregory Dunne had a massive heart attack. Didion was mixing a salad in the kitchen. It’s a melancholy memoir about love and loss that makes you value life and your loved ones. We thought reading it would help us prioritize the people we love and spend more time with them rather than scrolling the phone or rushing through life. The book, a colleague said, makes us realize that life is fragile and try to come to terms with it.

Minor Detail by Adania Shibli

The first part of the novel is set in August 1949, a year after the Nakba, as an Israeli officer oversees the clearing of the Negev Desert and the establishment of the border with Egypt. During routine patrol, some soldiers encounter a group of Arabs and immediately kill the men. They bring a young woman back to camp with them where she is repeatedly gang raped and eventually murdered. In the second part of the book, set in the present day, an unnamed woman reads about the crime in the newspaper and feels compelled to try and find out what happened. We all agreed that this book was an important, eye-opening piece of fiction that we must all read. We are planning to start our reading journey with this one. The book is short but it’s intense and examines the effect of violence.