Some books are special: they enlighten, inspire and educate. Each of the books below have captivated me, moved me and changed my way of thinking for good. These are some of the most important books I have ever read and I recommend every single one.
1. The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State by Samer
The Raqqa Diaries is a collection of diary entries, written in secret in the city of Raqqa, Syria, by a man using the pseudonym Samer. Going into it, I was already pretty aware that it was going to rip my heart into a million pieces; after all, it’s all really happening and Islamic State continues to cause devastation every day.
It’s quite easy to feel dissociated from events that take place so far away, but Samer’s story allowed me to connect with the reality of life in Syria under the terrorizing rule of Islamic State, which is why I consider it such an important read.
2. Any Human Heart by William Boyd
At first, this appeared to be, simply, an incredibly well-written, engaging Bildungsroman: an entertaining, light-hearted adventure following the life of boy-turned-man Logan Mountstuart. Oh boy, was I wrong.
There aren’t many books that induce instant bed-ridden existential crisis’, but after reading ‘Any Human Heart’ I failed to do anything but stare at the ceiling, contemplating life, for hours afterward. If I took anything from this book it’s that life is unpredictable, and you can’t guarantee a happy ending- but that doesn’t matter too much as long as you had a good middle.
3. In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
Yeonmi Park is a human right’s activist and North Korean defector. Her journey through nightmarish North Korea, China and finally to safety in South Korea is captivating and inspiring. Moreover, it lends incredible insight into the mindset of North Korean natives; Park cleverly analogises using a quote from Orwell’s 1984 (‘doublethink’- the phenomena in which a person simultaneously believes two contradicting ideas, typically resulting from political indoctrination) to explain how people living in North Korea can know nothing but poverty and still believe that North Korea is the most prosperous nation in the world.
I went into this book embarrassingly clueless about North Korean society and its government. Coming out of it, I felt significantly more educated- plus, Yeonmi is a hell of a heroine.
4. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher
This book was a total eye-opener. It’s easy to forget, as a woman living in the United Kingdom (where we are much closer to achieving gender equality) that there are still countless countries leaps and bounds away from gaining equality between the sexes. The “leftover woman” stereotype, coined to unmarried women over twenty-seven, is used as a mechanism to pressure women to marry early and has resulted in women being discouraged from postgraduate education and from placing too much importance on a career amongst other things.
Furthermore, the book discusses the societal conventions in place which make it so difficult for women to own property, especially by herself. This book made me as angry as I should’ve already been about the injustice of gender inequality throughout the world, whilst educating me on the complex societal beliefs and conventions in China regarding gender.
5. Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson
Droves of images of our plastic-filled sea surface on the internet every week, not to mention the expanse of space used for landfill. Last year, I decided to make a change to drastically reduce the amount of plastic (and other) waste I was responsible for.
I began by purchasing this book. Although not all of the America-based tips were transferable to my country (the UK), I still found it incredibly helpful. It made me realize how thoughtless and unnecessary a lot of my waste really was and it has impacted my lifestyle irreversibly. If you feel the garbage-induced guilt too, I would highly recommend picking up Bea’s guide to a zero-waste home.
Whilst there are countless books I’ve read which have impacted me, there are countless more which I have yet to read and which I’m sure will hit me just as hard. It would be amazing if you could leave a comment listing some books which have impacted you- and how. I’d love to read them.