Here’s a quick list of some of the books I’ve read—the ones I highly recommend. Obviously it’s not a list of every book I’ve ever read, but the ones that have somehow stuck in my memory. Most links are affiliate links so if you click through and buy the book, you’ll not only be getting an awesome read, but you’ll be supporting this website. Thank you!
The book Hemingway wrote just before winning the Pulitzer, I reread The Old Man and the Sea at the beginning of the year (January 2015). I’d read it before, of course, but after probably two decades, the book suddenly meant a lot more. I loved the story, reading it as a 30-year-old rather than a teenager. This time around, the story wasn’t so much an adventure as one that portrayed the humanity of the old man. His quest ended in failure and it was heartbreakingly depressing, but only for me—not for him. The protagonist rather survives. Not everything in life works out how it should, as this old man knows, and sometimes you don’t get what you want. But life goes on. This story taught me humility and reminded me of the importance of failure. Not that one should fail, but that we all do and that we can’t let it ruin us.
I read some books this year but don’t remember much. I didn’t do such a good job of reading but plan to get back into the habit in subsequent years.
It’s a children’s book, hey, but it’s a lovely little story. It’s an inspiring short story about one man’s desire to see the world and what he discovered along the way. With cameo appearances by the famous Krakatoa volcano explosion (the loudest sound ever heard in modern history) and fistfuls of diamonds. Check out my longer review with select quotations from the book. Buy it on Amazon
I read this book as a teenager and when I learned it was being made into a movie, I re-read it one winter night. Definitely held up to the test of time and has lots of pearls of wisdom in it—perfect for someone as lost in life as I sometimes feel. The story is essentially of a teenager’s path to discovery, with a healthy dose of tragedy and insight into the lives of confused and complex teenagers. Buy it on Amazon
I’m a sucker for the beatniks, hey. I first read Kerouac as a young lad growing up in middle America. Pretty certain that On the Road was required reading in high school, or maybe I just had awesome English teachers. The Lonesome Traveler is a collection of Kerouac’s stories from a his travels—on a barge, on a train, in Morocco, in Mexico…. I found his stories of working odd jobs in America most interesting. He’d show up looking for a job on a railway—get it, see if it worked out and then move on. He seems to have completely moved whatever way he felt—always thinking of himself, but still mindful of the world around him. It’s a short and enjoyable read, though it doesn’t quite make me want to leave everything behind and get a job on a barge. Suppose that’s a good thing. Buy it on Amazon
This Nobel Prize winner reads like pretty poetry but it’s all prose. It’s a collection of Brodsky’s stories from all the times he visited Venice. As an exile from the Soviet Union, Brodsky lived in the U.S. but, like many travelers before him, fell in love with Venice. Reading this book, it’s hard not to either. He goes on and on about singular moments in time: short chapters on everything from a chance meeting with a stranger to the city’s brilliant architecture. In every chapter he seems to fall in love with the city yet again. It’s hard not to get mesmerized by his love of the city—and I’ve never even been to Venice yet! Buy it on Amazon
Kiss the Sky by DC Gallin
This is the type of book you read when you’re looking for some quick inspiration. Set in 1990s London, Kiss the Sky follows the story of free-spirited Claudia—a twenty-something living in a London squat trying to make a living as an artist and painter. She’s living the dream so many people aspire toward, and though Claudia faces plenty of challenges, the story manages to remain uplifting. The author, DC Gallin, intertwines art & music—everything from inspirational street art to drum & base techno—throughout the story, keeping the pace pulsing and the reader hooked. You’ll zip right through the book in matter of days, curious to see if Claudia is able to live out her (and your?) dreams. Buy it on Amazon
A quintessential travel book. It’s the story of Matthiessen’s journey to Nepal with his friend and biologist to study Himalayan blue sheep. Matthiessen hopes to spot a snow leopard—a notoriously discrete animal for the region. It’s a personal reflection from Matthiessen about his journey and an introspective look into his mind. He worries about being away from his son and spends countless time reflecting on Buddhism and the meaning of life. A truly personal and inside look into the mind of a solitary soul. Buy it on Amazon
Wow! I pretty much read through this book in a few hours—it was such an engrossing story. A fictional story about an Indian man and how he went from being a servant in northern India to becoming a wealthy businessman in Bangalore. It’s written as a letter to the president of China. Nearly impossible to put the book down! Buy it on Amazon
I’ve already written a lengthy review of the book and it’s portrayal of India, and while it’s not my favorite book about or set in India, it’s still a worthy read. There’s no question that the author has a beautiful way with words. The story is engaging, light-hearted when it needs to be and heavy in all the right places. Shantaram (like India itself) made me think, and I definitely recognized India in the writing, in the descriptions, the histories, the people. I also enjoyed the book because it introduces stories and topics from all over the world—not just India. There are detailed and highly-researched stories from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the wars in Afghanistan, in Sri Lanka, and loads of others. All side stories to the central narrative and main theme, but it all adds up to make for a beautiful and highly interesting story. Buy it on Amazon
Really—this book is i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e. I bought an edition while on the beach in Goa. Rushdie’s way with words are truly incredible. The story follows the life of one Saleem Sinai born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947—the very same moment of modern India’s independence. Much like One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book follows the lives of all these intertwined characters—each born at the moment of India’s birth. The “midnight’s children” were each born with magical and special powers. The lives of the children, especially Sinai, are so intricately tied to the newborn India. It’s an incredible idea and a beautiful story. Read this before, during or after your visit to India. Buy it on Amazon
An excellent non-fiction history book about the Middle East up until mid-2000s. It covers everything from Egypt’s complicated history with the Soviets to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Iran’s revolution. There’s a lot of information about the Middle East—from Kuwait to Turkey—and Mansfield does a nice job of summarizing a lot of complicated international affairs. A great introduction to one of my favorite regions of the world. Buy it on Amazon
You’ll find this book all throughout Southeast Asia and it’s one I highly recommend. It’s the true, short and intense story from Loung Ung—a woman who was just a child when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army took over Phnom Penh. Buy it on Amazon
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is one of the most impressive books I’ve read in a long time. It’s the story of how an entire nation was formed—and a people’s struggle for independence and freedom. The first-hand account is impressive because of the facts and the story, but also because Mandela’s words make you feel comfortable and hopeful. Truly inspiring. Buy it on Amazon