Students in many countries are heading back to their classrooms this autumn – and I am a bit wistful. For the first time in my life, I’m not preparing for a year of textbooks, lectures, libraries, essays and exams.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning! Since I graduated from college, I’ve learned to code and taken Swahili lessons. I also set a goal of reading 84 books in 2021. You can ask me in January if I made it.
If you love reading history books or travelogues, William Dalrymple is an essential writer. Most of his work focuses on South Asia, particularly India. The Anarchy covers the collapse of the Mughal imperial system and the rise of the East India Company. Far from a dry history textbook, Dalrymple’s work is a pageturner with great relevance to our modern world. We can learn a lot about multinational corporations today from the corruption and excesses of the East India Company, founded more than 400 years ago.
Are you interested in a “philosophical dissection of pornography”? Or how our personal political beliefs affect sexual desire? A discussion on how vulnerable feminism is to the lure of simple solutions? You can find this and much more in this Oxford professor’s collection of essays on sexual attraction. The Guardian’s review sums up Srinivasan’s compelling argument: “Sex cannot be made just, but examining how much of our sexual desires are programmed by the dark side of our beliefs can lessen the injustice.”
Nadia Owusu’s debut book tells the incredible story of her childhood. How does a girl – abandoned by her mother at age 2 and orphaned at 13 when her beloved father dies – find her place in the world? Aftershocks is the story of Nadia creating her own solid ground across countries and continents. This is an exceptionally gripping and hard-to-put-down memoir of a remarkable young woman – I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Usually I like to take my time with books – but I found it very hard to step away from this story. Filled with mystery, music, sadness and adventure, this novel both flies by and lingers.
Set in post-World War II Japan, the young heroine of this story is the daughter of a Japanese woman from an aristocratic family and a Black American soldier. She’s an outsider, even from her family...until she meets the half-brother she didn’t know she had. Anyone who has lost a friend – or found a family – will love the beautiful, harrowing world of Fifty Words for Rain.
The unnamed narrator of this novella is a Black British woman preparing to go to a party at her boyfriend’s family estate in the countryside. We read her thoughts as she struggles with her place among the ultra-wealthy, the racism she experiences on a daily basis and her fear that her younger sister will follow in her highly successful but unfulfilled footsteps. Assembly offers a piercing look at racism, classism and nationalism in the U.K.
I often get my best book recommendations from friends. Here are some of their suggestions (and keep reading to the end of the post to find out how you can join our book club!):
“A wonderful book of short stories set in China or featuring Chinese immigrants living abroad. Chen, who is also a journalist, gives readers a riveting look at modern China.”
“I love reading cookbooks, not just for recipe inspiration but to learn about the people and stories behind the recipes. With the collapse of the Afghan government, I've been thinking a lot about Parwana lately. Durkhanai Ayubi's family left Afghanistan in 1987, but her descriptions of their home country remind you how much its people have endured. The book is full of enticing food — but more importantly it shows how those recipes help connect us to our past and present."
“Caste presents a novel way of understanding race and class in America, by inspecting its intentionality and institutionalization, not just considering it as a symptom of culture clash. Her perspective is necessary reading for anyone looking for a path toward greater equality. And while the book wrestles with a difficult topic, Wilkerson's writing never made me feel like I was reading the book as an obligation, but because I was captivated by how she laid bare the brutality humans can unleash on one another."
“The story of a woman raised by survivalist parents who didn’t allow her to go to school – and her journey from the mountains of Idaho to completing a PhD program in history at Cambridge University. Tara’s story is mesmerizing because you can’t even believe it’s real.”
If you love books, you probably have reading rituals as well. Do you like to read in the morning, afternoon or night? Do you get excited about reading outdoors during the summer or cozying up with a book, blanket and tea in the fall? Do you read on planes? Do you listen to audiobooks? Let me know in the comments!
And if you want to read with me and my friends, you can join my Literati book club! Every month we read a book together and discuss it on Literati’s app. I often host author talks as well where you can ask your questions about a book directly to the writer. Check out the club here and then use this link to sign up and get a free month — just for Podium readers!