“A book is a gift you can open again and again…”
— Garrison Keillor
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Published in 1859, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is a historical novel set before & during the French Revolution and arguably one of Charles Dicken’s greatest masterpieces.
I had read it as part of the 8th grade AP English class curriculum and back then, I couldn’t really fathom how something can be as ‘good’ as it is ‘bad’.
Recently, though, it dawned on me that no better words were written that sums up what the world gone through for much of 2020.
It has certainly been a tumultuous year. The best way that I can describe it is that it has been a rollercoaster ride on steroids.
That said, some ‘good’ have indeed come out of the Covid-19 Era. One of which is that it has given many of us time to slow down.
We’re finally able to have time for the things that we had been wanting to do yet never got around to because there was simply ‘no time’ for them.
It’s definitely a blessing that in the past 9 months or so, I was able to read (and listen to) a lot more books than I did in recent years.
Ironically, while I’ve had ‘read more’ as one of my resolutions in previous years, it wasn’t on this year’s list.
All of this got me thinking about the books I’ve relished that I’ve gone back to time and again. They’re those that have changed the way I view the world and how I live my life, and ultimately, have helped in shaping who I am today.
It turns out, there are quite a few of them, and narrowing down the list to 5 books wasn’t easy.
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That said, here’s my shortlist of books that have made a significant impact on my life.
If you’ve yet to read them or are currently looking for some suggestions on books that’ll inspire, I urge you to check them out. Happy reading!
I’ve first encountered one of Dr. Brené Brown’s earlier books via Audible. In my early twenties, I had been obsessed with audiobooks and would go through them as if it were my job.
As I was searching for new books to listen to, I stumbled upon this book. It’s as if the title ‘jumped’ at me (FYI, the full title of the book is ‘The Gift of Imperfections: How to Let Go of Who You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are’).
I wasn’t aware of Dr. Brown’s work back then but as I went on to read the synopsis of the book, it instantly resonated. So, I decided to give it a listen. And I’m forever grateful that I did.
Many of us feel the pressure to be someone who we are expected to be. Whether the pressure is coming from our parents, peers, society, or all of the above, it’s definitely something that’s difficult to shake off.
This pressure often leads us to believe that the only way that we’d be ‘enough’ is to achieve something that is unattainable – perfection.
Deep inside, though, we all know that in order to truly be fulfilled and happy, it’s crucial that we embrace who we are and who we are meant to be – flaws and all.
This book helped me to realize that perfectionism is actually *not* a good thing.
Prior to reading the book, I’d naively thought that perfectionism was one of my strengths.
I’d wear it as a badge of honor, not realizing that it was one of the biggest things holding me back from becoming my best self.
By embracing our imperfections, we learn to be more vulnerable around others; showing them our true selves. By doing so, we’re likely to be able to authentically connect with others and inspire them to do the same.
Perhaps if more of us choose to courageously embrace our imperfections, cultivate vulnerability, and shed a light on our shame, we can collectively create a more emphatic, kinder, and loving world.
A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
A huge fan of Oprah Winfrey, I first came across this book through her show where she dedicated a series of “Life classes” on the book. As she & Eckhart discussed its content, I was intrigued and decided to delve into the book.
I had read Mr. Tolle’s earlier work, ‘The Power of Now’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. But truth be told, while I instantly understood its profound message of ‘the present moment is all we ever have’, I wasn’t able to consistently live by its lessons until many years later.
Unlike his first book, when it comes to ‘A New Earth’, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend (and accept) its message until I read it the third time around. Yup, it certainly took me a while, but once I ‘got it’, it stuck with me, and to this day, I continue to recommend this book to everyone I know.
In the beginning, I simply couldn’t understand how our ego can be separated from ourselves as for most of my life I’ve been lead to think that our ego is simply a part of who we are – a part of our self that just happens to be ‘negative’.
However, Eckhart explained that our ego is separate from our true self and that the true self is actually the awareness residing in our physical body that merely observes the ego.
He suggested that cultivating awareness and being conscious of the ego and its false perception that usually manifests as ‘bad’ emotions or feelings (jealousy, envy, etc), enables us to step back and thoroughly evaluate the situation.
As a result, instead of quickly reacting, we are able to better understand the situation and come up with a thoughtful response.
This was a big aha! moment for me. I learned to become more aware and able to observe when my ego “acts out“. By doing this, I am able to respond instead of attacking the ego or letting my emotions get the best of me by reacting in a way that I would most likely regret.
By living by this understanding, even when I’m faced with difficult people and/or situations, I’m better equipped to respond in a way that best serves me and others.
I’m not a big fan of fiction books, but there are a handful of fiction writers whose work I absolutely adore and Paulo Coelho is one of them.
It’s probably hardly a surprise that ‘The Alchemist’ made it to this list – or pretty much everyone else’s list of life-changing books for that matter.
After all, since its publication back in 1988, 150 million copies (translated to 80 languages) were sold across the globe and it’s still going strong today.
But did you know that it actually flopped before it went on to ‘dominate’ the best sellers list?
Well, it’s true. Paulo Coelho had to ‘fight’ for this book and we can safely say that he was able to make a positive impact in the world by doing so.
‘The Alchemist’ serves as an inspiration and poignant reminder for all of us who adore adventure and aspire to realize our dreams – no matter how impossible they appear to be.
While it’s only 163 pages long, it dazzles with its powerful yet simple stories and jam-packed with valuable life-lessons.
For me, one of the excerpts that I’ve found most profound and true is ‘And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.’
Over the years, I realized that once we’ve courageously made a decision to go after something, if we’re truly open to it, we’ll miraculously be shown the way and given the resources that we need to make it happen.
Unlike the other books in this list, The Untethered Soul is a (somewhat) recent release. Published in 2018, I’ve read it just several months ago, and quickly became one of my all-time favorites.
Though I didn’t find that any of the lessons that were shared in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself’ as ground-breaking, it served as reminders of the multitude of lessons I’ve learned in the past.
Earning rave reviews from the likes of Tony Robbins & Oprah, it’s currently a New York Times best-seller. It’s safe to say that I’m far from being the only one who resonated with it.
Similar to the other books on this list, ‘The Untethered Soul’ offers an abundance of priceless life learnings that can potentially help us to step closer to our best selves.
Eloquently written yet simple enough to easily digest, Mr. Singer includes many real-life examples of we’re actually the creators of our own limitations.
He believes that in order to live our best lives, we need to learn to consistently let go of all the limiting beliefs, past experiences, and habitual thoughts.
In the book, he teaches us the ways we can effectively cultivate awareness and be more mindful of the present moment.
By doing so on a daily basis, we’ll be able to gain the freedom and happiness that we crave as we stop dwelling in the pain of the past and put unrealistic expectations on the future.
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Imagine if everything and everyone you hold dear is taken away from you…And if this wasn’t enough, imagine being imprisoned for three years under brutal conditions, facing extreme hunger, and a debilitating illness. Sounds impossible to bear, doesn’t it?
For Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychologist and holocaust survivor, this was actually his reality. Yet, despite all that he was faced with, he was able to find hope and meaning.
In his life-changing memoir “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl proposes that one can find meaning even in the biggest moments of pain and suffering. This meaning can ultimately help us to prevail despite any challenges thrown our way, however insurmountable they may be.
Frankl explains, “even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”
To overcome difficult circumstances, the key is in our attitude and how we choose to respond to the situation. And ultimately, when we no longer change the situation, we are challenged to change ourselves and to use suffering as a valuable opportunity to learn and strengthen our character.
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Honorable Mention: Bossy Pants – Tina Fey
Here’s one book that you may not have expected to land on this list. To be honest, I didn’t either but yet, here it is – and it’s deservingly so.
You may be wondering why a memoir by a comedian is in such great company.
Well, I believe that humor is an essential part of life. It’s a priceless thing that enables us to see the lighter side of life, even when the going gets tough.
Full disclosure, I’ve been a fan of Tina Fey long before this book was published. I adored her not only for her witty albeit often self-deprecating sense of humor but also for her drive and passion that enabled her to thrive in an industry that’s fiercely dominated by men.
It’s no secret that women are often seen as ‘not funny’ and Ms. Fey, surely has shown the world otherwise. Like her work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, this book illustrates just how talented she is, as a comedian and storyteller.
I enjoyed this book so much that I both read and listened to it (I highly recommend the audiobook as it’s narrated by Tina Fey herself) multiple times.
While there are many lessons to be learned from the book, the biggest for me was to “let your freak flag fly”.
In other words, don’t be afraid to show the world your quirks and that what makes you ‘weird’ is the very thing that makes you truly special!
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