I love stories. These stories become even more meaningful when you know they’re true. I’ve not always read non-fiction, and I started reading biographies even later. Since then, I’ve read stories from people’s lives that are inspiring, heart-breaking, and relatable.
I cannot classify the stories I’ve read into good or better stories. Each book brings its own charm. However, some books are well-written, and some books pull you in and make you pause as you feel each word that’s penned down. This is a list of those books.
Decoded by Jay-Z
It gave me a refreshing perspective of the hip-hop culture and rap music – a genre I always overlooked. The lyrics have been beautifully written and explained and is comparable to pure poetry. That is not to say that there isn’t some lousy hip-hop doing the rounds (pointless violence and sex), but good rap, as Jay Z points out, is very powerful and has several layers. Even the cover of a Rorschach blot is a stroke of genius…just like rap music, it conveys different things to different people. I was very impressed with the book, the writing, and the person. I am not rushing to buy hip-hop CDs just yet, but I now know better than judging a book by its cover!
“A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.”
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
The man and the madness…the serene picture of Jobs on the cover is unlike everything that follows within. It is hard to like him, but it is impossible not to like him. Isaacson has created a beautiful masterpiece and has been as objective as is possible without falling prey to Steve’s “reality distortion field”. His personality from both sides of the coin is lovingly portrayed.
I have not followed Jobs’ career, so the revelation of how obnoxious and eccentric he was is surprising and somewhat amusing. I could not have survived in that environment, but many thrived. He was such a control freak that he wanted to tell his side of the story by commissioning this biography so that others don’t mess it up after he’s gone. But in a move that was so unlike him, he never interfered with the content, interviews and didn’t even read it.
As Isaacson points out, “sometimes it’s nice to be in the hands of a control freak”. Because only that control freak could have created a brand (not just the products) that is now Apple. Some incidents will make you laugh out loud (make sure you are not reading it in public when that happens), and some bring a tear (like the beautiful letter he wrote for his wife for their 20th anniversary).
In the end, I think we all would agree that the world lost a great innovator who still had his best years ahead of him. What revolution he would have created next is something we will never be able to imagine. In his own words, we don’t know what we want – it was up to him to visualise what we did and hand it to us. Then we would wonder how we ever lived without it.
“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”-Steve Jobs
An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
I got introduced to him through his many videos on life in space. In this book, he talks about what goes on in the life of an astronaut on Earth and outside. He talks of his (and others’) life experiences that shaped how he lived and how being an astronaut is just barely 1% of the glamour we believe it to be.
I loved the way he sneaks in lessons to live by – by way of anecdotes. Most of them are so obvious that I wondered how I never looked at it that way—the most critical being attitude and how you view things that happen.
It’s a brilliantly written book even for those not interested in space travel (if such a person exists).
“You can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations. And you can choose to appreciate the smallest scraps of experience, the everyday moments, or to value only the grandest, most stirring ones. Ultimately, the real question is whether you want to be happy.”
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
It is a story of living life when death looms over your head. I’ve often wondered if doctors get used to dealing with death and just get on with their life…but this answers at least what one doctor felt about it.
The book is beautifully written. He takes you through the ups and downs of dealing with death on a daily basis and what happens when it comes knocking at your door. The heartbreaking last paragraph will leave you with tears. He talks about how his life and perspective changes as he comes to terms with his mortality – his fears and hopes. It will make you think about your life and what you might want to change before everything is taken away.
“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
When you only know about the kind of life you have, it doesn’t seem all that bad…till you grow up and look at the world around you and realise how difficult a childhood you had. This was the age before technology was such a big part of our lives, and we didn’t have other worlds to compare ours to.
Trevor talks about his years growing up, his mother, and the apartheid in South Africa with his usual humour and lots of insights. His love and respect for his mother are so evident. You can also just picture clearly the scene where he describes their cat and mouse chase!
It is a thoughtful and honestly-written book that deserves all the accolades he’s been getting for his work.
“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Open, honest, surprisingly revealing, funny and just a whole lot of adjectives that can describe this excellent book. Not only does it give you a peek at life in the White House, but she also discusses racism and sexism, dealing with infertility and going through a rocky phase in her marriage. Parts of it are so funny that I had to read it repeatedly because I couldn’t get past it.
It is not a book you’d expect from a high-profile personality, especially someone involved in global politics (albeit indirectly). I was pleasantly surprised at her frankness and openness to discuss sensitive issues. She talks about her family growing up, her need to succeed, her marriage, life as the First Lady, and how the social and political climate has changed over time. There are so many things I identified with as a woman and as a mother. She is so relatable, and that made this book so meaningful for me.
“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”
Hunger by Roxane Gay
I love how she writes, her open vulnerability, and her strength. Everyone navigates the world differently, and most times, we’re completely oblivious to people whose needs are different from our own. I identified with a lot of how she felt, and her words resonated with me because my relationship with food is also not based on just hunger
Check out my full review here.
“In yet another commercial, Oprah somberly says, “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be.” This is a popular notion, the idea that the fat among us are carrying a thin woman inside. Each time I see this particular commercial, I think, I ate that thin woman and she was delicious but unsatisfying. And then I think about how fucked up it is to promote this idea that our truest selves are thin women hiding in our fat bodies like imposters, usurpers, illegitimates.”
If you love animals, then do check out my list of biographies that include animals.
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