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7 Books That Changed My Perspective On Life

by Kavina Rajendran. |

In Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri wrote: “That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” Whether we use books as a way to explore the world or as a form of escape, it is undeniable that books hold the power to open our minds up to various perspectives, opinions, and experiences that would otherwise remain unknown to us. Apart from carving out the time to read books in this ever-increasing attention economy, another struggle would be to find books that motivate you and make you learn, grow, and cry.

Here are some books (a hopefully good mix of fiction, non-fiction and biographies) from past decades that have had a far-reaching impact on its readers.

1. Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone” by Astra Taylor

Source: Amazon

This book by Astra Taylor is a longer written analysis of her documentary “What is Democracy?”. In both these forms of media, Taylor brings out the voice of philosophers, the founding fathers of America, refugees in Athens, Greece, students, and farmers to truly get to the root of the word ‘democracy’ and its practical, real-life implications and implementation around the world.

The book addresses the fundamentals of democracy as well the underlying mechanisms of a government and the need to participate in these mechanisms, as opposed to letting it run its course with you as a bystander. The book reminds you that democracy only starts at the ballot and answers (and raises) questions with regards to the intersection of philosophy, government and public policy.

2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Source: Amazon

In a harrowing memoir, Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon at Stanford who ultimately dies of cancer at the young age of 38, gives a detailed account of the months of his life following his diagnosis. With the author’s dual passion for literature and neuroscience, the book explores the intersection of the human parts of life (love, humour, hunger) with the language of “neurons, digestive tracts, and heartbeats.”

Ultimately, the book examines the meaning of life in the face of death. Regardless of whether the fear of death exists within you or not, the prospect of facing death as a person varies with age. The elderly dread losing what they’ve had, while the young mourn the loss of all the things that could have been. This book brings you along on the author’s journey as he confronts, examines and finally, accepts death and it leaves you appreciating and celebrating life itself, especially in the face of its brevity.

3. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Source: Book Depository

This book explores the moral, ethical and practical implications of the food we eat. It is not a book that forces the vegan diet down your throat. Instead, in this part-memoir and part-investigative report, the author dives into how exactly our food is made and what the repercussions of our diet could be. The author’s personal accounts alongside his examination of ethical farmers and farming allow the reader to appreciate both the environmental and cultural implications of meat and meat-eating.

Yes, meat-eating is bad for the environment and is ethically questionable, but what about family farms and meat manufacturers whose lives depend on this industry? What about cultural festivals that revolve around the cooking and eating of meat? This book examines the large scale impact of our choices and helps us, as readers, make our own informed assessment and decisions when it comes to one of the most personal choices in our lives: what we put into our bodies.

4. Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Source: Book Depository

“I used to work for the government,’’ Snowden begins, “but now I work for the public. I did not know there was a difference.”

Regardless of your opinion on whistleblowers and mass surveillance, this beautifully written book brings to light how technology encroaches our fundamental rights to privacy. It tells us how Snowden, despite creating some of these softwares that aid in mass surveillance, came to realise the coercive powers of mass surveillance and how this realisation led to his whistleblowing activities and denunciation of many modern forms of technology.

Throughout this book, you will come to understand the inner workings of the government and the Internet, as well as the superficial notion of privacy in an age where your data is currency. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the higher implications of their daily media and technology use. However, more importantly, the book shows you what it means to stand up for what you believe in and to put the greater good above your own, even if it means living in exile for the rest of your life and being called a traitor to the nation.

5. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Source: Book Depository

In an age where race and race relations are more controversial than ever, this book explores the sociology of race from a psychological point of view. Through discussions of identity, assimilation, and a detailed examination of the psychology of race, this book, though American-centric, is easily applicable to most minority race relations in the world and allows us to understand the experiences of racial minorities. It opens you up to the racial-identity development process for minorities and what it feels like to be asked “What are you?” because what you are is not considered the norm.

If you have ever been a racial minority in any situation, this book helps you understand why, at a certain point, you decided that it was “uncool” to speak your mother tongue or to actively express your racial identity and why at a later point, you decide to embrace this difference instead.

6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Source: Book Depository

This classic transcends age and time and is a constant reminder of the curiosity and wonder that we tend to lose as we grow up. The main character is stranded and meets a young person. Together, they implicitly explore the concept of nostalgia, loneliness, and the power of human relationships. Though this novel has a whole host of intellectual discussions and analysis dedicated to it, it ultimately teaches you to focus less of your time on material things and more of it on the people and relationships in your life.

7. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Source: Book Depository

This Booker shortlist, described as tragedy porn to some people, explores the tragic life of a lawyer named Jude, whose childhood was filled with sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. The book truly allows you to explore the inner trauma that this character faces and the confusion, pain, and tension experienced by the other characters in relation to him.

Despite the heaviness of its subject matter, the book teaches you about the solace that people bring into our lives and illustrates mankind’s capacity for both violence as well as kindness. Furthermore, it allows you to put yourself in the position of a child sex abuse survivor and to a certain extent, understand the struggles that they have beyond the abuse itself.

And we’ve come to the end of the book recommendations! I hope these 7 books are equal parts inspiring and perspective-changing.

The lockdown and the pandemic as a whole has brought most of our social life to a standstill and festivities and celebrations are a lot more toned down. In place of these activities, why not pick up a book or two from the list above? These books serve as a reminder that regardless of the literary territory you are charting, whether it's on animal rights or data privacy or even a book about a fictional prince from another planet, each new narrative and story has the power to change your mind and challenge your belief system.

In the “Shadow of the Wind”, Carlos Ruiz Zafón wrote that “books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” It is my wish then that you discover a part of yourself within these books.

You can find out more about the author on Twitter.

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