Books for the Soul

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Featured Books

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter

      Nell Irvin Painter‘s most recent text, The History of White People, dives deeply into the concept of race. With a solid foundation in the research, Painter attempts to find out when, why, where (and by who) humans began differentiating themselves by skin color. It felt more like a journey than anything else: Painter cuddled me into a time machine that dated back to ancient Greece where it is confirmed that human beings were (once upon a time) identified solely based off of geographical location and tribe. It is through the beginning pages that she awakens her reader, sets the pace and informs that “race is an idea, not a fact.” Utilizing this perspective (one I agree with), Painter provides her reader with the option to witness the evolution of a simple thought and how it transformed an entire civilization.

       The tone of the text isn’t angry or frustrated. Instead, Painter communicates from a place of humorous and witty wisdom. She confronts many white “scholars” and their research with an effortless ease while also laughing at the absurdity of their churned results.

       The History of White People is just that: history.

      Through the expedition, Nell Irvin Painter takes us through the rise and fall of these bad ideas, how they were encouraged and (most importantly) how they were defied. She writes about the repugnant process of social engineering and ends on a sad, familiar note: not much has changed.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

The timelessness of this piece of work is obvious. What more is there to say that hasn’t been said already?

Das Energi by Paul Williams

Five words. I wish it were longer.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

It was when reading The People in the Trees that I first discovered what good writing could do to me. After reading Hanya Yanagihara‘s debut novel, I was left paralyzed, staring at the wall in front of me for some time before I was able to gather my pieces and carry on with life. The story had devastated me. So little was revealed at a time that I had no idea what I would be fighting up against. For these very reasons, I stayed away from A Little Life on purpose. I just knew she’d ruin me.

But, one day, I found myself having just finished Wounds of Passion by bell hooks and I wanted to be inspired. I wanted to be taught. If you want to be shown how it’s done, I naturally felt as if I needed to be reading Hanya Yanagihara. She is a master. Continue reading “A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara”

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When I was about three chapters in, a White girl approached me on the train. She said, “I just finished reading that yesterday and it’s the best book I’ve ever read.” She sat down next to me, her headphones in her hand, implying that she wanted to talk about it. I didn’t want to. But with valid reason: I didn’t want her to spoil anything for me considering I had just started it. But I asked her, “Oh, so you liked it?” But even that question was rhetorical. After she gushed about how it was so good and how she couldn’t pick up anything else to read because of it, I nodded, recommended her to read The People in the Trees and turned my eyes back to the pages. In the awkward silence that fell upon us, I wondered if I should ask for her social media accounts in case she did pick up The People in the Trees. But I remained quiet.

Now that I’ve finished Americanah I wish I had asked for her contact. I am curious to know how she had felt reading such blunt and brutally honest words about American culture and the white American privilege. And to find out her exact reasons why she claimed it to be the best book she’s ever read. Not only does Chimamanda write beautifully, but she does it in a way that truly makes you take a step back to reevaluate your own cultural priorities. She leaves no one untouched. She writes about Africans, Jamaicans, Haitians, Latinos, Europeans, Asians and the list goes on. What I also appreciated was how specific she was in those mentions. For example, she would say one person is a Non-American Black or Haitian-American if they were a Black born in The States. And, of course, she merges this with a beautiful love story that felt so, so, so real.

The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

I have just finished reading The People in the Trees, literally just an hour ago, and am unable to move. Unable to think of anything else. Unable to, truly, normalize my emotions. When I read The Martian, I thought I was in for a treat; and I claimed, during that time, that it was the best book I’ve read up until that point. Well, that point has passed. The People in the Trees has introduced me to an entirely new set of emotions that I, surprisingly, didn’t know a novel could. Isn’t that strange? After all these years of reading, no book that I can think of has paralyzed me into sitting in place after finishing, staring a hole into the wall in front of me, trying (desperately) to understand what to feel. Was it a good story? Yes. Did it keep me intrigued throughout? Yes, very much so. But, what made it so special? For one, the writing style. Despite the ramblings and sometimes mundane descriptions, I found them (by the end) necessary.

Two, the story moves in a fearless and slow way, revealing so little at a time, it almost made me want to scream. It was an unraveling thriller in a way I genuinely did not expect — I didn’t know it was a thriller until I finished it and felt, at the very least, THRILLED!

Three, it does what a novel should: introduce a new culture in every way possible. Its discoveries, traditions, differences , ways of survival, ways of loving, ways of hating. There was absolutely nothing cliche about it. It, finally, slapped me in the face and forced me out of my comfort zone.

Between Torture and Resistance by Oscar López Rivera

Oscar López Rivera
has been in the U.S. prison system since 1981 for “seditious conspiracy in attempting to overthrow American government on the island of Puerto Rico.” Throughout the course of his life, he worked towards making America a better place for all Latinos and Black people. He organized countless educational programs in Chicago and got involved in his community in any way that he could. After serving in the Vietnam War, he started to ask questions about his own homeland. He couldn’t understand why he was being awarded for killing people in a war that wasn’t his own. When he returned back to the States, he picked a new fight: end United States colonial rule over Puerto Rico.

Between Torture and Resistance is a heart wrenching read. Through Oscar’s letters to his family and close friends, we learn of the unthinkable conditions he has had to suffer in prisons throughout the country. It was very hard to read. And it was even more difficult to grasp how we can call ourselves a democracy while ruling over other nations and torturing those who only want freedom.

March in NYC on May 30th to #FreeOscarLopez

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Thousand Splendid Suns, as I suspected, is a beautiful and emotionally involved story. It is a novel that takes the lives of two Afghan women and magnifies the struggle and pain they had to endure in the hands of their own country. Although the story of Mariam and Laila is fictional, Khaled Hosseini does a magnificent job in making it clear that this story is as close to the truth as we may be able to get during that time of war in Afghanistan.

I was first introduced to Mariam, a young girl who is “illegitimate” because of being conceived out of wedlock. I followed her abandonment, her suffering and deep regret to a marriage that was forced upon her. She never really did have a chance to enjoy her childhood–she had to tend to the duties of the new man in her life. Someone nearly 25 years her senior. It is through this move, though, that Mariam meets Laila.

Of course my heart goes out to Mariam and during many times while reading, my eyes filled with water. But I had to think: if Mariam had never been given away to marriage, she would have never been able to find the happiness she did in Laila.

This is the type of book that will, without a doubt, have you anxiously turning every page. Squeezing in your own ounces of faith that something good will come out of all this. You will begin to believe in every single character–regardless if you hate some more than others. You will find yourself screaming at the pages, predicting the next words, as you would if watching a good movie. You will find yourself heartfelt, holding your chest and pushing back your tears. You will find yourself doing research on Khaled Hosseini in trying to figure out how such a breathtaking story could flow off the fingertips of a human being. You will find yourself thanking Khaled Hosseini for sharing such a story that made you feel completely ignorant to suffering.

Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters

This is the type of book that will make you look at the world differently. Although it is pretty obvious that Americans tend to find themselves in the business of other nations, this takes it to another level of arrogance. It just further confirms how some of us like to believe that we’re the saviors of the world and that we surely must have all the answers.

Even though I am sure Ethan Watters could of written a much larger book on the subject, he decided to focus on four very specific parts: anorexia in China, post-traumatic stress disorder in Sri Lanka, schizophrenia in Zanzibar and depression in Japan. All of these mental illnesses were nonexistent in those areas of the world until American doctors invited themselves over in order to assist in their “healing” — without taking into consideration that the mind adapts according to culture. But, they were convinced, that every mind reacts, responds and heals the same. But also, Watters digs a little deeper in clarifying that, of course, pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money by any means necessary. If they have to lie about side effects, they will. If they have to pay researchers to manipulate the truth, they will.

What you will learn by reading this is that pharmaceutical companies have successfully conducted the biggest scheme the world has ever seen.

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