Reading Roundup featuring Homo Deus, Brain on Fire, Big Magic, and Poems that Make Women Cry

GOOD READS

Hi everyone, I’m still alive! I’ve been away for a long time due to some health reasons. Thanks for sticking around if you are reading this. I really appreciate your support!

To ease our way back into writing, I thought I would round up some books that I’ve been meaning to share:

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

★★★★★

homo deus

Last time, I was recommending Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind as the Book of 2017. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow is the equally mind-blowing and even more chilling sequel to that. Silent stupors of depression punctuated by horrified exclamations of “what have we done?!” are likely side-effects of reading this gripping account of the future of humanity. But rather than being a turn-off, the unpleasant way in which Homo Deus shakes us awake to examine our own choices today is truly the greatest gift that any author can give to the people of tomorrow.

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

★★★★★

brain on fire

At 24, Susannah has a boundless future to look forward to: she’s at her dream job in New York and is months into her first serious relationship. Then, in the course of days, she becomes totally unrecognizable.

What starts as a series of mood swings tumbles into near total memory loss, catatonia, and demonic seizuresParades of doctors and over a million dollars worth of tests later, the reason for her symptoms remains elusive. Then, just as the hospital is about to give up on her, a certain Dr. Souhel Najjar asks Susannah to draw a clock on a piece of paper. His “clock test” ends up saving her life.

The very fact that Susannah lived and recovered to tell this tale is a miracle. Never mind the courage and bravery it took to tell it, or the top-level of investigative reportage involved in piecing together a month in which her memory was virtually wiped blank. Greatest of all is how Susannah’s writing leaps so vividly from each page. This book really makes you feel things till you bawl.

In all, if you want a story of unexpected courage, if you want to be touched deeply, and if you want a read you just can’t put down, then this book is the one for you.

***On a side note, Netflix originals released an eponymous film adaptation last month. It wasn’t so bad that I regret watching it, but the movie felt like a book report. It somehow managed to retell all the facts of this thriller of a tale without actually thrilling us. Bottom line: don’t be satisfied by my book report or the movie. Go read the book!

Poems that Make Grown Women Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden

★★★★☆

poems that make women cry

I am wary about titles like this: Is this going to be sappy “poetry” about girl power? Will I need a handkerchief, fan, and corset to qualify as a reader? 😉

Turns out that this book was named thus as a companion to an earlier publication called Poems that Make Grown Men Cry, which in turn, was named so only because its male authors wanted to challenge and poke fun at the outdated yet common stereotype that real men aren’t supposed to cry.

Enough about the title. What lies inside the cover is the real treasure.

Contained herein are 100 poems, each chosen and forwarded by a different Nobel Prize laureate, Academy Award winner, human rights activist, or world-class musician – you get the idea… who also happens to be a woman. The range of poems offered here span a myriad of cultures, eras, and moods. You have your English language staples like Wordsworth, Yeats, and Shakespeare. But you also have works by poets who are lesser known in this part of world such as Anna Akhmatova, Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali, and Pablo Neruda.

This book is great in three ways: First, you get to see all these masterpieces of poetry, and you’re bound to find at least a few that you’ve never heard of. Second, you get to celebrate all these inspiring women, some of whom you’ve heard of. (Want to know what made Judi Dench cry? Flip to page 31 to find out.) Third, you get to read some personal reflections by some pretty interesting people.

In all, if you are looking to go on a journey that is poignant, sublime, exultant, sombre, furious, and much more, look no further than this excellent anthology.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

★★★☆☆

big magic

We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

— Jack Gilbert as quoted in Big Magic

The first chapter of this book read like a work of art. It was poetry, it was inspiration, it was one of those rare things that you read and then stare at just to let it sink in. The rest of the book had good moments too, but never reach the same heights as the first chapter did. As a result, I was left a bit underwhelmed. That said, I would still recommend this book to anyone who is in a creative field or is interested in living more authentically and passionately. If you are in a rut or are fearful about starting a new creative endeavor, then all the better, because this book is filled with pep talks and kicks in the butt aplenty.

The biggest take-away I got from reading this was how the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, conceptualized of ideas. Take this as metaphorically as you want, but Gilbert talks about ideas – the big inspired kind – as these living, divine beings that float around in the air, waiting for human beings to be open to accept and channel them into conception. Ideas do not keep regular hours and they will come and go on their own volition. The key is to show up every day and put in the work, playfully, joyfully, persistently. Then, when you do catch an idea, hang on to it by its tail if you need to – because sometimes it will want to slip away again, and nurture it. Most importantly, do something about it as soon as possible, because the idea might not stay and wait for you when you “finally have the time for it” several years later. By then, it will most likely have gone to someone else.

Besides this cool analogy of the generative process, Gilbert draws on her own experience to offer advice about starting out and navigating her way into becoming an internationally acclaimed author. You might not always agree with her advice and some of it may seem like something you already know, but take what you need and leave the rest behind. There’s bound to be something useful here.


There you have it. Four books on four completely different topics. What have you been reading these days? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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