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2020 had been a bad year for virtually everything. During the times of hopelessness and distress, I found solace in the company of books. The books inspired me and motivated me with their life-changing lessons. Here are my top 10 non-fiction reads of 2020. The list is in no particular order.
To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.
— Tara Westover, Educated
1. Educated by Tara Westover
This is one book I can’t help recommending enough. The book is a memoir of Tara Westover and chronicles her inspiring journey to self invention. Tara was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her father didn’t trust the government and anything that had to with the government including healthcare & education. As a result, she didn’t step foot in a classroom until she was 17. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbs.
Forget formal education, Tara didn’t even receive any kind of proper homeschooling. She had to work in her father’s junkyard since a young age. In whatever little time she got, she began to educate herself. She self-studied mathematics and grammar and took an exam to gain admission to Brigham Young University. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to prestigious universities like Harvard and Cambridge. Eventually, she earned her doctorate in intellectual history from Cambridge University.
This is such a powerful book that you shouldn’t miss. The author's writing is beautiful and her courage to get an education and stand up to her family is so inspiring.
2. When Breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi
This is another powerful and profoundly moving memoir that I loved so much. At the age of thirty-six, the author was on the verge of completing his training as a neurosurgeon, and had a promising career ahead. But destiny had other plans and his world came crashing down when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. But Paul didn’t give up. He kept performing surgeries till he could do it no more. And then he turned to his other passion i.e. writing and began writing his memoir.
The author’s wife says it best, "What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.” The book is very sad and tragic but still very inspiring. It talks about dying, but teaches more about being alive. Philosophical, beautiful, moving, difficult, heartbreaking. ..Highly, Highly recommended.
Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.
We all have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that society is huge and the individual is less than nothing.
But the truth is individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.
— Neil Gaiman, Art Matters
3. Art Matters by Neil Gaiman
This little book is a kind of manifesto for readers, librarians and content creators. The book celebrates everything having to do with reading & writing, following your dreams, importance of libraries and librarians, why kids should read, and respecting art. This is a collection of four essays, each forceful and energetic. Neil Gaiman’s wise words are paired with beautiful illustrations by Chris Riddell. I just loved this book. If you haven’t read this book yet then you are seriously missing out on something incredible.
4. Dear Ijiawele or A feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A few years ago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie received a letter from a childhood friend, asking her how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Dear Ijeawele is Adichie's letter of response. She gives fifteen priceless suggestions for how to empower a daughter to become a strong, independent woman. There is so much wisdom and significance nestled into this letter. I highly recommend reading this.
5. We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This is a short, insightful essay on feminism. It does not point fingers and blame men for a cultural mind-set they were born into. Instead, it offers calm logical arguments for a positive change. And that’s what the world needs.
6. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for writing this much-needed book on creativity. It is practical, helpful, comforting and inspiring. The message is...."we are all inherently creative". Elizabeth Gilbert says..."Be an artist. Create for the sake of creating". "Because creative living is where the Big Magic will always be". Go beyond fear, strip away your preconceived ideas about the creative process and give Big Magic a try.
Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a long cherished dream, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion,Big Magic open a world of wonder and joy. This will be a book I would recommend over and over again to writer and artist friends, and anyone else who wants to live a more creative life.
7. Let’s talk Money by Monika Halan
If you're looking for a simple, easy book to know about all the available investment options in India, and a little guidance and perspective on them, Let's Talk Money is the best book one can go for. It covers how you can plan your finances. And what makes this book special is that it is the most relevant personal finance book from an Indian perspective.
Covering topics across a wide range - insurance policies, fixed income products, equity products, emergency funds, life insurance, mutual funds, retirement corpus and more, it does a decent job of explaining everything in a simple language. A lot of financial mistakes that Monika has highlighted are done by the majority of people. I would say, a must read. It is definitely one of the best getting started guide for starting with managing your own finance.
8. Atomic Habits by James Clear
This is one of the best books for habit building and tracking. If your aim is to form good habits or break bad ones then this book is for you. Atomic Habits is filled with practical steps and examples on habit formation. James Clear provides clear insights on various aspects regarding habits and his four laws are easy to remember and doable. His concepts are really simple and straight-forward, yet profound in their ability to change lives. The book is very well written, simple to follow and practical for developing many different habits.
To make the best use of this book, I would suggest that you write down some good habits you want to build and some bad habits you want to break. And then implement the strategies given in this book for the desired behavior change. A perfect book to read during New Year which will definitely help you in sticking to your new year resolutions!
9. Man’s search for meaning by Victor E. Frankl
In this memoir, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl has shared his experiences of living in Nazi concentration camps and the lessons for spiritual survival. He writes so dispassionately of the life in concentration camps and tries to analyze the behavior of the prisoners during those terrible years. The dispassionate writing makes the horrors of the camp extremely distressing and I can’t even imagine what the prisoners went through.
This book is a transformative and life-affirming read. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl suggests that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it and find meaning in it. This will help us in moving forward with a renewed purpose. The second part of the book is based on logotherapy.
This is not just another story of survival or a description of the horrors of the concentration camp. The beauty of the book lies in how the author described suffering in a new light attached to the meaning of life! This book encourages us to discover meaning in our lives.
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.
— Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
10. The Little book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
Denmark is often said to be the happiest country in the world. And the reason is attributed to one thing: hygge. The author Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. He is committed to finding out what makes people happy and has concluded that hygge is the magic ingredient that makes Danes the happiest nation in the world.
Hygge is deeply personal, and anything that brings you happiness & contentment can fall into the realm of hygge. Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience. It is about connection, ambiance and the simple joys of being with people you love.
The Little Book of Hygge is everything you need to know to about hygge and how to experience more in your life. It inspires you to look for the small, simple things that bring joy to your life. This book has such a beautiful feel to it. I felt such good vibes while reading it. The idea of hygge is something that really appealed to me, and it is something that I want to try and implement more in my life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Shaloo Walia
Nithya Venkat from Dubai on January 30, 2021:
A great list of books to read. Thank you for sharing; this makes it all the easier to choose a book that I will enjoy reading for sure.
Vanita Thakkar on January 30, 2021:
This list of books looks appealing - inspiring, empowering, education, strengthening, spirituality .... You have summarized the essence of the contents pretty well. Thanks for sharing. I would love to read a couple of them at least and would suggest readings to people who might find them interesting.
manatita44 from london on January 29, 2021:
Sweet! A mixture of empowerment, fortitude, sacrifice and beauty. I'm amazed that you continue to read so much. It is part of our spiritual sadhana, so I manage to read some, but my soul nowadays seem to want only the elevated souls works: Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Mayi Ma and the Persian and Indian mystic poets: Kabir, Hafiz, Rumi ... Meera and Rabia. Of course my Guru ji is first.
Thank you so much for your brief summary on these 10 books.
I admire you, though. We all need a survival mechanism in these trying times and you are reading the works of amazing writers and moving stories. Om Shanti!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 29, 2021:
I love Elizabeth Gilbert. Have you watched her YouTube videos? She is a person I would love to know and sit for a conversation. :) Thanks for the reading list, my friend.
Ann Carr from SW England on January 29, 2021:
You've compiled an interesting list here. I don't know any of these titles but they all sound fascinating. I'll skip the ones to do with ill-health and heartbreak (there is enough all around us at the moment) but I'll look out for the inspirational ones.
Thanks for bringing these to our attention.