I read to discover new worlds, to fill my mind with fresh new ideas or find out what others had to say about my most personal struggles. To dream, to live lives that I would probably never live otherwise, to understand what other people around the world feel and think. To complete everyday existence and broaden my vision. For knowledge, inspiration and freedom of thought, because I genuinely enjoy sharing and hearing stories.
Nevertheless, I haven’t always liked reading. The first book I ever read by my own, from beginning to end, was By the River Piedra I Set and Wept, written by Paolo Coelho. I was probably around 15 years old and I never thought someone could actually enjoy reading or it wasn’t a terrifying task that they had to do. Because that is what I have learned in school. You have to read certain books and if you don’t, you’re going to get a bad mark. Even today I don’t understand why one of the first books I was supposed to read in school was a historic novel, a story portraying different social classes and their struggles in Moldova, a region of my country, in the 17th century. A great novel probably, that I couldn’t have possibly understood nor liked at 10-12 years old. And a novel I obviously did not read because I disliked it so much that I didn’t even care about the bad mark.
What did happen when I was 15 years old and I took that book written by Coelho was that I had discovered a story that intrigued me, that was interesting enough to make me want to read it, something which had never happened before. And most importantly, it was a story I identified with more than with the peasants living in 17th century Moldova. So I started reading all sorts of stuff afterwards just to see if there are any other books out there that I would like, that would surprise me or open my mind. I read thrillers, classics, dramas, love stories, motivational books, spiritual books, fictional, non-fictional, poetry, history and politics. Anything that seemed interesting and worth exploring. I’ve read many bad books as well some very good ones, I hated some of the most acclaimed work of famous writers and I liked the spontaneity and naturalness of writers no one heard of.
What I have noticed about me is that I genuinely like the books that teach me. About life, about emotions, people’s characters, places of the world I have never been to, success, fame, love. It is very important for me to leave with an idea, with a new thought that I can use in my day to day life that would make me happier or stronger or just a better human being. I know of people that read to escape reality, to relax or because they’re curious about the outcome of the story. But I read to learn. And as I am, there must be many others. So I thought about sharing a top of 10 books that changed my way of thinking, shook my system of beliefs and made me look at the world differently. So here it is:
10. Oscar and the Lady in Pink, by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt – the book tells the story of the last days of a child dying of cancer. It taught me that dying shouldn’t fill us with sadness and anger, but it is a mild good bye and it should be looked at with all the innocence that we can master and all the joy that life deserves to be lived even if it ends sometimes sooner that we’d like it to.
9. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely – a set of very funny and revealing studies presented by MIT professor, Dan Ariely, the book made me embrace irrationality as something normal and deeply rooted in our behaviours.
8. The World is Curved: Hidden Dangers of the Global Economy, by David Smick – a financial market consultant that worked with many high ranked officials and top executives, Daniel Smick writes a very refreshing book about the world economy and how it looks like after the crisis. It expanded my vision and knowledge about the complex way in which national economies are interconnected and I enjoyed the funny short stories when he reveals particular personality traits of powerful people he had met.
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – While reading this I felt taken out of time and living in a totally mysterious place where characters were surprising and magically interconnected, everything was chaotic and unpredictable. As little as I still think I understand from it, what struck me about the book is exactly that magically interconnected chaos is our day to day lives and there is no point in trying to control it, the whole idea is to live it.
6. Drive, by Daniel Pink – people cannot be truly motivated by superficial or short term benefits, they need to find value and purpose in their work. Daniel Pink holds this theory up with many data, showing how wrong our modern reward systems still function. It made me think about how I unconsciously resist myself to this kind of external stimuli and refuse to do things just because “You have to”. There is no such thing anymore.
5. A Writer’s Reality, by Mario Vargas Llosa – novels are a product of our imagination that reveal our aspirations, the lives we would like to have but cannot, our hidden passions and fears. Llosa points out that they are also a lie. A lie that we allow ourselves to believe because it is full of possibility and reflects parts of us that cannot be expressed otherwise. It is a form of freedom and a reflection of people’s struggles and ideas. It made me see books once more with gratefulness because I understood now that they are a result of our own needs of grasping the world and we’re lucky to have the minds of people that lived before us in written form.
4. Dune, by Frank Herbert – probably one of the most famous science fiction books of all time, Dune, is rather about the complexity of the human mind and the intuitive nature of people to follow their call, rather than unbelievable technology or strange aliens. It was a book worth reading just to follow the thinking processes of the characters and reflect upon my own.
3. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell – The book shows patterns of highly successful people as a result of their personality, the families and the society they lived in, the education received, and the era they were born in or the hours of work they had spent mastering their passion. And even though I believed these to be a constraint at first, I realised they can be a source of real power and uniqueness and opportunity.
2. On China, by Henry Kissinger – I have heard many things about China before reading this book, but knew virtually nothing. Although Kissinger made it a very hard reading with all the specific details about the culture of Chinese, their history and international relations policy, what I am actually grateful for is that it made me understand how states are governed, the nature of diplomacy and how decisions are made on the global political scene.
1. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson – I have put on the first place the biography of Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, for one very subjective reason: it taught me that if you want to live a great life, you need to take great responsibilities and risks. And I have been many times afraid in my life to do so because I didn’t feel that a regular personal such as I am can put a ding in the universe. So when I read Jobs’ biography I learned that he was not a genius, nor a very techy guy, he had dropped out of school and had felt lost many times in his life. He was a normal guy that chose the path that no one took. After finishing the book, I was left with this one idea: that in order to access opportunities other people don’t normally do, I don’t need to be any more special than I am, but rather should do all the things I am afraid to.