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Every year I read a lot of books. It is my way of escaping from the mundane world that surrounds me in the same way that many people turn to movies or tv for. I have always used books as my escape and in 2020 it was no different. Except that it was. 2020 was an interesting year for all of us as we lived through a modern pandemic that created more space for spending time at home (in my case, reading) and less time to be distracted by what was going on around us. At the same time, this was the year that I stopped reading so much fiction and started picking up non-fiction a bit more as well. I can thank the local library system in Finland for that because, otherwise, I might not have ventured away from the genre I was so faithful to for years.
For the first time in my life, I can say that there were many books that impacted my perspective and way of seeing things in the last year. I hope that this doesn’t change going forward either because, while escaping to the worlds of others is wonderful, learning and growing as I read is something that I truly appreciate. If I had to choose five areas of my life that have been impacted by the books I read in 2020, these would be them. And I have chosen one book per category that I think has fit my particular situation well. If you have any book suggestions to continue on as I am or to completely change direction, please let me know.
1.) The book I read that got me more into non-fiction: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
This book comes first because it is the one that caught my attention and pulled me out of the fiction category. This book focuses on people who excel at what they do and tries to dive into the world from where they come from to better understand why. I think we often want to learn more about successful people in the hope that we can copy them or use their knowledge to our advantage. Gladwell argues that we often spend too much time thinking about intelligence or personality traits when we should be focusing on what their upbringing and community looked like.
One of the things that I really liked about this book is how issues such as class and family structure are addressed to explain why some people are so successful. This is especially relevant when we consider why some kids do better in school than others or what things like summer holidays mean in different social groups. From my perspective, this book is calling for change in the sense that the author is pushing us to look beyond our expectations and understand that success is often a product of its own creation. In other words, you can have the smartest people in the world have dud careers if they are not given the right opportunities or you can have regular people have stellar success stories if they are.
2.) The book I read that helped me gain perspective about race: The Good Immigrant by Various Authors and edited by Nikesh Shukla
I picked this book up randomly on one trip to the library. One of the things I have learned over the years is to never pass up the opportunity to read something in English while living abroad. This book called out to me because I come from a family of immigrants and I am an immigrant today. However, what does it mean to be a good immigrant? And what do other people face on a regular basis because they look like they might be a foreigner?
This book really dove into a bunch of different perspectives about the idea of immigrants and racism, with each author telling his or her own story. I read these stories just as the Black Lives Matter movement was happening in the U.S. but one of the most interesting things for me was that all the authors are based in the U.K. I think this is so important because it reminds us that the impact of racism is not limited to one area but can oftentimes be found all around us. I really enjoyed this book because it was another reason for me to look at how I act and why when it comes to the topic of immigration and racism.
3.) The book I read that helped me gain a different perspective on what I see in the world: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
I actually read this book one and a half times as the first time I got it as an e-book from the library and I didn’t manage to finish it before losing access. This book is exceptionally interesting to me, as a Sociologist by education, because it traces the history of humans as we know them today. It is “A Brief History” because the author doesn’t dive deep into the different subjects he discusses but I do think that it is deep enough to get a good idea of our evolution.
I found this book fascinating because the author talks about how, as humans, we have the tendency to advance without really thinking about whether or not it is a good idea to advance. And, once we have moved forward, we can easily get stuck in a place where we can no longer go backwards. One of the things I am still thinking about is the idea presented that we might not be happier or live better lives than our human counterparts that lived thousands of years ago. This feels relevant because we are often rushing towards the next thing, without always questioning “why?”
4.) The book I read that helped me connect to the people and history where I am living: Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
I have spoken about this book before but thinking about all that I learned in 2020 would be incomplete without including this children’s book by Finnish author Tove Jansson. And I say children’s book, but Moominpappa at Sea also feels quite serious and dark for the recommended 9-12 age that it is set for. This book specifically gave me insight into topics such as loneliness or feelings of self-worth (like I said, it was heavier than you might think) as the Moomin family decides to move away from their home to an island with a lighthouse out at sea.
I was recommended this book by several different people before I picked it up and I didn’t really know what to think because I didn’t really know who the Moomins were. I still don’t know all the characters but these creatures are an essential part of Finnish culture and most children grow up with them. As far as I understand it, Moomins teach children about different aspects of life. I am incredibly grateful for this book as it has made me feel like I have connected a bit more to the people and culture around me (and it has also set me up for some really great conversations with local friends!).
5.) The book I read that helped me reconnect with my creative self: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The last book on my list for 2020, this is one of the books that I have probably been most excited about this year. Cameron shares a bunch of tricks throughout this twelve week written course for readers to reconnect with and dive into their creativity. Once again, I borrowed this book from the library, but it is one that I am seriously considering buying for myself—I read this book in March and some of the tips that she shares have stuck with me until today!
I have really enjoyed the activities and making sure I find space for them in my busy schedule. It is so easy to ignore the desire to do creative things so I really recommend this book for anyone who is looking to dive into their creative side (whether or not you want to be an artist) but also for people looking to connect with themselves. If you find yourself hesitant to be more creative, I would recommend taking it one day, one activity at a time, but I know it does make me happier.
And those are five main books that I have read in 2020! I am hoping that 2021 is equally as inspiring (which it seems like it is some amazing books that I have already read such as this one about introverts and this one about getting through hard times and being true to yourself). If you have any recommendations, I’d be happy to add them to my list.
P.S. As always, I would be remiss not to shout out Dani’s book that she published last year! You can find more about Fairly Familiar and Dani’s author profile here.