By Jessica Haley
For the curious mind, the knowledge in a book is like a feast for a starving man. Books that sharpen your mental acuity are important tools.
Whether your motivation for reading comes from pleasure or self-improvement, here is a selection of books that are perfect for your quiet moments of contemplation.
Blink By Malcolm Gladwell
The moment you start to focus on your breathing and become aware of the fact, your lungs can suddenly feel like they’ve forgotten how to inhale. Blink makes you think about thinking: what type of decision-maker are you? Do you make snap, intuitive judgements, or do you analyse every detail under a microscope before you act?
Malcolm Gladwell mainly focuses on the psychological term “thin-slicing,” our brain’s ability to draw from narrow personal experiences and limited information to make quick decisions. He also explains how our unconscious biases can influence our decision making. Gladwell uses many different examples—from a psychologist predicting the likeliness of divorce, to why Americans decided to vote for President Harding—to make his points. Blink makes you appreciate all of the complexities of the human brain.
Candide By Voltaire
Although published in 1759, don’t let Candide’s age fool you. It still has plenty of insight to offer the twenty-first-century reader. The French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire’s works are still admired today for their satire and wit.
At the beginning of Candide, its title character subscribes to the popular Leibnizian optimism of the era and believes he lives in the “best of all possible worlds.” However, soon, Candide’s entire worldview is shaken by a lightning-fast plot that leads him from one tragedy to the next in an episodic tale of disaster. The misfortunes that befall Candide and his companions are so numerous and absurd that they are humorous to behold.
This little French novella triggered a massive scandal in Europe when published, earning a place on the Catholic Church’s “banned book list”. With its scathing wit, no one escaped Voltaire’s sharp pen. He offers hot takes on every sensitive topic: religion, politics, and philosophy, criticising each with enjoyable gusto.
The Hogfather By Terry Pratchett
Dive into the fantastical Discworld and discover the power of belief and superstitions. December 32 is Hogswatchnight, a night where the mythical Hogfather brings presents and grants wishes to children. The only problem? Sinister forces have kidnapped him! Death (personified in this tale) tries to keep the belief in Hogfather alive by temporarily stepping into the Hogfather’s shoes. Meanwhile, Death’s granddaughter Susan teams up with Bilious, the “Oh God” of Hangovers, on a rescue mission.
Terry Pratchett does a fantastic job deconstructing traditional Christmas myths but does so in a way that still values the magic of belief. One oft-quoted line from The Hogfather is “humans need fantasy to be human” which beautifully sums up the message of this surprisingly deep children’s story.
The Last Lecture By Randy Pausch
The concept of a “last lecture” is: what final wisdom would you share with the world if you knew this talk would be your last? For Professor Randy Pausch, the question was not hypothetical. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he gave his final lecture on “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” at Carnegie Melon the year before his death.
The Last Lecture expands on the original topics in Pausch’s speech while including personal childhood stories and lessons he wants to pass on to his children. Though written by a dying man, the book’’s tone is upbeat, inspiring, and even humorous. Pausch had a vivacious outlook on life and encouraged readers to have fun and live life to the fullest since you never know which moment is your last. This book is full of sage advice for anyone craving a fresh perspective on life—particularly beneficial during our current troubling times.
Middlesex By Jeffrey Eugenides
Middlesex explores identity and metamorphosis in more ways than one. The story spans three generations of a Greek family who immigrate to America and the secrets they carry with them. It is also a coming of age story told from the perspective of an intersex person. Though this identity brings some very specific challenges to overcome, the story is relatable to anybody who struggles with major life transitions: moving out, growing up, and finding your true self.
Though he is neither intersex nor transgender, Jeffrey Eugenides did his due biological and gender identity research. He also drew on many of his own experiences living in Detroit, and aspects of his Greek heritage grounds the story in reality.
Reading brings infinite possibilities. It expands our horizons, and it nourishes the soul. Books allow us to travel through time and space, and to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions. Hopefully, one or two of these books will inspire you to read and think deeply.