Happy Ramadhan wishes! For those of you that don’t know, Muslims are obligated to fast for a month starting tomorrow. May this month be a productive one, not only spiritually, but in all areas of your life. While you’re at it, it’s also an opportunity to busy yourself with good books.
What I’d Been Reading
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen
One of the best books I’ve read in a while. It’s a novelization of the history behind one of West’s most famous outlaws, Jesse James. The prose and the fleshed-out characters just leave a big lump in your throat as you read. It’s a real-life story about a man who loses his humanity in following his criminal nature. He is eventually murdered by his own gang member and biggest fan, making this just as much of a story of disillusionment and heartbreak. I highly recommend you watch the movie too.
Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikotter
During Mao Zedong’s reign, he had incendiary ambitions to transform China from a backwater country into an economic powerhouse that could overtake the Western countries in their production. Of course, this didn’t happen without an enormous human cost, as millions died from starvation and the violent working conditions. There isn’t one country with a perfect government or political system, but reading this book really made me grateful that I’m alive in this time and place.
The Life and Legend of the Sultan Saladin by Jonathan Phillips
Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi, or Saladin, is one of the most revered Muslim figures, even in the West. He was known for his mercy and compassion for even his enemies during his occupation of Jerusalem. Honestly, based on my experience of reading about religious figures (though I’m not talking about the prophets, peace be upon them), they are often depicted almost as transcendental beings. It’s fairly rare to be able to understand what their vulnerabilities or insecurities were. But from reading this book, I appreciated the candid and holistic view on the Sultan, as he was after all, a human being too, and he wasn’t exempt from having bad traits or making mistakes.
Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche
“Ecce Homo” can be read as somewhat of an autobiography by Nietzsche. Considering how he is one of the world’s most controversial and misunderstood philosophers even today — it’s refreshing that he shares his own perspective or interpretation of his life and his writings. He also reflects on his “formula for greatness”, amor fati (love of fate), in which a person is better-equipped to overcome adversity by first accepting things for what they are, and not wasting time and energy wishing they were otherwise.
Fragrant Palm Leaves by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book is a gem. It’s a collection of Thich Nhat Hanh’s journals in his younger years. It’s endearing to read his entries and discern the gentle relationship that he had with nature as well as the people in his life. Also, it’s one thing to read the writings of a great thinker at the height of their work. But personally, I feel that it’s more inspirational to experience the budding of that great thinker in the pages of their journals, as they tinker around and find their footing. Everybody has to start somewhere, and even the best of us has had plenty to learn.