It was time for me to put together my annual list of my favorite books, so I went onto Goodreads and started going through the list of books I read over the past year. As I pulled together my favorite titles and started reflecting on them, I realized that all of them had something very important in common. They all dealt with conquering a fear or they take place during real, terrifying situations.
These books must have influenced me in more ways than I knew at the time. I think that they must have inspired me to read more books like them, must have inspired me to try to conquer my own fears this year. I hope to add to this list of books for the fearless often as the year goes on.
Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques
Juliet Jacques underwent sex reassignment surgery in 2012 and wrote about her transition in a series of articles for The Guardian. She has since written a memoir in which she talks about growing up and about the painful years she spent trying to live as a man, until she reached a point where she could not anymore. As she begins to transition, she is harassed, misunderstood, and ignored, but she triumphs.
Lucky by Alice Sebold
Alice Sebold’s memoir is deeply personal and hard to read at times. Raped as an 18-year-old freshman in college, her story is about how she slowly and painfully survived over the following year and bravely confronted her rapist through a trial. As she so fiercely writes, “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A frightening story – Offred lives in a dystopian society in which women aren’t allowed to read, cannot leave the house unless it is to walk to the food market, and are only valued if they can get pregnant. Offred can remember the days when she was free to do whatever she wanted, but a revolution to bring society back to “old values” has stripped her of all of her rights. I’ve read plenty of dystopian fiction, but this novel shook me to my core.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
This novel made me fall in love with Margaret Atwood and put me on a mission to read the rest of her works. A weird, dystopian premise that begins with a couple living out of their car and ends with them living in a social experiment in which they must live in prison every other month.
Blindness by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero
An epidemic of blindness hits a city and spreads like wildfire. Fears that more people will become affected leads the military to send everyone who has gone blind into quarantine.
Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
Say what you want about John Krakauer, but he is a brilliant storyteller and writes about wildly fascinating topics. I have a morbid interest in anyone who thinks that climbing Mount Everest is a good idea. I devoured Krakauer’s first-hand account of climbing Mount Everest during the famous storm that killed 8 people in 1997. I am not advocating anyone climb Mount Everst to conquer a fear – Krakauer himself says this was the biggest mistake of his life. In Krakauer’s view, many poor decisions were made in the quest for the glory of reaching the top of the world’s highest mountain.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
1984 meets a stark reality. Demick intertwines the stories 6 different people who escaped North Korea. Even scarier to these people than being caught by the oppressive regime during their escape was a life in North Korea, where they were watching their loved ones die of starvation and were unable to trust even the privacy of a diary. This book will inspire you to stand up for what you believe in, to never accept the status quo, to question everything.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
I love Young Adult books. When I was growing up they helped me navigate my fears. They helped me work through emotions I didn’t understand or didn’t want to talk about. But they are equally important for adults, I think, because talking doesn’t always get easier as we get older. After being raped at a party, Melinda spends a year drawing into herself, hardly able to speak. Afraid to speak out and terrified of the boy who raped her, Melinda spends a year learning the power of her own voice and trying to understand what happened to her. An important book.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
This graphic novel is Marjane Satrapi’s autobiography about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She writes from a child’s perspective – the way she experienced the turmoil growing up. It is both heartbreaking and inspiring. In the second book, Marjane leaves Iran to have a better life in Austria. I admire Satrapi for being so honest and raw, and her self-reflection is incredibly powerful. A brave and powerful work.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Golem and a Jinni are suddenly thrust into a world in which neither of them belong and of which they know nothing about. Terrified of being identified as otherworldly, they form an unlikely friendship as they try to navigate their new world and blend in.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Is there anything scarier than a killer virus that takes out the majority of the world’s population? Maybe a world without smartphones? This beautifully written novel follows group of traveling performers, whose motto is “survival is insufficient,” as they bring Shakespearean theater throughout a new world, where phones and electricity are a thing of the past.
The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
Sometimes being fearless means quietly working within the system to get what you need. Even if it means hiding your true self in order to survive. In Afghanistan, some parents choose to raise their daughters as men in order for them to have more freedom and opportunity. An excellent read. I wrote a whole blog post about this book because I loved it so much and the women profiled deeply touched me – full review here.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991–2002. Ishmael Beah’s story begins in 1993, when he was 12 years old. In his memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Beah transports you to Sierra Leone, and describes with painful details his journey literally through hell and back — from a teenager rapping with his friends to a government soldier addicted to drugs, and finally, his recovery and escape.
What do you think of my list? What should I read next as I embrace living fearlessly?
You can also check out my favorite books of 2014 here.
Come join me on Goodreads! I’m slightly obsessed.