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MIT blogger Kidist A. '22

books I’ve read this year by Kidist A. '22

slowly but surely completing my 2020 resolutions

 One of my 2020 resolutions was reading 10 books, and I just completed this goal last week! I think by the end of 2020 I’ll have read a little more than 10 books as I’m in the middle of reading an eleventh book, and I’ll probably read another book after finals. For now, here are the 10 books I’ve read so far~~

picture of stacked books 

  • the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur: I got this book as a birthday gift, and my instinctive reaction to it was negative, which was incredibly rude to the kind person who gave me the thoughtful gift. I say this to show how biased I was against Kaur. The book itself was surprisingly decent. Kaur explores difficult and vulnerable topics such as rape, immigration, and insecurities. I loved that there was a general arc and story in the way the poems were presented and organized. Some of the poems were a little short and border-line meme-like, but there were several gems in there that balanced those other poems out. I honestly was not expecting much from the book except maybe the illusion of depth, but I was pleasantly surprised with the issues Kaur tackled. I think it’s a nice book to read and relax while sitting by the window as you sip tea.  
  • Introduction to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo by Faith Alemayehu Desta: This book was 75 pages and a three-hour read. Learning and understanding my faith was one of my goals for the year, and this book helped me with that. It covers the basic doctrines and history of the church, which was really helpful when I read the next book.    
  • The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Faith, Order of Worship, and Ecumenical Relations: This book took everything in the previous book and expanded it. It was longer and more detailed. The book is also in both English and Amharic, so it was nice for me to review a little bit of my Amharic. Both books were very informative, and I learned a lot. I understand this is a niche subject, but they’re good books to read if you happen to be interested in the topic. 
  • Famine, Affluence, and Morality by Peter Singer: I think this quote cuts to the core of the book: “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.” Singer explicitly outlines the moral reasonings as to why affluent countries and people need to give much more aid than we currently do. The current thinking of charity as something that is good to do but not wrong to refrain from is essentially immoral; charity should be a moral requirement. He also emphasizes that proximity should be unimportant in determining one’s decision to give aid. Additionally, other people’s unwillingness to donate should not affect your desire to donate. Especially since now, more than ever, it is so easy to save the life of a child in poverty for the cost of a new pair of shoes. And I think it’s more than fair to say that human life is worth way more than shoes. This book made me question a lot of my purchases, and I promptly donated to a charity as soon as I finished reading. This book, honestly more so essay, is01 or at least can be a quick read. I think I read this at a slower pace than usual to really digest what I was reading</span></span> a very quick read. I honestly didn’t need much convincing because I already agreed with the premise of the book. This is just a clear and concise book.  
  • Doing Good Better by William MacAskill: I loved this book, and it’s helped me at least start answering a lot of my questions about life and impact. MacAskill is the co-founder and president of 80,000 Hours, which is an organization that researches and identifies careers that solve the biggest problems. I like that they are very transparent about their frameworks and values, and they have detailed articles outlining it. This book adds on to a lot of what I had read on the website but with more detail. A lot of the examples used were very memorable and effective in explaining the overall point. I like that the book provides a framework instead of telling you what to do. It’s very insightful and leaves it up to you to decide which route to take based on your goals and values. I think a lot of people at MIT come in wanting to change the world and become disillusioned, at least that’s what happened to me. This book gave me hope that there are ways I can make a tangible and very consequential difference for the better.    
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This book is so beautiful. I would switch from reading it casually to trying to observe and learn the way Adichie crafts the sentences and stories. A lot of the books I’ve read are pretty packed in that there are a lot of actions and events that happen in order to propel the story. This is one of the first books that I’ve read that has a lot of day-to-day life as the events that build the story. I think this is mostly because most of the books I’ve read prior are fantasy, dystopian, or a genre related to that. I loved Adichie’s choice of details that serve both as description and as a reflection of something larger. Also, the topics explored were very relatable to me: immigration, race, identity, etc. I know I have to read this book and annotate it because there is so much I can learn to grow as a writer. 
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibrahim Kendi: This book was required reading for my CMS.100 class this semester, and it was both really validating and enlightening. Some of my biggest takeaways include learning about the intersectionality of racism with other forms of discrimination (sexism, ableism, etc). Another point that’s really emphasized is the interconnection between capitalism and racism, and the book gives good historical context. I also thought it was really interesting that Kendi states that the root of racism is self-interest and not hatred, though that can and does contribute. This was an interesting perspective to me that explained a lot of different aspects, and it’s something I’ve started to think more about. The book isn’t a hard read at all, and honestly, at times, the writing felt too simple and boring or repetitive. But, I understand the need for simplicity because it makes Kendi’s points very clear and concise and doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. And given the subject matter, it’s expected. The book is a good mix of personal stories, historical background, and explanations, and it doesn’t feel preachy at all. Most chapters are guided by a definition given at the beginning of the chapter, which I found really helpful and effective. I think everyone should read this book or one that discusses the dark history of the western world and its consequences.  
  • The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer: This was also required reading for my CMS.100 class. It was an interesting memoir about Palmer’s life as a performer and the different lessons she’s learned throughout her unique experiences. For a time, she worked as a human statue where she painted her face white, wore a wedding gown, and stood on a box at Harvard square as she silently handed out flowers when someone put money in her bag or hat. She uses her experience as the Eight-Foot Bride to talk about human connection and the difference between being looked at and being seen. Another point that really struck me was how many viewed her being a human statue as shameful begging while she saw it as an exchange where she offered moments of connection. Frankly, I also thought the same things, but reading her account has not only changed my mind but also expanded my definition of art and its different forms and values. She then connects her experience as a statue to her willingness to ask fans for help as a musician whether it was asking for food, money, or a place to stay during her tour. Through asking for help, she built personal connections that ultimately helped her raise more than a million dollars from 25,000 fans on Kickstarter, making her project the most successful in the site’s history. She also talks about other aspects of her life, including her marriage with author Neil Gaiman and imposter syndrome. It was also nice to read about a setting I was familiar with, Harvard Square, and she mentions MIT several times, including referencing the long-gone Toscanini’s that was in place of Anna’s Taqueria in the Stud. Overall, it was a decent book; though I don’t think I would have read it if it weren’t required for my class, I still walked away having learned many different lessons.  
  • Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez: Honestly, I wanted to read a book about money because I wanted to see what a working adult’s budget looks like. My parents generalize or share high-level things when talking about bills, and I wanted to know more specifically what to expect when I enter the workforce.02 </span></span>or will I postpone being an adult and go to grad school? who knows?!?!?! I started reading the book with this goal in mind but the book went beyond discussing rules and focused on developing a mindset. One of the core ideas of the book is this concept of life energy, the total amount of time we have on earth. And while I have always heard of the phrase time is money, this book really hammered it in by encouraging readers to calculate how much time and thus money actually goes into one’s job and what the real hourly wage would be. With this calculation, the authors encourage readers to convert each dollar spent to ‘hours of life energy’ and ask if you were fulfilled in proportion to the hours of life energy spent. Honestly, at first, I thought this concept was cringey or preachy, but I started to see its merits as I read the book. The authors also emphasize separating the link between who you are and what you do for a living in order to free yourself and make more fulfilling decisions. I don’t think the book explicitly mentions the F.I.R.E movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early, a movement where people aggressively save their income to retire in their 30s or 40s), but it seems to be biased towards that goal. In the end, I did learn about various specific costs of life, but I’m walking away having realized that what I really need to be thinking about is fulfillment and how to best center my life around that.  The authors have put a good summary of their book on their website if you want to check it out.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I started this book one night, thinking that I would read a few pages a night for a few weeks as I had done with the other books I’d read this year. The night I started reading the Kite Runner, I went to bed at 4 AM because I couldn’t stop reading. The next day, I woke up and immediately started again. I kept telling myself, “30 pages and I’ll start working” or “30 more minutes”. I kept that up until I finished the book the same day. I should have known better; I’d read Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns in high school, and I finished most of the book in one sitting. I think it took me two weeks to get through 30 pages, but once the main plot began, I couldn’t put it down and finished the book that same day. I don’t even have the words to accurately describe how good and heartbreaking this book is. It’s a book about family, guilt, redemption, and so much more. The book is set in Kabul, Afghanistan and covers the time period of the fall of the Kingdom of Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. Having the book set before and during these eras really illustrates the ugliness and unfairness of war. I’ve been reflecting a lot about mortality and the finality of death, and this book really impacted me in that regard. Even though this is a fiction book, I have no doubt that there are thousands of people whose lives are marked by worse horrors than this book explores, and that is a frightening realization. I’m still unpacking this book and how I feel, but I can say for certain that this book is my favorite of all the ones I’ve read this year. 

 

My reading list for next year is mostly set, but I’m still deciding what 3 fiction books I’d like to read. So if you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments! 

 

  1. or at least can be a quick read. I think I read this at a slower pace than usual to really digest what I was reading back to text
  2. or will I postpone being an adult and go to grad school? who knows?!?!?! back to text