Best Reads of 2014
The process of traveling isn't always fun. 15-hour flights, overnight bus rides and long lines for ferry tickets are often straight up miserable, but I've found that always having a good book helps. It's even better when the book provides background to the place or places you're going. In 2014, I did my best to read novels based in the countries we were visiting or that explored concepts important to those cultures. And for good measure, I snuck in a few that transported me to magical places I have yet to see. Here are my favorite picks for this year:
1. Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett As the third book in a series of Bangkok-based novels, this fast-paced thriller once again uncovers the city's dark side through the eyes of Buddhist Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep. But this time, he's dealing with the worst case he's ever seen: Few crimes make us fear for the evolution of our species. I'm watching one right now. The snuff film he's referring to features a woman he once loved to the point of obsession ~ a film that ends so horribly that it leaves him literally haunted by his old flame. The ghost story that unfolds as Sonchai fights his way through insanity to get to the bottom of the case provides deep context into the spiritual beliefs of Thai culture and shows a glimpse into the lifestyles of Bangkok's seediest characters.
2. The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong I always enjoy reading both fiction and non-fiction books about the places I travel to or live in (see above!) and this was my pick for Vietnam. We've all seen the photo: 9-year-old Kim Phuc running away from her burning South Vietnam village, naked and severely burned by napalm, terror and agony stretched across her face. In this compelling narrative, Denise Chong intricately weaves together the story of how the photograph was made, what happened to the young girl before and after it became famous and the history of the Vietnam War through a rare perspective of everyday life from a Vietnamese standpoint.
3. There's a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Wayne Dyer 2014 was life changing in many ways, but one of the most profound experiences was letting faith and spirituality back into my life and I have this book (and the person who borrowed it to me!) to thank. With practical advice on how we can access the spiritual world and use that guidance to solve life's biggest problems, Dr. Dyer strongly convinced me that there is a spiritual solution for every issue that comes our way. It's all about the power of thought and choosing to tap into the higher frequencies that exist all around us.
4. Shantaram by Gregory David RobertsShantaram tells the story of Linbaba, a convict from Australia who escaped prison in the 80's and fled to the slums of Bombay. A hunted man on the run, his epic journey in the underworld of India lead him to love, murder, friendship and war and put him in various roles as a slum doctor, mafia gangster, Bollywood actor and Mujahideen freedom fighter. At its core, it's some of the best storytelling I've ever read, but it also goes deeper to discuss the basis of right and wrong and good and evil. I still can't believe the events that took place were actually based on someone's real life and that the author had the tenacity to rewrite the book not once, but three times (prison guards threw out the first two versions), in all of its poetic eloquence and intricate detail.
5. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Gillebeau After completing his quest to visit all 193 countries in the world, Chris Gillebeau wrote this detailed guide to discovering and executing your own quest: something that drives you to live to the fullest, enriches your life and pushes you to overcome challenges along the way. He case studies real people in the pursuit of their own happiness on quests ranging from becoming a ninja to running 250 marathons in a single year. It pushes you to examine your life, discover your dreams and make them a reality, and reminds you to appreciate the process just as much as the end goal.
And if you're interested, here are my Best Reads of 2013.