2021: The Year of Magical Reading

Sneha Christall
15 min readJan 6, 2022


A recap of the books I’ve read this year and lessons learned on the way…

Image via Unsplash

There is a Buddhist saying that goes —

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will disappear.”

Books, to me, are the best kind of teachers. I somehow find that there is a book for every possible state of mind you may be in. The right book will find its way to you at the right time. 2021 has been an year of intentional living in more ways than one — and this time round, I found my way back to reading...

All The Books I Read this Year (in the order of completion)

/Looking For Alaska/ A Gentleman in Moscow/ The Little Book of Hygge/ Zen: The Art of Simple Living/ Ikigai/ Educated/ The 12 Commandments of Being A Woman/ Rumi’s Little Book of Life/ The Midnight Library/ The Silent Patient/ Eat Pray Love/ Born A Crime/ Asterix & the Goths/ The Book of Joy/ Anxious People/ Asterix at the Olympic Games/ Heidi/ A Little Princess/ The Shining/ The Alchemist/ The Last Girl/ Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus/ Anne of Green Gables/ The Martian/ The Moment of Lift/ Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine/ The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck/ Unfinished/ Astrophysics for People in A Hurry/ Clap When You Land/ Becoming/ When Breath Becomes Air/ Rising Strong/ Love, Loss & What We Ate/ Think Like A Monk/ The Vanishing Half/ As A Man Thinketh/ Man’s Search for Meaning/ The Legends of Khasak/ David & Goliath/ When Things Fall Apart/ Know My Name/

Here are short snippets & reviews of the truly special books I’d like to recommend to you. I am compulsively organized, so I’ve gone ahead and grouped them according to broad themes and/ or genres —

Self-Help, Productivity and Everyday Spirituality

Zen: The Art of Simple Living, written by Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno, is a gentle reminder that slowing down is progress too. Far too many times, we seek external sensations, momentary pleasures and easily available distractions to quiet our restless mind. This book urges you to slow down, stop trying to control your every circumstance and focus inwards for redirection, realignment and grace in the encountering of your ‘monsters’. If you are looking for ways to thrive better in the coming year, do check out my earlier blog on the topic.

“There is no need to be troubled by things that have not yet happened. Think only about what is happening right now. Almost all anxieties are intangible. They are the invention of your own mind.”

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to A Long and Happy Life needs no introduction, with all the hype it has received over the past year. This capsule of a book provides a brief introduction to the Japanese ‘art of living’, while not diving deeper into any one concept. However, the idea that everyone carries within them an ikigai, or ‘reason to be’ is quite inspiring.

Source: Forbes

When we have a reason to get out of bed every morning, we become stewards of something bigger than ourselves, we are cultivating joy and long life. Here’s a blog I wrote on the idea, if you’d like to learn more!

I first read The Alchemist when I was 13. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t fully appreciate this book. This year, I picked it up again, curious to know how it would speak to me now. In essence, it is a simple tale of how we live out our lives, quite often ignorant of what our heart desires, boxed in by our own preconceived notions of how the world operates.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in A Changing World brings to us the conversations between the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu on cultivating joy in the face of despair. Their cheeky banter, wonder & awe for the world around them and hope, despite (or rather, because of) their hardships is sure to teach us one of life’s most poignant lessons — ‘nothing beautiful comes without some suffering’.

It is human to experience vulnerability, grief and suffering; however, we can choose the path of accepting what we cannot change, freeing ourselves from the past, showing compassion to ourselves and those around us, and being grateful for the gift of life we’ve been given. I have written a few blogs on rising above our suffering and dwelling in hope as a Christian — do check them out, if you haven’t already!

“The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

Women’s Memoirs

Tara Westover’s Educated was a serendipitous find. It is both universal and personal in its depiction of Westover’s coming-of-age in the direst of circumstances. The memoir deals with abuse, undiagnosed mental illness and the effects this can have on a child’s growth and learning. Neither cautionary nor didactic in its approach, it shows us how powerful the stories we are told as children, are. They shape the way we see the world, until of course, we begin our real ‘education’ and see afresh with a new pair of eyes. Westover is a true-life inspiration because of how her courage and desire for knowledge helped her shape her destiny.

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Eat, Pray, Love is an easy read. Whether you are someone nursing a heartbreak, rejection, divorce, or some such relationship trouble, this book is a candid exploration of how you can move on, focus on your self-care and discover what you really, passionately seek from life. Gilbert eats to her heart’s content in Italy, prays and meditates in an ashram in India and finally finds love in Bali. This is a fairly simplistic reduction of what the book has to offer, but I am sure it will touch a chord with everyone who is in love with life and dares to ask more of it!

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

Chanel Miller’s Know My Name is difficult, yet essential reading. Far too many times, victims of abuse (sexual/ emotional/ physical/ financial) remain quiet due to shame, fear of judgment or a lack of resources. Miller’s account shows us exactly what is wrong with a system that chooses to remain unbelieving of victim statements, and prefers silence over the truth. It is a strong reminder to use our voice for change, every chance we get.

“Good and bad things come from the universe holding hands. Wait for the good to come.”

The Last Girl by Nadia Murad depicts how she and her community of Yazidis became captives of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. It is a necessary story that shows how war and genocide can tear asunder several lives, meaninglessly. However, it is also a story of hope, of human generosity and the indomitable reserves of strength and willpower we have the potential to unlock, in the face of crushing adversities.

“I don’t know why God spared me,” he said. “But I know I need to use my life for good.”

“Our faith is in our actions. We welcome strangers into our homes, give money and food to those who have none, and sit with the body of a loved one before burial. Even being a good student, or kind to your spouse, is an act equal to prayer. Things that keep us alive and allow poor people to help others, like simple bread, are holy.”

Michelle Obama’s Becoming needs no introduction. The first African American woman to become the First Lady of America, this tell-all memoir is an inspiring and invigorating journey of discovering one’s full potential, asking the right questions of life and choosing to be an advocate for the rights of those living in the margins of our society. I would definitely recommend this book to young girls and women looking for a role model they can emulate and derive inspiration from. Having said that, this book is just as accessible and essential for young boys and men!

“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift takes both a human and analytical, data-backed approach in studying different forms of gender violence across the globe. How can we measure the impact of social interventions? The answer lies in sitting down face-face with the women and children most affected by poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality. Her essential argument is to empower women with choices — education, employment, family planning and access to better healthcare practices. When women are allowed more agency over their lives and bodies, they make better decisions for themselves, their families and communities, lifting everyone up. Here’s a blog I wrote on feminism and how ‘enabling’ women, rather than pulling them down, benefits everybody.

“It’s the mark of a backward society — or a society moving backward — when decisions are made for women by men.”

“Disrespect for women grows when religions are dominated by men. … I believe without question that the disrespect for women embodied male-dominated religion is a factor in laws and customs that keep women down.”

“As women gain rights, families flourish, and so do societies. That connection is built on a simple truth: Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community. Gender equity lifts everyone.”

Slice of Life

We have all seen Trevor Noah on The Daily Show — his intelligent satire on American politics has had us all in splits. Noah’s memoir Born A Crime brings us an altogether different and intimate view of his beginnings. Reading this book is a lesson in writing itself — it is at once a commentary on the apartheid system, racial & economic challenges he faced growing up, as well as a tribute to his mother, one of the strongest women characters I have come across in the books I read this year. This is yet another real-life coming-of-age story that you must not miss!

“We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”

“I was blessed with another trait I inherited from my mother, her ability to forget the pain in life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don’t hold onto the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman’s debut novel that first made an appearance in a writing contest and gained acclaim almost immediately. Eleanor's life is painfully mundane — and lonely. But a small act of kindness brings her to ultimately reckon with her truth. We all deserve second chances at life, and this book is a reminder of how important friendship and human connection truly is. Humorous and uplifting at once, it will have you in splits one moment, and pausing to reflect, the next!

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

“In the end, what matters is this: I survived.”

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig takes you on a fantastical journey of ‘What if…’ This library houses a sea of books — each one lets you change the course of your destiny based on a decision you might have made differently. Would you dare to open a book different from your own life, or are you fulfilled better in never knowing? This book is a simple meditation on the choices we make, regrets we may experience and ultimately, the meaning we derive from our own one life.

“It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do, the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.

But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.

We can’t tell if any of those other versions would [have] been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People is another heartwarming slice-of-life book that will have you believing yet again in all that is right with the world. The writing is quirky, witty and hopeful at once. What extent would you go to, for your loved ones? Are you lucky enough to have people around who who understand you, even in the most anxious and bewildering of times? This book is far more than a bank robbery or an apartment viewing, as its plot would suggest. Highly recommend it to anyone looking for an instant mood-boost. It was also recently launched as a miniseries on Netflix, you can check it out here.

“They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.”

“That’s the power of literature, you know, it can act like little love letters between two people who can only explain their feelings by pointing at other people’s.”

Re-Visioning Trauma: The Path to Healing

James Allen’s As A Man Thinketh is a short and simple pocketbook on how our thoughts define our actions and life. He argues that we hold the innate ability to think differently, redefine our circumstances and ultimately, transform our entire life. It calls for discipline, rigor, the ability to rise above blaming others and taking charge of our own life’s path.

“A strong man cannot help a weaker unless the weaker is willing to be helped, and even then the weak man must become strong of himself; he must, by his own efforts, develop the strength which he admires in another. None but himself can alter his condition.”

Malcolm Gladwell has been one of my favorite non-fiction writers for the longest time. David & Goliath is his take on the ‘advantages of disadvantages and the disadvantages of advantages’. He presents real-life and religious examples such as how David defeated Goliath, to argue how the underdogs and misfits of the world derive strength from the very setbacks that others may perceive as their disadvantage.

“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”

“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”

As a psychiatrist uniquely placed in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, Viktor Frankl closely observed how differently he and his inmates coped with their experiences in Auschwitz. In Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes how man’s deepest desire is not to seek pleasure, but to live a life with meaning and purpose. He studied how the men with the strongest spirits, largest hearts, those who served others and remained lighthearted in the face of adversity, were the ones who ultimately survived the concentration camp. We cannot avoid pain or suffering, but we can choose how we see it, and live with a sense of renewed purpose.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist, whose book When Things Fall Apart is a collection of talks she gave in the 80s and 90s. She discusses how we can use painful emotions to ‘cultivate’ true compassion and grit, to remain open to the seemingly chaotic world around us, and create a chain of effective social action. As humans, we are innately programmed to escape pain and chaos — but once we learn to look them in the eye, become ‘intimate’ with them as Chödrön puts it, they are no longer the monsters we perceived them to be, and we become witness to the greatest gifts of grace and joy.

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”

“What we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”

Brené Brown is an American professor and social scientist who has specialized in vulnerability, courage, shame and worthiness. Her book Rising Strong discusses how owning our truth is far better than denying it. It takes courage to fall and get back up, even more so, to be vulnerable. She argues how powerful our emotions are, and how we mustn’t hesitate to lean in to discomfort. Your challenges are the truest test of your character, and when you rise strong after reckoning with your emotions and rumbling into your truth, you own your story fully and dare to tell others about it.

“There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed. Emotional stoicism is not badassery.”

“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”

If you have reached this far, thank you for reading my blog! I hope it has been of some inspiration to you… You can reach out to me in the Comments section or mail me at snehamchristall@gmail.com.



Sneha Christall

Wanderer, writer, memory collector.