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What I’m Reading: May 2018

· Travel,Reading

For me, there seems to be a different book for every mood and a different book for every place. This month, I was home in Shanghai for the most part and squeezed in reading around work and enjoying springtime in the city. I was transported to Botswana, a Stanford hospital and North Korean prison camp.

When Breath Becomes Air — By Paul Kalanithi

Even though this has been on my shelf for a while, I can’t remember if I bought it myself or inherited it from a friend who’d moved out of China. I reached for it this month after remembering my mom’s book club had recommended it.

Written by a neurosurgeon after he is diagnosed with lung cancer, the book switches between past and present to tell you his life’s story, why he became interested in practicing medicine, and how he’s coping with his own diagnosis. But the beauty of this book isn’t in the medical talk or even his battle with cancer, it’s how Kalanithi talks about his passion for what he does and improving the lives of people around him.

I was not ready for the emotional rollercoaster this book took me on.

I finished this book in a day, starting it before work and staying up until one in the morning to finish it. I cried for the last thirty pages, and I rarely cry from reading.

An interesting side effect of reading this book was that I spent several days wondering about my purpose in life and thinking about how I can help people. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m usually planning and organizing events, something that brings me joy and in some ways helps people but not in such a profound way like Kalanithi. To this day, I still don’t have the answer for how I can better help others but I thoroughly loved this book for making me sit and think critically about myself and my own values.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built — By Alexander McCall Smith

I continuously come back to this mystery series that my grandmother first introduced me to. Mma Ramotswe and her world in Botswana can always suck me in with delightful crime solving and little pieces of wisdom about happiness and life.

I started drinking rooibos tea because the detective and her assistant constantly drink “bush tea” when they need to think. I haven’t been able to solve any crimes but I have fallen in love with the tea and the sense of peace I feel drinking it.

This book is another installation in Smith’s series about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and I recommend this book as the cream filling between the two other May book choices. Tea Time served as a much needed release after thinking about death and finding your life’s purpose with When Breath Becomes Air.

Escape from Camp 14 — By Blaine Harden

To round out my reading this month, I picked another book that had been sitting on my shelf for a while. Camp 14 made it onto my reading list a few years ago as a chilling first hand account of life inside a prison camp in North Korea. I had yet to bring myself to read it since I knew it would be hard to get through.

With the recent news coverage around the June summit between the US and North Korea, I figured I needed to stop putting off the inevitable and dive in.

Escape from Camp 14 presented an unfiltered view into a country where the government has complete control over their people and the freedom of information. The story was a somber contrast to the smiling faces of the cheerleaders in Pyeongchang last February, who clapped and chanted for the North Korea/South Korea women’s ice hockey team at the Winter Olympics.

I was really impressed with the author’s commentary and his matter of fact way of presenting the story, questioning Shin Dong-hyuk, the man who escaped, as his story changed but also letting the reader into his writing process as he pieced the story together.

It’s hard to verify Shin’s account of life inside a North Korean prison camp but if you’re interested in the history of Asia or understanding more about the Korean Peninsula, this book does give you a look into some of their lives.

From hospitals to dirt roads and bush tea to an epic journey out of North Korea, this month’s books took me on a physical and emotional trip. What are you reading this summer? Are your reading selections as all over the place as mine?

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