For about the last year and a half, I have been on a reading frenzy. It started in Cambodia, where I found myself with an uncomfortable amount of free time. After years of putting pleasure reading on the back burner in order to keep up with the demand of the required readings I needed to do in high school and then in university, a few incredible books helped me fall back in love with reading again. Books like The Goldfinch, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Orphan Master’s Son took me on incredible literary adventures that I did not want to end.
The reading did not stop when I came home from Cambodia. Moving to San Francisco and having a forty minute commute on public transport meant that I had about an hour and a half each day free to read. I got a library card, downloaded a bunch of audio-books, and got to listening. In 2018 alone, I have read and or listened to sixty-four books. Reading has been an absolute joy, and I can honestly say that it has enriched my life in ways that I couldn’t even imagine. I am more creative, have a greater empathy for others, and an increased desire to learn and grow.
When I realized that I was reading my way through the library, I decided that it would be good to consume a variety of books. It’s no secret that I am a sucker for a historical fiction book about World War II, but widening my horizons to include other time periods and genres seemed like the way to go. As I was starting to think more seriously about pursuing a graduate school program in international relations, and I knew that was the field I wanted to pursue professionally, I decided to increase my amount of reading in that genre. I opened up my goodreads account and added an ambitious amount of books to my “want to read” list, and I have slowly but surely making my way through it since.
Currently, I have read seventeen books related to international relations and development. They have been fascinating, horrifying, inspiring, and heart breaking. I have felt furious while reading about the suffering of refugees and I have felt inspired while learning about the projects of development professionals. As a history buff, international relations junkie, and aspiring human rights activist, reading more about the issues relevant to global affairs has not only been personally fulfilling, but also informed my ability to pick out graduate school programs. I have a better idea of what I want to study and why I am passionate about it, beyond my own personal story and motivations.
The following books are my top five favorite reads from my reading list so far:
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: A must reading for understanding more about the global situation for women and girls. This book is heartbreaking, empowering, chilling, and hope inspiring all at the same time. It is educational and informative. As an aspiring international development professional, it will definitely be a book that I re-visit.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: A look into the United States’ criminal justice system. This book is eye opening and will get you motivated to create change. It is easy to judge other people when we do not understand their origins or stories. Bryan Stevenson brings the reader into the harsh realities that undeserved and underprivileged communities face, and shines a spotlight on systematic oppression.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton: An excellent read. This book made me want to become a politician, or a lawyer, or basically anyone striving to creating a better society in the United States. Hillary Clinton is incredible. If you don’t already think so, then you will after reading this book. It helps us understand the election, its outcome, and the losing candidate.
City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence: A must read. This book horrified and fascinated me. The persistence and resilience of people in the midst of suffering, the stories in this book paint a chilling and captivating picture of life in Dadaab. While the trials of refugees are distant tragedies for many in the world today, it is important to remember that these are real people in dire circumstances. Reading this book will put faces and names to the abstract and provide some understanding and context to a problem that greatly requires action.
A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power: Quite possibly the most important book that I have read this year. A look into the instances of United States action and, more commonly, inaction during Genocides. This book is a chilling reality check for how one of the world’s most powerful countries fails other nations time and time again when faced with crimes against humanity.
There are so many other books that I want to read before I (hopefully) begin my graduate studies next year. My goodreads “want to read” list is constantly growing, and I am both overwhelmed and excited about the things that I will learn about. Some of my most anticipated reads to come are Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning, Taner Akcam’s The Young Turks Crime Against Humanity, Dean Karlan’s More Than Good Intentions, and Mark Lutz’s Unpoverty.
Through my reading list I hope to become a more informed citizen, and better prepared for my future graduate school program and chosen career path. So far I have been challenged, felt inspired, and confirmed that the subject I want to study is indeed the right one for me.
Reading is well-known as a powerful tool and a wondrous escape. There is nothing new or revolutionary about that statement. However, as we grow older and fall susceptible to the idea that we do not have time to read, it is easy to push time that could be spent reading aside for other things. In today’s world of technology, watching television or scrolling through social media is a more common way to dissociate from reality. But there is something special about finding solace among words, where you can rest between paragraphs with oxford commas and semicolons. It is a vastly underrated destination. So I would encourage you, dear reader, to venture on the path less traveled.
The Travel Smith