When I was in Panama six weeks ago, I found myself in a bad place. I was depressed and isolated. There was no reason for this feeling really — my way was being paid by a blogging partnership, and I was practicing my Spanish. I was caught up in my own head, feeling depressed in a situation where I knew I needn’t.
As I was walking around one of the poorer districts of Bocas Del Toro, feeling sorry for myself, I had a stark realization: I felt no drive to help these people.
Bocas is a place of contrasts: hovels and broken roads alongside million-dollar homes for wealthy expats. Privilege alongside poverty. And no matter how poorly I was feeling, I knew I fell firmly on the privileged side of that divide.
I thought of my sister, Christina, who has dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate. Once you have seen true inequality with your own eyes, “I don’t see how you could want to do anything else,” but try and alleviate it, she had once told me.
Here I was, in the middle of such inequality, and it couldn’t touch me.
Which brings us to “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder. Christina handed it to me recently, with the instructions: “You should really read it. If only to understand your dear sister a little better.”
My review of Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist is one of my most popular posts. The Alchemist is one of my favorite books; I connect deeply with the message. I feel that it was introduced to me at a pivotal moment in my life — the message appeared exactly when I needed to hear it.
Last summer, a good friend’s long-term girlfriend handed me a copy of The Alchemist. They’re both engineers, based in Seattle. They were making great money, lived in a modern apartment with a magnificent view, and seemed to be doing great. “It’s my favorite book,” the girlfriend told me as she handed me the book. She longed for travel, like I had done.
Mt. Rainer loomed in the distance, visible from their apartment window. The boyfriend spoke of climbing it next summer. I thought that sounded fun. But you could tell, it wasn’t the girlfriend’s dream.
I was just back from extended travel in Asia. I was unemployed, emotionally devastated, and unsure of what to do with my life. I had been home for two months, floating around from friend to friend, spending my days mostly sleeping and trying to make sense of everything I had learned from breaking up with my girlfriend in the Hong Kong airport, and going on to Nepal. I was spending money recklessly, including coming out to Seattle for just a weekend. Chasing my dreams had, in a very real way, destroyed my life.
If there is a better time to be handed a book about the power and importance of following your dreams, I don’t know when it would be.
I picked up a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Our Appointment with Life” from Tibet Bookstore in Kathmandu. It cost 300 rupees (about $3), according to the sticker that’s still on my copy. You can purchase it on Amazon for $9.95 on Amazon.
I mean, if you’ve got the time I highly recommend traveling to Nepal, but unless you’re buying A LOT of books, it’s probably not economically sensible.
My sister Christina and I both read Americanah at the same time. Since I never got around to writing a full review of it, I asked Christina to share her thoughts. Since she lived in Benin, a country neighboring Nigeria, I feel she has a more interesting perspective on this title. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and “Americanah” did make my list of “11 Books That Will Kickstart Your Wanderlust.” Here are Christina’s thoughts:
This was the first book I had read of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, though I knew of her as a strong female Nigerian author. I was quite impressed and my “want to read” list on Goodreads now contains all of her books.
Adichie does a remarkable job of weaving together many different experiences of identity, coming of age, race, love, and the idea of “home” in this compelling novel.
Click to read on:
Before I ever left home, I’d left home a thousands times in the pages of the books I loved. I grew up as a bookish kid, who wolfed down words faster than food. Still today, after I’ve been to more than 20 countries, books have this wonderful ability to take me to new places — even when I’m nowhere more exotic than a comfy armchair in my own home.
Here are 11 of my favorite books to kickstart your wanderlust: