Aly’s Top Book Picks (May 2020)

Besides writing, reading has been one of my passions. I remember always getting excited when it was time for us to buy our school supplies from Vigan. That meant we would visit National Bookstore which also meant that I could browse the seemingly endless choices then. While most teens my age did not exactly find a bookstore exciting, it was the most amazing part of the trip for me. After getting all the school supplies we need, we would go to the bookstore’s second floor to check out the books. My mother would always buy me a book of my choice then. She would let me go around and skim the shelves for titles myself. I could spend the whole duration of our Vigan stay in there if it was up to me. I remember wanting to bring home a bunch of books but knew that I can’t. I had to pick one. It was torture. But also, I was grateful. Because it was one of the few and rare “luxuries” I got then. For the rest of every school year, I would satisfy my book craving by borrowing books from classmates or making do of the novels that were at home. I’ve read Sidney Sheldon titles before I entered high school because of this. It was also at the kindness of my classmates that I was able to read the entire Harry Potter saga. I rarely borrowed books from the library unless it was absolutely necessary because I had a little scary experience when I misplaced a borrowed book and the daily fine just kept accumulating because I couldn’t return the book. :p

Hence, it’s a no-brainer that when I finally earned my own money, books were where I would usually splurge. I still borrowed books from friends when I just started working but purchasing my own paperbacks and bringing them home has never failed to make me happy. It felt like an achievement and I considered it as another block towards my dream of building my own little library. When I started working abroad, my pile of books immediately grew. My close colleagues knew my passion for books so sometimes they would even bring home abandoned books they would find in aircraft cabins for me. Almost immediately after landing a flight, I would pass by the airport bookstores. The staff already knew me. Sometimes I buy. Sometimes I just browse and check out new titles or the bestseller list.

Perth, Australia. 2015
Perth, Australia. 2015
Sydney, Australia. 2015

Right now, I have a boxful of books from when I still worked in Malaysia in my apartment in Doha. It was maybe 2018 when I told myself that I had enough clutter and had to stop buying paperbacks. It was giving me a migraine just thinking about how I would bring all of my books back home. Hence, I resolved to only read ebooks. I had to give up the very comforting smell of book pages.

I didn’t exactly enjoy reading from a device then. It just didn’t feel like reading to me. Also, Netflix was born. So, all my reading challenges from then on went down the drain. I rarely read. I rarely set aside time for it. Huge portions of my free time were spent watching Netflix or Youtube. I felt guilty not reading enough books then but it was truly hard to stop watching when you could go through an entire book simply by watching an hour-long movie. My “the book was better” self was so embarassed of the Netflix binger I have become. 😀

Fast forward to 2020. COVID19. Quarantine. I had everyday for Netflix and Youtube but eventually it got boring. There were still so many good choices but they all looked plain to me. Hence, I went back to reading.

Below are a few titles I have read recently and have found really good. Without giving too much away (I did my very best, swear!), I wrote each book’s impression on me and my own rating. Here goes.

  1. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

It is a story about a Palestinian family that migrated to the US and how their traditions, culture and beliefs are affecting each member’s life and their lives as a family in an obviously fast-paced modern world. It is about double standard, injustice, culture, gender roles and inequality. But more importantly, it is about strength, courage and empowerment. This book is a little culturally-controversial, I would say, but totally eye-opening and inspirational. Four stars for me.

2. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and  Francesc Miralles

As for longevity, it was not exactly my concern when I was reading this book. It was more on the second adjective used to describe life: ‘happy’. Not that I was unhappy. There wasn’t any reason for me to be depressed then. But I would say I was physically in distress. I felt that my body was slowly giving up on the challenges that I used to consider and perform quickly and easily. Physical stress would then eventually turn into mental and then spiritual stress. It’s no rocket science. I guess you could say that this book came to me when my soul was experiencing so much tension. I quickly went through this book because it was such an easy read and while there were parts that talked about the Japanese practices that led to having the most centenarians of the world in Japan, what I appreciated the most were the simple and real life tips written all over the book that were so basic they made so much more sense. Four stars.

3. Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

I think it’s safe to assume that most women my age know who Ali Wong is. I bet you’ve seen her craziness on her Netflix specials – Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife. Nope? Then what about her Always be my Maybe movie? Yes, that fearless, funny, viciously smart and strong Asian-American of a woman. Reading the entire book, I could hear her voice and picture her animations in every written word. If you need a good pick-me-up while waiting for another Netflix special of hers, you have to read this book. You have me (and Ali) to thank for. 😀 Four stars.

4. The Tattoist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I came to know about this book because Kryz Uy, one of my favorite local Youtubers, mentioned it in one of her Favorites video. Since I’ve seen that video, this book just kept popping up in my feed from acquaintances currently reading it and I kept seeing it at airport bookstores. When I was still busy flying, I quickly forgot about it. It was only now that I had the time and after setting my preferences on my Scribd subscription, this came out on my suggested titles. I added it to my ‘to read’ list right away. It’s easy to liken this book to The Diary of Anne Frank, only this has as an adult perspective hence the story line is more mature. The experiences shared in this real life story are truly heartbreaking and would just make you count the blessing of living in this generation a hundred times more. It is a beautifully-written novel about love and friendship, hardship and suffering, racism and empathy, struggle and survival.. Four stars for me.

5. Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection by Haemin Sunim

I read this book August of 2019 but I felt that I had to include this on this list. This is one self-help book that just from the get-go has gotten my attention and has made my heart understand every word as though it was written especially for me. That was how I felt reading this book. Several of my friends even asked me about it when I was sharing excerpts on my Instagram stories because the words just spoke so much truth. It is such a comforting read. Reading it felt like speaking to an older friend who had nothing but your interest at heart – over coffee. Very practical, very warm, very honest. It is a #1 internationally bestselling book for a reason. I honestly wished for the book to never end. Solid five shining, shimmering, golden stars!

If you like this kind of blog, do let me know. I also love finding out great titles, whether new or old, from other readers. Feel free to share your recommendations below.

I have recently started sharing on my Instagram account some excerpts of books I read so follow me there at @alyalkholifibello or add me up on Goodreads and let’s make our 2020 reading challenge something to talk about! 🙂 #

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