As an author, it's difficult to choose a small number of books that have left a lasting mark. After all, we read voraciously and every book leaves a bit of another world within us. But some books stick with you despite the months, years and decades that have passed since you closed the covers with a contented sigh, and a feeling that you'd never quite be the same again. I wanted to share my list with you and I hope you'll get the chance to be introduced to some new books if you haven't already read them, and if you have, I hope maybe you'll go back and read them again for old time's sake.
1. Born Confused, by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Believe it or not, I was 16 years old when I saw the first book with a South Asian protagonist. Give that a brief thought. I went 16 years of my life without a literary character who looked like me, talked like me and narrated a life remotely like mine. Insanity. It was so earth-shattering to read a book about a South Asian that I carried the book with me in my backpack for most of tenth grade. And I wasn't the only one! So many have given tributes to the author, Tanuja Desai Hidier, for bringing Dimpla Lala's story to life--one of a not-so-certain desi-ness, who falls for an Indian boy among the skyline of New York City and challenges a lot of the assumptions she grew up with. In a fun plot twist to my own life, Dimple's love of photography is what made me feel less weird about being creative...and the book made me want to move to New York someday, fall in love and chase dreams. Now, I'm doing just that--and became a published author in NYC who, in fact, has had conversations with Tanuja over Twitter and Instagram. If that's not a lifechanging book and a story to go along with it, I don't know what is.
2. The Twentieth Wife, by Indu Sundaresan
When I look back at high school, I have to laugh at how much I zoned out during history class...and how I am the exact opposite now. This book may have had something to do with that awakening and appreciation for history. The Taj Series, of which The Twentieth Wife is one of three books, follows the family of Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal, through three generations and their love stories. Set against New Delhi and the Deccan (both where I am from), it is an incredible look into the Mughal Dynasty and the rule they had over India. The entire series is beautifully written and gave such a human touch to historical figures who are sometimes controversial in India's history.
3. Girl Code, by Cara Alwill Leyba
This is less self-help book and more women's empowerment. As the book points out, it's amazing what happens when women genuinely show up for each other and the book not only is an uplifting one to read, it's a realistic, blunt and funny reminder that we are capable, brilliant and 100% worthy even in our imperfection. For me, this book is a great way to remind myself about entrepreneurship and drive, and why I started chasing my passion of being an author in the first place. It's really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and freak out over the things out of our control but at the end of the night, it's really critical to remember why we are chasing certain pursuits to begin with...This book also comes with a workbook and I really enjoyed going through it and writing down goals, ambitions and how far I've come along on this journey. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a nice kick in the rump and also wants a fun read.
4. Chasers of the Light, by Tyler Knott Gregson
I got into poetry a few years ago. I think it was from Pinterest--a particular writer's work kept popping up and everything of his that I read spoke to my soul, like it was able to lift the words right out and put them on paper. Tyler Knott Gregson has since remained one of my favorite poets. His words are beautiful, rich with imagery and most of all, capture the realities of heartbreak, love, and the world in prose. I love his writing. He is the one that inspired my own poetry and while I will never even feel close to this man's skill, his kindness, empathy and work on his Instagram and through his books is a gamechanger and will continue to inspire me.
5. Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling
This is no surprise. I've told this story a thousand times--but three weeks after I received my first book deal, I went to the Warner Brothers' Harry Potter Studios in Watford Junction, outside London. The three airplane hangars there are where they filmed the movies and have now been turned into a museum of sorts. You can walk through the Great Hall, etc. At the very beginning of the tour, one of the introduction videos says something like, "It was all because of a book." Those words, especially after I'd just landed my own deal, touched me in ways I still can't describe properly. The series itself is amazing, an incredible work that grows as the reader does with the characters making realistic progressions through their ages. It's not always predictable. The lessons are for anyone ages five to ninety-five. It's an incredible work of art and between the books, movies, amusement parks, studios, spin-offs...I truly don't think that we will ever see anything like the phenomenon that is Harry Potter (outside of Star Wars, perhaps).