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20 Brilliant Books To Influence And Inspire You

20 Brilliant Books To Influence And Inspire You

You don’t need to head for the contemporary Best Sellers shelf for an excellent read. I’ve always taken the stance looking for acknowledged classics within the literary canon is a near certain way to find books which deserve to be on your bookshelf. This tactic has worked well for me over the years, and the following 20 are from my collection. All make for dramatic reading, and I consider each one to be a classic worthy of anyone’s time. If you love reading, or want to take it up, these are all perfect texts for new inspiration.

1. Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

    George Orwell is famous for 1984 and Animal Farm, but long before these two came this semi-autobiographical tale (published in 1933) which dabbled with his views on social injustice. Set in the late 1920s, a young Orwell is living near penniless in a seedy hotel in Paris. Keeping him out of destitution are a series of jobs in the kitchens of several hotels; the absurd working conditions are vividly recounted with an impartial eye and great humour. Eventually he relocates to London and hits poverty head on, with unusually inspiring results.

    2. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

      Neurologist Dr. Sacks recalls a selection of some of the most mystifying disorders to have afflicted humans, in a million seller first published in 1985. The eponymous patient (who does indeed mistake his wife for a hat) has a form of visual aphasia. Other patients Dr. Sacks administers to are stricken with seemingly baffling issues; “disembodied” people, alien limbs, tourettes syndrome, startling mathematical abilities, and phantom limbs all abound. It’s all related with great morality and, frankly, every bookshelf should have a copy.

      3. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

        Perhaps the most famous book on this list, In Cold Blood catapulted Capote to stardom back in 1966. Rightly so, too, as his investigative piece on the murder of the Clutter family in 1959 is a thrilling, and simultaneously frightening, portrayal of killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. Their motives are laid bare and it makes for an incredible character study, all of it presided over by Capote’s clinical writing style.

        4. The Plague – Albert Camus

          As rats pour into the streets to die, Oran comes under the grip of a virulent plague. Authorities cut the town off from the rest of the world and the fight for survival begins, with Oran’s inhabitants questioning their place in life when surrounded by the threat of imminent, arbitrary death. The Plague (1947) can be seen as an existential novel, but Camus rejected the term and preferred the concept of “absurdity” in life.

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          5. The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre

            Here is a story of personal conflict, with middle aged university professor Mathieu bumbling through numerous areas of his life. Already struggling with money problems, he suddenly has to fund an abortion for his mistress Marcelle. Amongst this personal turmoil are his students and friends, all of them distorting Mathieu’s vulnerable state of mind as attempts to solve his woes.

            The Age of Reason (1945) is a perfect showcase of Sartre’s sensational writing style, and is also an existential classic.

            6. The Mandarins – Simone de Beauvoir

              Simone de Beauvoir is every bit as legendary as her long-term partner Sartre, with her writing taking in polemics, novels, philosophy, and feminism.

              This roman à clef was published in 1954 and immediately found high praise. It follows the lives of several French intellectuals (the characters likely being based on Sarte, Camus, and de Beauvoir, amongst others) who consider their place in society after the impact of the Second World War. It’s a stylish, intelligent novel based around a sense of morality and self-awareness.

              7. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – Carson McCullers

                As a writer she wasn’t prolific, but her impact on the literary scene was impressive. It’s a quirky novella from 1951, and McCullers wastes no time challenging the reader’s concepts of gender roles. Protagonist Miss Amelia Evans possesses numerous masculine traits, with her cousin Lymon and local hoodlum Macy (who is baffled by Evan’s dismissal of his advances) being dominated by her unusual attributes. Dabbling with themes of loneliness, masculinity, and feminism, it makes for a unique read.

                8. The Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

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                  The Metamorphosis, published in 1915, is the story of Gregor Samsa. He heads off to bed one evening as normal, but awakes to find he has transformed into a “monstrous vermin”. This has often been presumed to be a giant beetle of some sort, which has been the case in numerous stage adaptations. After the transformation Samsa finds himself increasingly rejected by his shocked family, who dismiss him based on his appearance. It’s moving stuff, and a defining novel for many writers (notably Sartre and Camus).

                  9. Cancer Ward – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

                    Russian author Solzhenitsyn (another Nobel Prize winner, this time in 1970) suffered through endless issues in his life, but one notable moment was turned into an allegory about the state of Soviet Russia. This is Cancer Ward, from 1967, and it landed him in trouble with the authorities. The allegory aside, it also stands as a devastating, but inspiring, narrative for cancer patients. It’s the intriguing characters who drive the story, with a fabulous array of debates leading the patients towards their ultimate demise, or liberation.

                    10. Moscow Stations – Venedikt Yerofeev

                      Yerofeev writes about a very drunken man (likely to be himself) who is capable of tremendous intellect and wit, but is drowning himself in vodka. It’s set in Russia during the 1960s and finds our protagonist, Venya, recently fired for accidentally revealing his drinking habits at work. He subsequently sets out to see his son in Petushki, but his drunken antics lead him increasingly astray.

                      Written circa 1969, it wasn’t published until twenty years later. Eventually Moscow Stations made it to the West, was developed into a play, and found its author some success. It’s an obscure find, so dedicated readers should check independent book stores for this.

                      11. The Last Shots – Yuri Bondarev

                        A best seller in Russia from 1959, Bondarev’s novella on the Second World War is now a very obscure find (independent book stores may have copies). It’s an excellent book, with the sense of humanity making for a riveting war novel. Rather than focusing on the “good” or “evil” people, it is instead a look at the psychology of war. Young protagonist Captain Novikov displays all the fear, uncertainty, and bravery of people forced into an impossible situation, and the story is all the more incredible as a result.

                        12. Voices From Chernobyl – Svetlana Alexeivich

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                          Russian journalist Svetlana Alexeivich’s work is an extensive collection of monologues regarding the Chernobyl Disaster of April 1986. As the Russian government have remained so reticent about the incident, this is one of the few sources available which exposes the true results of the radioactive fallout. Her interviews reveal a shocking world within the areas stricken by the disaster – namely Ukraine and Belarus. It’s a difficult read, but Alexeivich’s investigative work shows off numerous moments of tremendous human bravery.

                          13. The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick

                            This prolific American science-fiction author penned novels which would become films such as Blade Runner and Minority Report, but The Man In The High Castle is his best novel. Published in 1962, it considers the aftermath following the Nazi’s success in World War II. Displayed is a different world of fascist regimes and inequality, but It’s written very intelligently, doesn’t kowtow to sensationalism, and is enthralling as a result.

                            14. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

                              This was Plath’s only novel, and in it she semi-autobiographically covers a character’s descent into mental illness. Plath, who suffered from probable clinical depression, turns the book into a deeply personal and revealing portrait of a talented woman fighting an overwhelming condition. It’s cultural impact was such The Bell Jar was adapted into a 1979 film.

                              15. Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov

                                A modern classic from 1996, Ukrainian author Kurkov spins a tale about an obituary writer (Viktor) for a newspaper in post-Soviet Russia, and his pet penguin Misha. An initially lucrative writing deal, as time passes it becomes apparent Viktor’s writing is being used by devious sources to bump off individuals he writes about – this in turn threatens the humble protagonist and his unusual pet.

                                16. The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck

                                  One of the most important female writers of the last 100 years is Pearl S. Buck (she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938), and it is this book which made her name. It’s a fantastic work of fiction and a sweeping novel about family life in a quiet village in China, before the conflict of World War II changed the world.

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                                  17. The Worst Journey in the World – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

                                    This masterpiece was published in 1922 and has since been hailed by National Geographic Adventure as the best travel book ever. It is Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s detailed account of his time with the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, headed by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and is a captivating explanation of the legendary journey. A must read.

                                    18. Miracle in the Andes – Nando Parrado

                                      In 1972 a plane carrying an amateur rugby team crashed violently into the Andes. Stranded in the freezing conditions, to stay alive survivors resorted to eating the flesh of friends killed in the crash. Following two months in the wilderness Parrado, along with Roberto Canessa, decided to make a heroic trek out of the Andean cordillera, with the first obstacle being a 15,000 ft mountain.

                                      Much has been written about the Andes Plane Crash, but this truly inspiring 2006 text is from survivor Parrado and offers a first-person insight into the tragedy.

                                      19. The Marsh Arabs – Wilfred Thesiger

                                        Here we have a hugely enjoyable literary portrait of life in Iraq’s marshes during the 1950s, although Thesiger’s account of his life with the Madan wasn’t published until 1964. At the time this was a way of life which had been unchanged for thousands of years in Southern Iraq. English explorer Thesiger became well respected by the marshes’ inhabitants due to his medical skills, and he was able to spend many years in this fascinating culture learning its way of life.

                                        20. Over The Edge of the World – Laurence Bergreen

                                          Acclaimed historian Laurence Bergreen writes of a terrifying attempt to find the Spice Islands. The voyage was spearheaded by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and in 1519 he set sail from Spain with an impressive fleet of 270 men and five ships. Three years later one decrepit boat returned, complete with just 18 survivors. These lucky few completed the first circumnavigation of the globe, and their story makes for dramatic reading.

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                                          Alex Morris

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                                          Last Updated on September 20, 2018

                                          How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

                                          How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

                                          Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

                                          If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

                                          1. Breathe

                                          The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

                                          • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
                                          • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
                                          • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

                                          Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

                                          2. Loosen up

                                          After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

                                          Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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                                          3. Chew slowly

                                          Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

                                          Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

                                          Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

                                          4. Let go

                                          Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

                                          The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

                                          It’s not. Promise.

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                                          Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

                                          Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

                                          21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

                                          5. Enjoy the journey

                                          Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

                                          Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

                                          6. Look at the big picture

                                          The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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                                          Will this matter to me…

                                          • Next week?
                                          • Next month?
                                          • Next year?
                                          • In 10 years?

                                          Hint: No, it won’t.

                                          I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

                                          Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

                                          7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

                                          You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

                                          Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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                                          8. Practice patience every day

                                          Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

                                          • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
                                          • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
                                          • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

                                          Final thoughts

                                          Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

                                          Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

                                          Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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