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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 28, 2020

                                          The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

                                          The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

                                          At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

                                          Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

                                          One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

                                          When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

                                          So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

                                          Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

                                          This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

                                          Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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                                          When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

                                          Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

                                          One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

                                          Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

                                          An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

                                          When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

                                          Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

                                          Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

                                          We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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                                          By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

                                          Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

                                          While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

                                          I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

                                          You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

                                          Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

                                          When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

                                          Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

                                          Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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                                          Con #2: Less Human Interaction

                                          One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

                                          Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

                                          Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

                                          This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

                                          While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

                                          Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

                                          Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

                                          This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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                                          For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

                                          Con #4: Unique Distractions

                                          Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

                                          For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

                                          To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

                                          Final Thoughts

                                          Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

                                          We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

                                          More About Working From Home

                                          Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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