Books I read in January

Last year I did a reading challenge. I wanted to hit 40 books read for the year and was recording my progress on Goodreads.

I promptly forgot to log anything on Goodreads for the entire year, tried to remember what I read throughout the year and hoped that I remembered everything.

I didn’t. I got mixed up with books that I read in 2016 so I have no idea how many books I read last year.

In 2020, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter at all. WHO CARES if someone has read a book a week for the entire year…

Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of time spent reading rather than the number of books read.

Using the number of books and a measuring metric encourages skimming, and picking shorter books to stay on track.

Trying to maximise the amount of time spent reading accomplishes the whole point of these reading challenges. To read more – without making you feel bad for being “slow” or “reading short books” or “lying about the number of books read”.

I’ve said my piece… onto the good stuff.

Books I read in January

January books

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts – Laura Tillman

An insightful read that has evidently been treated with the appropriate sensitivity required of a case like this. She managed to bring in the impact the case had on a small community through valuable interviews and research.

Unfortunately, overall, it wasn’t all that interesting.

When I finished the book, I genuinely felt that her talents were wasted on this case. She has the ability to navigate sensitive areas well but my goodness, the case, while gruesome, just failed to interest me. Pity.

The Girl Who Stole An Elephant – Nizrana Farook

A very enjoyable and easy read (and I was disappointed it was over!) The characters were a pleasure to know as their friendship grew during their journey.

Apparently, stealing an elephant will force you to become well acquainted.

I picked this up because I loved the cover and I’ve been enjoying children’s books a lot. This didn’t disappoint – though the ending was slightly rushed.

Ayoade On Top – Richard Ayoade

This was a short, enjoyable read about, yes, a film no one has seen. Including me. However, this has convinced me to fill the aeroplanecentric-comedy-hole in my heart.

Ayoade’s personality shines through every page and it’s wonderful that it isn’t just another biography.

I still haven’t watched the film yet though, so my opinions may change after the viewing…

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

This book is a wonderful thriller and I haven’t read one of this sort in a while.

The main shortcoming is that it’s only in the second half of the book do we understand just how talented Mr Ripley is… And how much luck he has on his side.

But the ending was a masterclass in tension building. Brilliant!

Really enjoyed this read – mainly surprised I hadn’t read it sooner!

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

Everyone has heard of Paddington but I realised I had never read the books. Without a doubt, one of the most fun books I have ever read.

Paddington, a bear from the darkest Peru always gets himself into some kind of commotion but despite his best intentions. … But let’s not forget, he is a literal bear.

We can’t blame him for too much, can we?

Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 may have only just started but this may be my book of the year. I decided that, during lunch and my afternoon walk, I’d go to Waterstones, sit down and read a chapter.

The perfect cure to a bad day. I recently watched the film too – wonderful adaptation. I love Paddington, I love the Brown family, I love Mr Gruber, I love everything about Paddington Bear.

And that brings me to the end.

The number of books may be unsustainable for the year but I will do my best to maintain or increase the amount of time I spend reading.

It’s been incredible amounts of fun.


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Care About The Important, Intensely

Create more. Consume less. Add value.

I live by these values because I believe they help me contribute to the world in an important way. Everyone is in this world together, and there’s something special about helping others without retreating to malice or hatred. Adding joy multiplies happiness but adding darkness only subtracts.

Of course, I ask myself (probably too often) for the point of living by these specific values. I haven’t been moved far beyond finding it helpful with creating a better world. Why spend my time creating instead of consuming? Why care about people other than myself?

Perhaps these values aren’t necessary but they are important, to me and I think extremely helpful for many others. So, I’ll keep them up and live my life accordingly. That’s the aim at the end of the day. To be a person of integrity.

Having this conversation reminded me of the book I recently finished. When Breath Becomes Air.

Paul Kalanithi, an upcoming neuroscientist-neurosurgeon who found he had terminal lung cancer, wrote a book. He spent his time in his life trying to understand what makes life meaningful. To do that, he wanted to wrestle with death and the mind. And he did so with grace and did so with quality. That alone is special. Just caring intensely about your craft because you think that it’s a moral duty. He didn’t view his work as a job but he viewed it as a calling. Even while he had cancer.

From all the pain he suffered, a question arose. Can you live with integrity while visiting the doorstep of death?

He answered that question with a resounding yes. Not with his words but with his actions. He never once said that he was going to fight cancer and beat it. For it’s somewhat of an unhelpful metaphor. To beat cancer. What if you lose? Does that mean you lost a battle? Apparently. But were you really participating in it in the first place? It does seem like something that just happens to you rather than something you engage with. The same seems to follow for many illnesses.

Despite the decision to not use such metaphors, the book showed me you can be a bit more generous here. Perhaps the focus of beating cancer or suffering in pain isn’t on whether you survive or the suffering ends. This way, your actions aren’t defined by something you may not control. Rather, it is on finding your values and making sure that you live in accordance with them as best you can. It means spending your time thinking about what is important to you and following these things intensely.

By living your life as such and always pursuing the good, by caring about people around you and never letting them out of your mind, by finding yourself and living as yourself the best you can, that is when you ‘beat’ whatever it is you’re facing.

It’s difficult to say that when you fail to live as yourself, as the values you care for, as a person who does good, you lose. Some things you simply cannot control and for those things, you should not be blamed for. In some cases, you can’t even control your efforts to do so.

But with the things you can control and hold dear to yourself, it is those things which define you. Don’t let illness or negative life events make you malicious or cynical. Don’t let it tear you away from the values you hold dear and most definitely don’t let it steal integrity from you and throw it into the night.

As the poem goes: “Do not go quietly into that good night / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

I’ve found that ‘rage’ doesn’t have to mean anger. There are always going to be many moments of pain, suffering and death but this does not mean we must lose our will to care. I’ve found there can be so much more to the day if we try to care about it. Whether that’s talking to a friend and enjoying their smile, finding your favourite spot in the library, walking to work and hearing friends enjoy a joke or waking up and thanking yourself for trying to just get by for another day. These are small and my desire to care more isn’t accelerated by the fear of death. Kalanithi’s work is a helpful reminder that it is possible to live with integrity in good and poor health. And for that, I thank him.

We start with finding what is important to us and caring about it intensely.

I haven’t written in a while. I apologise – I’ll be back at it soon enough.

If you enjoyed the post, feel free to share :)


October Reading List

Hi again. More books.

Most of the books I’ve read over the past few months have been fiction. As you can probably guess from my previous lists, I read a lot of non-fiction. I enjoy it but haven’t lost myself in a lot of good stories for a while.

Naturally, during the last few months, nearly all of my books have been fiction.

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday 

A book about the problems our ego presents to us.

An easy way to explain this is like so: our ego makes us extremely interested and concerned about our personal image and how we’re viewed to others. As a result, we tend to focus less on the important tasks we have to focus on and more on how to protect the image we’ve built of ourselves.

It took me a while to get round to this book. I didn’t agree with a lot of it at first because I felt that he argued ego causes more problems than it actually does. However, after re-reading sections, I came to understand the book better and thought his argument was interesting.

It is when we care less for ego and more for the important things in life that we produce valuable work. Instead of always thinking about how feel. How can improve the lives of others?


Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith


I’m very late to get to this book but damn. I loved all of it.

Towards the end of Stalin’s regime, there is a killer who targets children and murders them in horrific ways. Leo, a secret police officer, changes his ways completely in search for this person and risks his career, his life and his wife in the process.

I suck at describing books but read it. Please? Thanks.


One by One by Chris Carter 

Another thriller. Another great ride.

A man calls Detective Robert Hunter’s desk and asks him to go to a website. He sees a man in a glass box, restrained against a chair. The caller asks Hunter, “Fire or water? How do you want him to die?”

The whole book had me on edge and the ending was… interesting.

I also love Robert Hunter now. He’s one of those Jason Bourne type guys. Chris Carter can write a damn good crime thriller. I’ll definitely read more (thankfully, there are about 7 in the series).


Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth’s work has been getting a lot of praise among the self-improvement sphere for a while now. And for very good reason.

She studies grit. The combination of passion and perseverance. Continuing with tasks even if they get difficult or boring. In the book, she wants to understand why certain people are more ‘successful’ than others in a variety of tasks ranging from completing the brutal Beast Barracks training in the United States Military Academy to university students getting top grades. It’s not intelligence, wealth, height or any physical attribute that is the best predictor of success. It’s grit.

Her work is entertaining to read and every point she makes is well supported. However, I also admire that she’s open to admitting the shortcomings of her research and questions that can be explored further.

There’s a lot of valuable information to gain from it. Including why perseverance with goals is very helpful but less common than you’d imagine and how to foster grit in other people. I want to explore it in more detail as I think the ideas are worthy of much more consideration.

And Emilia Lahti is her student and she’s the nicest person ever.


As always, thanks for reading!

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The Two Definitions of Disability – Dissertation pt. 1

I got the bright idea to put my dissertation on my blog from LucyWritesWords (go read her dissertation, it’s good).

The question I attempt to answer is: Does the social model of disability allow for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment? In fewer words: Can I be angry at my disability? 

There are a few things I would change if I re-did it now but I won’t edit it much for the blog. This is part one of six. Enjoy!

“Anger is loaded with information and energy […] When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar”

Lorde, 1987

The social model of disability has often been seen as the inspiration for disabled rights activists and disabled people[1]. Due to its change of focus from the disabled person to society, there is now something to do about disability rather than angling for a cure that may never come in one’s lifetime.

It has also come under much criticism in recent years for not taking into account the problem of impairment and because of this, missing out on both a large number of disabilities and the personal experience one has with their disability. As a way to explore this problem, I will ask whether the social model allows for appropriate emotional reactions towards impairment.

I will argue that it does not particularly in cases of anger and sadness and as a result we should move on from the social model. To do this I will

  1. First, explain the social model of disability and why it has been so heavily adopted.
  2. In the second section, I will present Martha Nussbaum’s framework for emotions as it will prove useful for the remainder of the essay. From this, the following sections will aim to establish that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment even though it is not an agent.
  3. The following section will answer the objection that you should not be angry because it is harmful and epistemically unproductive (it does not produce knowledge).
  4. Afterwards, I will briefly demonstrate a similar conclusion holds for sadness and ask whether the social model can survive despite my argument’s conclusion.

The Social Model of Disability

The social model of disability can be stated briefly:

In our view, it is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on top of our impairments, by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full participation in society.

(UPIAS, 1976. P.3)

The social model states that society causes disability by the way it is arranged and how it includes or excludes individuals with mental or physical impairments. This creates three important dichotomies (Shakespeare, 2013, p.216).

First, impairment is separated from disability. Impairment is the limited function of a physical or mental attribute and disability is the restriction of activity caused by the arrangement of society. (Oliver, 1996, p.22) Impairment is a personal attribute. Under ordinary modes of thinking, a ‘cure’ would mean eliminating the impairment rather than the disability. On the other hand, ‘disability’ is a public and structural problem. With this model, people are regularly excluded or disadvantaged by society because it is not correctly designed with impairments in mind. For example, should a wheelchair user need access to the first floor of a building but is only faced with stairs, the design of the building is disabling her. If, however, the building has a working lift, she can get around without any restrictions meaning she is no longer disabled by the arrangement of the building. This means ‘disability’ is something which can be greatly eliminated or reduced by changing the arrangement of society.  Perhaps, then, it is best to accept impairment and direct our attention towards social change. The divide between impairment and disability can also be seen as a parallel to the sex/gender divide started by feminists in the 1970s (Shakespeare, 2006, p.29).

Following from this is the second dichotomy. Disabled people are distinguished from non-disabled people because they are an oppressed group. There are three main barriers disabled people face: attitudinal, physical and institutional. In addition to this, non-disabled people are often the cause of such oppression because society is designed against the disabled. Perhaps not explicitly but that is the case nonetheless. This is backed up by history with a number of examples. It ranges from children being bullied because they are physically or mentally ‘different’ to disabled people being disproportionately unemployed[2] to simply not being able to navigate buildings or roads effectively or safely. Again, another parallel can be drawn with other oppressed groups such as ethnic minorities who are unable to function in society in an equal manner because they are excluded due to their race.

The third difference is with what is most commonly thought of as disability – the ‘medical’ or ‘individual’ model of disability. With this model, impairment and disability are much closer. Impairment stays the same but disability is defined as:

Any restriction or lack, resulting from an impairment, of ability to perform any activity or within the range considered normal for a human being. (Emphasis added)

(World Health Organisation, 1980)

The most common view among the non-disabled, which states that disability is the limitation which arises from impairments. For example, the wheelchair user’s disability mentioned earlier would be her lack of properly functioning legs. In difference with the social model, the medical model has a much greater focus on the individual’s body and its supposed faults. When we look for an intervention to include a disabled person into society, the focus is on a cure or compensation. This, it has been argued, is often a cause of social exclusion and with some directed thought, clear why many disabled people are opposed to the medical model. If impairment is permanent or long lasting, saying something is ‘wrong’ with them is seen as a comment on their person rather than the impairment. If they do not have a normal body, they must be abnormal and demand special attention to compensate for that.

There are many benefits to the social model. First, it allows people to point their attention towards injustices which disabled people do face in their everyday lives. For example, not having their testimony of their personal experiences taken seriously. Rather than society simply excluding people because they are disabled or treating them poorly, it is what causes disability. If this is true, the ‘cure’ for disability is not hoping for a cure which many never come, it is through demanding civil rights they are entitled to.

Second, it often has a great impression on how disabled people view themselves. Some people note that they feel liberated and no longer feel bad for having a disability. “Nothing is wrong with me. It’s society’s fault” is the attitude sometimes realised (Crow, 1992, p.2). They can also direct their attention towards things they can change by going into social activism or learning more about disability and the lives of disabled people. In a sense, it also helps that, if no cure can be found, we no longer need to look for it.

Thirdly, it sets a clear agenda for social change (Shakespeare, 2013, p.217). A key example of this is the disabled rights act of 1995 (2006, p.30). If people become more aware of the injustices they face, they often try finding ways to alter the world so no more injustice is experienced.

With the social model, an implicit discussion of impairment can be teased out. That is, there is no discussion of impairment involved in the social model because it is seen as unimportant. It seems that impairment is a neutral (or possibly positive) attribute of a person because impairment cannot in itself be disabling. It is society which disables people with impairments. Therefore, it has been criticised on the basis that it does not properly take into account the experience of impairment.

For this paper, we will find that it does not properly consider the range of justified emotional experiences people have with their impairments. However, this does not necessitate a return to the medical model. The remainder of the paper will aim to answer a few things. First, how we might want to view emotions. Second, whether the social model excludes certain emotions towards impairment and third if it does, what does that mean for the social model of disability? Does it need to be abandoned?

[1] Using the terms ‘people with disabilities’ and ‘disabled people’ inspires controversy regardless of its use. In the first instance, you have the claim you should ‘see the person and not the disability’ on the other, you have people who are being disabled by society. As a result, I will use them interchangeably with no normative force behind them.

[2] See ‘The Poverty Site’ Work and Disability: United Kingdom (2011) for statistics detailing disability limits people who lack but want work much more than gender, age and parent status.

Do you think the social or medical model of disability are useful? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

July Reading List

Suddenly, two months turns into eight. I don’t know how it happened but it did. I promise I’ve been reading though. Here are the previous reading lists:

October reading list

August reading list

Onto the current books…

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Cal writes a blog over called Study Hacks over at and I’ve been following his work for a few years. Over the past year or so, he’s become really interested in learning how we can focus more by employing what he calls “deep work”. He defines it as:

Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.

The alternative, shallow work, is the opposite. Non-demanding tasks which are often performed while distracted and easy to replicate. The plight of every student around – writing an essay with Facebook in the background.

Originally, I thought that there cannot be much to say about concentrating really hard on really tough work for a really long time. After all, the crux of the book might be seen as ‘get rid of distractions and get to work’ but there’s much more to it. He goes through multiple tactics to increasing the amount of “deep work” you can get out of the day (it’s very limited since it’s quite tough. So don’t expect eight hours straight away) and why “deep work” is valuable both in a professional and personal sense.

After spending some time with the book and trying to increase my deep work (so I have to work less during the day), I found that it became much easier to do and resulted in a decent dissertation effort towards the end of my degree. More importantly, I found that this sort of stuff can be improved through training (and lost through the lack of it). Much like meditation.

I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned about working more efficiently but here’s one huge take away he loves to talk about – email is not important. Stop checking it so often.

If you do any kind of academic or creative work, you’ll benefit greatly from Deep Work. 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is my Canadian dad.

I’m not sure how that’s possible but I want it to be, so it is.

An astronaut with decades of life experience writes about how to live on earth. One hugely desirable virtue of Chris’s writing style is that he gives advice without sounding patronising and without the slightest hint of superiority over the reader. What you see is a character who is confident in his skills and abilities because of his experience in space.

Each chapter goes through a lesson he’s learned from his hours in space and showing us a moment in time where it applies. The great thing about these ‘lessons’ is how applicable they are to a multitude of problems we have in every day scenarios. He might say “prepare for the worst” in the context of crying in space (without gravity, tears don’t fall to the ground – they just ball up at the front of your eyes) or falling down a flight of stairs in front of loads of people where everyone is too far away to help but close enough to see (my tears fell to the ground perfectly. Thanks for asking).

Despite being an astronaut and being closer to the stars than most of us ever will, he seems to be very well grounded. The advice he offers is enclosed in funny and interesting stories that can entertain even the most apathetic about space.

He’s achieved a lot in his life but despite the magnitude of what he’s done, it isn’t discouraging. He inspires others to do the same.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

When I moved home, I started using the library more and came across a book called Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig. I fell in love with that book and the whole series. I’d stay up reading it and be too tired for school. When I’d write a story in class, I’d steal half my themes from the books and brand myself a literary genius.

I even emailed Joe saying that he’s awesome and can’t wait for his next book to come out. (I’m so glad I’ve stopped ending emails with “please reply, bye (a great fan)”.)

Ready Player One is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling that way again. The content isn’t similar but the pace and overall feel is just fantastic. I always wanted to know what happened next but also caught myself wanting to slow down and appreciate feeling so excited about a story again.

“Oh this chapter isn’t too short, you can read until the end. It’ll be the last one.”

The last time I lied to myself that much, I said I’d start my dissertation “today”.

Honourable mentions:

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – This book feels so nice. Seriously, go touch this book, you’ll understand what I mean. It feels brilliant. The stuff inside is also hilarious.

Empathy by Roman Krznaric

Better by Atul Gawande

Do you have any book recommendations? Share them below! 


I’ve remembered I have a ill-used twitter account (@improvingslowly go follow it because it’s probably great).

As always, thanks for reading.






October Reading List

Here’s the next edition of my reading list.

It’s a short list of the books I’ve been reading with my first impressions attached to them. I prefer first impressions to reviews because I don’t know how to do reviews without making them sound forced.

If my reading stays regular, it’ll be every two months. I like it.

Here’s the August Reading List.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book is a thriller. 

A “how on earth is she manipulating my feelings like this?” thriller.

The characters were crafted extremely well and their relationships were even better. I could dislike them without disliking the author for making them that way. Which is surprisingly difficult given how many times I’ve stopped reading a book because I didn’t like the main character (It happened with Dark Places by Flynn. I stopped reading that to start Gone Girl). My only wish was that Nick was as nuanced as Amy.

It’s the type of book I’d recommend to someone who wants to pick up the reading habit again but hasn’t found anything engaging to read.

Slightly relevant but mostly irrelevant story: I was in Subway with the book and the woman taking my order started talking to me about it saying it’s the next book on her list. I said it was great, she said it’s great I’m enjoying it. I finished paying. She said “enjoy your food”. I said “you too”.

We’re getting married next summer.


  • Complications by Atul Gawande

It’s remarkably easy to assume that doctors know best and more importantly that they won’t make mistakes. If a mistake is made, it’s a national horror and doctors should shriek at any patient even named Sue.

The veil of perfection is taken down but not in a way that makes me fear going to hospital. If I just looked at the statistics given in the book, I’d assume that medicine is doomed forever because so many mistakes are made. The surrounding discussion about why they happen and how we can work on decreasing their number and importance turns it into a textured exploration of the surgical profession.

Some doctors are bad apples and fully deserving of their malpractice lawsuits but the vast majority aren’t. Many mistakes are a consequence of simply being humans who work under pressure.

The discussions in the book were all very helpful and entertaining (the whole book isn’t about mistakes). The ones I found most useful were about chronic pain (for obvious reasons) and the doctor/patient relationship.

There’s a similar book I’ve read about errors called Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. It’s more to do with error than Complications but it’s still a very good read.


  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

A book literally about checklists.

How does a topic like this end up being so interesting? I don’t know. But it is.

He surveyed the success of checklists over different professions starting with the aviation industry to construction to finance – It’s crammed with examples of their successes. Pilots begin to work as teams rather than depending on one pilot and avert disasters because they don’t need to rely purely on memory in an environment primed for panic. Construction workers solve problems with greater efficiency and success. Finance experts can make better decisions about what to invest in and what to avoid.

A simple checklist clears up cognitive space and catches avoidable mistakes.

Gawande talks about this because he aimed to increase their use within medicine and surgery. We find that, although checklists are simple, creating them can be complicated. They need to be tested frequently and updated. They need to hold vital information yet be easy to read. A lot of work goes into creating an efficient checklist so, for me, there was a lot to learn.

It was an entertaining and helpful read. About bloody checklists!


  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

What matters at the end of life?

Often asked in the context of ethical discussions about euthanasia but Gawande’s focus here differs wildly from such discussions.

For the person in the final stages of their life, what matters to them? 

Being Mortal focuses on these final stages of life and explains that we’ve been viewing it as a medical problem for too long. Medicine has progressed to the stage where we can keep people alive for much longer but whether that is needed or even important is rarely asked. It’s generally assumed that, unless one is in extreme pain, people want to live longer so why even discuss any alternatives?

Do we have to trade personal fulfilment for safety? The first answer that comes to your head is probably no. But it happens frequently when we send our parents to nursing homes and assisted living centres. This isn’t an attack on people who send their parents to places like this because assuming large care responsibilities at an age, where many have children themselves, is incredibly difficult. Rather, it brings light on how we can keep people safe without making them feel like slaves who aren’t allowed cookies and effectively ending the control they have over their lives. Health clearly isn’t the most important thing for most people, nor does it need to be.

If people are to keep control of their own lives, their endings matter.

There’s a lot to take from this book and I can’t do justice to it here. If you enjoyed The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, pick up Being Mortal. Dr. Gawande expresses the same care for his patients as Dr. Sacks did.

If you’re to read one book from this list, start with this one.


Honourable mentions:

Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (Favourites: Vonnegut’s speech, Great Day, Happy Birthday 1951, Just You and Me, Sonny, The Commandant’s Desk)

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

A Final Note: 

Yes, I love Atul Gawande.

Yes, I want to read Better by Atul Gawande.

No, I’m not actually getting married.

If you have any books to recommend, please share your recommendations :)

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Black Authors Don’t Exist

I was looking through my reading list and saw there were no black or ethnic minority authors. But more importantly, there was no reason for there to be any. Why would they be if they just don’t pop up anywhere unless I look for them specifically?

Maybe they don’t exist.

Of course, that initial thought has to be false. Maybe they’re just very rare.

I did some research to find out whether I’m mistaken and simply haven’t been exposed to them. Perhaps they are much more visible than I thought.

I used two sources – and the New York Best seller list. There are brief notes on my method and the strength of possible conclusions at the end. For now, we’ll look at the demographic breakdown from these sites.

Before I continue: I’m definitely not calling anyone racist. Again: I’m not calling anyone racist.

We move on.

One of my favourite sites ever. Maria Popova, the author, can be described as the ‘discovery engine for interestingness’. She focuses on things related to creativity, how to live the good life and much more from the large wealth of books she reads and writes about on a daily basis.

She’s probably one of the most well-read people in the world, and has a close eye to include female authors to combat what she calls “male intellectuals’ tendency to extoll almost exclusively the work of other male intellectuals”. Given this, I thought she’d offer the best chance at seeing authors who are black or ethnic minorities.

Fortunately I was correct. From the brief research done, she did provide the best chance.

Unfortunately, the number was still very low.

brainpickings demographic

Of 197 unique authors, illustrators and a few other professions, I found over 30 articles from 14th August (a very small sample size given how much she produces!), there were 21 ethnic minorities. Included in that were 7 black authors.

Those authors were: Elizabeth Alexander, China Keitetsi, Angélique Kidjo, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and David Blair.

The male/female divide fared slightly better with 138 males and 59 females. This may seem very unequal but if you’re a regular reader of her work, you’ll find that she writes about female authors with admirable frequency. You’ll also know that she’s a great fan of Susan Sontag’s work as she came up with the most repeated mentions at 5.

Before we continue, can we sit and awe at the number of authors mentioned?

New York Best Seller List

This was more disheartening.

It is important to note it’s a simple list of books that sell the best over the course of the week. There could be 1000 black authors who sell 1 copy each and 15 non-black authors that sell 3 copies each and they’d dominate the best seller list.

The scope was from the 12th July to 23rd August.

With that being said, here are the results.

In the fiction list, there were 64 authors with 41 females and 23 males. No black authors. I broadened it to ethnic minorities and the result was still zero.

Non-fiction was slightly better. From 53 authors there were 31 males, 22 females, 8 ethnic minorities and from that 2 black authors (Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ishmael Beah).

Here is the total breakdown:

NY list demographics


From over 300 authors there were 29 ethnic minorities and 9 black authors.

Can’t I read whatever I want?


I think it’s important to rid ourselves of the stigma of having to read certain types of books. Although helpful at times, I dislike lists of the type, “10 books every intelligent/smart/successful person should read” because if a person simply doesn’t want to read those books, they needn’t be deemed stupid in any sense.

I read children’s books from time to time and that doesn’t mean I’m childish. If it did, so what?

So I don’t want this to be construed as an article demanding you read black authors because they’re pushed to the side but as an invitation to extend your reading list. Some standard suggestions are:

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker

Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

If you’ve read these books in secondary school and found you disliked them, it might be helpful to try again without the pressure of having to analyse the fun out of them.

What can I conclude?

Given the scope of the research, small sample size and great complexity surrounding issues behind race, the answer is ‘not much’. Though, it does lead to useful points of discussion.

Firstly, it’s clear that black authors don’t tend to be in regular reading lists and because of that, it’s very difficult for their work to spread further compounding the problem. Black authors are definitely not in any kind of limelight when it comes to published writing. I feel this is enough to confirm suspicions that you could easily go many years without picking up a book written by an author of ethnic minority without having to look for one specifically.

When I decided to start this small amount of research, I was inspired by my own reading list. So you can ask yourself two questions:

  1. Have you read or plan to read a book by an author of any ethnic minority?
  2. Of those books, how many do not contain a theme about race?

The second question leads to more speculative territory. That being we tend to read such authors, not because they’re just regular writers but because they write important things about race. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m unsure but I’d rather it wasn’t the only reason we were drawn to them.

From the evidence here, I can’t conclude anything about why there is such a great imbalance nor can I say anything about how it can be changed or whether it needs to be. So I won’t.

What I do want from this is to draw attention to the imbalance as I think it’s worthy of discussion.

A few notes on the method.

This is the boring part.

My method wasn’t particularly precise or efficient but after reviewing it, I don’t think it takes away from my core point. Both lists were so heavily dominated by white authors that a few mistakes won’t weaken my point.

  1. Ethnic minority was modelled around the US and UK so Non-hispanic whites and White British were classed as majorities with 63.7% (2012) and 87.2% (2011) respectively.
  2. I’m not sure what I did with the Jewish population. It’s confusing as proved by this great answer on Quora.

There are bound to have been a few mistakes and there were also a few people I wasn’t sure to include as an ethnic minority. I decided to include them anyway.


What do you think about black and ethnic minority authors? Is the lack of publicity a problem? Is there any problem here?

I’ll return to my normal personal development-esque writing later.


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Why I read

A 13 year-old student asked me how he can start reading more. He said he’s had a library book in his room for the past two years and never opened it let alone made an attempt to finish it.

The question resonated with me because I’ve been in that situation before. Over the past five years or so, I’ve slowly lost the esteemed title of ‘book worm’. Reading fell out of favour and was replaced with videos, gaming and short articles. I still read a bit so it’s not like I’ve become completely illiterate otherwise I’m just getting really lucky writing all of this.

Back to the point, I didn’t significant value in reading books.

Yes, reading improves vocabulary, improves critical thinking and all sorts of wonderful things. However, these were all just nice things. I could probably find similar things to justify my gaming habit or even just watching videos all the time.

Books didn’t become less interesting. Other things were just more appealing. The issue, then, wasn’t with time or energy since I could find a lot of time to waste but none to read. The value I found in books was decreasing.

With this in mind, I didn’t recite statistics and I recalled something I was told before I started my philosophy degree.

You get to have a conversation with authors.

We write about them in the present tense because, even though many of them are long gone, their ideas are still engaged with and remain influential.

This spread into all areas of writing for me. By reading we get to have conversations with other people.

When we read fiction, we’re invited into the world the other person has created. They’re telling us a story that engages our imagination and curiosity.

When we read non-fiction, we’re informed, convinced or simply presented with a view you’re left to think about. While we may not engage directly with the authors, we’re able to think about the issues presented and come to a conclusion about it.

Sometimes, the story makes us happy or the argument makes us angry but the important thing is that we’re able to experience these things. There are billions of people on the earth with a variety of experiences and many have shared them with us through writing.

The added benefit of thinking about reading like this is that it’s opened me up to more genres. I’m granted access to millions of different worlds! Some people are trying to help me with the help of their own experiences. Some want me to experience the world of a crime lord. Others just want to make me laugh.

I’ve even started to grow an appreciation of children’s books! A lot of them are actually funny and entertaining. Some have good messages I’m sure I would have missed as a child. Authors and illustrators put in a lot of effort to talk to children and engage their imagination. Reading that while I’m a bit older is just fun. Simple, calming fun. There aren’t many other places you’ll find a bear being friends with an annoying duck and think it’s perfectly normal.

Every time I open a book, I begin a new conversation with someone else. This isn’t to say that all conversations are even good or useful. Not every conversation works like that in real life but that isn’t to say we’re better off talking to no one at all.

Reading means that I’ve opened my eyes to the world in front of me and, more importantly, to the people who live in it.

An introduction: Why I’m here.

I woke up late. Again. This time by one hour instead of three but it still used up the majority of my morning and I had work to get done. Obviously, this meant that I couldn’t go the gym that morning (or anytime that day) because I didn’t want to be tired all day since that would simply stop me from doing anything productive. I’ll go tomorrow. I promise.

I wrote a list of goals that I wanted to achieve by the end of the week and took a short while to remember why I’m doing this: I want to become better. While I wasn’t in the worst position in the world, I wasn’t satisfied. In fact, I was very disappointed. I found myself continuously focusing on the negative instead of celebrating the positive – possibly because I couldn’t find much. But don’t worry, I’ll try changing that today. I promise.

I promise.

This was me a few months ago and not much has changed since then. Many broken promises and failed goals later. Rather than spending my time reading about how to improve myself, I have decided to make an example of myself instead. This way I’ll have a way to keep a log of my progress as a person. But more importantly, I’ll hopefully help people that either feel like they see themselves in my position or simply want a way to become a better version of themselves.

How will I do this? 

Slowly. Overnight success can take years.

My posts will show things that I’ve learnt and positive pieces I wish to share. For example, you’ll read reviews of books I’ve read, explanations of things I’ve been learning and my opinions on topics I want to write about. Maybe some poorly written stories too.

This is subject to change though. It’s a personal blog after all but you’ll see how it develops along with me.

Maybe it’ll be entertaining too.