How reading taught me to be emotionally competent in life

I’ve always loved reading. While other children often got told off for being naughty, I often found myself being told off for ‘being away with the fairies’ as my Math teacher called it – simply put, I love books.

Reading is fun; you come across so many characters that you like and dislike and so many to relate to. Personally, I’ve always related to Matilda – a tiny human that wants to do nothing more than read and be the best version of herself. Even as I’ve grown older, I seek knowledge through books rather than the internet and if there is one thing reading has taught me, it is how to be emotionally competent. 

I read all types of literature; essays, novellas, poetry, short stories. Hand me anything with words and I’ll absorb it. Remember during English class where your teacher would tell you to find the deeper meaning of the crow in the background or the gloomy setting of the book? Everyone would groan in disbelief – “Miss, it’s just a crow.” And it’s true, it may very well be just a crow, but secretly, I enjoyed looking for the deeper meaning of the scenes and characters in the book. I found it helping me to develop my understanding of humans in general. 

I think what a lot of people forget is that when authors write, they write what they know so it is likely that the characters in the book are a mirror image of someone the authors know or used to know. That would mean that all the little traits that the characters have in a book suddenly make them a part of who they are. When we were reading The Kite Runner in class, I knew that the protagonist’s father’s thoughts on Islamic leaders were his own personal thoughts. I had seen an interview somewhere where Khaled Hosseini described his hatred for Islamic leaders as he had grown up watching Kabul fall down at the leader’s expense. The same thing happened when we were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Sebold drew from her experience as she wrote of Susie Salmon’s death. 

But it’s not just character emotions and insight that I’ve learned to pick up through reading; my friends will tell you that sometimes, I jolt when I walk past people because I can almost see their emotions. I didn’t have a social life growing up (story of every broody teen ever), but I am no longer a broody teen. I turned to books for comfort because of the lack of people in my life and somehow, I have ended up with the ability to feel other people’s emotions and their fluctuations. And I know I’m not the first person something like this has happened to. I have a friend who often calls herself emotionally inept – you could tell her the saddest story in the world and unfortunately, it will go in one ear and out the other. And that not to say that she’s not paying attention – she is. Her eyes zoom into your soul and everything in between. But she can’t comprehend emotions unless she is reading about them. 

I think that although the death of the book is on the rise, it is important to appreciate what a good book can do for a person; for a lonely person, it provided me with an endless variety of friends and a boost in confidence. For many other people, both children and adults, it provides entertainment and knowledge. It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a brief moment in time and just escape.

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Book Reviews Book Club Books Pop Culture

Naomi Novik’s “Uprooted” is a stand-alone fantasy wonderland for all magic lovers

Fairy-tale, folklore and Eastern European names are huge sellers when you are delving into fantasy. Add magic into the mix and you have a hit amongst yourselves. I am a sucker for some good fantasy novels, but unless you have a lot of time in your hands (or you can read without getting distracted by social media), to read fantasy magical books is just a dream.

Most fantasy books are entirely long and sprawled into huge series. Some trusted few authors can serve up a trilogy, but most authors keep on writing and we greedily keep asking for more (seriously Cassandra Clare, how many books have you written, not that I am complaining). That’s where Uprooted comes in.

Naomi Novik’s 2015 novel Uprooted is a stand-alone book that has mystery, magic, love, fantasy, folklore, and a strong female character all rolled into one. It could have been stretched out into a trilogy easily, but Naomi compressed the incidents into a fast-paced book that just isn’t putdownable.

Uprooted is a story inspired by the author’s Polish background and has remnants of the Polish fables. With character names like Agnieszka and Kasia, and references to Polish beasts and fairy characters, the book has a striking personality to itself. The novel also serves the reader very different antagonists from those that are usually portrayed in other fantasies. And the point of you being able to finish a book in a day and not having to wait ages for the next book is always a plus.

The story begins in the fictional magical kingdom of Polnya, in the village of Dvernik where every ten years the local wizard called the Dragon collects a teenage girl as payment for protecting the village against the Wood (creepy magical forest). The protagonist of the story, Agnieszka knows she isn’t going to be selected, because every decade only the brightest and the smartest women are chosen and Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia has been the loveliest, strongest and smarted young woman from the village. Kasia was smarter, and bred to be stronger, and the protagonist was oddly proud of her best friend’s feats and yet upset that she would be taken away. However, on the day of the selection, Agnieszka gets picked and thus starts the plot of the story (yes, but that is the only predictable part of the novel).

The Dragon is a century old wizard who protects the village, and one of the most powerful mages of the Kingdom of Polnya. However, he lives all by himself in a far off tower, except for the women he literally kidnaps (I know what you readers are thinking and I will address that later). He had selected Agnieszka for magical powers of hers, that she was unaware of, and therefore begins to train her by teaching her cantrips.

I won’t delve further into the plot because everything that you read on from here is crucial to the unfolding of the story of Uprooted and might be considered a spoiler. Uprooted is however a 350 page fast-paced read that is remarkable in a way because you will instantly connect with the protagonist of the story. She is strong, she is bold, and she is powerful and she knows when and how to assert herself. She is truly a character who is deserving of being the narrator and is likable immediately. In this one scene in the King’s court where she has to prove herself she single-handedly causes an Earthquake to the dismay of  older and more powerful sorcerers. She cares for Kasia when she is hurt to the point of hurting her own self in order to make heal.

The book isn’t what you would expect. It is not a slovenly romance, but a tryst about friendship, intimacy and education where Agnieszka learns every day. Yes, there is romance between the characters and it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the couple is (even though I would much prefer Kasia and Nieshka together).

The Dragon is however a problematic character because he is verbally abusive and quite literally captures women, keeping them in captivity for a decade. But, it is not a 365 Days scenario, thank God! The Dragon doesn’t want the women to form any kind of attachment with him, which is why he is rude and elusive. And, there is indeed a specific reason why the women are captured, just saying, but I mean Uprooted could have done without the capturing portion and still the book would have turned out fine.

Nonetheless, Uprooted isn’t a sob fest where Agnieszka wants the Dragon and the book isn’t one that delves into just their love story. It has war, death, fights, magic and after reading it you’d feel like you’ve indeed completed a trilogy when you actually haven’t. Naomi Novik is indeed a skilled author because you can hear the Wood screeching and howling, and you can feel the tender moments shared by Kasia and Agnieszka. No wonder Uprooted won like three awards including the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Hence fantasy lovers read Uprooted, it is not what you’d normally expect. And, Warner Brothers has purchased the rights of the books so maybe a movie adaptation is coming soon!

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Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor. 

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Why reading ‘A Man Called Ove’ can change how you see the people you don’t like

Fredrik Backman’s debut novel A Man Called Ove (2012) was my first pick from The Tempest Reading Challenge 2019, and it was definitely a good book to start off with.

This book, written in Swedish, was selected for the category of ‘a book that was originally in another language’. In a Goodreads interview Backman says he doesn’t like to interfere with too much with his translator’s work . I have to say I felt that the book wasn’t lost in translation. I came out of this experience a very happy customer.

This book is about Ove, who is the classic definition of a grumpy old man. Ove is a total stickler for rules and guidelines and believes everyone else should strictly adhere to them too. Which is why he believes he’s surrounded by idiots. For all appearances, Ove is the neighborhood curmudgeon who will go out of his way to set others straight. However, as the story unfolds, readers discover there is much more to him than meets the eye.

This book shatters the idea that you can understand a person from outward appearances. As difficult a character as Ove tried to be, I would be very surprised if readers didn’t fall in love with him by the time the story ends.

This book had the ability to make me laugh and, within the same chapter, make me sad. I sympathized with Ove, (and not just because I already feel like an old man at the age of 28).

A Man Called Ove has some hilarious scenarios, brought about by how the sometimes interfering and eagerly friendly neighbors contrasted with Ove’s strict demeanor and his unwillingness to socialize. Ove’s lonely lifestyle starts to crumble with the introduction of his new neighbors, a happy outgoing family that refuses to be put off by his attitude and despite his best efforts, wants to bond with him.

The story also deals with its fair share of sadness. It deals with loss, illness, unfairness, and loneliness. And in the midst of it all, a man who has lost the will to keep living and wants to end his life. I am not the kind of person who cries when reading, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t get overwhelmed with feelings at certain points in the book.

One of the beautiful facets to the writing was how Backman made a character that wasn’t there, Ove’s deceased wife Sonja, be a constant in the story. From the way Ove could imagine what she would say about a situation, to his conversations with her whenever he went to her grave, to the way her presence was still felt around the house. It was a great example of how to keep a character in the story without them actually being in the story.

Read this book if:

You want to read something that isn’t heavy but still holds depth. If you want to or would like to see people from a new perspective. Especially those individuals that people have a tendency to dislike by prejudice. Read this book if you feel like there’s still hope for everyone to learn to love again.

What this book would taste like:

Digestive biscuits. The original ones. Turns out to be a lot sweeter than you expect.

Notable quotes:

  1. “And then they both stand there, a fifty-nine-year-old and the teenager, a few yards apart, kicking at the snow. As if they were kicking a memory back and forth, a memory of a woman who insisted on seeing more potential in certain men than they saw in themselves.” (page 227)
  2. “One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.” (page 325)
  3. “People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.” (page. 45)
  4. “Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.” (page 131)
  5. “We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and we stand there holding on to words like “if”.” (page 282)

Bonus points for:

  1. The beautifully written chapter that outlines how the cars two men choose to buy symbolize the stages of their life and the breaking apart of their friendship.
  2. The writer’s colorful ways of describing  Ove looking at things and people:
  • Ove gives the box a skeptical glance, as if it’s a highly dubious sort of box, a box that rides a scooter and wears tracksuit pants and just called Ove “my friend” before offering to sell him a watch.
  • Ove looks at the book more or less as if it just sent him a chain letter insisting that the book was really a Nigerian prince who had a “very lucrative investment opportunity” for Ove and now only needed Ove’s account number “to sort something out.”
  • Ove looks at him a little as if Mirsad had stopped him in a pedestrian arcade, dressed up as a pirate, and asked him to guess under which of the three teacups he’s hidden a silver coin.

I don’t often finish a book and say I have no complaints. But in this case, I really don’t. This book was also adapted into a movie in 2015, and while I’m afraid of ruining the perfect experience of the read, I love these characters enough to definitely give it that a shot.

My rating:  4 out of 5 stars.

Want more book recommendations? Check out our first ever global Reading Challenge!

Books Pop Culture

How to keep your reading habit alive in a world full of streaming services

Reading is one of my most prized habits. It always has been. But over time, the definition of reading has changed. A couple of decades ago, if you said you loved to read, it was assumed by default, that you meant novels. Which meant that you would need to focus for hours at a time on reading a long text. With the number of things vying for our attention these days, reading is a lost art, nay a skill. Add to that the advent of micro-fiction and we can now give our short attention spans the gratification they crave. While ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read’ is actually considered cool among younger generations now, I’m sure I’d have gotten a smack on the head if I ever said that something was TL; DR.

Don’t get me wrong, I like micro-fiction too, for its brevity. It takes an enormous amount of skill to be able to bring about a conflict of emotions or even an effective twist in the storyline, when all you have is a few lines. But I miss the joy of sitting for hours to read a novel and relish its characters and their exploits.

So, for those of you out there who’d love to get back to the yesteryear joy of reading, here are a few of the ideas I use.

1. Start small: read articles

Person sitting at a table reading a newspaper via Pexels
Person sitting at a table reading a newspaper via Pexels

If you’ve totally lost the hang of reading more than a paragraph at a time, you’ll need some practice. Start with news articles, and no, not the snippets, the actual long-form ones. Focus on the article itself and not in trying to get the gist so you can move on.

2. Subscribe to newsletters

A girl reading something on her phone via Pexels

This is another way to find topics of your interest and exercise your reading habit. You could subscribe to news agencies or even individuals who choose articles of a certain type, thus saving you the trouble in having to look for them. However, if you find they are not what you signed up for, don’t be afraid to unsubscribe, instead of feeling pressured to keep reading.
You can start by subscribing to our newsletter 😉

3. Utilize non-reading, non-sleeping time

Man reading while sitting among others as a subway passes by, by Robert_z_Ziemi via Pixabay
Man reading while sitting among others as a subway passes by, by Robert_z_Ziemi via Pixabay

Honestly, all the time that you’re not sleeping can be utilized to read. Eating a meal or listening to music? Read something light. Waiting line or commuting? Read. The idea is to get the habit ingrained to the extent that a book is your default go-to.

4. Always carry a book AND e-book reader (or an e-book reader app)

Girl reading a book by a pool via Pixabay
Girl reading a book by a pool via Pixabay

So, it’s a moment in the day when you’ve got time to spare. You’re waiting in a long queue and you’ve realized you have time to read. What now? Thankfully, we have technology. If you have an e-book reader, carry it along. Several of these available today are waterproof (!), so imagine reading while lounging in a pool (or your bathtub), without the fear of the book falling in. If not, there are free apps that you could download and use on your smartphone. Personally, I’d prefer a paperback or hardcover, but sometimes, the app is so much more practical. It lets you carry around a library worth of books in your pocket, so you’ll never run out of stuff to read.

5. Choose wisely

Rows of books in shelves via Pexels
Rows of books in shelves via Pexels

When you have limited time in which you can read, it makes sense to read good stuff. When I first started exercising my reading muscle (yes, you need stamina to get through a book), I read any novel I could get my hands on. There are millions of books out there. So look up reviews before you read, especially if you get spooked by a challenge easily.

6. Experiment with some new stuff

Person reading using an ebook reader via Pexels
Person reading using an ebook reader via Pexels

If I had to only stick with known authors, I’d have never discovered several gems. The trick here is to read an excerpt or the back of the book and see if the premise of the story fascinates you. What may seem interesting to me, may not be to you. Alternatively, look up reviews of people you trust, not random strangers (only because these could be bought).

7. Have daily reading goals

Girl reading a book with glitter coming out of it via Pexels
Girl reading a book with glitter coming out of it via Pexels

Tell yourself that you have to read at least 3 pages a day (to begin with) before you sleep. Keep a book by your bedside, so you don’t forget.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to deep dive. Pick a hard copy over a soft copy to minimize distractions. Switch off notifications on all devices for a few hours. Sit in a comfortable location with ambient sounds and surrender to the joy of a digital detox. Happy reading!


Calling all book lovers: here’s all the wedding decor you can’t live without

Almost everyone has seen Beauty and the Beast. There was always something so appealing and magical to me about the dancing utensils, the beautiful ball gowns, and the handsome prince. But nothing had me more hooked than the seemingly-endless shelves of books in the castle’s library! If you’re anything like me, then the idea of a literary-themed wedding has always seemed so perfect. So we’ve got the perfect wedding decor that every book lover will ever need for their special day!

1. Welcome your guests with this rustic hand-written wooden sign!

[Image description: a wooden sign painted with white modern calligraphy reads “welcome to our happily ever after” and is propped up on a stand. A rose hangs on top of the sign, and a bride sits in a garden chair in the background. Image source: Pinterest]

2. A bouquet made entirely from vintage fabrics, antique brooches, love notes, and paper!

[Image description: six pictures of a flower bouquet made entirely from pages of a novel, love letters, postcards, vintage fabric, and scrabble letters that spell out love. Image source: Pinterest]

3. Use the pages from your favorite romance novels to create heart-shaped backdrops!

[Image description: pages from a novel cut into three hearts and hung together on a string across a room. Image source: Pinterest]

4. Is there a better place to celebrate two bibliophiles than at a library?

[Image description: multiple dining tables are set up in a huge library. Each table is already set with all the utensils and a vase is placed as a centerpiece. Image source: Pinterest]

5. Have your cake vendor inscribe your favorite passages onto your cake.

[Image description: a three-story wedding cake placed on a table and is covered in cursive writing and decorated with roses. Image source: Pinterest]

6. Use book pages to make your place cards even cuter!

[Image description: a framed page of a novel is framed and a huge nine is written across it. Two candles are placed in front of the frame, which rests on a stack of books with a flower vase on top. Image source: Pinterest]

7. Give bookmarks with romantic quotes from your favorite books as wedding favors.

[Image description: a stack of bookmarks with a Jane Austin quote from Pride and Prejudice printed on it. The quote says “Completely and perfectly and incandescently happy.” Image source: Pinterest]

8. These library card invites are giving us all the feels!

[Image description: wedding invites made out of library cards that list all the important dates in the engaged couples’ lives. Image source: Pinterest]

9. Surprise your guests with wrapped books as wedding favors.

[Image description: a stack of novels wrapped in brown paper with a light blue sheet on the front. Each novel has a library card attached to it with all the details of the novel written out. Image source: Pinterest]

10.  Set up a dictionary and a cute sign where your guests can leave a message for you & your S.O.

[Image description: a sign is printed on a page in front of an open dictionary that reads, “please sign our guest book by selecting a word from the dictionary that represents how you know us, a fun memory, your best marriage advice, or any other words befitting this day. Circle the word and then feel free to write a message on the page. Enjoy the evening!” Image source: Pinterest]

11. Serve drinks with little book-inspired messages like this one!

[Image description: pink lemonade in glass jugs with pink ribbons tied around the top and a note that says “drink me.” Image source: Pinterest]

12. Seat your guests according to your favorite authors/books.

[Image description: a framed card that says “Mark Twain Table” with a quote by him underneath used as a centerpiece for a dining table. The frame is placed on top of a stack of books. Image source: Pinterest]

13. Incorporate your love for books into your centerpieces.

[Image description: a ballroom with tables set and a stack of books with a vase on top as a centerpiece. Image source: Pinterest]

14. Use cut-outs from a book as your cake toppers!

[Image description: two cutouts of a man and a woman dressed up made from pages of a book used as cake toppers. Image source: Pinterest]

15. Say “I do” underneath a book arch!

[Image description: a bride and groom kiss in front of a pastor who is looking at his religious book. The couple is standing under an arch made out of books piled up on each other. Image source: Pinterest]
There’s nothing we love more than two people celebrating their love in beautiful and unique ways! Let your love for literature inspire you to create a literary-themed wedding with these simple and breath-taking decorations that’ll have your guests talking about your big day for years to come!