Reading was such a huge part of my childhood, and I would argue that in many ways, it has shaped me to be the person I am today—inquisitive, empathetic, and open-minded. 

Growing up I spent countless hours not in the fancy central library of Wolverhampton where I grew up, but in the tiny and slightly decrepit branch just minutes from my home. In fact, I would come back home with a pile of books in the morning, only to return hours later to retrieve new ones to read. 

Unfortunately, as I’ve aged, my time spent reading for fun has been replaced with reading journal articles and other academic literature for undergrad and now grad school. Reading for fun has felt more like a chore than fun. 

However, in the midst of the pandemic this year, I was able to rediscover this love and even reframe my reading journey. Not only did I finally start reading non-fiction, but I also went on a quest to read more books by South Asian authors and even got a chance to write about it.

So, I’ve curated a list for all of our different types of 5X Press readers—from the essay aficionado to the rom-com obsessed hopeless romantic. These are books that made me cry, books that taught me hard-hitting life lessons, and books that have transformed the way in which I see myself and the world. In no particular order, here is my list of the top ten.

For the cryers—those who want to read a book that will make them weep profusely.

1.     A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza 

“A Place for Us” is about a Muslim American family of five, primarily told through the point of view of the elder sister and younger brother through time. It touches on topics such as strict parents and meeting their expectations, grappling with faith, drug abuse, and more. It’s the first book I’ve read that has made me feel seen—perfectly capturing my experiences as a South Asian woman and particularly as the eldest daughter. I can confirm that this one is an absolute tearjerker. In fact, I had to stop reading it midway just to cry it all out.  

2.     When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“When Breath Becomes Air” is a memoir written by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi through his battle with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Paul passed away in the process of writing the book in 2015 and so his wife Lucy completes the book. I read this book at the beginning of this year, and it made me realize the fragility of life and also my own fears around death. Paul beautifully captures his experience as a doctor and on the flipside and in accepting death. It was Lucy’s epilogue that broke me down in tears—her speaking of Paul’s rapid decline in health, his last day, her love for him as a husband and father, and the way in which he persevered all throughout.  

For those who want to interrogate their beliefs—that want to inform themselves.

3.     The Colour of Law by Richard Rothstein

“The Colour of Law” provides insight on the history of racial segregation in housing in America. Richard provides examples of redlining, racial zoning, public housing enforcing segregation, subsidies for builders to create whites only suburbs, and more. Throughout the book, he nails down the point that the racial segregation that has existed through time in America, is not a result of individual choices but rather a result of “unhidden public policy.” I read this book to inform myself as a future urban planner, but I think it provides some lessons for us all on understanding the history of this continent that has been erased from public memory.

4.     Between the World and Me by Tah-Nehisi Coates

“Between the World and Me” is a three-part letter written by Tah-Nehisi Coates to his 15-year old son Samori. The book touches on Coates' anecdotal experiences as a black man in America and his understanding of where he stands in this world. Through these anecdotes, Coates dwells on the issue of race, segregation, slavery, murder, and exploitation of the black people. Reading this book taught me a lot about the way in which black people must live in fear for the destruction of their bodies—that I didn’t understand previously. 

For the intersectional feminists—those who want to make the world more inclusive.

5.     Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez

“Invisible Women” is an incredible book that chronicles the gender data bias that persists in our world as we know it today. Caroline Criado-Perez provides countless examples like snow clearing, medical trials, disaster relief planning, speech-recognition software, AI hiring practices, the size of an iPhone, the burden of unpaid care work by women, maternity leave amongst others that depict the way in which our world is designed for men. Reading this book opened my eyes to the purposeful invisibility of data bias, making me angry that women are still considered second-class humans.   

6.     White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Colour by Ruby Hamad

“White Tears/Brown Scars” showcases the ways women of colour are often subjugated at the hands of white feminism. Through anecdotes and a journey through history, Ruby Hamad showcases how colonialism and white supremacy contribute to this notion that women of colour are inferior. I’ve heard stories where women of colour are painted as villains in the midst of white tears, but it was refreshing to see Hamad call white feminism out for what it really is. 

For the essay aficionados—those who enjoy something a little short and sweet. 

7.     All We Can Save Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson

“All We Can Save” is a collection of short essays, poems, reflection pieces etc. by a diversity of women leading on climate change in the United States, dwelling on the climate crisis that we’re facing. What I love about this compilation is the hope it manifests and the way these women provide a sense of comfort with ideas around solutions for our future. I also appreciate that this hope comes in different forms like poems and letters. 

8.     Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Interpreter of Maladies” is a beautiful anthology of nine short stories that dwell on the experience of being Indian and Indian American and its associated diasporic struggles. As someone who doesn’t often read short stories, I appreciated the way in which Jhumpa Lahiri crafted a voice for all of her protagonists in such a short space of time all whilst leaving a lingering message for the reader. 

For the rom-com obsessed—those who wish their life was a Bollywood movie.

9.     The Singles Table by Sara Desai 

“The Singles Table” is the perfect South Asian romance novel. It captures lawyer Zara Patel and military security specialist Jay Dayal—both with unbelievable chemistry from the minute they meet at Zara’s cousin’s bachelor/bachelorette party. Zara makes it her mission to find Jay “the one,” while Jay helps introduce her to his celebrity clients and what ensues is a little bit of love and a little bit of passion. This is the perfect book to read after a week of term papers and 50-page journal articles.

10.  Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli

“Serena Singh Flips the Script” centers on Serena Singh and her journey through a new job at an advertising firm, being unwed and without children as a South Asian woman in her 30’s, going against her parents’ expectations, and reconnecting with an ex. While I appreciate the romance in this novel, I think what I appreciate even more is Sonya Lalli’s choice to center a headstrong South Asian woman (with tattoos!) who doesn’t need domestic bliss to be happy.  

Let us know your favourite reads of 2021 and stay tuned for more book recommendations in 2022.

About the author

Jasmin Senghera

Jasmin Senghera (she/her) is a graduate student pursuing her Master of Community and Regional planning at UBC. She also holds a BSc in Environmental Sciences from UBC. As a future urban planner and aspiring writer she is interested in covering her thoughts on all things cities and her South Asian experience. When she isn’t at work or at school, you can find her with her nose in a book or making yet another Spotify playlist.


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5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.