6 Books That Made My Mind Explode

I love to read.

My old resume included this fact. It had a section for interests and hobbies, and reading was right up there.

An interviewer actually asked about it once. I was interviewing for a position on a team and three people sat opposite me. I knew them casually from industry stuff. I got along very well with two of the three, but the third (and most senior) and I never seemed to connect. “So you like reading,” he said as he scanned my resume. “What are you reading right now?”

The way he asked it, paired with the expression on his face, kind of made it seem like he was trying to trip me up and catch me in a lie.

The joke was on him because at that point in my life, I had established a long and detailed list of classics I’d never read – many of which most people had read in high school (Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, On the Road, that kind of stuff) but that I’d missed out on from attending French school. I can’t remember exactly what book I was on at that time, but I gave him a pretty good run down and he didn’t have any follow up questions.

(I didn’t get the job – but I made it two more rounds past the book question interview, so that has to count for something.)

I love a lot of books, but I confess that many don’t really stick with me in the long term. Storylines and characters blend together. I’ll see a title and vaguely remember reading it, but I couldn’t tell you a thing about what happened (especially if I had to read it for a course – Sweetness in the Belly, I’m looking at you).

So when a book hits me in the guts and sticks with me forever, I know I’ve found a keeper. Following is a list of books that, for one reason or another, shook me up a little bit – in a good way. If you’re looking to get lost in a wonderful book, give these ones a try.

The Secret History (Donna Tartt)


The summer I explored Canada, I wanted a book that was endlessly long yet full of substance. I picked up Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch at a bookshop in Charlottetown, and the clerk told me that she was in the middle of it and couldn’t get enough. I loved it, too. It was exactly what I was looking for – though some people found it a little too slow moving, I liked that it went on and on and on because it meant the story lasted a little longer.

When I returned home, I hit up the library to check out what other works Tartt had up her sleeve. I checked out The Secret History, and… well, the rest is history (badoom tssss).

To me, The Secret History has all the makings of a perfect book. The setting isn’t unusual (a college campus) but the story is weird (eerie secret society disguised as a niche major), the characters turn delightfully strange over time, and the prose is right up my alley. I like books that are written in a way that is beautiful, but straightforward – I detest anything overly flowery or out there. I got totally lost in this book. When I finished it, I thought to myself, “Huh – that just might be my favourite book.”

Apparently Tartt’s other book, The Little Friend, is horrible. I still want to read it, though.

419 (Will Ferguson)


This was the book that made me fall in love with audiobooks. The narrator is utter perfection.

My sister – my most trusted source of book recommendations – suggested 419 to me. The book is set partly in Canada, partly in Nigeria, and it’s a compelling story about those Nigerian prince e-mail scams we all know and love. If you’ve ever wondered about what happens on the other side of the scam, you will find this compelling (though the story is told from both sides, which eventually collide in total awesomeness). It’s a non-cheesy thriller and I loved every second of it.

The Orenda (Joseph Boyden)


I belong to a book club. I adore it. It allows me to read books I probably wouldn’t otherwise look into, and we always have delicious snacks at our meetings.

The Orenda was a somewhat recent book club read, and it was received with mixed opinions. Some people found it overly gruesome. It’s a story about the Jesuits (and Europeans altogether) slowly infiltrating the First Nations in Ontario, and there is definitely a lot of excruciatingly detailed gore. Others found it long and hard to get into – but I love a book with a long, slow burn.

My background in history is very limited – regrettably, the last history class I took was back in grade 10 or 11. The curriculum at the time glossed over First Nations history, to say the least, and it wasn’t until I moved out west that I gained more appreciation and interest in our country’s history. The Orenda offers a more realistic and insightful take on what life looked like then than any history lesson I was ever taught.

In Cold Blood (Truman Capote)


I cannot imagine a person not adoring In Cold Blood. Reading it was a wonderful treat, and I really mean it. It’s the only Capote book I’ve ever read, but his writing style is, in my opinion, flawless. The story about a small-town murder is completely captivating, and it took me awhile to digest the fact that it is NOT A FICTIONAL NOVEL. Honestly – the narration is so perfect that I couldn’t believe it was not made up.

I often find the big name classics to be overrated. Remember the list of classics I worked my way through back when I was interviewing for that job? Many were good, but a little overhyped in my eyes. NOT IN COLD BLOOD. In Cold Blood is as every bit wonderful as everybody says it is.

Indian Horse (Richard Wagamese)


Indian Horse was another book club read and, coincidentally, it is also about Canada’s history with First Nations, though it’s set in a different era than The Orenda.

For whatever reason, I went into this book thinking I wouldn’t like it – I think I believed it would be about horses (it’s not). Instead, it’s a no-nonsense telling (my favourite kind of telling) about the skeleton in Canada’s closet: residential schools. It’s raw, honest, and not always pretty, but it steers clear from being overly dramatic or over the top. Elements of the story are revealed slowly as the book progresses – and that’s all I’ll say about that.

I think that a lot of Canadians don’t quite grasp how destructive residential schools really were. It allowed me to better understand how traumatic residential schools were and why our country still very much feels the reverberations of this ugly part of our (not so distant) history.

Scar Tissue (Anthony Kiedis)


Most of the books on this list are fiction. An aside: I’m always shocked when people tell me they don’t like fiction – I’m pretty sure these people have only experienced the tiniest slice of what is out there.

For awhile, I was obsessed with biographies – preferably autobiographies. I read the good (Chris Farley), the bad (Lance Bass), and the ugly: Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis of The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I wouldn’t say I loved Scar Tissue – at least not in the way I loved The Secret History or In Cold Blood. But it shook me up and it’s a book that has stayed with me since I read it many years ago. I like the Chili Peppers, but I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore fan – but you don’t have to be a diehard to appreciate this book.

At its core, this is a book about addiction from the perspective of the addict. My number one takeaway is that addiction does not discriminate. No matter how successful or how rich you are, addiction can find – and destroy – you. At times, this book was hard to read. It’s maddening to read about Kiedis’s decisions and actions. But that’s also partly why I liked it: it doesn’t sugarcoat addiction. It doesn’t make it seem wild or zany or cheeky – it reveals it as ugly, destructive, and frustratingly tenacious.

(Folks, I’m trying something new: affiliate links. The idea is that if you click the linked book titles and images above, you’ll be taken to Amazon; if you purchase that book or anything else from Amazon within 24 hours of your click, I get a modest commission (I believe it is a whopping 4%). For more information on affiliate links, click here (don’t worry – I won’t get money if you click that, ha ha). Here’s what Amazon wants me to tell you:

“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

(I have a hunch this won’t result in anything but I want to give it a go to understand how it all works. Bear with me!)


2 thoughts on “6 Books That Made My Mind Explode

  1. I’ve read 4 of your 6 — numbers 2 to 5 — and loved them all. In fact, I just read the Orenda and it is absolutely wonderful. Others I recommend: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It might be my favourite book ever. It’s about a black man’s journey during the Jim Crow era. The writing is breathtaking. More recently, I read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Set during the period of the wars between Russia and Chechnya, it provides a glimpse into the horrors of being a citizen in a war-torn country. NPR has a good review here http://www.npr.org/2013/05/06/180074991/safety-is-relative-a-moving-account-of-life-in-chechnya

    You could get an account on Goodreads and then we could share what we’re reading! It’s neat that way.

    Happy reading!


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