Stuart McLean

Jan 1

4 min read

Altering my Worldview in 2021

A list of books that I think changed me for the better.

Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
“Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century” by Jessica Bruder
“End of the Rope: Mountains, Marriage, and Motherhood” by Jan Redford
“In The End, It Was All About Love” by Musa Okwonga

Like many of the characters in this novel, I passed through London on my way to other places and was changed forever by the experience. The magic of this novel for me was Evaristo allowing me not just to sympathise but also identify with such a broad range of individuals who were so different from me.

Some favourite quotes:

she explained that being a sistah was a response to how we’re seen as much as who we are, which actually defies simplistic reductionism, that who we are is partly a response to how we’re seen

Aaron says he’ll lose his core clientele if his staff look normal and are nice to people

she sinks back, watches their performances, quite content to be left to her own devices, nodding off, until people prod her to see if she’s all right, the equivalent of checking her pulse

I saw the remarkable movie that’s loosely based on this book before I read it. I was happy to find the book left an even more open, ambiguous ending than the film. There is hope left in America but it’s shrinking. We need to band together and collectively pressure businesses and politicians to stand up for the majority of their respective customers and constituents. If only we cared enough about more than the next paycheck.

Some favourite quotes:

Being human means yearning for more than subsistence. As much as food or shelter, we require hope.

Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations.

I also loved being reminded of this quote from Kurt Vonnegut’ “Slaughterhouse-Five,” first published in 1969:

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves.

I’ve spent time around a few people who are true mountaineering types but I’m not a climber. I just like to walk up mountains, not hang precariously from overhangs.

I’ll never fully understand climbers, but this brook brought me closer to a comprehension of the desires, dreads and addictions of this sort of person than anything I’ve read by “celebrity” climbers. The struggles Redford goes through in her quest for an environment she can feel comfortable in, being a good partner and parent while using her talents in a fulfilling way, struck a chord with me.

Some favourite quotes:

It was just me. Alone. On a steep rock face that didn’t give a shit if I could do the flex-arm hang.

I wanted to be able to touch the paper and know it was the same paper his hands had touched.

A shiny film covered the linoleum of my tiny kitchen. Sam had chucked his sippy cup of apple juice at the cupboard the other day and I’d wiped it up with a cloth, but our shoes still peeled off the floor like velcro.

Okwonga and I come from very different backgrounds but we’ve lived in two of the same cities, London and Berlin, partly attracted by their diversity. Okwonga’s experience of these cities has been very different from mine, and I was fascinated by the unexpected angles he highlights in his portraits of places that I thought I already knew well.

Some favourite quotes:

It is not a bubble. A bubble is a carefully-sealed world whose occupants are oblivious to everything that happens beyond it. Berlin is something different. It is a refuge, an enclave, a safe haven.

That Nazi march was terrifying but the schnitzel here is nice.

I also appreciated Okwonga’s reassuring philosophy, sprinkled throughout the book.

I would only say that, whatever you do next — please remember that there will always be a next thing, another goal to reach. Another excuse not to like yourself until you have achieved some new ambition. But it’s okay to like yourself right now, though.

Hopefully, this will encourage you to read some of these fascinating and inspiring books. For more on my approach to reading widely and often, see my article on finishing fifty books in a year (while still keeping a family and a full-time job).