• Jaala Shaw

Can Reading Make You Healthier?


Jaala reading in front of the Seventh Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem

As it turns out, yes. In a study done by Yale in 2016, it was determined that reading regularly, prolongs your life.


In this, the first year of my adult life in which I did not travel at least once every couple of months, I relied on reading to take me to places I couldn't go physically. Normally, books are reserved for those long plane rides across the world, nights when I'm not already falling asleep as soon as I sit down, and for park benches whilst soaking up the sun. But instead of going places this year, I read. So not only was I able to escape to, and learn about things that I couldn't access while standing still, I added years to my life.


In the end, I read 36 books in 2020 (if you'd like the complete list, check out this spreadsheet).


Here are my top 5:


1. "Apeirogon"

By: Colum McCann (Biographical fiction)


Open your heart and give it to this book. It'll show you what love and reconciliation truly look like.


Apeirogon (an infinitely sided shape) is one of those rare books that you are compelled to read again, immediately after you finish it. I physically hugged this book many times, because I know the stories of the people, the places, the conflicting, confusing, amazingly intricate reality that is the West Bank, Palestine, and Israel. McCann's choice to tell the stories of Rami (Israeli) and Bassam (Palestinian), both men who have lost children to the conflict and are members of "Combatants for Peace" through 1,001 vignettes harkens back to Sheherezade's One Thousand and One Nights. Three chapters in the middle of Apeirogon tell the entire story, but the beauty, the terrifying and consuming details, lie in the other 998 chapters.


2. "The Impossible First: From Fire to Ice-Crossing the Antarctic Alone"

By: Colin O'Brady (Biography/Adventure)


In this book, O'Brady takes us along on his journey to be the first human to cross the Antarctic continent under his own power, solo, unsupported. As he races against British Army Captain Louis Rudd, we are able to experience his ups and downs first hand, and understand what is in the mind of this extraordinary person. It is a well-written, often exciting and gripping account of what it takes to be the first, at anything.


3. "Exit West"

By: Moshin Hamid (Fiction)


The story surprised me; a sweet treat wrapped in a sad reality.


Saeed and Nadia fall in love in a fictional city wrapped in civil war. I imagine it could be Damascus, Syria, but the author tells the story so well, so timelessly, that this could be any urban city wrecked by civil war, at any time in history. As if the story itself were not enough, the author's language is magical. I found myself re-reading paragraphs not because I missed something, but because the way he described that thing was satiating. I highly recommend it as a modern refugee story, a love story, a human story.


4. "Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina"

By: Misty Copeland (Biography/Sports)


Misty Copeland was the first black principal ballerina in the American Ballet Theater. This book tells her personal story; of her rise and challenges as a dancer who didn't fit the stereotypical image of a prima ballerina. She broke the mold, succeeded, and became a beacon for so many people. She continues to redefine what it means to be a successful dancer. Poised, fierce, strong, and thoughtful, she is a great role model for all who aspire to greatness, regardless of their station in life, where they came from, or what people think of them.


5. "How not to Start a Backpack Company"

By: Jason McCarthy (Biography/Business)


This is the origin story of GORUCK, a company that makes awesome rucksacks and runs amazing events that bridge the gap between the civilian and military worlds. It is also the story of everything that was happening in between the lines as the CEO, Jason McCarthy, started his company. It is a story of heart break, loss, renewal, and eventually triumph of the human spirit. From selling backpacks out of his truck a decade ago, to now owning a small company worth 100 million dollars, this is a story of inspiration, and how the bumps along the way contributed to the heart, and success, of the company.