Fate, politics and family: a trio of books to push your comfort zone

By Angela McParland

If you’re anything like me, finding the right book is an art. The more books you read, the pickier you become. As a result, I read stories beyond my comfort zone to avoid comparing them to my favorites.

Whether you are seeking a book to give as a holiday gift or to gift yourself, consider the trio here which are among my recent favorites. They push your boundaries, make you pause with beautiful language and expand your perspective of the world.


Kafka on the Shore-Haruki Murakami

This story about discovering oneself amongst a cruel world of fate, follows two seemingly unrelated characters. Kafka Tamura aims to be the “strongest 15-year-old boy in the world” despite trying to escape his Oedipal prophecy. Nakata is a childlike old man who doesn’t remember much about life but makes his living by finding and talking to lost cats. As Kafka flees from his parents home and Nakata searches for a notorious cat, their paths slowly merge.

Riddled with metaphors, Murakami tell his stories in a dream-like state, grounded in reality. With an other-worldly approach, and twists and turns in every chapter, Murakami taps into ancient philosophy teachings, music, and even fast food characters to explore big social shifts like being transgender or dealing with extreme feminism. His unresolved plot points linger after the last page, nudging readers to reflect on their own lives.

Ambiguous in his writing, his words become intertwining webs of meaning. Murakami’s insights often go something like this: “I’m a butterfly, flitting along the edges of creation. Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop.”

Murakami created the only book I love nearly as much as my longstanding favorites. It feels as though this book had been written just for me.



The Righteous Mind-Jonathan Haidt

In this examination of human morality, Haidt takes a critical look into political polarity. By examining how people of different political mindsets arrange their list of values, a greater understanding of both liberals and conservatives emerges.

No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can walk away with a better understanding about another political party from this book. Haidt lays out arguments logically, providing a summary at the end of each chapter for easy reference. This book does not aim to make you believe one thing or another, but fosters understanding and gives insights into why someone might hold different beliefs and values.

Despite being written in 2012, the arguments he makes speak to current revelations and firestorms. “The most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.” The book is filled with similar insights.

Since reading this book, I hold a better understanding of different political parties thought processes and the current political climate. If you plan on getting this as a gift for someone, I highly recommend that you get a copy for yourself to read as well.



Shelter-Jung Yun

Shelter follows Kyung Cho, a Korean-American, as he and his young family move in with his parents. Already struggling to provide for his wife and child, Kyung must face a dark past and the grudges he holds against his mother and father.

Gripping from page one, Shelter contains a world and characters so convincingly real. It is easy to become emotionally invested in the character’s struggles and read in suspense of what happens next. Jung Yun writes craftily, with seemingly minor details building to a grande finale that leaves the reader speechless.

Throughout, Kyung remains skeptical of his parents living in the same house as his four year old son Ethan. With each time Kyung sees the two interacting, he reflects on his own painful childhood. “He pauses as Ethan curls up in the crook of [his father’s] good arm. The two of them look comfortable together, lost in their noisy cartoon while the television glows blue against their faces. This wasn’t what Kyung’s childhood was like at all.”

Usually I’m one to spend a couple weeks on books I enjoy, but I finished this in 32 hours. Even through the most raw, heart-wrenching points of the story, putting this book down is near impossible.