The best books about defying gravity and breaking out of the way we are taught to think

Sohaila Abdulali Author Of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape
By Sohaila Abdulali

Who am I?

My book is ostensibly about rape. But it’s mostly about breaking out of the way we are taught to think, about turning things inside-out and checking out the hidden parts, about joy and rage and unexpected twists. So I am attracted to anyone who does this: defies gravity, finding monsters in clouds, and salvation in birds.

I wrote...

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

By Sohaila Abdulali,

Book cover of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape

What is my book about?

After surviving gang-rape at seventeen in Mumbai, Sohaila Abdulali was indignant about the deafening silence that followed and wrote a fiery piece about the perception of rape--and rape victims--for a women's magazine. Thirty years later, with no notice, her article reappeared and went viral in the wake of the 2012 fatal gang-rape in New Delhi, prompting her to write a New York Times op-ed about healing from rape that was widely circulated. Now, Abdulali has written What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape--a thoughtful, generous, unflinching look at rape and rape culture.

The books I picked & why

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My Sister, the Serial Killer

By Oyinkan Braithwaite,

Book cover of My Sister, the Serial Killer

Why this book?

Murder and mayhem in Africa, but turned on its head. This novel is set in Nigeria, and who could argue with the mad charm of traffic jams, family dynamics, a young woman who simply can’t help killing the men in her life, and her long-suffering sister who keeps helping her clean up the mess? Every page vibrates with wackiness and warmth, while the blood keeps flowing. Gravity-defying because it should be grim but you find yourself chuckling before the first corpse is cold.

Mozart's Starling

By Lyanda Lynn Haupt,

Book cover of Mozart's Starling

Why this book?

I picked up this book when I was writing my book about rape and was immediately reminded about the joys of music and art and birds and all the unlikely connections life has to offer. Mozart wrote music inspired by a starling, and the author, inspired by a baby starling in her own life, followed his story to Europe and back. Most unexpected, most illuminating. Gravity-defying because the Muse follows no earthly laws.

H Is for Hawk

By Helen MacDonald,

Book cover of H Is for Hawk

Why this book?

Her father died. She adopted a goshawk named Mabel and immersed herself in falconry. But of course. Grief works itself out in the damnedest ways, and I can totally relate to the connection between a parent’s death and entering into a relationship with a fierce and foreign species. As an added bonus, MacDonald is a magnificent writer. Gravity-defying because you can open your heart and let grief fly out.

The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds

By Gavin Pretor-Pinney,

Book cover of The Cloudspotter's Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds

Why this book?

Everything about this book is wonderful. It is science and philosophy and joie de vivre and sarcasm and a mad appreciation for nature’s vagaries and human foibles, and if you have a garden or a terrace or even a window in your life, you need it. The sky will never be the same. Gravity-defying because…well, just look up.

Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

By Mark Vanhoenacker,

Book cover of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

Why this book?

If I’d read this book as a teenager, I might have been compelled to learn to be a pilot. I love the way Vanhoenacker is so passionate about his craft. Along with talking about flight, he comes up with concepts like “place lag” rather than “jet lag,” putting into words those emotions all of us who have sometimes gone bewilderingly far, whiplash-inducingly fast have felt, but could never express. Gravity-defying because you can choose to soar away from bad weather, boredom, or the tyranny of time and place.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in grief, Nigeria, and mourning?

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