Hameed’s Reads: The Top 7 Books I Have Read (and Reread) the Past 4 Years

Marwa Hameed, Co-Editor-in-Chief

For me, to read is to have a window to the world. It is something that has expanded my horizons and allowed me to see the viewpoint of people and events that I would never get to experience otherwise. This is a list of the top seven books I have read during my high school career— some are old reads for me, while others are new ones, but regardless, they are ones that have left the biggest impact on me these past four years.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is a book that I have read so many times I can almost recite it from memory. For me, it is Jane’s Austen’s magnum opus because it dares to look at love as a matter of choice and free will, something that was so unlike the social norms of Austen’s time. It follows the story of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet, the second of five daughters of a rural family. While her father is the head of an estate, she and her sisters are told that they must find a match and marry well in order to sustain themselves because women could not inherit property. With the arrival of a wealthy suitor (enter Mr. Darcy!), Lizzy’s mother is determined to marry off one of her daughters to him. Elizabeth found Mr. Darcy haughty and not worth her time— she did not want to be married so easily and was very much a free spirit, which is what ensues the rivalry between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. It was Lizzy’s defiance to love by choice and her urge to live her life the way she wants that made me fall in love with her and with the tale that Austen weaves.  While some dismiss this to be a silly love story, to me it is much more than that— it is a story of what people believe they want and how they discover what they actually need as well as the humility and courage it takes to recognize that. It painted a picture of a love that was not rigid or something that resembled a contract, but a love that was about understanding and self-discovery. Elizabeth chose Mr. Darcy based on her own convictions— she chose to love in the end not because she had to, but because she wanted to. It is her strength, vivacious wit, intelligence, and fearlessness that makes this story a must read for anyone. 

“My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me.”  -Elizabeth Bennet

“ You have showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.” -Mr. Darcy

” I could easily forgive his pride, if he had not mortified mine.” -Elizabeth Bennet


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

To me, watching a movie before reading the book is the worst crime, but it takes on a whole new meaning with this book— there is no equivalent experience to the Great Gatsby, one must simply read it to understand its true power. The Great Gatsby is told from Nick Carraway’s point of view. It follows his foray into the lives of the old money during the roaring twenties after he reunites with his cousin Daisy and her crazy rich husband Tom Buchanan. Living in the less fashionable West Egg, Nick’s curiosity is peaked by the lonely man living in the obscenely large mansion next door, Jay Gatsby. Gatsby has captured the imaginations of everyone in the area; both old and new money attend his grand parties to try to get a glimpse into his mysterious persona. Nick, with his honesty and clarity, is able to crack the enigma that is Gatsby. He is able to peel back the layers of Gatsby’s motivation and the mirage that is the lives of both the old and new money. Fitzgerald makes Nick both a part of the experience and the one able to see beyond it, enabling him to become the critic of the carelessness and delusion he witnesses. The Great Gatsby is a commentary on class, gender, love, sorrow, and the American Dream but also about the strong ties that link the past and the future together. A true example of spellbinding American literature, Fitzgerald captures the nuances of a complex era, and for this insight alone, it is well worth a read.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” -Nick Carraway.

“There are all kinds of love but never the same love twice.” -Jay Gatsby

 “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.” -Nick Carraway

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr follows two characters stuck on opposite sides of World War Two. Marie-Laure is the blind daughter of the master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris; her story is shaped by her defiance, not only of the occupation by the Germans, but of her condition as well. Werner Pfenning is a German orphan who has a gift for science; the Germans draft him to the Wehrmacht in an effort to cultivate those skills for war but he becomes disillusioned with this position after his group kills a young girl because of the technology he helped to make. The book is told by alternating chapters each from their point of view as their lives begin to intersect— they finally meet in the French town of Saint-Malo where Werner saves Marie-Laure from death at the hands of the Nazis after he hears her radio broadcasts and tracks her down. Werner’s saving of Marie-Laure strikes at the heart of what Doerr is trying to get across. The tale is a commentary about the futility of war but also about the hope that kept a nation going when things seemed dismal. Doerr masterfully illustrates what it means to be human in a time where it seemed like there was no humanity left. Bold but touching, this is a read for everyone, not just for the history buffs, because it seeks to magnify the human cost of war.

“ Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they are closed forever.”

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.” 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a book that never leaves you, even after the last page is turned. It is the story of a Syrian family: Nuri, a beekeeper; Afra, his wife who is an artist; and their son Sami. They live a content and happy life, filled with laughter, family and friends, in the rolling hills of Aleppo. But their lives come crashing down when the unthinkable happens. Caught in the middle of the Syrian Civil War, their fate is changed forever as all they love is lost. When Sami is killed in a bombing, Nuri and Afra have no choice but to flee— living in a constant state of shock, they risk it all to get to Britain. Dealing with a loss that cannot be grasped, they wait to receive refugee status in Britain— and while waiting, Nuri spends his time taking care of an orphaned boy that lives in the same boarding house they are at. However, in one of the most haunting parts of the book, Nuri in the end realizes that the boy was nothing but a figment of his imagination; it was his way of grieving for his son. The book is achingly beautiful— it is filled with sorrow, compassion, and courage, especially with the theme of the bees, which for Nuri is the thread between Aleppo and England.  Putting a face to the thousands of nameless people killed in one of the most devastating conflicts of our time, it is a powerful tale of human survival that everyone must read to understand not only the plight of the Syrian people, but what it means to be a refugee in this day and age.

“I wish I could escape my mind, that I could be free of this world and everything I have seen in the last few years. And the children who have survived – what will become of them? How will they be able to live in this world?”

“It’s amazing, the way we love people from the day we are born, the way we hold on, as if we are holding on to life itself.”

“Where there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is new life and hope.”


Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell attempts to explain the forces that enable an outlier— people who lie outside the normal realm of achievement— to achieve and reach where they have. Gladwell looks at all in his quest to understand outliers: from the early advantages that shape professional hockey players to what exactly made the Beatles, Mozart, and Bill Gates the phenomena they became. With hard hitting research and powerful anecdotes, Gladwell finds a commonality between all those examples of success and ambition: each person had a unique and unusual chance to foster a skill that allowed them to rise above everyone else. Putting things into context even further, many other stories are also discussed including the rise of Jewish immigrants living in New York in the 1900s, Asian math geniuses, the robber barons of the Gilded Era, and a more personal example— the luck of his own family in Jamaica. We learn that Outliers are not even outliers in the end. They are products of their cultural legacy: their history, community, and opportunity that shapes them into the illusion of what is seen by all as the epitome of greatness. It is a unique and eye opening read that changed my outlook on success and achievement— I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something special in non-fiction or to anyone who wants to follow a different kind of mystery.

“ No one — not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses– ever makes it alone.”

“Success is not a random act. It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.”

“To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.”

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood is the autobiography of The Daily Show host Trevor Noah. He was born under apartheid in South Africa, and as the title suggests, his existence (as the son of a white man and a black woman) was for the longest time a crime. Recalling personal tales from a tense time in history, Noah shows  what it took to keep going when society was rooting for him to fail— it was his mother that pushed him to defy the standards that were put in place. In the dedication, he writes this: “For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man.” His mother’s courage and bold spirit enabled her to face and defy a hostile world, and in turn, allowed him to do just the same as he drew from her strength to push past the boundaries. For all the sorrow Noah paints, Born a Crime made me laugh a lot—Noah uses that humor to drive home the hope  one can find in dark times. Engaging, witty, and vivid, it is an essential read not only because it is a powerful tale of survival, but because it searingly exposes the injustice and stupidity of apartheid to make sure that it is never forgotten nor repeated again.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.”

“The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.”

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State by Nadia Murad 

The Last Girl is Nadia Murad’s memoir— it is her personal statement of the horrors she and her people experienced at the hands of ISIS. Nadia was born in the small Yazidi village of Kocho in Sinjar, located in Northern Iraq. In the summer of 2014, ISIS waged war on the Yazidi people. They took over Nadia’s village and massacred thousands of an already small minority— her brother and mother were killed, while she was taken captive by ISIS and sold in the sex trade. In the memoir, Nadia documents the years she was held captive in grueling detail, painting a picture of the daily horrors she lived including the beatings and constant rapes she endured. Nadia managed to escape and was smuggled out of the Islamic State— when she knew that she would live, she vowed to never remain silent. This is a book about the courage of one girl, the ravaging of a family by war, and the promise she made to her people— it is a promise for justice but also a promise to keep their memories alive and to ensure their deaths were not in vain. The Last Girl is a powerful call to action that is a must read as the genocide of the Yazidis must not be allowed to fade into the annals of history.

“I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”

“Longing for a lost place also makes you feel like you have disappeared.”

“The terrorists didn’t think that Yazidi girls would be able to leave them, or that we would have the courage to tell the world every detail of what they did to us. We defy them by not letting their crimes go unanswered. Every time I tell my story, I feel that I am taking power away from the terrorists.”