Nine books Farah Mohamed thinks you should read

If you've ever met Canada Reads 2016 panellist Farah Mohamed, chances are she's tried to give you a book - or 10. The CEO of G(irls)20, a globally active social profit enterprise, has a passion for reading nonfiction about strong, intelligent women - unsurprising given her extensive list of achievements empowering girls and women around the world. 

During the Canada Reads debates, Mohamed will be defending Bone & Bread by Montreal's Saleema Nawaz - a powerful novel about the bond between two sisters. To prep, we asked her to recommend nine of the most powerful books she compulsively gives to others.

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The book that started her on a biography streak

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng was given to me by my first political boss, Paddy Torsney.I was working for the summer, it was 1994, and I was kind of down and out because all my friends had moved away. She gave me the book and said, "This will inspire you." I bought right in. It was a story about a woman who goes through some incredible times during the Cultural Revolution. This woman can single-handedly help you believe in yourself. She can say, "Whatever is wrong in your life or whatever you are struggling with, this is nothing compared to what it could be." It was probably the very first biography I had read and it set me on that path of reading biographies and wanting to know the stories of people.

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The powerful memoir by her namesake

An Enduring Love is the story of Farah Diba Pahlavi's time with the Shah of Iran. I actually received it from Farah Pahlavi - I was named after her. In 1970, my mom was reading a magazine about the Shah and his wife, and became really impressed with the fact that Pahlavi was liberalizing women in Iran. Then when I was 35, I [realized] I knew nothing about her. So I looked her up on the web, and I emailed her... I said, "How do I get to know more about you?" She said, "Read my book." I read the book - understanding that there was a lot of conflict in and around the Shah - and I thought it was an incredible story that takes you through history in one person's perspective.

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The heroine she'd love to meet some day

I like that Ava Lee is the made-up character of a guy named Ian Hamilton, who's in his sixties, who used to work in China and also used to be a journalist, who one day decided, "I'm going to write a book." He has now written nine books about this woman called Ava Lee, who lives in Yorkville. She dresses in Adidas. She is a kick-ass individual. She's strong and she's ambitious and she's in an area and field that most women would not consider. She's a forensic accountant, meaning she recovers stolen money. It's so cool. He makes her a strong, believable woman. I feel like I can walk down Yorkville and meet Ava Lee one day.

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Her favourite sports book

Open by Andre Agassi is a really raw, rare account of a guy who takes you through his ups and downs, his struggle with addiction. You see this guy win tournaments and you think he's the strongest guy in the world. Then you read the book and you feel sorry for him. Every time I recommend it, people are like, "Wow, I had no idea." [You should read this book] if you care about a person's life, you love tennis, and you appreciate how brutal sports can be on someone. Readers take away a better understanding on how addiction can impact someone as strong and as successful as Andre Agassi.

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The book she gives to all new employees

I bought Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss for my eight-year-old niece and I buy it for my team. I started giving this book out when I worked at VON. You're trying to give your team something they will remember and enjoy and you want it to be creative and unique. The young people that I hire, I want them to think big, I want them to be ambitious, I want them to know that it's great to dream. I really think that it's one of those books that no matter how old you are, you can read and learn from it. It just reminds you to dream.

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The amazing true story she recommends to everybody

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is about an Australian guy - a true story again - who breaks out of prison and moves to India. It's amazingly well written. It's about him trying to repent for the sins he's committed. At no point does he deny that he did bad stuff. He's a fugitive and he goes to India. I'm Indian by heritage - never been there - and I felt like I could smell the place in his writing. It's such a good book and for about a year it was the only book I'd give out. I loved it; it's such a strong story and at times you're really mad at him, at times you're really sad for him.

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The saddest book she's ever read

I remember A Widow for One Year by John Irving being just so well written and poignant. It made me feel so sad. I've never really felt that sad over a book. It stuck with me. I'd never read anything by him before that. 

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The trilogy recommended by her favourite reader friend

Ken Follett's Century Trilogy was introduced to me by one of the smartest women I know who lives in Paris. She's quite smart, quite cerebral in what she reads, and very particular about what she reads. I started reading it at the beginning of last summer and I finished all three at the end of October. It's everything - it's politics, it's intrigue, it's history, it's drama, it's relationships and romance. It speaks of friends and enemies in the same sentence. Each book is like 900 pages. I really enjoyed it.

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The most courageous memoir she's read

Marina Nemat is quite a remarkable woman. I liked the Prisoner of Tehran because it was hopeful and very honest. She speaks about some atrocious things that happened to her and she comes out the other side not hating life, but believing in good. I got my mom to read it, I got my aunts to read it, I've recommended it to a couple of friends, really anyone who has an interest in courageousness.

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