Books·My Life in Books

6 books Canada Reads panellist Mozhdah Jamalzadah can't live without

The singer and activist shares the books that have shaped and guided her through life.
Singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah is a panellist on Canada Reads, defending The Boat People by Sharon Bala. (CBC)

Kabul-born, Vancouver-raised singer and talk-show host Mozhdah Jamalzadah has been dubbed the "Oprah of Afghanistan." Her song Afghan Girl, inspired by an acid attack on a group of Kandahar schoolgirls, was 2009's song of the year in Afghanistan. In 2010, she was invited to perform it at the White House for Michelle and Barack Obama. As the host of The Mozhdah Show in Afghanistan, she led conversations focusing on taboo subjects including child labour and divorce. She received death threats as a result and was advised to return to Canada.

Jamalzadah is defending The Boat People by Sharon Bala on Canada Reads 2018.

Below, she shares some of the books that have shaped and guided her through life.

Downsize This! by Michael Moore

In Downsize This!, Michael Moore, a documentary filmmaker and activist, explores the influence of businesses and corporations on the workings of the United States government. (Nicolas Genin/Pan Books)

"I first read this book when I was very young. It opened my eyes and helped me look at the world differently. I love how much he truly cares about the average American. He stands up for the average, hardworking American that gets used and abused by corporations and brings awareness to real issues that relate to most. He puts these corporations, their Chairmen and CEOs, in the spotlight and calls them out on their corruption and greed. It takes courage to do what he does. The only thing I thought was a little harsh was his thoughts on Germany. They have more than made up for the past. The book is a bit outdated now, but I don't think anything has changed or improved much either, so a lot of it is still valid. It is an easy and enjoyable read with a lot of irony and sarcasm. I absolutely love his sense of humour."

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Actress and comedian Mindy Kaling explores romance, relationships and life in Hollywood in her 2011 book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

"I am fascinated by Mindy Kaling and find her extremely talented and witty. As a minority and a South Asian woman, working as a comedy writer among mostly Caucasian male writers for shows like The Office, I can't help but be so inspired by her. She has broken some major barriers and given girls like me hope.

"This book was such a delightful and easy read. It was like having a chat with a good friend who just has the best sense of humour. I appreciate how honest she is and how she not only embraces her failures, but makes them sound so funny. She talks about her childhood, being bullied (which she somehow finds the humour in), weight issues and diets, men, family and how her love for comedy paved the way for her successful writing career."

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray, Love, a memoir about her experience travelling through Italy, India and Indonesia after her divorce. (Paul Jeffers/AP/Penguin Random House)

"I adore her writing style and have enjoyed reading all of her books, but Eat, Pray, Love is one of my favourite books of all time. I must have read this at least five times. It lets me escape reality. The way she describes the people, the food and atmosphere in Italy, the Ashram in India and the paradise that is Bali, it almost feels as though I'm actually there experiencing all of it first-hand.

"She has a way of taking you right into the book that you forget reality for a little while. Of course, it's not all daisies and roses. Her struggles are the reason why she makes a bold move and goes on this particular journey. Her story and her struggles are relatable, and it's so amazing to see the outcome could be so positive as long as you believe there is more to life and following your heart."

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns was Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini's second book after his 2003 bestseller The Kite Runner. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images/Bloomsbury)

"Khaled Hosseini is one of my favourite authors. A Thousand Splendid Suns is about two women, Mariam, an illegitimate and unwanted daughter of a wealthy man who is forced to marry an older man, and a much younger, more privileged girl who, years later, becomes his second wife after her parents die. There were moments where I was so horrified and had to put the book down and take a breather. It's haunting.

"I read this before I lived in Afghanistan, so there was a sense of relief knowing this was a work of fiction (even though I had heard stories and was well aware that this country was labelled as the worst country for women), but after going back and living in Afghanistan for over three years, I saw for myself girls and women in similar circumstances as the two women in this book and it shattered my heart. The reason this book was especially moving for me is the thought that my circumstances could have possibly been much different if my family and I never left Afghanistan. That is why I use my platform to fight for these women."

It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden

Paul Arden, executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, authored many books on advertising and motivation, including It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be. (Paul Arden/Phaidon Press)

"This book is a super easy read. I read this book regularly. It's like my little holy book that I skim through every now and then. It's about advertising and the workplace, but I find a lot of the content can be applied to just about anything.

"Paul Arden was responsible for some of Britain's most successful advertising campaigns. He is brilliant, charming, tough and original. He doesn't sugarcoat anything and tells you what you need to know and not what you want to hear. I have used his practices and advice in many of my daily decisions, whether it is for work or personal matters. One of my favourite quotes in the book is, 'Aim beyond what you are capable of.' It seems like common sense, but sometimes you just need a reminder and assurance. This is another favourite: 'The person who doesn't make mistakes is unlikely to make anything.'"

Into the Wind by Jake Ducey

Into the Wind chronicles motivational speaker Jake Ducey's experience travelling the world and learning life lessons along the way. (Jake Ducey/Waterside Publishing)

"Jake Ducey is a good friend of mine. We met when we were both motivational speakers at a conference in San Francisco a few years ago. He is so full of life and has a certain energy about him. He inspired me to write. I'm so proud of all he has accomplished at such a young age.

"This book, his first, was published when he was just 21 years old. He was a popular 19-year-old jock with a basketball scholarship who seemed to have it all, but he knew he wanted more out of life, so he dropped out of college and followed his heart. Without a map or plan and barely any money, he set out on his journey in search of a deeper meaning. He tells a fascinating story of volunteering, helping orphans, his near-death experiences while backpacking in Australia, losing his wallet and all of his belongings and being welcomed by complete strangers who took care of him like he was one of their own. I couldn't put the book down. It's filled with one fascinating story after another. 

"He went from being a college dropout to a successful author and motivational speaker.
He inspires people to follow their dreams and to not fear the future and the unknown, to trust the universe and to follow your heart.

"My favourite quote from Jake is, 'We can't expect to ride the wave if we aren't even willing to catch it.'"

Mozhdah Jamalzadah's comments have been edited and condensed.


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