Five books that help us search for life's missing pieces

Hannah Finnerty shares her five favourite books

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. Courtesy Penguin UK
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We’re always looking for something – whether it’s some misplaced keys, love, or a good book. Sometimes we search for more intangible things, such as the answers to life’s biggest questions. These books exemplify our human instinct to search for the missing pieces in our lives.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

Christopher "Alexander Supertramp" McCandless went to the Alaskan wilderness in search of a life beyond the expectations and confines of society. I constantly return to this classic because his abandonment of society and subsequent loneliness is a reminder of the comfort of like-minded company and the desire to be understood.

Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac (1958)

The main character in this quick read is narrator Ray Smith, who is based on Kerouac himself. He searches for Buddhism and mindfulness in a whirring world that stealthily snatches your attention. I was drawn in initially by Kerouac’s free-flowing blend of poetry and prose and stayed for the life lessons delivered subtly by the kookiest of characters.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

Being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer forced Kalanithi to confront his mortality. The author, who was a neurosurgeon when he became ill, searched for answers to life’s most daunting question: what is the meaning of life? This autobiographical book, published posthumously, juggles life and death with sobering grace.

Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy (2007)

I’m a sucker for a good spy story. But rather than reading about James Bond saving the world, this tale of espionage is a fictional take on the life of female double agent Mata Hari. Looking for a way out of a miserable marriage, the First World War spy abandons her life in Indonesia and reinvents herself to succeed in a world of secrets and power-hungry men.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

I’ve always been a fan of Alexie’s quirky writing and this fictionalised reworking of the author’s childhood experiences is no exception. As a Native American teen straddling two worlds – his all-white school and his Native American community on the reservation – Junior searches for identity and belonging.

Hannah Finnerty is an intern at The National

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