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Reading Challenge: 2013

This year I discovered the Goodreads Reading Challenge. You set your reading goal for the year and try to achieve it. This came at a great time for me because since I had stopped working last year, I had been planning to catch up on my reading. I have always loved to read but with all of life getting in the way, it had been difficult to make time for it.

I started with a simple goal of 50 books for the year, but within a few days changed it to 100 – it’s a challenge after all. Although each book I read has its review on the site, I wanted to highlight some of them I read this year that kept me thinking about them long after I had devoured the stories.

1. A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain – It’s only a few pages long but manages to squeeze in so much heartbreak that it was difficult to read the whole thing without pausing and reflecting on it. Especially if you love dogs and animals, this book of pure love will make you feel many feelings. I would encourage people to have their hearts broken by this story.

2. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins – There was a time when people imagined the future as a Utopia, but now we think of it as being Dystopian. I loved the concept of war and peace tackled in the book and how history too often repeats itself. The story is exciting, but it was the underlying thought-provoking dialogues that I loved more. Do we need another war? Moreover, the female protagonist is flawed but not insecure like every other woman I’ve read.

3. Until Tuesday by  Luis Carlos Montalván – This was such an inspiring story. It’s partly about a service dog named Tuesday, which has enough heartwarming power on its own, and partly about mental health that is largely ignored in our society. The difference I found in this book was the way Luis explains what PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) means from the point of view of someone who has to go through it every day. I have studied psychology in college but never was it so clearly explained as here. 

4. 50 Shades of Grey series by E.L. James – It was my first foray into erotica. It was more of a stalker story than a love story but I bring it up because the lumpy series takes you completely out of the reality sector and keeps you there till you finish all three books. You will want to finish the whole series out of plain curiosity about how the author can drag the story through hundreds of pages trying to make the heroine a strong independent woman but doing just the opposite. There was so much wrong with this book that it’ll need a thesis of its own.

5. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – Not much happens in the book, but it is not slow or boring by any means. I love the way he understands relationships and drags you into the lives of the people he writes about. Just a good piece of simple writing.

6. Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger – I was never a fan of hard-core action movies but I loved Arnold and Stallone because they didn’t put all their eggs in the action basket. It is inspiring how he pushed himself to be better when he could have taken it easy – it fills you with optimism because he puts his personality in the pages. He does talk about his mistakes and doesn’t just glaze over it. A complete look into his life till now written with a lot of heart.

7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – The book is beautifully written and makes you feel every emotion as it were happening right in front of your eyes. I didn’t read up on the background in which the story is set till after I read it (in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down) and it was close to what I had gathered from my reading – so expertly it has been presented.

8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo – It reads like fiction but it is not. The stories of a handful of people from the slums is brought alive. It is often easy to dismiss people you see begging on the streets as someone who doesn’t want to work, but when you look into the environs they’ve been forced to live in, you wonder what makes them smile so joyously sometimes. 

9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Having read books like Twilight and 50 Shades, and hearing of current books that depict girls and women as self-pitying creatures only interested in bagging a boy, this age-old book was such a fresh breath of air. The dialogues of a woman secure in her independence and self-worth fill you with pride: 

“I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me – for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”

9a. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – I re-read this classic and was blown over by it again. It is a book that gives you something different each time you read it in different stages of your life. The first time I read it, I looked at it as a love story. This time I saw how the strong-willed Elizabeth stood out in comparison to her sisters and friends. I classify it in the same bracket as Jane Eyre in terms of girl-power.

10. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi – I was never able to understand how anorexic women don’t realize that being skeletal is unattractive or that if they don’t eat something, they will die. Portia explains it in this book. No matter what kind of support system you have in your life, sometimes it is just not enough. One can only hope that self-realization comes before it is too late.

11. The Fault in our Stars by John Green – It is a typical book for teenagers, with young humour and romance. The only difference is that the protagonists have cancer and they look for ways to make the most out of life while they can. What really got to me though was the story within the story: an author writes a book from the point of view of a terminally ill girl and ends it mid-sentence. Powerful stuff!

12. The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony – Elephants are such perceptive creatures and have strong family ties. The instances from their behaviour Lawrence relates are so relatable as human traits that you stop to wonder why they are inside fences. A story of the beautiful relationship between a man and a group of wild animals.

13. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida – There have been many books on autistic children by parents and caregivers but this is one of the first by the child himself. He debunks many myths surrounding autism – they’re not immune to feelings and don’t want to be isolated. An important book to read to have a clearer understanding of people around you. Of course, it is important to note that autism is a spectrum and each person responds differently. This is just one perspective.

14. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – I was impressed by how this young girl from a small rural town spoke, even with international audiences. She exudes confidence. She talks of her village and the troubles that plague it, but unfortunately, instead of promoting her stand on education for all, her countrymen have criticized and attacked her for airing their dirty laundry in public. I was also touched by the support she has received from her father even in the face of threats. Even if you don’t read her book, hear her speak.

15. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid – I like the way the book is presented as a monologue, and how he points out the discomfort of his companion with naivete. I especially liked how ambiguously he ended the narrative.

16. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield – His life is a classic example of picturing your goal and working backwards from there to achieve it. His life lessons and descriptions of what life is like as an astronaut are a pleasure to read, mixed with enough light-heartedness and anecdotes.

Biographies of Prominent Indians

Although every story in this section was inspiring to the core, and of Indians who have excelled in their fields, the books were written and edited in a way that put a dampener on my experience. The sequence of events are presented in a very matter-of-fact way and doesn’t make you empathise or feel (unless you try very hard). Indian editors need to make the story relatable, otherwise how is it better than a Wikipedia article?

17. The Race of My Life by Milkha Singh – I was very excited that he was sharing his story. I have always heard of his achievements as one of India’s greatest athlete (and only prominent male runner) but how he got to that point is an even better story although one filled with sadness and hardships.

18. The Victoria Cross by Ashali Varma – Written by his daughter, it is the story of the first Indian to be awarded the Victoria Cross, and his wife. I had picked this book up from a random selection without knowing about Lt. Prem Bhagat – a great military man and manager. It was frustrating that someone who survived wars was conquered at the end by someone else’s incompetence.

19. UnBreakable by M.C. Mary Kom – Coming from a region largely ignored by the mainland, she has achieved much and is an inspiration to young girls who are boxed into ‘girlie’ life-roles. One of the few sportswomen who has been able to achieve greatness on an international playing field solely on her dedication and hard work (and the support of her husband), even after giving birth to three children.

20. Wings of Fire by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam – You would assume a scientist would be an atheist and not be impressed with poetry, preferring reality and straight-forwardness. But Kalam is in a different league. He quotes and writes beautiful poems, quotes religious texts and is very spiritual. As outsiders to someone whose life is focused on a single goal, we feel like they are missing out on the rest of the world. But he reminds us that if he is getting his happiness and contentment from the work he is doing, then who are we to judge.

Note: Some links are part of an affiliate program, which means that if you click on a link and buy something, I might receive a percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.

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