It was such a joy last year to get back to reading after having survived on just two or three books a year for the lack of time. Now when I look at my reading list, I am filled with anxiety because I feel I have so much to catch up on. I calm down after I realise that everyone’s ‘to be read’ pile is probably longer than their ‘read’ pile.
This year I reduced the number of books for the challenge because I felt a bit rushed last year and I knew that I was going to have a busier 2014. I managed to complete the challenge well in time so that I could go on my break without feeling the pressure to read – that’s no way to enjoy a book.
Here are some of the books from this year that I think deserve a mention – for better or for worse.
- Zealot by Reza Aslan: It gave a good historical background into Jesus’ life and how he became a man of legendary status. Although it was a very interesting read, I felt I missed out on a lot of references because I am not familiar with the Bible stories.
- The Day I Stopped Drinking Milk by Sudha Murty: It’s a nice collection of stories based on her actual experiences, but if written with more feeling rather than ‘I went here and this happened’ dry fact-telling, it would make a wonderful book to read to young kids.
- The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz: I connected with her feeling that she describes when she saw the sweater she had donated being used by a kid halfway across the world. It feels great to know that whatever little you have done has made a difference, no matter how small, somewhere. It has many great examples of her work in Africa and how blind charity is not the way forward. It was an eye-opener for me.
- The 6th Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert: This one really brought home the fact how dangerous it is on the ecology to bring one species of plant or wildlife into a region that doesn’t have a natural defense system to check it’s growth. It makes you wonder what part of our current natural environment will not survive the next generation. We might be telling our grandkids about this amazing wild animal that used to exist when we were their age.
- The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel: Of course I got here because of the movie. It brings an interesting point – with so many people dying in the war, what was the point of more men sacrificing their lives for a few paintings – but preserving art and architecture isn’t just something nice to look at. It is part of our culture and our heritage. By destroying them, you erase a big part of the history of the people.
- E Squared by Pam Grout: I do believe that you get what you attract in your life by thinking about it. However, to just say to someone that this happens, go try it, without telling them how to manifest it makes it quite useless. This book though, takes you through baby steps to reach to the level you want. Most of the things the book asks you to attract, I could manifest in reality. A good book for those who were baffled by the secrets that The Secret didn’t reveal.
- War of the Whales by Jashua Horwitz: This one was heartbreaking. In the name of defense and security, navies get away with careless and harmful behaviour towards marine life. Yes, security is important, but with all the technology available to us there are ways to achieve it without harming the ocean life, or at least ensuring minimal casualties. The book documents the work of activists trying to fight the money and power to save certain marine life from extinction.
- Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh: I had seen the movie based on the book over 10 years ago and was moved by it. I don’t know why it took me so long to read the book. It is a story filled with many emotions and brings the reality of war and hatred to the forefront.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I have realised that very few novels over 700 pages are worth the effort because a lot of pages are wasted in useless descriptions and going off on tangents. This book thankfully was not one of those. It is a slow read but it somehow draws you in with it’s outward simplicity.
- Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: The story introduces us to many characters on both sides of the war, but more interesting than the story is the reality of the author’s life. She was a Jew thrown out of Russia who found a home in France only to be sent to die at the internment camps. It is heartbreaking to read the letters her desperate husband wrote to anyone he could for information about his wife’s whereabouts, only to be taken to the camp himself some weeks later. Their kids were raised by an aunt, and the manuscript for this novel was found years later by their daughter.
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: I found it very sexist. It is one thing to omit women from a story, but to specify their absence because they are not as capable as men is just not acceptable, especially in a fantasy world where spaceships and whatnots are completely believable.
- The Giver (4 books) by Lois Lowry: The series of books follows different characters and how they eventually meet. Many storylines are not completely closed so you are left to wonder about what happens to the people you just left behind. But you learn to look forward into the lives of those who moved on. It is a dystopian world like many other books that have become popular now, but the story progression is unique.
- Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin: At first I thought the pages of descriptions of New York seemed romantic, but then they just went on and on and on. I read through those, and the flying horse, and the mysterious ship, and the leap in time hoping something would come of it. Nothing did. One of those books that are over 700 pages long and completely pointless.
- Perdido Street Station by China Mieville: Another book that’s over 700 pages long and completely pointless. I can’t even!
- Mistborn Series by Brandon Sanderson: I read the first three books in the series and found it a good read with a girl as the hero no less. It has an interesting premise and is well delivered. But after the three books, I felt I had all the closure I needed and didn’t feel compelled to read on the series. I also tried Sanderson’s first book from his Stormlight Archives Series and didn’t find it engrossing enough to pick up Book 2.
- The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss: After a long time a fantasy story has been so engrossing. There are some slow moments in Book 2, but overall, you can’t wait to find out more about the history of the narrator. Eagerly waiting for the final book of the trilogy.
- Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari: He was imprisoned because he reported on the injustices in his country. The book documents his days as a prisoner and gives a peek into the volatility and inhumanity of the situation in Iran.
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Just when you think the worst is over, something even worse happens. A story of how strong the instinct for survival is in all living things. No matter how bad it gets, you push to live even though it might be easier to let go.
- 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup: When you read or hear about stories of slavery and racism, it is difficult to imagine that it wasn’t really that long ago that it happened, and in some places are still happening (albeit in a more subtle way). This is the story of one man sold into slavery and the treatment of slaves that was standard practice at the time in America. A dark time in the history of the world.
- Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: This started as a fun story of silly things the author has lived through, but progressed into much more than that. She takes us through how it is to be clinically depressed and why exactly the supposedly helpful advice others offer them are completely useless. A helpful guide really on how to recognise and talk about depression.
- Jane Austen novels: It is beautiful to read and re-read these novels, because even at a time when there were many more restrictions placed on women’s behaviour and actions in society, Austen’s heroines stand out as independent and trying their best to be as much as they can while following the binds of society. They might be love stories, but show so much more of society and strong women if you look closer.
- P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
- If I Stay by Gayle Forman
- Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire
- Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
All these four novels come under the same category for me: A girl is good only if she is a virgin and no matter how independent she might seem to be, she is not complete without a super macho male in her life who has slept around with many women but is looking for someone ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’. Said male then becomes what the girl’s life will revolve around from now on. I have read Mills & Boons novels that have stronger women characters than these!
- Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
- The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
- The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
- Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
All these are highly recommended reads for those who enjoy mystery and detective work. They will keep you on the edge of your seats and you won’t be able to sleep till you’ve reached the end.
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