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Reading Challenge: 2017

I finally am getting back to my stride and making time to read more. This year I jumped to 41 books. There were a few hits and a few misses as with every year. So without further delay let’s dive in.

  • Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult: It is a more holistic approach to racism than I’ve read before and tries to approach the story from different angles. The neat way it’s all wrapped up in the end seems far fetched but it’s known to happen. The courtroom drama is not as dramatic as novels of the genre and there’s not much of it. It’s basically a book on the racial divide in the US and feelings that it brings up in different people
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Beautifully written. Reminded me of the movie Up in some ways. Makes you smile through the grumpiness. A simple feel good book especially in these troubling times.
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, M.D.: It is a story of living life when death looms over your head. It is so heartbreaking and beautifully written. The heartrending last paragraph will leave you with tears. I’ve often wondered if doctors get used to dealing with death and just get on with their life regardless…but this answers at least what one doctor felt about it.
  • Inner Engineering by Sadhguru: This is a good introduction to the philosophy behind yoga. It gives a better understanding of the practice as it was originally meant to be. I like that it is not preaching or limiting and is geared towards modern day life. The distinction between reaction and response, between knowledge and devotion (eyes open vs. eyes closed), and the idea behind the building of temples were particularly interesting.
  • Anywhere But Home by Anu Vaidyanathan: It was a good quick read and another reminder of what it takes to pursue a sport in India that is not cricket, especially if you are a woman. It took a few pages to get into the flow and some thoughts in the book seemed hastily finished. However, it’s a story that should be told about perseverance and following your passion so I’d highly recommend it.
  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami: I am not into surrealism in writing. It confuses me. I have not been able to enjoy Murakami’s works because of this reason. That being said, this particular book was articulately and concisely told. It’s a collection of short stories that tell you some of the story and leave the rest for you to ponder over. The last two stories go into the realm of suspension of belief but it’s easy to roll with it.
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: Beautifully written, especially the metaphor of doors leading you into different worlds. The ending seems perfect for the story and the story brings to the forefront how it is for millions of people in the world today who have had to make the difficult choice of whether to stay or leave.It also progresses through the relationship of the protagonists as naturally as something you have already experienced first or second hand. You don’t take sides in this, just go with the flow of how things are and try to make the best of the situation you are in.
  • Option B by Sheryl Sandberg: This was an eye opener on how to deal with tragedy (small or big) and more importantly for me on how to talk to someone who is going through one. Small words and actions matter. I am one of those non-questioning friends but I see now how I could’ve been more helpful or at least more supportive of friends going through loss. Most of the instances of support she has talked about in the book are a far cry from the realities most people face when dealing with their own tragedies. While this book was about her experiences, she does acknowledge that most people do not have access to the resources and support system she has and gives some tips on how individuals, communities, and companies can at least try to make it a little better for adults and children going through difficult times.
  • The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen: The book narrates phases of the lives of some refugees. There is no great beginning or ending to each story…just a few pages taken out of their lives. It is told in all honesty and in that short time you know a lot about the characters. Expertly written.
  • Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo: A heartbreaking story of love, deception and the worst kind of tragedy parents can experience. The writing is so smooth that you get drawn into the story and don’t stop till the pages end. You feel every emotion and share every pain. It stays with you as you wonder what you’d have done in the same situation
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman: This is probably what a lot of people think a feminist world would look like. *rolls eyes*. The concept is executed a little simplistically. If there was an overnight shift in power there would be some who would lose their minds but rationality would prevail. This is of course just hypothetical. We live in a Trump world so obviously we can’t predict anything. A lot of the incidents described have happened or are happening with women all over the world right now. The story is interestingly told through different perspectives. Politician, reporter, God woman, and Mafia. The re-civilisation angle is interesting but again quite simplistic. It was a page turner though. You want to know what happens next although it gets quite dark at places with plenty of gruesome violence. So tread with caution.
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman: This was one of my first books about Nazi Germany. Although I’ve heard plenty of gruesome stories and read the history, it’s quite something to look at it from a personal point of view – the stories of a few instead of the many. Because then you are faced with the sheer brutality of what happened at a personal level. I had to put the book down a few times to just take in that this was the reality for so many for so long. Have we learnt anything from history?
  • Hhhh by Laurent Binet: The style of the book was very different from what I’ve read, especially in this genre…it reads like the author’s diary and how he comes to know of the information on the subject and his feelings towards it. It’s about the assassination attempt of one of the more deranged Nazi officials. The stories that emerge from the Holocaust are indescribably horrific and heroic. A lot of times you will need to pause and reflect on what is being described. It paints a good picture of the man that is in the centre of the story but at no time do you empathise with him. 
  • Schindler’s List by Thomas Michael Keneally: Although the many conversations in the book are imagined and probably the reason why this book is classified as fiction in most lists, the tales of horror mentioned are no less true. As with any book on such gruesome acts, the stories stay with you much after the last page. This is one of the few books on the subject that mentions after-war events which are also interesting to note. 
  • The Peshwa by Ram Sivasankaran: It was a well-written book. As someone who doesn’t know much about the history it speaks of, the tale was intriguing as fiction. The main character is well developed.
  • An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar: A more intimate look into an Indian celebrity than any other I have come across. Of course there are some things he doesn’t speak of and it’s understandable although the half-mention makes you want to know more. He doesn’t shy away from speaking about his insecurities and failures which might help someone going through similar phases. Not sure what I was expecting from the book but I was quite underwhelmed by the story. Only for KJo fans.
  • The House That Spoke by Zuni Chopra: The story is just engaging enough but what I really liked was the imagery painted with her words. The background of Kashmir obviously gives her a lot of material for it. She’s a young author and I expect she’s only going to get better.
  • The Rise of Shivagami by Anand Neelakantan: I have to say I didn’t have high expectations from this book but I was pleasantly surprised at both the writing and the story. Even though I read this after watching the movie, I think as a standalone book it works as well, independent of the movie. The best part of course, is the strong female lead. I didn’t like that the imagery of slaves was limited to the dark skinned people, but I’m giving the author the benefit of doubt by justifying it as a mirror to our biased society (since his book Asuras also highlighted the difference in social standings based on skin colour). One of the better Indian novels I’ve read in a while (and no, Melhua trilogy was not one of them).
  • Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag: This is like looking at a seemingly still water surface then stepping into the steam to find the strong currents trying to sweep you off your feet. The images are so vividly painted that you become a part of the story
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: It is just a simple tale of a boy growing up in a cemetery raised by the dead and undead encountering some characters straight out of nightmares. It doesn’t sound like appropriate reading for young children but it is. I discovered Gaiman late in life but I’m glad I did.

Note: The 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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