I would refuse to read non-fiction books for a very long time. As a teenager, The 7 Habits was thrust in my face far too many times to put me off that section completely.
The first non-fiction I remember reading voluntarily was Men are From Mars and Women are from Venus by John Gray (on recommendation by Oprah). Although it was very cliched, in my young mind it made a lot of sense.
Slowly I warmed up to biographies and other non-fiction books. They are an essential part of my reading list every year now. Here are some I read in 2018.
- Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum: All of us who have been in the majority and never had to face discrimination or worry about our children being ridiculed, excluded or worse should read this and examine how we are complicit or have actively caused such hurt. It is appalling that so many of our friends and children live in this constant fear.
- The Perils of Being Moderately Famous by Soha Ali Khan: I picked this up because I heard good reviews and I’m glad I did. It was unexpectedly funny and well written. My main gripe with Indian non-fiction, especially biographies, has been that they are too dry. It’s just a sequence of events without any emotion. This is the opposite of that. It starts off with a brief background of her famous parents; the rest of the book is about her life told via various incidents in her life. There’s a good dose of humour and some lessons learned through experiences. Even if you’re not interested in celebrity lives (I wasn’t in the least), it was a refreshing book to read
- An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor: This book will make you angry because we are never taught most of the realities of the colonialism era because of which many of us grow up to be apologists for the British Raj and justify it by saying things like…but well we got the railways and the English language in return! Our history books are still filled with praises for Churchill and literature of Kipling. It is a very fact-dense book so it is difficult to take it all in at one go…I had to put it down after every chapter. However, the language is easy to read and the information is extensive.
- Bijnis Woman by Tanuja Chandra: When I picked up the book, I mistakenly thought the stories are related to the title. However, it’s the title of one of the stories and not related to the rest of the stories. The stories are amusing and short enough to hold your attention even if you have just a few minutes before you need to close the book. Various characters from across generations seem like they could be someone you know or have heard about in stories from your own elders.
- Other Side Of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia: These are a collection of stories pieced together from stories. These are stories told by women, children and dalits— marginal voices — and supplemented by reports, diaries, and parliamentary records. Heartbreaking chronicles of war and its aftermath.
- Why I write by Saadat Hasan Manto: These essays based on Manto’s life are quite revealing of the times he was living in. His views on women and Bollywood are progressive and still relevant today. The brief introduction before each essay gives a better understanding of the subject and the author’s frame of mind while writing it
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: When you only know about the kind of life you have, it doesn’t seem all that bad…till you grow up and look at the world around you and realise how difficult a childhood you had. This was the age before technology was such a big part of our lives and we didn’t have other worlds to compare ours to. Trevor talks about his years growing up, his mother, and the apartheid in South Africa with his usual humour and lots of insights. His love and respect for his mother is so obvious. You can also just picture clearly the scene where he describes their cat and mouse chase! It is a thoughtfully and honestly written book and deserving of all the accolades he’s been getting for his work
- The Last Girl by Nadia Murad Basee Taha: It starts off like so many stories of these kinds do…the idyllic life with a loving family before war arrives at their doorstep. It is just heartbreaking to read about how people are mercilessly executed and tortured. Some escaped (physically at least) but so many did not. There’s a brief line where she describes a mother with 2 young daughters and says how it is another kind of torture to witness the atrocities being done to your loved ones in front of you…but at the same time she’s glad at least they have each other while many have lost everyone they’ve loved. These stories are so important and serve as reminders that history keeps repeating itself and we keep failing to act
- Becoming by Michelle Obama: Open, honest, surprisingly revealing, funny and just a whole lot of adjectives that can describe this awesome book. Not only does it give you a peek at life in the White House but she also discusses racism and sexism, dealing with infertility and going through a rocky phase in her marriage. Parts of it are so funny I had to read it over and over again because I couldn’t get past it.
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