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Reading Challenge: 2021 (Non-Fiction)

collage of non fiction books I read in 2021

When I read books in my younger days, I was always looking for adventure and escapism. Non-fiction didn’t seem to offer any of these. I was one of those kids who had 7 Habits of Highly Effective People forced onto me in both written and audio formats as a teenager. That was no fun at all. 

In my 20s, I realised that non-fiction doesn’t have to be tedious and drab. Biographies, essays, and informative books based on research are rich with fun and intrigue, sometimes more than fictional books. 

Here are some great ones I enjoyed in 2021

On Cats by ​​Charles Bukowski

Of course, I had to read this title! It’s a collection of essays based on the author’s interactions with and observations of cats. Subtly humorous and insightful, the book is for anyone who’s ever been around cats. You’ll find yourself nodding or chuckling at many of the lines.

 The cat is the beautiful devil.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

This was the first book by Woolf that I have read after procrastinating for many years. The adage of a book comes to you at the right time in your life couldn’t be more true for this one. I identified with her feelings that many women writers have not lived up to their potential because they haven’t been given the space to pursue their work. In these work from home times, my husband had the spare room for his work and my son had his room for his online classes, and I had to find temporary work surfaces on the bed or dining table.

Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.

Chatter by Ethan Kross

What drew me in was the constant chattering in my own head. I am one of those that go to bed on time then spend half the night overthinking every single thing, real or imagined. Reading this has made me more aware of the negative chatter in my head so that I can actively turn it into something positive instead of letting it drag me down.

What participants were thinking about turned out to be a better predictor of their happiness than what they were actually doing.

The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer by Shrabani Basu 

I know people say books are always better than their movies, but I’ll make an exception for this one. This true story revolves around the Edalji family in rural England and how they were the victims of a racist society. George Edalji, a young man, was wrongly imprisoned without much evidence and even after his release, he is looked upon as a criminal by everyone. He enlists and gets the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in clearing his name. This true-crime book is intriguing and well researched; however, it can feel like a very dry read. 

Hunger by Roxane Gay

You can check my full review of this book in my earlier post: Hunger by Roxane Gay

I just wanted to reach out and hug the little girl she was. I saw so much of my struggle with food in her story. It is heart-wrenching to hear about how she felt alone, which made her an easy target for abuse, increasing her loneliness. She describes her life and interactions as a large person navigating the world, and it was an eye-opener. We take so many things for granted without thinking how someone who’s not an average user might feel about it. Chairs with armrests at restaurants, for example, might be great for many, but how would a large person fit into it comfortably? 

What does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default feature of womanhood?

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

This book is a collection of essays on the author’s observation and experiences as an African-American man in the US. Most of it is relevant to events and culture in the US, and if you haven’t lived in that bubble, it’s challenging to follow the references he makes. The emotions behind the words stand out, though, making it a good read.

I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.

A Life in Words by Ismat Chughtai 

Check out my earlier post with a full review: Ismat Chughtai

Ismat was a contemporary of Manto. This book is a collection of essays from her life—her observations of people in her family and the country going through a tumultuous phase; and her experiences growing up as a girl in a Muslim household. It gives us a glimpse of how life was and how this girl knew she had to rebel against many barriers and customs to make space for herself and her ambitions.

Faith is one thing, the culture of one’s country is quite another. I have an equal share in it, in its earth, sunshine and water. If I splash myself with colour during Holi, or light up diyas during Diwali, will my faith suffer an erosion? Are my beliefs so brittle and judgements so shaky that they will fall to pieces?

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Check out the full review in my earlier post: Greenlights

If you’ve ever heard the man talk in any interview, you know part of what to expect in a book written by him. It is eccentric, just like him, and filled with pure wisdom. He takes you through his childhood and shows you how he became the person he is. Radiating with positive energy, it might be too much for many readers, but if you are looking to be pepped up then this is an excellent read as a biography and a self-care guide. I’m disappointed that the Audible version hasn’t been released in India. Would’ve been great to hear it in his unique voice.

Great leaders are not always in front, they also know who to follow.

Yearbook by Seth Rogen

The book takes you through Seth’s childhood and into his acting years. His childhood seems carefree enough since he was a Jewish boy growing up in a Jewish community with hardly a care in the world. Then, spoiler alert, he discovers marijuana and everything that happens after that happens while he and/or others around him are high. The misadventures he describes might be funny, but I found it frivolous, and I couldn’t help but compare how a person with some more melanin would be received in the same circumstances.

Never quit, but sometimes do quit, ’cause you simply might not be that good at some shit.

The Elephant in the Womb by Kalki Koechlin

This book would’ve been fantastic to have when I was pregnant about 6 years ago. She talks about all the nitty-gritty of pregnancy and life after—beyond the glow of motherhood that’s always portrayed in photos. Take it as a workbook of sorts to navigate this period of utter chaos.

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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