Reading Plans for 2018 – THE FRAMEWORK!


I think I’m in trouble.

Because every passing day, the intensity of the “pull” from books I’m pining to read escalates. So much so, that the other important things I’m supposed to be doing in a day (like work!!) are now seeming like an annoying distraction. The only motivation to carry on working is so I can make enough of a living to feed this feverish and frenzied but oh so fulfilling habit.

Like I cannot wait for the weekend to get here, because the annual book fair is finally happening and I’ve already got my backpack cleaned up and ready, to stuff with all the loot I don’t deserve but have to have to, oh have to have!

This really is getting out of hand, or…. is it too late to worry now?

But wait, isn’t 2018 supposed to be about celebrating books? Of course it is! Thank you very much for the reminder!

My target for the year is 50 books – and here is how I am going to make the most of it!

The idea is to keep it structured but also allow enough room for those impulsive choices that are inevitably going to be made. I’ve learnt this about myself and I’ve stopped fighting it – because in the end, the discipline really sucks away a lot of the FUN that books and reading are supposed to bring. (The #unreadshelfproject, which I am following via Instagram, is a fun way of bringing in that tiny bit of discipline though!).

So after browsing numerous reading challenges from all over the web, this framework is what I’ve come up with. Finishing 50 books is itself a challenge for me so I am not making the framework too schematic or overly defined. I’m happy with the direction its  taken, and also because it will serve as a reminder to not miss the kind of genres I generally overlook.

I’ve already identified a bunch of titles for these categories, but I think it would be wiser to add those after I’ve actually read them. Lets see where I get in 6 months time.

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I’m so excited to begin and see how this goes!!

Are you also following a reading strategy this year? I’d love to hear  how you plan to do it.

Happy new year and happy reading!

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Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Eleanor Eleanor Eleanor, can I give you a hug and then a few more!

My reading luck seems to peak at the end of the year, every year, because the most enjoyable book somehow happens to be the last one I squeeze in before the year wraps up, usually after the obligatory reading target has been met.

I’d been waiting to get my hands on this book since July and when I finally did I was afraid of being left disappointed because of all the wanting and expectations I had built up over the months. Luckily though, I absolutely loved the book and Eleanor’s character and I loved the voice that the author created for her; she is so unusual and endearing. Also, the vocabulary in this book is enough to get you half way through your GRE preparations! But thats just Eleanor being Eleanor, you’ll see.

There were so many passages I highlighted and saved through the book. Some of them deadpan but hilarious, like this one where Eleanor talks about fast food,

I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from the paper?

and others which were heart breaking but so well put, like the one where she describes ‘loneliness’

These days loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.

This is just a great debut novel and I’m gonna be watching out for Gail Honeyman’s next one. If you want to close the year on a meaningful, funny, easy to read and uplifting book, then I highly recommend this one.

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Reading Stats 2017!


Its been a great 2017!

The best I’ve ever had reading-wise in fact, with a challenge of 40 books done and dusted! In a world of voracious readers, I know thats a drop in the ocean, but this year I’ve seen myself read more than ever and get geekier about, as Anne Bogel would say, “all things books and reading“, like never before!

I thought I was already beyond ‘borderline weirdo’ with the amount of time I spent updating my reading progress on Goodreads, adding books to my TBR shelf and only tweeting about books and book lists from my Feedly account; but who knew I had yet more manic bookwormy levels to cross! So now, in addition to being a book searcher, hoarder and review finder, I am also addicted to a bookish podcast called What Should I Read Next (WSIRN), which I listen to almost daily, and which has reassured me that I am not really as weird as I might imagine 😉

I have also started maintaining an over the top excel sheet on the books I read – a concept I also heard one of WSIRN’s guests talk about. Data visualisations  about what I am reading are now possible and that is so weirdly exciting! So without further ado, here’s what my reading stats and patterns looked like this year!

I was pleasantly surprised to see that 35% of my total reading this year was non-fiction. Thats 14 books in all – which is a big number for me considering I get super picky and moody about non-fiction, because I anticipate them to be boring, which, it turns out, is more often not the case. I  actually seemed to have had a much better time reading non-fiction compared to fiction – with over 70% rated 4+ stars – which is way better than my fiction experience at 62%.

I would never have realised this, but for this graph 😀 

Rating

I also managed to cover a pretty wide genre of books this year, more than I usually would or expected myself to. Again, strangely I read more memoirs and fantasy fiction than my favourite genre of thrillers, and even managed to read a number of classics, something I find very hard to pick up with interest – which is unexpected but also makes me happy because my conscious effort to diversify my book and genre choices really seems to have worked 🙂

Genre

And finally, before I bog you down with more psychedelic graphs, I’d like to share one more fun pattern I enjoyed seeing, which is where the stories in the books I was reading were taking place – and it is no surprise that the majority were set in America,  though in 2018 I would love to add more to the Indian, UK and Japanese contexts. To make sure I travel the world wider through books, I’m also trying to create a list of countries that I would like to visit and pick up books whose stories take place there. Maybe, if it works, I will do a post on that some time too.

Setting

So with that I conclude that 2017 has indeed been a very accomplished year book-wise, and on this happy note I look forward to an even more bookishly exciting 2018!

I will be sharing more about the books I loved in 2017 in the coming days!

Happy reading!!

Book Review – Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldDeep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book with a lot of expectation and interest. The point Cal Newport makes is very valid, but it is not a new point, and he doesn’t claim it to be.

In my opinion, the deep work approach is most applicable to “thinking work” – such as research, academics, writing, etc. The point is simple – work in larger chunks of time un-distracted and uninterrupted, to see your productivity and creativity soar. Make it a routine ordered by rules.
The book tries to offer these set of rules as a path to set yourself up for deep work.

One of its major points is – stay as away as possible from social media – which I tend to agree with to an extent, as it can really take over your life and time, once you’re hooked – and when you really come to think of it, it adds very little value to anything of depth. Its basically a superficial time guzzler that we need to be more mindfully careful of.

While I enjoyed reading the first half of the book, after the 60% mark I lost interest completely. It became a long winding narrative that I felt was repetitive with nothing new to share. I mostly skimmed through the rest of it.

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Book Review: The Story of the Lost Child – Elena Ferrante


Whoopie! This review was listed on the official Elena Ferrante website! Check it out: http://elenaferrante.com/reviews/the-brain-curry/

4 STARS ****

And so, finally I come to the end of this saga.Reading the #NeapolitanBooks has been like a journey almost – of which, sometimes I was a part, and sometimes I was  a removed observer. Ferrante writes very well, her range is remarkable, her expansive web of characters, feelings, emotions and personalities is captivating. Her writing comes from a depth that makes you feel certain that this is her story or a major part of it is a ‘fictionalised’ autobiography – – – and somewhere, possibly the very personal nature of the story compels her to protect her own identity as well as of those who may be easily identifiable from the book.

Ferrante’s story interweaves conflicting feelings like affection, anger, concern, desire, despair, empathy, malice, grief,  happiness, love, pride, rage, remorse, shame almost simultaneously. The essence of all 4 books in the series is that they present a narrative that is transparent – laying bare each personality’s flaws, failures and self centered narcissism at risk of judgment, and also revealing unexpected instances of benevolence and consideration – that you constantly remain in an  ambivalent state of mind and come away with possibly inconclusive emotions to fulfill that need to compartmentalize individuals as a result of their actions.

And yet I give The Story of the Lost Child less than a perfect score, possibly because the  tumultuous friendship of Elena and Lila has reached its most disturbing and unpredictable form. It became constantly more difficult to be okay with the suffocating, often controlling and spiteful co-dependency that Elena and Lila shared through their turbulent adult lives.

This quote sums it up perfectly:

Every intense relationship between human beings is full of traps, and if you want it to endure you have to learn to avoid them. I did so then, and finally it seemed that I had only come up against yet another proof of how splendid and shadowy our friendship was.

—— Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child

In the end, my month with the Neapolitan Books was extremely rewarding. I can now say that all the fuss and buzz around her is completely authentic and well-founded. Being nominated for the Man Booker is well deserved and if we take into account the entire series, I think she is a definite front runner. I wish her all the best!

Book Review : Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante


Those Who Leave and Those Who StayThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the end of this one, I knew I had to take a break and not start the fourth book immediately. That is the effect these books have had on me and I’ve torn through the first three non-stop, as if they were one book and not three.

In this one we see Elena and Lila go through their 20s and 30s. Time passes quickly for Elena from being a young university student to unknowingly a somewhat acclaimed author and then the wife of a professor – all signs of having truly ‘arrived’ in life. Lila on the other hand is going through a disturbingly downward spiral in her life and there is an evident distance between the two friends during these years.

This one brought out the really raw emotions of both women and I wondered many times if their relationship could really be called a friendship anymore. There’s a constant love-hate equation that is frustrating and disturbing to witness. There is a demanded dependence, rough abdication. Jealousy abounds. Its almost claustrophobic – a claustrophobia of the mind.

And yet you keep reading, hoping to understand why, hoping they will relinquish the cold war, or break off completely rather than be mirrors of misery to each other.

Elena’s need for verification is almost tragic – Lila never ceases to be a benchmark, she can never shake her off.

“My becoming was a becoming in her wake.”

“my thoughts were cut off in the middle, absorbing and yet defective, with an urgent need for verification, for development, yet without conviction, without faith in themselves. Then the wish to telephone her returned, to tel her: Listen to what I’m thinking about, please lets talk about it together.”

And Lila, unapologetic and vengeful, violently expresses her independence and disengagement – which displays her need to coverup insecurities, setbacks and failures even more – which are unacceptable to her, and yet her reality.

The story traces how both women deal with their own circumstances and situations in life. Each reassuring herself of having the better one in comparison to the other, and each seemingly unhappy with it. They compete constantly. They are bolder, more reckless, more selfish and yet there are a few tender moments that confuse and conflict how you feel about them.

One cannot help but ‘feel’ – for them and with them.

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Cover Image: Goodreads.com

Book Review : The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante


The Story of a New NameThe Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I generally tend to devour books, but this one devoured me. Elena Ferrante’s writing captivates, engrosses, absorbs, consumes, devastates and satisfies. Not a single free minute has been spent on anything but reading this second volume in her Neapolitan Series these past 4 days.

While it was easier to take sides in the first book, in this one, I constantly aligned and realigned myself first with Lenu and then with Lila, reaching a point where both exasperated me and I wanted nothing to do with either. But just like Lenu is bound and drawn to Lila, I was so embroiled in their lives and it was impossible to abandon reading until I was finished.

Lila’s actions repeatedly evoke the ‘she brought this upon herself’ feeling – with little or no sympathy (yet). For Lenu, I feel like I want to shake her up, snap her out of her constant need to compare herself to her childhood friend, and always find a way to undermine her own achievements even when she’s done much better than her. At this point, it is difficult not to care, not to be involved.

I’ve put it much to simply to be fair to the expansive layers that come through from all that takes place in this young adult, extremely turbulent period of their lives, where they ought to have had a more sorted existence, and yet managed to create a tangle of complications in trying to create that ideal life that has been their sole aspiration since childhood.

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The Blood Telegram – Book Review


***** 5 STARS

The Blood Telegram may possibly be one of the most important and well written books I’ve read on modern Indian history so far. As someone who is almost always incurious, indifferent and unenthusiastic about politics (national and world) in general, reading this book has been a revelation on international diplomacy as well as a completely new perspective on the maneuverings that take place in the highest offices of the world, and the decisions that set in motion a series of incidents that alter the future of generations to come.

I’ve read this book like the history student I never was, completely absorbed in the details, wanting to take down notes, watching simultaneous interviews on YouTube (bringing to life the pages of the book) and constantly resisting the urge to underline complete paragraphs on nearly every page in the book. In the end, I had to make an exception to my ‘no markings in books’ rule – to highlight passages that I knew I was going to want to refer to again.

 

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My interest in modern Indian history is a fairly recent development, sprouting in the last couple of years mostly because of the extensive research I did for a project at work. Before this, my world view was limited to what we studied (or were taught) in school, which was nothing short of propaganda that the ruling party wants to feed you, and therefore hardly worth basing lasting opinions on. And so for a long time, reading history was not even on my radar.

It is laughable that up until now, I did not even know that the major part of the 1971 conflict was actually on the eastern side! It is the western side of the war that I’ve always remembered hearing about and being born just over a decade after this war, it is appalling to realize how little I knew about ‘India’s greatest triumph’ and what led to it.

This is why ‘The Blood Telegram’ came as such an important lesson for me on not just the 1971 war and the history of the birth of Bangladesh, but also as a lesson in world politics, the Cold War context, international relations, foreign policy and the hidden motives that define the realms and repercussions of international conflict. 

Gary J Bass’ research is detailed and expansive, and while there is always the danger of the author’s opinion coloring the inferences in the narrative, I think he dealt with every aspect as objectively and un-biasedly as is possible, basing all his interpretations and conjectures on hard facts. This is one of the reasons I am so taken by the book, because every fact literally comes from the horse’s mouth.

The one thing this book would not have been possible without, is the Nixon White House Tapes. Another fact that was news to me. I find it hard to believe that in the era of the Cold War, when secrecy and confidentiality were paramount, a US President would decide to have his office bugged and all his conversations and confidential meetings recorded. A tradition that continues to be practiced even today. In the Indian context, I can totally picture the author and his researchers diving into archival records and microfilms at the Nehru Memorial Library – a place I think is frozen in time from the 70s… and one I have spent several blissful days doing my own historical research in. Oh what a pleasure it would have been to be a part of the research team for this book.

In the end, we are ruled by our personalities, our temperaments, identities and insecurities – and I think what hit me most from the book was the interface it provided with Nixon and Kissinger in their revealing closed door conversations. Ultimately, it was their convictions, preferences and personal opinions that largely affected the outcome of the events in 1971, which despite numerous warnings and evident indications did not waver – and set the stage for a continuing conflict between India and Pakistan.

A #highlyrecommended book for anyone who would like objective and detailed insight into one of the largest but forgotten conflicts of the Indian subcontinent.

The 2016 Compulsive Collector’s Reading Challenge


I’ve already set myself a challenge to read 30 books this year (last year I managed 27). But the real challenge I’m setting for myself is to complete this target by reading from the books I already own.

Like most book lovers, I love to collect books – to be surrounded by books on my shelves, in my bag and in my iPad. I labor for hours online, reading several reviews and book lists to find the in best crime, thriller and contemporary fiction, and discover the most interesting true life, historical and autobiographical non-fiction. And while I keep hoarding this absolutely great stack of books (which I also fondly gaze at everyday), whenever I need to pick one to read, I almost always choose a completely new one, that was never even a part of this pile. I am greedy like that, yes. I only seem to want more and I never want to share! 😛

Having 10 unread books sitting in my book rack already, and 44 others in my iPad, did not stop me from bringing 15 more into my heart and home from the Delhi World Book Fair this weekend. Though I will say that I got these at throw away prices and at least I am not guilty about spending the month’s salary on them!

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So with that firm resolve, here’s my 2016 Reading the books I own Challenge.

Indian History

  • White Mughals
  • The Blood Telegram
  • Delhi: A Novel

Non Fiction

  • Geisha
  • Daughter of China
  • The Book of General Ignorance
  • Gangs
  • The Girl with 7 Names
  • Quest

Fiction

  • The Seventh Secret
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers
  • That Thing Around Your Neck
  • Jailbird
  • 14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray
  • Americanah
  • The Accidental Tourist
  • Snow Flower and the Secret fan
  • Kafka on the Shore

Crime / Thriller

  • American Assassin
  • Naoko
  • Salvation of a Saint
  • The Case of the Missing Servant
  • K is for Killer
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat
  • Red Queen
  • Six of Crows

Classic / 18th Century

  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bring Up the Bodies

Graphic Novel

  • Fun Home

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And that’s it!

I will be working really really hard to stick to this list. I’m sure I’ve missed a few interesting ones, but if I ever want to switch one around, I promise to switch it with one from my existing stack only. Wish me luck!

Do you have a compulsive book collection condition too? I’d love to hear how you deal with it. Until then, Happy Reading!

 

Journey Under the Midnight Sun – Book Review


5/5 *****

When I wrote my concluding post of 2015, I thought I’d read all the  good stuff I could that year. But little did I know, that I’d end up reading something later that would have most likely made the top of that list. My decision to start reading this book a few days before I left for a holiday was based on the assumption that it would accompany me on my travels and end up being something I finished in the new year. Yet, 4 days later, there I was, marveling at what I had just read.

JourneyIntoTheMidnightSun_firstlook_02

Image Source: Crime Fiction Lover

 

To anyone who has an interest in psychological crime fiction, I cannot recommend this book enough. To those who are looking for an all consuming, remarkable piece of writing, well, what are you waiting for!

Every time I finish a Keigo Higashino book, I am in awe of his imagination, intelligence, depth of detail, his character profiles, the strange stories and plot lines he comes up with, the way he creates Japan in my mind, and his ability to keep me so helplessly glued to them, that even as a 500+ page book ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’ is effortless and brilliant. I loved the manner in which this one spans across 20 years, slowing down the passage of time in the story but never losing pace in the telling of it.

When I read ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’, I couldn’t have had a better initiation into Japanese crime fiction or Japanese fiction for that matter, and made a mental note of Higashino as one to watch out for. With ‘Malice’, his brilliance was confirmed and now with ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’, he completely satisfies the high bar he has set for himself in each of these books.

While we are quickly running out of translated titles of his novels, I do hope his popularity is picked up with a renewed rigor by translators this year and we find several more titles from this master storyteller hitting the English reader’s market. Both ‘Malice’ and ‘Journey Under the Midnight Sun’ have been among the most memorable books for me in 2015 and in 2016, I look forward to the only two titles in English  I haven’t yet read -‘Salvation of a Saint’ and ‘Naoko’.