I almost don’t want to talk about what I’m reading, for fear that I’ll jinx the incredible reading high I’ve been on since the start of the year. But I also know that’s a whole load of rubbish. And I’ve been steadily filling in my book of books, which is a bit like putting it out there anyway, so I suppose this can’t hurt, can it?
Is this a new-years-resolution kind of high that comes with new beginnings only to fade away as this year loses it’s sheen (and I lose steam, as I inevitably do)? Or have I cracked it this time?
I don’t know. Only time will tell.
What I do know for certain, though, is that the time off from social media has definitely brought a lot more focus to my daily activities. And this has significantly impacted the quality of time I spend reading. In two ways, in particular. One: It’s shaved off a colossal amount of time that would otherwise be lost to “distractions” and freed it all up for me to use the way I please. And with little else aside from work and home demanding my time, it has meant I have actually picking up a book more often than not. Two: The time I have spent reading, is remarkably more focused than I knew was possible.
Here’s what I read this past month, since I last updated:
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
I remember Rainbow Rowell from this quote I read last year. Eleanor & Park was also one fo those most recommended books. Like Ove, I found the name coming back at me, over and over. So finally, I picked it up and OMG it did not disappoint. Not even a little bit. Eleanor & Park is already in second spot in this year’s best books. Maybe this is because I decided I’m going to read a lot more fun fiction this year, and when a book fits that slot perfectly I get excited, but if you’re looking for or are into a beautifully written, emotionally tugging love story, this will hit the spot for you too.
I love a love story. I love a love story where the underdog wins. And I love a story about misfits standing their ground. So it’s no surprise why I LOVED Eleanor & Park, complete with it’s cheesy bits, beautifully heart-rending writing that brought back the rush of first love, the impossible to fight soul-crushing hormone-rushing buzz of young love that makes you believe you can (and will) do anything for each other. There’s an innocent yet powerful edge to that kind of love, and this book is so full of it. The writing is so wonderful, I could almost visualise Eleanor & Park like they were cast in a movie, with every little detail in their physical appearance, demeanour and personality brought to life.
The Desire Map, Danielle LaPorte
Events this past month have made me (and VC) think (silently and aloud) a lot about the kind of life we’re creating through our every day actions. It’s all very well that we upped and moved from the quiet life in Goa, to this madhouse in Bangalore, all in the name of building business and making a living — two things we would have struggled to do in Goa. But, time and time again (and it’s become an almost weekly recurrence) we come to the same crossroads: there must be more to life, than this! We’re both the kind of people who are wired in a way that makes us value a lot of other experiences in addition to, and sometimes even more than, the singular pursuit of making money alone. Aligning the various loves of my life (writing, travel, reading) with something that makes me enough money to indulge in them as well as have a comfortable life has become the unwritten mission of my life itself. And surprisingly, that is the central axis of this book. So I picked it up at a very apt time in my life, when we have been tossing up ideas of what success means to us, how to make the right goals for ourselves, and how to chase them without feeling depleted.
I’ve never been very good at goal-setting, and it’s bothered me in the past. Every time I’ve chatted with someone about the exercise, I feel like I’m missing out. I’ve given it a shot too, and never succeeded. Something never quite sits. And this book, for the first time, explains why. I’ve never been good at just talking about what I want without focusing on what I want to feel. Which is essentially what conventional goal-setting is about. Which is also why I suck at it.
To go back to my example about leaving Goa to come to Bangalore, it wasn’t enough to only focus on the fact that we’re here to build a business and make money. I also need to focus on what I need to feel good in my life: security, energetic, fulfilled, healthy. Simply focusing on doing what it takes to reach our financial goals, was making all of this suffer. And The Desire Map really hit the nail on the head about why. I feel like it solved a huge puzzle I’ve been battling for the most part of my adult life. I LOVED the book, also because the second half is a workbook with some really simple exercises that if one does sincerely, can be really revelatory and useful. This is why.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
You’d think this book is about running, but it isn’t. You might have heard that this could be a book about writing, but it isn’t. What I found this book to be is the soft spot where Murakami’s daily life meets his love for running meets his life as a private and hugely successful writer. I’ve said it before: personal essays are my favourite format. So I naturally devoured this book. In fact, I did in just over a day. A series of essays written in a way that deftly and seamlessly brings together elements from his life, with his writing practice with his experiences training for and running marathons, Murakami does a fabulous job of talking about his approach to life. He draws parallels between his philosophy in life, so many meandering thoughts we all have — about passion, about focus, about boredom, about fatigue, about practice — and the role running and writing have played in steadying him along the way.
Even if you’re not remotely interested in running, or any other physical form of physical fitness, you’ll likely enjoy the book because it will speak to you anyway. Running is merely a tool Murakami uses, in that way only he can, to talk about everything else.
I’ve had a very long break from Murakami, and this is probably the first book I’ve picked in more than six years, so I really, really enjoyed his simple, but powerful narrative style. The sardonic, but truthful way in which he says the simplest things, beautifully.
Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.
Particularly poignant and very, very relevant for me at the moment was the essay where he touches on what he has named “runners blues” — that inexplicable situation where despite everything going well, having the best training, being in the fittest shape ever, and basically having an uncanny set of all the right situations coming together, he suddenly didn’t want to run anymore. This is where I am with my fitness at the moment. And it’s been a bit of a mental tussle coming to terms with it. So it was comforting to read what he says:
To tell the truth, I don’t really understand the causes behind my runner’s blues. Or why now it’s beginning to fade. It’s too early to explain it well. Maybe the only thing I can definitely say about it is this: That’s life. Maybe the only thing we can do is accept it, without really knowing what’s going on. Like taxes, the tide rising and falling, John Lennon’s death, and miscalls by referees at the World Cup.
Reasons To Stay Alive, Matt Haig
Im trying to recollect where I got the idea, that this was meant to be a book about depression told through the author’s personal account of living with depression and anxiety. I can’t remember where I read something that led me to believe this, but the book was only superficially so. It may have been some Goodreads reviews that claimed it’s “the only book on depression that makes sense” and the fact that Haig wrote the book after attempting to commit suicide and failing, living to tell the tale. So I went in expecting a blend of memoir and insightful research tied together. It was poignant and uplifting in parts, because Haig’s message is about living life in a fuller, more wholesome way, and it was humbling in parts to learn the little bits of science he throws in. But for the most part, I read it always feeling like I was just skimming the surface and not being allowed to delve deeper into the issue, even though I wanted to. If you’re looking for a deeper, more powerful and dig-your-teeth-into-it kind of book about depression, this isn’t it.
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
I’m late to this party. I’ve missed watching the show, and I’d missed picking this up, even though it’s been on my to-read list for months. In retrospect, I’d have been happy to miss this party altogether. I did not love Big Little Lies. It’s really odd, because the book is very readable. It’s light and frothy enough to breeze through in that way unputdownable sort of way, and it brushes past issues of relevance like sexism, domestic abuse and murder, and yet, it did nothing for me. I read it quickly and felt absolutely nothing when I was done. Indifference is probably not what the author was aiming to make readers feel, right?
I’ve been rather good with my book of books, and I can see this becoming a habit I want to keep for a while to come. It’s like Goodreads gone analogue!