Day 4: Going by the book (and all that I read in 2017)

It’s safe to say the reading habit took a big bashing in 2017. I started off so great, and went full power until about August. Which is exactly when life took over — the physical, logistical aspects of shifting were done and I was in the throes of adjusting to living in Bangalore, figuring out work and the rest, and basically finding a new rhythm. And you know how we all have that one thing that takes a hit the minute there’s a time crunch or heavy demand on our mental faculty? That one thing that you’re most likely to give up in a pinch? Well, reading is that thing in my life. When the going gets tough and I’m pressed for time, I push reading on the back burner. So yeah, I slipped. First to infrequent reading, and reading so slow I didn’t finish a book for yonks, to eventually just giving up and thinking “oh well, the new year is around the corner, I’ll just resume in January!”

I even went back and sneakily edited my Goodreads challenge to reflect a success! Yeah, I know. I hate losing. The odd thing is half way through the year I was more than half way mark as far as the number of books I promised myself I’d read. So I was on track to finishing, and I fucked it up. Anyway, I still closed the year with some good books under the belt.

Which brings me to where we are now. Last week, right before we left for our weekend in Coonoor, I quickly downloaded a book I thought I’d finish over the 2-3 days we were away. I didn’t want to dip into something I already had, or try and finish any of the books I’ve been struggling with. I wanted something I could start and finish before I returned to Bangalore, and I didn’t want something too frothy or vapid.

I picked The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson because I remember reading an article of the same title, on his blog a few years ago. Also the books been showing up on my Goodreads for a while now. I steered away because I’ve not had a very good experience with self-help in recent times. But, I’m happy, albeit a bit ashamed, to report this one hit the spot. The cleverness isn’t so much in the content — which is to say a lot of it is common sense and you wont really read anything revelatory or that you haven’t heard or thought of before — but in the way it’s packaged into neat little precise truths. Truths that hold good for each and every one of us, without exception.

In this latest book, Manson presents what he calls a counter-intuitive approach to living a good life. And he boils it down to simply re-prioritizing what you value and want to care about. IE: What you want to and don’t want to give a fuck about. As the title suggests it’s about choosing not to give a fuck about the most common things that we tend to, and pick other more valuable things that will result in a fuller, wholesome life. Like I said, nothing earth-shattering, but maybe it’s the fact that he uses relevant and relatable examples, anecdotes and experiences, or the fact that much of what he dwells on — overcoming the need to be right, letting go of the need for certainty, figuring out toxic relationships and learning boundaries, to name a few fundamentals in the book — is stuff I’ve been pondering about a lot this past year, or it was just the right time for this kind of book in my life, that I rather surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the book. My only gripe: he does come across as trying too hard to sound cool and cocky at times, and sometimes he’s downright sexist. I nearly put the book down at one point when he goes into a particularly sexist example of the differences in the way he and his wife approach differences, but I decided to count to ten, breathe deeply and finish the book. I’m glad I did.

I suspect I’ll thumb through some parts of this book again and again, as the journey he describes in the book is a lot like the one I find myself on. Figuring out what/who I truly care about and how much of my time and effort I want to spend indulging it, all while being better every step of the way, and becoming my own person has consumed me off late. This is why the book spoke to me. I’ve committed myself this year, to make this journey an active part of my life, and not something that happens at the fringes or in my free time. I want to mindfully, actively participate in my growth, and if you’re familiar with his work, Manson’s craft is really fine-tuned for this.

It was also nice to finish the year with a book I closed on the very last day. Clean slate for the year to come, and a good time to look at the year that’s been. In terms of books, of course. Much like I did last year.

  1. Sula, Toni Morrison
  2. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
  3. The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
  4. Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
  5. Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
  6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  7. The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
  8. The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
  9. Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz
  10. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
  11. All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
  12. Baaz, Anuja Chauhan
  13. Heartburn, Norah Ephron
  14. When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
  15. About a Boy, Nick Hornby
  16. Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
  17. The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  18. Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
  19. Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
  20. One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan
  21. Bangalore: A Graphic Novel: Every City is a Story, Jai Undurti
  22. The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion
  23. Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit
  24. Dongri To Dubai : Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia, S. Hussain Zaidi
  25. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  26. Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  27. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

Looking back I realise I’ve done absolutely no justice to fulfil my desire to read more fiction last year. If anything I’ve read a lot of non fiction, a lot of writing by women, and despite repeatedly telling myself self-help probably isn’t for me, I’ve reached out to several titles because some excerpt, some nugget somewhere spoke to me.

My current want-to-read list is bursting at the seams. It’s a good mix of fiction and non fiction, but I want to try and broaden me perspective this year. Not just in terms of how much I read, but what I read too. Essays are still my most favourite format, I realise. But it is possible to go deep and read essays that talk about life and times in places and scenarios so very different from mine. I’m looking forward to that.

Let’s see how it goes.

Two years ago: Day 4: Love letters

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Booooooook post

I should have known the reading spree in July was too good to be true. Pretty much all of August and September went by without tasting that thrill of being completely absorbed in a book to the point of being lost to the world. Mostly because I’ve been very preoccupied. It’s strange, I don’t really have much to list by way of explaining what I am up to, or what’s keeping me busy. It’s not stuff-stuff, you know? Maybe you don’t, and maybe saying this makes me sound crazy.

But things are happening. It’s not work. But it is life stuff. And I feel like a zen master on my way t mastering this wait-and-watch game. In the meantime, I’m helping around, family with a couple of projects, friends with some personal stuff.

I’m moving along, I’m hobnobbing, meeting people, friends, getting out some. I had two sets of friends visit in August and September, amidst festivity and travel. And, there’s this new word game I’m addicted to, which, I’ll be really honest, has me hooked to my phone a lot. So yes, that phoneless streak probably had a lot to do with the good reading streak.

Heh, anyhow. I’m trying to get back on the bandwagon, and a glance at my Goodreads also tells me how I’ve picked a few meh books, back-to-back. That never does my pace or motivation levels any good. I need to shake off this impossible determination to finish off every book I start. Yes, even the bad ones. But I haven’t gotten there yet, so I’m plodding through.

Here’s what I’ve finished since my last book post a very, very long time ago.

Men Explain Things To Me, Rebecca Solnit (who I love so much, for this piece)
This one is clearly not amongst the bad choices I’ve made lately, because I I guzzled this ihhhn-creddddible book of essays in just a couple of hours one weekend in August.

I have a lot to say, but it’s the kind of book that you need to just read for yourself. This titular essay, in particular, is essential reading for men and women everywhere. Solnit is funny, fiesty, to the point, and so relevant. Just going by the title, it’s pretty evident why you must go read it now, if you haven’t already. Here’s an excerpt, if you need encouragement:

…the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I am talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self doubt and self limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

It so happened that this post about a woman who dealt with a bad case of mansplaining, while she was reading this piece about mansplaining, went viral and hit my facebook feed the day I finished reading the book. I got a good half an hours worth of extra chuckles thanks to it.

Dongri To Dubai : Six Decades of The Mumbai Mafia, S. Hussain Zaidi
I am hopelessly curious about the Bombay’s constant love affair with the underworld. A chance conversation with a friend prompted me to buy this, because even though I’ve seen the book around, I never felt compelled to pick it up. It just looked like it belonged in the same category of books as CB and DD. I totally judge those books by their covers and price.

But, as it turned out, and I realised only recently, this is a chronicle of the history of the Mumbai Mafia. Not just the story of how Dawod Ibrahim came to be, as I had presumed. So I bought it. It’s written by a crime reporter, so how bad can it be, I thought.

It’s terrible.

To be fair, it’s got a great level of detail. Excruciatingly so. But it’s reportage trying to be packaged as a book, so it makes for a very confused, bland, boring read. If you’re curious like me, I’d say it’s still a good source to get the details and “facts” but you my risk losing a few million braincells to boredom along the way, is all.

Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It’s probably not right to call this a book, when I’d read it in the form of the facebook post it originally. And I probably shouldn’t list it here because I technically re-read it the second time around. But, it’s here. Another piece of essential reading for everybody.

Adichie lists just fifteen, seemingly simple points, what she calls suggestions, on raising empowered, sensitive, strong women. And every one of those fifteen points will likely touch a chord so deeply you’ll want to re-read this piece every now and then. It explains why I now own it on my kindle. This is a piece you will keep going back to again, and again, and again.

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
The opening line of the blurb — “A lush, thrilling debut about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant” — is all it took for me to want to pick this book up.

It started off with promise, but somewhere along the way got tedious. The premise, and superficially speaking, the writing style had all the makings of an exciting breezy read. I don’t know if somewhere that same edgy writing style became overly choppy style for me, or if it just was too self-indulgent and set in a world too different from mine for me to relate and really sink into it, but I lost interest somewhere around the 50% mark. Then I just breezed through the rest disinterestedly. So much so that I don’t really remember what happens.

Meh.

Onwards and upwards then?

I’m currently reading Elon Musk and really enjoying it so far. Let’s see how it goes from here.

What are you reading? And if you have been around here long and have a sense of the kind of books I might enjoy, please leave me a recommendation?

Same time, last year: Day 278: September

Book ends

July was such a good month of reading. In regaining some balance and finding stillness again, reading has seen me through what could have been an average month and made it pretty darn memorable.

It isn’t just about the books I’ve finished, but the act itself that has come to symbolise being able to sit at peace again. Finding my feet and feeling at home. Comfortable in the newness of my changed life that still surprises and overwhelms me.

Despite also working, going out and doing a lot of other stuff — and this is important for me because reading is that one thing that gets relegated to the back-burner when life gets busy — I managed to read a fair bit. A total of eleven books, seven of which you can read about in my posts: Books-shooks and In which I end up without a phone and Bangalore: a graphic novel. Moving on, I finished the month off with:

Sex Object, Jessica Valenti
You’ve likely come across Valenti’s work as a columnist with The Guardian, and I have also had her book Why Have Kids on my list of must-reads for so long now. But I picked Sex Object up on a whim. The book is a series of essays that are part memoir, based on her own life, and part commentary on the many issues we face as women — everyday sexism, abuse and sexual assault, emotional abuse, the many challenges of relationships and marriage for a strong and independent woman, amongst so many other topics that touch on her own personal journey from trauma and abuse to discovering empowerment. I’m pretty sure every woman will relate to many of her experiences because it dwells on issues we all face on a daily basis.

It is honest in a way that makes you uncomfortable — with graphic descriptions, unflinching stark truths not politely worded, raw retelling of her experiences — and for that it was a bit of a page turner. But. Yes, there’s a but. I found the narrative style a little scattered and rushed. Perhaps that was wholly intentional, but I found it staccato and with odd jumps and twists, which seemed like it was a bunch of essays haphazardly put together, without much thought given to organising them thematically or with some kind of overarching thread. I missed that something that would guide me from one essay to the next.

One Part Woman, Perumal Murugan (translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan)
What a read this was. Brilliantly told, and perhaps credit should go to the translator here, One Part Woman gripped me hard with it’s raw and unbridled, yet poignant and delicate story of a child-less couple who despite being in a loving, sexually satisfying and what seems like a super harmonious relationship, face a part of their marriage coming undone due to the constant scrutiny and humiliation at the hands of a society that taunts them for not having children.

It’s a tale from rural Tamil Nadu, filled wth vivid descriptions of customs, traditions, rituals and festivals, but the theme that runs through the central vein is not limited to rural India alone. Murugan cleverly uses the issue of being unable to produce children as a vehicle to traverse the many aspects of our culture’s attitude towards women, marriage, sex and ultimately, progeny.

Bangalore: A Graphic Novel: Every City is a Story, Jai Undurti
My only brush with graphic storytelling has been reading and later watching Persepolis. I’m not really big on graphic novels, or for that matter comics either. I don’t have stories of my childhood of being rapt in TinTin or Asterix comics. But I came across the Bangalore Graphic Novel, funnily, in a piece that criticised the choice of image for it’s cover. I went to the launch event at a sweet little book store on Church Street here in Bangalore, called Goobe Book Republic. I came home that night, book in hand, after having braved a storm, had more rum than I have in six months, topped with a mini mountain of rice in the Andhra meal, expecting fully to pass out immediately. But, the book kept me awake as I raced through almost all of it in a couple of hours.

I finished it the next day, mulling over something George Mathen said at the launch — he said (I’m paraphrasing) the digital/social format of platforms being used to share and disseminate the work of comics and illustrators is all very well, but it would e great to change our patterns of consuming this content. The graphic novel is apparently by nature a layered, multi-faceted art form. You’re meant to dig deeper, sink your teeth in and find something new every time you look at it. And so I hope to keep going back to this, and maybe other books in the genre.

The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion

After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Rosie Project — the first book in the series — expectations were high with this one. So of course in predictable fashion, those high expectations were dashed. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this one, I finished it in a couple of days in fact, but it was definitely missing the punch and humour of The Rosie Project. I wish I had deeper, complex reasons to explain why, but it’s just the usual boring, most predictable thing that tends to happen with sequels — they just don’t match up. In fact, with this one, I felt The Rosie Project didn’t need a sequel at all. Missable, you guys.

This weekend, I’m determined to finish a book I just started last night. Which means, the weekend is mostly going to be spent at home. Probably, in bed.

Same time, last year: Day 218: Stack overflow

Bangalore: a graphic novel

I don’t know the first thing about graphic novels, but I feel like getting myself down to the launch of the Bangalore graphic novel, where I got to watch and listen to some of the good folk who contributed to it makes for a decent start into the genre.

The only artists I was already familiar with are Appupen and Prashant Miranda, because I’ve followed their work in some measure these past few years.

Also present were some of the younger contributors, for some of whom this was the first time being published in print. Their excitement was so relatable. I was particularly inspired by Ramya Ramakrishnan who spoke simply and cheerfully about her process and how the story came to be. When someone asked if she was open to freelancing, she ended with a little fist bump, proudly declaring “I’m a full-time freelancer!”
*Sigh*

It was my first time visiting Goobe Book Republic which is not as serious and officious as the book republic bit of he name makes it out to be. For a tiny, seemingly non descript hole in a basement on Church Street (that currently can only be accessed by crossing over a mini canyon) it has a whole lot of heart and good, good energy.

It helped that despite the god awful rain and feeling mildly marooned on Church Street (it had turned into a literal river) by the end of the evening I even got to eat the Andhra meal had my heart set on. And I came away with some choice book recommendations too.

A few weeks ago I complained to more than one person about how I feel there’s nothing to do in Bangslore except eat and drink. I’m slowly eating my words. For now. I have since joined a reading club, stumbled on this book launch (and actually made it to watch) I’m off to a cookbook club potluck lunch this afternoon. There are good intentions to watch a stand up act next week and take a weekend trip away some time in the next month too.

It’s tricky managing the balance between retaining and reclaiming time I want for myself and also making the effort to get out there and do some of the things I actually want to. It’s far easier to slip into hermit mode, specially once getting out in Bangalore has been quite overwhelming on more than one occasion. But for a select few things and with the right company, I hope to be able to push myself a little bit every time an event or performance or something catches my eye.

Back to the book — Bangalore, A Graphic Novel — it’s independently published, has a really good selection of contributors from Appupen and Prashant Miranda to Zac O’Yeah and several other comic book creators, illustrators and artists that I hadn’t heard of but am so happy to be introduced to.

It’s the second production by Every City is a Story, a city-centric story telling initiative. They already have a Hyderabad graphic novel out there and a Goa one in the works!

Same time, last year: Day 211: Interwebzy things

In which I end up without a phone

In an unexpected but rather welcome twist in the tale, I’ve been rendered phone-less for the last week. It began a good month or so ago with my battery acting up and surprising me with a dead phone at many an inopportune moment, despite being fully charged. This turned my phone into a landline, having to have it constantly plugged into the wall or a portable battery, which in turn meant I couldn’t have it on my person at all times. Which in turn meant less meddling. Less browsing. Less Instagram. Less whatsapp.

Less distractions, basically.

And then finally last Friday the phone died on me. I rushed to give it in for repair and have the battery replaced immediately, but just didn’t feel compelled to use a replacement phone that’s lying around at home. The repair fellows have been behaving like my phone is a convalescing patient, administering a battery of tests and procedures, keeping it under an endless period of observation, and telling me its “getting better, but not fully okay” *eyeroll* while I keep waiting.

It’s been an oddly satisfying week. And some things have been a sharp contrast to life in general. I’ve had to remember to keep cash on me at all times because no PayTM, shopped at the local vegetable vendor because no OTPs, taken autos (because no cab apps), made dates the old way (by connecting via phone and email and then having no room for flaking off or making last minute changes), and basically felt like a college student again — which was the last time I was totally phoneless.

I don’t know if I can attribute this to being phoneless, but I’ve been immensely productive, finishing up my work on time and meeting all my deadlines without last-minute-panic, this week. I’ve also slept better. I didn’t realise how many pockets of time empty out when you don’t have a phone to fill it — whether it’s mindlessly fidgeting with it, endlessly browsing through instagram on any commute, pulling it out to turn on and off the screen a gazillion times while waiting, or even just randomly browsing through it every chance I get.

You know how sometimes you only realise how deeply dependent you are on something when it’s gone?

I met A for lunch earlier this week, only to realise she’s in the same predicament. So with one dying phone between the two of us, and a lunch that we chattered right through, we left the restaurant and promptly got caught in a downpour with not a tree in sight to duck under. Finally, after getting sufficiently drenched, we slipped into the basement of an apartment building down the road where I waited for the rain to slow down before I hailed an auto rickshaw. I trundled home, my palazzos bundled up in my lap, as I perched at the edge of the seat, smack in the middle of the auto, guarding myself from puddles and splashing rainwater on either side.

It was really like a massive throwback in time to when I was in college and used to sometimes take a rickshaw for some par of the commute, especially when a typical Bangalore downpour would strike. On a normal day I’d probably have been staring into my phone, but I was instead forced to I watched the traffic whirl around me, the cacophony filling my ears, the smells and dank dampness settling on my skin, and the cool breeze that made my hair stand on end as I observed people, places and sights around. I was wet, cold, stuck in traffic and closing in on almost forty five minutes of being in that damned auto, and somehow it all felt very quaint and special.

Through the week (and longer), my kindle has been a loyal companion. And with all the emptied pockets of time, thanks to less distractions and actually finishing my work on time (without having to juggle spillovers) I’ve finished some more books.

Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist
I really, really wanted to like this book because the title pretty much sums up the largest preoccupation of my life the last few years. N had recommended it to me a long time ago, at a time when I was struggling to overcome the perfection syndrome. 

But it wasn’t until I saw this on Sprouted Kitchen’s Instagram stories, that I decided to buy the book.

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Because this right here, is exactly my state of mind for the last many years now. But the similarities ended there, going only so far as the title and the premise. In Shauna’s attempt to choose to be preset over perfect, I felt like she tends to shame every other choice that lies in the vast space in between both ends of the spectrum. My own journey on this path has been about getting closer to understanding what I want, why I want it, and accepting and loving where I’m coming for in every single situation. Sometimes that means choosing perfection in some areas – and I am okay with it if I am clear about the intention and the motivation for it. It’s only in the last six months that I feel like I am making some progress with really living what I think is a life that can be truly free of the mindless obsession to achieve, succeed, be rich, be perfect, be tidy, be womanly etc etc etc. Pretty early on, this difference began to grate at my nerves. That aside, there’s a lot of talk of spiritual guidance and mentorship, alluding to Shauna’s own practice as a Catholic, and how rediscovering God has helped her along this journey. Being a non believer, this was completely lost on me.

There are some nuggets of powerful wisdom in here, but it gets completely camouflaged in the Jesus talk, the seeming shaming of a variety of choices aside from perfection, and in just loading what I found to be very, very basic truths in unnecessary verbiage. I know there is a place for self-help, but maybe it’s not the right source for me. I felt this when I read Brene Brown too — that I could appreciate some parts, some excerpts, but not the package as a whole.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
OMG, this was such a fun, fun book. I am tempted to call it the Ove of my reading list this year. First, it’s almost-chick-lit written by a man, which I always find makes for interesting reading. Second, it’s put together very intelligently and the book absorbed me hook, line and sinker, with it’s blend of mystery, gently building unexpected romance and of course twists and turns. It’s clever, funny, delightfully touching in part, and I thoroughly enjoyed the feel-good flow of this very unexpected love story. I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end of it. I’m late to the Rosie Project party, but if like me you have had it on your to-read list for a long, long time, go read it soon.

Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott
It’s an unlikely title for a book about writing, no? At least that’s what I thought, but there’s a bit in the book where she talks about where the name came to be, and it all made sense. As a guide to writing, this book comes highly recommended for aspiring writers. It’s part memoir, but mostly a literal guide to how to write — which Lamott beautifully describes as the pursuit of making sense of what’s going on. It has some really lovely parts that I could really relate to, it’s peppered with advice, some parts are straight-up technical and act as a rather precise guide on how to go about everything from developing plot to building characters to practicing writing. Some of the anecdotes, some of the emotions she shares, some of the events in her writing life were all too familiar and relatable. Some even moved me, some inspired me, some straight up made me chuckle out loud. A significant chunk of the book is directed at aspiring novelists, so I may have glossed over it, but most of the book is a funny, precise and helpful guide to what it takes to be a writer.

Same time, last year: Day 203: Rainy day feels

Books-shooks

My reading habit took a brutal beating in the chaos of the weeks between April and July. More than being busy and having my hands full with the move, I’ve been super preoccupied with just dealing with things and adjusting to life here, which took much longer than anticipated.

I’ve realised that when I get busy, reading is the first habit to take a hit. It’s the easiest thing for me to offload when I have a lot vying for my time and attention. I don’t fight this anymore. That part of the type A person in me seems to be growing old and tired very fast. Instead, in her place is a newfound acceptance (or the lost will to keep it all together all the time) that this is how it is meant to be, and that nothing will change if all my want-to-dos and must-dos are not accomplished in the timeframe I imagine is right for them, and that I will return to the old “normal” when things settle.

At last count, I had three new books I’d barely dipped into before abandoning in favour of doing very interesting things like opening up way too many cartons and setting up a home. Some conflict lead to a much needed reconciliation of sorts, though. And promptly, two weeks ago, the expected happened. I picked up where I left off and got back to reading, devouring these books.

Baaz, Anuja Chauhan
So I was quite the Anuja Chauhan fan, but this book may have changed that slightly for me. I believed no other Indian writer in this segment pulls off the kind of riveting plots and compelling characters like she does, but this book left me so underwhelmed. Even though this book features a male protagonist, the usual elements remain consistent — a fiesty, strong woman, a gorgeous man who sounds too good to be true, multiple plot twists that keep you engaged and wanting to flip pages fast to get through the book. However, I felt Baaz took very long to establish the conflict and really get the pace going. Once the pace picked up though, and just as I felt the story was going somewhere, it ended. Disastrously. I’m probably way off the mark here, but as a reader, it just left me feeling like Anuja Chauhan maybe lost interest?

Heartburn, Norah Ephron
The blurb calls this book a “sidesplitting novel about the breakup of a marriage”, while weaving in recipes, making it “sinfully-delicious” and “soul-satisfying”. It was not any of the above for me. It made for a fun, very quick read because it’s light and was funny in parts, in that sarcastic, sardonic style that is Norah Ephron’s. But the recipes were completely incidental and forced into the narrative, I thought. It didn’t matter as much, to me, because I wasn’t into it for the recipes. It was the promise of a hilarious account of a marriage falling apart that intrigued me at first. Reading it though, I felt there were some all too familiar truths at some poignant moments that will make you reflect on your own relationships, or perhaps your marriage, and you will smile some. But that is all.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

As much as this book has been talked about, I found myself avoiding it for the longest time. Perhaps it was just the dismal sounding premise, and I’m never up for willingly going into something that promises to be depressing. I’d also seen Oprah interview Paul and his wife some years ago, and the sound of reading a book about the life of a man who knows he’s dying didn’t really appeal — no matter how much I appreciate the spirit that must take. But, when R recommended it, I had to pick it up. And he was right, the book was so goddamned absorbing, I couldn’t put it down. And for the first time in years I stayed up late into the night finishing it literally overnight.

Writing about his life, over the course of the time he pretty much waited for death, Paul Kalanithi somehow manages to write a book about embracing life to the fullest, living with utmost presence and being completely absorbed in every moment of every experience. In his acceptance of life and death, I found myself nodding along a lot. The best revelation was that it was anything but depressing. In fact, I didn’t even cry. I was incredibly moved at several points, but not because of the books inherently tearful premise, but because it was just so life-affirming.

About a Boy, Nick Hornby

Despite having only read High Fidelity and 31 Songs/Songbook, I’m a Hornby fan. I picked up my first physical book in yearrrsssss, at Blossom where I went to sell a ton of books after the massive decluttering spell I went thru after we moved.

It’s fascinating and endearing to read such honest, engaging and easy writing about men bumbling along in the world, through a man’s voice. In About a Boy, he brings two men together — a dorky 12 year old Marcus who is wise beyond his years and a semi-fucked-up 30-something Will who is looking to get his life together. They meet under the oddest circumstances — when Will is at a picnic amongst participants of a single parents club (he is pretending to be one in the hope of landing a girlfriend). Somehow the two hit it off in the most unexpected way and the rest of the book is a heartening development of the relationship between them, what they have to give each other, and how their characters change as a result of it. Highly recommend this one. Apparently, it’s a movie with Hugh Grant and I must now get my hands on it.

Same time, last year: Day 193: Like Nike, but better

More books (and a mini Bangalore update)

There’s a lot of stuff I had planned for this break. Yeah, roll your eyes. I’m that person who makes a plan even when I’m on a break. The last few weeks before I came to Bangalore have been a blur and in order to focus on some important things on hand, I had completely ignored work, and to a large extent, home too. So I wanted to spend my time here, working in earnest again, get some writing (that’s not work) done, fleshing out some long pending ideas that have been sitting in cold storage and make some short term goals and plans for the months to come. The decision to spend an indefinite amount of time in Bangalore was also spurred by the fact that the emotionally tumultuous phase I’ve been through had me wanting the comfort of home, family, friends and familiarity. Bangalore was the last place on my mind when I thought about taking a short sabbatical from my life in Goa, and somehow after roaming halfway across the globe searching for options that ticked all the boxes for this kind of a break, I found myself booking a one-way ticket to Bangalore, of all places.

This was not part of the plan. The plan was to go away, not return to where I used to be. This was meant to be a month of meandering. A relaxed, routine-free and spontaneous few weeks with no immediate end in sight. At least that was the plan.

It’s how I fool myself into believing I’m in control of things — I make systematic plans and work out intricate routes and systems for the way I want things to move.  But yet again, life has shown me it has it’s own plan, and that in fact so little of it is my doing, or even in my control.

When it comes to plans, I’ve got nothing on life. So, a twist in the tale the moment I landed in Bangalore brought on a completely unexpected turn of events. And I spent the first ten days of my trip (starting from the very next day after I landed) house hunting. More on that later, but all this to say I haven’t had any time to do the things I planned to, and have instead been playing to the tunes of this other plan that’s playing out all on it’s own.

What I have been doing instead, while I wait for brokers, on cab rides between destinations, at the dining table, in between conversations and right before bedtime, is reading a lot more than usual. That has been a welcome change.

(I also realised just now that of late my Instagram has been pictures of books I’m reading and my feet/legs. And sometimes both.)

The High Priestess Never Marries, Sharanya Manivannan
Quite easily the most intense and visceral book I’ve read this year. The High Priestess Never Marries is a collection of 26 short stories about love, longing, lust, desire, relationships — each told from the perspective of women at the heart of the story. Featuring women from diverging backgrounds, social make-up and geographies too, Sharanya Mannivanan presents women hopelessly in love, some deeply committed, some spurned and looking for requital, some flirting with infidelity or polyamory (depending on how you look at it) — and every single story made me stop and question my notion of commitment, fidelity, marriage. Densely packed, beautifully crafted, it was a slow read and I literally had to use the dictionary on every single page. And yet, I gobbled it hungrily. I haven’t had a book grab me and break me slowly, beautifully, enveloping and taking me in more and more with every page, like this book did, in so so so long.

Karachi, You’re Killing Me!, Saba Imtiaz

I picked this because I wanted a quick, light read and I suddenly heard this had been made into a movie (out now!) featuring Sonakshi Sinha, but of more interest to me, Kanan Gill and Purab Kohli. So of course I’m going to be watching it. This is a very light read and delivered on the quick bit too, perfect for the weeks before my visit to Bangalore, when I was busy as hell. This is a little bit like a Pakistani Bridget Jones meets your most typical, cliche chicklit book ever. It has all the right ingredients — a 20-something journalist (who lives in Karachi), lots of angst about where she is in her life, adequate mention of alcohol, partying hard, fashion, high-society, and of course a sweet and very predictable love story woven in. I went in with no expectations, and rather than coming out happy, let’s say I wasn’t disappointed.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer
I was very late to get to this book that has come so highly recommended many, many times over. But I’m so glad I finally got to it, because it was another book I just devoured in record time. Largely because it is written in epistolary form — which is easily my most favourite style. But also because it is such a heartwarming book about books, writing, a writers pursuit for a subject, and the depths to which book lovers and writers go to unravel the secrets within stories we’ve only read in words before.

It’s 1946, in London and through a series of letters exchanged between Juliet Ashton (a writer seeking a subject for her new book) and a man (who becomes her primary source for said subject that completely consumes her) that draws Juliet and readers into a mysteriously wonderful and dream-like world amidst the members of the curiously names Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The author, the main character, is . strong, critical woman very aware of her independence and choice, and navigates post-war society with thought, but without losing warmth and grace. The writing is charming and flows easily. The story, even more so.

All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
I picked this book from this list (yes, it’s yet another list of several compelling titles to now knock off) because the short description was so compelling:

Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up follows a 39-year-old woman who lives her unconventional life — unmarried and without children — by choice and on her own terms. But when her niece is born with severe birth defects, she is forced to re-examine herself and what being an adult really means. A raw, honest, and often hilarious ride of a novel.

And it did not disappoint. I absolutely, thoroughly loved this book because it was so damn relatable. The writing is tight, super honest and chock full of brutally honest vignettes that any millennial will identify with — from the angst of choosing to earn a living versus following a calling, to carefully cultivating a deluded sense of poverty, to having misguided priorities, to our difficult relationships with our parents, eventually finding our way to and out of therapy, dealing with love, loss and emotional upheaval. Another book that really drew me in and I finished reading in under two days.

I think I read this book at an apt time in my life. After a rather intense burst of therapy, returning to spend a longish period of time at home with my family, reworking notions of my existence and independence vis a vis the part I play in the various relationships I am a part of.

It was also oddly surreal to breeze through this book much the same way I used to breeze through books lying in my bed, spending sunny afternoons peeling back the pages from cover to cover, without a care in the world. This felt like the kind of book that reaffirms your current reality.

It really, really feels great to be home.

Same time, last year: Day 115: Mean things I want to say out loud, but cant