Day 107: Where is the love

As it happens, I have just finished two consecutive books centred around the theme of marriage. Two very different genres, perspectives and very, very different takes. But both interesting reads in their own right.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
This was a slow, deeply thought out, insightful and very, very honest look at marriage. Set against a backdrop of the severe consequences of discriminations and inequality in the criminal justice system of America.

Narrated in first-person, through voices of multiple characters in the story, An American Marriage looks at a typical marriage and what happens when Roy is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is released in 5, but by then too many things have already happened to his marriage with Celestial. The journey there-on throws up a series of difficult, surprising and very relevant situations ad questions about loyalty, infidelity, right and wrong.

As such, my own views on the institution of marriage have undergone a wild shift in the ten years of being married myself, and reading this book really brought a lot of my own inconclusive thoughts front and centre. The book is simply written, and the story is pretty simple too, but through the theme and the different perspectives of the characters involved, Jones has done a splendid job of bringing out all her questions in a raw, rousing and very real way.

Standard Deviation, Katherine Heiny
Several reviews on Goodreads claimed this was an absolute laugh-out-loud book. I can say for certain that it was not. Not for me, at least. That is entirely an issue of the style and how it didn’t really make me laugh out loud. At best, it made me chuckle and smile a lot, but that was it.

That said, it was a lovely read. Again, this is a story about the marriage of Graham and Audra who each bring their own idiosyncrasies as well as quirks and ample baggage from the past with them. They’re also raising an 11-year old son with Asperger’s, which lends a whole other complexity to their marriage. Audra is the diametric opposite of Graham’s first wife, and through the book the contrasts are presented over and over. This story takes a hard look at how things change, how it’s possible for a person to love such differing personalities. Obviously, I loved this aspect because this sort of fundamental needle-pushing change is what I’m currently obsessed with observing in my own life. So it really ticked the boxes for me.

It’s a light-hearted but poignant look at modern marriage and the many ways in which it seems to be transforming, giving couples space to define a whole new level of normal, outside the expected, stereotypical boundaries of what we have known marriage to be.

The style is light and warm, but has a punch. Audra’s character is full of life and that really comes through, while Graham is subdued and calm, which also comes through in an entirely different way. It will give you the fuzzies in parts, make you chuckle and also touch you. This felt like a Nick Hornby or David Nicholls book told by a woman. I loved reading it.

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Day 90: Slow change may pull us apart

Remember how I said I almost didn’t want to talk about how much I was reading, for fear of jinxing the good streak? Well, I think I kind of manifested just that. Like I mentioned, March had a very scattered energy and our days got a bit packed, unexpectedly. Invariably, this balancing act means letting go of a few things. I gladly let go of the (half-assed)attempts to get back to the gym, and unfortunately had to also go easy on the reading too. TV and movies seemed like the easier thing to go to. But, the last week of the month saw a frenzied sort of reading again, aided by two days spent sitting in the hospital, which is probably all the peace and quiet I needed to resume.

Here’s what I read this month:

Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
This book came to me at just the right time. As I’m making peace with the way in which writing seems to be a part of my life — blurring the lines between work and play — I needed the validation, and the reaffirmation of the inexplicable pleasures and the maddening perils of this life. In Dani Shapiro’s honest, no-nonsense, witty and downright touching memoir about the writing life, I found pieces of myself. Especially in the bits that run over the inevitable self-doubt, the small triumphs, the persistence that the work just demands of anyone who were to delve into it, I saw my own experiences navigating this field the last five years of my life.

This wasn’t just an enjoyable read. It was a read that gave me a deep, deep sense of peace and satisfaction. I don’t want to go into too many details, because this  book deserves to be read, rather than be talked about. But I will say this, if you are a writer, (heck, if you’re even indulging remotely in a creative pursuit that requires you to suspend control and give in to the creative force that sometimes surges through you and demands a way out) any kind of writer, Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is a gift you should give yourself.

In a series of delightfully honest vignettes, she presents not a guide on how t navigate the writing life, but a series of situations and events in her life that will likely be very very similar to your own. Read it for the validation, to know you’re not alone, and to fully realise just how special it is to have the opportunity to step into this role — to choose a creative path and see where it takes you.

I devoured this book, dipping into it late into the night and reading it every chance I got. (Dani has very quickly become one of those authors whose every single work I now want to read.)

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
At first, I found Little Fires Everywhere kind of slow in an over-indulgent sort of way. But I ignored the urge to be easily-distracted and persisted. Glad I did, because half way in, I realised that is a very deliberate style Ng employs towards a gradual but definitely-catastrophic climax. It’s the sort of slow, painful build-up towards the an inevitable tragedy you see coming, and you feel torn between speeding up to the end and tossing it over because it’s too painful to read.

Celeste Ng’s skill lies in her nuanced character-building. Detailed back-stories, elaborate descriptions, layered situations and a story arc that stacks up like lego blocks that must tumble in the end, this was such a read that required me to complete sink into it. Which is probably why, given how scattered this month has been and how little time I had to allow that kind of absorbed reading, it took me a while to finish.

Set in the 90s in America, the story touches on the intricacies of tightly-knit families, exploring in delicious detail the role of motherhood — fraught with angst, jealousy, pride and honour. It deftly exposes the many kinds of motherhood there can be, plainly showing how it isn’t always as glorious a role as it is made out to be. That it is in fact one of the hardest, toughest things women will ever do. And yet, will never be perfect at it. Highly recommend it.

This was a timely, poignant read for this time in my life.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
I have read and loved Roxane Gay’s powerful writing before (especially loved Bad Feminist), but with Hunger I have become an ardent and most dedicated fangirl. I will give anything to be able to witness her speaking, it’s become a life-goal now.

I feel like Roxane Gay should be essential reading for men and women everywhere, for her succinct, balanced and very hard-to-debate views on cultural mores and the way they stereotype and shape our evolution as a patriarchal society. If you’ve read any of her writing, even online, this is a given. But with Hunger, she blows the lid off the can and brings out a raw, gritty, no-holds-barred memoir of what she cals her unruly body. But in doing so, she touches on so many big and small issues around the subject of how we look at, judge and accept women’s bodies. And she gently traverses topics as diverse as reality television, food corporations, pop culture, her own Haitian heritage, sexual violence and so many little connections you wouldn’t otherwise make, while doing so.

Before I began, I read a review on Goodreads that claimed this book is Roxane Gay basically blaming all her issue son the world, and I thought to myself — that doesn’t sound at all like something she would do. This was happily confirmed in the plain no-vanilla, beautiful style that is Gay’s. This isn’t a book that asks you to feel sorry for her. It is simply a telling of things as they are, as they have been, of life as it has come to her.

Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.

It’s a deeply moving story though, and had me in tears in some parts, choked up with a knot in my stomach in others, wincing in pseudo-pain knees tightly clenched, in some others. So raw and real is her writing, and so relatable is so much of what she says, that I found myself in so so so many pages.

It’s a book that left me feeling gratitude and respect for my body. And deep shame and regret for the trauma we as a culture put that same body through.

This is a must, must read.

What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
I love Oprah. And I really wanted to love this book. But. I just. Couldn’t.

This is just a collection of many What-I-Know-For-Sure columns she’s penned for O Mag over the last many years. Which, upon reading, I realise is a very, very lazy way of creating a book out of content that seems like it has potential. The thing is reading a column is a very different kind of experience from reading a book. I can pass off and even agree with many of the feel-good, simple truths in a column because of the expectations I come with, and the format. But in a book? I want something more. Especially if it’s coming form Oprah. I want more. I don’t want to go away with just glib, superficial new-age babble that honestly just left me feeling very irritated. The way in which it is put together also does her words a disservice because it makes her come off sounding very privileged and out of touch with reality. I actually ended the book thinking she is actually very out of touch with reality, and it’s never nice having someone you admire fall in your eyes.

Avoid.

Two years ago: Day 90: Seeing the sun rise

Day 89: Please press pause, and try again

Still in the hospital, but things are slowly on the mend. On the bright side of it all is lots of peace and quiet, long hours of sitting in one place. We know what that means:

Two years ago: Day 89: Letting it go

Day 58: The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself

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!

Day 40: The heartache lives on inside

Thanks to my over-stretched muscles and full blown recovery mode, the weekend post The Walk was spent mostly like this.

Which meant I devoured two books — one that I started earlier last week, and another immediately, which I finished in 24 hours. Or less. I love lazy days like these, with no agenda, no demands, and where time just spirals on out of my control. While I slip into a book and forget to come out until it’s done.

Us, David Nicholls
I love an endearing, absorbing love story. But what I love more is an endearing, absorbing love story told by a man. And Us ticked that box perfectly. Having already read, thoroughly enjoyed and loved One Day, David Nicholls other best-selling novel, I sort of knew what to expect. Nicholls has an engaging, flawless voice. A subtle, understated yet rib-ticklingly funny sense of humour and a great sense of observation for the littlest, most mundane details of everyday life.

The story opens with Douglas’ wife of twenty-something years, telling him she wants a divorce because their “marriage has run its course”. The timing couldn’t be more off — with their rebellious 17-year old son ready to set off to college, the three are about to embark on a vacation through Europe. What was meant to be a happy last family holiday, suddenly becomes a last chance to win his family back.

It’s a simple, endearing and at times touching story that covers love, relationships, how relationships grow, marriage, parenting et al. It is peppered with many simple truisms you’ll likely nod along to. A quick and heart-warming read too.

The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
Every time I read a good memoir, I realise it is likely my most favourite format. I absolutely love reading first-person, personal stories that bring out the gory, lurid, emotional, taxing, peaceful anecdotes of real lives, to paper. When I memoir is told in a series of essay, it’s even better.

The Rules Do Not Apply opens at a point in Ariel Levy’s life, where within mere days she goes from being married, pregnant, financially secure, and making a life by her own rules, to losing her child, home, spouse and sabotaging her career. What follows are a series of essays traversing her entire life that is tied together by a strong sense of making her own rules, living by her own means and making a life that makes sense to her. It’s energetic, rebellious, brave and inspiring, but also gets very real, heartbreaking, and downright tragic.

It was empowering and inspiring to read the story of a NY Times journalist, who balances her less than ordinary life with all its ups and downs, with a demanding career, while also embarking on a journey of getting to know herself.

Levy’s craft is stellar. Like top-notch word-wizardry that kept me completely rapt. The essays jump back and forth in time, and sometimes it gets a little tedious keeping track of the sequence of events. Even so, I couldn’t put the book down because it was just so compelling.

One year ago: Commitment issues
Two years ago: Day 40: Begin again

Day 29: I’ve been reading books of old

Happy to report that I’m finally working through my Goodreads want-to-read list, rather than hungrily adding more books to it. And even more pleased that it’s been high on the fiction side of things. Well begun is half done?

It definitely helps that every book I read this past month pleased me in a deep, deep way. This was a delicious way to slip back into regular, frequent reading because god knows I needed the kind of thrill that this months books gave me, grabbing entire days and locking me into a stronghold of words and lines and stories that cut through and hit a spot so deep. The bliss of surrendering to an overpoweringly well written book, the sheer liberation of stopping to laugh out loud in real life at mere words scrawled on a page, the all-consuming hunger of wanting to chow down page after page because you just can’t get enough — just some of the things I experienced this past month.

In addition, and because the existing struggle to keep habits up isn’t already enough, I’ve decided to give keeping a book of books a shot. Because, I’m a sucker for lists. Because it aligns perfectly with what is fast turning into a proper mission to go analogue as far as possible. (I’m still updating my Goodreads though. Small steps, Small steps!). And because so far I’ve enjoyed the process of immediately reflecting on what I love/hate/enjoy/dislike about the book, and recording my immediate feelings on completing a book.

So here’s what I read:

I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
I’m putting this up top even though it was the last book I read because that’s how much I enjoyed it. I know it’s just January, but I also already know this one is going to be one of the best, if not the best, books I will read this year because, OMGGGGG.

I actually don’t have the capacity to put down in words what this book did for me. It’s a simple book on the surface, really. But OMGG, the number of layers, and stories within stories, and little jewels snuck into every little nook and cranny within the story — absolutely spellbinding craft!

This YA story is about a set of twins, told in two timelines — one through the eyes of Noah when he is 13 years old and another through the eyes of Jude, his twin sister when she is 16 years old. The story starts off talking about how they’re inseparable, and progresses to paint a picture about how the difficulties of their teenage years, and the different circumstances in their lives coupled with their inherently wildly differing personalities drive them apart. The two timelines build in parallel, telling what feels like only one half of the story each, pointing to the obvious culmination of them uniting once again.

Multiple side plots that are very obviously going somewhere, lots of unanswered questions, some absolutely stunningly picturised, intricate characters add not just pages but serious meat to the story. And it all leaves you gasping for more, more, more. I devoured this book simply because it is one of the most well written, charming, alluring books I’ve set my hands on in years.

At the core of it, it is a story about love, but it is also about belonging, family, friendship, solidarity, loyalty, finding your identity, understanding oneself, reclaiming love for ones parents and so many things that are difficult to put in words, yet Nelson manages it with a flair and elan that few have. The two halves that are building in parallel timelines come crashing together to make a blindingly beautiful whole in the end of the book. The kind that you’re actually sad to finish because you’r almost cheering them on, rooting for them to find their individual victories and go back to being the inseparable twins that they are at the start of the book.

The clincher came towards the end of the book, and I feel like it really turned the book around from a sweet little story to something so deeply profound for me, and it’s a quote I’m going to keep going back to (if you’ve been reading my rambles this year, you’ll know why);

…maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people…Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time. Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things…

Each new self standing on the last one’s shoulders until we’re these wobbly people poles.

About the main plot itself — the love story — it made me want to go back to being a teenager hopelessly, madly in love of the sort that keeps you up at night, defies all logic and makes you feel like you can jump off a cliff and the absolute love of your life will be there to lift you up.

I highly, highly recommend this book. For it’s zany story telling, it’s heartwarming characters, its exquisite craft and refreshing style, and just downright original and surprising plot and theme.

Ravan and Eddie, Kiran Nagarkar
I’ve had this book for the last six months but only read it now. Silly really considering how I was looking high and low for a recommendation for a fun fictional read, while it was sitting right under my nose all along. I should have known it would be a good read, because my friend D recommended it so highly. I think i just forgot about it soon after I got a hold of it.

Anyhow, this is a howlarious tale set in Bombay in the 1950s, focusing on the lives of Ravan, a Maratha Hindu, and Eddie, a Catholic, who live in the CWD Chawl #17. Tracing their lives as they navigate puberty amidst the cacophony of life in a chawl, interspersed with ongoing political and social issues of the time, makes for one hell of an entertaining and seriously funny, yet poignant story. It’s a short book, but really packs a punch in terms of how wide it goes from being rib-ticklingly funny in parts, to so deep and almost prophetic in other parts, and how deep it goes into granular details about every little aspect of life in the chawl, in Bombay in the 50s, of the religious milieu and the social fabric of the time.

Set against a backdrop of Post-Colonial Bombay, Nagarkar finds a canvas thick with issues to explore and he does it with such dexterity. Every now and then, he throws in an essay, which makes for multiple welcome interjections from the mad, mad, mad story of Ravan and Eddie, by bringing in interesting depictions, descriptions and discussions about the socio-political, socio-economic and cultural realities of the time, when Bombay and India as a whole was rebuilding it’s identity itself.

Kiran Nagarkar is new to me, and I am now full of respect and awe for his craft and completely refreshing skill as a novelist. I so highly recommend this one.

Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Okay, I have to be honest — I didn’t love this one at the outset. And that really surprised and upset me considering how highly recommended it came. I was given to believe it was the story of a female Ove. And maybe it was. But only so slightly — in that it is the tale of a socially inept, brutally honest, very lonely human being. Somehow when I read Ove, I felt like I could identify with a senior citizen being all those things, much more than when I read Eleanor and had to keep reminding myself that she’s just over 30!

So no, we didn’t get off to a good start. Something just didn’t fit. And the staccato style that built a lot of suspense indicating to various possible events in Eleanor’s past that perhaps contributed to her being the person she is, but never really gave explanations, made me very uneasy. I lost interest around the 40% mark, but ploughed through because, FOMO. Happily though, I realised the book makes a rapid turn around the 60% mark when suddenly things begin to fall into place. This lends a lot of pace and meat to the book which until then was just plodding along over a framework of half-told stories.

By then end, I did enjoy the book and it makes for a good quick light read, but I can’t say I loved it or that it will be top of mind when I’m recommending a book to someone.

The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
The strap on this book — Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles — is what compelled me to pick it up. It’s a short, breezy read for anyone looking to understand the workings of any creative process, or is in the midst of building a creative practice for themselves. It mainly deals with the concept of “resistance” being the only opposing force to all creative pursuits, but deals with the many forms that resistance takes, ranging from procrastination to imposter syndrome to laziness, to monotony, to fear. It was hyper-real, and a bit like going into my own mind. As it will be, I’m very sure, for anyone else who reads it. To that end, it was insightful and reading it was a bit like holding up a mirror to my own mind, while also realising what I sometimes go through is not new or unique.

It often feels like being a writer is lonely, not just physically, but emotionally too. This is true of the practice of all art forms I’m told, but being in the present has a way of turning everyday internal battles into insurmountable and unique problems. So reading a book like this every so often helps to cut the crap and come down to reality. It’s a bit like swallowing a big reality check pill.

That said, it wasn’t a compelling or enthralling read that offered me any deep insights or new tricks on how to work my way through this. It was a lot of common sense, buried under layers of explanatory writing, which I found belaboured the very simple premise — resistance hampers long-term success so recognise it and work around it.

***

I’m thrilled at how much I managed to read despite a rather busy month full of all kinds of activities. But I also know what specific changes in my life have allowed me to made the space and carving out that time for reading, rather than relegate it to the empty pockets of weekends and bedtime. I’d like to think this has made all the difference.

I hope to sustain some kind of pace this year, and I hope that these deliberate changes will help me go there. It is always good to hit upon more than two enjoyable books, back-to-back. I’ll call it a lucky streak, and I hope some of it continues to percolate through the year too.

I’m also thrilled to see where my Book of Book goes! I’ll be sure to keep talking about what it does for me.

What have you been reading since the start of the year?

Two years ago: Day 29: Emptying my cup

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

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

What I’ve been reading

The reading habit has really slowed down in recent times. Actually, so has the writing, as you may have noticed. For the first two months of the year it was my preoccupation with work, in the last few weeks it is just this sense of ennui that has wedged itself into my current life. I am at a crossroads of sorts, and choosing a way forward is turning out to be a time consuming, tedious and sometimes emotionally exhausting affair. An older me would have taken to fighting it and immediately swung into action to introduce a sense of movement, and do whatever it takes to speed up the process. But I have recently tasted the real joy of letting things be, like, really be. To make room for a slow unfolding, rather than pressing fast forward to get to the end. If this all sounds zen to you, let me quickly say, it isn’t. Because it means sometimes taking the risk of putting myself in a difficult place, making difficult choices I would otherwise evade, asking myself questions that push me into a vulnerable state of mind, and waiting patiently for the answers to come. Painfully slowly as it sometimes is.

I thought it was the perfect time to allow myself to temporarily switch off, so books seemed like the logical escape. But it’s hard to read with the constant din that is my preoccupied mind. The background chatter, the opinions and counter opinions (all my own) are rarely quiet. So in an attempt to turn the volume down low, slowly, in it’s time, I’ve let things go one by one. Reading too. However, this is what I’ve finished recently:

Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
Another recommendation I picked from Veena Venugopal’s Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Girls Of Riyadh was pitched as a tell-all about the lives Saudi women, otherwise kept under wraps. Told entirely in a series of anonymous emails penned by one of the women characters, it is the story of four women who hail from a privileged segment of society. And yet, their lives are shrouded in mystery and restrictions galore. In each of their stories, a journey is revealed, one that involves not just travelling out of their home country, but also coming into their own in four very distinct ways. In the bargain nuances of their customs, society, and culture are revealed. That it is told by an “insider” makes it particularly telling. If like me, you expected it to be shocking and borderline depressing, it is not. I didn’t learn too many things I didn’t already know about. So in that sense it didn’t evoke an strong feelings in me.

Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
I have previously devoured Arundhati Roy’s non fiction, particularly her long reads and essays, so the premise of this book which seemed like it allowed me to be a wallflower listening in on a secret meeting between Edward Snoweden, John Cusack and Roy, was deeply fascinating. The central theme is the role of The State, the powers it weilds, the machinery that it has at it’s service, and the ripple effects it has on us as people. Incredibly telling, shocking, and very very relevant — it covers everything fromquestioning what patriotism means in our current context, the role and purpose of a national flag, climate change, war and the downsides of a free market. Though intense in content, it’s a short, quick read.

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I decided to revisit this book that I have previously only read as a text in literature class. Twice. Once in 11th grade and another time in 1st year of college. I have loved it ever since, and this time was no different. However, I was shocked at how long it took to get through it. Something about reading that style of literature, which is far less descriptive and narrative, but so heavily set in dialogue and intricate character building. It’s also hard to read a book as just a book when you’ve treated it as a text twice over. So I found myself noticing nuances in style, elements of emerging themes, pivotal points in the story arc.

It is of course impossible to miss the obvious strong themes of morality, feminism, sexuality and female agency. But I think I wanted so badly to be able to look at it with fresh eyes as compared to the angsty teen that I was, but maybe I will need to give it another go?

The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
This gentle, layered, beautifully written book is based in the city of Mysore, perched at the cusp of massive change. In exploring the lives of multiple characters not all intertwined or connected to each other, Rao reveals the nature of India. Quirks and unmistakeable aspects of our plural society, the changing political climate, the two edged sword that is development. It’s the story of a small town about to explode — a story that reads like it could be Bangalore, or Goa. And this is why I enjoyed it so much. Rao’s style is delicious. It’s gentle, coaxes you to peel back the layers, subtle satire, impeccable observation and lovely, narration that reads like it’s as light as air. I loved this and I’m looking forward to reading his next.

Same time, last year: Day 76: Telepathy

2017 book beginnings

Sula, Toni Morrison
Admittedly, I’d started reading this book about a year ago, but given that I spent the first half of the year unable to read, it was very quickly abandoned. But what little I read was so delicious, I had slipped it back on to my to-read list. The book spans over ten years of the lives of Sula and Nel — two black girls from the American Mid-West. The story begins in the year 1920, and is filled with telling and detailed descriptions of the life, time and culture of the village the girls were born in. The arc traverses the lives of these girls as they take off on two completely opposite ways of life — one choosing to stay (physically and intellectually) while the other, Sula, leaves the village and embraces a fast-paced city life. She returns, and there is a stark contrast in the way their lives have shaped them as individuals. The telling is delicious, as I said. Raw and real, making you really feel the emotions slip underneath your skin. It is equal parts horrific (as one would expect given the setting), poignant, and extremely touching. It is a story about girls, about women, and so it evoked a lot of feelings ranging from empathy to anger in me. More specifically, it is a vivid telling of what it must have been like for a black woman in Mid-Western America, in the 1920s and 30s. Do read, you wont regret it.

The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
This is one of those odd situations where literally everyone who has read this book raves about it, so you pick it up, and then you struggle to finish it, and you wonder what could possibly have gone wrong, or what you’ve missed, because you just. dont. get. what. the fuss. is. about. The Happiness Project is quite literally the account of a year in the life of Gretchen Rubin, being committed to finding happiness. It’s a great premise, I’ll admit. I know how many times I’ve thought the exact same thought that spurred Rubin to write this book — time is flying and I’m not focusing on the things that matter. And it’s why I finally got down to it. But like some other books I read in the same genre and category, it just felt a little oversimplified, and a little too basic to warrant an entire book. There are a few obvious, but decently explored truths in the first couple of chapters, and I thought hmm, this is a good book but as with Daring Greatly, I very quickly began to feel like things were way too general and basic for me to find anything revelatory in them. I mean I didn’t need to read a book that is apparently based in sound research to tell me I need to be tidy, minimalist, organised, calm, positive in order to stay happy.

Every month of the year is dedicated to one aspect of her life. From work to friendship to finding contentment to being present. The chapter that I found particularly grating was the one where she deals with her marriage that she says had gone rough around the edges – repetitive, mundane, boring. It was super painful reading detailed descriptions of exactly how she used tired, cliched tactics like communicate, be present, put down that device. OMG it was super tedious.

Anyhow, judging by how super popular the book has been, I wuldn’t dismiss it as a terrible book. It obviously works for some folks. But it just didn’t have anything new to offer me. It also made me realise my short-lived self-help phase is probably over. If I pick up another book in this category, I’m going to expect it tp be meaty, detailed with research, and really give me something fantastic to implement in my life that can push the needle and make an impact.

The Rachel Papers, Martin Amis
This delightful book is often placed right up there with Catcher In The Rye. I honestly thought it was better. Maybe it’s my fondness for subtle, clever, Brit-style wry humor, or maybe it was the detailed travel right inside the mind of a 19 year old boy looking to get laid, essentially. It really just describes the incredibly layered, yet very single-minded, that pursuit can be, and it’s a riot. I also read that Amis was just 24 when he wrote and published this which is ridiculous. Because it’s so mature in the style. There’s clever turn of phrase, intelligent innuendo that doesn’t jar, and makes a lot of descriptions about his sexual urges seem so beautiful. I enjoyed this one, even though it took me abnormally long to finish it. But I’ll put that down to being very preoccupied with work.

2017 reading is off to a good start.

Same time, last year: Day 20: Perspective