What I Read In January

Books / Saturday, February 17th, 2018

I had one of the most beautiful beginnings to this year when I spent some time in a cabin in the mountains. And yes, that cabin came with a mini library as well and a cozy reading room to read, overlooking snow-capped peaks, and unlimited cups of warm tea to heat your frozen toes. So, I would venture out in the morning when the sun was out for little treks here and there, and then get back to cozy evenings by the heater where I could read to my heart’s content.

Books read in January  9
Number of pages 2,485
Average book length 276 pages
Average rating 3.4
Highest-rated book/s The Boy Of Joy by Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama

Children’s Literature

Esperanza Rising: Pam Munoz Ryan

Rating: 3

A good friend in Germany wanted to read some books that expand our understanding of different cultures, and we decided on this book. This sweet book was wonderful in helping me understand a bit more about the world. It made me think too – at the end, Pam Munoz Ryan adds her insights on why she chose to focus on her grandmother’s experiences. Many of the incidents and cultural folklore described here are as Pam knows of it. I wished then that I wish to record my own grandparents’ stories too. How did they make it in life? My parents as well. We are all stories and our lives are such that every tale and heartbreak is a word hidden in the recesses of our mind, waiting to flower.

Non Fiction

How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big: Kind Of The Story Of My Life: Scott Adams

Rating: 3

Wow. I am not a fan of lengthy titles in books, but this book I found in the reading room of the cabin I mentioned earlier. I have mixed feelings about this book. Since I am trying to redefine this year in terms of everything valuable to me, I thought that this book was fairly calling out to me. I hadn’t read Dilbert comics before, so Scott Adams was someone I was reading with no background to his success or failures. There were interesting insights in the beginning – but Scott’s definition of success seems to be founded on the following:

  1. Exercise and eat well. (Ok, I am with you on that)
  2. Don’t hang out with whiny friends. You are not a counselor. (Wow. So compassionate).
  3. Network with the right people (Yes, which means you should not have any friends who are down and out in life).

Please don’t come to me any more with your sob stories. I am going to be cruel and hang out with the rich and successful. 😀

Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore: Adite De

Rating: 3

The city I grew up in – Bangalore – continues to fascinate me with its secret stories of history and nostalgia. I am a bit late to the scene. For most of my childhood, and also my adulthood (I am not sure there is a difference) I was a Bangalorean who didn’t bother to know the city. I knew it enough by being born here, didn’t I? That attitude hasn’t taken me very far.

So, it’s with some anger at myself that I have taken to reading about my beloved, crumbling city over the past year or so. These essays have been carefully curated, and while some are dull, together they serve to represent Bangalore – this is Bangalore, interesting, mundane, rich, poor, chaotic, calm, cultural, and modern hell all at once.

The Book Of Joy: Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama

Rating: 5

The favorite book of this month! It’s not often that you pick up a non-fiction book on finding joy, and then find yourself chuckling over it. That’s the magic of this book, which I recommend to anyone who is interested in reaching that deep core of inner joy that is above happiness.

In identifying the pillars of joy, the book does not give us hard-to-practice philosophical principles, but instead life-changing practices. From acceptance to compassion and kindness, to humor and humility, these are abiding values that we should reflect our life’s shadows with. It’s not often that I want to go back and re-read a book. But then, the Book of Joy gave me joy. Who would not want more of that?

Indian Writing In English

The Financial Expert: RK Narayan

Rating: 3

I am not quite sure why I am rating this book 3 because I enjoyed the book immensely. Narayan’s wit and humor is evident here in his story about the travails of a ‘financial expert.’ It is typical of Narayan to comment on the Indian societal mores where anyone can become an ‘expert’ on anything. His social acumen and insight remains outstanding.

Maybe, having just read a few of Narayan’s novels by now, I yearn perhaps for a bolder stroke. I know that is wishful thinking – Narayan wrote very well on what was most familiar to him. The book made me chuckle in a few places, and as always, if you are keen enough, you can observe the darker, philosophical overtones that mark his writing. This is a little gem. Just that I don’t know where to place it among all his other works.

Classics/Translated Indian Literature

Chemmeen: TS Pillai

Rating: 4

Chemmeen was recommended to me by so many that I had to just get around to reading it. The book grew on me slowly as I wondered initially at the utter simplicity of the language, but there is a natural cadence and rhythm that you find yourself getting attuned to.

There are many themes that make me feel I would like to explore this book more – themes of feminism, of culture, of the historical and social context of Kerala at the time this novel was written. It’s a book that made me think, and a story that made me cry in my heart. Poor Karuthamma. There is no judgment you can cast on any of the characters – in making them human, TS Pillai has made them ours.

It Rained All Night: Buddhadeb Bose

Rating: 3

I picked this book up entirely by chance on a visit to a second-hand bookstore. I haven’t read much of Bengali literature, and a book that was banned seemed a good place to amend that. I loved the way Buddhadeva Bose has brought together two narrators, who each bring their perspective on the marriage they are building or destroying, depending on your point of view.

At times, it can seem overly melodramatic, but unusual for those times is the portrayal of adultery. Too often, we vilify adultery without understanding what drives us to have an affair, and the institution that compels us to stay in court-sanctioned marriages. Here then is a rare portrayal of the nuances of adultery, the layers that can behind the surface of a marriage, and the choices we make in the exploration of the relationships that bind us. A good read that must have been even better if read in Bengali.

The Insulted And Humiliated: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Rating: 4

What a genius Dostoyevsky is! It amazes me that this book was written in 1861. Dostoyevsky is one of the foremost psychologists in literature. His acute insight into the workings of the human mind is brought out in this agonizing tale that speaks of forgiveness and redemption. At the heart of it, forgiveness is the core of the novel. Dostoyevsky should be understood in the context of the society he lived, of course. But it is soul-shuddering to think that his moralizing and advocacy of forgiveness is something that we should all learn from even now.


The Prince Of Mist: Carloz Ruiz Zafon

Rating: 3

Carloz Ruiz Zafon is fast becoming one of my favorite writers in fantasy. The man sure can tell stories! His powers of story-telling can keep you hooked for hours on to end. You have to suspend disbelief when you read Zafon. The ending here is a bit rushed, and I found myself asking questions -but in the end, there is nothing to compare Zafon’s magical storytelling.

That then was my reading last month. It was a mixed bag, really of some fairly ordinary and some extraordinary. Much what my life also was in this  month.

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