I have been reading (3) on Audible…

I say reading but I actually mean “listening” to audiobooks.

Indistractible by Nir Eyal

I listened to this on Audible @audible_uk as I went about my tasks. It is great to listen to in the author’s voice. The main message is: figure out what you want to do, schedule that, and don’t be distracted.

What you want to do can include a wide range of tasks and Nir Eyal drives home the point that when you are doing these tasks, don’t let other triggers and thoughts distract you from them. Sounds simple? If only doing it was as easy. Nir offers some very doable suggestions and advice on how to go about being less distracted. He offers a well laid out discussion of different triggers of distraction – from your own mind to the world around you. He has some handy tips on how to address them before they happen at times offering a cultural context (not very in-depth though). I have actually implemented some of this in my work and find them helpful though I do have a long way to go. 
There is nothing earth shatteringly “new” in this book but it has the kind of reminders we all seek at some point. Reading it will give you the chance to reflect on how you prioritise your life, how and why you get distracted, and how to refocus on what matters. Since the fundamentals of what he writes are probably known to you already, it is the refreshing of your memory and the act of reflecting on your situation as you read that would make the book worth your time. As a bonus the book is short and easy to read and I think reading it was worth my time.

Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou

I listened to Dr. Maya Angelou narrate “Letter to my Daughter” in her brilliant motherly voice. Voice is so powerful and to listen to an author narrate their own writing especially non-fiction is something I really appreciate. This is a collection of essays, wisdom, stories, call it what you will but it is writing borne of a life-time of reflection shared so simply and hence beautifully. It has all the intimacy of a conversation. This is a book as much for daughters as sons. I said this of Adichie’s “Dear Ijeawele” too because I think it follows quite naturally that lessons for the daughters must be known by the sons too. Angelou narrates seemingly simple snippets with the most profound epiphanies and sometimes it is you as a reader who has to interpret and make of it what you will and what it means for you. Some of my favourite bits (this was not easy to choose) were parts where she talks of fighting to win where it matters, simplicity being the epitome of sophistication, finding friends in strangers – but my favourite takeaway was about courage being the biggest virtue because one needs it to practise any other virtue – be in kindness, beauty, wit, mercy and I think it made most sense to me given where I was at the time of listening to this book. The events are not necessarily in a chronological order but it did not taken away anything from the experience because they stand alone. This is my first experience with her writing, it is simple and spoke to me so I really hope to read more of her works.

I have been reading (2)

Commute by Erin Williams

I had a personal target to read more graphic novels and comic books last year, a genre I tremendously enjoy. So I started March with this and am sorry but this was a big letdown. I sometimes refrain from sharing books that did not work because I feel it may work for someone and I often think that my opinions will not particularly help someone. But this sort of bordered on botheration for me and I wonder if it would trigger some readers. I picked this book up from a bookstore in a train station and read most of it on the commute. The positives: I admit I liked the simple sketches and the way the book is laid out. I like how this could have been pretty powerful – I loved the title and felt it would touch on all those moments during commute that one has felt threatened, the different encounters and circumstances on a commute as a, in this instance, a woman. While Erin has been unflinchingly honest about some of the issues and thoughts, stereotypical as they maybe, I was really disappointed that she picked up different “issues” such as objectification, self worth and left them hanging in the air without unpacking them enough or exploring in its entirety sometimes sending across an incomplete undesirable message. I want to be understanding in that the author has tried to show instances of oppression that she faced as a way to talk about some other women too. But her takes on fear of being fat and undesirability and its links to loneliness leave one wanting for more clarity. Being brutally raw and honest is appreciated especially given how painful it must have been but it was vague and many times un-relatable and just did not do it for me.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Every now and then, you come across a story that moves you incredibly and leaves with an unparalleled sense of joy – this was one of them thanks to S on Instagram. The story revolves around a mathematics professor who after an accident, ends up with a memory that lasts 80 minutes. After having a few housekeepers who do not seem to stay for long perhaps given the special circumstances, there is one housekeeper who walks into the Professor’s life along with her son (with whom the Professor develops a wonderful bond, caring for him as his own) and what follows is a series of beautiful moments between them. The professor’s love for and faith in math is so deep and eternal that it is hard for the housekeeper and her son to not be influenced and wrapped it in its magic. It is a story of living life by the day, savouring the present, in the little moments that Ogawa etches so beautifully thorough the book that I had to keep reminding myself that it is not a memoir. The references to math are particularly enjoyable and left me wanting for a teacher who could have shown the magic of numbers the way the Professor did. So content, that is what the book made me feel.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

“It’s easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul.” This line really stood out to me in the book but I didn’t know then that this truth wove together the three seemingly disjointed stories of the 1) legendary Money King, 2) a second generation Chinese-American kid and 3) a white American kid whose Chinese cousin ( a stereotypical character) comes for a visit. They are presented as different stories that come together in the end and that really caught me by surprise though I had read the foreword and knew that they had something in common. I was talking to a friend about how this is a thought provoking exploration of immigrant experience in US – the overwhelming need to fit in and the struggles of imbibing a new cultural identity starting from learning a new language to all the daily struggles.
The book really had me engrossed. The author, Gene Luan Yang does such a great job of deconstructing stereotypes and highlights the everyday pressures to assimilate to the predominating culture albeit at the cost of one’s individuality. The illustrations particularly the expressions of the characters are so well done. This is an author I’d like to read more from – take a bow, Gene Luan Yang!

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I first read James Herriot in 8th grade. I stumbled on his book at Manasa Library, my local library which was as big as a local grocery store and housed some of the best treasures that I cherish to this day. I don’t know if it was Pa or me who picked this one up but there has been no looking back. I have read a few of his works and this one is a gem, like them all. His words and work offer an escape to Herriot world – over the hills in Yorkshire Dales that is full of deep love for animals and life itself. These are the stories that give me solace and company no matter the tumultuous times. His books are wonderful in that, they are not unputdownable. Infact they are the opposite. You can read one of his hilarious accounts of delivering piglets at 3 in the morning or an incredibly moving story of an animal he had to put down (thankfully these are fewer) or his humorous and poignant interactions with the farmers in Yorkshire, and then heave a sigh of contentment and go to sleep only to come back for another tale the next day. His tales are episodic and unforgettable. He sketches the personalities so well in all his timeless stories, that I have “met” so many of the character in his book. I read some of these stories to Mili and K on some of the nights before we go to sleep and it elevates our mood so much. Herriot is so endearing and I love his works so much, that I know we’d be really good friends when we meet someday. 

So tell me, what are you reading?

I have been reading..

Quite bluntly, I am no great reviewer of books (you will soon see that for yourself anyway). I think it is because I lack the patience to write a review before jumping onto another book wagon. But I do like a bit of reflection. And ever since Instagram has happened, I have been rather inconsistently microblogging (is that the word now?) and that quite worked out conveniently given how short my thoughts are, atleast when writing them out anyway. But I do want to document most of that here on the blog every now and then when I have a few books to talk about.

Ikigai – what a beautiful word, “a reason for being”, a purpose for living. I picked this book up at Blore airport. Having spent a few weeks with family after more than a year, I was ecstatic. I felt extremely energized and I picked this one up and read it in that enthusiasm. Naturally, I waited for a while to write this. Having read it in a happy frame of mind, I liked parts of it because they felt like summaries of concepts that map to a good healthy life – diet, exercise, community…. There is definitely bits to take away, ponder over AND most importantly, read more about. But to be objective, this book was a fair bit of a jumble drawing from schools of psychology to interviews with octogenarians in Okinawa to benefits of green tea? I felt there was so much to dig into and draw connections probably but it felt like a potpourri of good advice (a summary of concepts from Japanese culture) but never doing justice to something as deep as Ikigai. Most of it is through the authors’ lens as they experience the Japanese culture which makes it a a fair bit of “here are the takeaways”. Agreed, Ikigai itself is a topic so personal but the book left me wanting for a far richer narrative, more life stories (the interviews form such a small part of the book) and threads that connect our stories. I don’t know what that would exactly look like, but I wish this book had it.

I will admit that I sometimes start some books with a lot of hesitation. I do not enjoy pseudo-intellectual thinking and meandering for the sake of it that sometimes runs into pages and pages. And so, inspite of hearing amazing things about Kundera’s books, I started this with low expectations. It always helps to start something that way, doesn’t it? 
Kundera definitely goes deep into aspects of his characters. There are only 4 of them, none of them who seemed remarkable to me at first. But that is the joy of reading because you let the author and her/his words really tell you about them and get you inside their heads. I will give it to Kundera for his craftsmanship in the way he has presented little insights, hard-hitting, soul-crushing and poignant in parts. There are no endless paragraphs but when you reflect on the small chapters and some of those insights, the book feels impressive. One of the biggest dilemnas that the characters face is the one that haunts each of us at different points in our lives – the “what if” and maybe even the pursuit of perfection. But it is hard because, in Kundera’s words, “We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” It is the irony of having a single life. For this very reason, one’s choices do not have a lot of weight in the grand scheme of things. The unbearable lightness of being. Somewhere along, different events occur that touch you and impact you in different ways and “relieve” you from this lightness. 
There are definitely parts in the book that I could not understand. I do not want to call it pretentious because after all I have only read this once so maybe a re-read would help, but I am not so strongly inclined to go back and read it again for the time being. The book definitely made me think, not in a life changing way but in a way that helps me appreciate the simplicity, complexity and beauty of abstraction and life.

I read this a while ago and I just cannot NOT share this here – please read this autobiographical memoir. I have tried to blink away my tears of joy and sadness and pride as I read this on my commute almost angry at myself for withholding from expressing what I felt so strongly about. It is incredibly hard for me to come close to describing the unparalleled joy that Kobayashi’s school Tomoe, a school set in railway carriages and nothing less, gives me. Totto-Chan (author Tetsuko Kuroyanagi herself) recounts the several little ways her Headmaster Kobayashi devised to make children feel special led by his strong belief in the innate goodness of children and his attention to them. The way the classes were organised, the farmer teacher, the sports day with specially created games resonated so deeply with me and while I am not ready or patient enough to speak of why this book is probably going to be one I will read and re-read for a long time to come, I promise to, someday. That a school like Tomoe with all its little stories of love, compassion, loss and rebirth, existed in Japan while the world was at war, with children blissfully unaware of the ongoings is heartbreaking and beautiful. The post-script is equally a joy to read and the students continue to have reunions every year on November 3, their Sports Day. Having worked in education, I know it is not easy to create a class or school, even the one that you strongly believe in. But Kobayashi was one of them who did. And to have it all taken away on a morning during the war angered and deeply saddened me. Wars have never done anyone or anything good. But I am happy Tomoe existed for those 7 years from 1937 – 1945 and that Tomoe’s story will live on in the hearts of the readers and inspire many even if only by mocking some of the systems we have. And this time, it was me by the window in a train reading about a little girl and her school set in railway carriages not so long ago. It really was a damn good school, you know.

I have a few more books to talk about but I think I will stop here for now and get to my little Prince 🙂