My Year in Books – 2021

And, just like that, I am here with my fourth Year in Books. Ideally, as a blogger or a writer you aren’t supposed to have favourites from among your creations. But, I think this post remains my favourite. It has the highest sweat equity and yet it serves as such a good reminder for me of all that I read.

This year, on my college alumni whatsapp group, a lady shared a link of an article she wrote in a newspaper about how she doesn’t understand people reading a crazy number of books because she would rather savour them in a slow pace. I was probably the only one to write back about how I feel absolutely greedy when it comes to reading and would rather stuff myself with as many books as I could lay my hands on. Cordially, we agreed to disagree with the bottom line that like finance, reading too is a personal pursuit that everyone does in their own special way.

As for the number, like last year this time my counter stopped at 54 again. This year, there have been spurts of hyper reading breaking the mould of sluggish inactivity through major part of the year.

In case you missed it, here are the earlier posts that you could check out from previous years:

My year in books – 2020

My year in books – 2019

My year in books – 2018

Some of my usual reminders. I am listing only the books I managed to finish in the month that I did. All book titles are linked to their goodreads page. Wherever I could find my notes and an interesting enough quote from the book, I have added them while talking about said book. This year, the post is a little longer at about 7-odd thousand words. So, bookmark it and read it at leisure.

Let’s get down to business now, shall we?

January

1. The jury – Steve Martin

It’s an old book that I picked up from a stash I acquired from a friend and ex-boss. I am quite fond of legal thrillers and my year started with getting acquainted with a new writer in the genre. I like the two main characters Paul Madiani and Harry Hinds, the camaraderie between them and of course the way the case unfolds. All in all, it made for quite a quick read because I found it interesting enough.

Behind one of these, in the large corner office, sits the big kahuna Jim Tate. Tate has been D.A. in this country since before God chiselled the Ten Commandments in stone with a hot finger and gave them to Moses. For those willing to listen, Tate will tell you that he was master of ceremonies for the event.

-The jury, Steve Martin

2. The midnight library – Matt Haig

Going by the Goodreads choice awards last year, my book club decided to start the year with this one. The premise itself was fascinating of what if you could see the different routes your life could have taken. The execution, not really. It just came across as preachy and very young-adult like.

It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.

-The midnight library, Matt Haig

3. The island of sea women – Lisa See

There are some books, after reading which, I am found floating on an air of satisfaction of a goodread. This was a definite such read. It opened a whole new world. The discovery of hanyeo women in Jeju island, a matrilineal clan sustaining their family by diving and getting to their catch with bare hands. The arc of friendship between the two protagonists through a haze of assumptions, misunderstanding, luck and tragedy. The backdrop of difficult historic periods. Oh, this book was marvellous. For anyone looking for a historical fiction in a whole new world, it is a must-read!!!

At the beginning of October, the hillsides climbing Grandmother Seolmundae went aflame not with another village being burned but with the fiery colours of the season. This was a reminder to us that whatever was happening between men would pass, and nature would endure with her cycles and beauty.

-The island of sea women, Lisa See

February

4. Persepolis – Marjani Satrapi

After my debut into reading graphic novels, a friend and book club member lent me this one. Yet another coming-of-age read, it was quite interesting especially since it was set in the revolution-era Iran.

5. A princess remembers – Maharani Gayatri Devi

In January I visited the magnificent city of Udaipur. During the trip my husband told me about the legend of princess Krishna Kumari who apparently agreed to be killed to put an end to a war build-up just to marry her. For a long time I imagined writing a historical fiction on that basis. This book, a princess remembers, was meant to be research for it. While the planned novel is not happening, this one still made for a good read. It was fascinating to read about her childhood in Cooch Behar and then making the shift to Baroda. As for the luxury of the life led by erstwhile royals, in that respect the book was an eye-popping experience.

March

6. Cappucino years (Adrian Mole) – Sue Town

If anyone wants a primer of what “British humour” looks like, this book is a good option. Part of the Adrian Mole series, the story or plotline is not much to talk about. But, her writing mostly had me smile, or sometimes do a double take and giggle. The self-deprecating, dry humour made it quite a fun read for me. Sample this conversation of Adrian with a bank tele-teller.

I said to her, ‘Where exactly is my money, Marilyn?

Marilyn said, ‘Your money doesn’t exist, as such.’ She went on, ‘Your money, Mr. Mole, is an abstraction wafting in the air between financial institutions, at the mercy of inflation and interest rates, dependent on the health of the economy.’ She recovered herself and apologised for showing her human face. It was a kamikaze speech.

-Cappucino years, Sue Town

7. Measure what matters – John Doerr

One of the business books I had heard a lot about, especially for startups. It is an interesting enough read although I didn’t think it had anything revolutionary, per se. The idea is simple. Have the right metrics to track for the right intervals, especially quarterly.

An effective goal management system – an OKR (Objectives & Key Results) system – links goals to a team’s broader mission. It respects targets and deadlines while adapting to circumstances. It promotes feedback and celebrates wins, large and small. Most important, it expands our limits. It moves us to strive for what might seem beyond our reach.

-Measure what matters, John Doerr

8. Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

This year, I tried getting more of a hang of spirituality for which I obviously turned to books. One of the recommendations came from a friend who was in awe of this book. It’s a short read but personally, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. If I went by this book, then spirituality in effect would mean to kill all ambition and aspirations while moving to a stark existence. For me, true spirituality would be something which gets me to balance worldly pleasures and peace within. As for this book, sample what it preaches.

A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, emoty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquillity with an emptied heart, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse & Le Chu Ca

9. A is for Alibi – Sue Grafton

I am in awe of women protagonists and this was the start of the fascinating “alphabet series”. Kinsey Millhone made for a good detective to follow around. She was a real, imperfect character that you wouldn’t really want to mess with. Definitely made for a good change from the other spiritual books that I was trying.

Things did not seem to be falling into place very fast. So far, I felt like I had a lapful of confetti  and the notion of piecing it all together to make a picture seemed very remote indeed. Time had shredded the facts like a big machine, leaving only slender paper threads with which to reconstruct reality.

A is for alibi, Sue Grafton

10. Mint your money – Pranjal Kamra

I have been trying to work on and off on a Personal Finance book for some time now. This was a title I saw taking prime real estate at an airport book store. The book is by a Personal Finance youtuber wanting to, well diversify his talents. It was a short, and absolutely terrible read that I finished over the course of my flight. While it did give me a brief impetus to restart work on my own book, alas I am yet to really put in the push to get into a better rhythm.

11. I am that – Osho

As mentioned earlier, I attempted a literary turn to spirituality this year. So, I asked a friend I quite look up to for recommendations. This masterpiece came highly recommended. I have always been wary of self-proclaimed gurus. However, this book cemented that belief and made sure I will continue keeping my distance from anything related to them. Although some things were interesting, a lot of what he said was plain nasty and just overall blah. But, in my spirit of large heartedness, let me integrate a quote I actually liked from the book:

A sanyasin, a meditator, has to live his life in such a way that everything goes on growing, expanding, without any limit. Your love, your joy, your silence, your life – everything should be allowed to grow. And it can happen only if you allow the same to others.

-I am that, Osho

12. Things left unsaid – Courtney Walsh

This was a quick but nice read. A small town rocked by a young death, which has the ability to impact people even years later. It’s just a very human story as you read through the things unsaid and the scars it can leave.

13. The guardians – John Grisham

John Grisham remains one of those classic authors that you can read any time and generally not go wrong with. I still remember how I had forgotten my iPad charger and needed a book that very moment. Delivery app Swiggy came to the rescue, which happily enough in Kerala, even delivered books. This one of Grisham, yet again did not disappoint. His range within the genre of legal thrillers is quite impressive. In The Guardians, Cullen Post is such an interesting character with a strong purpose of using law for the innocent. If you are looking for a legal thriller, this one really makes the cut.

April

14. What is a lemon squeezer doing in my vagina? – Rohini Rajagopal

Books serve multiple purposes in my life. Often, even when I am confused or distressed, I turn to these saviours. In some ways, this book found me at a book shop on that Kerala trip. It is about a mostly shushed topic in India – infertility and the toll it can take on women undergoing the journey. So, yes the audience for it would be super niche as Rohini goes about beautifully describing the 5-year emotional roller coaster in getting to her goal of motherhood.

15. The optimist’s guide to letting go – Amy Reichert

One of the easiest books to pick up are generally family sagas especially if they are not too emotionally sappy. This one first got me at the title and then the depth with inter-generational intricacies. A grandmom in the hospital, her complex relationship with her daughter, and then the daughter’s relationship with her own daughter. The history of the relationship unfolds at leisure and then the letting go process. I definitely enjoyed this one.

She let the tears take her. Gina had learned long ago that once they broke, she had to let them dry themselves up. Then she could stuff all the anguish back inside its bottle until the next time the cork popped open.

-The optimist’s guide to letting go, Amy Reichert

16. Where the crawdads sing – Delia Owens

This was one of the shining highlights of my reading year. The language, the life described, the emotions and even the intents all wrapped up into one impactful package. Initially, it feels a little slow and a bit of a drag. But, having heard from credible sources about what a worthy read it is, I persisted and now am a fan of the book. Read it for the most visually lyrical writing and coming-of-age Kya’s evolving relationship with two young men.

The town wharf, draped in frayed ropes and old pelicans, jutted into the small bay, whose water, when calm, reflected the reds and yellows of shrimp boats. Dirt roads, lined with small cedar houses, wound through the trees, around lagoons, and along the ocean on either end of the shops. Barkley Cove was quite literally a backwater town, bits scattered here and there among the estuaries and reeds like an egret’s nest flung by the wind.

– Where the crawdads sing, Delia Owens

17. Mindf*ck – Christopher Wylie

This was one of the Christmas gifts we got in 2019. Initially the black cover with the imposing silver X seemed intimidating. But, as I started reading it, I was hooked while also being intimidated with the extent of things public data is being used for. In some ways, it made me even more social-media phobic. Read it to understand why there was such a furore about Cambridge Analytics and it’s role in the US election results of 2016. Read it to try and protect yourself from the echo chambers that you could very well be getting sucked into. More importantly, read it for inspiration to erect the right kind of barriers in your personal information that you put out in public spaces.

More data led to more profits, and so design patterns were implemented to encourage users to share more and more about themselves. Platforms started to mimic casinos, with innovations like the infinite scroll and addictive features aimed at the brain’s reward systems. Services such as Gmail began trawling through our correspondence in a way that could land a traditional postal worker in prison. Live geo tracking, once reserved for convicted ankle bracelets, was added to our phones, and what would have been called wiretapping in years past became a standard feature of countless applications.

-Mind*ck, Christopher Wylie

18. The rough patch – Daphne de Marneffe

Marriage is no cake walk and we can all take any good advice that comes our way. I was in a good reading space that time when I decided to pick up this book. In some ways, the book talks about a mid-life crisis of sorts when people often look for purpose beyond just raising a family. Research shows that leaning or expecting too much for marriage to get you out of it may not be ideal and how this needs to be a time for the self to evolve. It was an interesting read although nothing specifically lodged itself in my brain, I am guessing I absorbed and imbibed some of the learnings.

The midpoint of life represents the moment of maximal conflict between our drive to seek external solutions to our emotional dilemmas and our recognition that, ultimately, they don’t work. In the rough patch we are forced to realize, often against our will, that the life-building activities of youth—job, relationship, children, house—have not taken care of what’s unresolved within.

– The rough patch, Daphne de Marneffe

19. The bride test – Helen Hoang

I have now lost count of the number of romcoms I would have read. What intrigues me are the possible new angles in them. That’s where this one really scored high. The plot is intriguing with a woman choosing a Vietnamese girl as bride for her autistic Viet-origin American genius son. How that relationship evolves to actually translate to love made for a good, short read.

May

20. Ayyas accounts – Anand Pandian & M.P. Mariappan

One of the few books that I bought from a book store in the year. This was a short read, where the language didn’t have that much going for it. But, the story was akin to time travel. Reading about the author’s grandfather’s life traversing from Burma to a small Tamil village was pretty enriching.

Most tales of modern India these days are epic accounts of victory and defeat. There are the industrial Titans who tug on our admirations and jealousies, and the anguished paupers who elicit sympathy and disdain. There is no doubt something riveting in the trials and triumphs of exceptional figures. But perhaps there is also something to learn from those who have lived between those poles, those who saw big things happen and caught just some of their momentum, those who found modest success in a life of trouble, chance, nerve and ruse.

-Ayya’s accounts, Anand Pandian & M.P. Mariappan

21. Silence of the girls – Pat Barker

Even after hearing of the two Greek epics multiple times, this was my first foray into Greek mythology. The book is a retelling of Homer’s Illiad from the point of view of an affected woman, Briseis. So you end up reading not that much about the glory on the battlefield, but more of the misery in the camps women are subjected to. It was very reminiscent of Chitra Divakaruni and yet it opened a whole new world for me. A highly recommended book for even a borderline feminist and mythology lover.

He looked hollow, I thought. All that killing, all that revenge…Perhaps he’d managed to convince himself that if he did all that—killed Hector, defeated the Trojan army, broke Priam—Patroclus would keep his side of the bargain and stop being dead. We all try to make crazy deals with the gods, often without really knowing we’re doing it. And so there he was—he’d done it all, kept every promise—but Patroclus’s body was still just a body. An absence.

– Silence of the girls, Pat Barker

22. Anxious people – Fredrik Backman

For me, Frederik Backman will always remain synonymous with A Man Called Ove. Possibly, that’s why any other book of his falls short of that gold standard. But, this one was interesting in it’s own right. In the first half, it comes across as complete balderdash. There is a hodge podge of characters, seemingly starring in their own stories. Gradually, the knots get untangled and the details begin to blossom into a plot worth digging into.

23. Let’s talk money – Monika Halan

Another personal finance book that didn’t do much for me. Halan is an experienced finance professional and the book is highly touted in the genre. While better than the Pranjal Kamra book mentioned above, this one reeked too much of a holier-than-thou attitude. I could almost imagine her with a pair of glasses perched on the nose, peering down at mere mortals who needed education about finance. But then, that could be, just me.

24. The sense of style – Steven Pinker

Since the time I have started writing more regularly, I mostly read with a finer scan. I try to imbibe what seems worthy of it while scowling in irritation at what just doesn’t feel right or could be written better. Pinker’s book is a multiple time thing in intensity of this habit. He gives examples of professional writing and impeccable writing practices to be imbibed. Definitely a writer’s book although by the end of it the details got to me.

Good writers are avid readers. They have absorbed a vast inventory of words, idioms, constructions, tropes, and rhetorical tricks, and with them a sensitivity to how they mesh and how they clash. This is the elusive “ear” of a skilled writer—the tacit sense of style which every honest stylebook, echoing Wilde, confesses cannot be explicitly taught.

-The sense of style, Steven Pinker

June

25. A mind for numbers – Barbara Oakley

Although the book title talks only about developing number skills, a lot of the things mentioned would be pretty useful in learning overall. Things like sleep being important, chunking down things and even some other aspects which helped Oakley pick up Russian faster. So, if like me you aspire to learn everyday, this is a handy read.

Doing something physically active is especially helpful when you have trouble grasping a key idea. As mentioned earlier, stories abound of innovative scientific breakthroughs that occurred when the people who made them were out walking.

– A mind for numbers, Barbara Oakley

26. How to change – Katy Milkman

When it comes to making changes or tweaking habits, there are enough and more books written. Of those, The Power of Habit and Atomic Habits are two of the best known. This book didn’t add much new to what I have read prior to it. The one thing I took with me from the book was “fresh start effect”. Considering we are in December, you would relate to the fact why a new year feels like a clean slate which gives much higher hope with respect to making good changes in our lives.

Habits are the behaviors and routines we’ve repeated, consciously or subconsciously, so many times that they’ve become automatic. They are essentially our brain’s default setting: the responses we enact without conscious processing. Neuroscience research shows that as habits develop, we rely less and less on the parts of our brain that are used for reasoning (the prefrontal cortex) and more and more on the parts that are responsible for action and motor control (the basal ganglia and cerebellum).

-How to change, Katy Milkman

27. Yolk – Mary K. Choi

While it is referred to as a young adult book, it was such a good read. The relationship between the two sisters, Jayne and June, is complex to say the least. It’s a nice heart-warming read. I would recommend it to anyone willing to try out a book centred on human relations.

There’s also a container from Domino’s Pizza. In New York. We live in the town with the best slices in the world and my sister is ordering Domino’s Pizza. If there were ever an indication that your sibling was unwell, it’s this.

-Yolk, Mary K. Choi

28. The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

This was a book whose striking cover stared at me from my iPad for a very long time. Finally, I picked it up. While I think a 4.46 rating after more than 600,000 ratings on Goodreads is an overkill in this case, it was a “decent read” nonetheless.

No one is just a victim or a victor. Everyone is somewhere in between. People who go around casting themselves as one or the other are not only kidding themselves, but they’re also painfully unoriginal.

-The seven husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid

29. The stand-in – Kate Clemens

A book that came to me through a pre-loved book stall, it was one of those blah reads that I finished for the heck of it. While the premise is fun, it is common. The writing is pretty insipid and I think a lot more could have been done with it.

July

30. The widows of Malabar Hills – Sujata Massey

Another highlight of the year for me was to discover the Perveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey. I have now been in Mumbai for over 13 years and even before that when I read Maximum City, this cosmopolitan space teeming with people fascinated me. Seeing Bombay of 1920s when the imposing Gateway of India was still under construction, through the eyes of a Parsi (India’s first) female lawyer is mind-blowing. Like historical fiction but looking for something different? Try out this one and you will thank me for it.

After lunch, Jamshedji strolled off to the Ripon Club. Perveen knew he was headed for one of the Parsi social club’s long-armed teak lounge chairs in which certain barristers were infamous for putting up their legs and snoring away. He probably wanted praise from his friends, a glass of port, and then a long nap.

-The widows of Malabar Hills, Sujata Massey

31. Of beasts and beauty – Bindu Tandon

A book club read. An author’s debut who is also a member of the club. That’s all I will write about this one here.

32. The bromance book club – Lyssa Kay

This would probably count as yet another rom com but it was different. A football player’s marriage is on the rocks and then he discovers a secret book club among some of his team members where they read what? You guessed it. Romance books. They rope him in so that he can learn from the rich lessons the books bestow on him, to work on his marriage and get it up again. I love the premise although I still feel the execution could have been better.

Look, man,” Malcolm said, his Hulk-sized hands stroking a beard thick enough to qualify for federal forest protection. “Men are idiots. We complain that women are so mysterious and shit, and we never know what they want. We fuck up our relationships because we convince ourselves that it’s too hard to figure them out. But the real problem is with us. We think we’re not supposed to feel things and cry and express ourselves. We expect women to do all the emotional labor in a relationship and then act confused when they give up on us.

-The bromance club, Lyssa Kay

August

33. The girl he used to know – Tracey Garvis Graves

Yes, I see it too. This would count as another romance. Here the protagonists meet after ten years and try to reconcile to how each has evolved. Do I really need to spell out how it ends? But, it is a more gentle and mature romance as compared to the usual holiday reads that I have read and makes for a decent change in my favourite genre.

34. The perfect couple – Elin Hilderbrand

A fluffy murder mystery with a very disappointing end. Everything is set up nicely for a wedding in beautiful, privileged Nantucket Island. But, on D-morning a body of a bridesmaid washes up near the resort. So starts the questioning of everyone present and skeletons get dug up. But, a lot of thrillers do well with the build up but either fizzle out at climax or become unbelievable. This one fell in the former bracket.

35. Tribe of mentors – Tim Ferris

At times, this year has felt like a never-ending struggle. This giant of a book with wisdom distilled from successful lives gave the kind of compassion that one could do with. But, it’s the kind of book that works more like an accompaniment rather than a main course.

Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world. You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you. Don’t worry about your friends “beating” you or “getting somewhere” ahead of you. Get out into the real dirt world and start failing. Why do I say that? Because the goal is to connect with your own self, your own soul. Adversity. Everybody spends their life trying to avoid it. Me too. But the best things that ever happened to me came during the times when the shit hit the fan and I had nothing and nobody to help me.

-Tribe of mentors, Tim Ferris

36. Brother’s keeper – Julie Lee

This was a super sweet book. A story showing a young sister and brother sibling duo crossing over from North Korea to South Korea amid the communist disruption. The obstacles that they come across and the way they finally manage to make it to the South makes for a wonderful read.

Everyone knew the red scarf was the most important part of the communist youth club uniform. Red had become sacred. It fluttered in the star of our new North Korean flag. Mothers tied and retied it cautiously around their children’s necks. And red armbands stood out on the white of the villagers’ clothes like a bloodstain.”

-Brother’s keeper, Julie Lee

37. On practice management – Deena Katz   

Some books are timeless. This one, published in 1999 was recommended on a financial planners’ group that I am a part of. But, for someone constantly thinking of how to set up her own financial planner practice, it had some really good advice. While I made my notes, it seems like a book I will have to get to multiple times.

There is no practical way to determine, much less control, how people assign value to various services. What matters is that you value what you do, because if you don’t believe that your advice or service is desirable, prospects won’t either. How you feel about your work is transmitted immediately to people.

-On practice management, Deena Katz

September

38. The round house – Louise Erdrich

Another coming-of-age story while battling a gruesome event in his mother’s life, the book does a beautiful job of portraying Joe’s life in an Ojibwe reservation. A lot of issues get covered as they are lived, ranging the span of women’s rights, the forms justice can take and understanding life from boys in the stage of puberty. Since this was a book club read, the discussions around made reading it so much richer.

Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon we were waiting for my mother to start us ticking away on the evening.

-The round house, Louise Erdrich

39. The 10 rules of successful nations – Ruchir Sharma

A friend gave this small book and what a punch it packed. There were many interesting data points and the dots it connected. So much so that after a long long time I finally wrote a book babble blog post about it. If you are interested in global economics and some predictable trends that can be seen over the years, this is a must-read.

The question to ask is never What will the world look like if current trends hold? It is, rather, What will happen if the normal pattern holds and cycles continue to turn? In a sense, the rules are all about playing the right probabilities, based on the cyclical patterns of an impermanent world.

-The 10 Rules of Successful Nations, Ruchir Sharma

40. It starts with the egg – Rebecca Fett

The subject in the book is female humans. I read this for advice relating to an event I am undergoing in my own life. But, some of the action points ended up being life lessons. After reading this book, I eliminated plastic from my kitchen. It is this book that also made me start looking at all skincare labels specifically for parabens. So yeah, it’s been an year of lessons of which some might hold well for a lifetime.

41. The maidens – Alex Michaelides

This was my first Alex Michaelides read of “The Silent Patient” fame. I loved the build-up and the crazy characters that were introduced one after the other. But, the ending seemed like too much of a force fit and didn’t particularly ring too true.

Even though she knew she would never see Sebastian again – even though he was gone for good – she was still in love and didn’t know what to do with all this love of hers. There was so much of it, and it was so messy: leaking, spilling, tumbling out of her, like stuffing falling out of an old rag doll that was coming apart at the seams.

-The maidens, Alex Michaelides

42. Take me with you when you go – David Levithan & Jennifer Niven

This is a book I will remember most for how I got it. I was at a city hotel for a staycation. Right next to the elevator on my floor was a small a table with pre-loved books where you could pick one in exchange for something you leave. I bought this one at a bookstore, finished it during the stay of two days and exchanged it for The Eyre Affair that I finished in December.

As for the book, I think sibling love could well be my reading theme this year. In this case, it is an epistolary novel relived through email exchange between Ezra and his big sister Bea. Bea flees home and makes her way in this big bad world, while Ezra is left to navigate their awful family wondering why Bea left him to sort that mess on his own. What I really liked about the book is some relatable reflections on family and how they are expressed in the emails between the two.

Even as I was saying it, I knew it was the wrong thing. It was mean. Technically right but emotionally wrong.

But I finished saying it anyway.

Fuck, Bea – what if we really are our parents’ bad qualities rearranged into new people? What if that ends up being the best we can be?

-Take me with you when you go, David Levithan & Jennifer Niven

October

43. Viscious – V.B. Schwab

This was a very interesting read, dealing with morality and evil in such an interesting manner. The whole premise of EOs and one particular EO hunting them down considering them super natural was mostly out of my usual reads. While I think it could have been shorter, it was still a very good fantasy read.

44. Almost a bride – Jo Watson

Ugh! This was a Mills and Boons traipsing around in disguise of a fun tropical vacay cover. Nothing original or fun or funny in this read. Even if you are looking for a light romance, I am sure there are many better out there. What shocks me is a 4.20 rating on Goodreads. But then, it could just be my author’s envy speaking.

November

45. The hero code – William McRaven

While at home for Diwali, somehow I felt the dearth of warm company from a good book yet did not really feel up to committing to a longish one either. My husband was reading this cute, short white little book. I took it up, nodded along and gobbled it pretty quickly as it read more like a slightly long blog post (a bit like this). If you are looking for some life lessons to imbibe, then this works.

46. All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr

Hold on to your seats for I am going to state an unpopular opinion. I picked up this book having a 4.32 rating after a million data points, with obvious high expectations. The language was pretty, characters were vividly sketched and the era fascinating. But, for much too long, I felt like I was floating around with no specific destination in mind. Nothing was happening to really take the story ahead. Even more importantly, the much touted merging of the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner didn’t really seem to happen almost at all. Personally, I struggled quite a bit with the book and I thought sharper editing would have helped.

You know the greatest lesson of history? it’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history. We act in our own self-interest. Of course we do. Name me a person or a nation who does not. The trick is figuring out where your interests are.

-All the light we cannot see, Anthony Doerr

47. A farewell to Gabo & Mercedes – Rodrigo Garcia

A short book that restarted the process of our in-person book club meetings. It is a beautiful memoir of a short period in the author’s life as he reflects in the last days of his father, acclaimed novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, life. Although I haven’t read the latters’ books, the simplicity with which Rodrigo reflected on the event packed in immense depth in a very short read.

Much of our parents’ culture survives in some form in the new planets created by my brother and me with our families. Some of it has merged with what our wives brought, or chose not to bring, from their own tribes. With the years, the splintering will continue, and life will lay upon my parents’ world layers and layers of other lives lived, until the day comes when nobody on this earth holds the memory of their physical presence.

-A farewell to Gabo & Mercedes, Rodrigo Garcia

48. The false witness – Karin Slaughter

There are some books that hold your attention by it’s horns and keep you glued to the book till the time you finish that goddamned thing. This was one of those gems.

It’s the first time I have read a Karin Slaughter book (her last name is so apt considering her genre) and I was hooked. The book starts off with a visual, gory description of a murder and years later the two sisters are being blackmailed about it. Yes, siblings found their way into my book yet again.

But, this book blew my mind that a thriller could be so good. It sort of gets into the head of a junkie and makes you feel for them. It makes you understand how guilt can ruin a life for so long. This book is not pretty but it is the grunginess which makes it so bloody real. For anyone who can handle it, I would say just pick it up.

In retrospect the impulse buy seemed like a bad idea, but that was junkie budgeting for you. Why not spend the money today when you weren’t sure whether or not you’d be getting a free concert from Kurt Cobain tomorrow?

-The false witness, Karin Slaughter

49. Super forecasting – Dan Gardner & Philip Tetlock

This was a book I put on my list having heard it mentioned on my favourite podcast No Stupid Questions as well as by Ruchir Sharma in The 10 Rules of Successful Nations. While I think I still may not have the kind of intellect, passion and bandwidth that the super forecasters seem to have, it opened a whole new world for me. To see that there are tournaments and that people spend time honing their skill to get more accurate with predictions more so on the basis of secondary research.

All too often, forecasting in the twenty-first century looks too much like nineteenth-century medicine. There are theories, assertions, and arguments. There are famous figures, as confident as they are well compensated. But there is little experimentation, or anything that could be called science, so we know much less than most people realize. And we pay the price. Although bad forecasting rarely leads as obviously to harm as does bad medicine, it steers us subtly toward bad decisions and all that flows from them—including monetary losses, missed opportunities, unnecessary suffering, even war and death.

-Super forecasters, Philip tetlock & Dan Gardner

December

50. The eyre affair – Jasper Fforde

Sometimes, serendipity plays it’s role in getting you to the books that truly deserve your attention. This was the book I picked up from the book exchange table at a staycation as mentioned earlier. The world of Thursday Next with bookworms and Will-talk machines where the biggest crime is changing the plot of Jane Eyre was a riot! It is still not an easy read because just to imagine having Dodos as pets with different versions itself could take a different level of cognition. But, it was so worth it.

The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through; the hole is frozen over by the following morning.

-The eyre affair, Jasper Fforde

51. Dial A for Aunties – Jesse Sutapto

It was a recent nominee for some category in the Goodreads Choice Awards and I am still wondering why. The premise is just about okay but the execution is terrible. The body keeps being shoved from one spot to the other. The characters are cliché and flaky. I finished it because it seemed an easy one to do so but I barely found anything of interest. In most cross cultural books, the easiest way to be distinctive is to be visual about food and yet there too there was no headway in this book.

52. Good omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

A book club read, this one was a deliberate attempt for us to venture out of our comfort zone. I have heard about the two authors and their strings of successful books. But, reading this one I realised it was only with the push of the book club that I did read it. The book is fun and makes you smile and laugh. But, the depth that it is trying to convey is wrapped in layers and layers of frothy sarcasm. More importantly, a lot of things feel quite hodge podge with characters jumping out of nowhere. If you have some time for focused reading, then this book could be a rewarding pick.

There are some dogs which, when you meet them, remind you that, despite thousands of years of man-made evolution, every dog is still only two meals away from being a wolf. These dogs advance deliberately, purposefully, the wilderness made flesh, their teeth yellow, their breath a-stink, while in the distance their owners witter, “He’s an old soppy really, just poke him if he’s a nuisance,” and in the green of their eyes the red campfires of the Pleistocene gleam and flicker…

-Good omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

53. Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

A much acclaimed book that I had always bookmarked mentally, particularly for it’s unmissable title. The book has a very strange voice in which it’s written. Recently I heard from two people how they either left it midway or didn’t like it much. But, personally, I found it quite interesting. Eleanor seemed like such a different yet often very relatable person. The sarcasm with which she views social obligations sometimes struck a chord. And of course, towards the end, things tie up quite well too. I would suggest persevering with the book.

I was in a fast-food restaurant for the first time in my adult life, an enormous and garish place just around the corner from the music venue. It was mystifyingly, inexplicably busy. I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from a paper? Afterwards, despite having paid for it, the customers themselves are responsible for clearing away the detritus. Very strange.

-Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, Gail Honeyman

54. The code breaker – Walter Isaacson*

A book recommended by a friend few months back and by Bill Gates a few weeks back. I am still plodding through this one a bit but it paints quite an epic picture of the advancements made by Jennifer Doudna and her team in the field of gene editing. That of course comes along with so many questions of morality and where are we headed. This is a book that I will move into 2022 with.

Figuring out if and when to edit our genes will be one of the most consequential questions of the twenty-first century, so I thought it would be useful to understand how it’s done. Likewise, recurring waves of virus epidemics make it important to understand the life sciences. There’s a joy that springs from fathoming how something works, especially when that something is ourselves. Doudna relished that joy, and so can we. That’s what this book is about.

-The code breaker, Walter Isaacson

There were times in 2021 when I wondered if I am reading enough. But, now when I look back I think it’s been a fairly enriching reading year.

What books have you read in 2021 that you would definitely recommend to me and the readers of Elementum Money? Let me know in the comments below.

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Royce Nair
Royce Nair
8 months ago

Spectacular

Janki
Janki
8 months ago

Your “Year In Books” posts are my Jan-1 rituals. They’re perfectly timed – as I am usually building my booklist for the year – and the fact (equally important) that I can take the recommendations with my eyes closed. I have read these posts cuddled into a blanket at my sister’s backyard in London and on the slopes of Sikkim nibbling away at a plate of insane Dimsums. Your lists make mine more diverse – sometimes help me try new genres more safely than randomly picking up a title from amazon/bookstore. So thank you for it! And cannot wait for… Read more »

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