Ah, books. My obsession for reading whatever I can lay my hands on has only grown in the last few years. In 2018, my year in books managed to surprise me with more than 40 books. Talking to a close friend of mine about 2019, I told her I intend to read atleast 40 books yet again. Considering both of us are pretty tough on ourselves and end up pushing each other too, she asked why I would limit myself to 40 when that was a number already behind me. Well, I am glad that this year, I ended up finishing 60 books. Of course, not all of them were hits, but the misses also ended up enriching me.
Two other things happened when it came to my book reading habit. One, I became a member of a college alumni book club which now meets once a month to discuss a prior decided book. While five such meetings have happened this year, thanks to travel or other commitments, I have managed to attend two of them and both of them have been great events to look forward to. More importantly, the variation that they get into my reading plethora was fantastic.
Secondly, while reading on my iPad and starting the Book Babble posts, I used to often copy and paste on a notepad phrases or prose that I liked. Before that, there was a time when I used to store newspaper clippings of articles I liked from lifestyle newspapers. Starting this year, even while reading paperbacks, I now quickly type out phrases that I like on to a mobile notepad. Not only do they make for great reading at almost any time, I also think just typing out well-written content helps me write better. So, for books that moved me with their prose, I will add in a quote that stood out.
Some notes before you start off with this post:
1. Remember that it will be a really long read at almost 6000 words, despite all my attempts at keeping the descriptions short and concise. Maybe keep it open in a tab and read it in bits and pieces, savoring it with a cup of coffee!
2. Since I read a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, for a quick recognition of the basic distinction, I have added (F) for Fiction and (NF) for Non-Fiction next to the titles
3. All titles are hyperlinked. For books which were described in full-length posts, clicking on the title gets you to those posts. For all other books, the titles are linked to their GoodReads page
That’s it. Let the bibliographic journey begin
Let’s just say the year started out with a dud. When it comes to Personal Finance books, very few have made a mark this year. Since I am starving of options to write on in that section, the book got a full-fledged post to it’s credit. Jen Sincero is known for her badass series and this one was essentially delved into the abundance mindset to getting to wealth. A miss in my books, considering there are better ones on the same subject.
While rated at 4.2 on Goodreads, the book was fairly okay. What it did do was give a good glimpse into life in Crete. Funnily enough, this was one of the first books of three, with some mention of life during World War II although definitely not the most impactful.
While I started reading the book last year, this was one of the autobiographies which stayed with me. Before this, Open by Andre Aggassi was another one in the same genre that in some ways opens your eyes to the world of tennis. It gives you a vivid idea of how grueling a sport it is and just how much mental strength you need to get even close to victory in it.
A nice, heart-warming story, it was one of those books which explored the different shades of masculinity. On one hand is the epitome of toxic masculinity in the form of Algernon Pierce and then you have his own son who seems to be cut from a different fabric altogether, Joe. Now, that I think of this book, it has quite a few similarities to one that I read in November but set in the very different landscape of Africa – Purple Hibiscus.
Yup, January did seem to be a month of finishing auto biographies. Becoming was one of those books I was seeing all around me. It was one of the best reads of the year. Michelle Obama was refreshingly candid and the writing quality was obviously top-notch. The vast array of topics that she seemed to cover in a matter-of-fact way blew me away – be it race issues, dating, marriage, parenthood or being the first lady. I really enjoyed reading about what it took to ensure she was not known only as Wife of Barack Obama but pretty much became Michelle Obama in her own right by using the impactful platform to champion causes close to her heart.
Ugh! This book had me struggling towards completion. It was definitely towards the bottom in the list of books that I read or even abandoned this year. It stands out as some of the worst Indian fiction I have consumed. All I could think while reading it was if this could get published, there was no bloody reason for mine not to be. (Deep breaths, Aparna…)
Another Personal Finance read, David Bach is best known for the concept of The Latte Factor. Smart Women Finish Rich pretty much followed on similar lines to try and help women get rich by automating and tweaking small aspects of their lives. While he does mention gender-based money differences off and on, the book makes you wonder whether there is much of a difference, really? About 5 of his 9 steps made for a good read for almost any beginner foraying into Personal Finance.
I often pick up books from a particular street stall near the bank branch at which I work. On one such visit, the guy manning the stall recommended me this book, which at first glance looks like this really thin unassuming volume. When I read it, I really didn’t know whether to smile or cry or just keep smiling through the tears. The story was sad and tragic but the writing was witty, sarcastic and funny. The relationship especially between Ove and Pravaneh was one of the most heart-warming things I have almost ever read. At that point, I was still not jotting down phrases. The good thing is I started writing this post a little before time and I felt this urge to read the book again and jot down the phrases that capture it’s beauty. The only book that has to have two phrases included in this post.
Ove stomped forward. The cat stood up. Ove stopped. They stood there measuring up to each other for a few moments, like two potential trouble makers in a small-town bar. Ove considered throwing one of his clogs at it. The cat looked as if it regretted not bringing its own clogs to lob back.A Man Called Ove, Frederik Backman
Parvaneh looks at the Lanky One and rolls her eyes, and if it hadn’t been for her belly, which testified to a willingness on her part to contribute to the survival of the Lanky One’s genetic make-up Ove might have found her almost sympathetic at this point.A Man Called Ove, Frederik Backman
Every once in a while, after a few heavy reads, I sort of need a candy floss read just to take a break. In some ways, it’s like cheat days while on a diet. This month had quite a few bite-sized such junk reads. This one, follows Poppy who sort of flicks a phone when she loses her own on the same day as losing a multi-generation engagement ring from her fiancé, which makes her cross paths with the true owner of the phone Sam Roxton. Connect the dots with some serendipity and decent writing and you get an idea of the book.
A stereotypical campus romance – bad boy meets good, innocent girl. They fall in love, passions flare and we got ourselves a story. Do not judge me for we all need balance in our lives with all the havy, thought-provoking reading, right?
Rounding up the hat-trick of my candy floss reads was this one. The premise was a bit more unexpected, but it also led it to making the book a far more graphic and adult novel. Thankfully no BDSM, aka 50 Shades of Grey.
If Deep Work was my productivity discovery of last year, this book was the one in 2019. Having first known about this classic, thanks to the prior mentioned book, flow gave a vivid idea of having a purpose in your life and then working on it in a state of flow. He breaks down the idea into 8 components to give a good idea of how to get there. If you are looking to understand how to cut down distractions while you work, and find yourself in a state while working where nothing else matters, read this book.
This was a read that lived well up to its’ hype. Being a history graduate, while embarking on this book I wondered what new could I learn. Was I wrong or what? I loved the way Harari connects dots between different aspects of human life. Sapiens is not a linear telling of the human story. It helps you wrap your head around with a very different perspective on quite a few things which make us human – like gossip, credit and industrial revolution.
This year also helped me break a few myths about writers. For instance, I always associated Nora Roberts with mushy romances. My first Nora Roberts read helped me break that myth. The Liar was an interesting read with the protagonist Shelby Foxworth and her evolution from a demure widow to a strong woman who finally builds her life back again. The twist? Her late husband and the unravelling of the different malicious layers to his identity.
An honest confession: I am pretty weak in my knowledge of Hindu mythology. I mix up names and events fairly regularly. However, I love the literature so many people are coming up with when it comes to mythology, especially looking at things from the oft-forgotten character view points. My first foray into this was the wonderful Palace of Illusions by Chitra Devakaruni. This book is beautiful in its own right in the way it shows the life of Urmila and what she went through, wherein the mythology books make us privy only to the selflessness of her husband, Lakshman. Alas, my snippet jotting habit started later in the year.
One of those books, where an experimental blog morphed into a book. Bailey decided to take a gamble by refusing two lucrative job offers instead to work on understanding productivity better. Over a year, he devoted himself to tasks like watching 100 hours of TED, interviewing productivity experts as well as other experiments. Click on the title to read about 17 takeaways I got from this rich source of insights into what makes people tick.
Another romance. Yes, the romantic in me often finds itself cocooned in books of all shades. The book follows the story of smart, sassy and independent Minerva Dobbs who is aghast when she finds herself falling for Cal who apparently asked her out on their first date just to win a bet. Do you really need me to even spell out what happens at the end?
Another Personal Finance read that didn’t do much for me. It was one of those books that might be valued by a beginner but made for too much of the same thing for the jaded reader in me. If you want a quick idea of what to expect, click on the title to hop over to my post about the book.
This was an year when I read only one book by SEP. However, none of her books seems to be able to recreate the magic of my all-time-favourite Match Me if you can. Natural born charmer is one of the later books in her Chicago Stars series, following the love story of star quarter back Dean Robillard. Sports and romance of course always hook me.
One of the first books I managed to finish which indulged me in my new-found interest of neuro biology. The book was fascinating with the idea of uncovering motives in a lot of everyday instinctive actions that we take. It talks about some truly interesting areas like body language, conversation and even laughter. Get a taste of the book by clicking the title and going over to the post.
I love weddings and I thought this book about a wedding planner not believing in love but falling for it would be fun. Fairly ordinary, this book made for a passable read.
This was probably my first Michael Connelly read ever, and turned out to be not the last for the year. As far as murder thrillers go, this one was gruesome but a good read. There is a note addressed to Harry Bosch telling him about a corpse under concrete. As the story progresses, different layers emerge and the climax was chilling and quite interesting. If you like thrillers, this was a gripping read.
This book showed my desperation to read a book which could be covered for the Personal Finance Book Babble section. The author came across as cocky and the book reeked of an air of upper handedness. I just didn’t like it. Definitely not recommended.
A dark dark book, this one was my first African read this year. The book takes us through the lives of four African women, who migrate to Brussels to operate in the flesh business. The protagonist Sisi is found murdered and the story weaves beautifully through nostalgia, desperation, grief and sisterhood. If you would like to get a taste of African literature and understand privilege of the lives we lead, read this book.
The most difficult yet rewarding book of the year for me, this was another recommendation that came from my street stall vendor. A thick book with a rainbow cover, it would be well-suited as a curriculum read. However, even with the density of the material, there are such a lot of witty laugh-aloud moments that by the end of it I concluded Sapolsky is a true rockstar! If you have patience, can focus on written material and are curious about the science behind the workings of our brain, this book is for you. Want an easier way of getting a taste of it? By now, you know what to do. Click on the link and read the post.
The best part about a library membership is stumbling upon enlightening reads. Wiser was one such book that resulted from my sojourns to the American library. The sub title – “Getting beyond groupthink to make better decisions” gives a good enough idea of what to expect in the book. It lists down some research-backed ways to ensure groups are able to make better decisions, unlike what generally happens in real life. Click the title to read about some of the best findings from the book.
Another contemporary fiction with a female character at the centre of it, this one has the usual ingredients – single mom, two children, two jobs and an unlikely love story. Jojo Moyes goes through the story skillfully to give us a memorable heart-warming book with characters to remember.
Before I read this book, I never thought money and funny were two words that could be said in the same breath. In fact, I literally called myself a fan girl of Wheelan for some time after reading the book. Click on the book title to read some of the quotes which make me look at this book as the epitome of economically funny.
Sedaris is a well-known American humorist and this was the first time I read his work. This anthology of essays was interesting and in a funny manner covered multiple aspect of holidays, be it mall Santas or family dinners. I probably read it in the wrong month of the year, but it would make a fantastic read right now.
I have a habit of picking up books any time I see a used books stall. I think I can just not resist the combination of books and bargains, two of my favourite things. This one was a pick from one such sojourn which had been lying around for some time. The book is an old publication from 1989 but a fun thriller with protagonist Mike Stranahan and the wily Dr. Rudy Graveline who runs quite an operation under the hood of his plastic surgery clinic.
One of the impactful reads this year, this book was a little surprising. I have read quite a few Jodi Picoult books by now and most of them are mushy and tear jerkers. This book though had vivid colours and I just couldn’t put it down. Told from multiple character view points, the story is quite a roller coaster. But, the cake is taken by the loving detail in which the characters and their interplay is sketched out. Be it the kid Jacob Hunt with Asperger’s Syndrome (with a passion for recreating crime scenes), his mother Emma, the interplay between Jacob and his neglected brother Theo and the tragedy that unfolds in the novel. If you want to read a murder mystery with very different relatable elements, this makes for a good read.
The remnants of the marketeer in me made me pick this little orange book on an American library visit. Diehl does a fantastic job of talking about the importance of stories and as to what to really look for while creating that identity for your brand. Honestly, I was enthused enough by the book to even assign myself some home work!
This was my first read for the fore mentioned book club. The book is graphic, violent and enlightening all at the same time. In this memoir, Tara Westover, takes us through her life in rural Idaho and the Mormon survivalist upbringing of her early years. We also get to see how education changes her view point and how inflexibility in mindset leads to the complete breakdown of communication between the father daughter duo. A bit of a serious read, but the insight into the community was well worth it.
A recommendation from my brother-in-law, this short book made me feel pretty proud of my own roots in finance. Confused? I am a history graduate turned marketeer who then took a turn into the world of Personal Finance. In this book, Mihir Desai does a beautiful job of bringing together the threads of humanities and finance with some kickass story telling skills. It’s a must read for anyone wanting a higher level of appreciation for finance. Click on the title to read about some of those stories.
While the premise of a teen Budhhist monk in a monastery getting involved in a mystery seemed pretty interesting, the execution could have been better. I struggled a bit to finish the book, ending up starting new books on my journey to getting down with this one.
I think skilled authors are ones who can turn a pretty ordinary story into a hooking narrative. This book with a simple enough idea of a fired political cartoonist returning to his home town, surprised me with the layers that you can add on to seemingly everyday life.
Any residual Cantrell (family name) strut and boast is channeled into the chrome and paint jobs or the horsepower per cubic inch under the hoods of our latest set of wheels. We Cantrells may not go far in the world, but we’ll get there in style.The Bridge, Doug Marlette
Dispute over a painting leads a woman to a quest and readers down a journey swinging between World War II and contemporary times. This year, I read quite a few angles into fictionalized narratives involving World War II and this was an interesting take on it. The writing, the atmosphere and the characters for the world war era were so vivid that I could literally feel a chill run down my spine while reading some of it. It took some reminding to hold on to the idea that she was the same author to have written Me Before You.
Ironically enough, in the month when the war officially came to an end thanks to the Atom bomb, I was simultaneously reading two books about the War. This one though was out and out a World War II book. While the dark, heavy air around the subject can make content seem difficult, this book had surprisingly witty writing for the topic.
We Germans have a great capacity for ignoring other people and what they tell us; it’s what makes us so damned German. It’s always been like that, I guess. Rome tells Martin Luther to lay off and does he lay off? – does he hell. Beethoven goes deaf, and in spite of what his doctors advise, he carries on writing music – well, who needs ears to listen to a whole symphony? And if a mere field marshal stands in the way of your investigation’s progress then you simply go over his head, to the minister of propaganda.A Man Without Breath, Philip Kerr
For a long time, I had heard of how one must read Murakami and this year I did. Now, I don’t know whether I read the wrong one or I am just not cut out for it but I found the book quite boring. The story is slow and the writing pretty pedestal. I can happily say this considering there are more than enough fans out there for the author, to compensate for the loss of one.
I first heard about this concept and the writer while listening to a podcast almost two years back. I am glad to say that the book lived up to the anticipation. Duckworth, a psychologist interested in child development, writes all about the role of grit to get us to our goals, attributing more to it than just pure talent. Not sure if it’s the same old thing as in other books? Click on the title to get an idea of what the book talks about.
The only travelogue I read this year and a worthy title holder. In some ways the sequel to her previous best seller, Around India in 80 trains, this books has vivid train journeys described. While a lot of the journeys looked like far more work than leisure, the books was definitely one of the best arm chair travelling pursuits I have ever read.
As much as I’d developed a taste for falling asleep in one country and waking up in the next, the richest flavor of train travel lay in the joints and hinges that held countries together: it was deep inside, buried into the bone marrow of these no-man’s-lands, where cultures swirled together, currencies doubled up and languages overlapped. Invisible to others, these oases were the preserve of train travelers who were permitted a glimpse as they rolled from one side to the other.Around the World in 80 Trains, Monisha Rajesh
Not all fandom lasts very long. After how much I loved Naked Money, I blocked Naked Economics in the American library hoping to get as much joy from this book too. Alas, a lot of the content was repeated and the magic in this prequel of sorts was definitely missing. If you have the time to read only one Wheelan book, it has to be the aqua coloured Naked Money and not the green coloured Naked Economics.
Another American library find, this book has been full of personal learnings and insights. I have not often been too good at receiving feedback. This book makes a lengthy, research-backed theory on the basis of feedback and how you can do a better job at accepting it, absorbing it and using it for your own good. The biggest learning? Feedback is always autobiographical, coming from the giver’s own experiences. Read more about the book by clicking on the title.
A long family saga spanning over generations and continents, Lucinda Riley surprised me by how well she seemed to write about Indian characters in colonial times. Most of the times I was just surprised at how authentic the story seemed for an Italian lady to weave with some truly Indian protagonists. On its’ own terms too, the story is good but the climax was fairly predictable and some twist would have been more appreciable for sure.
In this political environment, this book dealing with racial discrimination made for a good read. It deals with a college and the time spend by a young Negro girl, trying to get away with posing as white. Her friendship with an upper class, popular white girl is surprising and leads her to unexpected paths.
My second Michael Connelly of the year, this court room was vastly different than the murder thriller I read earlier. A sequel to the much acclaimed Lincoln Lawyer, Micky Haller is back with his surprisingly rag tag team to solve the puzzle of a former client that he was still fond of. Like court room dramas and murder thrillers? This makes for a good read.
A short blue book, while it didn’t take much time to read, I would still say it’s a miss. I can summarise the book in six words: purpose in life and social interactions. There are definitely better books on the topic out there.
Rounding up a year of some fairly mediocre Personal Finance reads is this book. Less said the better. In case you are still curious, click the title and read about the book.
One of the funniest reads of the year for me was also a myth-busting one. Till I picked up this book, I always associated Georgette Heyer with Victorian romances. This pick by the book club busted the myth introducing me to her style of witty and sarcastic thrillers. If you are in the mood to wrap your tongue around complicated Victorian words while marveling at how people can play with words to make readers laugh even through a dark story, give this one a read.
She told him, in what she hoped was a careless tone, that Ermyntrude had a headache, and was breakfasting in her room. He accepted this information with all the polite concern of one who had not sipped his early tea to the accompaniment of an unleashed female voice reciting, in ruthless crescendo, every sin his host had committed since his marriage.No Wind of Blame, Georgette Heyer
Journalist, writer and film maker writes a hilarious account of what it means to be an aging woman in this set of essays. As for the eponymous essay, her point being that while with other body parts, you can still camouflage your age, the neck remains a give away. A book which might appeal and feel relatable more to women, this had me nodding and giggling often enough.
I am not someone who knows much about Western music. Unlike other people who would probably use the time to experiment with actual music, I resorted to my favourite medium by picking up this short green book. Boy, was I glad or what! The book vividly traces the social history of the US and the movement of the music genre alongside.
Much clearer is that jazz has been closely tied to the African-American struggle for equality. Ragtime and the blues expressed black subordination to white culture and white power, before World War I gave them hope; rhythm and blues, soul, funk and rap gave voice to black’s deferred dreams and angry sense of betrayal after World War II. Black jazz came between these two trends.Jazz in American Culture, Burton Peretti
Kristin Hannah is another one of those authors from whom I have come to automatically expect a good read. This book takes us through the lives of three sisters and especially their varying relationships, with their spouse, with each other and most importantly with one man, their father.
A long inter-generation saga for a Korean family, struggling to make a life in Japan, this book was a struggle initially. However, when your sister recommends a book, you see it through and are happy that you did. The initial bit of the book is mostly dedicated to really setting up the scene whereas so much happens towards the end that the last few chapters literally seem to jog the story ahead. If you want an idea of a different culture, the impact of war and lives of immigrants, this thick book could still be worth your time.
I am a recent though selective reader of fantasy series, even in the young adult genre. One book I had been really hooked on to last year was Flame in the mist. This year I re-read it to refresh my memory and then read it’s sequel, namely this book. Like a lot of experiences, the sequel was a bit of a struggle and did not live up to the expectations created by the first book. However, the series remains a decent read overall
On one of those rare occasions where I went for a client meeting on a holiday, I crossed a shop with pile upon pile of used books. As soon as I saw it, my eyes lit up and my team member knew he might as well bid good bye since I would be a lost cause. One of the books I picked up turned out to be the highly enjoyable Sycamore Row by John Grisham. To me, Grisham is one of those timeless authors, whom I have enjoyed reading even as a teen. In this sequel to A Time To Kill, within a court case, he effortlessly weaves in race issues, family contention, inheritance and many other shades. If you like legal thrillers, you know you can’t go wrong with a Grisham.
Apart from the stories in the books, while writing this post I realised I also love the stories behind how I came across the books. In Bhubaneswar (small Indian town) for a friend’s wedding, I chanced upon this book at the hotel lobby. After the wedding and before checking out for an early flight the next morning, I sat down on the bathroom floor to ensure I finished the book. While the story is fairly been there-done that, with the boy’s mother playing spoilsport to a budding romance, the book does give a beautiful glimpse into Iranian culture, especially in the times of Revolution in 1970s.
Another African read, I was a bit skeptical considering the way I had struggled over a Toni Morrison (yes, I know she is African American, but the skepticism persisted). However, this book club read was delightful, made even more so with a club meeting on open ground by the sea, discussing the myriad angles and views to the book. Looked at from a teenage girls’ lens, the story charts Kambili with her hero worship of her father and how her view and world changes with a stay at her Aunty Ifeoma’s house along with her brother Jaja and two cousins Amaka and Obiora. This one-sentence idea of the story does no justice to the book, and I count it as a must-read. The best part? An amazing initiation to Nigerian culture, especially the food. Be ready to Google the umpteen dishes mentioned in the book.
Nsukaa started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunt Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Another book stall pick, this book is a great read if you want to understand the horrors of racial extermination, genocide and life under the ISIS regime. Nadia, was kidnapped as a 19-year-old even as most of her family was murdered for being Yazidi, to be turned into a slave to the ISIS soldiers. Imagine all possible horrors including violence, torture and rape as well as a miraculous escape and you have the book. While the story is eye-opening, if I was to comment simply on the quality of writing, I wouldn’t really commend that.
Another writer that came across as a revelation from a very surprising source, David Cornwall or John Le Carre’s memoir was a mixed read for me. The book had flashed of great writing, wit, humour, sarcasm and the most fantastic experiences. However, it was also non-linear and seemed like disparate experiences threaded along in a bit of an unsavory manner. What it did do was give me an author whose work is a must try for me in the coming year.
To be honest, this is a book I had bought some time back and was a timely fit into my reading list to ensure I reached the round figure of 60. It is a short read and within a few hours, I was done reading through this Holocaust fiction which looks at the most horrific incident of modern times through a cloak of innocence. Yes, there have been critiques who believe Doyne ended up simplifying and in some ways reducing the importance and darkness of the Auschwitz concentration camp, especially with his references to the Fuhrer as the Fury and Auschwitz as Out-with as pronounced by the nine-year old narrator and protagonist Bruno. But, sometimes I think simplifying the most horrific, complicated things can be a much needed alternate narrative.
So, that was my year 2019 in books. I am already looking forward to 2020 and have quite a few books piled up with one that I had left mid-way, waiting to be picked up again.
How was your year in books? Was there a particular read that surprised, enlightened, charmed or made you smile? Let me know in the comments below.