Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Pages: 87
Genre: Fiction
Read: June 2017
Rating: 4/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Out there, Spiritual, Preachy

I’ve heard about this book for years now. Everyone says it’s a ‘classic’, a ‘must read’. However, it’s often equated to ‘spiritualism’ and for the longest time I was like ‘Aint nobody got time for that!’

Then one day I went to a second-hand book market and I found this book and said, ‘Okay, make some time.’ And so I did. I picked up the book grudgingly and I read it.

The good thing about this book is that it is a really short read. Finished it in a matter of an hour. It has some interesting lessons to learn, however, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. But in a way, it was.

Here are some of my takeaways from the book. Nothing new, but at that time (1970s), I’m assuming it was out of the ordinary. Hence, the love and appreciation.

  • Purpose: Alleviate yourself from the drudgery of common life. Find a higher purpose, something you work towards, something that gives you joy.
  • Hone your craft – practice, practice, practice!
  • On the road to achieve something great, you will face opposition. Even if they banish you, you must not say ‘fuck em’. Be the bigger person. If you think this will change the course of things, stick with your gut. One day they will come around. (Reminded me of Galileo)

I liked the book till page 57, and then an exchange about friendship and time and space happened between Jonathan Seagull & Sullivan Seagull and I cringed. From then on, as the spiritual gyaan was hurled at me, I cringed more. I guess I can safely say I’m not spiritual?

The main theme of the book is self-discovery i.e. letting go of ‘who the world says you are’ and understanding ‘who you are’. I agree with this thought though I can deal with this only on a superficial level. At this time in life, I cannot deep dive into this process. Hence, I appreciate this book and will keep its thoughts and takeaways with me. However, it isn’t a book that truly affected my core.

Also, I can’t deal with the ‘Break the chains of your thought and thus, break the chains of your body’, ‘You are but you aren’t’ kind of BS.

So for those wondering, ‘Hey Smriti, should I read this book or not?’ I say, ‘Yeah dude. Go for it. It’s a really short read and it has some interesting things to say. It also has some blasé photographs of seagulls, if you’re into that.’

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

Pages: 491
Genre: Fiction
Read: May 2017
Rating: 9/10

With every book you read, you can always find something that went wrong – something you didn’t like. When I read Narcopolis, I couldn’t find any.

The book had me hooked from the first paragraph. I remember being tired. I had comeback from a long day at work and I had hardly slept the night before. I was ready to sleep at 10. I read the first page and suddenly, it was 1.

The book starts off with a bang with probably the best prologue I have read recently. It was very surreal and gave me ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vibes. It was as if I had landed in a strange place and was having a conversation with a person with two heads. I can’t explain it to you. You have to read it for yourself.

This book, divided into 4 parts, speaks of Bombay (known as Mumbai now) and it’s opium epidemic during the 1970s to the almost present time. Different characters, mostly all drug addicts, take you from Bombay to LA to China and tell you seemingly disjointed stories.

What makes it seem ‘disjointed’ is that the book doesn’t have one narrator but many. They randomly change with no announcement. But to me, it felt natural. It flowed into the narration of the book and wasn’t jarring or confusing. The different narrators told stories of many other people, not just themselves. Sometimes one narrator narrated the story of another!

Sounds confusing right? But it wasn’t. And that’s the beauty of it! It really takes the theory of an ‘unreliable narrator‘ and adds multiple dimensions to it.

What I also loved about the book was that it was set in Bombay and the places the author mentioned are 100% authentic. Things like Marine Drive, Colaba, Regal – are common knowledge. The Chinese Graveyard in Sewri, Shuklaji Street, however, are not.

Not only were the places authentic but also the things happening around the time. I really liked that they depicted what it was like during the ’93 Bombay Riots. Though not a deep dive, but it was a description of the landscape through the eyes of the narrators.

I really can’t pinpoint what exactly made me love this book so much. Maybe it was the joy of reading ‘unreliable narrators’. Maybe it was because the book is set in the city I live in. Maybe it’s the poetic ramblings that caught my attention. Maybe it was what the ramblings were about – sex, drugs, religion, gender identity, violence, murder. So much! I can not say for sure. But what I do know is that reading this book was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to repeat it again.

P.S. Fair warning though, I do not think many of the non-Indians would appreciate this book. It has a lot of slang, language and pop culture that others may not understand.

Favourite Quotes:

“You’ve got to face facts and the fact is life is a joke, a fucking bad joke, or, no, a bad fucking joke. There’s no point taking it seriously because whatever happens, and I mean whatever the fuck, the punch line is the same: you go out horizontally. You see the point? No fucking point.”

“We’re waiting for a glance or a word, some acknowledgement that we are here.”

“For every happiness there is an equal and opposite unhappiness.”

“Doubt is another word for self-hate, because if you doubt yourself and your position in the world you open yourself to failure. You are the carrier of a virus and you’re contagious and you should be put down, because doubt is the most dangerous indulgence of them all, most dangerous than vanity or green, because doubt feeds on itself like cancer or tuberculosis, and unlike the sufferers of such ailments, the doubter does not deserve sympathy: doubt is a decision.”

[about Mumbai] “The city claimed seven islands from the sea. In the rainy reason, the sea claimed them back.”

“It is a funny thing, only the uneducated set so much stock by education. When you go to school you realize how little it means, because the street belongs to whoever takes it.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it true that men aren’t interested in tenderness as much as orgasm? Isn’t it true that the main goal of the sexual act, for a man, is the discharging of the semen into a suitable receptacle, or even an unsuitable one if nothing else is available?”

“For conversation, better to be a woman, for everything else, for sex, better to be a man.”

“But there’s no use saying this to you. You’ll only misunderstand and misquote me, and I will end up sounding pompous or foolish, which is really the same thing.”

“‘Kaam’, said Bengali, as if to himself, ‘is work in Hindi, but desire or lust in Sanskrit. So kaamvali has a double meaning, which this gentlemen is doubtless aware of.'”

 

 

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Pages: 491
Genre: Fiction
Read: May 2017
Rating: 6/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Unnerving, a bit of a let down, harsh reminder of our reality, very ‘black or white’

Read If You Are: interested in how social media/tech can change the world – positively and negatively

Some books make you happy. Some make you sad. Some make you want to reach into the book and shake the characters. This was the last one.

I don’t have a problem with dystopian novels. You know they’re talking of something super fucked up and it takes place in the future which seems far away, unattainable. The Circle, however, speaks of a world that is now. And that’s unnerving.

It’s funny – they are trying to show you ‘Utopia’, but all I could see was ‘Dystopia’.

The book follows the life of Mae Holland who has recently joined The Circle, a company that seems like a mix of Google and Facebook (or if Google Plus had actually done well). She joins the company that seems to be happy to take care of everything – they look after the employees well, make sure that they’re happy and involved but to a fault. I remember this scene in the beginning of the book where HR questions her about why she didn’t share what she was doing over the weekend, why she didn’t want to share the details of her father’s MS conditions? Didn’t she realize that there were other people out there who could have helped her? Similarly other people who could have benefited from her knowledge?

This seemed all too forced to me. The characters were flawed and I didn’t empathise with pretty much anyone. You could see the transformation of Mae – going from quiet and grateful to careless and ‘like/smile’ hungry. You could see that how living in her ‘utopian’ world, she was so greatly affected by anything even minutely ‘negative’ and how she obsessed over it. There really was no character development for any other character – everyone else was so uni-dimensional.

The book was very black or white – to an extreme. I do not deny that the inventions were really cool and could be life changing but then again, to go to the extent to say that everyone should broadcast their life and that ‘privacy is theft’ and ‘secrets are lies’ is taking it to a whole new level.

Apart from that I didn’t like that the book had no chapters. It had ‘Book 1 – 3’ within it but it felt very slow. So much detailing really wasn’t necessary.

In the end, all I can say is that I really wanted to like the book. No doubt, the book was very interesting and well thought out. The author wanted to shake you and keep you unnerved and that was definitely taken care of. This is a good one time read, but honestly you could also watch the movie.

Favourite Quotes:

“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?”

“Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day?”

“Under the guise of having every voice heard, you create mob rule, a filterless society where secrets are crimes.”

“The tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.”

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Pages: 66
Genre: Non Fiction
Read: April 2017
Rating: 9/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: A must read, feminism 101, common sense

Read If You Are: a human being.

Having followed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks on feminism for a while, I think I finally understand why I look up to it so much. It isn’t that she a revolutionary feminist. She just has the ability to say things that make sense in the most simple and digestible way.

This book, fashioned as a letter she once wrote to a friend who just gave birth to a baby girl, is a ‘feminist manifesto’ that details 15 suggestions that would help this friend to raise a feminist. From gender stereotypes to making sure the kid reads to ensure broadmindedness, all the 15 suggestions spoke to me personally.

A super quick read (and an easy one), this is a book I would recommend to everyone. Be it a to-be parent (mother & father) or just anyone wanting to understand or remind themselves what it like to ‘be’ a feminist.

Favourite Quotes:

“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

“Teach her that if you criticize X in women but do not criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women.”

“Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

“Everybody will have an opinion about what you should do, but what matters is what you want for yourself, and not what others want you to want.”

“Because you are a girl’ is never reason for anything. Ever.”

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned.”

“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children, we give them space to reach their full potential.”

“Men who, when discussing rape, will always say something like ‘if it were my daughter or wife or sister’. Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of a crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.”

“Why does a woman have to be successful at work in order to justify her keeping her name?”

“Her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of equal humanity of other people.”

“Her standards are for her alone, and not for other people.”

The Princess Saved Herself This Time by Amanda Lovelace

Pages: 155
Genre: Non-Fiction, Poetry
Read: March 2017
Rating: 3/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Boring, A bit much

Read If You Are: I really can’t give you a reason

I bought this book keeping ‘Milk and Honey’ by Rupi Kaur in mind. That was clearly a bad idea.

I can’t imagine the sort of life Amanda Lovelace has gone through, but if her poetry is a witness to her life then it was quite a ride. However, unlike Rupi Kaur who also used personal experiences to write her poetry, this wasn’t quite so powerful. There were only a handful of couplets that I liked and none that truly spoke to me.

This poetry collection is divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, and you. It speaks of a volatile relationship with her parents and loved ones, grief and loss and learning to be okay with yourself – loving yourself.

Content wise, I think her heart is in a good place and I agree with what she’s saying, but it just didn’t work for me. A quick read though the writing seemed forced, contrived and I admit I ran through the pages waiting for it to get over.

So I can’t in good conscious recommend this book to you. However, if you do find a free copy around and wish to go through it, it is a quick read.

I guess to each their own?

Favourite Quotes:

“I never expected death to be my most faithful companion, but she is the only one who will come without being asked.”

“All the oceans and galaxies did not conspire together to create me so I could reproduce for you.”

“I am a tigress who has earned her softer than velvet stripes.” – an ode to stretch marks

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction
Read: March 2017
Rating: 9/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Seductive, Shocking, Brilliant

Read If You Are: Just read it! But it’s for adults. Kids should ideally not read it just yet.

You know when you hear so much about something that when you finally get to it, you shrug, think to yourself – ‘meh’ and then just get on with it – not really expecting too much? That’s what I felt when I started this book. And I was blown away with the first page.

The story is loosely based on the Charles Manson Family and the murders that took place in 1969. The story is told by Evie Boyd, now a shadow of the girl she used to be, house sitting and not really going anywhere in her life. She finds herself reminiscing about her time with the cult.

The story is heart breaking. You’d think they are just angsty teenage monologues, but they are the most vulnerable inner monologues. Monologues, that you may have also had but just never admitted to anyone (or even yourself) that you did. The anger and humiliation Evie felt towards her mom, the nonchalant attitude she had towards her dad’s cheating ways, the inner turmoil she went through because she wanted to please Suzanne, the passionate love she felt, the fierce feeling of needing to belong – these emotions initially shock you but then you understood them. Why? Because it was so humane, so natural.

What I really enjoyed about the book was how the characters had multiple dimensions to them – the ‘good’ had some bad and the ‘bad’ had some good. I loved that you could feel the palpable inner turmoil of pretty much every character. The narrative led you to understand the emotions behind the actions.

Emma Cline, the author, is someone I’m definitely going to look out for. Her writing was flawless and profound. Her ability to set a scene was on point. Most of the times I felt like I had to pause to take in what she was trying to say and make it stay in my head.

As Lena Dunham very aptly says, “This book will break your heart and blow your mind.’ And that’s exactly what happened. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Favourite Quotes:

“Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.”

“Life a continuous backing away from the edge.”

“The silences between us would’ve been better if they were colored with sadness or regret, but it was worse – I could hear how happy he was to be gone.”

“That was part of being a girl–you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”

“That was the strange thing – I didn’t hate my father. He had wanted something. Like I wanted Suzanne. Or my mother wanted Frank. You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?”  

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Pages: 231
Genre: Non-Fiction, Fiction, Short Stories
Read: February 2017
Rating: 7/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Heart breaking, raw, real

Read If You Are: Young and looking for someone to encompass your ‘modern’ feelings into one book, in need of good literature in the form of short stories and essays.

On 26 May 2012 Marina Keegan died in a car crash.

This isn’t part of the story of the book. This is real life.

Marina Keegan and her boyfriend were driving her to her father’s 55th birthday party on Cape Cod. Though he was neither speeding nor drinking, he fell asleep at the wheel. The boyfriend was unhurt; Keegan was killed.

To keep her legacy alive, her parents, friends and mentor helped piece together this book of short stories and essays that Keegan had written during her lifetime.

The introduction by Marina’s professor, friend and mentor – Anne Fadiman itself made me cry. Death is a terrible thing, but to lose someone with so much potential so early, feels like a loss for humanity.

The book is divided into two parts – her fictional writing and her non-fictional one. If I had to use on adjective to describe pretty much all the short stories it would be ‘heart breaking’. ‘Sad’ would be another. Why is there so much sadness?

The book was full of realness and displayed the raw power of words and emotions. It’s one of those books where you can’t help but highlight lines because the words speak to you, where you can’t help nodding because you’ve been that person, because you’ve thought those things, said those lines.

Had Marina Keegan been alive, she would have been around my age. I understand her words. I understand the emotion. It’s a book of my generation, for my generation.

But this isn’t a good book because it’s published posthumously; it is good because it is good. As Anne Fadiman said in her introduction –

“Marina wouldn’t want to be remembered because she’s dead. She would want to be remembered because she’s good.”

And that’s just what this book is – good. Is it the most amazing book I’ve read? No. But did it speak to me? Yes, and that’s why I like it.

Favourite Quotes:

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.”

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can still change our minds. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical.’

“The best years of our life are not behind us. They are part of us and they’re set for repetition.”

“And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.”

“Success is transparent and accessible, hanging down where it can tease us but not touch us.”

“I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans. There’s less risk associated with animals, less fear of failure, fear of getting to involved.”

“The thing is, I like being liked.”

“But it became clear very quickly that I’d underestimated how much I liked him. Not him, perhaps, but the fact that I had someone on the other end of an invisible line. Someone to update and get updates from, to inform of a comic discovery, to imagine while dancing in a lonely basement, and to return to, finally, when the music stopped.”

When Breath Became Air by Paul Kalanithi

Pages: 228
Genre: Non-Fiction
Read: February 2017
Rating: 9/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Introspective, Reflective, Inspirational, Courageous

Read If You Are: Looking for a piece of work that is pure soul.

If there is one piece of advice I could give you while reading this book it would be – Do not read the end in public. You will cry. No doubt. You will have to blink back the tears even though you know what’s coming.

The thing about the book is, it’s not about the ‘what’. It’s not even about the ‘why’ or the ‘how’. I can’t explain it but to say – it’s about the soul of the book, the soul of Dr. Paul Kalanithi. You feel it too, when you read the book. With each sentence and paragraph, you feel an outline of a person being built in front of you and against all odds, against the fact that you know he is no more – you still root for him, pray for him, wish things were different.

Dr Paul Kalanithi – a talented neurosurgeon, ahead of his game had everything crash around him when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He wrote this book because he loved literature, studied it and wanted to leave something behind. More than that, he spent his life, through neurosurgery and literature, trying to understand life and death and what makes human life meaningful. We still may not understand it, but this gave us more to think about.

Through the book you hear of his story from the beginning to the end. It is disjointed and ‘incomplete’ because he did write this in his final months but isn’t that just life? Incomplete.

I have read many a memoir, but I have never read anything with the sort of reflection the author had. Was it the death that he was facing that made him think this way or was he just like this as a person?

The preface, written by Abraham Varghese, is alright but the afterword by his wife Lucy Kalanithi gives you more insight and more tears.

At the end of the day if you ask me, this book isn’t about cancer. It’s about courage. But mostly, it’s about perspectives and life. As one reviewer on GoodReads said, ‘It’s a little bit about dying, but more about being alive.’ And I couldn’t agree more.

So don’t read this book to know of the life of a then dying man. Read this to understand the perspectives and thoughts of an intelligent, inspiring man and learn from his experiences.

P.S. The message he wrote to his daughter in the last paragraph absolutely devastated me. (First quote in the Favourite Quotes section)

Favourite Quotes:

“That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

“Maybe life is just an instant, to brief to consider.”

“Putting lifestyle first is how you find a job – not a calling.”

“This is not the end, or even the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning.”

“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgement will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

“The word ‘hope’ first appeared in English about a thousand years ago, denoting some combination of confidence and desire. But what I desired – life- was not what I was confident about – death.”

“It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one.”

“Literature not only illuminated another’s experience, it provided, I believed, the richest material for moral reflection.”

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

Pages: 238
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Read: February 2017
Rating: 4/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Action, Adventure, Confusing, Vague.

Read If You Are: Into Fantasy books, Stephen King and plan to finish the Dark Tower Series.

This 1980s novel written by the much-loved Stephen King is what I would like to call a ‘Fantasy novel set in the Old West with a Tolkien-esque touch’.

The first of seven books of the Dark Tower Series, The Gunslinger is an introduction to Roland – the last gunslinger in a world we do not know. He’s on a mission to find the ‘Man in Black’ and seek the Dark Tower, and will annihilate anyone or anything that comes in its way.

The story is essentially just that. Roland is a gruff man, rich and lord like, who has money to spare and travels with his guns by his side. But as you read the book and see him interact with various characters – both past and present, you see other sides to him.

This book confused the crap out of me. When I started reading it, I didn’t understand anything. ANYTHING. Who was this gunslinger? Why was he chasing after a Man in Black? Why was no more information given out? Why is there so much sex involved? And why does it feel so rape-y? I can’t be the only one confused about that last question.

Sure, as the book progressed the questions were answered and I know I have 6 more books to read to completely understand it. However, I expected more from Stephen King’s ‘magnum opus’. The writing was strange and disjointed for me. Sometimes it was simple and sometimes it was complicated. Something about it just didn’t work.

This probably isn’t going to be my favourite book and is definitely not going to be a book I would recommend on it’s own. I would be able to comment on it only when I read the rest of the series. However, it isn’t a bad book. If you do plan to read it, just be ready for lots of ambiguity and lots of question marks going off in your head.

I feel like I’m going to get a lot of hate from the Dark Tower fans that read this. I’m sorry y’all, I tried! I did buy ‘The Drawing of The Three’ and plan to read it soon though.

Favourite Quotes:

“Time’s the thief of memory.”

“Was there ever a trap to match the trap of love?”

“Do any men grow up or do they only come of age?”

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Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Pages: 390
Genre: Fiction, Suspense
Read: January 2017
Rating: 8.5/10

Adjectives To Describe This Book: Gripping, Multi Faceted, Addictive, Memorable

Read If You Are: Looking for an easy to read thriller with a great plot, weekend read!

A private plane taking off from Martha’s Vineyard on its way to New York crashes into the sea. Out of the 11 passengers, only two survive – a down on his luck (and life) painter and a four-year-old boy. The dead include the head of one of the biggest media agencies in America (think: Fox News), a Wall Street big wig and their families. This is BIG news!

The book focuses on uncovering how the crash happened. Whose fault was it? Was it a tech problem? Was it deliberate? But it also focuses on more than the crash – on relationships between people – the platonic and not so platonic, ethics, careers, the ‘sensationalisation’ of the media, so much more.

I loved how the author weaved the storyline through the interpretation and the eyes of the various characters. The final moments were told through the eyes of pretty much everyone in the plane. But it wasn’t just that. The book flashbacks to the past and the ‘insignificant details’. You got an idea of who these people were and where they came from. They were real and raw – it wasn’t just black and white. It was grey.

This was a book I just did not want to keep down. I thought I knew what was happening, but I really wasn’t sure. I wanted to continue reading, find out what happened. A thriller at its best! The ending was a bit disappointing, but that doesn’t take away from the overall experience.

A true winner, this one! Definitely one of my favourites and much recommended.

Favourite Quotes:

“Life is a series of decisions and reactions. It is the things you do and the things that are done to you. And then it’s over.”

“This was the hubris of mankind, to rally in the face of overwhelming odds, to thread the needle and climb the mountain and survive the storm.”

“Life is made of these moments – of one’s physical being moving through time and space – and we string them together into a story, and that story becomes our life.”

“Never fight tomorrow’s fight today.”

“Everyone is from someplace. We all have stories, our lives unfolding along crooked lines, colliding in unexpected ways.”

“In the absence of facts…. we tell ourselves stories.”

“Art exists not inside the piece itself, but inside the mind of the viewer.”