Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review 2008

A new year has arrived and brought with it more time to read wonderful books and know more about the world. Wishing for all good things to come your way this year and after…

Here is a summary of all that I read in the last year. I warn you this will be long... :)
The following books have been reviewed here:
  1. The Secret - Rhonda Byrnes
  2. Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
  3. A Flight of Pigeons - Ruskin Bond
  4. Juggling With Tigers - Neil Kelly
  5. P.S. I Love You - Cecelia Ahern
  6. Notes To Myself - Hugh Prather
  7. The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
  8. It Happened In India - Kishore Biyani with Dipayann Baishya
  9. The Other 90% - Robert K. Cooper
  10. It's All A Matter Of Attitude - Justin Herald
  11. Screw It, Let's Do It - Richard Branson
  12. Ginger Soda Lemon Pop - Christina Daniels
  13. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
  14. Garden Of Earthly Delights - Indrajit Hazra
  15. Everything Happens For A Reason - Kavita Daswani
  16. If God Was A Banker - Ravi Subramanian
  17. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

The Secret
Rhonda Byrnes

This book was a suggestion from my friend Sagari whom I met while welcoming the year 2008 in Sakleshpur. I had seen it in stores and on shelves and had been interested in it but for some reason never picked it up until Sagari spoke about it. In fact she carries a copy of it with her at all times! And now so do I : )

The Secret is a phenomenal book for those who choose allow it to work wonders for them. If you read it just as a motivational book you might not be impressed. The language is simple and the entire book, which is quite expensive by itself, talks about the same thing throughout. But if you choose to read it as a revelation of some sort of tool or technique and try and relate it to the examples presented or to your real life, you will appreciate the book. I think it works best for people who already know the Secret subconsciously…and they will be awed by the book because at every step they’ll find themselves saying ‘I know what you’re talking about!’ A novice has to exert his mind to believe the idea and let it work…which is where the entire effort lies and sadly fails. Most of us find reason and doubt shroud our mind way too soon.

The Secret works for me. It always has and I realized it upon reading the book. So my prejudiced opinion is going to be that it is a great book. You have to read it to see how you feel about it. But do give it an earnest chance. That is all I can say.

Into The Wild
Jon Krakauer

This movie first and book later caught my attention after the song Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder started doing rounds of Youtube. When I saw the book on the shelf of Crossword, I realized it was by John Krakauer…a mountaineer I ad read about in Mariah Coffeey’s book Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow. And I picked it up before watching the movie.

The book is part factual and part emotional. It definitely leaves you affected with the way Chris’s life progressed, the way his beliefs formed and deformed and the tragedy his life ended in. But the impact is much lesser than when you watch the movie as the movie shows you only Chris’s perspective while the book tells you a more complete story. In fact the book left me taking Chris for an estranged American teenager with an identity issue…someone who was trying to find out who he was and paid a heavy price in the process.

The book makes good reading though as the author switches between facts and Chris’s story. It also has instances from the author’s life where he recounts some of his mountaineering misadventures. The book has definitely been written with a strong inclination for Chris’s cause and that is quite evident in the writing. But for that he was, Chris leaves you affected at the end of the story. This one is recommended reading.

A Flight Of Pigeons
Ruskin Bond

I picked up this Ruskin Bond masterpiece while perusing shelves in Crossword. It is not a very long read, which is sad because the characters are so endearing you never want the story to end. The book is based on true events and gives insights into life after the First War of Independence. It focuses on how we are all the same under the surface irrespective of the religion we belong to and leaves one with a warm feeling at the end. It is a must read for those who enjoy good literature.

Juggling With Tigers
Neil Kelly

I had read Holy Cow by Sarah McDonald earlier and this book seemed like the precursor that came a decade earlier. Written by Neil Kelly, an ad guy who had the opportunity to work in India for a while, the book recounts his experience and presents a view of India and Indians from a Westerner’s eyes. The book is hilarious for most part and is an enjoyable read while it simultaneously shows us the mirror.

P. S. I Love You
Cecelia Ahern

I was browsing in Shankar’s at Rangashankara in a terribly upset mental condition while my eyes fell on this one. I liked the title. I liked the blurb (sometimes life is living one letter at a time). For the letter-writer in me, this was perfect invitation to buy the book. But I disliked the book. The story revolves around Holly who has lost her husband Gerry to Brain Tumour. But Gerry has spent his last few days writing letters (more like small notes) for Holly that will help her cope with his death…they have childhood and he knows it will be difficult. All these letters are signed ‘P. S. I Love You’ at the end and that’s how the book derives its name.

Many parts of the book fail to strike the emotional chord they are meant to. And at the end, after reading all the letters, Holly is still not ready to move on…made me feel like Gerry’s effort was wasted on someone who considered her own grief more important than her husband’s dying wish to see his widow happy and move on.

Anyway, maybe its just me. You might like the book. It’s an easy-chair/hammock read for a lazy sunny afternoon and can be picked up if you want a mushy read.

Notes To Myself
Hugh Prather

I have a sweet memory of this book. KC and I were treasure hunting in Blossom’s on Church Street and at the end of a two-hour exploration we had found enough jewels. At the cash desk, KC asked me if I had read Notes To Myself and when I said no, he immediately asked for a nice clean copy and gifted it to me.

And what a valuable gift it was! This is more of a collection of musings by Hugh Prather and many of them are radical…things we all wonder about sometimes but never dare to ask or discuss. It is a comfort to know someone else thinks about them too. And it is a great book to carry around to Sunday breakfast and start a discussion based on any page you take…you will always find something to think about. Thanks KC…I treasure this one.

The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Many authors in the past have tried to delve into this question – does staring death in the face alter the way one lives and how? Be it through fact vis-à-vis Tuesdays With Morrie or fiction vis-à-vis Veronica Decides To Die, authors have tried to offer their perspectives on this question. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who died of Pancreatic Cancer on the 25th of July 2008, falls in the same category.

The book is a handy guide to getting your priorities right in life. But more than that, it is about making your dreams come true and helping others to do the same. It also talks about how changing the way you react to certain situations can sometimes change a lot of things, the foremost example of this fact being how Randy handled his terminal illness. In fact the blurb of the book quotes Randy as saying, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt. Just how we play the hand”. And that is really the essence of the book and Randy’s life.

The language of the book is plain for most part, which is not a surprise given the fact that it has been written not by a professional writer but by a well-meaning professor who just wanted to give a message to the world and most of all to his children. The book is sprinkled with small life lessons that we all can pick up, about inter-personal interactions, parenting, love etc. The quote that stands out through the book is, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something”. This and many such stark realizations delivered by a dying man so that we don’t have to wait for our final moments to discover the same make The Last Lecture essential reading for all.

It Happened In India
Kishore Biyani with Dipayann Baishya

The story of Future Group narrated by the creator of the phenomenon himself, ably assisted by people who helped him or saw him work his way up. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we cannot ignore the phenomena that Pantaloons or Big Bazar have been. And this book uncovers what it took to build Future Group. In addition, it is a stark insight into the psychology of the Indian consumer and this book cannot be ignored by anyone who getting into the hot waters of entrepreneurship and will deal with the Indian consumer. If one is able to overlook the language and format of the book, this book is a good business read.

The Other 90%
Robert K. Cooper

This was part of one of the mass buys at Crossword at a point when I needed motivation in life. And did it provide that well! The book talks about uncovering your hidden potential as most of us use only about 10% of our vast potential. It offers philosophical insights into life propped by practical suggestions that we can all implement. The author liberally uses personal stories and lessons from his life and builds them into lesson for all. The book is neatly divided into four sections and does not go all over the place. It is a structured, practical but lengthy read for anyone who is willing to do more in life…who is willing to really live.

It’s All A Matter Of Attitude
Justin Herald

This is more of a pocket book by a very successful entrepreneur. It is a collection of quotations from T-shirts that his company manufactures, all of them related to attitude and each is accompanied by Justin’s views on the quote in short. Some of these quotes can be a great kick and can immediately change the way you look at things. Very enjoyable and a quick-read.

Screw It, Let’s Do It
Sir Richard Branson

This book too is focussed on the attitude one needs to have in life and has personal instances from Sir Richard Branson’s life. He might seem to be a rash maverick but upon reading the book one realizes he is quite different than his image. It is a very motivational book and is equally light although it is sprinkled with business and life lessons. Recommended for sure.

Ginger Soda, Lemon Pop
Christina Daniels

I picked this book up because the author and I had been part of the same travelling group for one trip. I read in the newspaper later that her book was being published and was super-happy for her. This book adorns my shelf more as a reminder that dreams are achievable than a good book. It is a symbol for me and means a lot.

The book has been written from the perspective of a child and is in first person narration. The events understandably centre around children and the dilemma they face in interpreting the world. But the thoughts echoed at the end of each chapter are universal and very stark…some of them left me dazed for a while. It is a great book that takes little effort to read as the language is that of a child. But it will leave you thinking and wondering for sure.

The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell

Honestly speaking I did not understand this book as a whole. I had read Gladwell’s Blink earlier and that is a much better work…in fact it is great. But throughout Tipping Point I found myself looking for a common thread to relate the matter to…and I did not find one. I can summarize Blink’s underlying theory in one or two statements but not so with Tipping Point. Even if I do not compare with Blink, I have trouble remembering the most important take-away from this book.

But in parts, in chapters this book gives you quite a few insights about social epidemics and how to make phenomena tip. It takes practical examples and derives conclusions systematically from them. And in those parts you learn quite a bit. So although this one is not that promising a read, you can use your discretion to pick it up.

Garden Of Earthly Delights
Indrajit Hazra

This book was recommended to me by a good friend and I picked up a hardcover of it for just INR 99 in the Landmark sale! (I love Landmark!!) . The book focuses on just two characters Manik and Hiren and chapters run alternately with each of their names and sketch their apparently unconnected lives. It is only in the last two chapters that the common thread hits you and the entire picture becomes clear…and it hits you hard.

The book talks about how being alone changes you as a person and is dark literature for most part. I personally did not like Hazra’s style too much in that the analogies he uses disagree with me as a writer. But it’s the story, the fear of loneliness most of us have, the subtle madness woven into the story, the arson….it all definitely keeps you engaged.

Everything Happens For A Reason
Kavita Daswani

I took this book from my dearest Pushpa (she is the sweetest) and read it on the way home for vacation. It is a perfect read for those kind of times – vacations, easy reading. And it reads fast too…I could finish the book in about 5 hours of continuous reading. The story is delightful and it makes you want to believe in goodness in life. The central character Priya is very endearing and the story progresses like a fairy tale making you smile at many points and choke with a tear at others. All the girls will surely love this one!

If God Was A Banker
Ravi Subramanian

This book was my prize in the Toastmasters Area Level Humorous Speaking Contest. I had heard the name and it had always sounded interesting, so I was quite happy to receive the book. But what a disappointment it turned out to be! The story is meant to give you an insight of the Investment Banking division as seen by an insider. But it reads like the plot of a Bollywood Masala Movie (it is probably meant to be one) and a lot of unnecessary sleaze has been knitted into the story. It becomes very predictable at many points and towards the end I was dragging on with the reading only because I had come so far. I would not recommend this one.

The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook is my best friend Sneha’s birthday present to me. She loved it. The world loved it. I just about liked it and somehow I am feeling guilty about it.

I don’t know why I could not connect to the story. I have seen ‘U, Me aur Hum’ which is loosely based on this book and I thought the story was nice. But I just did not connect to this book. It just did not evoke the right emotions. It is a sweet story…a man trying to hold on to the last moments of togetherness with his wife who has Alzheimer’s. It is even heart-breaking in concept. But I just did not feel it. I wouldn’t say anything about the book because maybe I am not getting it right and would leave it to you to read it and judge.

So that was all the reading in the last year. I wonder how people manage to read 50 books or more in a year. I managed a measly 17. Maybe I can try the 50 Book challenge this year and experience how it is done first hand. Please drop in any recommendations in the comments…would be glad to read what you have read…

Happy New Year!

1 Thinkers Pondered:

Utsarg said...

Would recommend you "India After Gandhi". 900 pages of reality, no fiction! Reality of our own nation. All our history text books end at 1947, as if since then everything just happened.

And yes, thanks for those reviews. I would try a couple of them soon.