Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review 2010

While 2010 was momentous in many respects, reading-wise it was terrible. I don’t want to give myself an excuse by saying that it was inevitable while trying to balance all the other things I started doing. I know it’s bad to be so set in one’s habits but I am making a very conscious decision to be tied down to a habit when I say – this just won’t do.

Anyhow, here’s what I thought of the books I read this year, a lot of them being plays. I’ll skip the books I read until March since the reviews are available here and here.

Dance Like A Man
Mahesh Dattani

This is a play I decided to pick up since I had never read Mahesh Dattani’s plays before. And I really liked this one in terms of the way it showcases the conflicts that pursuit of the arts can bring about when it comes to the bare act of routine, marriage and daily life. This will need some effort when it comes to staging due to the heavy production requirements but a nice read for those who like a good intense play about human relationships and their dynamics.

Black Comedy
Peter Shaffer

Again, a play that is very interestingly devised. The play is largely set during a power failure and hence all the scenes, though enacted on a brightly lit stage, are really happening when there is no power and a blackout signifies that power is back. Quite a challenge for anyone who wishes to perform this play but a good comedy about a man trying to impress his father-in-law and a rich man using the antiques from his neighbour’s house and the confusion caused by the neighbour returning unexpectedly.

Persepolis
Marjane Satrapi

I had seen Persepolis in PVR when it came out but reading the book was long overdue. I got my hands on the book this year and found it to be a good insight into Iran’s political history seen from the eyes of a child growing up in that time. And yet, I enjoyed the movie more. The autobiographical book talks about how it was to grow up in Iran after the Shah fell and all sorts of control was brought in place. You couldn’t stay and yet when you left the country in pursuit of a better education, you couldn’t belong. The policies in Iran seem outrageous and it hurts to see so many people being executed just for believing they deserve a better life. And when one gets that better life in Austria, it becomes impossible to enjoy the frivolous joys that make teenage fun because one has seen people dying for bigger causes…it just seems juvenile. The narrator seems to constantly be engaged in a tug-of-war between rebellion and allegiance to one’s state. But somehow the book does not necessarily bring out her character in positive light. I didn’t like the feeling I was left with after finishing it. 

And yet, a highly recommended read. It provides a human, more so a child’s, angle to a political turmoil and is a valuable read in that sense.

My Friend Sancho
Amit Verma

Ok, frankly, I picked up this book simply because my friend had entered the cover design contest that Amit Verma had run for this book. On a totally objective note (and you can trust me on that since I am Libran – a fair judge), I liked my friend’s design better than the one that went to press. I haven’t seen all entries but then Amit Verma’s book, Amit Verma’s choice. I am sure I will find myself in a similar situation tomorrow if I were to come out with a book and ran a contest for the cover design. So complete respect for the design that won too.

Anyhow, I found this one to be an average read. I have to confess there are many bits of the protagonist Abir Ganaguly that I closely identify with, which is the other reason I picked up this book upon reading an excerpt. The read remains engaging for most part but seems to lose the plot somewhere towards the end. But it isn’t too difficult to get to the end. What I really like is certain moments where the matter comes down to an interaction between two human beings, nothing else, and how the story uses those fundamental things to build on. For instance, the point where Abir talks to Sancho, whose father has been shot by mistake by the police in an encounter, and asks her to talk about her memories of her father. The story has quite a few such nice moments and I would probably read it again just to experience those moments again. But otherwise, not one of my best reads.

Outliers
Malcolm Gladwell

I like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Even if the whole book may or may not have a string I can hold on to and summarize the book on the basis of, I have always learnt a lot through his books. And Outliers continues that learning for me.

Outliers analyzes success. It looks at the pre-requisites of success, and reiterates that merely talent has never gotten anyone anywhere. It looks at everything else but talent, sometimes that too, but more importantly other things including the cut-off birth dates for a soccer team in any year, proximity to a university with the right infrastructure (as in the case of Bill Gates) and the words we use for numbers in any language (analysing why Asians are better at Math). I think Gladwell tries really hard to keep the term luck out of the picture but for me that is exactly what he is trying to paraphrase. For me, the right combination of opportunities, infrastructure, hard work, when it supplements talent, becomes luck. Anyway, he doesn’t say this. Just like in Tipping Point, I really don’t know what he is saying in this book. But I loved loved this book! It taught me so much in isolated portions. I think I am going to look at his books in parts henceforth and concentrate on learning rather than reading as a complete work. It works much better that way!

Recommended.

Moonlight and The Birthday Party
Harold Pinter

Two abstract plays by Harold Pinter that I really liked. Not for those who don’t like abstract plays but quite nice otherwise. I liked Pinter’s use of repetition as a device and also how he brings out the dynamics of human relationships. Nice!

Eat Pray Love 
Elizabeth Gilbert

This book has a lot of me in it. Aside from that, this is a good book about finding yourself. It’s the journey of a woman in through three countries in search of herself. It’s about making peace with yourself and then watching the pieces fall into place once that happens. It is an inspirational story of faith. And I immensely enjoyed reading it. Recommended with a big smile on my face : )

Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
Avinash - Shanta Gokhale

These three came as a set of City Plays, grouped together by the common use of an absent character who is key to the plot of the play. Brilliant plays, all of them, but I liked Lights Out the most. In brief here’s what each play deals with:

Lights Out – a couple is troubled by the beseeching cries of a woman every night as heard from the building under construction right opposite theirs. They speculate and debate at length over whether it is harassment and whether they should intervene but don’t end up doing anything. This is based on a real incident that happened in Mumbai where no one came to the aid of a woman who was tortured for days on end in the middle of a residential area.

Party – This play highlights the dynamics, politics and hypocrisy among members of the art fraternity. They all seem to be perturbed by this person who has left the clan to do some real work for grass root level in a remote village. 

Avinash – A family is torn apart by the condition of their once-brilliant and now-alcoholic elder son. He is getting difficult to deal with by the day and they face conflict in terms of what is duty and what is indulgence. 

How Starbucks Saved My Life
Michael Gates Gill

A top boss at JWT who thought he had everything and was waiting to hang up his boots in style gets the pink slip due to a management decision. At 60 and with a tumour that needs to be operated on, he finds himself desperately looking for a job and finds one as a Starbucks barista. This is a real story of Michael Gates Gill who learnt life’s lessons after 60 and the hard way but grew to realize how much he enjoyed this new life for such fundamental reasons. A frank admission to conceit and a candid account of his feelings while getting used to this new job makes this book an endearing read. The book also gives you a good insight into how Starbucks works. And the life lessons Gill learnt are ones we can always do with. Recommended.

Dreams In Prussian Blue
Paritosh Uttam

This is a good intense urban read. Michael and Naina are studying at the same arts college and they fall in love. Michael is a painter and Naina falls for all that he is and can be. So when Michael proposes that they drop out of college and live in so they can start earning and start fulfilling their dreams rightaway, she readily agrees. Soon she realizes that Michael might just be using her to fulfil his dream of being a full time painter. Fate then enters the picture and the story takes a tragic twist with Michael becoming blind in an accident. What happens to the two thereafter and how Naina resorts to an unexpected form of deceit forms the rest of the story. A really good plot and an intense story…definitely worth a read. Plus, I love the title…I mean the moment I saw it I was like, woah! Now that’s the kind of title one should write a book with! It’s so dreamy…so beautiful and filled with such anticipation! I give it to Uttam and recommend this book for that sole reason.

With that the list for 2010 looks like this:

  1. On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning - Haruki Murakami
  2. The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day - Haruki Murakami
  3. 2 States - Chetan Bhagat
  4. Kari - Amruta Patil
  5. Stilettos In The Newsroom - Rashmi Kumar
  6. Welcome To Advertising, Now Get Lost - Omkar Sane
  7. In Xanadu - William Dalrymple
  8. Dance Like A Man - Mahesh Dattani
  9. Black Comedy - Peter Shaffer
  10. Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
  11. My Friend Sancho - Amit Varma
  12. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  13. Moonlight - Harold Pinter
  14. Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
  15. The Birthday Party - Harold Pinter
  16. Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
  17. Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
  18. Avinash - Shanta Gokhale
  19. How Starbucks Saved My Life - Michael Gates Gill
  20. Dreams In Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam

And to correct the anomaly of reading too little in 2010, I am creating a list for 2011 as a guide. More names will, of course, get added to this list but these I definitely intend to read this year. More recommendations are most welcome!

  1. The Consolatiosn of Philosophy – Alain de Botton (halfway through)
  2. Mind Watching – Hans and Michael Eysenck (because it must be returned in Feb)
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows (because it must be returned)
  4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  5. All and Nothing – Raksha Bharadia
  6. Truly Madly Deeply – Faraaz Kazi
  7. Tough Choices – Carly Fiorina (halfway through)
  8. The HP Way – David Packard
  9. Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh
  10. Kim – Rudyard Kipling
  11. The Book of Nature – Ruskin Bond
  12. The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant
  13. The Last Mughal – William Dalrymple
  14. Gora – Rabindranath Tagore
  15. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  16. Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Swami Yogananda
  17. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
  19. My Invented Country – Isabelle Allende
  20. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  21. House of the Winds – Mia Yun
  22. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  23. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
  24. The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
  25. The Whole Malgudi Anthology
  26. Either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

Anybody who realizes how extremely random that list is should know that except for four, all of those are the unread books on my shelf and if I don’t finish them this year, the guilt will give me ulcers or something…all those beautiful works just lined up there and waiting for their turn to enlighten me! So that’s what it’s going to be this year…read what’s unread and give them their due.

Hope my thoughts on the books I read help. Have a great year of reading ahead all you bookworms. Everyone else, have a great year in general : )

5 Thinkers Pondered:

vinit said...

Hey..nice post this :) You could also read this book called Positioning: The Battle for your mind by Jack Trout & Al Ries ...

Sowmya said...

All my 'gift-books' are in this list! That makes me happy :)

Not only need you feel guilty about reading less but also about writing less! Hope you will correct that too this year...

Banupriya said...

Hi Anu, Thanks for dropping @ my blog. I would in turn take your book list guide for this year. I had a glance at the list. Will come back again sometime to read your post completely.

Freya said...

Oh... That one I completely understand... Haven't read much in 2010 either but made up for it a little in December and read six books. Still remember the time when that was average but today its an achievement :D

I've given up on the ulcers and my unread shelf... Think I'll leave some of those to read once I'm gone. My ghost will definitely reside in this shelf (Mom's was given instructions to keep all unread books out years ago --- my biggest fear, dying in the middle of a book :D)

BTW you should check out GoodReads (or are you on it already?) Its a nice way to keep track of books.

Harish said...

hm.. the list is quite superb. out of your wish list, i have read love at the time of cholera and great indian novel and would highly recommend them. 1984, well, I did not like but try Animal farm if you did not read it yet. happy reading