Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review 2011


In 2010, I had managed to read 20 books and at the end of the year, I had made a reading list for 2011 that had 26 books on it. The course of life changed somewhere in the middle and that list went for a toss. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on all that I managed to read in 2011 (a measly 12 books that is).

2011 had me reading:

  1. Consolations of Philosophy - Alain de Botton
  2. Tough Choices - Carly Fiorina
  3. All And Nothing - Raksha Bharadia
  4. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  5. The Zoya Factor - Anuja Chauhan
  6. Train To Pakistan - Khushwant Singh
  7. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders - Daniyal Mueenuddin
  8. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
  9. The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison - Mike Wilson
  10. Snapshots From Hell - Peter Robinson
  11. Super Freakonomics - Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  12. Paths Of Glory - Jeffrey Archer

And here is what I thought of each of these:

Consolations of Philosophy
Alain de Botton

I got introduced to de Botton through The Art Of Travel (highly recommended, btw) and chancing upon CoP at Landmark had picked it up on impulse. For someone who is not initiated into the works of classical (or even modern) philosophers, CoP was a good introduction. In retrospect and after a discussion that took place on the beaches of the Indian west coast, I realize that my primary take-away from this book was to get to know the schools that philosophers like Epicurus, Nietzsche, Seneca among others belonged to, the essence of their work and perspectives on options to deal with situations in life. I may have missed the point of the book completely but I was still very happy to read it and learn from it primarily because it was all so new and any information was better than no information. I am now hoping to read more of philosophy-related works and understand it all better but I still enjoyed the first read of last year well.

Tough Choices
Carly Fiorina

An autobiography of Carly Fiorina going all the way until she was fired from the HP and apart from being a very good story by itself, this book is filled with business lessons, especially for women. Fiorina tells it fearlessly so we may all learn and there are valuable pointers in the book about how businesses work and how one may negotiate the dynamics of it all. I am, in fact, hoping to read this one a second time someday and would highly recommend it to you all.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A warm book with a beautiful story inside! A wonderful epistolatory work set in the post World War II London. The book contains letters exchanged between an author and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on the Guernsey Island and give an insight on the effect that war can have on the lives of people. Even with that backdrop, the book remains light and warm but catches you unawares at some points. For instance, I remember this section in a letter from this one guy to the author where he expounds on his favourite book and why he loves it so much and then brings it to a quick wrap by saying he must go and feed the animals lest they stay hungry for long. It was instances like these that made me break into a sudden sob by their beauty…by how literature can affect lives, their lives…how they found something larger to connect through or disagree with in books and for a small time they were not ordinary village-folk but connoisseurs of literature. The simplicity of those folks and how genuinely they shared their lives with this lady is heart-warming. And unlike 84, Charing Cross Road, here the author actually meets the Guernsey folks and the story ends on a rather happy note. Beautiful story that mixes emotion and history well.

The Zoya Factor
Anuja Chauhan

Straight out chick-lit that I loved! And I am not even a cricket fan! But this story is adorable and filmy and fun and I had good fun reading this one. Way better than the chick-lit stock available in the market otherwise. I am not revealing any bits of what the story is about but really good read if you are in the mood for something light and nice.

Train To Pakistan
Khushwant Singh

This one had been pending since long and I am so glad I finally read it (I say that pretty much all the time after reading famous books that I hadn’t read!). I own a copy that has pictures taken by Margaret Bourke-White interspersed with the story at relevant points and that heightened the sense of the story being closer to fact than fiction. The story tells us of the time when India was divided into Indian and Pakistan and how it changed lives. The horror of partition stays subtle in the story but doesn’t fail to make its presence felt through the emotions of the characters. It is good education about the Partition and what it meant for a border village that had never known animosity. And the way the story ends, it broke my heart and proved how humanity always wins. So beautiful!

I loved Khushwant Singh’s style of writing this book. I haven’t read anything else by him to be able to comment or compare but this book dwells on the details – of scene, of emotion, of characters. It has its own pace and doesn’t get very racy even to the end, letting you absorb the scenes before moving on. 

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin

I had always wanted to read a book by a Pakistani author and this book was a start somewhere. Mueenuddin had drawn a lot of critical acclaim for this book and it was good to be able to read it, thanks to my friend LK. He has a writing style that flows well and scores on the details. In addition, he seems to be a good observer and his narration of the life in small villages comes through equally well as that of life in the higher echelons of the Pakistani society. At no point did I feel that he didn’t do justice to the characters and he treated them all equally fairly. The stories give one a glimpse of life in Pakistan and various aspects of it through the extended support system of one central character. So there are stories spanning the lives of his servants and their dreams/desires and then those of his family members and their lives. While the stories have a fundamental human appeal that anyone can relate to, not having a common thread, even in the form of a single character, would have made them look like dispersed fragments. But his current arrangement makes it all happen in one household or his farmhouse or to someone who has worked for him and makes the flow of the book nicer.

I did think that the theme of promiscuity made its appearance more than others and more than necessary so much so that towards the end I was very close to creating a stereotype in my head. I realize the same stories could have been set in India with no change and it would have still made sense but to what extent one aspect should be highlighted is a personal discretion I guess. Maybe the author was trying to bring out the fact that people can be promiscuous irrespective of which stratum of the society they come from but for wholly different reasons. But I still feel there are many other aspects of life that could have been given equal position in the stories. Nevertheless, made a start on writing from Pakistan and I’m happy about that.

Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri

Again a collection of stories that I borrowed from LK too and in this case, fragmented. All stories in this book deal with identity somewhere and focus on lives of Bengalis in the USA. Towards the end, this theme got to me and the stories started becoming routine in some sense since I already had an inkling about the possible setting. And then at some point I was just looking at finishing the book. It wasn’t boring but the setting became monotonous. Yet, until that feeling came, the book was a good read primarily because one doesn’t have to be a Bengali in the USA to identify with what’s being talked about. Members of communities in India who live outside their native states are likely to feel similarly, although not to the same degree. And hence, that basic idea running through every story made it possible to relate to them. And I definitely liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s style of writing…not as detailed as Khushwant Singh or Daniyal Mueenuddin but she highlights key points of a scene or a character and makes it possible to pin imagination onto those points. A minimalist style of description, if I may. 


The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison
Mike Wilson

Got my hands on this finally, thanks to a friend again. A very detailed biography of Larry Ellison and Oracle written in an easy, flowing fashion. Wilson made the book enjoyable with his writing and the book is a good look into the life of a man who isn’t very different from the company he founded…an Oracle. Ellison’s ability to see many years into the future constantly helped Oracle stay in the game and the book narrates the story of the man and his company together well without getting dry at any point. A rather enjoyable and recommended business biography.

Snapshots From Hell
Peter Robinson

Thoroughly enjoyed this book gifted by a friend. I read this just before starting MBA and it helped have a perspective on a few things before starting out. The book is autobiographical and Robinson recounts instances from the first year he spent in business school at Stanford. Not only does he recount incidents, but also actually describes some cases and conclusions, which make it additionally enjoyable. This book is a good way to look at life inside Stanford and get inspired or change your mind, as the case may be. I found it to be a very good pre-MBA read but even without that condition, it would make for an equally good read I think.

Super Freakonomics
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

I’ll keep this brief. Not as mind-boggling as Freakonomics, maybe because somewhere we all know what to expect. Still very interesting and looks at some more social phenomena from a Microeconomic perspective, in that how one single thing made a difference to female foeticide in India, the economics of prostitution, whether baby car seats are really better than seat belts and the like. Recommended.

Paths Of Glory
Jeffrey Archer

This is a biographical work about George Mallory’s Everest expedition and a very good read. Very different from other works of Jeffrey Archer and filled with charm since it is set in the English society of back then. Also, there are letters, exchanged between George Mallory and his wife Ruth when he would be on an expedition or serving in the army. Those bring in more charm to the book. So there is adventure and till the end you keep hoping it ends in triumph, there is a love story that has old world charm to it and it’s a story of passion and pursuing dreams. Highly recommended.

So that was that for 2011. The 2012 stock is likely to be more practical keeping in mind my time constraints and factoring in all the course books I am reading. But I am hoping to keep it up somehow and stay the course of non-academic reading to balance it all out.

Wishing you all a year of good reading ahead. May you find new insights and experiences through the eyes of another who penned it down for us all!

1 Thinkers Pondered:

gwl said...

Good post.........
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