2016 reading

7 01 2017

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It had been a novel reading experience for me in 2016. Steered off my usual choices. Didn’t participate in any book clubs. Read loads of non-fiction. Loved most of them. Figured out that listening to non-fiction is much better than reading it. 😛

Nothing cheers me up like a good thriller. While Cormoron Strike’s new case, or rather mostly JK Rowling’s craftsmanship in Career of the Evil, thrilled me to the core, the fourth in the Millennium series – The Girl in the Spider’s Web, practically saved me from winter blues during a long holiday.

Harper Lee recreated the magic of To Kill a Mocking Bird in her much long awaited work – Go Set a Watchman with her powerful writing. Another gem I just picked from the library shelf is “Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka, about Japanese immigrants and their mysterious relocation from California during the second world war. Written from the perspective of Japanese immigrant women as a collective, it is a beautiful and deeply affecting depiction of their plight during that time. rice of Salt by Patricia Highsmith had also been a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a passionate love story of two women in love.

Listening to Steve Jobs, as narrated by Dylan Baker, was truly humbling. True that the man was eccentric and notably a jerk, but his ingeniousness, vision, and perseverance are ideals for future innovators. Read three books by Jon Krakauer. His personal account of the Everest mishap is chilling to the core. Into the Wild is a real classic. I was totally impressed by his narration. Such a tragedy. I was noticeably distressed days after I finished the book. The third book is on the rape and justice system in Missoula. Needless to say, it was quite disturbing. One book that triggered a change in my lifestyle is “Fast Food Nation”. I’m now officially averse to fast food.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History that I listened to towards the end of year was truly remarkable. It tells you the story of extinction throughout the history  of the world as known or theorized by man. Mostly, it talks about how humans are the agents of disruption and destruction for the varied species on this planet. It gives us a perspective. It’s a very engaging book and is based on extensive research. I have to particularly note here that the narrator of the audio book Anne Twomey, with her bed time story telling style, did a great job and actually enabled me to finish this book easily and made it more interesting. Kudos to her. Susan Cain’s book on Introverts, Quiet is something that will stay with me forever, precisely because I can relate to it so so much! 🙂

Gollapudi’s Sayamkaalamaindi is a feel good portrayal of Vaishnava tradition and customs set against a backdrop of simplistic Indian village life at least a couple of generations ago. That was a time when the social hierarchy was determined by one’s caste and was accepted by one and all, even the underprivileged, as the only way of life. The reader, as a more liberal being, may cringe at some depictions. But in this novel, the author’s intention didn’t appear to be supportive of it or to make a statement about the caste system in some way. It seemed like a honest portrayal of life with all it’s complications. The story in fact progresses along the inevitable change that happens in the societal norms. The best thing about the book is that it’s a story about good and genuine people. It left me with peace and nostalgic. The writing is excellent and a reminiscent of classic literature and language in its purest form. Must read if you love the language and the culture.

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2016 in books (Goodreads)

19 12 2016

 

reading-challenge-2016Goodreads has provided an insightful “My Year in Books” infographic of all the books I read in 2016. I’ve set a goal for myself to finish reading 50 books this year, which really didn’t mean to be a challenge at all because I typically read over 50 books per year “without breaking a sweat” 😛 . But 2016 actually proved to be quite challenging, as “life” took over, leaving little time and energy for indulgence.

I would still do my yearly post on reading with details and visualizations. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, below is what Goodreads has to say:

goodreads-2016





Eternal bliss

7 05 2015

If I’m to nominate two people for eternal bliss, it would be Sir P G Wodehouse and A R Rahman. Actually, I truly believe that they deserve that and more.

Wodehouse, because of the pure, unadulterated humor he shares through his amazing books. A lot of times fun is confused with “making fun of people”, humor is mistaken with laughing at people pointing out oddities in their personalities or behaviors, hilarity as synonymous with taking pleasure in other people’s (or creatures’) little accidents. I don’t want to generalize here, but when I happened to watch a few of the videos from the “funniest videos” TV program, I was appalled because audience were laughing at people slipping and falling hard on their backs, pets shocked and alarmed, people hit by a sudden gush of water in their faces etc. In total contrast, whenever I read one of Sir Wodehouse’s comedies, I experience a joy and peace beyond description. My recent read of his is “The Politeness of Princes, and Other School Stories” (Gutenberg link).

AR Rahman, because of the soul stirring music he delivers on a consistent basis. His music transports me to a higher world. Every time I listen to one of his songs, I can’t help stopping and marveling.  🙂

Too bad I’m missing his concert next month. 😂

His recent tracks on my current playlist include:





My Reading in 2014

9 01 2015

As every year, I would like to take look at my reading in the past year and analyze the data to come up with some interesting facts. In 2014, I read a a total of 51 books. Almost all of them are in English, except two. I feel that I have read more for pleasure than anything else in 2014. I also feel glad about the selection of the non-fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed them and look forward to incorporate more of non-fiction into my future reading endeavors.

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For the first time this year, I’ve listened to a book, actually two of them – Revenge Wears Prada and The Last Lecture. I haven’t taken to it immediately but I have started to appreciate them.Though I would not like to do too much listening, I think that they will help me become less finicky trying to re-read sentences and passages, trying to cover up for even momentary lapse in concentration, as I move along the book.I realize that this is one of the instances where my “maximizing” self comes into play – the need to grasp and understand each sentence, if not each word.

The average rating being 3.8, I liked more books than I did not.

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I can also see from the pie chart above that I have read very few e-books.I strongly suspect that the number will increase in 2015. Unlike last year(2013), most of the books I read are not my own as you can see below:

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Looking at the selection of my books, I’ve read more female authors than male in 2014. I didn’t consciously chose so, and it’s interesting to note the fact.

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R5I take as much pleasure in the selection of books as in reading them, if not more and when I look at how I chose various books in 2014, I realize that I’m more of a person who sticks to a few authors whom I like and less of a person who picks books impulsively. Though I like tothink that I relish both ways and anything in between, when I look at the average rating for these criteria, I don’t like the ones chosen spontaneously as much as I do the carefully planned or even the tried and approved authors. I have started being part of a few book clubs towards the end of 2014 and it’s good sign that I loved both the selection. Good reason to look forward to more fun meetings in 2015.

How many authors did I read in the last year?

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Wow, I read 41 authors in 2014. It  follows that most of the authors, I read only once. But Agatha Christie is clearly an outlier with 6 books. When I look at the average ratings I gave these authors, there is no clear pattern except that those I have read more than once definitely have higher ratings.

What kinds of books did I read? This is a typical question that a reader faces all the time. I somehow find it very difficult to come up with an accurate and satisfying answer. I read several types of books and I’m not really sure which ones I favor, if at all I do. So, I have finally decided to look into the data for the answer.

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Apart from the catch-all category – General, Mystery had been my favorite kind in 2014. I also like Short-stories. Hmm..!

Finally, let’s look at the distribution of books across the nations that the plots happen. (For those with no plot or general stuff, the country where the book is published is considered.)

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These plots are made using R programming language.Been learning it lately and just thought it would be a cool idea to try some stuff on my own. I wish I could do more with R – Bubble charts, Treemaps, and Maps. To publish the R markdown in WordPress proved to be a bigger ordeal. (Credit goes to Yihui. But I couldn’t get  the plots published  directly.) Glad I learned something through this endeavor.

I used Tableau Public last year, which is really a great tool to come up with many fabulous visualizations fairly easily (Of course, I made only a few basic plots, given its potential).

And now is  the time for “Best” picks for 2014:

Among fiction, it’s a close call between Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Suzanne  Collins’  Hunger Games. Chinua’s masterpiece is  just that – very remarkable. Suzanne Collins’ imagination blew  me away.  I also immensely enjoyed  the two China-based novels  – The Valley  of Amazement and China Dolls.

I could finally read “Exploring Social Psychology’ last  year and it was an absolute treat. It’s  actually  a textbook. The much delayed “The Last Lecture” struck me as honest and inspiring. Allie Brosh’s comic memoir  – Hyperbole  and a Half  – had been  a uniquely gratifying. Self-help books – Introduction to NLP and Power of Habit were good too.

I read two collections of mystery short stories, both of them fabulous and as different from each other as possible. The one by Edogawa Rampo, the father  of Japanese mystery writing, is the  clear  winner for me though. Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives edited by Sarah Weinman had been a  surprising treat.

  • Best Fiction:   Things Fall Apart (Chinua  Achebe)
  • Best Non-Fiction: Exploring Social Psychology (David Meyers)
  • Best  Short-Stories: Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edogawa Rampo)

I know that this post is pretty lousy and is in need of much improvement. What with a lot of time spent on coding the plots and other technical stuff, I decided to call the thing off at this point and just put it out there. Next time, I promise, I’ll be better.





My favorite childhood reads

7 05 2010

I came across the blogpost called “Top 10 Books of My Childhood” a few days ago and got inspired to write a similar post for my blog too.

I was not always an avid reader and I had very limited exposure to books and reading in my schooldays. Nevertheless, I strived to quench my thirst for non-academic reading as much as possible by soliciting popular children’s magazines like Chandamama, Balamitra, Wisdom, Champak etc. I can’t really list my Top 10, obviously because I haven’t read much back then. But I’ll try to present a few of my memorable reads here:

Ukrainian Folk Tales: Read this while I was 10 or 11. Just fell in love with the stories. All those treasures and riches coupled with magic and animals extremely fascinated me. Alas, I don’t remember much of those stories now. I just ordered a copy from Amazon (I never owned a copy of it) and am very much looking forward to re-read them (and hopefully read them to my son too).

The Secret of Killimooin: Believe it or not, this is the only Enid Blyton’s book I’ve ever read. Found this in my grandfather’s bookshelf. It was a novel experience for me. I’ve never heard of the author or her books before at that time. I found it very enthralling and absorbing. I still remember some snippets of the adventure story and marvel at them. 

Moby Dick: I read an abridged version of this classic (not an illustrated children’s version though) and loved it. Sadly, I lost the copy and have been trying to procure a new one ever since. The unfortunate thing is that I don’t remember any details about the book that would help me identify it like publisher, author, ISBN etc. What’s more, I don’t even remember the book cover simply because I never saw it 🙂 (The book cover was wrapped in a brown paper). All I can recollect is that it had an elaborate introduction on Whale hunting. Can anyone out there help me find it? Please…!! I know I can find the original unabridged version anywhere and everywhere but I am kind of attached to that little book I read so many years ago and am very resolute to add it to my bookshelf (not virtual). And this time, I’ll not lose it. Other little things I do remember are a) it has a few illustrated pictures in balck and white b) it is around 200 pages.

Children’s Knowledge Bank (Set of 6 books): Though this is not my favorite, I spent a lot of time on these books and even actually enjoyed them. I guess this is one category of books my parents had no problem with me pouring over. These books tell you the why, how, what, where, who etc of things. Ex: What causes bald head? 🙂 Strangely, that’s the only topic I remember after all these years. Lol!

The remaining books are of my mother tongue, Telugu.
– Balala Ramayanam (Childrens’ Ramayana): This is perhaps the book, which I read the maximum number of times. Over the years I read it atleast a hundred times (literally!). I guess, I still have the copy, though the first 20 and the last 30 pages are missing. 🙂 The book has some pictures in it, which greatly enhance the narration. Of the Seven Kandas, I like the first one – BalaKandam – the most. To let a little secret out, Lord Rama was my childhood hero. 😛 Ramayana is one book which is closest to my heart (always!).

 – Panchatantra: (Visalandhra Publications – Comes in a set of 3 or 4 books.) I absolutely love them. I mostly read only Mitralabha and Mitrabedha parts. The others were read less often. I’ve always been captivated by fairy tales and tales of animals and I still carry that feeling even in my late twenties. Panchatantra stories are classic and I guess every kid in India grows up hearing at least some of them.

Baarister Paarvateesam: This is a classic literary humorous piece from Mokkapaati Narasimha Sastry, which describes the adventures of an Indian village guy as he emabarks on a journey to London, where he wishes to study law. The novel is divided into three parts of which only part 1 is hilarious. In the latter two parts, the guy – Parvateesam – having gained more experience and become more mature, tends to be less funny. It is only the most interesting Part 1 I read in my childhood (I read the other two only recently). It is something which I can read again and again and enjoy it with the same intensity every time.

I also read lots of other stories like Tenali Ramakrishna, Akbar-Birbal, Mulla Nasruddin etc. I cherished all of them.

Well, these are all I could remember now.

PS: I mentioned a magazine called – “Wisdom” in the beginning of this entry. I would like to say a few words about it here:
As the name implies, it had many pieces of wisdom about various things – happenings, animals, nature, science etc. It comes in both Telugu and English. I couldn’t find a reliable link to the magazine online but it still seems to be in publication. It has been a really long time since I’ve last seen it, let alone read it. I’ll make it a point to get one when I next visit India. I’m curious to see how the magazine might have transformed after all these years.





Century

28 12 2009

Hurray! I scored a century. Before you start wondering, let me make it clear that it’s not about any game; it’s the number of books I’ve read this year. Actually it’s a surprise to me too as I haven’t consciously strove for it, not unless I reached the 90 mark. I know that some bookworms out there take the 50 or 100 a year challenges, but I wasn’t motivated by them.

In fact, when I discovered that I read 58 books in 2008, I thought it was very unusual and have decided to read a lot less in 2009 as I wanted to spend more of my time on other things. But alas! The reverse happened.

Of course the number doesn’t mean much, it is quality that matters. I could have easily read little comics to make the count 100. Actually count was never a big thing on my mind, even though I experience a secret pleasure as I update my “Books I’ve read” spreadsheet.

I’m glad that I never had to compromise on the quality of the books I read in favor of the quantity. This year I read some really amazing books. While I can’t make a good job of picking up the top 10 (I tried, but soon saw the futility of it) or something like that, I would like to mention here some of the remarkable ones.

The Great Indian Novel” by Shashi Tharoor was an exhilarating experience to me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed its wit and humor. I had the honor of reading and appreciating George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984”.  Arundhati Roy’s “God of Small Things” was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a prose that is so poetic and beautiful. “Bridges of Madison County” was a heart touching love story, which left lingering thoughts behind. I also thoroughly enjoyed my favorite author Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”.

Woman in the Dunes” had been a deeply affecting novel. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” was an enigma. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy was another disturbing but wonderful work.

I thought that I couldn’t appreciate the Pulitzer Winner, “Olive Kitteridge” much. I got bored at some points. But I’m sure I would enjoy and appreciate it more on second reading.

There also were some mysteries and thrillers in the list mostly of Agatha Christie, James Hadley Chase, Ken Follett and Michael Chrichton, which were quick-reads and a pleasure to read anytime.

Inheritance of Loss” leads the list of disappointments. It was a sheer torture. Others include, among others, “Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh, “Between the Assassinations” by Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger fame) and “Six Suspects” by Vikas Swarup (Q & A fame).

I must say that I’m very happy about the non-fiction books I’ve read this year. Though they constitute less than 20% of the total, each one is remarkable in its own way. “I Don’t” narrated the history of marriage right from Adam and Eve. “The Japanese Mind” explained, of course the Japanese mind (for the benefit of westerners, especially Americans). “Planet Google” was really very informative. I read all four of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, which of course were brilliant. Another useful book I read was “What do you want from me?” by Terri Apter on how to handle in-law relationships. “Freakonomics” was awesome, also was “Overthrow”. “The Accidental Billionaires” and “Games Indians Play” were among the not so amazing ones.

All in all, I feel happy about the books I’ve read this year and look forward to read more good books next year. But this time, I really want to cut down the quantity and take it slow. It’s seems funny that I have to make a resolution to read less, but given my addiction it actually makes sense. Also I have an idea to read only huge books in 2010, because I have an innate phobia for any book with more than 600 pages. I know this seems absurd but I just can’t make myself pick up such a monster, however good it might be. Consequently, I haven’t read Ayn Rand or Alexander Dumas or Margaret Mitchell till now. I just hate to hold onto the same book for long periods of time (more than a few weeks at the most) . But I’m not sure whether I’ll overcome this fear/aversion just now. Hmm…





The most hated popular books

6 10 2009

Nothing is liked by everyone. However great or popular a thing might be, there will be at least a few who are not impressed by it. Likewise there are some popular books, award winners and best sellers, which are hated by a significant number of people.

From what I’ve observed in some of the online book communities and groups, the most hated books seem to be –

  • Alchemist by Paulo Coelho(Bestseller)
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy(Booker Prize winner, 1997)

Others include –

  • Paulo Coelho’s other books like Eleven Minutes
  • Chetan Bhagat’s literary attempts etc.

Also I’ve heard more negative reviews than otherwise about Kiran Desai’s Inheritance of loss (Booker prize winner, 2006).  But still I decided to try it, going by it’s literary recognition and ignoring the fellow readers’ bitter experiences. And that was a decision I greatly regret. Reading that book was a sheer torture.

So, when I recently picked up The God of Small things from the library, it is not without much hesitation. But, there’s  a surprise waiting for me. I’m enthralled by her writing. I was not at all prepared for her highly delectable prose, which swept me off my feet (or so I felt). I’m really enjoying the book and even before I finish it, I have a feeling that I would read it again and again.