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. ūüėõ

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! ūüôā

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.





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” ūüėõ . 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:

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2015 reading

1 03 2016

2015 was a rewarding year for me in many ways. As far as my reading is concerned, my preferences definitely got matured. I moved away from my comfort zone and picked up a greater number of non-fiction and audio books last year. Their proportion is still very small¬† but I have observed a¬† decreased, albeit slight, fondness of fiction and increased penchant for different types of non-fiction. Or maybe I became better at picking up appealing non-fiction. Consequently I also became pickier when it came to regular fiction. Most fiction I read last year was for book clubs. I’m sure this pattern evolves further in 2016.

Despite an eventful year, both personally and professionally, I managed to read 57 books in 2015, 2 of them re-reads (No Country for Old Men, which I have enjoyed thoroughly this time, and Animal Farm). I almost read nothing in Telugu, my native tongue, until the end of the year, when I was desperate enough to grab some random free e-books, which I read to my heart’s content. ūüėČ

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Without much further ado, let me list the winners here ūüėõ

Best Fiction – Goldfinch by Donna Tart¬† It’s a masterpiece. Enjoyed and got immersed in each one its 700 and odd pages. Do I need to say anything else?

Best Non-Fiction РWild by Cheryl Strayed Wild is inspirational. I admire Cheryl for her courage; for pulling herself up from the abyss and coming out of it as a renewed person. In many ways, the hike was life altering.

Best Short Stories – There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In By Lyudmila Petrushevskaya

Best Thriller – I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (Special mention)¬†Oh my god! It’s the best page turner I’ve read in so many years. I still feel the adrenaline rush.

Best Book Club Selection – The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch (Special category) This¬†needs a special mention. It’s a book I would never have picked up myself. It’s young adult book written from the perspective of a 13 year old boy who loves ocean and its creatures. It’s so refreshing and strangely magical.

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Though I had grand plans for visualizations that I usually include in
this yearly post, I honestly couldn’t find time to learn a new skill and experiment. I go the easy route this time and use Power BI, one of the newest tools in the market. Excuse me for not being creative with the analysis though.

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The year started off well with An Uncommon Reader, a subtle humor from UK. It depicts, in a very funny way, what if Queen Elizabeth at the age of 70 discovers the pleasures of reading and becomes an avid reader. Kazuo Ishiguro’s (my favorite author) The Buried Giant surprised me. It’s a fantasy novel.Fantasy isn’t usually my type. But when it comes to Ishiguro, it doesn’t matter what genre it is. Reading Ishiguro is pure, unadulterated pleasure any day. Amen.

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I discovered Lyudmila Petrushevskaya accidentally. In the local library. Her short stories are honest and dark. I found the¬† bestseller “The Girl on the Train” creepy. It’s genius. I both loved and hated it. I tried two chick-lit (not so) new releases – Landline and The Husband’s Secret. I can’t say I enjoyed them much, despite their popularity. They are definitely good, but just not for me. I liked the former better than the latter though.

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One book I found amusing and enlightening is “How to Travel the World for Free” by Michael Wigge. It indulged my day dreams :P. I learned good stuff from it. ;). I wish I could write about each and every book I read and loved last year, but I’m feeling lazy now. ūüėõ¬† You can breathe a sigh of relief. I’m signing off. ūüôā

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Crossroads

11 01 2015

My first taste of social media sites for books had been Shelfari and I like it. It has a cool shelf-like visualization which appeals to my traditional ways of looking at things. Even though I later came to know about a more widely known and used “Goodreads’ and briefly had a fling with it, I stuck to my child-like fascination towards¬†“bookshelf” and to¬†Shelfari. Despite many interesting things that Shelfari has in its bag, I am aghast to realize that it doesn’t have an app yet and if I would like to share my reading with FB, there is no easy way to do that from my smartphone ( I acquired it only recently). Here, Goodreads wins hands down. It has a cool app and while I was checking it out, I was impressed by its recommendation feature. It’s just beyond cool. It swept me off my feet. Of course, it has other arrows in its quiver like the ability to add quotes, track the reading progress, a larger user base and thus a more reliable way to judge a book based on reviews and ratings. But the library import from Shelfari to Goodreads is not smooth with lots of information lost. And I abhor imperfect solutions. It’s a pain to update all those missing details. So, what should I do now? Stick to my first love – Shelfari – and go through the pain of booting up my laptop every time I need to update my shelf and share it with my friends or move on to the less perfect (in my eyes) but much easier to manage Goodreads and make my future with it? Alas, I’m at crossroads! ūüėČ ūüėõ





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 ‚Äúmaximizing‚ÄĚ 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.





2012 reading

6 01 2013

I’ve read a meager 53 books in 2012, owing to several academic and personal commitments. I’m not very happy about the overall reading (not just the quantity but the quality and variety) of this year but I’m glad that I utilized the services of my university’s library to read some good literature, especially Telugu. Find below some of the statistics drawn from my personal database:

Category_2012 Mode-2012

It can be observed that only 5 of the 53 are non-fiction. I wish I read more of them. I read a greater proportion of Telugu books (21 out of 53 i.e. 40%)compared to previous years.¬† Also, majority of works are from India, just like last year. I have to make a conscious effort to read stuff from different nations, at least in 2013. I haven’t read any translation works this year, with the exception of two; Short stories by Premchand and a novel – South of the border, West of the sun by Haruki Murakami.


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Here are the bests of 2012:

  • Best Novel (English): Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedis and Mistress by Anita Nair
  • Best Short Stories (English): The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran and Release and Other Stories by Rakshanda Jalil
  • Best Novel (Telugu): Maidanam by Chalam and Changiz Khan by Tenneti Suri
  • Best Short Stories (Telugu): Saalabhanjika by KuppilinPadma
  • Best Non-Fiction: Indians by Sudhir Kakar

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I wrote elaborate posts for Middlesex and Mistress after I read them. So I don’t feel the need to say anything about them now. The Red Carpet is a collection of stories based in Bangalore. Her in-depth style is a pleasure to read. The collection is very fulfilling. Release and Other Stories has a¬† lighter style in comparison but nevertheless deal with interesting and subtle subjects.

Maidanam by Chalam: It’s mind blowing. It would completely shake you. It’s deeply affecting too. I can say one is never the same after reading it. I can understand why it is so notorious. Words fail to express my reaction to it. I’ll leave it to the imagination of the readers. Those who have read the novel would understand I guess.

Changiz Khan is historical fiction, mostly likely to be the true depiction of the life of the great Mongolian leader. It’s a very new experience to read through the conditions and customs of those times, where physical power alone wins and war is a part of life. Thank god, we have come a far way since then. :-). Chengiz Khan was an enthralling read.

Saalabhanjika’s review is here.

One other deeply affecting book I read this year is Indians by Sudhir Kakar. He is an eminent psychoanalyst and writer. He has written several books dealing with culture and religion. I got some valuable insights from this particular book of his, which have put some doubts of mine to rest. Understanding the psychology of Indians as a whole helped me to accept and to have more clarity about certain things. I intend to read more and more of him in future.

In 2012, I got introduced to “Ampasayya” Naveen. I read several of his works during the past year starting from his famous Ampasayya to his Sahitya Academy Award winner Kaalarekhalu. Needless to say, I liked his style very much and look forward to read more of him in future.





2011 Reading

10 02 2012

I’ve been writing an end-of -the year synopsis on my perusal of books¬† for the past couple of years (i.e. ever since I started this blog) but this time I missed on it and haven’t posted anything about my 2011 reading. It’s not because I forgot about it or just been busy or lazy. In fact, I wanted to do something different for 2011 and I unwittingly set an ambitious task for myself. Inspired by the statistics course and visualization workshop I attended during the last semester,¬† I wanted to present the statistics of my reading in the form of attractive visuals. While the first part is fine, it’s the latter one which posed a challenge to me. Being untrained in visualization techniques and having made no significant efforts to acquire the required skills, the exercise took on a “delayed indefinitely” status. Finally today, I decided to present whatever crude things I came up with in my initial attempts this time and save the lofty goal for the next year. So beware of what’s coming next. ūüôā

Here are a few graphs, which are (I suppose) self-explanatory:

I read 75 books in total, of which most of them are fiction(69). As you can see, I read very few non-fiction in 2011 and all of them are Indian and in English.¬†It’s interesting to note that though I read the print material most of the time, reading in the electronic mode isn’t too insignificant. I attribute this to my dear Sony Reader. Another observation is that I own most of the books I read in 2011 and given the fact that I’m not an active member of any library currently, it’s ¬†surprising to see that I’ve managed borrowed a considerable number of books. Given the space constraint in my house, I should actually do this more. Though my selection in 2011 largely favored Indian literature, I indulged myself in a¬†variety¬†of ¬†writings from different nations. I’m usually so careful and systematic about picking my reads that there will be little chance for disappointment or frustration and this is evident from the ‘rating” chart. You can see that most of them were rated 3-5.

I prepared an excel sheet with various attributes like title, category. Author, language, country of origin, ownership status, mode (print/electronic), type (novel, short stories etc), translation, rating and remarks. Couldn’t come up with anymore interesting things. I created these graphs from Tableau Public. Being a free offering, it didn’t provide much flexibility and I couldn’t figure out how to show the percentages in the pie chart. I could have produced better analysis and presentation, but as I confessed earlier, I didn’t really give it my best shot.

Wait, there’s more to come, but not this time. I have bigger and more colorful plans for my reading data. ūüėČ I’ve been keeping track of the books I read for 5 years and this means I can do a time-series analysis to identify the trend(s). It would also be interesting to do some data mining (which I’m learning this semester) on it and explore for any hidden patterns (I know the data is not huge, but still, I can fantasize, can’t I?) and the ultimate objective would be to predict what I’ll be reading next. Wow, that would be really cool! Just thinking about it gives me a shiver of excitement. (You know me! I like being dramatic sometimes.)

Caught up in the enthusiasm for all the new thoughts that emerged in this context, I want to now introduce the tradition ( ūüėõ ) of announcing the best picks of the year. Here they are for 2011:

  • Best Short Stories – Telugu: Seela Veerraju Kathalu by Seela Veerraju
  • Best Novel – Telugu: Rachayitri by Ranganayakamma
  • Best Short Stories – English: Short cuts by Raymond Carver
  • Best Novel – English: Gone With the Wind by Margeret Mitchell
  • Best Non-fiction: Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India by Santosh Desai