Ahem.. Yes.. there are a lot of them here… and there is one that kept me going for more than a month! (no prizes for guessing which one). Another week and two more would have gotten added to this blog, but we will keep those for later… maybe if you get through this one :)
Six books - All of them simply great in their own right. Three of these books were recommended reads - The Happiness Hypothesis, On Writing, The Killer Inside Me - and the other three I just picked up.. Yes you can ask me why I picked up the 1000 pager Anna Karenina in the first place (that too of my own accord). The answer to that would be, I was truly inspired to pick it up after reading The Elegance of a Hedgehog where Tolstoy’s writing has been raved about.
Its been two weeks since I finished the last page of Anna Karenina and a month or two before I finished the rest, so what I write here is what has stuck and of course my own understanding and relevance of these wonderful works of art.
All the President’s Men:
I am sure most of you have either read this book before or have seen the Redford + Hoffman movie. It is the record of two journalists from the Washington Post- Bernstein and Woodward - of the Watergate Scandal that leads to the resignation of President Nixon. Certainly not one of the most well written books but covers one of the greatest incidents in the history of American politics in detail. The first ever resignation from the President’s office. The first time, at least in public view, that the highest power of authority is brought to justice by the people of the country. If the sentiments of the people of America captured in this book are true to go by, then surely there is a lot of shock, resentment, anger, negativity and urgency to seek justice. It shows what the role of the media and journalists in its true sense is - the role of seeking the truth, sharing the truth and augmenting necessary action.
Unfortunately (and this is a very very very sad thing) I did not feel any of that while reading the happenings and revelations. I realized during the course of reading this book that perhaps as an Indian and as someone who in the current day and age has witnessed some extremely corrupt and manipulative politics being played, I simply am unmoved even with the knowledge that the very keeper of justice is the one who has flouted it. By the end of the book I was very displeased with myself for my indifference.
Having said the above, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has not read it, especially if you have a penchant for history.
Five minds of the future:
Dr. Howard Gardner, a renowned researcher of psychology, is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences. I was introduced to his work while with my previous organization and in quite honesty, witnessing in some sense how his theories have been applied takes a lot of credit for fueling my interest and reading in the area of psychology. Five minds of the future is an attempt of Dr. Gardner to understand what are the minds that will be needed in the future - the disciplined, the synthesizing, the creative, the respectful and the ethical mind.
For starters, I think this was a bad choice for me, especially since I have not read any books previously written by him. The ideas are quite abstract (or high-level) and there were many places where I struggled to stay with the idea. I did also feel that his tone of writing in a few instances was quite arrogant (without justifying its necessity). Maybe also because I am more of a doer than a thinker, lack of any concrete action plan made my interest wade.
However, the ideas discussed in the book are visionary to say the least. For one person to stimulate the future, understand the current happenings, predict trends and patters that will continue and come up with psychological requirements of the mind is a feat I bow down to. To know that the ability to stay dedicated and master one field or area, to make sense of various scattered pieces of information, to creatively deal with/use the synthesized knowledge, to be tolerant and respectful of other peoples views, opinions and choices and to do what is right is going to be the primary role of the mind is remarkable.
If the little of what I have written above interests you, it is a must read. I am certainly looking forward to reading his next!
The Happiness Hypothesis:
This book by Jonathan Haidt, has to be one of the most well written books that I have read. Very clean, crisp, articulate and well researched. This book talks of ten great ideas that have been discussed in ancient wisdom - Indian, Chinese, Meditteranean - and gives it a modern view. Across the book, the central idea is that there is a conscious mind and a sub-conscious mind. The subconscious is the elephant beneath the water (as depicted in the cover) and the conscious mind is the rider of the elephant who knows so little, but is doing the best with whatever is known to him.
My two personal favorites were where he discussed the idea of reciprocity and the idea of love. There are researches to show how as humans we are so attuned to give back which starts with the transcript of a scene from Godfather. He talks of how this is the idea that is behind our survival, our sense of service and also gossip! When he talks of love, he starts from talking about love between mother and child (most of which is at the very core of the subconscious) to the love between two adults (most of which is subconscious too!).
My biggest take away from this book though is differentiating between the idea of being content and being Happy. Happiness is derived from doing a few things right, from not doing a few things wrong, from secure relationships, from lack of noise and commute.. it is a state we can all strive for and achieve, unlike being content where you are satisfied with what you have. Detachment, enlightenment, solitary meditation as preached by Buddha can make you very content, but certainly not Happy. :)
Take a break here if you want. There are three more to go.. :)
First book of Mr. Stephen King that I am reading and it is not one of his novels or novellas but part autobiography/part a manual on how to write. I must confess, I was very impressed. Simply loved his style of writing - so simple, so easy and absolutely relatable. He made me feel like I am listening to one of friend narrate his own story. His writing reached out to me so easily. What I loved most about the book is its honesty. One writer who is certainly not afraid to call a spade - a spade. That just brings such a fresh breath into the writing that its an absolute pleasure to read it. His advice on writing is also very simplified and useful (even for someone like me who just writes an occasional blog)
Have now picked up two of his fiction novels and simply can’t wait to get started with them. But for now, On writing is certainly on my must-read list.
The Killer Inside Me:
A suspense novel by Jim Thompson, it was the only easy read in the lot. The book is a first person narrative of a phycho criminal that takes you through his mind and lets you take a peek into what are the thoughts running in his head while he commits those hideous crimes. It is fast-paced, it is well written - recommended if you have surrounded yourself with heavyweights and just need a breather!
Finally, we arrive at THE book of the six. This one took me a month and a half and five other books for company to complete reading. But truth be told, I am so glad I stuck till the end (I am certain I would have regretted it if I left it midway).
A classic by Leo Tolstoy, this book has been translated into english from the original russian. It is said that Tolstoy wrote this book over a period of five years. The central character of the book is Anna - a married aristocrat and socialite of Russia who falls in love with a younger single man. The second main character is that of Levin - a landowner in Russia who manages estates and farms. Many believe that Levin serves as Tolstoy’s alter ego through this book.
Tolstoy believed in brevity in writing (one can argue considering he has churned out a 1000 pager) and has stayed true to his belief. For e.g. a line which says that “beneath the green silk curtain, a round teak table held the yellow vase with white flowers” is banned from Tolstoy’s writing. What is written about are people, their situations, their thoughts, their emotions, their reactions, but never the unnecessary detail of the physical setting (which personally i find very refreshing).
The three things that I simply loved about this book:
- Every possible imaginable emotion that a human being can go through has been written about and captured in this book. Love, hatred, joy, happiness, angst, deep sorrow, sympathy, pity, anger, anticipation, anxiety, indifference, reverence, irreverence - all of it.
- The pace of the first 200 pages and the last 200 pages is simply FANTASTIC! (I wonder why he wrote the 600 pages in between. I could have quite done without them). It is very clear that when he started the book, he was creating his best piece of work. The clarity he maintains in the midst of the chaos he portrays makes you admit to him being one of the greatest writers ever.
- If one had to at the end of the book list down all the characters in the book (from bell boy to the heroine) there will be hundreds if not thousands of names. Yet, each character holds his own, relates to you in some way and stays in your mind long after you are done reading the book.
This is a book that deserves a LOT of respect and definitely one of the books you must read before you die!
Ending this blog with a quote from Stephen King:
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
My life has certainly been enriched by what these great authors have written. I hope yours is enriched too!
Till next time.. Happy reading!