Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

A parade of eclectic books came through my life in the last two months.

Before a long trip, most reasonable people will be seen shopping for the trip and packing their bags. Me? I was in a reading frenzy, trying to finish all my library books so I could safely return them before I went away.

The last of my pile was Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. This is a novelist's memoir written with deep feeling and a talent for articulating things that are very hard to articulate. Winterson was adopted as a 6 week old baby. Her mother cruelly told her that she "picked the wrong crib" implying that the adoption was a mistake. The mother's religious fanaticism and depression made for a horrible home life. Books were not allowed in the house. But Winterson found them anyway and against all odds, went on to go to Oxford and earn a degree in literature, writing an award-winning novel at the age of 24. “Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home – they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.” 


This Spring, I won a giveaway on Goodreads, an advance copy of The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism
by Jeremy Rifkin. What a title! This might be the most interesting book I've read in a while, and the hardest to read- partly because of the dense writing but mostly because economics is not at all my field of expertise. I read it as I would a textbook, over a semester, digesting a chapter at a time and taking copious notes. 

In a nutshell, what Rifkin is proposing is that the current capitalist system is on the decline. It will soon be replaced by the collaborative commons which is an economic system based on social entrepreneurs, shared economy and crowdfunding. We're already seeing more of that- think couchsurfing, kickstarter, zip cars etc. My notes on the book are here. I really wish the writing was tighter and more accessible, and that the book was better edited but if you like cerebral books, it is completely worth your time.

Just before we left for India, our library had their annual fund-raising book sale. Gently used, donated books were being sold for a couple of dollars so I rummaged around and bought a few. Over the two long-haul flights to India, I read an old but goodie, Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. I think I read this collection once every decade or so and they are always fun.

In India, from within the depths of a junk drawer in a parental home, I rescued a yellowing paperback, The Way Through The Woods by Colin Dexter. It is the 10th Inspector Morse novel. I'm an ardent watcher of the Inspector Morse detective series on TV (we've watched it on PBS and Netflix) but this was the first time I read one of the novels that the series is based on. I give the novel 2 thumbs up for the literary references and for bringing the irritable, intellectual Morse to life.

Over at my parents' home, I read Myth = Mithya A Handbook of Hindu Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik. I've read and heard and seen stories from Hindu mythology- Ramayana, Mahabharata- all my life, but this fascinating little book was full of aha moments for the ancient Indian interpretation of everything from cosmology to cultural mores. 

Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet: Indian Traditions in Beauty and Health by Sharada Dwivedi and Shalini Devi Holkar was a fluffy and quick read. The book is written in the form of a fictional memoir of a Rajput princess. She talks about her life in her childhood home (a palace) and life in her married household (another palace), cloistered in a women's compound (zenana). The princess describes rituals related to health and beauty, providing several recipes for everything from a masoor (lentil) face mask to pancakes that aid lactation. Descriptions of the hours-long elaborate baths left me exhausted and thankful for my 5 minute showers and single bottle of shampoo+ conditioner! Obviously, most of us don't have the luxury, time or even the inclination to make a career out of pampering ourselves. But the book is a nice reminder of relaxing beauty rituals that take no more than a few pantry ingredients. The book is worth looking at for the sumptuous historic photographs alone.

In India, there was another novelty- daily newspapers delivered to the door. We don't subscribe to newspapers here, preferring to read online news if and when we feel like it. But I got a daily dose of the Times of India and Mumbai Mirror and Bombay Times, with its unsettling mix of brutal rape reports and inane celebrity gossip. I got to read comics and do sudoku and crosswords every day (I'm good at the former but frustratingly bad at the latter.)


Since my return home, I've been catching up on the New Yorker magazines from the last 2 months. This article about Vandana Shiva was very illuminating and it is published online in its entirety: Seeds of DoubtAn activist’s controversial crusade against genetically modified crops by Michael Specter. 


And I started reading another book sale find, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This book won rave reviews but personally I'm not enjoying the writing and the story is not very engaging either. I'm donating this book back for next year's sale. 

The next book on the pile is Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver.

What are you reading these days?

26 comments:

  1. Nice list!
    Do you have any recommendations for "happy books"? I am in the last trimester of my pregnancy and want to keep my reading light. I love the Ladies No 1 detective Agency series. Anything else you would recommend?
    TIA!
    Sangeetha

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    1. Sangeetha

      Best wishes to you - check out the Jana Bibi book from my recommendatiosn - it's pretty light hearted

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    2. Sangeetha- It is surprisingly hard to come up with happy books but here's my list:
      Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
      Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth
      My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell
      The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

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    3. Some happy foodie reads:
      Relish by Lucy Knisley
      Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
      My Life in France by Julia Child
      Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

      And Agatha Christie and PG Wodehouse are always reliable one for me when I need some comfort reading.

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    4. Thanks Vishaka! I have heard about the Jana Bibi series....time to reserve them in the library!
      Thanks Nupur! Seems like I have read all the fiction you suggested. but I think it is time to reread Gerald durrell!
      Will try the foodie reads as well :)

      Sangeetha

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    5. I have a few to add - hope you don't mind Nupur.
      - Lucky Jim- Kingsley Amis
      - all the James Herriot books
      - Just William and other books in the series.
      Arpita.

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    6. Recommend away, friends! I want to read these too.

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    7. Chicken Soup for the Soul series are my go to books when I want light reading. I have been reading these since I was in my teens. I like the fact that they are full of true short stories and there's a book for everyone going through different phases in life or simply pursuing different interests. I am currently reading their 'Home Sweet Home' and enjoying it.

      - Priti

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    8. Thanks everybody.
      Arpita - I love the Just WIlliam series since childhood! Too bad I don't seem to find it in the US libraries.
      And Priti, I loved the Chicken Soup for the Indian Mom's soul - was really good.

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    9. Sangeeta- if you have access to a kindle or can download the kindle app- some of the William books are available for download from the amazon kindle library.
      Best Arpita.

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  2. Hi

    Welcome back! you made me miss Bombay!

    * A Surrey State of Affairs - by Ceci Radford - my first Goodreads recommendation. I quite enjoyed it - frivolous but believable
    * Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes - I really enjoyed this one - I like the British set in India at an individual level. Reminiscent of Tarquin Hall’s books
    * Mrs Queen Takes the Train - too long but an interesting perspective on the Queen and her realization of her place in the world. It is set 10 years after Diana’s death - a fictional account of the Queen going walkabout.
    * I loved the 24 hour bookstore - I found a lot to identify with being a geek of sorts ;-)
    * I first read the short stories of Mrs Marple at a stretch when I was nursing my first-born - the long hours sitting with him, I would read agatha Christie. I can recall the taste of “dinkache ladu” when I see the collection and see the room I was in at my mother’s house - powerful nostalgia. The said first-born is now 16!
    * I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of the Isabel Dalhousie book.

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    1. Oh my you're having fun as always- I'll have to look for some of these books. So sweet about the memory of cuddling your newborn and reading Christie!

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  3. What a list! Zero marginal interests me, let me find it and thank you again for the Miss Marple you gifted me, enjoyed reading it.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, I love passing around books for friends to enjoy.

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  4. Great post Nupur! My to read list has more books now!

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  5. I re-read catcher in the rye. I loved it better this time than my last read many years back. Also read Perks of being a wallflower (LOVED IT!!!). I am also halfway into fault in our stars.

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  6. Hi Nupur. NIce list. It's always good to have someone suggest reads. I recently finished a novel called "The pearl that broke its shell" by Nadia Hashimi. The story is about struggles of women in Afghanistan. The author really gets you engaged in the story. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation- I'll have to look for this book.

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  7. Read only two books- high rising by Angela Thirkell which was an okay read and the second Maisie Dobbs mystery which had quite a strong mystery aspect. Am currently trying yo read only books on my physical bookshelf to cull them down although I am already planning my Xmas e- book list :)
    Why can't book reading become a profession? :)
    Arpita.
    PS am a huge morse fan but must say I enjoy the TV serialization more than the books.

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    1. Book reading can be a profession! Well, sort of :) I'm thinking of librarians, language scholars and book bloggers. I do enjoy the Morse TV series- he's so irritable. Good fun.

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  8. Hi Nupur, good to see you back. Hope you had a great trip to India. We are planning a trip soon, and so excited. I read Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet too and it was a breezy read for sure, although a little hard to relate to, particularly when you consider how the more "regular" women of that era must have lived. But I guess that was the authors' intention. I am now reading The House of Cards, having been a huge fan of the Netflix series. We also wrapped up Orange is the New Black on Netflix and greedily watched two new seasons of Midsomer Murders just released on Netflix, with the new Barnaby. We were prepared not to like him because the old one was so great, but he's really good. Even better, from one dog lover to another if you haven't already seen it, he has a really adorable dog, Sykes, who gets a good amount of screen time. :)

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    1. Vaishali- yes, Almond Eyes was ridiculous like that. I kept thinking- these fabulously privileged women, but they spend their lifetimes in a zenana (not much more than a golden cage) anointing themselves with this and that. What must be lives of less privileged women be like? There's a new Midsomer? I must catch up!!

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  9. loved the post Nupur! I am a lurker usually, but would like to tell you that I'm a great fan of your blog, well-written and from the heart :) Btw, the reading lists are great, is there a place where the list is available for reference? 'Reading Challenge' does not have a complete list, so wanted to see if you maintain a list that we can go back to for instant reference to add to our reading list:) else, have to scan through the archives. maybe something you can consider adding in your 'spare time' :-) Thanks!

    - Rashmi

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    1. Thank you Rashmi! I have a complete (well, at least the recently read books are in there) list of books I've read on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/10503122-nupur?shelf=read

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