Friday, January 03, 2020

Winter break in Dallas, and 2019 in Books

Happy 2020, friends!
May it be a good one!

Black eyed peas and greens curry
for a lucky New Years' Day lunch
Christmas idlis!

We spent our winter break with my sister in Dallas. Our flight landed on the afternoon of December 25 to balmy temperatures in the 70s- that's Christmas in Texas! (Temperatures did drop later in the week.) 

My sister thoroughly spoiled us with loads of presents, drove us all over town for outings and treated us to great food. When I jotted down all the things we did over 5 and a half days, I'm amazed by how much she managed to pack into this trip. 

Winter break with 3 active kids ages 8, 7 and 3 meant hitting a lot of kid-friendly places in town- along with local trails and playgrounds and a visit to the town library, we visited the Dallas arboretum, crayola experience theme park, an arcade game room and a trampoline park. The kids' absolute favorite was the Epic Waters indoor water park; our kids are all water loving creatures who are most at home in their bathing suits. 

At home, the kids watched TV (Scooby Doo, other cartoons, British Baking show) and the older two played some video games, we played Uno and discovered a board game that my doodle-loving daughter loved, called Rapidoodle, and made gingerbread houses.

The trip was a food festival from start to finish. We ate out at Avila's for Tex-Mex and I enjoyed my enchiladas mexicanas, three cheese enchiladas in red sauce, with two sides- roasted veggies and a bright lettuce salad. Dallas has incredible Indian food; the authentic South Indian Sunday breakfast buffet at Adyar Ananda Bhavan was a treat. Another favorite meal was the Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffet with loads of salads, crispy falafel and a dozen dips and sauces. 

My sister is a great cook and also made us meal after meal of dishes like chana masala and aamras (bottled from the mango tree in our parents' backyard in Southern Maharashtra), Christmas idlis (all-naturally dyed with beet and spinach pastes), paneer bhurji, sabudana khichdi, and potato theplas. We had chaat- sev puri and pani puri- for 2 dinners in a row. Such is vacation eating! 

Now it is back to normal life and back to reality.

* * * Book Report * * * 

Goodreads compiled these 2019 reading stats for me
I've completed Book Riot's Read Harder challenge for about three years now, and again in 2019, it rewarded me with some amazing reads, books that I might not have picked up if it were not for the challenge. 

Here are the 24 books I ended up reading for Read Harder 2019, listed by genre. The task is given in parentheses. 

Non-fiction- The first three in this list are must-reads and the others were really good too. 

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (journalism)- A work of  investigative journalism about the dystopian economy we live in. Many older Americans find themselves unable to find jobs, and with menial jobs find themselves having to make hard choices, such as between housing and healthcare. 

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (nonviolent true crime)- the story of Theranos, the blood diagnostics tech start-up that perpetuated corporate fraud.

Couldn't Keep it to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (prison)- this was an amazing read- women inmates write short memoirs of their early lives. Writing as therapy. 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (book by women/AOC that won a literary award in 2018)- a raw and thought-provoking memoir.

The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less (fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads)-  philosophical but highly readable meditation on frugality and simple living.

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise (business)- this was a fun read about the movie and franchising business. Lots of great tidbits for Star Wars fans, of which I am moderately one. 

Children's/ YA- the first two are well worth reading.

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah (diversity children's book)- a true picture book biography- touching and inspiring. 

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (animal POV character)- a wholesome story with sci fi features.

Hidden Figures (by AOC set in space)- the story of black women mathematicians helping to win the space race. Great story but not told in the most interesting way. 

George (trans author)- it was a good book, if a little boring.

Novels- The first 6 in this list were the ones I enjoyed the most.

Rubbernecker (neurodiverse)- this was a murder mystery that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Definitely one of the books I doubt I would have picked up but for this challenge. Highly recommended for mystery lovers. 

The Martian (self-published)- smart, science-forward, realistic sci-fi book. 

Convenience Store Woman (translated book- women author/translator)- a quirky and enjoyable novella about a women who does not fit into societal norms. 

The Nature of the Beast (cozy mystery)- a satisfying read, cozy but quite intense.

Daddy-Long-Legs (novel written in letters)- a gentle, heart-warming novel. 

The Wild Book (OwnVoices Mexico) - a middle grade fantasy novel. The concept of this book is irresistible for book lovers.

The Twentieth Wife (AOC historical romance)- It is beautifully written but the relentless zenana drama was not fun.

The Man in the High Castle (alternate history)- great concept but the plot line was confusing. 

Graphic works- All the ones on this list are great reads.

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York (humor)- I am officially a Roz Chast fangirl.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (LGBTQIA comic) - an honest memoir of the author's relationship with her distant father. 

Myth Atlas: Maps and Monsters, Heroes and Gods from Twelve Mythological Worlds (mythology)- this coffee table style book is entertaining, informative and quite simply eye candy. 

The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story (manga)- a good refresher on tidying! Something that I am constantly doing, it seems. 

The Dharma Punks (OwnVoices Oceania)- a graphic novel about a single night in the life of a young rebel.


American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time (poetry)- poetry isn't my thing but this slim volume had some poems that gave me all the feels.

The 2020 Read Harder Challenge has several interesting prompts and I'm excited to work my way through it. (Your recommendations for any of the tasks are most welcome, and if you're doing the challenge then I'd be happy to share my recommendations for some of the tasks.)

Of course, I read books other than the ones for this challenge. A couple of months ago, someone I know gave birth to a sweet little baby boy, and this child was born with hemophilia. The news reminded me of my undergrad genetics classes and what we learned about hemophilia, the royal disease, as it was historically referred to. This led to me checking out Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra's son Alexis had hemophilia and it indirectly led to some of the biggest turning points in Russian history. This history book is a doorstopper at 640 pages but I just blew right through it. It was my favorite book of 2019 in terms of how interesting and informative it was. Massie was a historian (an American specializing in Russian history) and a master storyteller- he died earlier this month. 


Many kids are content to sit and play quietly by themselves. My two, on the other hand, are the type that need constant engagement and/or company and/or attention and rarely play by themselves. Happily, this year the 8 year old has taken off as a reader. For the first time in her life, there are blocks of time when she is not to be seen or heard, happy to be on her own reading. I hope this is the start of a lifelong infection with the reading bug. Her recent favorites have been a number of chapter book series including Ramona Quimby, Ivy + Bean, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, Zoey and Sassafras, A to Z mysteries, Amelia Bedelia, and so on. Her other passion is for reading non-fiction books that are collections of animal facts and "500 amazing things" and such. 

For Christmas, one of her aunts sent her a few of Enid Blyton's Famous Five books! We're reading Five on a Treasure Island together now. It makes me nostalgic- let's see how reading this book now will compare to my memories of reading it decades ago. 

Meanwhile, the 3 year old can't read yet but is becoming equally fond of books. It is practically the only time you can get him to sit still for a minute. His current favorites to read over and over again are books about Pete the Cat, Maisy, and Mo Willems' Pigeon series. 

What are you reading these days?


  1. I love reading about your reads and have bookmarked a few. I am in awe of how much you have read - I thought I read quite a lot of books this year and only read half as many. The challenge sounds great but I think keeping up with my book club is probably as much as I can do. And sounds like you had a great break in Texas. Sylvia loved the ramona quimby books and the famous five too.

    1. Johanna- many of the books I read are graphic novels, children's books and YA- quick reads but no less meaningful. I've never been in a book club so this Read Harder Challenge is sort of my virtual book club!

  2. Dear Nupur,

    I have been reading enviously about your reading for years now. Enough with sitting on the sidelines, I am going to go for it. I read 2-3 books a year and the phrase I use for searching is generally "books like...[book name here]". So, this should be interesting!

    Do you rely on the recommendations from Book Riot to find books for a task? Tips much appreciated.

    Happy New Year!

    - Anu

    1. Hi Anu- Happy new year, and I hope you enjoy the challenge! I don't rely on the Book Riot recos, although some of them are interesting. The way I find books to read for this challenge: (a) web search for the task directly, such as "best YA non-fiction", (b) On Goodreads there is a group for the Read Harder challenge and people share loads of recos, (c) I look through my to-be-read list (which has a 1000+ books OMG) for books that match the challenge.

      For what its worth here are some of my recommendations (all books that I have absolutely loved) for this year's challenge:

      Read a graphic memoir: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast OR Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

      Read a book about a natural disaster: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

      Read a book that takes place in a rural setting: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (or any of his other books)

      Read a debut novel by a queer author: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

      Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community: Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

      Read a book by or about a refugee: The best we could do by Thi Bui

      Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non): An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks

      Read an edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical): We subscribe to the New Yorker, I love it and can mail you a copy if you like :)

  3. I read the tipping point while on vacation and loved it. Also started reading The black swan. I think my last 6-7 books were related to behavioural economics. After Thinking Fast and Slow I think I was kinda hooked to this subject .. lol.
    btw, do check out the movie "hidden figures" based on the book you mention. It is extremely well made and so inspiring!
    My 6 year old goes hours by himself only if it is legos or drawing. Even though he can read (very slowly!) he does not make the effort to read on his own, inspite of being exposed to books since very early. He loves it when we read to him. Even though I am trying very hard NOT to force him to read before he is ready, the reader in me has her fingers crossed. ;-)

    1. Neha- Behavioral economics is indeed fascinating- humans are interesting creatures :D I will look for the Hidden Figures movie!
      As for reading, my daughter did not enjoy reading on her own while she was still sounding out words laboriously. It was too hard and not as much fun as being read to. Once she crossed that threshold her independent reading just took off. So no doubt your son will get there in a matter of months.

      I personally let the (very competent) teachers do the work of teaching my kids to read. We read to them daily and have hundreds of age-appropriate books in the house. We go the library for fun. Beyond that, there is zero pressure and they can learn to read when they are ready. At school, they read according to the curriculum, just as we read stuff at work that is "for work", but at home, reading= pleasure.

  4. Happy new year Nupur! I also finshed the Read Harder 2019 challenge and was thrilled at how many new authors and genres I have discovered. I am off to the 2020 challenge and look forward to your recoemmndations.
    I am currently reading Aru Shah and the End of Time (A Rick Riordan presents) series. It is based on the Mahabharata. I am reading it with my 10 year old. I think it classifies as retake on a fair tale for the 2020 challenge. I highly recommend it. It introduces kids to Indian mythology in a fun contemperorary manner.

    1. Sangeetha- Happy new year! I'm so thrilled that you enjoyed the 2019 Read Harder too. (I've written some of my recos for the 2020 challenge in one of the comments above.)

      Like you, I was leaning towards Indian mythology for the "retake on fairy tale or mythology" task. And Aru Shah sounds absolutely perfect so thank you for that suggestion!

    2. Ooh I just remembered one more recommendation, for Task #3: Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman. The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey would be a great one for this task. Another really good one is The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri from the Inspector Montalbano series.

    3. Thanks for the reco! I really enoyed the Widows of Malabar Hill. I will book mark the Snack Thief.

  5. Congratulations on completing the challenge Nupur!!
    I didn't complete it but, the books I read as part of it were definitely interesting. I did surpass my goal for the year and was happy with that. Not sure if I will do the challenge this year. Will take a look at the tasks.

    Happy New Year to all of you!!


    1. Anu- This challenge has always rewarded me with interesting reads, I guess it does pay off to stretch one's reading horizons a wee bit.

  6. Oh... Famous Five takes me back to our school Nupur! - the library besides the little canteen...
    I am not reading much but I regularly read to/with my two children. I enjoyed 'Widows of Malabar Hill' too. I was more fascinated about the food, old Bombay and how vividly the author paints a picture of that era.I found myself googling for recipes mentioned in that book :)
    I recently finished'The impossible fortress' bu Jason Rekulak. I laughed at myself initially for picking a book that a teenager would want to read but I still enjoyed it. Fun weekend read that is sweet and funny.

    1. Uma- Yes, I have very fond childhood memories of Famous Five too. My daughter and I really enjoyed this book. The books are not challenging, really. But there is something delicious about kids going off on their own and having these adventures, spending time outdoors with their tasty picnics, facing momentary danger but finding a way daughter loved it and it was pretty nostalgic for me.

  7. hey, nupur! couple of recommendations for the read harder challenge

    Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community: (i think your kids will enjoy this one too)

    Read a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK: 'Dear Mrs. Naidu'


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