Five books to re-read this winter

For never-resting time leads summer on, to hideous winter, and confounds him there – Shakespeare’s Sonnet 5

Although Shakespeare metaphorically refers to a youth’s prime and old age as summer and winter, he kept winter where it belongs. And this winter when ‘Bomb Cyclone‘ attacks, there must be enough reading material to beat the cold. Here are my pick to re-read and to #RuleTheWinter #LikeABoss.

1) Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson – Last year, I got my son the Calvin and Hobbes series and he has been reading and re-reading it like a true 8 year old. Often, he would call me to read a strip with him as it was ‘too-funny to read alone‘. And as I read those random strips with him, I could recollect the joy I had reading them myself as a kid.

For starters, Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip about a intelligent six-year old boy named Calvin and his imaginary(anthropomorphic) friend Hobbes. Bill Watterson the genius and reclusive creator of this comic series named Calvin and Hobbes after two philosophers, John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Going by that it’s the most entertaining philosophy book in the world and one that touches every aspect of human life. I would probably re-read this over and over.

Bill Watterson balanced the sensibilities very well with Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes’ sarcasm and his dim-view about human nature is brilliant while Calvin is a straight shooter with no filters to his mouth whatsoever.

There are way too many memorable episodes of C&H(the one with the raccoon, the one with aliens etc..) to mention but a personal favorite is the final strip that summarizes the spirit of the comic. It always brings a tear to the eye while reading this one.

2) Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel – While I manage to read a lot of tech blogs, books, articles and magazines, Thiel’s book was different. I read the book when it was published, and he re-framed my thinking with his controversial thesis – Competition is for losers. This was a persuasive and a refreshing take on monopolies creating the best value for an entrepreneur and the society. Wait…what?? So, is capitalism bad? “Not-really”, says Thiel. It’s just bad for the companies while its good for the customers.

The perfect target market for a start-up is a small group of particular people concentrated in a group but served by few or no competitors – Peter Thiel

He wants the next generation entrepreneurs to embrace monopoly using a) proprietary tech b) economies of scale c) network effects and d) great branding. Using these, startups can launch services to the smallest set of users who will help perfect the product like how Facebook was initially released only to Harvard students and how PayPal was released to just eBay customers.

Is this a self-help book for entrepreneurs? No, the book is an intellectual jog through the start-up world with contrarian insights like ‘focus as much on sales as on product’. In a way, the book became a sort of monopoly in its own business genre.

3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – The broadest summary of human history ever told in 464 pages. Mind-boggling in its gargantuan goal and a minimalist in approach, Harari’s writing will make you re-think everything you know and will know.

A few million years ago, humans took the long view of life. They traded muscles for neurons. It led to a situation where a chimpanzee could rip through a human like a rag doll. But over the last 2.5 million years the humans used those neurons and evolved to the top-of-the food chain that no other species can stand in the way of them today. Yes, Harari’s story is the sweeping and exciting rise of homo sapiens into the super species. And some more. A must read.

4. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – This novel can also be called as The last temptation of Siddhartha as it reminds one of Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial novel. It tells us the story of rich young man who leaves his home looking for self-realization but in the process, gets tangled in the web-of-life – starts to party hard, meets a girl, falls in lust and then in love, gets married, has a kid and then realizes he is living the life that he actually wanted to walk away from. Then in sheer despair stumbles upon enlightenment.

This is a story of everyone’s life – the paths we take, the mistakes we make and the lessons we learn along the way. Hermann Hesse is a German poet and this novel is written feverishly and poetically. The prose is flowing and arresting to point that one will usually read this in one sitting. There is a long discussion between Siddhartha and a ferryman Vasudeva that reminded me of the Tyler Durden monologue in Fight Club.

Best suited for cold, gloomy Sunday afternoons and for sure will leave a smile on your face.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

“After all, our lives are but a sequence of accidents – a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life.”

One of the best fiction novels that talks about the dark period of 1975-77 in India. While the background of the novel is about The Emergencythe novel about four lives that come together during this time.

Yes it’s tragic and very very depressing so in that sense its not a book for winter. However it is also the best book for winter for summer is not so far away. It may leave you heart-broken but the fantastic prose of Mistry will make up for it. Personally I read this a few years back and want to re-read it now.

Those are the five books I’m reading this season. You?

The real last minute gift

A tower of used books

It’s last minute, right? At this point, its a race between Santa and Amazon Prime. You, like me, is yet to buy anything worthwhile for your friend/colleague with whom you are partying on the Christmas day. And you don’t want to look absurd with just that bottle of D’Asti from Trader Joe’s. Well, here’s an idea. A tried and tested one. Pun intended.

Walk into your reading room and locate the tower of books that is stowed away at the corner. Books that have been given to your by your friend, boss, grandma or your dad. Books that have been read, waiting to be read or will never be read. They have surface dirt, they appear torn, their spines damaged due to mishandling, discolored, some have ingrained stains, scribbled at the margins and some even have mold.

Look at their spines – On the top of the pile is Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Then there is Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker. Followed by Black Swan, The Essays of Warren Buffett, Good to Great, The Lean Startup, The Alchemist, Dracula, Rendezvous with Rama, Slaughterhouse-Five. Don’t give up now, work through the pile. Way below is all the stuff you acquired from your dad’s library – The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, Middlemarch, The Brothers Karamazov. You stop and wonder when you will ever get to read that Dostoevsky’s magnum opus. You also find a Modesty Blaise, Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish and PGW’s Piccadily Jim. Under the lamp there is Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Thiel’s Zero to One. All of these books have changed a bit of you and made you into who you are.

Just pull out a book, may be The Lean Startup or The Slaugtherhouse-Five. Why not Middlemarch? Just pull one out, it actually doesn’t matter. This is your curation with judgement already made on each of these books. You have already spent a few hours or days with most of them.

Pick a book, open the flap and write down – Batteries not required. Funny? May be its a friend you are gifting this to but you don’t want to be too informal. How about something more simple – For Kayla, on Christmas 2017. From my bookshelf to yours but read it before it hits your bookshelf. Or how about we borrow the words of wisdom by JK Rowling – Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Enjoy!

Given its a used book, how about we beautify it? No this isn’t some JSON to beautify so let’s just tie a bow around it and present it without a wrap. A gift wrap makes the book ugly, IMHO.

via GIPHY

In any case, at this point, your used books are faster than Santa and Amazon Prime. Simpler to wrap and they don’t break your bank. Used books are the ultimate re-giftables. More importantly you are sharing a piece of your world with them. Just do it!

Crossposted: LinkedIn

Marghazhi Mani Utsavam

Back in 2013 when Kadal released and was kalasified across the web, I was a mad about those harsh reviews for a truly different Mani Ratnam film. During the Christmas break of that year, I revisited all of Mani’s 23 movies up to that point. In that process, I discovered Guru – a movie that I sort-of disliked during the time it was released. And I really loved it.

So every year from then on binge watching Mani’s films became my personal holiday tradition. A guilty pleasure just like how some grown-ups like to drink marshmallow hot chocolate or wear elf ears headbands. This is in addition to the excessive consumption of carnatic music and Thirupaavai.

Today I started the binge watch with Agni Natchathiram, one of Mani and P.C.Sreeram’s experimental smash hit. Stay tuned – Will report back with the Ratnams I find.

HondaToyota ToyotaHonda – 3

Third time’s a charm. So for the third time in the last 12 years, I ended up buying another Toyota. This time it was a Prius and it’s been such a joy so far.

As the summer faded away, my procrastinated mind finally settled to buy a car and replace the Camry that was bought nearly 11 years ago. Given that this was a commuter car, I started to look for an AWD SUV. The new Honda CRV was my first choice, given it was redesigned inside out this year. And when I visited a local dealership, not only they didn’t have a CRV in stock but they also didn’t show any salesmanship in trying to persuade me to buy one. The car wasn’t bad at all, except for the weird taillight situation.

Back at a friend’s place, he showed me his newly bought Toyota Prius which apparently was driving at 55+ mpg. So I test drove a Toyota RAV 4 and the Prius. The Prius was hands-down a better car. There was a night and day difference in the driving experience between Prius and other ICE cars. It was smooth driving, relatively quiet and had a quirky personality to it. From then it was an easy decision to buy a Prius because it was the most efficient car in the hybrid market.

So I’ve been driving it for the past few months. What do I liked about it? Everything – The drive quality, interiors, JBL speakers, maneuverability and of course the king of reasons to buy a hybrid – fuel economy. So far I’ve been averaging at 58 MPG despite the dropping temperatures. What do I hate about it? Nothing at all. I’m sure the styling of taillights look obnoxious to guy behind me but it doesn’t bother me at all. That’s probably why the car was rear ended within a week. But that’s another story for another day. The Entune entertainment system needs an overhaul but given that one can operate everything via Bluetooth from the phone, its bearable.

The best feature of Prius is the driving feedback loop. The digital buffet of data that’s available in front of the driver would make every one of us a better driver. There’s a rating for your overall drive, a quick feedback about the fast turn you just made and the lifetime driving average. Basically the data is gamified to the point, one can say its the best real-life car game ever made. It certainly helped me realize how all these days I was overstepping on the gas.

It’s easy to stereotype a Prius owner as listening to Fleetwood Mac or NPR, shopping at the nearby Trader Joe’s and talking about environment friendliness. But it’s also easy to make fun of the geeks. Regardless, they always strike back with their smarts and the latest Prius is certainly a nerd strike-back car.

Previously – Honda Toyota 1Honda Toyota 2

How to shoot a music video?

If you havent watched the movie, no issues, go ahead and watch the video. It doesn’t give out anything and it can raise brows/curiosity. This song is interrupts the movie at a correct time. It couldn’t be placed any better. The lead to this song is impeccable and song actually goes out of the way to capture the direstraits of the film’s characters without compromising of the video.

Right from the release of the audio, this was indeed my favorite(1, 2, 3) number of the film. Vijay Yesudaas’ number was actually an achievement with vocal chords on tamil cinema but still, this stole the thunder with the mix of mysticism and pop music.

This one is more like a feverously shot and religiously edited music video. Watch it full screen and as said before, just don’t talk yet.

The Daemon and the Genius

This was just brilliant. Dramatic and mythological in its narration and very east in its philosophy. I’m too tempted to lend my piece of detailing but will hold-off because of the lack of words that I can use to describe my daemon/genius. It may sound cocky to say that but inevitably we have all experienced this moment atleast once. My daemon/genius could very well be a lame one neverthless it exists, not in the form that Liz explained but differently. I tend to call it the self but sure, genius works as well.

If you haven’t, you should, atleast skim through the second 36 chapters of Liz’s Eat, Pray, Love which I thought was very well written despite the cheesiness in the title and the feminism that people thought existed in this book.

Certain things

Why am I unable to write something elaborately these days ? Thanks to Twitter and its social counterparts, not only my reading has gone down, writing too. Every thing I want to write is now being crunched in the head, meaning every word goes through serious criticism if its actually necessary, replaced with synonymously shorter words or with similar SMS glossary, then typed as characters(instead of words).

I was prolific with blogging once before the info-overload hit. When it did, I was tracking 250+ blog feeds on my feed reader which drew me nuts. To take myself out of the over load was quite a task and I’m not overloaded any more. I track a handful of blogs and follow a dozen or so twitters, all of whom I know personally(@ravages, @chenthil, @mdeii, @anantha, @writerpara) or have read them(like @shashitharoor) or watched them(ok, i know its sinful to follow a celebrity but i do think @trisha_26 is slightly(very slightly) better than most of her k.wood peers).

In any case, Twitter has moved away from its initial state. Instead of ‘What are you doing now?’ its ‘What’s Happening?’ now. So I’m going to stop rambling about brushing, driving and/or sleeping. And I don’t believe in answering What’s Happening all the time. Pause.

What triggered this post was that I found this 1072 page novel of Stephen King at Costco(sort of Chennai’s big bazaar but with a big BIG). Totally a wrist breaker to the extent it shouldn’t have even be printed but only sold electronically. I even wonder how King wrote with so many distractions going on around the world. In his partly autobiographical, ‘On Writing‘ King reveals his secret of writing such absurdly thick and gripping novels is to lock himself every morning until his daily quota of 10 pages of words are typed.

P.S – This is an unfinished post from November 25, 2009 at 10:50 pm. Don’t exactly remember how I intended to finish this. So instead of this remaining in the draft section for a long time to come or get deleted, it sounded better to publish it. Sorry if this didnt make any sense, just like my other fully written posts. Take it easy!

In any case, Chennai and Airtel together, have made me ramble big time on twitter. So there is that.

CB Pricing

In my hand is Amit Varma‘s My Friend Sancho that I was happy to pick from the best seller’s section in Landmark.

The book was priced at 195 rs and the ‘specially’ discounted price that landmark advertised it for was 165 rs. While I, to some extend, understand the pricing politics behind the books, I wished it was priced at 95 rs like the hotselling Chetan Bagat’s 2 states.

Beyond the story and the easy-to-read style of Chetan, I do think the 95 rs pricing of his books make him more affordable and approachable. Well its a Catch-22, one would say.

In any case, I loved the subtle design of the cover, the blurb, the author intro and acknowledgments. Now to the book.

Can you hold it for 6 mins ?

No Pun Intended. Can you just stop typing on that damned keyboard, close your eyes and the info-overloaded unsociably-networked-browsers to listen to this music for exactly five minutes and fifty nine seconds.

With the eyes closed, try not to think of how best you can ReTweet this damned post on Twitter or how smartly you can link to this on Facebook. Just relax and listen to the music. And if you can/will, you will attain moksha, if at all there is something like that. But more than that you will re-discover the God of Lovable Things.

BTW, for God’s sake, please un-ReTweet this post and do tell me when exactly the tear drop rolled out.

Stop.
Click Link.
Close Eyes.
Peace.