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

A year without ebooks

thevisualmiscellaneum

With utmost certainty I can say that I was one of the first few who bought the Kindle Voyage when it came out last November. I ordered it online but it was going to take a few days before Amazon shipped it home. On the day when Amazon started to ship Kindle Voyage, I went to Best Buy before they even opened their doors. And when they did, I went in to buy the first Kindle Voyage from that shop. I’m pretty sure that I am among the first 1000 who laid their hands on Kindle Voyage. That just goes on to explain how I love the Kindle as a reading device. And that’s an understatement.

Kindle is way better than tablets just because of the fact its less distracting than its tech peers. One could do one thing very well with Kindle, that is to read. Even in such a device I’m sometimes distracted reading book reviews on the Kindle store. Kindle Voyage was built on the same awesomeness of Kindle design. With tactile buttons for page turns it was simply awesome. It’s truly the Rolls Royce of e-book readers. I enjoyed reading with it for a month. And then something happened.

Last year was a very productive year for my reading. I read over 25+ books. Each of them must have been solid 300+ pages. The list includes a terrific 600 pager I simply devoured. I was able to read through the night without disturbing others only because of the frontlit Kindle. But one day, I had this weird feeling I wasn’t remembering what I was reading. It wasn’t just staying with me. When I used to read physical deadwood books, I could recollect some memorable parts from the book very easily. I could even recollect if it was on the left or right, top or bottom of page. It was so vivid. With e-books I suddenly felt I was losing that ability. So I decided to experiment this year by reading only deadwood books. I still use Kindle Voyage on a daily basis to read the articles I store on Instapaper. Just can’t let go of Kindle.

Since January I have read handful of deadwood books and they are great. The book that I’m reading, The Visual Miscellaneum can just not be read on a Kindle device. I still cannot say if my memory has improved by depriving myself of ebooks. But I’m certainly enjoying reading from tangible objects. Will keep you posted on this year-long experiment.

Fan mail, a primer!

It must have started with Shakespeare and then moved over to Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy but it reached its peak with Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. While it continues to prosper even in this age, a book on fan mail only happens to very few writers. Read a sample below, and more.

Dear Mark Twain:

Writing this letter is one of the pleasantest duties I have to perform before leaving for “Hell or Hadleyburg” — which the doctor tells me must be soon now.

In fact I’m living beyond my time, — because he said Oct 15 was my last day “on live” — The only reason I didn’t die on that date was that I wanted to read your latest story in Harpers. Some people see Naples and die, — I prefer to read Mark Twain & die. I’ve never seen Naples, — and dont expect to. I’ve read almost everything youve written, — and when I finish your whole output I’ll give up seeing Naples and die happily without that privilege.

But —

I want to thank you for all the pleasure your books have given me during many years of confinement to my room. Life would frequently have been dull indeed had it not been for the companionship of Huck Finn, Col. Sellers, et al.

When I get to Hell the greatest torture that I will have will be the possible knowledge that you shall have written something else I shall not be permitted to read.

Yours gratefully
Benj Ochiltree.

sujatha: one more year later

18. இதை வாசகருக்கும் எழுத்தாளருக்கும் உள்ள ஏற்பாடு என்று சொல்லலாமா?

ஒரு நட்பு என்று சொல்லலாம். ஒரு வாசகர் தனக்கு பிடித்தமான எழுத்தாளரை ஒரு நண்பரைப்போல் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கிறார். காரணம், அவர் எழுதுவது இவருக்கு புரிகிறது. கதையின் எதோ ஒரு பகுதியை வாசகரால் தன் மனத்தில் மீண்டும் வாழ முடிகிறது. அந்த எழுத்தாளர் அந்த வாசகரின் வாழ்வின் குறையை ஏதோ ஒரு விதத்தில் நிரப்புகிறார்.

19. அதற்குக் கதை புரியவேண்டும் அல்லவா?

ஆம். கதை வாசகருக்கு புரியவேண்டியதை மிக முக்கியமாக கருதுபவன் நான்.

20. சிலர் புரியாமலேயே கதை எழுதுகிறார்களே?

அவர்களைப் —- — ——.

– சுஜாதா [சிறுகதை: அடிக்கடி கேட்கப்படும் கேள்விகள், 1998.] [தொகுப்பு: கடவுள்களின் பள்ளத்தாக்கு]

It doesn't matter

This isn’t a quote rather its the entire(!) first chapter of Roger Rosenblatt’s – Rules for Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life. Was talking to a friend about something today and recollected this during the discussion. I read this book earlier in the year and this particular chapter stayed with me. Succinctly put.

Whatever you think matters—doesn’t. Follow this rule. and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late, or early; if you are here, or if you are there; if you said it, or did not say it; if you were clever, or if you were stupid; if you are having a bad hair day, or a no hair day; if your boss looks at you cockeyed; if your girlfriend or boyfriend looks at you cockeyed; if you are cockeyed; if you don’t get that promotion, or prize, or house, or if you do. It doesn’t matter.