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?