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