Stuff I’ve been reading, in February | 2018

6 years ago Shaili Desai 2


Have I told you all how I started writing this blog? I was inspired by a book I had started reading, called Stuff I’ve been reading by Nick Hornby. Nick Hornby is best known for his books About a Boy and High Fidelity, both of which were adapted into movies of the same name.

Books bought


Books read

Currently Reading: The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh.

Stuff I’ve been reading is a collection of his columns from the Believer Magazine. The column had a list of books bought and read at the start, after which Hornby would talk about the books he’s reading and stuff that he’s been doing. Both these elements are supplemented by the things that fascinated him in the books or aroused interest, as well as interesting digressions inspired by the books.

Because nobody will ask me to write a column

While the format is fairly common, writers of columns have always fascinated me. I find it extremely endearing when they share small unimportant facts about their personal lives as well as their musings on art and literature. I have wished numerous times to have the opportunity to write one myself, even though I am no accomplished writer. So now there’s this blog here.

I sit here in the dining area of my home, this excellent 2BHK that we’ve rented in the city of Gurugram – just after we got married. The house is well ventilated with an excellent job opportunity granted to the sun everyday – it has free reign around the house. I hate dark gloomy houses. And would like to avoid white lights, whenever given the chance. Sliding French windows open up to nicely sized balconies on both sides. The larger balcony serves as a garden of sorts, with various plants collected over the course of the last two months. Some of the flowers have started blooming and it’s a beautiful sight. You would think that such an environment would be conducive to loads of writing and reading. That’s what I thought too.

I haven’t made much headway into the book that I am going to write. I have fought the lack of discipline that comes with not having a routine job and failed spectacularly this month. However, I am fairly upbeat since the last two days. I also managed to do some reading which hopefully doesn’t reduce February to an utterly unproductive month.

Stuff I’ve been reading

I have ambitiously taken the Goodreads Reading Challenge to finish 50 books this year and so far, I am done with 7. I started February with Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and I was left wondering why exactly it won the Man Booker Prize for 2017. Its probably the experimental format of the novel although I found it extremely jarring. There are multiple voices narrating the story and it is exhausting to keep up. Sometimes it reminds you of a debate on Arnab Goswami’s show!

As such, there is no plot. It’s about Lincoln and his child Willie, who died early. Willie stays on in the Bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for the world between life and after life, waiting for his father to come. Various ghosts, who have not managed to go beyond the Bardo, urge him to go on since young children have a cruel life here.

The end of Lincoln in the Bardo is redeeming. The book also has its moments. Your eyes may well up at the pain that Lincoln feels at the death of his child and how he must let him go. The philosophical thought in the book is in sync with some of the things that I’ve realised in my own quest for self fulfilment and I will write about this book probably in detail, in another post (I am such an optimistic piece of human). It is in the nature of things for humans to suffer. It reminds me of my 10 days at a Vipasana meditation program in Chennai last year and another book I had read called The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck. Probably that is why, these lines are poignant to me.

All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be.

roger bevins iii

It was the nature of things.

hans vollman

Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true.

roger bevins iii

At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end.

hans vollman

Another book I read was Why I am a Hindu by Dr. Shashi Tharoor. I have already laid down my thoughts in a separate review. Much can be debated about Hindu religion and the ancient texts, but I hope that can be done in an environment where facts and logic are more important than a false sense of pride and entitlement. Being Hindu doesn’t make you Hindu, until you can understand the most basic tenet of Hinduism – of tolerance, acceptance and private realisation. Nobody has the right to speak for all Hindus when every Hindu follows a very different path to fulfilment.

Lately, I have started to increase my reading of books by Indian authors and not pass too many quick judgments on many writers, unless they miserably fall short on grammar, and logical plot lines. I finished reading City of Death by Abheek Barua yesterday and I am happy to tell you that I have learnt new words like peripatetic and…. darn, I’ve forgotten the others. Anyway, been some time since I had to stop and look up the meaning of some word, while reading a book. You have no idea how happy that makes me feel. It is better than the feeling I get when the maid comes back from a long leave of absence. A wonder how your priorities change after getting married.

City of Death is an interesting book about the murder of a young girl and a serial killer. An alcoholic female cop is pulled back from unofficial retirement and assigned the case. It delves into the psyche of the serial killer and builds a suitable premise for the murder, but I wish the writer had dived deeper. It is a little clichéd in the sense that the investigator is generally flawed. However, Sohini Sen’s flaws aren’t really handled much. Perhaps the book required more length? Not as easy as it seems, since you can easily guess who the killer is, although the writer does try to throw a googly now and then. Even though you know who killed the girl, you try to stick around because of the interesting flashbacks into the killer’s past and his own screwed up quest for fulfilment.

To see an economist writing a thriller is interesting. I wish one could hear more of Abheek Barua than quotes on how the economy is doing and what to look forward to, in the next budget. I am sure his point of view on all matters noir would be interesting to know.

The City of Death was recommended to me by Debeshi Gooptu and given for free by Juggernaut (something like a return gift). I attended her creative writing workshop at the office of Juggernaut Books. As it was a long weekend, not many people turned up and the session turned out to be an interesting one, with a one to one session and a personal touch. I also happened to attend the launch of her book Gurgaon Diaries at the Quill and Canvas Bookshop here in Gurgaon. Debeshi is a very sweet lady with a propensity for observing things around her and putting them on paper neatly with her own brand of sarcasm and punnery. Gurgaon Diaries is a collection of her blog posts on life in Gurgaon and most of all her writings in the book shall resonate with you. Some of them do sound as rants but it is an outsider’s view of the Millennium City.

Phew! 1374 words, so far. I am on a roll. I wish I never stop. I wish I could end saying something profound or funny. But I think you will stop reading if I go on now. So let’s keep the profundity for the next Stuff I’ve been reading. We shall soon talk about the books I finish reading in March.