And so 2011 is ending. And what a ‘interesting’ year it has been! A roller-coaster I was scared to get onto, continued to be scared when it initially accelerated but something I started to reallyyyy enjoy and get the hang of as it picked up momentum.
This post is all about the books I read this year and my reviews of them. Yes. Books. I’ll try to keep it straight and short in the vain hope it helps the few (who didn’t instantly jump away to the youtube url on reading the subject of this post) just maybe choose something to add to their own 2012 reading list.
Edward Morgan said ‘….A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.’
Here is where I managed to find my provocation and privacy in 2011 :
And below is my ‘Be bloody quick about it Shiva‘ review of the above books:
The Places in Between : 8/10
Rory, the proverbial ballsy Scottish mensch, walked across Afghanistan right after the US attacks there had started and survived to pen abt the adventure. This is his story. And what a brilliant story it is. Simple, accessible prose that describes the landscape and people he meets in a way that makes you go ‘wow!’ again and again.
My Recco : Buy and read as soon as possible!
Rework : 6/10
Good book for anyone either starting their own venture or wondering how they could add more boost to their team and dept. I like 37Signal’s blog and this seems like an offshoot of it.
My Recco : Buy it if you want to raise your game at work a little/lot.
AA Gill is away : 8/10
Part hilarious, caustic,funny,jaded and curious, this book will have you laughing and nodding your head while you thumb through it. Gill reviews a lot like his buddy Jeremy Clarkson and his brand of brit humor is just as lethal and laugh out funny.
My Recco : Read it on the next long haul flight.
Homage to Catalonia : 7/10
My poor education in European history got in the way of my enjoying this book as much as I hoped I would. That said, civil war has never been described in such accessible prose and one cannot finish this book and not like Orwell even more. War is boring, pointless and hellish and Orwell shows you why.
My Recco : Skip CNN and BBC for a month and just read this instead. You’ll understand international conflict better. Really.
Unaccustomed Earth : 7/10
A series of 8 absorbing tales about life, relationships and the ties that bind. mostly in Boston/USA. While this is not quite as good as her earlier book ‘Namesake’, Jhumpa still is a great storyteller. The first story in the book was the best for me.
My Recco : Buy it and read it on a rainy day when you are feeling a bit melancholic.
Among the believers : 8/10
Naipaul. How can you go wrong. While his heavy prose sometimes got a bit too much, his analysis of the religion and its hold on the people and the culture he contacts is unparalleled. My Feb 2011 review right after finishing it was ” Sharp writing. Naipal is caustic and devastatingly observant as ever. Among the four countries he profiled around 3 decades ago, only Malaysia escaped a depressing bleak fate. Penned in 1980, this book I suspect is more relevant NOW. An adult look into the Muslim faith and it’s fanatical believers.”
My Recco : Not for the light-hearted, this adventure is best be undertaken when you want to do some really HEAVY mental lifting.
India : An area of darkness
India : A wounded civilization
India : A million mutinies now
These 3 books can be counted as a unified meditation by Naipaul on India spanning 4 decades. If I has skipped all my Indian history class in school and just read these 3 books, I would have had a far far richer nuanced understanding of this country. A better, sharper and yes,scathing, critique of India will be tough to come by for a long time. While this was my review on ‘Wounded civilization’ earlier in the year, it can just as easily apply to all 3 in this punchy trilogy:
” …….Right off the bat I’ll say it : this is a brilliant book and I can see why this guy got the Literature Nobel Prize. The prose….is divine. And his commentary is equal parts scathing and genius. equal parts scalpel and sledgehammer. Consider how chapter #8, Renaissance or Continuity, begins: “Ghandhi lived too long“. Talk about blunt. This is part of his India trilogy and I cannot wait to get the other two. As an Indian I can say I am equal parts depressed and angry after reading this book. This man, passing through a country, made more astute observations about us that rivals the entire output made ‘inhouse’. You’d think I am spewing hyperbole. Read the book.”
My Recco : These are the definitive ‘India Books’ you should visit sometime in your life. Be ready for witheringly cruel personal observations about India. Read them but maybe not in one sitting (you’ll shoot yourself from the depression that will overcome you). So do it over time. Like maybe a decade or two.
The Bed of Procrustes : 8/10
Taleb’s aphorisms are mixed. Some made me go ‘What?!?!”, some “WTF?!!?” & “Bullshit!” and a lot along the lines of “wow!”; Some bits grate you, other just blow you away with their penetrating insight.
My Recco : Buy it and read in small doses over a month to truly appreciate it.
Ender’s Game : 6/10
An acclaimed Sci-fi novel about a 11 year old kid trained to lead a fleet to war. and his genius siblings. Some bits were absorbing. Some just bloody pretentious and boring. I was glad when it was over.
My Recco : Skip this.
RingWorld : 6/10
This Sci-fi story kicks of with a lot of kinetic potential but somewhere in the middle it is squandered. I expected something like Clarke’s Rama series. Still, the idea of Ringworld stays with you as an awe inspiring concept long after the crummy story is forgotten.
My Recco : Unless you are a die-hard sci-fi fan, skip this one.
Dark.Depressing.And oh-so beautifully illustrated. Alan Moor’s depressing prognosis of humanity’s chances in an alternative world with superheroes and communism in it is equal parts epic and This is not the commando comics we used to inhale during school. this ain’t your Tintin adventure. This is only for the gutsy adult in you.
My Recco : buy it and read it to appreciate what the medium can be elevated to in the right hands and head.
Art of Travel : 7/10
Botton’s essays on travel are equal parts lessons in the mindset to take along on a trip and the history and evolution on the art. Those of you born with the wanderlust genes would do well to keep this close to you when you visit your next destination.
My Recco : Take this to your next trip and read it before you return.
Letters to a young contrarian : 8/10
The Yoda of contrarians teaching the next generation on the art. In his characteristic prose that you almost levitate to while reading. And as ever, you’ll pick up some new words to add to your vocabulary, come across some phrases that bends your mind with it’s sheer evocative genius and also learn about history and art and philosophy. Yup. Every Hitchens book pretty much raises your IQ a notch when you are done with it.
My Recco : Buy it and read it again and again and again over the years.
And the BOOK OF THE YEAR:
Hitch 22 : 10/10
‘A good book has no ending’ said R.D Cumming. I wish this was true for Hitch-22. This is the BEST autobiography bar none I have read in my life and I am say with absolute certainty I have not seen prose this good in one before. What a man! and what a life! Yes, I am biased towards Hitchens as I, like a lot of others, look up to him as one of the very very few ‘heroes’ still alive so this review may be a bit tainted. Here is my full detailed review of this book.
My Recco : If you read only 1 book in 2012, make it Hitch 22.
And to those who will continue to skip reading in 2012, just know Twain once commented: ‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’
For 2012, here is a taste of some new books and some old books I want to visit and re-visit before the year is out :
And oh yeah, the title of this post is borrowed for Stephen King. His original quote went “Books are a uniquely portable magic!”
Here is a toast to you finding your magic in 2012.