2014 Books Review

I took the easy way out and went with an infograph to tell you 4 books you could try among the 33 books I read this year.

Click on the URL below or on this sentence to jump to the site.

https://infogr.am/books-of-2014-102

Full list of books read in 2014 below :

Book 1 The Strategist’s Toolkit
Book 2 The Dispossessed
Book 3 Life Itself
Book 4 The Martian
Book 5 Old Man’s War
Book 6 A Fire Upon the Deep
Book 7 Badass
Book 8 A Deepness in the Sky
Book 9 The Lowland
Book 10 Brideshead Revisited
Book 11 The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Book 12 All You Need Is Kill
Book 13 How the Light Gets In
Book 14 Slaughterhouse
Book 15 Physics of the Impossible
Book 16 The Whisperers
Book 17 Read This Before Our Next Meeting
Book 18 The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty
Book 19 What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Book 20 Skeleton Crew
Book 21 Fuzzy Nation
Book 22 Dreadnaught (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, #1)
Book 23 The Making of Modern Britain
Book 24 The Age of Wonder
Book 25 Thinking Statistically
Book 26 The Memory Chalet
Book 27 Fooled by Randomness
Book 28 Look To Windward
Book 29 Visit Sunny Chernobyl: Adventures in the World’s Most Polluted Places
Book 30 The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme
Book 31 From Dictatorship to Democracy
Book 32 Embroideries
Book 33 HBR Guide to Project Management

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2012 Books Review

In late 2011 I ended up at THE digital HQ of book lovers online : Goodreads.com | Earlier, I used to mostly read book reviews on amazon.com before I bought a book. After Goodreads.com, Amazon was history. GR’s iPad app works well too and I like their tagline when the app loads (“Meet your next favorite book“)

GR

GoodReads has a nifty idea I enrolled in: 2012 Reading Challenge. At the start of the year you set yourself a goal and then try hard to hit it. While holding down a job (and in my case, getting married in the same year). Like most stunts on TV and youtube, this is more difficult than it appears, especially if the target is not too low. But unlike those stunts, this one ought to be tried at home. In my case, I aimed at 26 books for 2012 thinking less along the lines of the Nike’s famous old motto and more along the lines of Leo’s encouraging line ”If you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won’t end up with a handful of mud, either.’ 26 was stars for me. Mud was anything less than 10 books read in 2012.

But to my happy surprise, I achieved my goal today. 26 books read in 12 months!

(click on the image to see in full size!)

(click on the image to see in full size!)

DIDIT

This, while juggling 4 on-going transition projects and getting married in the year (and all the logistics THAT happy project involved). The Key: Try and read wherever and whenever you can. In the loo, in the subway, in the office cafeteria, in bed before sleeping, in bed on a lazy Sunday, when you are eating alone, in the airport lounge and in the flight later, on the bus and even when your niece is climbing you to grab your short hair (true story). A few of the books mentioned here I had on my kindle, on my ipad and a hard copy simultaneously. Because complete access is the key to wining this game. Not having kids to look after helps too.

Last year I managed to read 18 books so 26 read this year feels like a good step up over that non-inconsequential number. The best movies of 2012 were reviewed a few days ago. Below is my hopefully crisp and short summary of the books I was a ‘customer of’ in 2012 and my top 3 recommendation to you from these 26. I have arranged a few by authors and a few by subjects.

Hitchens:

My mini-review of – Arguably: Selected Prose by Hitchens, Christopher is this : A collection of superb essays written over the years by the polemic with a prodigious output and a point of view on a range of subjects. All conveniently collected in one place. Some topics will not be familiar to you so you can either choose to educate yourself on it or skip the essay. I found myself doing both over the course of reading these essays. Dense? No doubt. Raises IQ by a notch ? No doubt either. Buy this for when you really really can read with patience. Not an easy book to conquer in one sitting. Or A Holiday.  A really dazzling read.

My mini-review of – The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain’s Favorite Fetish by Hitchens, Christopher is this : Hitchens. When his claws are sharp, his appetite for blood is peaking and when he has found a convenient target that riles him, his prose acquires that deft sickle chop that is pleasure to behold from a distance. Old book but still feels fresh and relevant after the recent media swoon over the coming Kate baby. Good read.

My mini-review of – Mortality by Hitchens, Christopher is this : The last days of a legend chronicled. And to the end he was still so lucid. Here he shows the world how to face the grim reaper and not surrender to pathos. An exemplary achievement and read.

Bryson:

My mini-review of – A Walk in the Woods by Bryson, Bill is this : Funny. Educative. Details his walk across some bits of the American Appalachian trail. Book detours, like the author, on some excellent history of the trail and America in general. Absolutely loved this book. Buy it the first chance you get.

My mini-review of – At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bryson, Bill is this : Also funny. Also very educative. While the previous book was on America, At Home is like a mini class on UK and how our modern way of living came to be. As usual and as expected, Bryson is at his curious best here too. This book can be slowly read over a stretch of time as the chapters are self-contained. An excellent read.

Lewis:

My mini-review of – The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Lewis, Michael is this : The 2008 financial collapse is so deftly covered here, you can read this book and not bother with reading anything else. The highest praise I can shower on Lewis, after reading Big Short is that he is David Halberstam’s true heir on the post event analysis. An excellent book written like a taut thriller. Was it not ?.

My mini-review of – Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Lewis, Michael is this : Lewis is a genius at the long essay format and here he shows you why. He reviews various places hit by the crisis ( Iceland, Ireland, Greece etc) and how and why it happened there . Some countries are profiled so very deftly. Greece esp was well done. Buy for a long flight out to any of the countries Lewis mentions to better understand it. A very very good book to read almost anywhere.

Military History :

My mini-review of – Constantinople: The Last Great Siege 1453 by Crowley, Roger is this : History is fun to read when it is written this lucidly. The book covers the way the city was conquered and the background to all the players involved. A mini  education on the middle ages is inevitable and appreciated. It never gets too dense or boring but does gets repetitive in some parts. Still, I recommend you buy this to start your ‘Well written history‘ section of the bookshelf.

My mini-review of – Empires Of The Sea: The Final Battle For The Mediterranean, 1521-1580 by Crowley, Roger is this : The Middle ages were brutal. Read gripping account on why it was so. Buy this to start your ‘Well written history’ section of the bookshelf

Modern History:

My mini-review of – Postwar: A History Of Europe Since 1945 by Judt, Tony is this : The densest, best modern history book I have read in my life. Some of the prose is sheer genius phrasing (“In Western Europe the same fault-line found many intellectuals on both sides; but enthusiasm for Communism in theory was characteristically present in inverse proportion to direct experience of it in practice”)

Sci-Fi:

My mini-review of – Foundation and Earth (Foundation, #5) by Asimov, Isaac is this : Asimov. Foundation Series. The BEST Sci-Fi In the world. Buy the ENTIRE Foundation series for a long holiday read

My mini-review of – Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) by Simmons, Dan is this : That story of the priest. Jesus. I had nightmares. Buy this and stop. This is the best of the lot

My mini-review of – The Fall of Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #2) by Simmons, Dan is this : Sorta OK. Some parts were too stretched and boring. Borrow if you are a total Sci-Fi nerd only

My mini-review of – Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) by Banks, Iain M. is this : Sci-Fi. Was good. Got dreary at some bits but held together. Borrow this one when someone else is done with it

My mini-review of – The Player of Games by Banks, Iain M. is this : The world he spun here sucked me right in. Brilliant Sci-Fi. LOVED IT. Buy it to read a great Sci-Fi book

Management:

My mini-review of – Why Your Boss Is Programmed to Be a Dictator by Dhruve, Chetan is this : While his solutions are naïve I think, Dhruve’s collected anecdotes in support of his theory is pretty interesting. Buy it in your quest to be a good boss to your directs  or to understand why some bosses are dictators.

My mini-review of – Do the Work by Pressfield, Steven is this : Self Help book. Was Ok. Borrow this one when someone else is done with it

Cinema:

My mini-review of – Your Movie Sucks by Ebert, Roger is this : Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and some of his reviews here show you why he won it. Buy it on a long flight to a international film festival maybe.

Travel:

My mini-review of – Previous Convictions: Assignments from Here and There by Gill, A.A. is this : I read his Vanity Fair grenade at Dubai. Right after I went and bought this book. Did not disappoint. Acerbic wit and prose. Places covered were just an excuse to demonstrate it I suspect. Still, a good book.

Autobiography:

My mini-review of –  The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul by Patrick French  is this : The most refreshingly honest biography of a flawed genius. Brutally honest and very well researched and written by French. The for  me is the gold standard of how someone’s life should be chronicled.  Naipaul is without any doubt a great writer and fearless and honest observer of cultures and a pucca absolute ungrateful douchebag in real life. Maybe one flowed from the other. Who knows. Maybe there is a price extracted from the world for Genius. His first wife paid most of THAT bill I suspect. But so did many many of his betrayed friends. But the book is such a brilliant read and I was totally sucked in.

Illustrated Books:

My mini-review of – Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan, Brian K. is this : Brilliantly illustrated book about the fate of a pride of lions in the eponymous city when the US troops move in and bomb Baghdad to the stone age. War is ugly not just for the humans. The ending was so so depressing (Thanks Vivek!). Masochist ? Read it right after you see Lion King for extra punch!

My mini-review of – The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow by Patel, Sanjay is this : I admit I initially ought this one for my 5 year old niece. For the excellent illustrations of Hindu dieties. But adjacent to the said pictures, which she loved by the way, were essays on the said diety. And i am ashamed to admit, although born to Hindu parents, I know little about the mythology of the religion. And it is one batshit crazy mythology. The mini-essays were so very educational and Hindu religion does have some rich characters and mythos. Read it to know the quality weed our ancestors (must have) smoked and the output thereof.

Non Fiction:

My mini-review of – Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Demick, Barbara is this : Unbelievably riveting account of 6 escapees from that hell that is North Korea. This book slowly builds to a climax when all of them flee the modern penal colony that is North Koren. I dreamt about the characters in this book. I obsessively googled about North Korea after reading this book. For a while I started appreciating all the things I enjoyed of and in the civilized world with renewed rigor. This book had that kind of effect on me. The prose is accessible and doesn’t get preachy or high fartulent. I have read countless thrillers which was not even a tenth as gripping as the tale of these surviors and how they logistically managed to escape the gulag. North Korea. A true shop of horrors. The most memorable line ? “dogs in China eat better than doctors in North Korea”

My mini-review of – Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead by Brockway, Robert is this : The author covers the various real genuine things in the modern world that can kill us. Does a good job too. Helps that his tone is funny but als the math and science behind it is not. Helps you realize how fragile it all is.

My mini-review of – Maybe Baby: 28 Essays by Leibovich, Lori is this : Essay by mostly women writers on the decision to have a baby. or not. Some advise yes, some no and some are ambivalent. A few essays in this compendium were good. Some were Meh and not a few felt like the authors were just posers trying to sound deep and smart(but failing). One essay by Kathryn Harrison about her grandmother was truly well written.  Recommended to any couple trying to make an informed decision about having babies.

Fiction:

My mini-review of – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1) by Larsson, Stieg is this : Probably my only mistake in trusting good-reads reviews.  I was mislead and this is by a long margin one of the shittiest book I have read in a while. What a boring prodding lame book. The language is wooden, dead as a dodo and I could not give a shit about the various listless characters and was half hoping the killer got them. If I wasn’t on the 2012 RC, I would have thrown this one away way way before I finished it. Read it to only know what a shit fiction book reads like. On second thoughts, just avoid.

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Last year, I voted this book as my best book of 2011 :

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THE Best Book I read in 2012 was (drum roll)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

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So if you are going on a holiday and decide to buy and read only 3 books from these 26 books above, I would heartily recommend these three :

  1.             Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  2.             Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour by Michael Lewis
  3.             A Walk in the Woods by  Bill Bryson
(click on the image to see in full size!)

(click on the image to see in full size!)

And here is my fave picture of me browsing books! Taken by the talented wife, in Madrid, in summer this year. When the snap was taken she was my girlfriend (and in less than 100 hours of this picture being taken, she was my fiancée! I am NOT implying a connection….but…)

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@Madrid, Spain

Best of 2012 : 14 Movies that blew me away

2012. As a avid cinephile I can confidently say this: What a treat this year it has been. 3 entities deserve the lion’s share of my grateful credit for guiding me to the right movies in a world that abounds with the wrong ones.

1. Roger Ebert ~ He remains the final word on movie reviews for a lot of people. Before I even downshift a movie into a contender to join my ever increasing ‘Stack of Shame’, my first conscious act is to go to google.com with the search string “EBERT [NAME OF MOVIE]”; I even managed to read one of his books this year : “Your movie sucks” | A gem of a review from that book : “The movie has the hollow, aimless aura of a beach resort in winter: The geography is the same, but the weather has turned ugly” & my favorite funny line : “Wolf Creek is more like the guy at the carnival sideshow who bites off chicken heads. No fun for us, no fun for the guy, no fun for the chicken. In the case of this film, it’s fun for the guy”

2. Metacritic.com ~ this site aggregates reviews from all around and displays a score on a 1-100 scale. Anything above 60 is not bad at all. Above 80 is approaching awesome and above 90 is in the territory that is more distant from RA-ONE and ROBOT than Triangulum Galaxy is from here. While it has never been easier to become a cinema autodidact, Ebert and Metacritic go a long way on the helpful road signs to getting there.

3.Torrents ~ Because the local theatres will still play Dabang, RA-ONE and ROBOT and Netflix is yet to take off in India and because Airtel’s broadband plans are affordable and because I am a lazy bast**d. And because not in a million years will a theater in this banana demockcracy play ‘4 months 3 weeks & 2 days‘ or ‘Still Walking‘.

Great News is it has never ever been easier to get to know about and download good non-Hollywood, non-Bollywood cinema and this trend is hopefully going to get more mainstream. And once you take the blinkers off, WORLD cinema really really opens up to you. And from that non blinkered world, here are my favorite 2012 movies that I absolutely totally relished.

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(click on the image to see in full size!)

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: The only movie I watched where I used the ‘bookmark’ feature of the VLC Media Player. Because I had to revisit some key dialogues and scenes to understand others. So not your average popcorn flick. But patience is richly rewarded. Surprisingly this movie was panned by Ebert as a ‘Meh’. I can see why though. If you don’t engage with the plot very actively, then this one has little to offer and will come across as dense and slow. But if you do engage, it is dark, rich and brooding and I was biting nails just dying to know who the mole in MI6 was. And also appalled at just how depressing 1970’s England was. TTSS’ soul sister is “The Usual Suspects” I think. If you liked that, you will love this one.

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Exit through the Gift Shop: Shows you how cultural snobs can easily be manipulated into rah-rah’ing utter trash. Or… is it trash ?? Had my fave 2012 line in a movie too. And oh, we here need about a million Banksy’ies to undermine the humorless institutions ripe for the undermining here. Is cloning legal yet?

 

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A Separation: The very best cinema I saw in 2012. Period.  Iranian cinema always has a special place after ‘Children of Heaven’ but this one had me on the cliched edge of my seat. And also so so thankful I live in a sham democracy at least. Those guys over there in Tehran. Sad. Reading Presopolis before this will help you understand this movie a lot better. And it is such gripping, well made cinema about a minor altercation gone wrong. A true masterpiece by Asghar Farhadi. 10/10

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. And Spring : This movie is visual meditation. Only more enjoyable than the real thing. The Oh-so-nuanced pacing. So very different from what you normally expect. This Korean movie by Ki-duk Kim shows you how CGI still doesn’t negate plot and characters. Micheal Bay, are you listening? All the tolly molly bolly etc woods’ here. Pay attention.

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Still Walking: Still Walking is a family drama about grown children visiting their elderly parents, which unfolds over one summer day. You may fall asleep just reading that line. And ADHD afflicted jackasses raised on WWF and MTV will. But those who jump in will savor an excellent Japanese movie that is sublime and truly well made; it’ll shake their world that holds ‘Armageddon’ as the cultural high point of the Hollywood experience. The mother character in the movie especially has some cutting lines and the father-son conflict was so well attended. Try it.

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Atanarjuat : A story based on Inuktitut legend. First you start doing what I did. Googling to find out what the heck ‘Inuktitut’ is. I will probably never see a movie quite like this. Chances are neither will you. Although the movie is technically Canadian, the language is Inuktitut. Here is a review I read online that best mirrors my own experience accurately: “I saw this movie last night and went to bed without words. After having a chance to sleep on it, it is now starting to sink in how truly amazing this movie was. You will be first blown away by the fact that this movie even exists. It is truly unprecedented in every sense of the word…The scenery is astonishing. Almost everyone who participated in this production was full-blooded Inuit. It is a beautiful story based on an Inuit legend that exists on many different levels and subplots”

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Spirited Away: Guilty admission – I never cared much for ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Too convoluted. There. I said it. Sue me. But if you too didn’t ‘get it’ and carried some sedimentary guilt, redemption arrived in 2003. Spirited Away is that wonderland and its main character ‘Chihiro’ is a way way cooler Alice I wager. Hayao Miyazaki has imagined and crafted a world that sucks you in and I could not help but me amazed by that crazy bathhouse and the characters that filled it.

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The Raid : One of THE best action movies of all times with the most astonishing one-on-two hand2hand combat you will EVER see in movies (between the brothers and the evil henchman). True story: Actually found myself holding my breath in some parts of this movie. I thought that was a figure of speech till then. Thanks mihirfadnavis for guiding me to this one.

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35 shots of rum : This movie is the anti Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) production. There is no plot, only poignancy. If someone of the type who enjoys Transformers and ‘Son of Sardaar’ was strapped into a seat and made to watch this, spontaneous asphyxiation is possible. In which case the movie would have 2 achievements to its credit. Instead of one. Getting rid of a useless cultural gnat AND being a superb meditation on letting go. Alex Descas is so so perfect in his role as a dad who realizes he has to move on. This is fabulous casting indeed. No, PERFECT casting. And words anyway don’t get top billing here. Body language is all.

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Drive: The most stylish movie on this list. Some (not all) reasons to love it: It has Cranston from ‘Breaking Bad’, busty Christina Hendricks from ‘Mad Men’ and the divine Carey Mulligan from ‘An Education’. And oh, Ryan Gosling. And one of the best car chase scenes this side of Ronin. AND a look at L.A with unbelievable camera deftness. And that track by Kavinsky, ‘Nightcall’. Haunting. And Perfect. At worst, you will enjoy this as a good thriller. But at best, this is drama done very competently.

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4 months 3 weeks & 2 days: The thing with reading about Communism is that the medium does not do justice to the mundane horror that was life in those unacknowledged prisons behind the Iron Curtain. ‘4 months 3 weeks & 2 days’ is about friendship and the price one friend is willing to pay to be just that and also what both pay as victims in that gulag that was Communist Romania .The bland horror of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s rule and how wretched it was especially for women is artfully told here. It is true that real evil is bland and boring and without pity. And the movie shows you why. While the movie is about the horror of late abortion per se, like a great movie, it is soooo much more than that limited ugly subject.

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Elite Squad 2 : Another gripping thriller from Brazil and while this is no ‘City Of God’, it’s subject, corruption, is universal and how the main character struggles with it is an abject lesson on why corruption is so hard to erase. Also India needs 1000 battalions to BOPEs to clean up.

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Dr.Strangelove: Rightly claimed by many to be Stanley Kubrick’s THE Masterpiece. Well, it sure holds your attention from the get go. And those lines. “I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids “. I did not know until post viewing that Peter Sellers’ was doing multiple roles including the eponymous one this movie is named after. And here in this movie you also get to see THAT immortal line by President Merkin Muffley. “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!!!” Black comedy at its finest.

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The Dark Knight Rises: The Joker in the pack. get it ? Joker ? No? …awww.. why do I bother. Yes I agree. The movie was littered with a shit-ton of plot holes but Bane was just brilliant and the story really gripping. So the hype machine was justified for once. Dark and gritty, TDKR packs a wallop and you will likely leave the theatre happy you got your money’s worth.

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Serpico: I am almost 3 decades late to this party. ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ was excellent but I think Serpico is BETTER. Lumet’s take on the true story of an honest cop trapped in a corrupt system did the smart thing by getting Al Pacino to play the cop. I can’t think how anyone else could be so convincing. Especially his slow dissolve into the muck around him and how it breaks him is painful to watch. Painful but very absorbing. Great direction and genius action. Many movies limp well with one of these two. Here we have both.

So there you have it. 2012. Fourteen excellent pieces of work. Totally good year. Very happy with the cinema consumed. Try a few from the above if it speaks to you. Each one a gem.

Summary:

2012 Favorite Movie: A Separation

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2012 Bloody disappointment of the year: That overhyped turd ‘Prometheus

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2012 Best Movie quote: From ‘Exit through the gift shop’ Banksy: “Uhmmm… You know… it was at that point that I realized that maybe Thierry wasn’t actually a film maker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera” (So much on cinema around here feels like it was made by Thierrys so this quote was a home run)

This was 2012.

2013 Movie reviews here

2014 Movie reviews here

Year End Review : 2011

Sometimes the best you can give to the world are things you give yourself FIRST and only later share with others. Firstly because you want the gift’s most grateful recipient to enjoy it. And because that recipient will then polish it and make it even better when it’s released into the wider world. Call it Selfish-Beta.This post, following in last years tradition,  is Selfish-Beta v 1.0.

Till quite recently I used to think of such introspective, ‘Review of a period in time’ post as a masochist chore that I would reflexively postponed into the future (….As the Spanish aphorism cuttingly observes – “Tomorrow is the busiest day of the week” )

Things change.

Now I find myself surprisingly energized and looking forward to the activity. Does writing often make exercising the fingers over the keyboard a easier activity ? ….I suspect regular bloggers would vote in the affirmative to that query.

And books are not really reviewed below. They were done in a separate post.

Onwards.

The earlier year, 2010, was the Year of Wanderlust.

That translated into THIS happy collage below :

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And 2011 was a year of years. The arc of it’s kinetic narrative moves almost exactly like it did for one specific activity I dived into in the year. Scuba.

First a sense of foreboding. Then nervousness. Followed by panic. Then a sense of calm. Then unsteady  excitement that eventually morphed into full throated Woohoo!

Luckily the last phase lasted the longest.  And in the right order instead of the reverse! And that is, in my thin book of the mind,  a Good Damn Year. I would tag 2011, That year of New Activities tried.

And the number #1 lesson reinforced this year ?

OK. Now I sense this post in danger of becoming a bit of a narcissistic  ‘above-waist self-patting’ gooey Louis Armstrong affair and so I am going to deftly veer into a different terrain.

AWARDS!

Awards that I , the customer of the below things/stuff/experiences , gave to various entities and experiences last year that I am going to now replicate this year.

This post is a ton of fun and if I do it next year in 2013 I can claim tradition (three times in 3 years in a row is tradition in my book)

Note, these below are MY home brewed opinions. And some opinions are just invitations to be proven wrong.

So without ado, here are are The JAC Awards.

#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2010 : Air Asia
#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2011 : Chipotle

I will sell my soul any  damn day for a lifetime lunch of their delicious burritos.

{Wins because : Simple product. very well priced. consistent and brilliantly awesome every single time. While these previous adjectives look deceptively easy to nail down, believe me. It’s not. Chipotle manages it. Consistently}
Runner Up : Thai Airways

#Best Value For Money 2010 : Street food in Bangkok
#Best Value For Money 2011 : Full body Thai Massage, @KIM at Phuket, Thailand

{Wins because : For what J and I paid, we got one of the best VFMs in 2011. 60 mins of pounding, pressing, squeezing, beating and kneading that left us born again and stunned so much was given for so LITTLE in cost. Most of the times when you exit the shop/establishment in India/anywhere you are thinking the exact OPPOSITE so this here is an ART }
Runner Up : Scuba Diving @ Ko Phi Phi

[note : in both 2010 and in 2011, all VFM propositions have emerged from ONE country : Thailand. This is not just chance I suspect. Go there someday ye frugal traveler]

#Best FREE service 2010: The Staten Island Ferry
#Best FREE service 2011:  Instapaper

{Wins because : It passes the #1 test of this category – tomorrow, if this went PAID, would I pay ? Answer : Hell Yes!! Very Happily. I donated already. Btw donate to Wikipedia you shameless users all of you. I did. Instapaper has taken my Kindle and made it into a SUPER-device, and I find myself reading less books and more deep thoughtful LONGFORM articles from publications around the world and I can confirm: They are BRILLIANT. Try it out. It’s open to all, not just Kindle users by the way. google INSTAPAPER)

Runner Up : Dropbox (what a nifty funky service)

# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2010: Virgin Atlantic, @London Heathrow.
# Best Travel Customer Service Experience 2011: ‘Tickets episode’ with Thai Airways


{Wins because : When J and I needed our tickets changed, Thai did it without fuss, without too much bumbling and best of all for us : FREE. Most airlines would have bled us dry given half a chance. And have)

Runner Up : PP Aquanauts Diving School, Ko Phi Phi

#Best FREE city experience 2010 : Courtesy the municipality of Paris
#Best FREE city experience 2011 : Pier Seats at Boston by the Charles River

{Wins because : Helped by the balmy weather and Boston summer weekend vibe by the river, the deck chairs on the pier offerd great view of the Boston East Side shore and just sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere was priceless. Thank you dear Boston Municipality!}

#Most Unexpected Good Meal : A very unassuming bakery in Rome that served the most orgasmic lasagna I have yet tasted.
#Most Unexpected Good Meal : The Spicy Tom Yum Chicken soup at a beach side restaurant at Kata Beach, Phuket

{Wins for the sheer unexpected drug-like hit it gives the tongue. I was NOT expecting it there and promptly ordered ONLY that soup for my entire stay in Thailand!}

Runner Up : Chipolte

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2010: Cu Cha (sea food like you will never taste again or have before) and W.A.W (world’s best chicken wings) on Jalan Alor St.
#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered 2011: Steak at Ruby’s @ Cincinnati, Ohio

{Wins because : ….make NO mistakes. That above is really one of the most delicious pieces of food I have put into my mouth. Ever. My Scottish friends know how MUCH I love Holy Cow in my unholy mouth and this steak piece above above was beyond compare. People well versed in Hindu Mythology will find deep irony in a guy named ‘Shiva’ finding great joy in putting Nandi’s cousin into his mouth. Western friends : Just think of it like Santa eating his reindeers} ~ All this made possible thanks to Jackie and Mel.

#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2010 : The visually inviting street side restaurants near the common tourist spots in Rome.
#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap 2011 : Meal at Las Iguanas at SouthBank, London

{Bloody Waste of Lot of Money. Horrible}

#Best FREE sublime experience 2010 : Crowd watching parked on the fountain footsteps near the Pantheon, Rome.
#Best FREE sublime experience 2011 : Watching sunsets over Goa (snap below taken on iphone and then Instagram’d)

#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with : Facebook
#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with : Facebook [Still]

#Most Welcoming Experience : Being allowed INSIDE Harvard Business School’s famed Baker Library AND its underground book depository collection without being a student or bring escorted by one.
#Most Welcoming Experience : Stay at Hotel CasaBlanca, Phuket

{imagine staying at a cozy clean new hotel. where you never see other guests. and the staff wait on you hand and foot. and at midnight, drunk, you go the closed pool. and swim. and dry off. and no one bothers you. That pool you see above was just OUR pool!)

#Most reliably consistent product : The BlackBerry Bold 9000
#Most reliably consistent product : Omron Pedometer

{Wins because : Really. I never went anywhere without it. for a year. And it delivered. And I am fitter}

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Lloyds Bank!
#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Ebay

{Their customer service is a very bad joke. On the Customer. Nothing shows their disdain than the way they treat anyone trying to reach out to ebay india. 17 emails and NOT ONE REPLY}

#City that quite doesn’t deliver : Singapore
#City that quite doesn’t deliver : NCR

Really?!!? you want me EXPAND and EXPLAIN this ?!!?! The smog, the crimes, the filth and the stray cows and dogs are not the worst of it actually. It’s the sheer rudeness of the residents. Painfully visible in the way Old people are shoved aside in the metro and the way traffic rules are totally disregarded. NCR is not so much a city as the waiting room to Hell.
Runner Up :  Phuket TOWN- Boring place versus all else Thailand has to offer. An in-between stop at best.

#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating : The GMAT exam as ‘sold’ by gmac.
#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating :  Phi Phi Island Cabana Hotel, Ko Phi Phi

#Most stunning good discovery : At the ‘will be crowded soon’ I.G.I-T3 Food Court, 4Fingers.
#Most stunning good discovery : Hotel Casa Blanca, Phuket

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : http://www.couchsurfing.com
#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : http://www.longreads.com

{seriously, Longreads + Instapaper + Kindle = Goodbye boredom. Forever}

#Experience I regret rushing through : The Met in NYC and the Louvre in Paris.
#Experience I regret rushing through : Lake Shore Drive Area, Chicago

{Really. should have spent way way longer time there. did’nt. Totally regretted it}

#Most consistent brand in 2011 : Flipkart

{Just works. Exactly as advertised on the tin}

#Best author discovered this year : V.S.Naipaul. Christopher Hitches.
#Best author discovered this year : J.M Coetzee

{The Prose. OMG. What a t a l e n t e d dude. Read at once.}

#Product of the Year : Amazon Kindle
#Product of the Year : Timex Heart monitor

{Has TOTALLY redefined my approach at the gym. I now ONLY do as the watch tells me. “The Zone” is all}

#Location of the Year : Soi Rambutri St, Bangkok.
#Location of the Year : Ko Phi Phi

[click on this pic belos to see it in its actual AWESOME size, taken by a friend who was with us there – Lou]

Runner Up : Cambridge (snap you see below was taken by VERY talented gf bobbing  and punting on our boat!)

#Experience of the Year : Paris.
#Experience of the Year : Diving at Ko Phi Phi

{There I was. On the edge of the boat. With a lifelong fear of deep water. Strapped to 20 litres of oxygen. Being egged on by my dive mater to jump in. After what seemed like an eternity, I did. Where the only sound was my own shallow scared breathing consuming that oxygen way too fast. And after a few minutes, when the initial terror subsided, I opened my eyes. And everything till then, leading to THAT ONE moment, …all that…they became worth it. I was in another world and I knew it then : I’ll forever remember this moment }

After all that happened this wonderful year, one of my all time fave author captures it’s Spark.

So 2012 has a high benchmark to top. This will have to be driven by the RIGHT question. As all good things are. And what’s The Question driving 2012 for me ??

Year End Review : 2010

2010 has drawn to a close, the lists and best/worst awards are all being punctually distributed. I am going to add mine to the mix. 2010 was an awesome year and here is to 2011 making it look ‘meh’. Happy New Year.

Here goes the totally gut based unscientifically selected winners …and added bonus for me: Of all the posts I penned so far on my blog, this one I really really enjoyed writing. Didn’t feel like a chore at all.

#Best New Brand I came in touch with in 2010 : Air Asia

Low Low prices. Smokin hottt crew. Sanitary bathrooms. Clean new planes. So I am totally rah-rah’ing behind them for being able to demonstrate how you can be Cheap without being ‘Cheap’. Something demonstrated by Air India and American Airlines to be astoundingly easy.

Take Away : Being able to convincingly demonstrate an inverse link between the product experience and its pricing is an art and Air Asia is looking like Van Gogh.

#Best Value For Money : Street food in Bangkok

Back here, low-priced food means you are also involuntarily participating in heath roulette. You may or may not get sick you brave gambler you. Not so in Bangkok. Low prices only meant you just didn’t get the silverware with the food. All else was totally top notch.

Take Away : being able to demonstrate how you can be low-priced without being unhealthy/poisonous.

#Best FREE service: The Staten Island Ferry

There is no better way to glimpse Lady Liberty, enjoy the view of Manhattan from a distance AND  avoid the hassles of a touristy trap up close than this surprisingly free ride to Staten Island and back on the ferry. The ferry is clean, well maintained and run by a decent crew.

Take Away : being able to demonstrate how you can be govt owned and run without being dirty or inefficient.

# Best Customer Service Experience : Virgin Atlantic, @London Heathrow.  Missing a Virgin Atlantic London Delhi flight by 9 minutes and getting a NO CHARGE  NO HASSLE next day ticket in the next 9 minutes. Stupid me did not catch the name of the customer service rep girl. But she made her airline look bloody darn good. Take Away : Being able to demonstrate all airline reps are not hostile surly harridans.

#Best FREE city experience : Courtesy the municipality of Paris. Free deck chairs at the Jardin des Tuileries near the Louvre in the summer, allowing anyone to park their tired selves and just enjoy straight line views of the Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel.Take Away : Sometimes all the citizens want is a good view and a place to see it from.

#Most Unexpected Good Meal : A very unassuming bakery in Rome that served the most orgasmic lasagna I have yet tasted. And a price that did not do justice to what the dish managed to do to your tongue and mood.  For those interested, this one is right at the entrance of the Battistini Metro Station. A bowl of mussels at a restaurant near the Nation metro St in Paris comes a close second and beaten because the price was too damn low for the lasagna.

#Most anticipated Good Meal that delivered: Cu Cha (sea food like you will never taste again or have before) and W.A.W (world’s best chicken wings) on Jalan Alor St. I could just park permanently at these two places, drink the local beer and watch the Kuala Lumpur crowd all day till the inevitable heart attack from obesity gets me.

#Worst Rip off at a tourist trap : The visually inviting street side restaurants near the common tourist spots in Rome. Justyna and I were parted with what was a frightening amount of our  euros for what was a very bland and forgetful meal near the Pantheon.

Take Away : Location.Location.Location. We get it. But don’t just stop there. Work on the damn product!

#Best FREE quality Performances : Edinburgh Festival, August 2010. The theater was the street and by God, what theater!

#Best FREE sublime experience : Crowd watching parked on the fountain footsteps near the Pantheon, Rome. The people, the passing performers and sheer variety of tiny interesting people related episodes unfolding before you is a treat, made sweeter by the fact it’s totally absolutely free.

#Product I(we?) have the most ‘love hate’ relationship with.

#Most Welcoming Experience : Being allowed INSIDE Harvard Business School’s famed Baker Library AND its underground book depository collection without being a student or bring escorted by one. The whole campus had a vibe around ‘visitors’ that was so amazingly friendly for a place of its size and importance. Local 2 bit malls’ here are 100 times more paranoid, brooding and hostile to the casual visitor.

Take Away : For proving importance CAN have a inverse relationship with security theater vs a direct one.

#Most reliably consistent product : The BlackBerry Bold 9000. Dropped it in snow, concrete, puddles, from a height plus a myriad other abuses and it just keep on getting and diligently sending them emails. BlackBerry…oh how I love thee.

Take Away : sometime being a hedgehog that does one thing very well and consistently is all a user wants,needs and requires of a product. When commercially profitable, pander to the instinct if you can.

#Most irritating company to deal with as a customer either by telephone or on their website : Lloyds Bank!

#Most overpriced service/product not worth repeating : the GMAT exam as ‘sold’ by gmac.

#City that quite doesn’t deliver : Singapore. It’s a fantastic city but feels a tad too sterile and unimaginative. But I am still going to say I am a fan. Sue me for the contradictions.

#Most stunning good discovery : At the ‘will be crowded soon’ I.G.I-T3 Food Court : My travel buddy and I came across this food joint. Best fries ever. Name ? Like that best burger episode from HIMYM, I do NOT remember. ‘Four’ something . If you know which place i refer to, gimme a shout.

#Best website you probably don’t know about on the net : www.couchsurfing.com~ the experience it encourages will solve so such of all that is wrong out there in the world and as a bonus, will give its users one hell of an eye-opening experience in the process. Huge fan. Second Spot :  www.AirBnB.com. Just plain works as advertised on the tin. I paid 900 rupees (=$18) a day for a 3 bedroom flat all to myself in Budapest.

#Experience I regret rushing through : The Met in NYC and the Louvre in Paris. I made the cardinal sin of seeing them in a hurry. Shame on me.

#Best author discovered this year : Ouch. This one is close. So I will (because I can!) award it to two geniuses I stumbled onto this year : V.S.Naipaul. Christopher Hitches.

And now the GRAND Prizes….

###Product of the Year : Amazon Kindle.Where do I even begin. Yes, I am a bibliophile and so it may feel nerdy to vote for this but here is the kicker: This year I ALSO came into an iPhone 3G and the latter doesn’t hold a candle. And that IS saying something, considering the rabid fans and press apple enjoys. From the physical product to the reading experience to the ease of purchase and download of books, this 200 gms baby is a true game changer. It has actually fuelled one of my resolutions to have NO physical books in 5 years. Move everything to this tiny marvel, an ode to all this is right about technology.

###Location of the Year : Soi Rambutri St, Bangkok.

There is, on this venerable street, a restaurant that spills over onto the street with a sheesha seller near by (order the double apple flavor) This place is by policy and open boast: NEVER closed. From early every evening till very very late at night (4 am), if you are looking for the experience to cherish : just get your mates, order the double apple sheesa from Rahul, a few bottles of chilled Singha beers and just sit back for the world’s best ‘lounge music + street fashion show’ combo experience. And end it with a non-sleazy massage at the myriad options nearby. Welcome to the good life. no riders. no big bill at the end.

###Experience of the Year : Paris.

To watch the Eiffel light up at midnight, with your gf, on your birthday, on a anchored boat on the Seine that you surreptitiously sneaked into at midnight, with beers and pizza, under a cool evening. Hard to top. But then…..would you really want to ?

(2011 Update : The winners of the 2011 ‘awards’ are here)