Books

Best Books I read in 2014

Did you get a chance to read any from the ones I suggested in 2013? I sure made it a point to lend those to as many people as I could. Even though I bought a Kindle this year hoping that it would help me reduce my paper footprint and will help me improve my reading habits, I couldn't find as much time for reading as I would have liked to. Most of my reading was compressed into few short sprints. And here are the ones which I found the best:

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - If you have read this book, seeing this book here wouldn't be a surprise to you. I found this book in a Reddit post called 'books that single-handedly made you change your life'. After reading the book, finding it in that list didn't seem too far fetched either. This was Dostoyevsky's magnum opus about which he said that he had written everything that he ever wanted to say in that one book. And boy, has he said it. 

  Illustration by Yours Truly

Illustration by Yours Truly

This is a voluminous work by all measures - it took me a long time to read it. It would have taken even longer had I paid attention all the time to the incredible detail that he has put in explaining the human nature and behavior. It is amazing to see when some authors weave psychology together with great storytelling to give us a beautiful reading experience. 

I can go on and on in praises of this book but nothing that I can say would do justice to its depth. Suffice to say, read this book, and you will not be disappointed. 

2. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac - As I wrote in my book review, it filled me with an energy for life even with just its backcover. I would recommend this even before Kerouac's otherwise more popular On The Road. From the book review:

The back cover speaks of lines such as these: "descriptive excitement", "poetry jam sessions", "marathon drinking bouts". And never have I felt such a violent surge of energy inside me to go explore the world and do something crazy. I am not sure how much of it would I be able to do but it has made me sit down and write these few lines at the least.

3. Daily Rituals : Find Inspiration, and Get to Work by Mason Currey - This book tells us the daily habits and rituals of the leaders who have shaped our history and culture. Learning about the lives of all the great scientists, musicians, writers, politicians had a profound impact on me. It is surprising to see how many of these people were creatures of habits. I learnt that the best work is produced under constraints, usually self-imposed. A lot of my regular activity on this blog can be credited to inspiration from this book. 

Other notable mentions:

  • On The Shortness of Life by Seneca - Almost made it to the list except because of the reason that I read it only a week back and I like to give a book some time after reading to check how much of it stays with me. 
  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon - As a writer, this book couldn't have come to me at a better time. It shows a no-nonsense way of the Whats, Whys, and Hows of sharing your work online. 

Hope you get around to reading some of these books. For more book recommendations, articles on minimalism and leading a simple life, you can sign up to the mailing list

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac | Book Review

This book review is broken down into two parts. One that I wrote just after reading a couple of pages and the other one after a couple of weeks of completing it.


Part 1:

19th August, 2014

I am a gullible man. Strong personalities, events and emotions influence me easily. Thus, I like to read good books.  They push me to take action and make me feel empowered to do things that aren't ordinary. They inspire me to lead a life full of experiences that could be worthy of, one day, becoming folklore. But, time and again, I find myself in a situation that as soon as the memory of the inspiration fades away, I lose my interest and that desire to take action hides away into the deep recesses of my mind. 

But, there are a few exceptional times when the combination of the inspiration and personal drive brings something to execution. Today, I received my copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. The back cover speaks of lines such as these: "descriptive excitement", "poetry jam sessions", "marathon drinking bouts". And never have I felt such a violent surge of energy inside me to go explore the world and do something crazy. I am not sure how much of it would I be able to do but it has made me sit down and write these few lines at the least. 

On reading these lines, one feels compelled to follow their heroes and tread the path guided by their inspiration. But, then you hit a roadblock. You realise that you can't do it since you are bound by the rules and regulations of a society where you exchange your time and freedom for a sense of security. And what's worse is that it is you who has chosen to do this by complying to it. We have full control to make it right. Instead, we, like many others, are held back by fear, uncertainty and responsibilities.

But, no more. Don't let the moments of your inspiration waste away. Act. 

Soon after writing till the above point, I started sharing this with my girlfriend and check a bit of email and social media. And all of it was so energy sapping and flow interrupting. To get actual work done, we must stop thinking about how we would like to share it with others. Do for yourself and do it well. As a writer, write something which you yourself enjoy reading. And stay focused, don't get lost in the endless stream of noises coming from different sources. The trade off between a moment of cheap entertainment or the need to feel acknowledged and involved versus the loss of yet another precious moment of your life is just not worth enough to make. Our fear of missing out with the world renders us vulnerable to missing out on the most important thing - our own lives. 


Part 2

19th October, 2014

I have a silly problem of forgetting the characters and incidents from the books I read. What stays with me is the feeling that book has evoked. And Dharma Bums, even after 2 weeks of finishing the book, has left in me a certain energy to really be alive. The sensation of having read and experienced - or I would go so far as to say, having lived the characters, lingers on in me. Such, is the power of this book.  

While discussing this with a few friends, who themselves are wanderers and explorers to say the least, we ran into the practicality and the reality of the stories in the books. They said that a lot of the events and stories in the books are exagerrations and fantasies of a restless, creative mind. This, I think, could very well be the case. But, I argued, it doesn't mean that we cannot shape our lives that way. Someone else's fantasises could very well be our reality - if only we want to work towards shaping it that way. 

The simple fact that I started writing down about this book even before finishing it betrays the power of this book. Jack Kerouac is a master at channeling your internal energy towards real action. Even though it is less popular than the more ubiquitous and oft quoted (including on this site) On The Road, I find it more empowering and a deeper joy to read. Both books talk about the beat generation but I would like to live like a Dharma Bum rather than be On The Road.

Illusions | Haiku

Richard Bach is a master at weaving simple stories into something deeply profound and moving. Illusions was also in my list of the best books I read last year

You can swim through walls,

Walk on water,

And everything that is taught in this book could be wrong.

#BookReviews in Haiku

On Illusions - Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach

#BookReview - Siddhartha | Hermann Hesse

At the outset, let me tell you what I knew about the book before picking it up - It is one of the most influential spiritual works of the 20th century, was highly recommended to me by a friend (this one) who had bought her own copy after reading a borrowed one and the book had an Introduction by Paulo Coelho.

To cut the story short, the book came to me with high levels of expectation. Naturally, I was a little skeptical - rebellion against the natural state of things is, for better or for worse, a habit I have since as far as I can remember. So, I started reading and I finished it. I don’t remember much else during those two days.

I was amazed by the ease at which Siddhartha explains the most important questions of life - why we are here, what we are doing here, what is the One single truth - basically, the whole existentialism phenomena. And what’s beautiful is the way Hermann Hesse expresses it.

image

A lot of spiritual books give you deep, complex concepts and theories and try to explain them to you in easier ways using analogies of real life. But, Siddhartha is different. It takes all these spirtiual concepts and theories as a matter of fact. It treats you with respect in assuming that you will understand. There are no long winding passages on theory of time, space and spirituality. Instead, it explains the beauty and the true meaning in our daily lives and what we feel - love, passion, knowledge, anger, lust etc. It touches upon each one of them and more and treats them with an utmost care.

Siddhartha guides you through the life of a man seeking answers only to tell you that it is not seeking you should do, finding is the answer. That was the most powerful statement for me. Let me say it again: ‘Finding is important, not seeking’. Excuse my paraphrasing. When you seek, you are looking for something, that takes away your mind from so many other beautiful things in life that might come your way. Instead, go finding with an open eye because you never know what you might find.

The book is so relatable that I am sure every one of you would be able to live Siddhartha’s life - inspite or perhaps because of it being so simple. I am not sure if this is the kind of book you might want to draw conclusions out of. I did and am damn happy I could. These are what they are: 

What goes around comes back around - just this simple realisation could help us be more empathetic, compassionate and an overall nice person.

Unconditional love is the most beautiful and maybe painful thing in the world - love of a father for his son kind of stuff.

The most important knowledge can never be taught, it has to be experienced.

You can find your spiritual guide in rivers, birds or trees  - they all speak to you. Just be a good listener. 

Before the start of the post, I was going to suggest you to pick up this book after you’ve already delved into spiritual thinking a bit. But, I’ve changed my mind now. Read it whenever you like :)

Now, I think I’ll have to buy my own copy.

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Appreciate your time. Thanks!

Best books I read this year

Lately, I managed, or better put, forced myself to find more time for reading. And not just some superficial online reading jumping from one blog post to another but some actual books. Here are a few I read this year which influenced me a lot:

1. Kafka on The Shore - Haruki Murakami

If you’ve been one of those people who have been around me in the last couple of months, you would have heard me rambling a lot about Murakami. He is quite simply one of the most magical writers I have come across. His brand of magical realism came to me at a time when I was just getting into parallel worlds as a concept. Hence, its effect was more profound. Even if you are not into that kind of stuff, his pure genius with play of words and the way he weaves his stories is incredible. In the past 2 months, I’ve read 4 of his books and all have left a deep impact on me.  And Kafka on the shore is the one I found the best. You can also read my review of the book here.

2. Illusions - Richard Bach

It is more like a journey, much less a book. In Richard Bach’s own words:

 ”I do not enjoy writing at all. If I can turn my back on an idea, out there in the dark, if I can avoid opening the door to it, I won’t even reach for a pencil. But once in a while there’s a great dynamite-burst of flying glass and brick and splinters through the front wall and somebody stalks over the rubble, seizes me by the throat and gently says, ‘I will not let you go until you set me, in words, on paper.’ That’s how I met Illusions.”

3. The Outsider - Albert Camus

image

Just finished reading two days back, the simple, honest writing is disarming. Camus’ afterword, where in just two pages he explains his intention with the book is equally brilliant. The protagonist isn’t saddened by the death of his mother and it comes as a surprise to the society at large. More so because he is absolutely honest and frank about his feelings. Thus in a way, the book is more about being honest to yourself or rather your own feelings even at the expense of pissing off a lot of other people in the process. 

Do you like what you read so far? You can subscribe to my mailing list to get updates on new posts. I am not sure how frequently I’ll send you an email but it will never be more often than once a week. 

Appreciate your time. Thanks!