Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 - How I read 22 books?

In 2018, I had taken a goal to read 24 books at an average of two books a month. I was able to finish 21 and I was very happy with that achievement, as it was my highest ever tally in a year. I was also able to write the reviews for all the books I read in 2018 on this very blog. 

In 2019, I again took a goal to read 24 books. While I didn't achieve the goal this year too, I am happy to report that I have bettered my tally over last year. I was able to finish 22 books this year. Sadly though, I have so far posted reviews of only 15 books on this blog. Hope to cover this shortfall in January' 20. Interestingly, I had taken few sub-goals as well - Like reading a book in my mother tongue, Punjabi and read at least two classics. I achieved these reading goals too in 2019 :-)

Following are some of the things that  helped me achieve my reading goals: 

1. I had a dedicated time slot of 20-30 minutes daily for reading. An average book of around 300 pages can thus be finished in 15 days. Two books a month is great. Gift these 20-30 minutes daily to yourself.

2. Buy more books than you can read. Also make it known to people that you like books as gifts. When you are surrounded by books, you feel compelled to pick one up. This can be the best investment you can make for yourself.

3. Mix it up - fiction, non fiction, work related, fun related, subjects that interest you and the ones that don't interest you. Just keep reading whatever keeps your boat rocking. This will help you beat the reading block. 

4. Join a book club or a library. You will meet avid readers who inspire you to read more and give you amazing recommendations.

5. Carry a book with you always. Sometimes, when I go slow on reading and my colleagues keep seeing the same book with me for a long period, I feel awkward. This pushes me to avoid distractions and read on.

I started off with reading the books that I loved. But now I love the books that I read. It is a key transition for me. 

As the year ends, here are my top recommendations from what I read this year. Look forward to your recommendations too. The hyper-links will take you to the reviews I have posted for these books. 

Top Fiction:

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Top Non Fiction:

Top Classics:

Raseedi Ticket (The Revenue Stamp) by Amrita Pritam (I read in Punjabi, but English translation available)

Animal Farm by George Orwell


The pictures show all the books I read this year. See you in 2020. Happy New Year!!!

Nike, Facebook & Pakistan - Interesting Books reviewed

Shoe Dog ~ A Memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight is really a well written autobiography. There is no co-author or a ghost writer involved, so the emotions you go through as a reader are real and raw. Phil actually took writing classes to write this book. And that effort shows! It is one the best autobiographies / biographies I have read. Shoe Dog is not just Phil's or Nike's story. It is that too. But it goes beyond. Both inside and outside. The book delves deep inside into an entrepreneur's mind. It looks outwards towards the history of the era when Phil was building Nike. So the book doesn't just feel like an autobiography. It reads like a parable, sounds like a lore and can be understood as a metaphor for life. The book is also paced like a thriller.

As an author, Phil displays his sense of humor throughout. Especially hilarious are his accounts of some of his early colleagues and his travels to Japan and China. But there are undercurrents of his personal tragedies. Also Phil chose not to narrate much that happened after 1980. I was surprised by this choice but I understood the reasons behind it. So you won't get the story behind "Just Do It" or several such campaigns post 1980.

Phil fleshes out each character in the story of his life with love and empathy. He owns his mistakes and is painfully aware of his shortcomings. But he loves his journey.  Phil brings his struggles as a sportsperson and as an entrepreneur to the paper without inhibitions. He also talks about his relationships with his father and his sons without holding anything back.

Some of the questions which I wanted the book to answer also get answered with flourish. You get to know the story behind the name "Nike". You get the story behind its logo. You get reasons for Nike's success. But the book goes beyond the obvious. It gives insights into history of the time. It showcases how people come together and stick together despite differences. It talks about irreversible sacrifices. It defines successes and failures in a humane way.

As a marketer, one is always struggling to define the story of one's brand, its spirit and purpose. This memoir does it so well for Nike. There are several books that have inspired me in the past - with a new idea or with a better perspective on things. But this  book inspired me in a different way. It made me feel for Nike. I felt like working for Nike, especially during its early years. The years when I wasn't even born. And that's a great achievement for a book. 

the Facebook effect by David Kirkpatrick is a book which I have read few years late. The book was published in 2010 and it chronicles the early years of Facebook. By now, we all know the basic beats of Facebook story and its early milestones, through the folklore and the movie 'The Social Network'. Also in 9 years since then, Facebook has become a very different animal, with lesser personal connections active on it. It has since then made a journey from being cool to somewhat evil. I would personally love to read a sequel to this book to know what changed and also understand Mark Zuckerberg's opinion on Cambridge Analytica data breach.

Coming back to this book, I was surprised to notice few grammar as well as spelling errors. Otherwise, the book is pretty fast paced. The book provides a balanced view on Facebook's highs and lows. Unlike Videocracy by Kevin Allocca, a book about YouTube, which I reviewed earlier this year, this book looks into issues like antitrust, privacy, data ownership and ethics in a far more incisive way.

Also, I liked the portions, where we got to know about the logic behind every change and feature on Facebook. These portions make the book an interesting read from change management and product development point of view.

But if there is a more recent book on Facebook, which is equally well written, I suggest you can give this one a miss. 

Tinderbox ~ The Past and Future of Pakistan by M.J. Akbar, presents a very interesting slice of world history of Indian sub-continent, especially chronicling the circumstances around formation of Pakistan. It delves deep into epic conflict between Hindu and Muslim cultures and its impact on the entire region. 

It is a tough book to read, because it spans across centuries, and too much is happening. There are way too many characters and sub-plots. In fact each chapter in this book can become a source for a new book. So don't feel too overwhelmed while reading it, if you are able to connect key threads of this narrative.  By the time I finished the book, I forgot many specifics - names, dates etc. But overarching themes and patterns emerged. 

1. If religious identity overpowers regional or national identity, there will always be strife. Pakistan will never be at peace given the circumstances of its birth. Also my limited understanding, that democracy can bring change,  was questioned throughout the book. 

2. Another interesting aspect on which author spends a lot of time is wherein he explains how Pakistan governments have been distorting history that is taught in their schools. He explains, how school children are conditioned right from the childhood to consider India as its enemy. He goes further to explain how plunderers from pre-independent India are treated as heroes because of their religious identity. But as I read chapters on Indian freedom struggle in the book, especially about Gandhi's failures, I realized how our history books were also whitewashed. I learned how Mahatma was more of a politically useful religious moniker than a testimony to Gandhi's greatness. So while Pakistan's history is a hogwash, ours is also pretty much whitewashed in school books. 

3. How Pakistan played world's superpowers using its geo-political advantage is also a recurring theme in the book. 

And the questions which were left in my mind by the time I finished reading this book were - Has Pakistan played all its cards? Are we on a path to nuclear catastrophe?

I needed few lighter books after this. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Sita & Talent Code - Two Completely Different Books reviewed

Reading Sita - An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana by Devdutt Pattanaik is a unique experience. It can be called a non-fiction book about a mythological fiction, because it is very well researched.  Or it can also be classified as a fictional story that borrows from several tales. 

Most of us who have grown in India and have seen the televised Ramayana are aware of the basic beats of this epic. To a large extent even the message which this epic promotes is well understood and accepted. Good defeats Evil! But before reading this book, I had always seen the story of Ramayana from twin perspectives of religion and ethics. I always believed that the televised version was the most accurate version of this epic. Reading this book or retelling made several impressions on me. It is researched well, covering the stories, spanning across centuries, from different geographies. And while Pattanaik sticks to the core of the story, he brings to the fore certain value. He truly treats it as a mythology, so his story doesn't always go to the places you already are aware of. He brings in several lesser known or alternative aspects from various regional versions of Ramayana. There is no one Ramayana. It is cyclical. 

He treats Ramayana as a metaphor about one's journey from Aham (Id/Ego) to Atma (Soul), the journey from humanity to divinity. It doesn't just remain a parable about Good vs Evil

In this retelling, Sita's persona is fleshed out very well. She is not just a passive, waiting wife. Waiting to be rescued! The book talks about the impact she created in Lanka and in the lives of Lankans. The book details the impact she had in the forest later in her life. 

There are so many characters and plot points in this retelling, that at times I got overwhelmed. But there is joy in getting lost at times. There is a small story on the origin of River Ganga. This story doesn't sound real. It is incredulous and fantastical. A child born out of a same sex relationship, who doesn't have bones and nerves. These bones and nerves get added through Siddha (miraculous powers achieved through spiritual and physical enlightenment). The purpose for the child's birth is to bring alive his dead father. There are series of such unbelievable elements in this story leading to the origin of the Ganga. Our minds conditioned by western education and influences will scoff at this story. But when one looks at the lessons, the metaphors and treat this story as a moral tale, may be then one will learn. And this realization defines the book for me. 

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is a book that busts the myths around talent and talent hotbeds. The author explains his research findings that correlate talent to our neurological set-up. His research indicates that talent is not a birth right or determined by one's gene pool. This premise is really interesting which he backs by evidence from neuroscience, making it immensely clear that talent is not a genetic gift. It is something that has to be grown and then he explains how to go about it. There are changes which happen inside one's brain when one works towards becoming talented at some skill. Though for the purpose of this review, I will skip the neuroscience bit. 

The case studies and the success stories mentioned in the book are inspirational. The simple idea of  how 'Ignition - Deep Practice' builds talent is explained beautifully. The chapters on how teachers and coaches actually help create talent are exciting and have immense learning for people who are into coaching roles. 

So I should really read & write more and understand the sub-tasks in the process of reading & writing. This will help me become a better writer, a better blogger and a more consummate reader.