Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Books Review

Dreams and resolutions are similar for people like me. They rarely come true, or even close to true. This year I had a resolution of writing 52 blog posts, a modest goal of one post per week. Today is December 27th and this is my third. Yes, a sub 5% goal achievement is normal in my world. So, I share with disproportionate pride the completion of my Book Reading Challenge for 2016. 24 books pledged, 24 books read. A definite improvement from last year when I was ambitious enough to pledge 20, and lazy enough to complete 10 (2015 post). Oh, a small clarification, I did count my audiobooks as books for this challenge, so, there.

The fiction:non-fiction split was 15:9, a conscious effort to increase the imagination quotient from the recent trends of over-indexing on autobiographies, business, history and business books. Surprisingly enough I also found it easier to concentrate on fiction audiobooks while driving, the hypothesis was the opposite. 

And here's presenting the five best books I read in 2016, many most of which released many years back and should have been read long back as well.

5. Soccer In Sun And Shadow by Eduardo Galeano (recommended and gifted by Anal Ghosh)

As a international (not club) football/soccer fan and trivia fanatic the combination of nugget sized chapters covering the history of the world cup and world of soccer from the beginning of the 20s till the present age is quite heady. Also, the writing style is rich and humorous and through this book I was also introduced to some of the other great works of Galeano. The romance associated with soccer in South America comes across clearly and the journalistic background of Galeano makes this a much broader canvas than just soccer history. The recurring line around Fidel Castro's death become particularly poignant this year. This is as much a soccer book as Animal Farm is a book about raising animals in farms, almost.

4. The Mahabharata Murders by Arnab Ray (Read advance copy, book releasing in 2017)

[Cover image not available yet]

Arnab makes the list twice in a row after last year's Sultan of Delhi.

[Pasting (p)review from Goodreads] I had the privilege of reading Arnab's unreleased (as of April 2016) murder mystery - The Mahabharata Murders. As with all of his books, this review goes with the disclaimer that I am a friend and a fan.

Comedy/short stories, horror/thriller, drama, drama/thriller, and now murder/mystery. It's almost like Arnab is out there to prove his versatility and we should be thankful for that. Longtime readers of his blog, and there are plenty, know him for his wit, sarcasm, hold over current affairs, and a balanced approach on topics. However, his flair for fiction doesn't come across that clearly on that famous blog of his. With the Mahabharata Murders he displays his command over holding your attention with just 3 primary characters, with a plot that mirrors the greatest tale of them all - the Mahabharata. 

The narrative is in the first person of a policeowoman, and a Muslim to boot. Talk about breaking stereotypes. And as an eternally aspiring writer I understand it's quite demanding to write an entire novel from the perspective of the other gender, and not let the efforts show. With a grisly murder taking place within the first few pages you are sucked into the story from the get go. Ruksana is not just offbeat as a Muslim policeman but has a checquered past of her own (having just finished The Girl on the Train, could see some similarities with Rachel though they are purely unintentional as he had started writing MM much before GotT released). I think a quick wikipedia reading of the Mahabharata would be good warm up for this book, especially if you don't remember the epic in details. Pavitra Chatterjee's character is one for the ages. If this story ever gets made into a movie, and it should, there's an award winning role for the taking. And I hope SRK does that.

3. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (recommended  by Abhishek)

As an Indian who moved to the US for higher studies and worked in some of the largest companies and lived in the largest cities I had a blind spot for the "real" America, the one that apparently had a big role to play on November 9. This first person account of someone from that America who went on to become a lawyer from one of the top schools was an eye opener. Written refreshingly and honestly with rich anecdotes from the author's childhood and later years, it showcases a lot of things that have changed, worked, and not worked in that America. Vance has been candid in his thoughts and called out the issues that he saw from both sides. He provided some answers too, but whether or not they will be adopted by everyone, the clarity of his thoughts and richness of his narration makes for a compelling read.

2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir By The Creator of Nike By Phil Knight (Recommended by Mainak)

Not just the autobiography of the year, but one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. To be honest I have very little interest in shoes or fashion overall and had quite low expectations from this book. I value Mainak's book recos a lot so took this leap of faith and was generously rewarded by one of the most iconic men of modern business and beyond. Driven by a passion for atheltics and business, Phil started off without much of a plan but lots of ambitions. But what he achieved in the next few decades, and how he achieved what he did was nothing short of the drama we see in the tracks and fields of sporting history. His story ends where most of us know it begins, Nike going public as a company. If you read one business book next year, make it this one. If you read one autobiography next year, make it this one.

1. 1984 by George Orwell (Audiobook)

[Pasting from Goodreads] Where's the option of giving 6 stars here?

I am a fairly regular reader, for over 25 years, and this book is one of the strongest contenders for "Best Book of All Time" on my list. Obviously embarrassed that it took this long to reach the classic, but somewhat happy as one understands this book better slightly later in life, and in particular during the times we're living in today. George Orwell not only predicted the future in uncannily accurate details (this could as well have been describing what North Korea is today, or most government states are going towards) but showed great understanding of the human mind and how it operates when presented with extreme pain, humiliation, and lack of hope. 

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