The 5 books I read since Tuesday

There was no time frame or record I was going for, so this is just the truth of the matter.

I’ve been going through a tough time personally. Nothing’s really wrong, life is peachy. Except that I’m applying to more than half a dozen MBA colleges and the process nearly sucked the life out of me. It started way back in early July and ended (at least temporarily) on October 10th. October 11th was a national holiday and it was the first one in more than 3 months where I had absolutely no agenda. I woke up leisurely, had a solo lunch at a great place nearby. Then, I did a favourite thing of mine that I do very rarely, but derive great pleasure from every time I indulge in the activity (not sex, I got the innuendo only after i wrote the sentence and I’m way too lazy to edit). What I actually did was walk over to a shop which was more like a shoe closet sandwiched between two mega stores. It sells used books. Enough said.

I picked out five novels that looked particularly interesting and got them (with a light spell of bargaining) for Rs. 400. That’s cheap and a brilliant investment as far as I’m concerned. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening lying on my bed, the afternoon sunlight streaming through my windows, tossing and turning and losing myself in imaginary worlds. That’s the best feeling in the world and voracious readers will know what I’m on about. Haven’t done that in ages and brought back a lot of childhood nostalgia.

Here’s what I read:

An un-pretty collage made hastily in Paint with images off Google. I’m not exactly a slick editor.

Cocktail Time, P. G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse is an acknowledged master of satire and painting a quintessentially British portrait of the world. Everything he writes is sardonic, irreverent, moronic to some degree and humorous to boot. This one is no different. While is lacks the iconic characters of Jeeves, Wooster and the Aunts, its classic Wodehouse. Unnecessarily complicated and everyday foolishness of the British aristocracy and one smart feller to bring it all together in a bow. This may be the most unremarkable Wodehouse I’ve read, but in retrospect, they’re all that kind. Wodehouse possessed a gift of creating a long, drawn out plot out of everyday silliness. I kid you not. Well, maybe a little. It was the perfect start for my thought vacation and made me smile, chuckle and laugh aplenty. As with all things Wodehouse, highly recommended.

Go Ask Alice, Anonymous

This is a profound book, in more ways than one. It is inherently sad and depressing and leaves you sick with horror at the things some kids go through on drugs. The books is a collection of diary entries of a teenage girl for nearly 2 years of her life when she gets hooked on drugs, runs away from home, does her best to come clean and generally spirals out of control despite best efforts to get herself clean. The entries are amazingly lucid and written with great insight into the minds of teenagers, the rebellious nature, the inability to talk to authority figures, especially parents. It touches themes of fitting in, bullying, peer pressure, societal norms and the general stigma surrounding drugs through a simple, yet compelling narrative.

There are many moments when you think Alice is out of the woods, she’s gone through hell and back and will turn the corner. But you get a kick in the stomach at every page, a sickening reminder that every entry in the diary is representative of thousands of kids worldwide hooked on narcotics. This book gives me a turn every time I think of it, but I’m glad I did. It provoked thought like very few things can, and many parallels can be drawn to Anne Frank’s diary. While that story had a more terrible background and has a broader historical significance, this one, I would argue is more relevant to the world we live in today. The struggles that Alice describes, the horrors that she witnesses, participates in and sometimes tacitly encourages strike a chord that is all too real. This story paints the perfect drug horror story that we want to teach our younger siblings and this book is the perfect way to tell it.

It is real. It is moving. It does not patronise, it does not preach, it does not opine complex worldviews, there are no lectures. Just the plain, simple, raw truth. Such a thing is rare. It must be read.

Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman

This book is all about the environment. While the research is phenomenal and the message is quite close to my heart (I am a closet conservationist), I did struggle to enjoy reading this. There are some works, such as those of Malcolm Gladwell, that brilliantly use stories to drive home compelling scientific research. This book falls far short of a well flowing narrative. That’s not to say that there aren’t important things said in this — I learned an awful lot about the technology and science behind what conservation really is and it has perceptibly altered my perception of the sustainability issue in general. But the fundamental problem with this is that its long winded and keeps making the same point in several ways which becomes rather repetitive at a point. While every chapter sheds a brilliant spotlight on some new industry, company or concept the overall message remains the same : transparency is going to change the future of conservation.

To Sir, With Love, E. R. Braithwaite

This was another thought provoking novel with multiple layers of social issues. The broader context was that of an adult with the best of intentions and lofty ideals to which he holds the world being disillusioned at every step by the rather crude world around him. A black man in the mid twentieth century faced with casual, overbearing everyday racism who ultimately finds refuge in the classroom. There too, a fight has to be fought against the delinquents in his care. The racial issue has been much talked of and made up in the media, all through the decades and there is no denying it exists. But to the outside reader like myself, with no real connection to the monumental struggle and no way to taste the palpable divide in the states and the western world on this matter, the issue becomes somewhat academic. As such, I was able to understand everything the author experiences in his efforts to secure employment and generally be accepted as just another brit, but the emotional appeal was somewhat lost on me. I think its because of a deluge of such material that we’ve had from every corner on the issue — TV shows, movies, the news (the last more frequently than anyone would like) that we have become desensitised to the racial violence.

But at the heart of it, this book deals with the vagaries of teaching a bunch that refuse to be taught. How does one command the respect of teenagers? How does one stand up to them, educate them and earn their respect in the process? I have had my own struggles (very minute) of teaching part time, and those things really hit home. It is an ideal account of a story that ended ideally for all parties concerned, and a good read at that.

Or is that just me? Richard Hammond

With this book, I have a confession to make. It is not the original fifth that I had bought at the shoe box of a bookstore. I am writing this in the early hours of Sunday morning having spent the Saturday afternoon going on another solo escapade to a cafe (amazing food) and then another trip to a different used books store. I picked up two more volumes from there, this one among them. I have always been a massive Top Gear fan. To those not familiar with the reference, it is a motoring show which for several years was hosted by a trio of seemingly bumbling morons, making one of the most viewed, most entertaining and mind blowingly awesome car shows (in fact TV shows) of all time. Richard Hammond is the short bloke of the trio.

And that is what its all about, this book. The short bloke off Top Gear writing a sort of memoir of crazy incidents that have happened to him and amazing adventures he’s embarked on as a TV presenter, all with the overarching theme of him woefully afraid of middle age and approaching forty. It’s funny, flippantly written, reads exactly like the man speaks on the box and is a one time trial for sure. But I cannot help but suspect, I always have, that this one (and in fact the remaining two of the Top Gear trio as well) may act childish, juvenile, stupid, moronic to their own admission both on and off the air. They are, as they themselves admit, not very fond of each other and the chummy tensions between the three have led the show to where it was, just before it all went to hell (I know that’s out of context for some, look it up). But underneath it all, they are a right smart lot. They’re highly successful (by any given measure) in the hyper competitive and notoriously flaky TV industry and have each forged out individual career paths out of the Top Gear success. They have a certain savvy about their person and for once, I would like to see the brains behind the operation.

All in all, a productive five days. I’m on some sort of readership crusade with one more book already started and one more lying the wings with the possibility that more would be added to my list. The dusty, not well built bookshelf in my room is filling up nicely and all is right with my world.

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