Five of Thirty-Five: Best Books I’ve Read in 2018

Build-up to the Thirty Five book challenge here.

Here are the five best books I’ve read in 2018:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Boy am I late to this party? My favourite book that I read this year is one that was written fifty eight years ago – the Montgomery bus boycott was only five years ago when this book was published.
I simply loved the characterisation of Scout Finch and her father Atticus, the lives they led, what they stood for – doing what they believe is right despite what others around them think. And I loved the way childhood back then is described. When this book ended, I had mixed feelings – I wanted to immediately start reading Go Set A Watchman, but then I also realised that once I finish that book, there wouldn’t be another Harper Lee book to read. I think I will pick it up in 2019.

The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
What is with me and reading decades old books? This one is even older than the last one. And once again I liked it so much because it depicts a teenager’s life in the fifties – the trials and tribulations that he faces in school and otherwise – the playing truant, the smoking & drinking, the flirting, the fights he picks up, and the way he misses his deceased younger brother. The story has a stream of melancholy running beneath all the bravado and boyish things that Holden Caulfield indulges in.

This time I was even sadder on finishing the book, since there is hardly anything else by J.D. Salinger that I can read to go back to this world.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (Mark Manson)
Fast forward in time, to a book written as if last week. The wife had bought this book (she likes buying and reading more recent books), had read a few chapters and kept it aside. I was looking for a short read, and so I picked it up.

It’s a sort of self-help book, which does not overdo the sugary sweet “believe in yourself”, “you can do it if you believe in it” of others of this category. In fact, it goes nicely against the grain of the self-help book culture, breaks down notions of being special, and most importantly, describes the problem of entitlement that most people of our generation face.

It’s such a must-read in my opinion, that I would call it the bitter gourd-kale smoothie which detoxes you, and should be administered multiple times.

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
One more from more than half a decade ago, this one is a love story. A super-rich, suave, gregarious man who is pining for his first love so much that he moves close to her, befriends her cousin, and tries to win her back. This has all the makings of a highly emotional Bollywood romantic drama. Perhaps so many of the films we have grown up on are in fact inspired by Fitzgerald’s novel.

I loved the passion of Jay Gatsby, the way the twenties’ lifestyle comes across in the party scenes, the car chases, the decadence and revelry. And I loved Daisy Buchanan’s character – because we saw her from the eyes of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, the narrator.

The Bastard of Istanbul (Elif Shafak)
A novel which is from a not too old yet not yesterday times – 2006. Elif Shafak is a popular novelist, and this is her first book that I read.

The book is about two girls, Asya and Armanoush. One of them is Turkish, the other Armenian. One of them lives in Istanbul, the other comes to Istanbul from the USA to find her roots. And it’s about the relationship that exists between the Armenian people and the Turkish people, especially with reference to the 1915 Armanian Genocide in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.

Having grown up listening to the India-Pakistan rivalry, and being exposed to other such rivalries like Palestine-Israel, South & North Korea, this relationship between the Armenians and the Turks intrigued me – the book is the first time I read about this incident. And it’s made me curious to find out more about Turkey, Armenia, and the Ottoman Empire.

Though the book meanders a bit towards the end, it’s a wonderful read. And I look forward to reading more by her – The Forty Rules of Love might be the next?

These were my five favourite books from 2018. I will soon write about the rest in brief. Stay tuned.

Thirty Five Books in Twenty Eighteen

The good folks (or the good app, sil vous plait) at Goodreads have duly informed me that I have completed my 2018 Reading Challenge of 35 books this year. Thirty five? How did that happen? When did I?

To tell you how I got to that number, I would have to rewind a bit to the beginning of 2018. Back in the old days of January 2018, the time of wide-eyed resolutions, high spirits, optimistic world views, I made a Keep note, where I wrote five things I wanted to accomplish in the year to come. Three were totally materialistic ones, and two were areas of self-development – one related to fitness, and one related to intellectual improvement. The latter of these was a (looking back now) humble “10 fiction and 6 non-fiction books”. Yes, I thought reading 16 books in a year was a lofty goal, worthy of being written alongside things like regular workouts and a new suit.

Well, it was lofty back then. And I was aware of this goal constantly. It was something I would enjoy doing, and something that would lessen the amount of Tsundoku in my life. So I kept up the streak of reading that had started a few months back. Before then I had enjoyed reading books, felt a minor sense of accomplishment on finishing one, but never kept track, and have been irregular with continuing books that I had started. As a result, I can proudly claim at least a dozen books to be a part of my “currently reading” category.

I kept reading, kept keeping a note in another Keep note (I hadn’t re-discovered Goodreads then). Meanwhile, the good wife gifted me a Kindle for the birthday. And the tinkerer in me got down to getting all types of ebooks in my possession on to that device.

The speed with which I kept finishing books astounded me – I had never managed to complete books this fast. Somewhere around April or May, the figure of sixteen was crossed, and the Keep note kept getting longer and longer. A few months down the line, I realised I have a Goodreads account, and it’s so much better than using Google Books and an Android app I was using called My Library to keep track of books I own. Additionally, I could keep track of my reading status. Without writing the name of the books and authors in Keep.

And there was a reading challenge too! I needed one more number target, and this challenge thingie gave me that. I had finished 20 books by then, and going by that rate, I could have finished a total of maybe 27, maybe 29 books. I could have set the challenge at 30, and coasted nicely to the end. But what fun would that be? So, I decided on a nice round number like thirty five.

Why not thirty six? Because who wants to read an even three books a month? That’s boring.

The challenge stayed in the app. I had 15 days to go, and I realised I am two books short of the target, and didn’t have enough time for two whole books. I could have picked up two thin books and be done with it. But no, I didn’t. Well, I did pick up the 112-page play by Vijay Tendulkar, Khamosh! Adaalat Jaari Hai. But I also picked up William Dalrymple’s In Xanadu, which I managed to finish by Christmas. And the play took another couple of days. In between, I also finished the teeny-tiny The Adventure of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle in this period, which can be discounted, lest the count actually reaches thirty six instead. And who would want that?

I have been spending the last few days leafing through some books (A Book of Simple Living by Ruskin Bond amongst others), and not really paying much heed to any need to finish n number of pages in m number of days. And thinking of how to share the list of books I have read with all of you.

Now that you have read through the enthralling story of How I Read Thirty Five Books in Twenty Eighteen, why don’t you go to the next post to read about the best ones I read.