On Reading

In 2016, I read nine books. Surprisingly, in 2014 and 2015 I seem to have read over fifteen books. 2015 was a good year because I'd purchased a Kindle and it had singlehandedly improved my reading by miles. All three years I set out to read 15-20 books and track them as part of the Goodreads challenge but did not meet my target even on a single occurrence.

In 2017, I set out to read 20 books. I knew I would come close because since I moved to Seattle in the summer of '16 I have been a regular at the Seattle Public Library. It has been my place of refuge, my happy place, a temple, all in one. I'll finish my year having read more than 35 books. 

That number is huge for me. Mainly for someone who did not grow up devouring books like some of my friends. I'm envious of them. However, I figured that reading, just like any other hobby can be developed at a later age as well if one puts their mind to it. And so I did. I read every day. Not just books but articles, long-form, profiles, reviews, and anything with good prose. All said I would have easily spent over 1000 hours this year reading. And the scale of it boggles my mind but it has been a snowball effect. I wanted to make something a habit and stick with it as a means to distract myself from certain things I wanted to distance myself from. And I guess I was pretty successful at it. It was an incredible year for me just in terms of the sheer variety of content that I got to read. Writing is perhaps one thing that brings me more joy than reading. And reading enough gives me enough depth and understanding of various subjects that I'd otherwise never get to understand., That in turn puts me in a good spot when I open a blank page and want to sound smart. So lesson # 1, if you want to see progress make it a habit and attack it in small chunks. There were days when I spent as little as fifteen minutes reading but I made it a point to read something or the other every day. It didn't matter whether it was a book or a magazine article. I just focused on the habit instead of worrying about targets. The Goodreads goal was a means to achieve my end goal -- read more.

In this post, I discuss my favorite books from what I read this year.

If you ask me what my most favorite book is or what my most favorite song is, my answer would vary based on what point I am in life. Sometimes I've given different answers on the same day even. This is to say that my favorites keep changing. However, this year has a clear winner for the most favorite book. Late Dr. Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air was easily my favorite book of the year. I was so moved by the book that I went back and re-read several passages to make sure I took in the feeling of reading those knowing what happened at the end. The book was so full of hope and compassion, and I simply do not have the ability to imagine how hard it must have been for someone to write a book like that with a terminal illness hanging over their head. Yet, Dr. Kalanithi managed to leave something for us all, especially his newborn daughter, to feel hopeful about life. I liked this book so much that I wrote a whole post on it. 

A close second is the late Ms. Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness. My obsession with Keegan's writing started when my friend introduced me to her essay. Keegan died in a car crash less than a week after that essay was published. That essay left me haunted. When I learnt that everything she'd written till then was collected and published posthumously, I immediately got my hands on that book and what great writing it was! Every single essay was so thoughtful and full of amazing prose that it was almost impossible for me to believe that some of them were simply class assignments. I'm thankful to my friend for introducing me to Keegan and her world of incredible prose.

The most interesting book I read this year was Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now. Johnson takes you through time and tells you the stories of the most important things that shaped civilization. I'm a sucker for trivia and this book was full of stories rich in trivia. Ranging from how they lifted buildings in Chicago so the city could have a sewer system to a table of everyone who had patented an idea of the light bulb before Edison, the book was chock full of extremely interesting stories. If you have even a passing interest in science or history of modern civilization I would strongly recommend you check this out. It keeps you hooked and is a very easy read. So much so that you wouldn't notice how fast you're devouring it.

The work of fiction that will remain very close to my heart from this year is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I read it before there were talks of a movie (I'm cool like that) so I went in with not very many expectations. The book blew my mind. I'm a sucker for narratives and the book dealt with perspectives so well that it was almost like me sitting next to the characters and listening to them talk. The book reminded me so much of another book I'd read years ago, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Both books deal with children who find it difficult to cope with the world they live in, and both are so wonderfully written and do a great job of ensuring we feel compassion and understanding rather than feeling sympathy for the kids. I'm so glad Wonder was made into a movie and from what I hear from people who've caught it, it is well made.

Two books that made me laugh a lot were Kory Stamper's Word by Word and Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project. I absolutely relished every word of Word by Word (pun intended). Again, I'm a sucker for trivia and the book was full of great trivia. Stamper takes us through the life of a dictionary editor, and it was an amazing window into how much work it takes before a word is officially accepted as a word. Rosie Project, on the other hand, I took some time to warm up to. It was a book that started slowly and one I felt tried to please the reader so much but all of that was shattered as I got more invested in the book. That was the first time in a long time when I realized it has been forever since I genuinely laughed reading a story. If you need quick, light reads that will get you in a good mood I would totally recommend these two.

I read only one book in Tamil this year and that kind of makes me sad. But it was a book that equates to several. It was Na. Mutthukumar's Anilaadum Munril. It is a collection of essays that Mutthukumar wrote about blood relatives which originally came out as a series in a magazine. I realized albeit a bit late that his prose is as fascinating as his poetry. Every essay is a gem worth going back to several times. Especially the one on his son.

This year I got to read several works by Indian writers. Most favorite was, of course, Baradwaj Rangan's book on Mani Ratnam. I also got to read my first Sidin Vadukut book and it was a pretty quick, interesting read. It turns out that the book is not set in his usual genre - humor - but is a crime thriller. I'm looking forward to reading his earlier works in 2018.

Perhaps the most interesting work by an Indian writer I read this year was a graphic novel titled Kari by Amruta Patil. The protagonist is a queer female character who shares her name with the title of the book. It was my first graphic novel in a very long time and the subject, and the story arc left me very intrigued. It was unlike anything I'd read and even as I describe how I felt about the book I'm finding it difficult to pinpoint what exactly I found interesting or intriguing about the book. My inability to articulate my feelings about the book is very similar to the confusions Kari has about life and the people in it.

There it is, my favorite reads of the year. I read several other interesting books - No Country For Old Men and Three Body Problem. for instance. I was fortunate enough that almost all the books that I read this year were incredible and I could write pages and pages about each of them. But I need to stop somewhere. If you're further interested in finding out what else I read or read more about how I felt about these books you can check out my year of reading on Goodreads here. While you're at it, go ahead and add me as your friend on Goodreads as I'm constantly on the lookout for new book recommendations and people to chat about books.

The title of this post was itself inspired by the title of a book from one of my favorite writers -- On Writing by Stephen King.