Best Reads Of January: 7 Books That Will Take You On Journeys You Never Made


Ask yourself a simple question – why do you read books? The answer won’t be simple in an age when all-pervasive screens rule our life and we either stare or scan, instead of reading. When was the last time you curled up with a good cuppa and a great book (and a snuggling pet) that made you forget your smartphone? For many of us, it could be a rare experience nowadays, as was revealed in a recent survey. In July last year, a HuffPost/YouGov poll of 1,000 US adults found that 28% had not read a single book over the past one year. That may sound alarming and things are even worse at home. India’s literacy rate stands at 74% as per the 2011 census.

On the flip side, India hosts huge book fairs (New Delhi World Book Fair and the ongoing Kolkata Book Fair 2014 have earned their fair share of global fame over the years) and great literary events like the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival that bring together some of the greatest thinkers and writers from all over the world. That again, is impressive, but let us not just pay lip service to books and booklovers. Turn into a booklover yourself and pick up one that intrigues you (they have a great way of finding their way to the right person as soon as you look at the display).

To help you further, we will go on a journey of discovery together and discuss 5-10 books published each month. They may or may not be the next big things in the world of printed words. But on hindsight, they need not be so. “The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts,” says American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. What more can we expect from a work of art? It handholds us, leads us deep into an experience called Life and makes us fall in love with the new world revealed before us. Read them and be a part of the world without boundaries. Here we go…

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Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire

Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire
Were the Indo-German links built over the past two centuries (from 19th century to the years after World War II) a much-needed mechanism to defy the Anglocentric world order of that time? Kris Manjapra’s Age of Entanglement explores the cerebral connect between German and Indian intellectuals, underlining how the collaborations in the fields of sciences, arts and humanities helped strengthened the bond between the two nations.

An in-depth look into Germany’s keen interest in Indian Orientalism, its support for India’s Nationalist Movement and finally, the rise of the Nazi phase help unravel the true nature of German-Indian entanglements, which were “neither necessarily liberal nor conventionally cosmopolitan, often characterized as much by manipulation as by cooperation.” An excellent work that hopes to “inject a necessary dose of realpolitik into the study of transnational intellectual history, through a focus on alliance building, political rivalries and multilateralism.” Manjapra, an Assistant Professor of History at Tufts University, aptly reminds us that the “attempts to overcome the monster of one hegemony can all too often give birth to new monstrosities.”

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings
Some stories teach you to fly – so why don’t you read this one and see if you can grow wings? This wonderful novel by Sue Monk Kidd, the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, tells the story of two extraordinary American women – the slave girl Hetty nicknamed Handful and her young mistress Sarah Grimké, a woman belonging to the American Southern aristocracy. Interestingly, the actual Sarah Grimké was a historical figure but this book happens to be a “thickly imagined story” based on extensive biographical materials. Both Hetty and Sarah struggle through pains, sorrows and personal barriers, but grow strong in their relentless fight for freedom – the liberation that every human soul craves and deserves. It also forges an uneasy but rare bonding between the two women, united in their experiences of oppression. The story is set largely in South Carolina and the beginning dates back to 1803. But the Wings never feels old, tired or dated.

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl
Don’t call it children’s literature. This a human document erased too early by death. Esther Grace Earl died of thyroid cancer in 2010, at the age of 16. But Papa Wayne had already made a deal with his ailing daughter a year before her death. “I told her that if she predeceased me, I was going to write the story of her life.” However, this volume contains much more than the promised biography. 

It features many of Esther’s literary works –her journals, letters, stories, sketches and loads of family photographs, along with write-up and comments by friends and family. Equally touching are the excerpts from the notes underlining her health journey. John Green, the noted author of young adult fiction, became friends with Esther and dedicated to her his bestseller novel, The Fault in Our Stars. This volume also includes an introduction by Green.

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia
Is there anything more soul-killing than the loss of memory? The answer is NO, as David Stuart MacLean, studying as a Fulbright scholar in India back in 2002, found out. Aged 28 at that time, he was on a prescription drug called Lariam (genetic name mefloquine) that prevents malaria. But in his case, it had caused him severe memory loss and he found himself on a railway platform with no recollection as to who he was or how he’d got there. From there began a strange and extremely agonising journey towards the discovery of self and senses, personality and memories.

Slowly and painfully, David pieced together the past, kept track of the present and lived in deadly fear of a relapse and a dark future. His language is poignant, completely in tune with his fear, anxiety and depression. But it transcends the initial bitterness and raises more profound questions. Is it ethical to use a medication that opens up such risks? What helps build your sense of self – just your ideas, experiences and memories or is there an X-factor? Do you try to live according to others’ ideas of who you are? And how does it affect your future when you lose control of your past life and identity, and a new book of ‘impressions’ has to be made all over again? Overall, an unforgettable journey into one’s psychological build-up and ethical core that you must not miss.

Vanishing Homes of India

Vanishing Homes of India
If there were stories to sell, what would you buy? This breathtaking collection of images (we call them single-frame stories of life) have been captured by veteran photo-journalist T.S. Nagarajan for decades, on his journey of discovery across the Indian states. The title tells you all – how the traditional homes across the vast land are disappearing fast and how this man has immortalised the portraits of everyday life in those dwellings through with the help of these classic black-and-white images. 

There’s nothing theatrical about the pictures, no dazzle or glare that jars the soul – just the intense passion of monotones that brings out the depth of beauty and isolation of these old abodes and the life evolving around them. Most of the ancient homes covered in this volume have been built a hundred years ago or more. And we get to feel the old world charm all over again – soothing us, lulling us to tranquillity. Bathed in soft, natural lights, the photographs document with grace the passing of an era and the journey of many lifetimes. It’s an aesthetic discovery of the age-old India – the kind of journey no one would like to miss.          

Image: The Hecar Foundation

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life

Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life
If you are that special person who deserves the best, but constantly lives in denial because you have so many responsibilities, do yourself a favour and go through this book by Crystal Paine. We strongly recommend this because Crystal is a wife, a mother of three and has also set up MoneySavingMom.com, a site that has been up since 2007 and has become one of the most popular blogs on the Web, currently averaging 1.5 million readers per month. So it is a given that her book features eminently practical ideas, most suitable for those superwomen juggling home and work life.

Managing time and resources could be difficult and most of us tend to get off-balance. But one has to start living a more fulfilling life, sooner than later, and the book can help you get back in control. It is a great read, full of straightforward solutions and inspirational stories. But just be careful. Crystal is sure to challenge the way you have been living and working till now. So you must be prepared from within to change on the outside.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

Still Life with Bread Crumbs
Here comes the last of the lot, penned by the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the New York Times, Anna Marie Quindlen. And just like Wings, the setting is consciously decadent and satirical in tone. Rebecca Winter, a once-wealthy Manhattanite and a photographer whose career is dwindling, is compelled to lease out her New York apartment and shift to a rundown cottage in Upstate New York to save some money. Rebecca had earlier earned name and fame, thanks to her iconic ‘still life’ photograph featuring a post-dinner party clutter (it’s called Still Life with Bread Crumbs). She also cashed in on other feminine themes, but her professional flourish did not last long. Now in her 60s, with little money to spare and no family around her, she appears to be the archetypal urban female, feeling lonely and lost. 

But Quindlen is too spirited an author to leave her central character withering in an emotional wasteland. Her protagonist still manages to display a rare courage and willingness to take on life even when it comes to a standstill for all purposes and is reduced to unsubstantial crumbs. The regeneration never stops, whether you are 60 or 80, and you need not lose your self-esteem at any time if you are brave enough to hold on to it. Still Life is an ode to the ageing youth who need to rediscover the things that matter – love, for instance, faith and most importantly, a strong hold on Life. Go date Life and let it be a Lifelong Affair.
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