Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: On Caring

On Caring On Caring by Milton Mayeroff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On caring is a nice little book, which covers in short passages various different aspects of caring. While the larger portion pertain to relationships with other people, it also deals with nurturing your passion. The book is about a "win-win" for both sides - allowing freedom and growth but nurturing and supporting. A child for example needs independence to make his own choices - but needs to be empowered for that to happen.

I liked the fact that the book is simple and practical. It does not get into long winding theoretical discussions and stays focused on the topic. However, possibly more real life examples would have added to the appeal.

A book I definitely recommend reading. It's size is deceptive with respect to the value it carries.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Sita: Warrior of Mithila

Sita: Warrior of Mithila Sita: Warrior of Mithila by Amish Tripathi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second book in the Rama Chandra series, and as the title makes it apparent, the focus is on Sita. Sita's characterization as a brave princess who her guru regards as capable of being the next Vishnu is extremely good. As a child, she is found abandoned, in a vulnerable position, protected by a vulture. Her childhood is not trouble free but she grows up as a royal princess, with love from her adopted parents – the ruler and queen of Mithila.

The situation in Mithila, and indeed much of India is dire – Raavan has tightened the screws on large parts of the country and wealth declines dramatically. This period sees the rise of Sita in Mithila and Ram in Ayodhya – both of who are potentially future Vishnus. Sita regards it as wise to combine their strengths for the good of the country. A swayamvar is held and they get married, but not without violence and conflict with Raavan. I liked the alternate narration in the book about why Ram goes on exile for 14 years. There are also other good creative variations from most popular renditions of the Ramayana.

I liked the fact that Amish builds his characters with a lot of respect. Yet it feels that he has tried too hard – while he does a good job with Sita's characterisation, there are pockets of the narration which come across as forced. The discussions around adoption by the state at birth comes across as silly. And it is also unclear why he needed to weave in episodes of youth violence against women and bull taming, almost as a lift off from current events.

However, for Sita's excellent characterization as a strong, intelligent and independent woman, and also to follow how the story continues, this book should be read (3.5 stars).

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read Sapiens, I had some idea that there would be new themes which Yuval Noah Harari would cover which nobody else has before. With Sapiens, it was about the agricultural revolution and the binding power of stories. And yes - there are brilliant new themes in Homo Deus as well - our delusion of free will and the Sapiens in a future world ruled by algorithms, and it continues excellently from where Sapiens left off. If Sapiens was about how the most powerful species consolidated it's power, Homo Deus is about what is in store for Sapiens.

The theme of the power of stories - to bind and also delude is continued in Homo Deus. Stories - good or bad enables large scale co-operation among Sapiens - even if the story is not entirely logical or fair to other species. This has led to Humanism as a religion, where Sapiens have declared themselves as the centre and primary purpose of the universe. So everything else revolves around Sapiens - and all other life forms are for it's use. This has led to us being extremely cruel with other life forms and farm animals lead miserable lives from birth till death. The story which binds humans regards this as the norm and generation after generation sees nothing wrong in it. How would humans feels if a more advanced species (spawned off by artificial intelligence) should make judgements and kill undesirable humans?

There are fairly long discussions around political systems and the growth of liberalism. I found this to be a little too long, and it could well have been crisper. Humans have acquired a combination of intellect and consciousness which was regarded as necessary for being advanced life forms at the top of the pyramid. Consciousness especially would be difficult to acquire. However, it is clear now that intelligence which is superior is adequate to ascend the pyramid. Already artificial intelligence is winning over humans in several fields regarded as earlier insurmountable such as chess and even the arts. Humans will depend more and more on algorithms and at some point algorithms will be all powerful. One big surprise which the book springs is around our free will. Do we really have free will? - or do we make forced choices based on experience and conditioning? I found this to be the most interesting discussion in the book.

While I do not think the future will play out entirely as outlined, it might still be close. The reasoning and discussions are excellent, provoking us to think & reflect - and isn't that what is most important in a good book?

Yuval Noah Hariri closes the book being thankful to the practice of Vipassana meditation as taught by S N Goenka for allowing him to look beyond conditioning and see things as they are. A sign that there is wisdom which is eternal and will endure, isn't it?

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Prey

Prey Prey by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had heard about Prey since a few years, but got round to reading it only a few days back.

The story is very interesting. A technology experiment - combining bio and nano tech brings out unexpected results (quite expectedly!) and a crisis of sorts.

Jack is a person who has lost his job. His wife Julia works in a senior position at a company called Xymos. The company is reportedly on the verge of making a major breakthrough - nano miniature cameras which can be used for a wide range of purposes. Jack takes care of the kids and despite his best efforts finds it difficult to get a job, especially as his exit from the previous company had issues - though for no fault of his.

Jack finds himself drawn to issues at Xymos - to rein in organisms which have gone out of control. There is tragedy, quite a bit of it and the book has good pace throughout.

The books also brings out the dangers of technology - if we are not careful with it. Overall a good science fiction read.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: One Indian Girl

One Indian Girl One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In general, I always thought Chetan Bhagat is able to weave stories which move fast. There is however, a noticeable difference in the story if you write it with the expectation that it would be made into a Bollywood movie. And that is just what spoils this novel.

It starts on a dramatic note - Radhika Mehta is engaged and a whole lot of guests have assembled at the wedding. Now, the two men she has had relationships with decide to land at the venue. The book then goes into retelling about how the relationships blossomed. That is probably the better part of the book. There is little or no reasoning on Radhika Mehta's choices though.

It is back to the wedding scene and a lot of drama is in store. The problem though is that these sequences are neither natural nor interesting, including a sermon Radhika delivers near the end. What follows is even more absurd, though there is some kind of semblance of better writing at the end. However, that is not quite enough. Overall, quite disappointing.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review: Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead

Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead by Anu Aggarwal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anu Aggarwal made an impressive Bollywood debut and it looked like she would do well in Hindi films. But then she disappeared. This is her story - especially of the later period of her life.

As it turns out, Anu says her heart was never truly in films. Yoga fascinated her and she joins an ashram. She stays on well after her course is complete, and helps in the ashram. She gets to be close to the head of the ashram (whom she refers as Swamiglee), and this fuels jealousy and politics. She is asked to leave quite abruptly during Swamiglee's absence.

She has a near fatal accident in Mumbai and is hospitalised for many days. She make is out and gradually regains normal functioning of her body. And she goes on to make Yoga the purpose of the life.

Anu Aggarwal's effort to find meaning in her life and also bounce back after the accident make for inspiring reading. The writing is however quite average, and also the book would have benefited with more incidents and an all round view of her relationships with relatives and friends. Much of the book reads as independent passages and does not really jell together in a coherent storyline.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ove is one of the best characters I have come across in books in a long time. He keeps to himself, and finds a lot of things to be not what he thinks is right. Most people frustrate him and get him into a cranky mood. So in many ways, he isn’t exactly the person you would like to have for company. And yet, he is extremely disciplined, has strong values and shows courage which is out of the usual when needed. He starts his day, typically by inspecting the neighbourhood for burglaries or irregularities, though it is not really needed. He is good at fixing things, all in the old classical style (not quite a modern technology fan). He cannot understand people wanting things easy, and being inept at stuff they need to know - reversing a trailer for instance.

Ove’s wife Sonja has passed away recently, and he finds that life has far less to look forward to without her. Ove and Sonja’s was a strange marriage is what everyone felt – because Ove was odd, really odd. Ove stands by his wife after a bad accident – fighting the system for her when he needs to. And after her passing, Ove visits her grave regularly with flowers.

Ove has new neighbours – Patrick, Parvaneh and their kids. Ove wishes they would leave him alone but they don’t, especially Parvaneh who looks at him as a father figure. What does Ove do now? And then there are also Rune & Anita who were family friends but Ove and Rune fell out. Rune is now in a bad way, and Anita is stressed. What will Ove do? And there is a cat, who will not leave him alone.

The humour in the book is sophisticated and a delight to read. As you move along, the full range of Ove’s personality comes across. The book ends on a strong note as well, with something for all of us to take away into our lives – delve deep, there is very little to imbibe at the surface.

At the end of it, just maybe, you will feel that it is not Ove who is odd, maybe it is all the others, and us.

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