The Cat Who Saved Books

This beautiful book was on sale at my local store. Since it had two of my beloved things on the cover – cat and books – I had to read it. Turns out, book is also handily sized, so it came with me to two of my long weekend trips in Europe. And it was a great book to carry around, here’s why.

This book’s protagonists are a tabby cat that talks and a young boy who has recently lost his grandfather, thereby inheriting an old and crumbly bookshop. The cat appears one day, out of nowhere, to present the quiet Rintaro of Natsuki Books with a challenge – to save books that are stuck in various labyrinths. These books have come unto the possession of people, who through good intentions or bad, aren’t able to care for books as they should. And so Rintaro must intervene.

What follows are the tales of the journeys themselves, this boy and this talking cat on their mission. The book forces us to think of our own relationships with books – those we own, those we read and those we love. Through introspection it makes us reveal what it is we value about books, and also a great deal about our own ego.

Of course, Rintaro has a lady friend, and she somehow gets embroiled in this tale too. It is very cute. I really loved reading this book. It has all the hallmarks of modern Japanese writing – a quiet protagonist, a cat, a moral somewhere in there and feelings you cannot quite put your finger on. And magic realism, which I love.

In Extremis

I’m not normally a reader of biographies. However, this beautiful hardback came highly recommended by a friend. This is the bio of Marie Colvin, an American war correspondent. Colvin grew up in the States and worked in papers in both the US & UK. But most of her reporting was done from the ground, in the middle-east and Asia.

This is a most remarkable book. It’s the sort of life account that reads like fiction, it is so full of fantastical events in Colvin’s life and the array of people she met & interviewed. The author is Lindsay Hislum, Colvin’s friend & colleague and someone who clearly knew her well. I found myself questioning Colvin’s decision making multiple times, what sort of person willingly volunteers themselves to the most dangerous areas of the world? And is the first in line to get on a plane to get on ground – from Palestine to Sri Lanka, Lebanon to Syria.

What struck me while reading the first few chapters about Marie’s childhood, is how ‘regular’ it was. And in some ways, it reminded me of another rebel biography, that of Ed Snowden. Individuals like them are shaped by their regular childhood in surprisingly irregular ways. And in so, they find some deep down need for truth despite the danger to their lives. It is fearless lives led like these that make for the most interesting retellings!

Parts of this book are slower than others, obviously. But such pages are few and far between. For the most part, this is an incredible read and certainly a biography worth reading. What a fascinating woman Marie Colvin was!

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

CW: Child Abuse

I have been meaning to read this book for years. I acquired a copy and finally got round to it. It felt like it would be in a similar frame of reference to my previous read. And I wasn’t wrong! Maya Angelou’s autobiography is powerful, riveting, and devastating all at once.

In the account that spans her childhood and teenage years, she describes, uniquely and fully, what it meant to be a black girl growing up in America in the 1930s. Themes of identity, gender, and race come together in the mind of this young girl, striving to thrive in the world. She and her brother are being raised by their grandmother and at every point in the story, the choices available to them are limited. Limited because the cycle of rasicm and poverty means that doors shut on their faces, the chance of an honest life snatched away.

Particularly hard hitting, is the account of Angelou’s sexual abuse at the hands of her mother’s new partner. It is difficult to read, but at the same time, has to be read. It forms a determining part of her life and her identity, how can it not! And just like the reality of millions of girls & women worldwide, the consequences to bear are always for the abused than the abuser.

Anyway, this is a classic of American literature. And I do highly recommend you read this – it is beautifully written, has some funny interludes and is no wonder so famous!

5 Books for Program Managers

I did a talk at work where I talked about 5 books that made me a better Program Manager. So I thought I would share them here for non-fiction lovers. These are just captioned with the notes I made for myself as talking points!

Work Rules

The importance of building and nurturing an open and transparent culture

Importance of OKRs – of setting and demonstrating that we are making progress

Examples from consultancies, finance, telecom, manufacturing – bringing in the best of lateral thinking

Thanks for the Feedback

All about receiving feedback effectively – personal & professional

What are our triggers, how are we uniquely wired

Turn feedback into actionable items and move forward

How can we give feedback better

Lean In

Find her hugely inspiring

Career is a jungle gym (so true for TPMs) who have a wide variety and diversity of backgrounds

Specifically helpful for women, but also anyone else who is ‘not the norm’

Everyone who wants to be an ally or is raising kids should read it

Stereotypes and how important  they are in shaping our sense of self

Mentors and how important they are in shaping our sense of self

How she negotiated her FB offer, the initial years of hosting important people and her TED talks

But also some special reflections, anecdotes and people from the early days of FB

Zero to One

A lot of work I have done in my career is zero-to-one

Requires being comfortable with ambiguity

When I built and ran my own startup I followed – how to compensate, how to hire, who to hire, how to price. 

Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Zoom out and take a big picture view

Ask the big hard questions when the detail isn’t clear

What is our vision, our north star and why should we care?

How does what I do fit in with the wider society and humanity. 

How can we inspire those around us and those that come after us 

“We never really know where the next great scientific discovery will come from, nor who will make it. Opening up the thrill and wonder of scientific discovery, creating innovative and accessible ways to reach out to the widest young audience possible, greatly increases the chances of finding and inspiring the new Einstein. Wherever she might be.

So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up. Unleash your imagination. Shape the future.”

Top 5 Literary Villains

Another booklover on Instagram prompted the thought of antagonists in literature. It’s the characters that drive us to hate and repugnance, the ones we gnash our teeth at when we read. I thought I’d compile my top 5.

In fifth spot – Joffrey Baratheon

Ah Joffrey, the first-born of the Baratheon clan, with a strong claim to the throne. All he had to do was to live his life, lead his subjects well, and not be a misogynist. These would probably have tilted popular opinion (ie the masses) in his favour somewhat, and prevented the disaster that ensued. Joffrey was vile and evil, and every scene he was part of made me so livid. Shoutout to Jack Gleeson, who did such a fantastic job portraying him on TV.

Source: Wikipedia

In fourth spot – Dolores Umbridge

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I read when I was 13. As an angsty teenager, I was convinced that adults could be up to no good. Umbridge was a cloying character, like a horrible pill you had to swallow. Her actions were evil, but it was her delight at torturing students that set her as the true sociopath. I remember shaking the book with rage when she dismissed Prof Trelawney and her dialogues made me feel that no joy was left in the world. A brilliantly written character and also played wonderfully by Imelda Staunton.

Source: Warner Bros

In third spot – Uriah Heep

I had to read David Copperfield in school (Class 7, I was 11). I distinctly remember how relatable Heep was, with his unguence and sycophancy (also words I learnt that year). Heep was defrauding his employer – all the while being another one of the sickeningly cloying personalities. I am sure we have come across many such people in life, who are so fake you have to laugh, or you’ll cry. If you haven’t read this wonderful classic, then think of this character as Grima Wormtongue in GoT, who destroys King Theoden of Rohan by filling his head with nonsense.

Source: Wikipedia

In second spot – Mrs Danvers

It is impossible to read Rebecca and not be terrified of Mrs Danvers. The second Mrs De Winters is utterly traumatised by Mrs Danvers and everything she stands for. As I reader, I remember wondering if perhaps she was actually supernatural – a ghost or a witch. Her complete devotion and obsession with Rebecca becomes clearer as we progress through the plot, culminating in a truly unsettling scene in Rebecca’s bedchambers, which Mrs Danvers continued to preserve after her death. Terrifying.

Source: The Female Villains Wiki

In top spot – Captain Ahab

Moby Dick is one of my all-time favourite novels. I was 8 when I read the abridged version one summer. Over the years, I have re-read it many times. Captain Ahab is narcisstic, obsessed and the worst version of himself. But in his portrayal lies the seed that we have seen in so many male world leaders of late. Being in seats of absolute power, but using it only to drive authoritarian regimes of hate and divisiveness. Even if you ignore the political themes, Ahab’s single-minded focus on the whale is a wonderful piece of writing and a brilliant thing to lose yourself in, as a reader. My feelings for him are worse than anger, hate or repulsion – he makes me sick. And that’s what makes him my top antagonist!

Source: Wikipedia

Who’s your favourite? Tell me in the comments below!

Women Hold up Half the Sky

Only 21 women hold the position of Head of state out of 193 countries. In total, only 60 women have ever held the position worldwide. Data shows consistently that women in leadership positions fare better, build more sustainable societies and are more decisive. And yet, due to societal frameworks, few women are afforded the privilege. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, is one such woman.

I have been in the same room as her multiple times, but I have met her only twice. It so happened that they were both within a span of three weeks. When I ran into her the second time, she knew exactly who I was, commented on it, and remarked on where we’d met three weeks ago. Coming from a head of state who had met hundreds of people in the interim, I was amazed at her memory recall, her sharpness, and her intelligence. I do not agree with everything that her party stands for, but as a leader, I admire her immensely.

This book collects some of her speeches in office since she has come to power. Their gamut is massive – ranging from climate, to gender equity, to the betterment of remote communities, and the vagaries of politics. There are some political anchors in the book, like the historic SNP win in 2016 and the disastrous Brexit vote. Her commentary on these was nice to reread, since I heard the speeches live when she delivered them.

But most others were delivered in various conferences and fora worldwide. And reading those, as we went through a heatwave, brought to sharp focus the portrait of a lady. Sturgeon speaks honestly, she is intelligent enough to author most of what she talks. As a result, the reader sees everything she stands for, the society she seeks to build, and the principles of state she cares about.

Scotland is not without its problems. It mirrors a lot of the issues felt widely around the western world. But despite that, what it has, is a leader at its helm that genuinely cares about the people she is elected to serve. She does not display hubris, arrogance or the pig-headedness that we have seen so often from male leaders in recent times. She might run a small country, but her thoughts and words span large and global. She is just like the country she represents, whose contributions to the societal fabric of the world is disproportionately large compared to its size. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in wide ranging socio-economic-political issues.

7 Days 7 Books

I was ‘nominated’ to do the 7 days 7 books challenge on Facebook by a reader friend. And this is the sort of thing I like, because it forces me to revisit books and my feelings for them. I thought I’ll do books set in ‘unusual locations.’ I’ve been trying to read fiction from regions less known about for the last few years. And so here were my 7

7 days 7 books

I tried to pick books from far flung regions – ones that those in my circle may not have come across. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything compelling from Africa or Middle East (or even Australia/NZ) but I had to pick 7. I also wanted to include female authors so that helped me hone this down as well.

In no particular order, these were Jamilia, The Hungry Tide, A Dream in Polar Fog, Zlata’s Diary, Island on the Edge, Papillon, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.

What books would you have picked? Feel free to recommend some that I may not have read!

10 Favourite Love Quotes

Here’s 10 of my personal favourites:

“I was always hungry for love. Just once, I wanted to know what it was like to get my fill of it — to be fed so much love I couldn’t take any more. Just once. ”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves”
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

“For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him when he departs to the Havens: for mine is the choice of Luthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

“It is that happy stretch of time when the lovers set to chronicling their passion. When no glance, no tone of voice is so fleeting but it shines with significance. When each moment, each perception is brought out with care, unfolded like a precious gem from its layers of the softest tissue paper and laid in front of the beloved — turned this way and that, examined, considered.”
Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

“The moment you stop to think about whether you love someone, you’ve already stopped loving that person forever.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

“You can never know if a person forgives you when you wrong them. Therefore it is existentially important to you. It is a question you are intensely concerned with. Neither can you know whether a person loves you. It’s something you just have to believe or hope. But these things are more important to you than the fact that the sum of the angles in a triangle is 180 degrees. You don’t think about the law of cause and effect or about modes of perception when you are in the middle of your first kiss.”
Jostein Gaarder, Sophie’s World

“The only thing worse than a boy who hates you: a boy that loves you.”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

“I want to fall in love in such a way that the mere sight of a man, even a block away from me, will shake and pierce me, will weaken me, and make me tremble and soften and melt.”
Anaïs Nin, Delta of Venus

And in the end, I leave you with the most heartbreaking love poem by Pablo Neruda, placed to incredible violin, watch here.

Twenty Four Shadows … a review

A very long time ago (over ten years now), I read ‘Tell Me Your Dreams’ by Sidney Sheldon. It is based on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) previously also known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). At the time, it blew my mind. It is still a book I recommend to folks. Since Tanya’s marketeer got in touch about her latest work, I have been engrossed in her latest novel based on DID.

Like her previous novels, Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell, Peterson takes up a cause of sorts and through fiction, brings it to life in both an educated and poignant way. While Sheldon is a writer writing about mental illness, Peterson is a mental illness counsellor writing about it. It makes a difference. Instead of a fast paced thriller with strange twists and turns, in Twenty Four Shadows we see the simple and tight-knit world of Isaac Bittman fall to pieces slowly as he comes to terms with his illness. There is no excitement, just the terrible reality of friends and loved ones learning to deal with what is most peoples’ unthinkable. They watch Isaac slip away, change, become angry, sad, upset, and violent and remain helpless.

With every mental illness patient also comes their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. The story of Isaac’s wife Reese is also beautifully brought out as she struggles with her own needs and wants along with those of their child Dominic’s. The family’s dynamics are brought to life in a masterful way. And we feel as though we are part family as we get on the long and painful road to recovery with the Bittmans.

Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. I would recommend it as a great book to pick up if you are interested in the themes of DID, parenting, or inspirational reads.