Now, to be clear, I don’t want to say I “read” all of these 31 books, because I listened to some of them. Contrary to the popular belief, listening isn’t quite like reading. It’s not! But that’s not to say that listening isn’t enjoyable or efficient. It’s just a different skill often yielding different outcomes.
The trick is to pick up the right kinds of books for listening. Books that are meant to be listened to. Yes, you can read them as well but you won’t have the same experience as the author himself performing it for you. Below is a list of all the books from 2021, Goodreads bookshelf:
WIll by Will Smith is one book you have to listen to instead of reading it. If you have already read it, that’s cool, but if you listened to the entire experience, you know what I am talking about. There is not a single dull moment in this book. He doesn’t just narrate the book, he performs it. There is rap, there is background music, there are reenactments of dialogues from “The Fresh Prince”. All the characters, from his grandmom to his dad to his co-workers have a distinct voice or fine characteristics that help put things in perspective.
He talks a lot about his military upbringing from his dad’s side and the scholarly demeanour of his mom, and his childhood fears that shaped his personality. How he turned into a funny goofy rapper to an actor without knowing zilch about acting. How he always aimed to achieve things and aimed higher until he became the world’s biggest movie star. (Yes, there’s that humble brag as well). Yet his relationships suffered and how he learned his valuable lessons from all of them. Two particular lines (that I am paraphrasing) stood out for me, and the first one is not even his original thought. He was quoting someone else, I forgot who. The second one may sound trite for various reasons, but what he meant broadly was that people don’t want to hear the object truths, especially about themselves or about things around them. He learned that from his relationships and from being a father. I say that’s some wise advice.
“The difference between life and exams is that for exams you first learn the lesson and then take the test, but in life, you take the test first and it’s your job to learn the lesson from it.”
“No one cares about what you think, they all care about how you make them feel.”
I never really cared for Will Smith as an actor. To me, his movies were always bigger than him, even though he was phenomenal in all of them. I did not even care for him as a rapper. In fact, I did not even know he rapped until I heard Eminem talk about it on The Real Slim Shady. “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss his raps to sell records? Well, I do! So fuck him and fuck you too!”. But I always liked his vibe, and after listening to this memoir, I can understand his stories and struggles and that makes him more relatable.
I cannot recommend this book enough. Whether you read it or listen to it, it’s most likely going to break your heart and humble you in ways you didn’t think were possible.
Yeonmi Park escaped the dictatorial regime of North Korea at the age of 13 and made it to China, then eventually to South Korea via Mongolia and then to the US. She is now a human rights activist and the easiest way to understand her struggles is to watch her YouTube channel called the Voice of North Korea by Yeonmi Park or various other detailed interviews on popular podcasts.
In this remarkable real-life story, she details how she was sold to Chinese marriage brokers because the Chinese villages did not have a lot of female population. She recites the horrors of rape, slavery, online sex trafficking and all of that AFTER leaving the terror land of North Korea. While growing up, she had no concept of freedom, oppression, dictatorship, dating, love, books, liberty, access to basic human rights and everything else that’s filtered and often watered-down concept in her country of birth.
“When you don’t have the concept of oppression, you don’t know you are oppressed.”
To her and all her fellow nationals, love meant love for the sovereign and betrayal was a punishable offence by death. However, it did not stop with just the traitor’s death. The families and the future generations also inherited the tag. There were capitalist monsters who were the real enemies and her own ruler was the all-knowing and all-powerful, invincible fairy tale god. I mean it’s a typical dystopian dictatorial regime, except it’s so geographically and politically secluded and yet so prevalent in today’s times, that it’s impossible to wrap your head around it. She was enlightened about the concept of oppression, after reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Although, I wonder if 1984 would have provided her more context.
Either way, I would highly recommend reading this book or watching her full interview with Jordon B Peterson. This particular interview is amazing irrespective of how you feel about Jordon Peterson, you should definitely watch it if you plan on skipping the book. She covers pretty much everything that’s there in the book, and the interview feels more personal.
I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. This isn’t a book about extreme struggles or valuable life lessons. This is simply a book to be enjoyed, that is, if you are okay with often, shit, piss and dick jokes, or if you like David Spade’s nonchalant delivery. If Will Smith’s book felt like a Humble Brag at times even though it wasn’t intentional, this one has humble brag written all over it, and it’s so intentional and so well done in such a comic form that I loved it. He would say things like, “So my house, that has 20 rooms … I don’t know … some people might call it a Mansion … but … whatever..” and then move on to make the point he is making that you may not even notice the humour in it because it’s that sneaky.
This book is from someone who is amused by everything that’s new in this world and only knows much of the world he grew up in. Just like, you know, everyone else. But it’s his version and it’s hilarious. His confusions around dating in today’s times from attending old rock concerts with younger dates to adapting to new slangs, to comparing his fan following with some of the internet stars like the “Cash me outside girl” bring in the right amount of contrast where the actual humour lies. He makes a very good point about, how everyone can be famous these days, but back in the days, you had to earn that fame. Now you just need to do weird stuff on the internet.
I liked this book, but I am also biased because I love comedy and dry humour. The best part about this book is that it’s only available on audible. Why is that great? Because, again, there is so much humour in his delivery, that if you read it off of a paper, it would just sound crass, but when he says is the way he meant it, it’s funny. It may not be your kind of humour, but it does tickle some of us.
Now let’s talk about some of the amazing works of fiction that I loved and would absolutely recommend.
I know, I know, I am very late to the party and everyone perhaps has already read this book or saw the movie at some point in their lives. But if you haven’t read it, it’s definitely the right time to grab a copy and read it. Especially with all the current conflicts that are happening in Afghanistan.
This book is so detailed and vivid, that while reading it, I could see the entire movie in front of me. The plot twists, the strong characters, the metaphors, the cliffhangers, the lessons … it’s a complete package. No wonder the movie isn’t as good as the book. How can you really tell such a rich story in a couple of hours? You cannot. You have to let go of things that are not important to you as a movie maker, but you have to assume it’s also not very important to others and that’s where you miss out. Every viewer that has read the book is looking towards their favourite scenes, or dialogues, or drama.
Khalid Hosseini paints a picture of Afghanistan, that you don’t see through the mainstream media. He puts a lot of heart and soul at the core of this story and it turns into once in a lifetime kind of novel.
I am also halfway through A thousand splendid suns, but in comparison to The kite runner, it’s been a bit of a drag for me personally. I still however have a lot of faith in the author to turn it into an overall compelling story.
This book touched on so many prevalent topics in today’s times and yet kept it entertaining. It’s a story of two black girls born and brought up in a small fictional southern town called Mallard, but escaping it at some point in their teens. They both choose different lives, one stays with a black man the other marries her white boss and leaves her sister behind. She is able to do that because she can almost pass off as white. By giving them two different contrasting identities, the author was able to address the prejudices and biases from both worlds.
Then there are numerous other issues addressed in the book that revolves around sexuality, gender identity, domestic violence, parenting, classism, but most importantly and at the core of it all, is the aspect of “colorism”.
The book isn’t perfect and has very common tropes we are familiar with from various movies and other books. It did drag at some places but overall it was a fantastic read. Something I would highly recommend. The only problem I had with the book was too many forced cliffhangers, which I understand a lot of times is less of an author’s decision and more of an editorial choice.
I do want to read more of Brit’s work. So far I see only one other novel by her on GoodReads called The Mothers, but it has a relatively low ranking.
Here’s a glimpse of what the book reads like. The passage below is also one of my favourite highlights from the book, there are many more, but they need more context.
“THEY CALLED HER TAR BABY. Midnight. Darky. Mudpie. Said, Smile, we can’t see you. Said, You so dark you blend into the chalkboard. Said, Bet you could show up naked to a funeral. Bet lightning bugs follow you in the daytime. Bet when you swim it look like oil. They made up lots of jokes, and once, well into her forties, she would recite a litany of them at a dinner party in San Francisco. Bet cockroaches call you cousin. Bet you can’t find your own shadow. She was amazed by how well she remembered. At that party, she forced herself to laugh, even though she’d found nothing funny at the time. The jokes were true. She was black. Blueblack. No, so black she looked purple. Black as coffee, asphalt, outer space, black as the beginning and the end of the world.”
Yup, I did that mistake too where I ended up watching the movie first and then read the book, but that’s also because I already knew that I am not going to like the movie as much, especially if I read the book first.
It was so interesting to see the story written at a time when the Indian tech sector was still growing. Looking back at it now, you know some of the assumptions were purely fictional and fantasy-like. Although, in all fairness, it’s a story about colourism, classism, casteism, corruption and much more but I will stick with alliterations for fun.
The book is hinged on the struggles of breaking the schakles of an oppressed mindset called the “rooster coup” . The protagonist turns into an antagonist. It’s an anti-villain story with social commentary, (which is what I felt was missing from the movie) for obvious reasons, because let’s not forgotten the author had also won the Man Booker Prize for it in 2008.
To give you a taste of it, this is one of my highlighted paragraphs from the book
“The dreams of the rich, and the dreams of the poor—they never overlap, do they? See, the poor dream all their lives of getting enough to eat and looking like the rich. And what to the rich dream of? Losing weight and looking like the poor.”
This is totally my kind of book. Obscure, vague, personal, dreadful, in first person. The kind of book, that makes you wanna take an afternoon nap while reading it. The book that makes you want to replicate your version of it in a post like this. It’s a story of a middle-aged, unnamed woman in an unnamed town, wandering around, making observations, and painting everything with melancholy.
The writing is poetic, in fact, you could call it prose poetry. It leaves things unsaid, it talks in metaphors and tells you a story where nothing much happens yet a lot does. While I definitely enjoyed reading this book, I am not sure whether I want to recommend it to everyone. It’s not one of those books that everyone can enjoy. The writing style and the story itself wouldn’t excite a lot of bibliophiles I personally know. Here are some of the highlighted bits from my kindle:
“Then I buy the portrait. The more I buy, the more new things turn up on the tables. In the stark summer desert, this oasis of objects, this ongoing flow of goods, reminds me that everything vanishes, and also reminds me of the banal, stubborn residue of life.”
“At night, thank goodness, it rains, and the next day, thanks to the sun, the bloodstain also vanishes. But that poor decapitated mouse, freshly killed, still reminds me of a fig in high summer: the flavor of its red flesh, the warmth in my mouth.“
Like many people, I was also introduced to this classic novel after watching the first season of the popular Netflix show “You“. I am not proud of it, but that’s the truth. Here, the protagonist, a young former impoverished law student named Roskolnikov, who lives in 1860s Petersburg, Russia, commits a heinous crime and then a few more. The novel explores his inner turmoil and conflicts and his justifications for his cruel actions. On the surface, the novel may read like a psychological thriller but behind all the thrill is a narrative that follows a promising young man who is corrupted by the dangers of urban life.
Through Roskolnikov’s journey of depressing slums, claustrophobic prisons and shady characters, Dostoevsky paints a picture of a criminal who echoes the popular Russian doctrines of egoisim and utilitarianism. He believes that his intelligence allows him to transcend the social beliefs and in doing so, he finds himself detached from his own morality. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a must read. If you can’t read it, listen to the audible version narrated by Anthony Heald. He is a remarkable narrator, who justifies the sounds of all the characters. If I quoted everything from this book, it will turn into another book.
This was voted as the goodreads’ most popular book of 2020. The Vanishing Half was number #3 on the list. Now is it a fun book to read? Yes! Should everyone read it? Maybe. Is the writing incredible? Debatable! So the idea is somewhat unique, or at least, I can’t think of any other movies or books exploring it in the form of a full fledged story. It’s a story of a girl who dies but after death, she has the choice to relive as many versions of her life as she wants. She can make different decisions that she regretted not making while she was alive and live lives that she couldn’t.
Great premise, but commits the cardinal sin of storytelling. If I told you what it is, it might spoil the ending, which again is telling of some kind in its own. Outside of that, it is also repetitive and boring after a point. Have you watched Netflix’s Bandersnatch? If you did, how many times did you rewind to see what else would have happened and then got frustrated? The book is kind of like that, once it makes its point, it turns into self-help. Obviously. It’s not even the author’s fault. There isn’t much he can do, outside of finishing his point. I feel like that’s a fair trade he had to make in exchange for a promising premise.
I read one more classic this year. Another Russian novel, by another prolific author. except I did not enjoy the book as much as I broadly appreciated it for the artistic approach it took to indirectly tell a story in metaphors and magic realism.
The book gets deep into religion and politics, talks about Pontius pilot and Jesus christ but also has talking cats and flying witches. And yup, that’s exactly how weird the whole book is. The story is told in two parts. First part talks about the arrival of the Devil named, Woland, in St. Petersberg, Russia, and the tragic events that take place after that. The second part is about the Master and Margarita. Master’s novel has been rejected by publications. It deals with the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. Due to this, Master has been in an asylum in a state of extreme despair. His lover, Margarita, in order to save, Master, makes a pact with the devil.
This book carries a perfect perfect blend of surreal and real and paints a picture of the Stalinist era through what is perhaps now considered one of the best soviet literary works of fiction. The book is also very meta, in the sense that it is actually associated with the author’s real-life incidents and the incidents during the soviet era. This book also apparently was published with the help of one of his wives, years after he was dead. The reason why I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone is that it’s difficult to keep up with. Also if you do not care about classic literature and history, this will be a nightmare to go through. Crime and Punishment in my experience was lengthier but easy to follow. In this book, the characters appear out of nowhere, the book jumps timelines and plots and there are too many magical elements to keep up with.
It’s a good thriller, with lots of strong characters that follow three alternate timelines from before, during and after the day a teenager who is also a single mom, disappears. There are lots of twists and turns, as you’d expect from a thriller this popular, but it drags and is choppy and every chapter has a forced cliffhanger. After a point, it gets on your nerves. It’s like one of those reality shows that go on a break 20 times before they announce the result. Outside of it, it’s an interesting book to read, but definitely a letdown from her other novel Then she was gone, which I reviewed last year.
After reading 3 novels by Fredrik Backman, ( A man called Ove, Beartown and Anxious People), I can certainly say that I do not enjoy his books. This surprises me so much because he is totally my kind of a writer; he has great stories, quirky characters and a witty narrative style. Yet, it’s something about the writing itself, that repels me.I wonder how much of that is due to translations from Swedish to English? Either way, I did not enjoy this funny, quirky novel about a bank robbery.After a point, all the characters started to sound alike to me and there was a lot of forced humour, as if the scenes were written around the punchline. .But I would definitely recommend it because in general people tend to love this novel and his other novels. So maybe I am the odd one here.
Satyajit Ray ki Khanaiya is an anthology of Satyajit Ray’s horror short stories that has a lot of creepy elements and metaphors in them. Something I wasn’t looking forward to. It was simply not my genre but still, I did enjoy some of the stories. The same goes for Banaras talkies. It’s a relatable story of an engineering college with plenty of humour in it. Overall these two were a good expereince.
Non – Fiction:
This book is based on one of those crime cases that all of India knows about, just like the Nirbhaya case. Why it should be read? Because for the most part with these types of cases we are always presented sensationalized biased reports and filtered media content. You see, media doesn’t care about the truth. It cares about reporting first with a catchy title.
The book follows a categorical journey of behind the crime scene. Detailing the loopholes in rural investigations and Indian state politics. However, the way this book starts, one might think it is a work of fiction or is going to tell the story of the two little victims. And that’s how and why they will be disappointed because there is no story in it.
One of my absolute favourite books from this year. The author himself is a 35-time Moth Story SLAM champion and a 5-time Grand SLAM champion. His own stories that are amazing and jaw-dropping at the same time are unique, but that’s not what the book is about. The book is about the craft of storytelling. He goes on to address everything that any storyteller or a public speaker is going to face at all times. His tips aren’t only limited to emotions and the art of putting a well-rounded story together but also using the psychological devices that would help you achieve it. He does a great job of explaining the techniques that differentiate a good storyteller from a bad one.
He tells you his own stories and weaves the storytelling techniques and examples from his own stories and popular movies around them to present a pretty convincing picture. So if you are someone who writes, or tells stories, or speaks to large groups where you have to sell yourself, you should definitely read this book.
In this three-part book, Dr. Brewer, explores some of the ways our minds work, why fear is “good” and how to shape your reward system. With the neverending influx of information and the uncertainty around us, we all to some extent have anxiety. This book dives deep into what causes anxiety and what are the repercussions of it. We often broadly associate, anxiety with severe panic attacks to restlessness, but what we tend to ignore are the results of anxious behaviour. From procrastination to stress eating to aimlessly scrolling social media.
This is definitely a useful book for anyone in this day and age since it also teaches you ways to tackle addiction. If you have not already read Cal Newport’s book on Digital Minimalism, I would highly recommend checking that out as well.
Jordan B Peterson arguably is one of the most controversial and polarising intellectuals of current times. I have followed his videos and interviews and lectures and often grasped only twenty to thirty percent of what he says. There are two reasons for it; one the obvious intellectual gap between his understanding of the world and mine.
The second reason is the way he constructs his arguments. It’s often packed with heavy medical jargon and literature. These two books in particular, add a third level of complexity; religion and biology. 12 rules for life started off talking about what we can learn from Lobsters about the way we conduct ourselves to talking about religion and deriving inferences from them. While Beyond Order is more about managing chaos and unchecked order while once again, citing religious anecdotes and biology. The insights presented may definitely help a lot of people in leading a purposeful life, raising a family, being good at their work, battling their failures, but for me personally, it made very little to no change. I in fact do not even remember most of the advice from the book as much as I recall his POVs from his videos. So these two books may be a gamble for you if you aren’t into self-help books that are lengthy, scientific, religious and often make points in a very roundabout way.
This is the most real book, I read this year. Real in the sense that it’s been written by a veteran ex-FBI agent who specializes in hostage negotiations. From real-life high stake negotiation drama to day-to-day encounters like asking for a raise or negotiating a job offer, this book has a lot of great advice that aren’t taught in schools or at work. Unless you work in a sector where your life actually depends on it.
Tips like asking for arbitrary numbers that sound specific to the other party that indicates you have done your research to probing the negotiator by triggering their unknown unknowns (their black swans, their unknown information), this book was a fun experience.
These two really valuable business books is what I read early this year. The E-Myth is a book every inspiring business person should read. It tells you the reasons why businesses don’t succeed. For instance, let’s assume you are great at baking, and you think you can create a business out of it. That’s great! But what isn’t great is that you are still not a businessman. You are still just a baker and unless you know how to hire people, manage them well and then scale your business you will always be a baker, not a businessman.
Whereas to be a businessman, you may or may not need all the skills. You need the entrepreneurial attitude. The book is well structured and explains the problems of creating a business from scratch in a very thoughtful way. While the E-myth is about creating businesses. Rule #1 is about owning already created businesses and investing in them to grow your portfolio. Although this book is almost 20 years old and a lot has changed in the investment world since then, it still lays a solid foundation for anyone who is just starting to invest or are eager to manage their own portfolios. The basic tips in this book can be summaraised as follows: 1. Find an organisation that you are familiar with or at least interested in. 2. Know its worth 3. Buy the stocks when the prices dip to maintain the margin of safety 4. Repeat it until you have created enough wealth. He talks about the formulas to create company’s estimate, finding its sticker price, margin of safety and future predictions. A valuable excel link to calculate all this can be found here.
These were again very business-focused books but set in an Indian context. The TCS story is from S. Ramadorai, the ex-CEO of TCS. He gives a very detailed journey of what led to the foundation of TCS and the challenges faced in the years when IT was still a new concept to turning TCS into a $6 billion company during his tenure.
Of course in today’s times that figure is well over $150 billion dollars and TCS is one of the largest IT service providers in the world.The Young Turks was really informative but of course outdated, since it was compiled in 2014, I believe. And a lot of the organisations such as Flipkart, InMobi, RedBus were still not as big as they are today. So it was interesting to understand what the founders had to say about the future of commerce, mobile technology and businesses in general. These two books aren’t for everyone, and I wouldn’t even recommend you to pick them up, unless you really care about the evolution of Indian IT industry. In that case, these two books provide a good glimpse of how it feels to be in the enterprenurial world in an Indian context.
This book is simple to read and grasp and does provide some valuable insights. It starts with talking about the “Genius Myth” – how often we think that only genuises create something, while the truth is it takes a lot of people and a series of fortunate events to create a genius. From thereon the book, goes on to explain how to bring your art infront of the world, building a community, sharing something everyday with your community.
Getting rid of the ideas that stop you from attempting something because it has already been done. Sorting the correct information (Garbage-in, garbage-out), doing a little everyday. Not waiting to start until you have perfected something, creating side projects and hobbies. I can go on and on about this book and I hope if you read it, you have something similar to say about it.
This book is written by Ex-Googlers who designed powerful products like Gmail and YouTube. So that’s it, that should be your number of reason to trust the credibility of the authors. They know how the internet is designed for us to be addicted to it. They know how it sort of indirectly programs us to spend more time on it. Every app is craving for attention and time. Amidst all this craziness, we forget to live our lives and do things that are important. In this book, both the authors have broken down the tips in small chapters, and smaller bullet points. Perhaps they know this is how they can get the maximum attention from everyone and also provide retainable value? Either way, it’s defintely a recommended read. And I am glad I picked this up. I have bookmarked plenty of their advices but I have shamlessly not followed many of them quite yet.
This book was oddly satisfaying because sometimes rethinking is immediately dismissed as overthinking and as a negative attitude to accomplish anything. The truth is, making judgements based on emerging evidence is the right way to form conculsions and keep your beliefs updated. It’s the right way to reach positive outcomes and learn along the way.
The book is three parts long – 1. Rethinking as an individual, 2. Rethinking on a one-to-one basis 3. Rethinking as a group. In all three of these parts, rethinking makes you avoid errors that you assumed are correct due to misinformed pasts, or your conditioning or multitude of other factors that have shaped you. This is one of those books that everyone should read but arent going to, just like the lessons that should appeal to everyone, but its not going to.
I should have grouped this book with Never split the difference. Both these books are about persuasion and psychology to achieve a favourable outcome. However, this one is somewhat more business-focused. It teaches things about marketing and sales. Why do certain shops put more prices against their products to make them look expensive? Why creating urgency such as “limited time offer” results in a better sale or, reciprocating a favour can yield desirable results. How customers are likely to honour commitments even though the rewards have been removed from them.
If you are a business graduate like me or have worked in any of the marketing or sales fields, you know there is a huge element of psychology involved in selling products. This book compiles the arguments of some real-life research experiments and can be extremely valuable to someone who isn’t already familiar with some of these tactics that businesses play on us.
Two books that I absolutely did not care about this year. Untamed isn’t for me. I found a lot of arguments made in the book superficial and self-congratulatory. I picked it up because it is marketed as a memoir but it is more of a self-help! The kinds that give self-help a bad name. But, again, I am not her target audience, and there could be some people who actually learned something from this book.
The Stephen K Amos Talkshow is an audio interview of a compilation of comedians I don’t know much about. So it was difficult to even listen to them. And I am someone who would watch hours of standup comedy or standup comedians who are also podcasters. But this wasn’t for me and wasn’t a great experience, especially with the way it’s edited. Guess I was misled by the genre of these two books. I love memoirs and standup comedy, but these two aren’t it.
As much as I loved his other books, this one, in particular, I wasn’t a big fan of. Does it do its job? Of course! It takes the old biblical story of David and Goliath and draws the parallels between how weaker players and teams in sports compete against stronger players and teams or, how smaller companies can shake bigger businesses and so on…
The idea is great! The examples shared definitely make the argument stronger, it’s the telling that I believe isn’t as great as some of his recent works. Which again, is understandable. Since we all grow in our profession. I would still recommend this book, except would suggest you do not start your Malcolm journey with this one.
So that’s it! That’s been my 2021 journey.
What are some of the books you read this year?
And why would you recommend or not recommend them?