Hey, Welcome back to the 3rd edition of my 2020 book reflections. The only thing I am proud of this year is building a strong reading habit. I crossed my yearly goal of 24 books on June 15 (almost 6 months earlier) and finishing my 28th book as I write this.

To kick things up a notch, I increased my goal to 50 books this year.

If you’re new here, you can check out previous reflections below:

This post is slightly longer than usual because there are 11 books discussed instead of the usual 8. I’ve kept my reflections minimal, enough to excite you without revealing too much.

All right, let’s go. You can click on the book names to check it out on Amazon.

Books read in May and June 2020

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I was first recommended this book at a meditation retreat in the Blue Mountains, NSW along with the Power of Now by the same author. I found an ebook instantly but never read more than 5 pages. Probably because I wasn’t too much into spirituality then and hated pdf books (I still do). After meditating regularly and finishing the Vipassana course, my interest was piqued again and because of the lockdown in India, I could not order any new books so I decided to give this a go.

What to Expect
It’s a beautiful book and I think everyone should read it, NOW. Not an easy read, but an enlightening one. Not easy because it’s brutally honest, and puts things in perspective ~ ego, emotions, pain-body, past. And our ego doesn’t like to be thrashed by a book.

Eckhart Tolle speaks about the flowering human consciousness, the current state of humanity(in spiritual terms), the core of our ego, followed by the discovery of inner space, and eventually A New Earth.

“The modalities of awakened doing are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. Each one represents a certain vibrational frequency of consciousness. You need to be vigilant to make sure that one of them operates whenever you are engaged in doing anything at all – from the most simple task to the most complex. If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”

The first 2 chapters were a little slow for me, but it picks up speed after that, and I loved the ending ~ a dialogue on finding our purpose and enjoying the present moment.

Mix it up with a daily meditation practice and you’ll be amazed by the benefits.

Favorite Quote
The book definitely has many enlightening quotes, but it’s also full of short stories and anecdotes. I’ll share a story here instead:

“The inability or rather unwillingness of the human mind to let go of the past is beautifully illustrated in the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were walking along a country road that had become extremely muddy after heavy rains.

Near a village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk kimono she was wearing. Tanzan at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.

The monks walked on in silence. Five hours later, as they were approaching the lodging temple, Ekido couldn’t restrain himself any longer.

“Why did you carry that girl across the road?” he asked. “We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”

“I put the girl down hours ago,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Now imagine what life would be like for someone who lived like Ekido all the time, unable or unwilling to let go internally of situations, accumulating more and more “stuff’ inside, and you get a sense of what life is like for the majority of people on our planet.

What a heavy burden of the past they carry around with them in their minds.”

Open by Andre Agassi

I don’t remember where I heard about this one, probably Audible recommendations. Andre Agassi was a popular tennis player in his time, but I had never heard of him until now. I love biographies and I have also been a sportsman (basketball), so I thought let’s check out a sportsman’s autobiography. And it was only a 6 hours long audiobook, perfect evening stroll listen.

What to Expect
Andre Agassi was a ninth-grade dropout, but a gifted tennis player. He recounts his journey, growing up with a strict dad who sends him to a tennis camp in Florida which is more like a prison camp, being a rebel as he becomes a pro player at age 16, battling a failed marriage and other struggles, and eventually becoming a world no. 1 tennis player.

The book starts in 2006, his last tennis match, and he confesses he hates tennis. An intriguing start to a book about a world-famous tennis player.

Andre loses a lot. A lot of games. He is a great player at first, then gets worse. Like really bad. Then makes a comeback. The sheer determination on the court is unparalleled, I felt goosebumps while listening to how he almost gave up many times, but kept on going, in tennis, and in personal life.

Whether you like tennis or not, this book is a must-read.

Favorite Quote

“Life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink. It’s your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back.”

Andre Agassi

The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

After reading the Da Vinci Code and The Godfather, I started appreciating good fiction. This book has been a part of my sister’s collection for over 8 years but I never even glanced it. I read the description which was not that interesting but I decided to give it a go, promising myself that I will put it back if I don’t enjoy it. I enjoyed it. It’s not the best piece of fiction I have read, but it’s pretty good.

What to Expect
This book is an intese suspenseful legal thriller. A big trial involving a widow plaintiff (whose husband died of cigarrete addiction) and a big tobaccao company.

If the tobacco company loses the trial, it means millions of dollars in payouts and the whole industry suffers. They have a big legal fund, hired jury consultants, and won’t leave any stone unturned to secure a favorable verdict.

But there is a juror in the case, supported by a mysterious woman known as Marlee who conspire to manipulate the jury for whatever verdict they want.

I was hooked by Grisham’s narration and could feel my heart pounding towards the last pages of the book.

No Favorite Quotes from this book!

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

This was recommended by Chris Sacca on the Tim Ferris Show. The title seemed interesting and it had some stellar reviews on the net so I grabbed a copy as soon as Amazon started delivering.

What to Expect
The story is structured as a kind of “self-help book” and told in the second person, with a protagonist referred to only as “you”, an Asian male we follow from birth to death as he becomes filthy rich. The chapters are named aptly, chronological tips to become rich, such as,

A deeply moving tale of love and ambition, and as a larger, metaphorical look at the mind-boggling social and economic changes sweeping rising Asia.

It’s just over 200 pages, and there’s romance, ambition, tragedy, a bit of farce and in the end – invaluable wisdom.

Favorite Quote

“Many skills, as every successful entrepreneur knows, cannot be taught in school. They require doing. Sometimes a life of doing. And where money-making is concerned, nothing compresses the time frame needed to leap from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence like an apprenticeship with someone who already has the angles all figured out.”

Mohsin Hamid

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Vivekananda

Because Steve Jobs recommended it. I read Jobs biography and this is one of his favorites, which he read while in India. Also, being an Indian, I realized I don’t know much about the yogi’s of India, I don’t know anything. So, a book that has been popular for over 75 years for teaching Indian spirituality over the world seemed like a good read.

What to Expect
I finished this mighty book in just 5 days and fascinated by the mysteries so easily unveiled by the author. It’s a hard read, though highly satisfying; following the life of Paramahansa Yogananda, who introduced millions to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga.

Packed with punchy stories of miracles and saints (such as the yogi who did not eat for 53 years and the saint with 2 bodies) and achieving cosmic consciousness, this book will blow your mind.

There’s a possibility it might feel fake and phony at times ~ I’d recommend going with an open mind, no matter what your spiritual and religious beliefs are, or even if you have no beliefs at all. There were things I have never heard or imagined could be true.

‘Law of Miracles’ and ‘Resurrection of Sri Yukteshwar’ were the most intricate chapters, I might need to read them 3 more times before I can start to grasp it.

Favorite Quote

“Why be elated by material profit?” Father replied. “The one who pursues a goal of evenmindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world, and departs without a single rupee.”

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

You can probably imagine how much I rely on recommendations. Either from close friends or other authors and entrepreneurs. This one was a friend’s recommendation and the description fancied me. I had read When Breathe Becomes Air a couple of months ago and this book seemed to follow a similar theme – the author is diagnosed with terminal cancer, has about 6 months to live, gives a last lecture in the university he teaches, and the lecture is later transformed into a book, it’s a true story.

What to Expect
A quick easy read, based on a lecture by Randy Pausch diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s packed with humourous and inspirational stories on how he achieved his childhood dreams and enabling the dreams of others.

If you don’t feel like reading this one, watch the lecture on youtube instead, it’s an hour-long and very interesting: https://youtu.be/ji5_MqicxSo

Favorite Quote

“Another way to be prepared is to think negatively. Yes, I’m a great optimist. but, when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst case scenario. I call it ‘the eaten by wolves factor.’ If I do something, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen? Would I be eaten by wolves? One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist, is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don’t worry about, because I have a plan in place if they do.”

Randy Pausch

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

So, I watched Into the Wild movie a couple of months ago (watch it if you haven’t, one of my favorites) and the main character is a fan of Thoreau, carries his book with him, quotes him a lot. So I thought let’s check out this Thoreau guy. Turns out he wrote a book about his experience building a cabin and living in the woods for 2 years. Ever since visiting New Zealand, I have enjoyed reading about nature + solitude + minimalism, this book promised all of that.

What to Expect
Thoreau’s musings of his life in the woods. For 2 years, he moved into a cabin he built by Walden Pond, living in solitude amidst natural surroundings.

He lived in the woods around 1845 and the book was first published in 1854.

It’s a hard read and I won’t recommend this to everyone. I lost interest in the middle but trudged through to finish it out of a sense of obligation.

Some parts bored me to tears. I did not want to know much money he spent on growing beans and the full descriptions of his crops.

The final chapter, though, was rewarding, talking about the core philosophy of Thoreau’s life and some motivating quotes –

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Favorite Quote

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

The Personal MBA by Josh Kauffman

While researching business schools and why one should not attend one, this book came up. Josh Kauffman was considering going to a business school, instead he studied a ton of books and wrote this book summarizing all business concepts. I had done my bachelor’s in business and know that Indians are generally crazy about MBA (I am not), so I decided to read this one to equip myself with even more detailed business knowledge.

What to Expect
If you have never been to a business school or not studied business ever, you will enjoy this book and gain a ton of information.

If like me, you have studied business, some of the chapters will just be a repetition of things you already know. If you already own and run a business, give this a read to solidify your concepts and get some new ideas to apply directly.

And if you are considering studying entrepreneurship or doing an MBA, I highly highly recommend this book, because it will definitely persuade you not to waste that money.

The first half of the book is on core business concepts: prototyping, marketing, sales, finance, etc. Followed by chapters on the human mind and managing complex systems, which was more engaging and informative.

Favorite Quote

“Business schools don’t create successful people. They simply accept them, then take credit for their success.”

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When I read A Gentleman in Moscow last year, the author mentioned Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky a few times, and I made a note of it. And after visiting Russia in December, I was fascinated by the country and wanted to soak in more literature from Russian authors. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina are on my list, but they’re really long to read right now while I do my reading challenges so I googled Dostoyevsky’s books and Crime and Punishment popped up. It’s known for its psychological depth and apparently is the most read book in Russia, I was sold.

What to Expect
A classic from 1865, this is a transformative reading. The psychological depth and Dostoevsky’s ability to craft complex characters and take the reader deeply inside their mind is unparalleled.

Set in the slums of St. Petersburg, the novel follows the life of Raskalnikov, who commits a murder of an old pawnbroker woman and how he is “punished” for it.

This is a book I was unable put-down, and I vividly remember some incredible scenes which had me holding my breath in anxious anticipation, such as the narrow escape from the crime scene, the disruption at the funeral dinner, and the wretched meeting between Dunia and Svidrigailov towards the end.

Favorite Quote

“I used to analyze myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’ –and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again – in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.”

A Thousand Splendid suns by Khaleid Hosseini

Have you read the Kite Runner? If not, grab a copy now. I read it 6 years ago and loved Khaled Hosseini’s writing. I didn’t buy books then and only explored my sibling’s stash and found A Thousand Splendid Suns lying in the wardrobe. I started reading but got bored after 100 pages. Or I had to go to another city and did not take the book with me and forgot about it. I don’t know what happened but I can’t imagine being bored with this book now. I found it again in my hometown and gave it another go from the start.

What to Expect
Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant storyteller….the book revolves around 2 women, whose lives are intertwined through the events of the novel in Kabul, Afghanistan during the reign of the Taliban. ⁣

Mariam, a bastard daughter of a rich man in Herat is wed to Rasheed at the age of 15, who is around 40 years old. Laila, who lives just across the street, is born after 4 years of their marriage and gets involved in their life after a rocket lands in her and home and kills her parents.

It’s a beautiful book, though sometimes sad, infuriating and frightening. ⁣⁣

Favorite Quote

“You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel.”

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

The past 3 months have been the longest I have stayed in one place in the last 2 years. I am craving travel, but that seems unlikely this year. I had read Travels with Charley earlier this year and remembered how much fun that book was. It felt like I’m the van with John Steinback and his dog Charley just observing. So I googled the best travel and adventure books/memoirs. I found a few good ones but I was really missing nature and hiking, and this promised all of it.

What to Expect
It overdelivered on everything. Fun, adventure, information. Bill Bryson is hilarious.

It’s an autobiographical travelogue of Bill and his friend Stephen Katz as they attempt to hike the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail in the Eastern United States.

Bryson ensures to educate his readers too. There’s a lot of information on the history of the trail, bears, chances of getting killed by them, and the flora and fauna of the region.

Plus generally funny anecdotes.

This has to be the funniest and most adventurous book I’ve read till now.

Fun Quotes

“What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.”

“I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.”

That’s about it. I hope you enjoyed this post, especially if you made it this far. Have you read any of the books above? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.

See you with the next book reflection in September ~ Happy Reading!

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