How is it September already! It feels like yesterday I was at Bangalore Airport in January, contemplating buying the biography of Steve Jobs because it was 600+ pages. And just last month, I finished the lengthy novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and ordered the mighty 1200 page War & Peace. It’s not my first time reading long novels. I read the Fountainhead in 2018 and Atlas Shrugged in 2019, both by Ayn Rand, and 750 and 1168 pages respectively, but it took me months to complete them. 4 months for each to be precise. The satisfaction after completing a lengthy novel is unparalleled and I smile when I look back at how I forced myself to read and now it just happens naturally.

2020 Reading Challenge Update: 35 books out of 24 !!

Let’s get started with July and August’s book reflections, mostly fiction and biographies this time.

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

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This one was highly recommended by a close friend and then it kept popping up on my Instagram explore feed by bookstagrammers (lol). I have developed a love for fiction over the past few months and this book promised a new and interesting story.

What to Expect
A slow yet incredible adventure! This is a book like no other. And what a fantastic character Eleanor is, a character that grew on me the more I read. Portrayed as a social misfit with no friends and no social life, which she is, but we soon find out that there is so much more to learn about her.

At some points, it’s so hard to relate with the 30-year old Eleanor and her eccentric ways. The narrator drops hints of a traumatic childhood, but we never really find out everything until the end.

She chances upon a friendship with a new colleague that leads to many first experiences as an adult, such as visiting someone’s home and even going to a pub.

All of us have felt alone at some point in our lives, Eleanor’s story serves as a reminder that we are a lot more alike than we realize. A bit of kindness can go such a long way, and friends can truly be life-saving by just being there.

Favorite Quote

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

One of my goals this year is to write more and better. So I thought maybe a book on writing will inspire me and provide useful tools. I did a quick google search, found many recommendations and this one stood out. Or maybe this was the only one available on Amazon India. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about her life and experience being a writer and shares strategies that work for her and which she teaches in her writing workshops as well. I love such books – a memoir turned into self-help so I grabbed a copy.

What to Expect
A very refreshing and reassuring read if you like writing or if you just want to understand what goes inside the head of an author. I struggle with writing fiction and have a deep respect for fiction authors. I actually struggle with writing in general so it was good to hear I am not alone; even acclaimed writers go through a mental hell in their process.

Bird By Bird by Anne Lammot

Anne Lamott shares her stories of writing, teaching budding writers, and her family life, and I was pleasantly surprised by how funny it all was.

Tips on getting started, building your characters and the plot, handling shitty first drafts, dealing with writer’s block, finding people to write with, finding your own voice and much more.

Whethere you are a writer or not, you should read this book.

Favorite Quote

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

Anne Lamott

Down Under by Bill Bryson

Why not? I still no wonder why I didn’t read this book 3 years ago when I moved to Australia. After finishing A Walk in the Woods the previous month and enjoying Bill Bryson’s writing, I purchased Down Under for a trip down memory lane and to understand better about the land I lived on for 3 years.

What to Expect
You will either be laughing hysterically or surprised in amazement while reading this book. Bill travels throughout Australia and dives into its history, which is not very old but very intriguing. His ability to present the dryest piece in an interesting way is incomparable.

From paddling in Manly Beach, driving on Hume Highway to Adelaide, a road trip to Gold Coast, and then Cairns, followed by Alice Springs, Darwin, and Perth, Down Under is a delight for anyone who has lived in or visited Australia or plans to do that in the future.

Bill actually inspired to me do some travel writing of my own.

A missing couple in the depths of Great Barrier Reef, crocodile misadventures, a Prime Minister disappearing in the ocean, nasty animals in the wild, the White Australia policy; prepare to be surprised by this extremely funny and fact-filled adventure.

Favorite Quote

“The people are immensely likable— cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted, and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered, and instinctively egalitarian. The food is excellent. The beer is cold. The sun nearly always shines. There is coffee on every corner. Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

Bill Bryson, Down Under

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

I had read a quote by Herman Hesse a while back and just googled books by him. This one popped up and the story seemed interesting. I’ve been having my own experiences with trying out new things and looking for answers so this wasn’t a hard sell, and it’s only 150 pages long, so I had to get it.

What to Expect
I finished it in a couple of days and I could relate with Siddhartha at many points of his spiritual journey.

A young and brilliant son of a Brahmin, Siddhartha leaves home to seek enlightenment. He goes on to live with ascetics in the jungles, meets Buddha but cannot comprehend his views. He considers his ability to think, to wait, and to fast as his greatest virtues and despises materialism, but ends up moving to a city and becomes a wealthy merchant.

Realizing he is too far from what he had intended to become, he returns to the woods again in search of true meaning, and…read the book to find what happens next.

A brilliant story of self-discovery and a deeply personal one.

I empathized with Siddhartha and could see myself walking in his shoes. Everyone will get something different out of reading it.

Favorite Quote

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal.”

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild is my favorite movie. I found it last year in October and have watched it countless times in just 1 year. There’s something very appealing in Chris’s personality and his world views. They seem too extreme at first but it’s easy to get hooked to him. I bought the book to dive deeper into the story and jus to have a physical copy with me when I go traveling again. And as they always say, the book is always better than the movie.

What to Expect
You already probably know what happened, Chris leaves home at the age of 22 after graduating, donates all his money, and hitchhikes all over the USA with the ultimate goal of going to Alaska and living in the wild. He makes it there but only survives 4 months and dies at the young age of 24.

The book follows Chris as he travels around, most information retrieved from his journals and interviews with people he met along the way. Jon tries to decode why Chris did what he did.

Chris hates materialism and believes careers are a 20th-century invention. He was a misfit. I might not agree with all of his moral code of conduct, but his desire to be in the wild alone and the nomadic spirit won me over.

Highly recommend! Point to note, not everyone will identify or empathise with Chris. Many think he was a stupid kid who died for no reason because of his stubborness. and stupidity.

Jon also shares stories of many other adventurers and his own time in Alaska when he almost made it out alive. Some stories will give you goosebumps while sparking a craving for adventure.

Favorite Quote

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

Chris McCandless

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstory

In A Gentleman in Moscow, which I read last year, the author touched on many great Russian novels, Anna Karenina was one of them. After finishing Crime and Punishment in June and fascinated by Russian novels, I ordered Anna Karenina in July. It’s a lengthy novel, about 750 pages, but I can’t just pass on one of the most acclaimed fiction novels in the world. And guess what, I liked it so much that I ordered War & Peace right after finishing this, which is more than 1200 pages long.

What to Expect
A taste of the Russian high society in the 1800s. Anna, the wife of Alexey Alexandranovitch with an 8-year-old son falls in love with an army general named Vronsky. She becomes his mistress, her husband finds out and the story unfolds. The best part is that the story doesn’t revolve around these 3 characters, which would get boring. There are many parallel stories revolving around Kitty, Levin, Dolly, Stiva, and many more. Tolstoy’s ability to craft complex memorable characters and weave the story together is commendable.

It’s much more than just a romantic fiction. Yes, there’s love, friendship, courtship, jealousy, forgiveness, but there is also discussion on politics, farming, labourers mowing the grass, public welfare, hunting, working as a bureuacrat and a peek into the life of Russian aristrocrats.

My favorite character was Levin, a wealthy landowner who moved to the country to manage his estate. He reads up on great philosophers and is always looking for answers to his life, but some times his philosophical thoughts were hard to grasp.

”Without knowing what I am and why I’m here, it is impossible for me to live. And I cannot know that, therefore I cannot live.”

This book is a masterpiece!

Favorite Quote

“He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Can’t Hurt me by David Goggins

Search for David Goggins on Google and tell me if you’re not inspired by his transformation pictures. If you read his bio, his athletic achievements and work to get in the Navy will blow your mind. Add to this the fact that he had a troubled childhood with a physically abusive father. A friend recommended the book to me and it came consistently on bestsellers on audible so I bought an audiobook to listen while working out and running – perfect choice.

What to Expect
Pure Inspiration – David Goggins is a beast and the mentally toughest guy I have ever read about. Now a retired US Navy SEAL and a former US Air Force member, Goggins is also an ultra-marathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, and a motivational speaker. He also broke the record for most pull-ups in 24 hours (around 4000). I can’t even do 5 pullups smh.

But it’s not just about his achievements. It’s about his struggles and how he overcame them and why he constantly pushes himself to be the best at whatever he does.

David shares strategies that worked for him and how to apply it in our own life to reach our fullest potential, such as the accountability mirror, taking souls, and the 40% rule.

The audiobook is especially fun because it’s a part podcast as well. The narrator and David chat about each chapter, shedding more light on his experiences. If this book does not motivate you, I don’t know what will.

He talks more about physical achievements and breakthroughs, but the techniques can be applied for any profession or hobby. This should be a recommended reading for all high school and college students.

Favorite Quote

“You are in danger of living a life so comfortable and soft, that you will die without ever realizing your true potential.”

David Goggins

Call of the Wild by Jack London

Another classic. Chris McCandless from Into The Wild was inspired by the writings of Jack London, including this book. It’s only 90 pages long so I bought it hoping for another dose of adventure from the comfort of my bed during COVID.

What to Expect
In short – there’s this dog named Buck who lives in a posh house in Santa Clara Valley in California. While the family is away, the garderner kidnaps him and sells him to be shipped to Alaska to work as a sledge dog.

Buck faces a tough time adjusting in the start, but he eventually startes enjoying his work, finding a sense of purpose, and eventually takes charge as a leader of the pack. He is sold to different owners and halfway through the book, he joins a kind man named John Thornton and Buck develops a strong bond with him.

While his master is mining for gold in the frozen wild, Buck roams around, becoming a ferocious animal, searching for his true calling.

The climax is interesting, but you will have to read the book for that, it’s a short one.

Favorite Quote

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

Jack London, Call of the Wild

I hope you enjoyed reading if you made it this far. If you have any questions or comments or want to discuss books, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Reading!

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