10% Happier


Title: 10% Happier
Writers : Dan Harris
Published: 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 on 5

The name of the book is actually “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”, but it is too long, so I call it “10% Happier”.

This book is written by Dan Harris who is a TV news anchor with ABC News. Dan faces a humiliating panic attack on national television (which goes unnoticed by many) which is a pivotal point in his life which forces him to find a way to handle the stress in his life as well as find answers to some philosophical and ethical questions. When Dan is asked to cover spirituality for ABC, he naturally starts his quest in the spiritual world.

The book chronicles Dan’s journey through the world of meditation which¬† starts with him reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ as part of his new assignment. He tries meditating and being mindful and what starts as an attempt has him hooked. Dan goes on to interview some big names like Deepak Chopra and Dalai Lama (of course, Tolle too) and probes them in answering questions on how to control our emotions and stress and how to achieve enlightenment and so on. He even goes on a 10 day Vipasana silent retreat.

Dan’s writing is engaging and funny at times. The tone is casual and I felt an instant connect when Dan says he wanted to call this book ‘My inner voice is an asshole’. Instead of taking on a preachy tone (which many self-help books tend to do), Dan writes straight from the heart which makes it slightly easier to take in what he has to say.

There are many pause-and-ponder moments throughout the book. A quote from the spiritual gurus or an observation by Dan or a reference for a book – my Kindle is full of highlights and notes for this book.

Coming to the name of the book – there is no data backing up Dan’s claim that meditation has made him 10% Happier. This is his answer when someone asks him why he meditates.

If you are looking for a how-to on meditation and it benefits, this book is probably not it. Dan has provided instructions and FAQ for newbie meditators, but this is definitely not a how-to-meditate book. It is a funny, fast reading book on a man’s experience of how he found meditation beneficial.

All the Light We Cannot See

Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Writers : Anthony Doerr
Published: 2014
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 4 on 5

This book is set in the WW2 era and follows two parallel threads of story which ultimately culminate. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is one of the protagonists who lives in France. She is the daughter of a locksmith who works at a museum and loses her eyesight at the age of 6. She grows up in the warmth of fatherly love and curiosity fueled by her father and books. Werner Pfennig, on the other hand, is an orphan and lives in Germany with his sister. He is anti-establishment and often questions the system. Two contrasting characters and backgrounds, but they come together in an unexpected way and leave a lasting impression on each other.

Marie and her relationship with her father is one of the things I like in this book. Instead of showering pity on his blind daughter, the locksmith teaches her all the tricks to become independent in life. He makes a miniature of the town they live in and encourages her to ‘know’ the town through her hands. Werner and his equally inquisitive sister find an old radio which they manage to repair. They are hooked onto a regular broadcast where they listen to an enchanting voice with a French accent explaining the mysteries of science.

WW2 breaks out and we see it affecting both our protagonists. While Marie and her father flee from Paris and settle down with Marie’s uncle at a remote, coastal town, Werner enlists into the army and is fighting a battle of ethics¬† vs. duty. The story takes twists and turns and we see some interesting characters and finally the highlight of the book – protagonists meeting. This is one of the memorable moments. It was as if the reader knows all along that they are destined to meet and waiting for it with bated breath.

The book is not a fast read. And shouldn’t be read in a hurry, if you ask me. The book is beautifully written and has very memorable characters. It tugs at your emotions and gives you yet another glimpse of the havoc that WW2 caused on common citizens.

Key takeaway for me is Marie’s determination. Not a minute does she doubt herself because of her blindness. She charges ahead, overcomes hurdles and comes out winner in every single fight. They way she pulls her uncle out of depression with her charm, questions and perseverance is amazing. I couldn’t relate to Werner as much as I could to Marie. Werner appears as a confused soul who has not yet decided what he wants to do or become. His gutsy sister on the other hand – can completely relate to her, especially when she is angry with his brother for destroying the radio.

In short, a book worth not only reading, but savoring.

 

The Girl on the Train

Title: The Girl on the Train
Writers : Paula Hawkins
Published: 2015
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

Girl on the Train refers to Rachel, who is a 30-something woman, divorced, alcoholic who commutes by train everyday for work. As she commutes in the same train and the familiar route everyday, she tends to develop an attachment with the dwellers of the house which line the railway track. She gives them names and concocts her own story about how happy/sad they are in their lives. She can also spot her own house, or at least which used to be hers before her divorce, where her ex-husband and his mistress-who-is-now-his-wife also live. The book is about Rachel, her reluctance to admit her divorce, her addiction to alcohol and the characters that she sees on her train journey. The story takes an interesting turn when one of the characters, one of Rachel’s favorite, disappears and Rachel may be involved in this.

When Rachel gets drunk, she ends up with a gaping hole in her memory and she can’t recall what happened. She happens to be present at the scene of disappearance, but she can’t remember whether she saw that girl as she was drunk. All she knows is she woke up the next day with a nasty blow on her head with blood streaming down her face. With the disappearance at the center of the plot, the other major characters get entangled in this story with Rachel being the most invested. She is emotionally invested as the disappeared girl is her “Jess” who she imagines to be very happy with her husband “Jason”.

The story is passe in terms of the mystery quotient. Some things are obvious and one can guess who the culprit is long before Rachel arrives at it. I liked the characters more than the story. Crime thrillers usually don’t spend time on characterization, but Paula breaks that trend. Rachel comes across as the depressed alcoholic who has lost all hopes and is desperately trying to find a meaning, a purpose to her life. Megan/Jess is another troubled soul who tugged at my heart. I wonder what it is that I can relate to these characters! Scott also has depth, but I wish Tom was etched better.

This book is a quick read with a decent mystery plot and interesting characters. Many people/websites recommended this book to me as I liked ‘Gone Girl’. The latter had psychological element to it and the characters brought the story to life, but the former doesn’t have these qualities. This book is an average one on its own, but not comparable to ‘Gone Girl’.

The Troubled Man

Title: The Troubled Man
Writers : Henning Mankell
Published: 2009
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

When I reviewed and discussed about the Millennium Series by Stieg Larsson on book forums, I heard many recommendations about crime fiction by Swedish authors. Among the many names that were recommended, Henning Mankell was repeated many times. I have read a few books by Mankell already and like them enough to read more books by the author. The Troubled Man is another crime thriller by Mankell, featuring his troubled inspector Kurt Wallander.

This book deals with the mystery of a man going missing, soon followed by his wife’s disappearance. Though Wallander is not assigned to the case, he is sucked into it as the disappeared man happens to be his daughter’s father-in-law. Hakan von Enke, a retired naval officer, goes on his morning walk as usual, but on the fateful day, never returns home from his walk. While the police and Wallander are playing with theories of kidnap and suicide, von Enke’s wife goes missing too. As the case is unraveled, we realize the roots go way back in time when von Enke was in the navy. Many secrets are revealed and many skeletons come tumbling out of the closet.

On a parallel line, we see Wallander’s health deteriorating with age. He notices incidents of memory loss suggesting the onset of Alzheimer’s. While Wallander is fighting his own battles, he is also fighting external forces as he reveals secrets which might shake his daughter’s and his own world.

As a crime thriller, this book is like any other Mankell book, with its strong plot and interesting twists. What makes this book special is the fact that this is the last book in the Wallander series. As Wallander’s mind deteriorates, it is clear that he cannot continue in this profession and that means the end of Wallander stories for the reader.

I have read many crime fiction books and there are many memorable lead characters. What makes Wallander memorable and stand out from the crowd is that he appears very human and readers can relate to him easily. Poirot and Holmes are in a different class altogether – by their place in society and their intelligence. Wallander is like any other common man, fighting the usual battles and working hard to earn his livelihood. He is not very happy in his life – divorced and guilt ridden for not giving his daughter a good upbringing. But, in the end, as his granddaughter arrives, he relives his daughter’s childhood and has many happy moments before Alzheimer’s completely engulfs him.

I am sad to see Wallander go, but I admire Mankell for giving this series a “natural” end rather than anything dramatic like him being killed or gone missing. It is a logical end to a great series and like Wallander, one which readers can relate to.

Start With Why

Title: Start With Why
Writers : Simon Sinek
Published: 2009
Genre: Non-fiction
My Rating: 2 on 5

Like many others, I picked up this book after watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk. The 20-minutes talk had me hooked and I wanted to read more about the Golden Circle. Simon extends his talk to a full fledged book (or is it the other way around?) and builds on the essence of his talk: start with why.

Simon gives many examples of companies (and people) who have a clear definition of why they exist and how they went on to achieve success. He also gives examples of how companies lost their definition and fell off the wagon. We hear about Apple and Steve Jobs (repeated so many times that it hurts) and why Apple is so successful because they know why they exist (to break away from the tradition). Simon also talks about Martin Luther King and how he was able to influence such a large population to follow him – with a clear sense of why he was doing it. The Golden Circle is explained well in the book – start from why and then how you are going to achieve that and then the what part of it.

The first few chapters are really interesting. This is where I introspected and wondered about “my why”. I was looking forward to more such insights in the coming chapters, but sadly, they were more or less a repitition. Simon goes on and on and on about the same things: Apple, Martin Luther King and it gets well, repititive. The writing style is more like talking and that does not make it a good read. Simon could have easily chopped off half the book without losing any message.

Bottom line: Ditch the book and watch the video.

 

The Paris Wife

Title: The Paris Wife
Writers : Paula McLain
Published: 2012
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

The Paris Wife is a fictionalized account of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. It chronicles Hadley meeting Ernest, their courtship, marriage and the eventual divorce. Paula McLain became interested in Hadley after reading Hemingway’s memoir ‘A Moveable Feast’ in which he says ‘he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley’.

“The Paris Wife”, named so as the couple moved to Paris after their marriage, is written in Hadley’s point of view. It gives us glimpses of Hadley’s not-so-rosy childhood where she was labeled as “weak” as she used to suffer from migraines often. She is leading a boring, monotonous life, waiting for some change to come along and thus enters Hemingway. After a few meetings, they live through the long-distance relationship phase and eventually get married.They move to Paris to break away from the routine life and also with the hope that Hemingway’s literary career can reach greater heights. We get to see the couple go through some rough patches and their utlimate divorce.

It is interesting to read some popular names like Scott Fitzgerald and how the writers lived their lives. It gets boring at times with a recollection of events like ‘we vacationed here’ and then ‘this happened’ etc. Hadley comes across as a very confident woman who knows what she wants in life. She supports Hemingway all through by giving enough space when needed and nudge him to work harder. I liked how clear headed and sorted out she was during the initial days of their marriage. The incident where she loses all of Hemingway’s work is heartbreaking. I felt a strong attachment with Hadley as the story progressed. I lost touch with Hadley when she narrates Hemingway’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer. It is hard to believe that someone who was so confident all through the relationship turned so desperate to hold onto her man that she put up with sharing her bed (literally) with another woman.

Leaving aside Hemingway’s presence, this novel is like any other book about a couple. Hadley’s character stays with you for sometime, but apart from that, I didn’t take away anything from the book.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Writers : Alan Bradley
Published: 2010
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 on 5

I love reading mystery novels and have had my fair share so far. When you see a protagonist or a series being recommended by multiple people, you are inclined to try it out to see what the hype is all about. That is how I picked up The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which is the first book in the Flavia de Luce series written by Alan Bradley. This series is very different from the ones I have read in that the protagonist, our detective, is a 11-year old girl who is precocious and has a love for chemistry.

The book is about a murder that is committed at BuckShaw, the residence of the de Luces, and Flavia’s father Colonel de Luce is the primary suspect. It is up to Flavia to prove her father’s innocence and find the real culprit. The murder plot, motive and the way the mystery is solved – all these are very interesting. Bradley weaves in many interesting twists and turns to make the plot riveting. I liked the book, but I had a problem with our amatuer sleuth.

Don’t get me wrong, there is something very endearing about having a 11-year old girl as your detective who reaches the crime scenes before the police does and notices many things which they don’t. But the fact that she is privy to everything happening around the crime and she sneaks through the crime scenes under the inspector’s nose and more importantly, tampers with the evidence recklessly is hard to digest.

Flavia being the narrator of the book causes the book to jump from the murder to the little happenings in Flavia and her sister’s life. While Flavia comes across as intelligent and observant when she is onto the murder, we also see a glimpse of the vulnerable, innocent girl – the way most 11-year olds are when she describes her life with her sisters.

As a murder mystery novel, this book is interesting and worth a read, but if you are expecting a Shrelock Holmes or Poirot in our Flavia de Luce, then you might be disappointed. I know there are many Flavia de Luce fans out there, but she is somewhat unbelievable to me.