Books of 2020 – Georgette Heyer, Amy Harmon, Jacqueline Winspear

First post of 2020!

What happened, this dear blog asks the writer.

Well, inertia.

The more I blog, the more I blog. The longer the gap between 2 posts, the less likely it is for the forthcoming post to be out too easily.

In the meanwhile, I came across this genius personal book rating system by a reviewer on Amazon, which categorised books based on what they did for the reader. I improvised and created this for myself:

People read books for many reasons. I categorize books I’ve read as the following:
A – Books that entertained me and I learnt something from
BL – Books from which I learned something
BE – Books that entertain me
C – Books that wasted my time because they did too little of BL or BE for the time invested
I am not changing my star rating system yet, but I really really liked this non-star categorisation system!
Something else about book ratings that appealed to me:
I divide all literary works into two categories: Those I like and those I don’t like. No other criterion exists for me.” – Anton Chekov (in a letter to a fellow Russian writer in 1890)
Both of these made me think about WHY have I been rating the Agatha Raisin books and Mma Ramotswe books as 4/5 and not 5/5? I do love them both dearly and really, they are are therapy to me. It feels very studpidly uppity to give them 4 stars. I want to give them 5 stars. Because I love them. So I will! The only reason why I had withheld that fifth star earlier was because I didn’t feel they were “deep” enough, but after having read a few of them, I cannot say that any more. These books are teaming with wit and honest observation about daily life and the characters we meet in our own lives, and I honestly cannot fault them.
So, the legend effective henceforth:
Love – 5 stars, Like – 4 stars, Meh – 3 stars
I won’t really have books with 2 or 1 stars because I am good at abandoning books that I don’t like within the first 100 pages.

1. My Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – 4/5

I liked it, but did not love it. I expected a bit more in terms of humour perhaps. However, it was still a very pleasant read and I will be getting more by GH.

2. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon – 5/5

FINALLY a thoroughly beloved 5 star book! I loved it sooo much and highly recommend it to everyone. The writing was so lyrical, great for lovers of poetry. It was full of love & magic – I loved it. It was also super gripping once it got going (say 50 pages in), and was entirely unputdownable. Finally a book which has lived up to the glorious reviews its received! My first Amy Harmon and I’m eyeing From Sand and Ash next 😃  Or May be her 2020 release – Where the Lost Wander. Either way, I’m super glad to have discovered this author and can’t wait to read more by her! Once I’m through my current TBR pile….grrr.

3. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – 3.5/5

A new to me series with a strong female lead. I was actually very excited about this book (and series) because of the fantastic reviews it’s got. I have to say that I found it very readable and a solid good book, but not GREAT. It was also quite a bit depressing. I was interested in the story, but not hooked. There wasn’t any wit or humour really. It deals with the trauma of people who lived through the First World War in Britain, with a small mystery. Not longing to pick up the next instalment, although readers say the next book has a lot more mystery.

4. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by Agatha Raisin – 4/5

Standard Agatha Raisin fare but I prefer the ones set in Carsley because of the village life charm that oozes from the Carsely ones.

5. Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death – 5/5

Formulaic but Still comforting & enjoyable

6. Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham – 5/5

Formulaic but Still comforting & enjoyable

Started listening to Little Women audiobook, but really, can’t stop with comparisons with Anne. There is no comparison. Anne is at an entirely different level. So I stopped.

Abandoned

I’m effectively changing my 100 page rule to 50 page rule. If a book doesn’t grab my interest in the first 50 pages, I’m going to let it go because quite frankly, such books end up wasting my time. I wasted almost 2 weeks in January trying to read The Hobbit and then Americanah.
The Hobbit was just boring. The party keep getting caught and escaping… same thing over and over. Sure there are many things in there whichrelate to the human condition, but nothing that is very unique and cannot be felt through other books.
The other book I abandoned (quite early on) was Americanah. I found it a bit fluffy and it had a hypocritical unlikeable lead. The worst kind. Sigh. I had to drop it as I was getting “the rage” towards her.
It got me thinking about unlikeable characters though. Agatha Raisin is also an unlikeable character, but I love those books! Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary was also an unlikeable character – but I liked the book, and did not get “the rage”! Whereas, Lenu in the Neopolitan novels was an unlikeable character, but I got “the rage”. I think the main differences are: (a) when the author takes note of the character and makes inputs (like Flaubert), then as a reader I can side with the author and feel content. OR (b) the unlikeable character isn’t hypocritical and is aware of their terrible behaviour (like in Agatha Raisin), and/or (c) the author through the plotline honors “karma”, hah, that is, the unlikeable character meets the kind of fate that they “deserve”, like with Agatha Raisin (a character like her deserves an equally unlikeable male lead in James Lacey!) and Emma.
But Americanah’s lead character seemed to be very sanctimonious, and the treatment of other characters seemed to be very insulting really. They were flat, and were mostly inserted as embellishments to the story of the lead, and not whole characters by themselves (albeit supporting). The author treated Obinze’s wife with such hostility (for no good reason at the least in the beginning!), that it really irritated me.
I definitely prefer books with likeable and relatable characters, but Agatha Raisin has shown me that I can also thoroughly enjoy books with some unlikeable characters (where the author is AWARE that they’re unlikeable, and the treatment is accordingly appropriate!).
What I’m a bit annoyed with now is that I’m stuck with copies of these books that I can’t even return because it’s beyond Amazon’s 30 day return period! SO. Once I’m done with my TBR, I shall buy books and start reading them immediately, so I can return them if I need to abandon them (like I did with Station Eleven – it was sent right back to Amazon).
p.s.: The formatting is all wrong in this post, and I really can’t be bothered to fix it. 🙂

Books of 2019 – Madame Bovary, I Capture the Castle, Life According to Lubka and more

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This is the last post in the Books of 2019 series! Wow, I’ve hit 20 books since I started keeping count in October this year. Not bad. Most of them are pleasure reads and nothing too taxing, and I’m happy to have found this world of beautiful books again! As a result of this, I’ve been watching less TV than usual.

Let’s get straight into December reads. I had a good start, but had a week or so without much reading… Still, I’ve managed to read some good books this month. I really wanted to read a book I could rate 5 star, but sadly, that was not to be.

14. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – 4/5

Tragic. Dull ache of a read. The story moves very fast which I liked. Melancholic, very observant & honest, however, there were too many unnecessary descriptions. I skimmed through some of the descriptive paragraphs. Emma is quite an unlikeable character, and I felt in this day and age she’d have been diagnosed as being bipolar or with depression. Again, thinking about it from today’s perspective if she’d had a job of her choosing, something that helped with self actualisation, it might’ve been a different story. I did feel bad for Charles, the husband. But his blindness towards her anguish was also strange. I liked that the author commented with his take on Emma’s behaviour…. sometimes authors don’t do that with unlikeable characters such as Elena’s Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, although, of course, there’s a difference between the two as Ferrante wrote in first person narrative (Elena), while Flaubert wrote as a third person omniscient narrator. Anyway, overall this was a good book, and I’d recommend it. I can see why it’s a classic, since it’s one of the first ever written honest & somewhat thrilling psychological portraits, but I don’t think it’s a MUST read.

15. Life According to Lubka by Laurie Graham – 3.5/5

Largely entertaining, but needed a better editor. Too many typos. Language could’ve been better. It felt a bit disappointing in some ways because prompts for further examination of some simple truths of life were there but they were not explored fully.

16. I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – 3/5

This was the most frustrating book I read this month. I actually picked up this book with the confidence (based on the many reviews I’d read) that it will end up being a 5 star read. Sadly, it was utterly disappointing (the second half). I LOVED the first half and can easily rate it a 5. But the second half felt like it was written by somebody else!! The second half is a 1 for me, so it would average out to a 3.

It is a bit Austenian in the sense that it is a comment on & satire of the society and position of women during that period. However, there were many themes which were treated with such nonchalance that it was quite shocking for me. Violence against women, emotional neglect, snobbery. The characters were not actually likeable (especially the father) (I liked Cassandra in the first half, not second half where she turns into this highly weepy and deluded teenager), EXCEPT Stephen. If you read it and also feel annoyed by it, feel free to drop a line to discuss it! It’s a hugely popular book though and also considered a “classic” by many, so may be you’ll like the ending! I didn’t, but oh well.

17. Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by MC Beaton – 4/5

Another comforting, relaxing instalment of Aggie! Very pleased with it.

18. Death of a Gossip by MC Beaton – 3/5

Since I’ve been loving on Agatha Raisin this much, I wanted to try out other series by MC Beaton. However, I didn’t quite like this book much. It was just meh. It took me a long time to get into the book, unlike Agatha Raisin which was go go go. It was hard to get to know the main character, as the story isn’t really told from his perspective mainly. There’s a lot of head jumping, so it’s hard to relate. I understand though that it improves vastly from Book 2 onwards, so let’s hope that’s the case! I have the next one with me, and can’t wait to get into it!

19. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5 

20. The full cupboard of life by Alexander McCall Smith

– 4/5

I read two more instalments of Mma Ramotswe (Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series) this month, and both were fabulous, as expected. They feel like a warm mug of soup on a cold, grey winters day. Side note, I had first picked up the first book in the series in Law School from the Common Room Library, but felt bored with it and returned it without finishing it. Now, however, I see so much meaning and wisdom in these books. Though many teenagers might read these, these are the kind of books you appreciate more the older you get. Much like the Anne of Green Gables series. There is so much life experience here.

Abandoned:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

TEDIOUS. Utterly under-researched, and quite stupid honestly. It’s the post apocalyptic world, yet gypsy theatre performers have 100 candles lit up at the edge of the stage at a time when the author is trying to demonstrate how even basic necessities are scarce?!? Also, why/ how did this virus wipe out all civilisation? If its such a fast virus, it wouldve been contained. Also, North America is not the only place on earth. Surely, with such a deadly outbreak there would’ve been more serious attempts at quarantining the infected people? Also, why are people living in shops in the post apocalyptic world? Clearly buildings have survived, so dwelling houses/ units could still be occupied? Writing is a bit bizarre, flits and flops between characters and timeframes, and also rambles on. Characters randomly introduced and left behind. I reached page 100 and was very underwhelmed, and frankly quite annoyed. ABANDONED after 100 pages.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Not my brand of humour, felt very contrived. Abandoned after 50 odd pages. I read somewhere that if you’re not LOLing within the first few pages then it’s not for you, and decided to take that seriously.

Currently reading The Hobbit. It’s nice, but nothing too exciting. Quite a bit of wisdom in there, so that’s good. Let’s see.

My TBR pile has grown alarmingly tall/ long in the past few weeks. I have finally managed to stop ordering books every second day, but November and early December saw a surge in book ordering resulting in my TBR pile hitting 30!! And this is just all the books I have RECENTLY ordered (i.e. not counting the 10 odd fiction titles and may be 25 non fiction title from the past few years lying in my shelves). Most are paperbacks, as I really love paperbacks and don’t love reading on the Kindle as much. I hope to not order more books until my TBR pile has whittled to under 5. Ambitious.

Also, Happy New Year!

Potluck Picnic, An Odd Request and Other Stories

As you may know (or not), I have been on a mission to broaden my social circle.

Working for yourself, by yourself, in your own office at home – for years – can be isolating, while also providing innumerable benefits and rewards at the same time. And indeed it has been so.

So, this year, I joined Meetup, and found a couple of groups to join.

However, it wasn’t until this Saturday that I actually ended up attending a meetup event.

This was a small Potluck Picnic event at Lodhi Garden with a women’s only group. Food, followed by some games and tea. Sounded lovely, and I’m happy to report that it really was lovely.

One thing that struck me at the event was that people eat a lot of mirchi. Like, a LOT.

There used to be a time when I considered myself a Mirchi Champ. I could handle high levels of mirchi in my food, and in fact was quite addicted to it (and was secretly proud of it). But I’ve changed my ways, and found it’s much better for my system to restrict my mirchi intake, and stick to a pinch of Kashmiri chilli powder (the non-teekha one, which still has some heat; those of us who don’t eat much mirchi can very much taste the heat, thank you very much) at most while cooking.

Thing with mirchi is that, it’s a bit like coffee. The more you have it, the more of it you need for your hit. As a result, people with a mirchi-palate tend to over-mirchi their food, and those of us who any way don’t eat much (if any) mirchi, feel like our insides are on fire on consumption of said kind of food.

A couple of dishes in the potluck were of said over-mirchi variety.

Now, since we were handed out pre-determined quantities of some of these, I couldn’t even not eat it causing offence, so I diplomatically ate the chana pieces, and left the masala. With copious quantities of the delicious (and non-spicy!!!) raita which provided sweet and cold relief to my innards.

Separately, when I told my mother that I’d gone for this picnic, she of course enquired after it.

She also solemnly told me: “Never accept drinks from strangers.” 

I figured that everyone eats the same food at a potluck, so I’m fine if I wait until others are eating before starting, right? Not that any of this entered my mind before the event, I thought of this only after, when my mum had done her motherly duty of informing me of every potential risk involved with a daring activity such as joining a womens only social group where I knew no one.

After the success of the Potluck Picnic, I am now motivated to attend a meeting of the Book Club that I’ve joined (also on Meetup) (also women’s only) (Indian men can be literally the worst, so they’re best avoided unless absolutely necessary, right?). Have fortunately already read the book for this month – A Christmas Carol. Shall report back after attending.

I recently ordered this probiotic (and YUMMY) drink called Beetroot Kanji. It’s seriously yum. It’s my flavour of the month.

Also ordered a bunch of used books on bookchor.com. Got a fabulous deal with 8 books coming to just about 1000 bucks. Most of them are MC Beatons, and a couple other cozy mysteries, or Comfy Crime (as MC Beaton would like us to refer to them as).

However, I’d then been consumed with a bit of guilt, because authors don’t get paid on used book sales. Of course, I knew that, but it didn’t register, register. Being a creative myself, I am keenly aware of the importance of creatives getting paid WELL for their amazing work.

Was in a dilemma for a bit on this matter, but now I’ve resolved it in my head in this way: I will only buy used books by authors who have passed on (of course unless I can’t find a new copy, that is). That way, I get the odd deal once in a while, and don’t feel bad about authors not getting their due. And YES, I would any day rather be a person supporting authors than used book stores (no matter how small and noble they might be). YES.

A few days back, I received a most odd request – someone (could be described as a “youth” perhaps) wanted to watch me work and learn from my process. Errr… I’m afraid, I am not a museum! Since when has it become acceptable to ask a practical stranger if you can watch them at their workplace? Oh well, it takes all sorts.

You must meet my XYZ, who is also a Graphic Designer…!

Whenever I mention to someone (new to me) that I’m a Graphic Designer*, there is a 50% chance that they will have another Graphic Designer in their family whom they will want me to “talk to”.

I have no idea why.

It’s VERY strange.

This is how the conversation goes:

A: I work in the marketing department of XYZ Co. What about you?

Me: Nice! I’m a Graphic Designer, I license my designs.

A: Ohhh, my sister/ cousin/ best friend/ <insert relative type person> is also a Graphic Designer! You should talk to her! She just did XYZ project in New York/ London / <insert foreign city>.  She’s also totally into Graphic Design, please talk!!

Me: Err…

A: She just did some exhibition at (OR completed her degree at ABC) and is really doing excellent work!

Me: *in mind, to self* well… good for her?

A: Talk to her!!

Me: Er… actually I’m quite busy with my projects, my schedule is very packed… blah blah blah… (and I don’t exactly want to seek out and talk to the million Graphic Designers that are out there!!!)

This never happened to me when I was a lawyer. Back then, people made reasonable connects.

For example, if they knew someone from my college, they would bring it up. That made sense, because there is there a specific connect between the person they know and me (although no one ever asked me to TALK to those people).

Why are people under the impression that us Graphic Designers / creative professionals want to talk to every other creative professional out there?

We don’t.

Please.

Stop.

Asking.

Us.

To.

I know most people in traditional jobs find it very hipster to be a creative professional and therefore might think that we are part of a tiny, exclusive club, but sorry to burst your bubble, it’s not that uncommon.

There are many, MANY creative professionals out there.

And said creative professionals span wholly unrelated industries, who have NOTHING in common with each other, and don’t want to talk to other strangers who happen to also be a creative professional.**

* My job description also depends on the audience. If I start telling them what I actually do, most people here wouldn’t understand it. So I use the broad label of “Graphic Designer” but my peers in the industry will understand that’s not really “it”. I used to say “Illustrator” some times, but that led to more puzzled looks, so I just stick to Graphic Design. Oh well.

** Please note, I am not a grinch. No… just thought I should clarify 😉 Thing is, I love connecting with other people ORGANICALLY when we have something in common. I find people who are solopreneurs have more in common with me than someone like a Graphic Designer working at an agency or an artist who creates work for the art gallery industry. Also, I hate “networking”, and thankfully, I don’t need to for my work, so I don’t do it. I talk to people when it’s fun to do so, and when it happens organically. Thank you very much.

Round up of October and November

The main pro of writing about books I’ve read is that it has gotten me back to a blogging rhythm. I almost feel like reading  gives me “content” to write about. Ha!

On the other hand, once I’ve written said reading round up posts, I’m left with a sense of accomplishment, but also without further motivation to chronicle the minor things of daily life, which is what this blog is really supposed to be about.

So let’s do a round up of October and November, shall we?

  1. We went on our France holiday – which I am YET to blog properly about. I’ve gotten very content with just having edited the photos, but I do want to put down in writing the things we did and sights we saw and feelings that were felt, because it’s nice to read them back later.
  2. We have attended two weddings already this season. Weddings are great places to catch up with people who you haven’t met in a while. I always get asked about what I’m doing “these days”, and people expect me to have moved on to a different career already – I don’t blame them. This is my third job in 7 years. When I put it that way, it seems pretty standard, but also each job has been quite different from the other. But I’ve been in the creative digital goods area for a while now (3.5 years) – that’s really the longest I’ve been at any of my jobs. The shocking thing about both of these weddings that we didn’t do a choreographed Sangeet dance at either! I’ve been living life Sangeet to Sangeet for years now, and yes, this is something that I missed. May be people think you are not enthu about choreographed competitive Sangeets once you turn 30? (not true at all) At the second wedding, KK and I made note of all the songs the DJ played that we had done choreographed dances to and felt very pleased about the count – there were way so many!
  3. I turned 30! I think I was more panicked about turning 30 before I actually did. Turning 30 has made me more zen about things like “caring about what someone else thinks of my response to something / how someone will react to something I do or don’t do”. I feel a bit more free about my views and general stand on things now, and can legitimately blame it on age.
  4. A lot of pre-Diwali taash parties were attended – which were a lot of fun.
  5. A lot of post-Diwali depression happened on account of Airpocalypse. Like serious levels. Of both – pollution & accompanying depression and thoughts like “what am I doing here”. Scroll to see rant-y post earlier in the month. Actually said depression (and pollution) is still happening, which is greatly helped by reading fun & escapist books like Agatha Raisin (and exercise). I love being in Agatha’s world where there’s clean air and nature around you, cosy furnishings, lovely neighbours, good hearted people, and a bit of fun detection (nothing is ever too gory in these books).
  6. EAB Update – We now have AG in our EAB Programme and thanks to AG’s dedication, TCG and I have gotten back to our respective exercise schedules. I’ve been working out in the evening, which seems to be a more sure shot way of getting it in for me than morning. Separately, having to sign up for Dancebody Live workouts (which happen at a particular time and you have to log in that time and do it) has been keeping me accountable.
  7. It’s also been two days since I’ve gotten back to my 10 minute evening meditation routine. I don’t know why I stopped. Note to self: please keep doing it.
  8. I have cooked a few meals this month. As the help only knows a few dishes (like 10), it gets super boring. So I’ve been cooking a bit here and there. Dalma, Ghanta, Tomato Poda, Dal Pakhtuni, Matar Pulao, Rajma, Desi Chinese Style Nutrela + Veggies. That sort of thing.
  9. Y & I made a pact towards the end of October that in November, we would not order in food. We can eat outside food when we’re outside. But we will not be lazy and order in. Exceptions to this rule are when the help hasn’t made food for reasons out of our control. Happy to report that we have had good success with this plan! Y did not break the rule at all, and I broke it just once to order in a donut on a day when I was feeling very low about the pollution. And now, it’s Nov 30, and yeay! <insert Elle Woods gif> We did it!
  10. Plans for December include: continuing with good habits of November (hopefully) (good habits being exercise, meditation, cooking), lots of social commitments including a family wedding (Y’s cousin), U2 Concert in Mumbai, and hopefully some more fun social stuff!
  11. I am so ready for 2019 to end and 2020 to begin. Actually I’m so ready for 2020 to end and for 2021 to begin. 2021, just be here already!

Books of 2019 – Agatha Raisin, Isabel Dalhousie, and Christmas Books

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I’ve updated my rating system since the last time I posted. Here’s my new legend:
5 – Loved it, close to my heart, adore it, highly recommend
4 – Liked it, enjoyable/ gained something from it, recommend
3 – Meh, read at your own risk
2 – Did not like it (likely a book I wanted to abandon, but persevered to finish it and still did not find it worth it)
1 – To be avoided

7. Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton – 4/5

8. Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet – 4/5 

9. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener – 4/5

10. Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley – 4/5  

I’ve been on an Agatha Raisin trip these past few days. These books are pure, delightful, escapist pleasure. I started with the first book, and it was quite impossible to not proceed with the next, and the next and the next.

Agatha is an unlikeable lead whom you warm up to. She has her redeeming qualities. She has some good qualities like she’s honest and doesn’t have double standards, she can see through fakeness and isn’t fake herself. Loved it, it gave me the lovely warm and fuzzy feeling I get from Anne books. I think I might’ve become a bit addicted to the “cosy mystery” genre! The character that I’m not too fond of (because I’ve grown fond of Agatha) is James Lacey.

11. Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5

Now that I’m well into the Mma Ramotswe series, I wanted to try other series by AMS.

This is similar to Ladies Detective Agency but also quite different. Writing style is completely different – I prefer the writing in SPC. Plot line & resolution similar & simplistic. What makes it really enjoyable & unique are the philosophical musings. I love thinking about philosophical questions like Isabel, and it felt like we might have been having a conversation. A very unique book & I look forward to more! I would classify more as a philosophy lit rather than mystery. Also, it’s not funny / humourous, but more on the reflective side. One quote which really stood out to me, on account of having met many such characters: “With John Liamor it was not essential to believe in anything; all that was required was the ability to mock.”

12. The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 3/5

Christmas fluff. Characters are a bit flat & stereotypical. There are inconsistencies & continuity errors. This definitely needed more editing. I would’ve enjoyed this more as a movie i.e. with gorgeous visuals. Did not have much depth. I was actually disappointed and also bored while reading it. I expected more!

13. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 4/5

A classic. Although, had it been published in 2019 it wouldn’t have had the success it did. It might’ve been classed as too utopian and simplistic. But, I love it for its message. Yes, people don’t really change as quickly as Mr. Scrooge did, but it’s nice to get a reminder every now and then to appreciate and enjoy the lovely people & things around us.

I also started reading but abandoned Unmarriagable by Soniah Kamal (kindle) about a 100 pages in. It reminded me of the movie Mona Lisa Smile because of the setting. The names were very annoying (Mr. Bingley becomes Mr. Bingla??!). May be if you’re not South Asian, you would not be bothered by the names; but I was, because these names sounded wholly unrealistic. Also felt very pseudo-liberal. Girls smoking is considered “liberal and free minded”? How archaic can it get? Probably made worse by the fact that I was listening to Pride & Prejudice (the audiobook), and there is simply no comparison.

I’m wondering, should I also rate the books I did not finish? Because well, I did read them for a while and abandoned for a reason? And this is something I check on Amazon reviews – why did people abandon a book, if they did. Shall think about it.

 

Suffocated

Things I’ve had to tell myself in the past 8 years….

Don’t go out at night.

Don’t talk to any stranger.

Don’t make eye contact with any stranger.

Don’t go anywhere alone.

Don’t walk on the streets.

Don’t take an Uber without making sure someone else is tracking your ride through the Safety feature.

Don’t dream of taking a rick without haggling.

Don’t wear anything that is remotely tight fitting or sleeveless (unless travelling by own car).

Don’t use buses (particularly terrible when it comes to sexual harassment) (even in full uniform-esque attire).

Don’t look for friendliness from people you don’t know personally already.

Don’t get annoyed when people cut the line.

Don’t be upset because someone is rude.

Don’t be nice by default, act “stern & rude” otherwise you will get ripped off.

Don’t trust people.

Don’t wish for clean streets.

Don’t think of dust free homes.

Don’t dream of friendly neighbours.

Don’t wish to feel safe in your own home – gated communities with proper security, what’s that?

Don’t wish for elevators.

Don’t wish to see the stars at night.

Don’t wish to see beautiful sunsets (or sunrises).

Don’t wish for cool evening breeze to get lost in. It’s either hot loo or dust storms.

Don’t think of not switching on the AC 24*7 during summers (April – October).

Don’t think of not running the air purifiers and heaters during winter (November – March).

Don’t go out to parks (pollution and/or monkeys and/or dogs).

Don’t ride your bicycle. Ever. (The AQI is never good enough to ride outdoors).

Don’t go out at all during the months that constitute “Airpocalypse” (October – February).

What’s next? Don’t breathe??!!

Welcome to Life in Delhi – life in a dusty little cage.

Books of 2019 – Circe, Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls and a note on Audiobooks

4. Circe by Madeline Miller – 2.5/5

I really wanted to like this book.

It did not help that this book has been hyped quite a bit, and I read many a “Don’t overthink this. Just buy this book NOW.” kind of reviews, which meant I had a certain level of expectation from it.

For me, a 3 means “It’s okay, I liked it”. A 4 is “I loved it and I recommend it.” A 5 means “I loved it and would recommend it to errrrrbody”.

I cannot honestly say I liked this book. I simply did not.

First of all, although the story “moves” it was not gripping at all. I am not one who needs major twists and turns to keep things interesting (my favourite books are the Anne books and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where nothing much really happens plot wise, but it’s all the other wonderful-ness that the author spins around mundane everyday things of life).

But this book just didn’t grab my attention. I kept struggling. I even chucked my 100 page rule (I will abandon a book if it does not interest me even 100 pages into it – life is too short to read things you don’t like). I persevered. But it only got slightly interesting in the last 80 pages or so. I thought that since the author had excellent source material to work with, she might have been able to add more flair and thought to it, but I found that severely lacking. It was a re-telling, yes, and the author was successful in demonstrating a different perspective, but it hasn’t been executed with depth.

The writing felt disjointed at many places. I struggled to gauge why it’s such a bestseller.

This has happened to me in the past with hyped books and it has happened with this book.

5. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5

6. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5

These are the second and third books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – and I admit I’m a bit addicted to them.

The best thing about these books is the interesting observations on the human condition with a sense of (dry but gentle) humour. Nothing too disturbing or shocking happens (there are some dark themes which are explored, but they have been explored with a mature, optimistic hand).

I love the notes on moral dilemmas and the liberty that the author takes with philosophising (and also knowing when to drop it and get on with the plot).

Again, the sub-plots were not anything out of the world, they were very predictable in fact. However, it’s such a pleasure to read these books, and lose yourself in this world.

I have already ordered the next two books in this series and have also got my hands on the first book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by the same author.

I tried to start The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (I have a giant omnibus with all of her major works), but couldn’t get into it. Now thinking of starting Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal which is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan – sounds fun and interesting.

I am also listening to an audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice and find it to be perfectly acceptable background noise while working. Audiobook versions of books I’ve already read would only work for this purpose though, because I don’t pay 100% attention while working (obviously). Since I’d already read it, I knew not to panic when I found Jane going from dancing with Mr. Bingley at one moment to being sick and bed-ridden, while Eliza is “taking turns about the room” with Bingley’s sister a couple of hours later.

Separately, I’m also not counting audiobooks in my “books READ” list. Although they are simply different ways of consuming the same content, they are fundamentally different when it comes to experience. Reading is an active pursuit, i.e. your brain needs to be fully engaged. You can’t really “zone out” and “keep reading” at the same time. Your brain is actively creating images for you. When I’m reading, I can vividly “see” what’s happening in the story. I have a full set developed in my head, and I really see the characters going through their stories, and feel with them. It’s an active form of engagement. Listening to audiobooks is akin to watching television. A lot of the imagining is done for you. Audiobook narrators often bring in a lot of “character” with them. It’s a passive form of engagement.

Both have their own place for me.

EAB and EAB Adjace Updates

It seems whatever workout streaming website I join ends up with a “platform update hiatus” and the minute I leave it (after months of waiting for said update to come to its conclusion), it’s all up and running. *insert WTH face*

I have been a Physique57 devotee for a long time (think years), but in 2018 – mid 2019, there were too many promises of regular new classes, and subsequent lack of the same. So I got fed up, and left. I had a special monthly price which I’d snagged during 2018 Black Friday Sale. But I hadn’t used the platform in weeks because (a) the workouts got my IT Bands tight that needed regular foam rolling and LOTS of stretch time (I still loved them because they are very effective, sigh!) and (b) lack of new content.

I cancelled my Physique57 subscription during August 2019 by which time I’d signed up for Dancebody Online (dance cardio based workout) (which also I LOVE and is something I can see myself becoming a devotee of). HOWEVER, now in October 2019, we learn that Dancebody Online platform is undergoing some updates and will be back to regular updates sometime later in “the winter”. Separately, Physique57’s online platform has been getting regular new content every week!!! Arrrghhh. Talk about frustrating.

Separately, EAB (Exercise Accountability Buddy program) has gone for a toss. In that, we are still EABs, but have both been rather slack about our exercise which (along with consumption of copious quantities of buttery baked goods & creme brulee in France followed by “Diwali Diet”) has led to the regain of the weight that had been lost in July & August – the peak of our EAB success.

TCG and I are hoping to be back in top gear, exercise wise, by November.

Diwali

It was Diwali yesterday.

Since 2016, we have been escaping Delhi and running off to Goa for the 4-5 days around Diwali when Delhi is particularly enveloped in smog. It’s not a pretty (or comfortable) sight at all. Every year we’ve gone to Goa, and we’ve gone to Pousada by the Beach in Candolim.

Y and I LOVE being at Pousada. The food of course is lovely, but what is truly the reason that keeps pulling us back there is the atmosphere and the lovely owners who run the restaurant themselves. They are very chilled out people, they even have a few sunbeds laid out (under shade, because hello this is India and the sun is harsh here). I have memories of having taken blissful afternoon naps there, ha! At this point, Pousada genuinely feels like a home away from home.

But this year, I didn’t want to go on a vacation so soon after our return from France. It was a 2 week break after all, and I have some important projects to get on with at work!! It takes me at least a week to get back into the swing of work things after a long holiday, so I didn’t want to go off just when I had my momentum back (sadly this time it’s taken TWO weeks, and I’m just now getting back in to the thick of things) (my fellow self employed creative type people will understand).

Deep inside, I was also a little enthusiastic about lighting up diyas at home, and doing a #GharWaliDiwali after a long time. I love traditions (fun, non-imposing, and voluntary ones only please which I CHOOSE to do – just clarifying) and I have happy memories of Diwali day from our childhood* and also from my early years in Delhi. The first couple of years here when I was living in Safdarjung Enclave, I’d go to BA’s house for Diwali. We’d do rangoli at her place, light diyas, take photos (very important), eat a ton of yummy food and watch TV. It was fab.

I realised Y & I hadn’t really started our own homey home Diwali tradition, and I wanted to do it! Goa & Pousada were our Diwali traditions – I knew this intellectually but not emotionally – until yesterday.

We were going about our day doing regular things at home, when I really felt like we should be sitting at Pousada at this very instant! Well, that’s how traditions are formed, and you only realise something is truly an emotionally linked tradition when you don’t do it.

Not to say I wasn’t glad to be home – I was. We lit up the fairy lights on the bookshelf and created a cosy atmosphere. I’ve always wanted to string up fairy lights on bookshelves and have a cosy couch around where I’d curl up and read a book while sipping on a hot drink – and I did exactly this yesterday. It was everything I’d made it up to be in my head 🙂

I even got some genda phool from a local vendor (mainly because I wanted to give some business to said local vendor) and made a small – calling it an “arrangement” would be a stretch, so lets call it a – floral border for the diya, and of course we lit that diya up on the exterior. We didn’t have too many diyas at hand (I thought we did, but turns out I had given them all away at some point in the past), so we didn’t put diyas in the balcony – but no stress. It was still nice & cosy and perfectly Diwali-esque. We watched** SRK on David Letterman followed by IIFA awards. Classic.

Another touch was that I was bothered to make a little Diwali card of our own this year!

I was also relieved to note that people didn’t burst as many crackers as the previous year. This was confirmed by my help who said the same thing this morning.

AQI in our area is only in the “Very Unhealthy” range this morning, and not “Hazardous” as it had been the past few years. Now, lets pray to the rain gods for a nice wash down to clean up this mess and we’re sorted!

* This is how we’ve always celebrated festivals at home. Growing up, my mom was a full time working mom with a very busy job and didn’t have time to adhere to crazy levels of traditions. I’m very glad about that. But she always made time to facilitate small but wonderful things around festivals – like eating chandua up on the terrace while hiding from the moon on Kumar Purnima, lighting diyas on our balcony on Diwali (my sister and I did this, with me doing the grubbiest of jobs being the, ahem, younger sibling), worshipping our pens & writing Om with them on Saraswati Puja (and then not studying the whole day, ha! All my fellow odias will remember this as the best festival ever), and so on.

** “Watched” is a bit of a stretch because Y was mostly on his phone and I was reading. We did look up every once in a while when Ayushman & his brother cracked a good zoke.

Diwali 2019