Book Review: A Man Called Ove

img_0709Intrigued by all the hype, I downloaded  the book on Overdrive (the great app that lets you borrow books online-all you need is a Library Card). I was finishing up other books and somehow could read just a few and it got auto-returned in 3 weeks. As I placed another hold to get the book back, I downloaded the audiobook from Hoopla as well. Part book and part audiobook, I eventually did finish A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The story: is set in Sweden. It is about a 59-year old (though the character actually sounds more like a 70-ish) fastidious and grouchy man called Ove (oo-veh) who has just lost his job to someone of the younger tech savvy generation, and lost his wife of several years, to cancer. He is an old-school, black-and-white kind of guy, who lives to follow rules. A handyman who loves to use his tools, he believes very firmly that Saab made the best cars on earth. The other characters in the story are Ove’s neighbors, including a young Iranian immigrant, Parvaneh, who is pregnant mother of two little girls,  the old couple Rune and Anita, a few other neighbors, and a stray cat. Ove tries to commit suicide (to join his departed wife) several times, but some matter concerning either a neighbor or someone breaking a rule or the stray cat keep him from his matter-of-fact important project of dying successfully. Interjected with backstories from his childhood and about his late wife Sonja, the main story develops with Ove’s increased interaction and involvement with his neighbors and their lives in a series of tragic-comic events.

Good things about the book:
Backman’s has a peculiar way of bringing out humor that Ove’s strong opinions evoke. And that runs throughout the book. Ove, in spite of appearing to be angry with his “rule-breaking” neighbors (and the whole world in general), has a soft heart. How this lonely aging man develops a bond with the two little neighbor girls (like a grandfather to them) is very endearing (As a side-note, and this is as funny as it is cultural, but in India, we address almost all elders or elderly- including those we don’t know, like the vegetable vendors or shop keepers- as either uncle/aunty or grandpa/grandma: less alienating and giving respect that comes with age). However, the most important aspect, I think, that makes this book so popular, despite it not being particularly “exciting” or “deep”, is that it gives the reader a sense of community and togetherness, especially when (or because) it seems to be waning so swiftly from our lives. I digress- but since the time of cavemen, the human race increased its odds of survival against the stronger wild predators and elements of Nature being in groups and communities. It is so basic to our evolution and must be part of our DNA. That the readers all over the world who loved it and felt so good about these basic qualities bears testimony it.

If it is a simple story that is a relatively light read, A Man Called Ove is also funny, feel-good and very heartwarming. As I progressed towards the final chapters, warm tears were streaming down my cheeks and it just felt so good at the same time (I seem to love shedding tears watching movies or reading, and strangely not at all ashamed of it).

So I’d say, give the book a shot.
Check out: the Movie Trailer here, and the entire audiobook here (not sure how long before its taken down!)

SOME QUOTES:
Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.”

He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”

To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one’s own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That’s it, all the little secrets that make it your home

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Phil Knight, the Creator of NIKE (Book Review)

When goods don't pass international borders, soldiers will. Quote by Phil Knight, creator of Nike Shoes and Apparel, Memoir Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. A memoir by the creator of Nike. Cover pageBill Gates recommended the book on his blog, and according to Warren Buffett, it is  the best book he read in 2016 (and that copies will be available at the annual Berkshire shareholders meet in May’17): Didn’t mean much to me when hubby mentioned it. He had loved the book and insisted (more than once) that I give it a shot. Unlike him, I wanted to protest,  I do not particularly consider myself a business buff. Instead, I just read it. After, awed and emotional, I just mumbled “No. Wonder.”

It was 1962 and in one of his morning runs, the shy and introverted Phil Knight wondered what he wanted to do in life. Though his ultimate dream of becoming a great athlete had not come to pass, he had resolved that whatever he did, it will not be work, it will be play. He was driven by the ideal of greatness to do something meaningful that made a difference in the world. At Stanford he had written a paper on the great potential the Japanese running shoes have to make deep cuts into the shoe market (just like they did with cameras), hitherto dominated by the Germans. Obsessed with what he called the “Crazy Idea,” he started selling the Japan-made Tiger shoes, and Blue Ribbon Sports was born. Of what would become Nike later, the company sales grew steadily and then exponentially, doubling sales every year. His coach Bill Bowerman, loved and regarded very highly of by Knight, became his partner, and gave excellent inputs on shoe improvement, as a result of his trail and error experiments with different designs and materials. In time, many talented people became a part of his company and shared his passion to play.

Though his business was growing rapidly, he would plow all the profits back into his business, leaving no “cash” (highly unacceptable to the Banks). As such, he had to always fight and beg for more credit of his bank. He was taking very high risks. To have a fall back income, Knight earned his CPA and worked for Price Waterhouse for several years, and later taught Accounting at Portland State University, all while selling shoes. Page after page of the years described in the book are filled with war that Knight and his team are fighting to not go out of business. But their passion to play, mutual camaraderie, and inexhaustible grit keep them together and going (as it does the reader). There are poignant moments where he expresses regret for not able to balance his home life, giving enough time to his two sons.

In the last part of the book, Knight looks back after stepping down as the CEO of NIKE for 40 years, wondering if of all this was just business. Most certainly not, he stresses. Far from it.
All this was about the passion and love for sports.
It was about having strong close relationships, be it with his coach or his team or even the endorsed celebrity athletes (he has a close bond with Tiger Woods, Agassi, Michael Jordan, to name just a few).
It was about the obsession to do something different on one’s own terms; money never a goal but  a means to make it happen. A by product.

A business started with $50 investment is today a $30 billion empire – a stunningly impressive number, sure. But to peer behind the scene and walk in Knight’s ‘shoes’ to see where it all began only as a Crazy Idea, is something quite extraordinary: real, relatable and somehow…. doable! Add to it the great storytelling and excellent writing, Shoe Dog would leave you at a high point, emotional, awestruck and stirringly motivated.

Educating. Inspiring. A compelling read. Very highly recommended. 5 Solid stars on my Goodreads.

Well played, Mr. Knight!

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up

‘Zen And The Art of Minimalism’ could be an alternate title of this book by Marie Kondo. It is the English translation of the original book written in Japanese.

img_0084-1I am part of the Generation X, and grew up when middle class was really the middle class. We seemed to have just enough to get by and save and be debt-free. We rarely discarded anything, I remember, partly because we didn’t seem to have much to discard, and partly because we could surely ‘use it in future’. Now in the age of consumerism, it is  “hoarding”, and there was an urgent need to unlearn.

That point on space & time graph:

I believe that there are trying times in all our lives that sweep us off our feet and we question everything that we have – people, relationships, things. Looking around in this moment of powerful contemplation and finding meaningless “stuff” about us, we just might have the ‘and-why-do-I-have-all-this-cr@p-anyway’ moment. I did, over a year ago when, quite serendipitously, I found this book. Because it resonated with me so much, I strongly wanted spread the word. It answered for me questions like “how do I create my Happy Place?” literally,  or “how to be happy”.

Fight Club, Minimalism, Quote. We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like. Things you own end up owning you.The book:

With systematic steps to declutter your home, what she calls the Kon-Mari method (from her last and first names), the author writes passionately and in an honest voice. Her principle is to surround oneself with things that spark joy, and discard the rest (as much as possible). She goes a few steps further in asking readers to touch everything and see if you feel good about it, to their express gratitude for their service  (something she is ridiculed for). No wonder this book seems to be a hit or a miss. Yes- there is repetition, and yes-there are suggestions that might seem beyond you. But do not take it literally, if you so disagree; take it with a grain of salt so as to not miss the important underlying principle.

Minimalism

MinimalismBeing idealistic and passionate, I aspire to the ideal of minimalism. In principle, one doesn’t need to have what one doesn’t need to have. More and more, I look for meaning in things and people and relationships- quality, more than quantity. Have less things, but good ones that serve your purpose that you feel happy about. Don’t let the things you own, own you.
Minimalism is not as much about figuring and discarding what you don’t want as it is about diving deep within to find what you really do. Gnothi seauton: Know thyself. Quite simple. And very difficult. When you let go of things, I think, you practice “letting go” in general, a very handy virtue. When I  give up/away things with-out, it frees up energy that sort of comes back to me within. This is highly empowering. Pointing to this truth is the beauty and the value of this book.

In defense of the book:

What is an ideal? Some thing that is perfect- a highest attainable degree of excellence. Are  or can humans be ideal? No-not generally. So, do we need ideals? Yes, absolutely. Because we need something to aim for. Something to go by. I wonder if religion had a similar purpose with its tenets- all point to some basic ideals (and ideally keep out of trouble with the Church and one another- but that is a whole ‘nother complex topic). A particular example that I grew up knowing is of Sri Ram in Indian mythology, called maryada purushottam, the ideal man; though no one could be all like him, the society has Him as the model to aspire to.img_0096

While The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up contains tactical steps and a method to tidying up your stuff, the book is not really about things; it is actually about the ideal of living very consciously and having your home/space as an expression and extension of it… with the things that spark joy. Now what a beautiful, inspiring and life-changing idea that is!

Further Reading: The Minimalists, Becoming Minimalist, Best resources

 Goodreads review.

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith Book ReviewThis book gave me a lot of trouble because I was quite moved by it and so, very much wanted to talk about it, but feared just might spoil it (you will know why*). None of the approaches I took felt right, yet  I could not abandon it. Ergo, this is a simple account of a few themes that ran through the compelling memoir of the poet, singer-songwriter and rock ‘n roll artist, Patti Smith.

Nostalgia. Barely twenty, penniless and unsure, but not without an intense desire to become an artist, Smith steps into New York City, then a petri dish for the counterculture of the 1960’s, with widespread use of recreational drugs, free sexual expression & exploration, psychedelic music, and the Beat generation giving way to the hippie culture. Once past my initial shock over their avant-garde lifestyle (credited entirely to the author’s honest and sober narration), I pictured those times in curious wonderment: the nobodies with the potential to be trailblazers; the weirdos, the drug addicts, the experimentalist; the searchers, the idealists, the artists… Those must have been interesting times!

Patti Smith. Cover of Album 'Horses'
P. Smith. Album cover ‘Horses’. By Robert.

The Chelsea Hotel, where, in a peculiar turn of events, Smith and her friend Robert start living. Known to be a haven for writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and colorful personalities, famous and yet to be famous, one could trade art could for the room-rent. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe“, she writes. At this point in the book there are several names mentioned, some known to me, others unknown: Andy WarholJimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats,  and a multitude of others that I googled as I encountered, only to get woefully intrigued by their life-stories. Some made it, the rest succumbed to drugs or AIDS, and never lived to see the times they were ahead of.

Patti Smith Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti and Robert

Patti and Robert. What will stay with me is the tender friendship Patti Smith shared with her lover for a while, and best friend forever, Robert Mapplethorpe. It is a beautiful thing to see how they really understood one another, not only as friends but also as artists. “Nobody sees as we do, Patti” Robert would say, and “whenever he said things like that, for a magical space of time, it was if we were the only two people in the world.

Their relationship went through various definitions, but belonged to none. “We were evolving with different needs. I needed to explore beyond myself and Robert needed to search within himself.” With time Robert would discover and accept his homosexuality, and go on to become a famous (albeit controversial) photographer. Smith, a sketch artist and a poet, would finally find her niche and become a musician and the leader of her band ‘The Patti Smith Group’, and start a new life with her husband, Fred. Notwithstanding that, both of them would remain as close friends as they always were.

The last part was heart wrenching and yet there was a sense of innate beauty in its naked truth. Robert gets diagnosed with AIDS. For Patti (and for the reader who is now so invested in their lives), the idea of losing him is extremely unsettling. On his deathbed he wishes that she write their story.

Just Kids is Patti’s a fascinating and poignant tribute to their friendship. *There was something quietly private she tore apart and put out there for the world to read, and it feels like sacrilege to “review” it; one can just relate and respect and carry it in one’s heart. Of course, there is more to the book: Patti’s love for poetry and for poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, their times of struggle, their friends and their interesting journey in interesting times. It deserved 5 stars on my Goodreads.

I loved this excerpt from the epilogue ‘A note to the reader’ by the author:

“…There could be many stories I could yet write about Robert, about us. But his is the story I have told you. It is the one he wished me to tell and I have kept my promise. We were Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was the splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And having gone he left the task to me to tell it to you.

Poem by Smith for Robert- who had the greenest of eyes- for his Memorial:

 Little emerald bird
Wants to fly away
If I cup my hand
Could I make him stay?

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald soul
Must you say goodbye?

All the things that we pursue
All that we dream
Are composed as nature knew
In a feather green

Little emerald bird
As you light afar
It is true I heard
God is where you are

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Book 1)

Outlander by Diana Gibaldon
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

What a disservice this book has done. As I read, I was far removed from my daily life and the chores, much to the silent consternation of my family members; Outlander had swept me off my feet!

This is the first book in a series of eight books (so far, and counting) by Diana Gabaldon. It is 1945 and the World War II has just ended. Claire, a combat nurse, accidentally goes back in time, two hundred years in the past to 1743, and there begins the adventure. She encounters few McKenzie clansmen in kilts speaking with Scottish Gaelic dialect, who, suspecting her to be an English spy, take her along to Castle Leoch. There, she tries to heal patients with whatever amenities and herbs she is able to get. Amidst family politics, clan rivalry and the Jacobite rebellion, develops Claire’s relationship with Jamie. Their fierce and impassioned love in the thick of continual danger, constant insecurity and looming fear only gets stronger, and keeps the book together. Their love and dedication to one another is one of the things so wonderful about the story. As they are displaced hither and yon, one witnesses the loyalty and valor of friends who come to their rescue from time to time. Set in the pristine Scottish Highlands, the book is replete with rich imagery of the terrain and the flora, with detailed description of plants, trees and birds.

The Scottish Highlands. Outlander.
The Scottish Highlands

I had almost fallen off my bed seeing the page count of my ebook: three times of a ‘regular’ sized book. How was I ever going to finish it? (Besides, there is this Goodreads Reading Challenge 2017 I signed up for, you see.) I finished the book in not more than 4 days, staying up very late, getting up in the wee hours, and reading while waiting in the car! It was worth the while. It is amusing to see life in those times, simpler of course, but certainly not as convenient as today; our commonplace comforts in the 21st century are manifold over those of the richest of the rich of that time. The valor displayed by people in wars and combats made me shudder. The book is so long and detailed that one starts dwelling in that time, living life along side the characters. And since it is a series, the characters and their stories create for us a universe, not unlike the Harry Potter series of books. Having completed the book, I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Book # 2 is on my list.

Note of the TV series: I saw the first episode (because it was free on Starz), partly out of curiosity, and partly due to my longing to dwell more into the book. It is quite well made, the show, left to itself. But I would not want to watch it just yet, as the characters I created in my mind reading the book still linger, with obscure faces notwithstanding, that are close to my heart. I would not want to spoil the aftertaste while it lasts.

 A beautiful, intense and a memorable book.