Every year, I manage to read around the same number of books - 45 to 50. I don’t set reading targets and just read when I feel like, and how I feel like. Setting goals reduces the fun for me. This year too, I read around 45 books. All of them are on my Instagram highlight @tarakhandelwal489!
Here are my top 5 of the year!
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld.
This is a fictionalised auto-biography of Laura Bush’s life. I loved every sentence of this book. When she was a teenager, the former first lady was apparently in a car crash that killed one of her school-mates and friends. We see how her life progresses from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. How she meets George Bush aka Charlie, his rowdy all-American family, his bid for Presidency and finally her years in the White House. Emotions and relationships, rather than politics are at the heart of the story. We are given an inside view into what this couple’s life must have been like - through Charles’ drinking problems, to the birth of their child.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I didn’t want to put this book down. There is a lot of historical fiction out there, but this is one of the best I have read. It’s about two French women living through World War 2. One has a family, and her husband goes off to war. The Nazis move into her town and impose curfews, and start hunting the Jews, one of whom, is her best friend and neighbour. A Nazi officer moves into her home. We see the terror of everyday life, dealing with rations, the cold and more. The other sister becomes a spy. She leads American and British soldiers to safety in Spain, through mountains in blistering conditions. It’s a side of the war that I certainly hadn’t seen before. And good news, it will be made into a movie soon!
A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum
This is the story of two generations of Palestinian women living in Brooklyn, New York. As much as their inner domestic world is full of patriarchal norms - having and caring for children, managing the house, dress-codes - the outside world i.e America calls to them. This book reminded me a lot of the Netflix show Unorthodox, which is one of the best shows I have seen this year. It’s about the Hasidic Jew community, also in Brooklyn, and how one girl escapes a marriage and all the limiting laws that come with being a woman in that society. I loved this book because it brought to light an important segment of society, showed a different culture in an empathetic and authentic way. And it’s a very unique kind of coming of age story.
I flew through it. It’s one of those stories you can read in one go
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
What a book. It is told from the point of view of a child, Jai. The story starts when a child goes missing in a Delhi slum, in which Jai lives. Jai and his friends band together to create a detective squad, much like the ones they see on TV. Together, they travel to the seediest parts of the city, and as more children go missing, they leave child’s play behind and grow up along the way. I loved how Anappara portrays the topic of missing children with so much empathy. I also loved the voice of the narrator and was fascinated with the author’s ability to create a child’s voice.
Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro
Non-fiction that reads like fiction. Sonia Faleiro unpacks the lives of bar-dancers in Mumbai, and to do this she follows the life of one particular dancer Leila. Along the way, we find out about the socio-political eco-system in which these bar dancers used to operate, their struggles, inner lives, how laws have affected their lives and so-on. It’s gritty, raw and very truthful. I could just imagine the amount of effort and research that went into every single line of this book.
She is out with a new book! And we are going to be interviewing her on our podcast.
A Private Letter
Every year, I also write myself a private email letter listing out all my achievements, failures and goals. I compare what I have done to the goals I had listed out in the previous year. I find it a great exercise and highly recommend it. It makes me think about how I have grown, patterns and themes that keep coming up in my life, why I have inertia over certain things and also reinforces my faith in my own intuition!
For example, I wrote down that I didn’t think I would travel much this year and voila! The pandemic. Just kidding.
Do try it out, and if you want, send me your letter!
As an entrepreneur, you are always focused on creation. Creating more content and doing more. But this year, I learnt the importance of organisation. Now, in general, I am a messy person. Anyone who knows me, knows this. So it is a bit of a struggle setting up processes, systems and the like. It’s not natural to me. But I find I have hit a road-block. We are unable to grow unless this is done.
In a great conversation with Isabelle of KS collective, I got a recommendation for this concept: https://www.the1thing.com/
What’s the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
I made a video about the top two lessons I learnt this year (I haven’t spoken about them in this newsletter), and the top two things that kept me going! Here it is! Thank you for reading this newsletter. I would love to hear your book recommendations and the things that kept you going this year!
Happy New Year!
As a person who borders on the obsessive-compulsive, I have to say that process is absolutely key. It de-clutters your mind to from the mundane and opens up the mental bandwidth towards greater creativity. In an organization (as I write this I can't help but notice the word "organization" overlap with "organize") it is even more important since it helps define the culture of the company.