Monday, November 11, 2013

Books that changed my life


Is there anything more promising than flipping over the first page of a new book? The rustle of the fresh paper. The smell of the print. The quick peak to the last chapter, and immediate retraction. Re-reading the back flap. Checking out the list of other books by the author. It all holds such promise. Promise of hours of pleasure.

Is there anything more fated than picking up an old book at a second hand store and it becoming one of your favorites? The dog-ears that greet you. The yellow in the pages. The wonder at how many other people would have touched and been touched by the book.

Is there anything more delightful than picking up a random book in the library without knowing anything about the book or the author? And then discovering the sheer joy the book gives you. Recommending it to all those who you know will appreciate it. Buying the book so you have it in your collection after you have returned the library copy.

Is there a more intuitive salesperson than the one who looks at the books in your basket and confidently recommends one that you will love? 

Is there a truer friend than the one who knows the kind of books you like and gifts them to you on your birthday?

Is there a more faithful partner than the one who knows you enough to gift you a book you would never pick up, but will definitely enjoy? 

Is there anything more wonderful than a book that changes your life?

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)

I read Fountainhead when I was 16 or 17. When I read it again almost two decades later, I was amazed at the fact that I understood the concepts in the book when I was mere teenager. It's tough to comprehend all the messages in the book even now, but the key ones always stayed with me. And they shaped a lot of my world views in the years to come.

The simplicity of Howard Roark's philosophy about work was what made it profound. It all boiled down to you must love your work. And you must do it with utmost integrity and unmatched passion. No compromises. Too idealistic you ask? Perhaps so. But it's what I have always strived for, even if not always achieved.

It was because of Fountainhead that I got fascinated with Architecture. Being terrible at both math and design, I would never qualify to make it my profession. My secret hope always has been to find a partner who is an architect- just like Roark. Roark even won the title of my Dream Man vying it away other fictitious characters, even as illustrious as Mr. Darcy himself.

Aamir Khan spoke about this same philosophy about choosing a career that you have a passion for in the movie 3 Idiots- which came many years later. Subconsciously I had been following it since I first 'met' Roark. Growing up in the 80s in India, academically bright students like me used to opt for either medicine or engineering. I refused to even consider science as a stream. I opted for Commerce and Economics even though my inclination was towards Art. Guess practicality won over idealism there. For my Masters, when majority clamored towards bank and consultancy roles, I preferred marketing as a career. Highly disappointed that I didn't get a job in marketing, I chose advertising, or rather advertising chose me. And here I still am. I love everything about this industry- the creativity, the passion, the irreverence, the eclectic mix of people. I have learned so much and have gained so many beautiful experiences...but that's a story for another time. Or perhaps a book :)

As it's said "Love your work and you will not need to work a single day of your life". 

Encapsulated beautifully by Ayn Rand in Roark's quote:

“But you see," said Roark quietly, "I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards—and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.” 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 


I love thee for giving the world a story which became the foundation of almost every

other love story since. I love thee for introducing me to Mr. Darcy. A man who single handedly is responsible for all my romantic illusions, or you could call them delusions. I love thee for glimpses of innocent love in form of Jane and Bingley. I love thee for making me understand the naively and silliness of Lydia when I was her age. But most of all I love thee for bringing Elizabeth Bennett in my life. There has never been a heroine I have felt more connected to. How could a character be written so fabulously that women 200 years later find themselves in her? It is amazing power of words. And magic of Austen.

 

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989)

A historic fiction book based in the 12th century set against the backdrop of the building of a cathedral. The book explores themes of intrigue and conspiracy against the civil war, religious conflicts, and shifting political loyalties. Architecture is a big part of the story too. See the pattern emerging here? Pillars of the Earth introduced me to the notion of challenging religious dogmas and coming to grips with machiavellian mindsets. Strangely, from the nuns in the story I learnt about the concept of feminism. It's still one of the best plots I have come across. A book I can re-read anytime and still be surprised at the twists and turns. 

Love Story, Oliver's Story by Erich Segal (1970, 1977)
Love Story is one the best love stories ever. Period. There is no debate.

And Erich Segal is one my favorite authors. His every book is a masterpiece- Doctors, Class, Acts of Faith. All my favorites. But Love Story is something else.

The very first line of the book has you hooked. 

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach? The Beatles? And me?

Yes Jenny dies. You know that at the beginning of the book, so you are well aware that you are going to be crying buckets at the end of it. Jenny was Oliver's soulmate. Polar opposites but meant to be be together. And they were. Until she died. And he had to carry on living in the sequel. The book is a timeless romance. Oliver and Jenny's love formed the cornerstone of my feelings about love. I still believe love like that exists, but only a few lucky ones find it. 

Oliver's story offered me a more grounded reality of love. Mature love. Love which was born out of reality, but was still hopeful.

Whatever romantic illusions Mr. Darcy had set, Oliver Barrett IV cemented. And I have been screwed ever since.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (2007)

Much before Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt made salmon sexy, I picked up the book from the library after reading a review. I had no idea what to expect. It was the authors first book. So there was no baggage there either. It was a book about salmon fishing. My least favorite fish. And about Yemen. Country I knew nothing about. 


Yet I count it as one of the most delightful stories. Wiki describes it as a "romantic comedy" which is the same genre as "Confessions of a Shopaholic". Seriously!? It is not a story about romance, though romance is a part of the story. It's not a comedy, though the writing is very humorous. It's a book about breaking norms, following your instincts  and never, ever stop believing.

The book came to me at a trying time of my life and showed me that there is always a place for hope. And miracles. You simply need to believe. 

Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2009)

Mahabharat is an epic. The story, the characters, the plots, the lessons all have been a big part of my life's philosophy and beliefs. The difference here is that this story was written from the perspective of Drupadi, the principal female character. It bought to forefront the deep male chauvinism that is steeped in Indian society. It questioned the righteousness of some of the male protagonists. It raised doubts on certain age-old beliefs. It sympathized the plight of Drupadi and made readers realize her pain, while the epic always only focused on her anger.

The author took one big liberty with this ancient tale which forms the key foundation of the entire book. This one departure makes you look at the epic rather differently, especially as a woman. Divakaruni uses nuances from the take to scratch beneath the surface, uncover hidden intentions and present them in a new light. What comes out is a fresh perspective and if nothing else at least offers food for thought. 

For me it reinforced my admiration for Drupadi and it made me realize more than ever fighting for your right can never ever be wrong. 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)

I read this other Ayn Rand's magnum opus more than twenty years after The Fountainhead. The book simply cannot be classified into a genre. It's a thriller and there is mystery. It is a science fiction to some effect. It has romance and lots of sex. It's about business and politics. It's about ideologies and philosophy. It educates, it warns. It instills  fear and then hope, or perhaps the other way round. But most importantly it makes you think. It makes you question. 

"So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Aconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made – before it can be looted or mooched – made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent".

In simpler terms its not wealth that is bad, but the relationship one has with it. Is it wealth gotten my honest means, or is it looted in some way, shape or form? Is it used to indulge simply in ones hedonistic pleasures or is at least part of if given to the less fortunate? Is it the centre of ones existence and feeds ones constant fears of losing it? Or is it spent selflessly to give joy to others? 

Atlas Shrugged renewed my faith in capitalism. Capitalism not materialism. The two concepts could not be further apart. I have always maintained that inefficiency is a bigger fault than stupidity. Don't blame the smarter, sharper and more intelligent ones who have made more money than inefficient, stupid and ineffectual ones. Each unabashedly deserved what they have received. 



 I wrote this for you by Pleasefindthis (2011)

"I need you to understand something. I wrote this for you. I wrote this for you and only you. Everyone else who reads it, doesn't get it." 

How can you not pick a book that says this? And I spotted the last one on the shelf, and only because I would get a free bag if I spend more money. It was fated. As it's said, a book chooses you. And comes to you at the time you need it most. 

This book is a collection of writings, poems and photographs that showcase a relationship between two people which once was deep and intense, and has since then ceased to exist, but it's effect still lingers. It's about soulmate and lost souls. The words touched my heart like not much has in recent times.

What is most heartening for me is that books have always been a huge part of my life, and will continue to be so. And their power to change my life is never changing. 











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