When the words beckon

Analysis of the art of reading

Blogger, Tom Johnson, of the I’d Rather be Writing blog recently experimented with reducing his smartphone usage and filled that time with reading. He shares some interesting views in this latest post. I made notes that ended up becoming observations worth sharing.

  1. “Queuing up books” – Been there, still doing it. My eBook library has books for seven lifetimes. Every time I read a good review or hear a recommendation, I grab a copy. The reasonable pricing of eBooks makes piling on the reading list relatively easy. However, looking at the ever-expanding reading list can be stressful. Often, I have this urge to give it all up and just wade through that enormous shelf.

2. “The problem is that my interests evolve from book to book.” This, I believe, is not the problem but the “power” of reading books. It opens new thought vistas and encourages questions. Someone asked me the other day what kind of books I read and my response was “anything that holds my attention.” My taste has increasingly shifted from fiction to nonfiction but I can also devour Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield, cover-to-cover, any time of the day. Reading variety changes the mood and widens our knowledge.

3. “….I decided it wasn’t worth slogging through.” It took me some mental reconditioning to accept that some books are not worth the effort, and some are good in just bits and pieces. I still find it a difficult decision but I have started rationalizing skip-reading and not making it a battle to finish a book that I don’t want to. Tom talks more about this in the section, “Can I skip ahead when bored?”

4. “Buy print versions of audiobooks I enjoyed?” – It’s a personal choice but audible formats don’t hold my attention. Audible versions keep me hooked to my smartphone, which is counterintuitive to the act of reading. I also miss making notes and highlights. I love physical books and buy many on impulse, however, I usually end up with the Kindle version for convenience.

5. “For me, part of the reading experience involves interacting with the book through these annotations. Writing in a book destroys it for resale, but I consider that part of the cost of reading.” – I try to keep my books clean and find a local library to donate or share it with a friend. However, the desire to annotate is as real as Tom describes and this makes eBooks an appropriate choice for me.

6. “I dislike Kindle entirely. Reading from screens is the worst.” This is a universally debatable notion since the birth of the eReader. The eInk technology and the disconnect from any other app or truly workable web access, differentiate a Kindle from a typical screen. I love my Kindle Paperwhite because it powers a more immersive reading experience and is more portable with anytime-anywhere reading. Tom also talks about “How to remember words I look up?” For me, the Kindle highlights and dictionary lookup work well to create a mental map. I can easily search and refresh my memory.

7. “Is reading expensive?” – This is subjective and depends on the format as well as a source of books, for example, libraries, free or discounted eBooks, or used book stores. However, any hobby or pastime involves a monetary angle.

8. “I do think writing reviews would be a good skill to develop, though.” – As a regular book reviewer, I agree with this. It has helped me in developing critical analysis and vocabulary, paraphrasing, and writing in engaging ways. It enables me to pay back to the community of writers, especially self-published, by spreading the word about their work. Book reviews are a beautiful thing to do – for the self and the authors.

9. “Reading is a natural precursor, even a requirement, to writing.” – Always! The more you read the better you write and that’s true for self-review or edits in one’s own writing. The work evolves with each iteration.

10. “What value do non-technical books have on a technical career?” I am glad that Tom raises this question about how book reading as a hobby can help in our technical writing profiles. Well, content strategy, paraphrasing, minimalism, understanding audiences, and trends, are all skills that grow as we expand intellectually. As Tom says, “Perhaps reading helps prime and tune my intellectual engine, which then makes me more capable in performing other tasks (even in writing documentation).”

I enjoyed reading Tom’s article and crystallized my views on the wonderful hobby of reading. Tom’s article has many more points to ponder, for example, is reading passive or are book clubs worth the time. You may find your takeaways or rediscover the lost art of reading. At the end of it, don’t forget to grab a book.

Book Review: Remote, Not Distant

Remote, Not Distant – Gustavo Razzetti – Book Cover

Book: Remote, Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace

Author: Gustavo Razzetti

Genre: Non-fiction, business

Review copy: Reedsy Discovery

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Must Read

The “new normal” became the buzzword in most professional circles during the pandemic years. Today, the “new normal” is the “new world” demanding a mindset change and adjustments. The diktat for return-to-office has led to an upheaval that is said to feed the Great Resignation, particularly in the corporate realm. Remote, Not Distant by Gustavo Razzetti is one of the most relevant books that leaders and employees can read to build bridges and settle down in a hybrid work mode.

Gustavo’s book is well-researched and well-organized. It puts together details in a succinct and meaningful format. The book endorses that corporate leaders have to accept that “The hybrid workplace is here to stay.” Employees expect leaders to understand their perspectives and include them in decisions about flexibility and a hybrid work model.

The book provides a 5-step Anywhere/Anytime Culture approach to tackle the issue head-on. The writer has used examples and quotes from industry practitioners and consultants to explain how a hybrid work model requires resetting prior notions. He breaks down jargon to their basic connotations to showcase why words must truly convey our intentions – be it culture, purpose, employee engagement, rituals, or ideas. He mentions asynchronous communication, proximity bias, single-source of truth, and conflicts.

Readers are presented with an array of frameworks and tools, downloadable with QR codes and topic recaps. My copy of this book has several highlights and notes. It is insightful to read how some companies got it right with their employee-first approach, while some took a fall. A storehouse of information, this guide, can help leaders define what they need to make the hybrid workplace work. It can assist employees to see where the lines converge and how they can contribute to their organizations in a remote or hybrid setup. They can be equipped to bring suggestions to the table.

This guide endorses a switch in our thought process and provides actions to redraft our way of working for a “unique opportunity to reset your culture and leverage the best of both worlds: in-person and remote.” Gustavo Razzetti, the CEO and founder of Fearless Culture, a culture design consultancy, is vocal about integrity, trust, conversations, connections, and letting go of control tactics. Behaviors and emotions are more important than physical perks. The bright-yellow book cover is unmistakable and brings to attention one of the most crucial issues of the employer-employee relationship in a post-Covid world. This is a book for keeps.

Book Review: I thought the adventure would never end

Sumedha Dogra – Book cover

Book: I thought the adventure would never end

Author: Sumedha Dogra

Genre: Fiction, Short stories

Review copy: Himalayan Book Club

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Liked It

Author Sumedha Dogra brings to life tales of nostalgia in an anthology of short stories – I Thought The Adventure Would Never End. The first two stories have female characters – strong and independent. Sanju masi and Sujata, the protagonists in the two stories, are leading lives on their terms. The writer draws up charming imagery of elegant old houses, amidst nature, filled with memories, where her leading ladies indulge in their interests – nurturing plants or writing.

Are they blissful or “bored”; “jaded by pragmatism” or jubilant in a suitable existence that women in their thirties seek? Is it true that “Life stops getting better than it is” for these women? In two tender stories, Sumedha brings forth some existential questions that make us ponder.

When a television-casting agent meets the interesting Ms. Angie, does his life turn upside down? The writer weaves a captivating story in Current Affairs, wherein what seems unconventional may be the practical way to accept life’s truths. A mishap in Goa helps a young mathematics teacher discover shades of his personality. In this catching story, To Integers and beyond, the writer experiments with themes of nostalgia and narrates stories from a school in Goa.

The Last Day of the Burger starts on an enterprising and humorous note, but does it stay that way till the end? As is the penchant with most people, their lives eventually are more ironic and their destinies more tyrannical than they can bear. In childhood play, a young, athletic girl tries hard to find a place in the team of her three brothers and gives Sumedha an energetic tale to tell. The last story in the book, Goodbye, has a line that lyrically sums up the spirit of this collection – “The yellow-colored memories of languorous afternoons spent on the lap of a lover.”

The writer has crafted humane stories with love, and they reflect her power of observation and imagination. The characters are relatable and they charm us, even when we can see where the story is headed. A weak element in this book is the editing. Some stories could have fewer words and the narration could have been better. If we can look past this, then Sumedha’s work is creative and entertaining, and a worthy attempt at storytelling about ordinary people.

Book Review: Stars from the Borderless Sea

Shalini Mullick – Book cover

Book: Stars from the Borderless Sea

Author: Shalini Mullick

Genre: Fiction, Short stories, Romance

Review copy: Himalayan Book Club

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Liked It

The stars manipulate destiny, passion is borderless, and longing is as deep as the sea, in Shalini Mullick’s book of three short stories. Shalini creates stories out of the mundane lives of men and women as they navigate the treacherous shenanigans of their hearts and nagging doubts in their minds. It’s the language of love that strings together the stories of youthful affection maturing into words that can only be contained in handwritten letters.

The stories are built on the vast premise of typical Indian households. The background of all of them is the dramatic transformation of an Independent India, with its still prevalent economic divide and enterprising people. Aroma of dal tadka and saccharine masala chai in a college canteen is juxtaposed against cold coffee and sandwiches in the first two stories. Red chilly pickle and mathris seem to represent the heat of resentment and saltiness in a newly married couple’s life in the third story. Such simple and vibrant details fill the spaces and instill the stories with life. Newspapers feature in each story, giving them a hint of nostalgia.

Shalini’s stories are well-written and have an emotional appeal. They endearingly elaborate on many aspects of life in India. The first story is well-researched in aspects of the Armed forces and the Rajwadas in post-independent India. There is a lyrical quality, a tenderness in the narration that stories of that era inherently possess. The kaleidoscope offers a peek into the many colors and flavors of our rich culture and society.

The second story has a more modern approach. It packs in a lot of elements, as it navigates the emotions of a successful couple and secrets that keep them distant through the years. The third is also centered on a modern working couple. I felt some of the narration was added to bulk up the word count. However, the writing is impeccable and it does not weigh you down.

The plotlines are predictable but generally most romantic stories have a common texture and theme, such is the nature of love. It’s the narration and the style that keeps one engaged. The author successfully keeps the reader involved. This is a good weekend read and will appeal to audiences who want to know more about Indian culture and those who want to read stories closer to home.

Book Review: Midnight Journey of a Seed

Book: Midnight Journey of a Seed

Author: Manish Srivastava

Genre: Poetry, Philosophy, Self-help, Spiritual

Available at: Amazon.in

Recommended: Liked It

The Covid-19 pandemic had us struggling mentally and spiritually because none of us ever thought such a calamity would befall our modern society with so many amenities and scientific backing. Manish Srivastava writes in his poetry collection- Midnight Journey of a Seed

“There is a wild uncharted field

Between what science can explain

And what religion can claim”

With countries, communities, and families grappling with the horrors of a rogue virus of unknown origins, trying to make sense of a cloistered lifestyle bound by lockdowns, covered by masks, Manish is shaken and perturbed. Like many individuals, he takes a deep inward journey. He pens down his thoughts using the techniques of journaling and poetry. Taking cues from spiritual influences in his life and practical experiences as a family man and professional, he creates a book that deserves a space in our bookshelves. The pandemic way of life affected the writer, and the anguish and sensitivity seeped through the pages, both in prose and verse. 

Manish’s book is brave, as it calls out issues of governance. It is triggering because it revives the traumatic months of our world ravaged by the pandemic. Yet, his work is important because we are capable of collective amnesia, and it is imperative for the revival and regeneration of our civilization to remember what we have endured. He says, 

“At 70 cases we were alarmed

At 7 million we have become numb and disengaged”

The reflective writings remind us not to be complacent or casual. He calls upon the endurance and the commitment of our ancestors. We emerge from their seeds – tendrils, shoots, and leaves, with roots bound to the Earth. Manish’s work is meditative. He shares his spiritual practices, encouraging us to invoke a similar empathetic journey. The writing is straightforward, simple, and relatable. The tone is sad, lingering, yet hopeful, and at times even satirical. For how else can a writer shake us from the nonchalance of our precious existence?

The artwork by Sumitra Ahake, a gifted artist, further enhances the contemplative value of this book. Look deep inside each piece of Warli art embedded in seed and reflect on the message in the ink strokes. The artwork, poetry, and prose—all deserve undivided attention—consumed in whole or part. This book endorses the power of resilience and the need for individual awakening to develop a collective consciousness committed to nourishing the seed within us.

Grab your copy for a weekend journey into what we braced in 2020-2021. This book will make you ponder how we must approach 2022 and beyond, in the shadow of the unknown. Manish sums it up in one of his 77 poems:

“Life doesn’t care what we plan —

It gives us what we secretly long

To preserve our essence

In the middle of any storm”

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