📖 Recent reads

[This is in a different format from the usual book post.]

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Late Night at The Lobster

I started on this book as a recommendation from Story Graph, and I guess I approve of the algorithm! It is a very interior book, and you live in the head of Manny, the manager of a chain restaurant that has just been ordered by HQ to close down for good. Manny struggles through the last shift, with his rag-tag crew, and he struggles through life – with a waitress he is in love with and his pregnant girlfriend. It is very far from my day-to-day, and I enjoyed being immersed, for a short while, in Manny’s world. [3/5]


The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team

The story on Alberto Salazar broke a few years ago, and Nike continued to support him for a time. We have read Mary Cain’s brave story, and Kara Goucher’s book brings more depth to the darkness that consumed those who happened to be Salazar’s orbit in those years. It is a courageous book, and a story that ought to be written and ought to be read. Harsher critics question if the writer could have done more / earlier, and whether this book serves to ameliorate some of her guilt. But to me, to even be able to do what she eventually had, Goucher had to have fortitude in spades. Yes, she could have done differently, but so do we all. She deserves to process it the way she wants to (the privilege of being a writer). She was in a tough situation and perhaps the progressiveness of the world today makes us forget that just 5, 10 years ago, the world was very different. [4/5]


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

This book is very interesting from a sociological perspective. There are also some pop psychology musings from the author. When you finish the book, you will wonder whether politics and what appears to be a desire to drum up publicity for some collateral purpose ought to affect your view of a book. If you are a discerning reader, you will wish for better writing and you would be able to form your own conclusions about whether the author’s conclusions are right. (Every hillbilly can make it to law school like he did!) He may or may not be able to speak for all Appalachians and working-class whites, but he sure knows how to tell a story. After reading the book, you will do well to read a few reviews on why the book was controversial. The book is a deceptive piece of art. [3/5]

📖 On Reading – the early 2020s 

I used to read one book at a time. But in the last few years, coincidentally with my weaning myself off physical books, I began to read more than one book at a time. Sometimes, I had 2 or 3 books I consider myself to be actively reading. Perhaps it became necessary because borrowing e-books sometimes requires one to wait for the book to be released.

I also decided to read 1000-page things (Russian epics; WWII) and series (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings), and decided these efforts would be better aided by having physical books. So I ended up between e-books (mostly on Libby, sometimes on Kindle or the Books app) and physical books. And in a way, I am glad that I moved on from single-mindedness to this … flexibility. Sometimes you just want something different. And sometimes, in the midst of battling a big tome, you need a break.

For the past 5 years, I finished 32.8 books per year on average. I have 84 “currently reading” titles on Goodreads (I started tracking my reading in late-2017). Which seems about right, because I “touch” around 50 books a year. I used to try to finish books I started, but then decided life’s too short to finish books you don’t care to finish.


Already this year is shaping up to be different from the past 5 years. It is the end of June, and I have already finished 33 books. Perhaps it’s because of a confluence of: a stronger urge for reading this year; lowered running volume; a less busy year at work.

PS. I cannot believe we are “in the early 2020s”.

📖 The Trackers

Blurb: In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own. With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.

The Trackers


I have never read Frazier before, so the fact that I was holding a signed copy did not mean that much to me. I had wanted to read it because I was in the mood to be transported, and this book was set in Depression-era America. It was also a nice souvenir, since I was visiting Seattle and the Elliott Bay Book Co made book-buying rather irresistible.

I enjoyed the book, loved how the scenery and the scene were depicted (mostly of the west, plus Florida), and felt the wistful sense of longing that every character had. Everyone is always missing something.

📖 Out 

“You know,” she murmured, “we’re all heading straight to hell.”
“Yes,” said Masako, giving her a bleak look. “It’s like riding downhill with no brakes.”
“You mean, there’s no way to stop?”
“No, you stop all right – when you crash.”

Natsuo Kirino


I finished this book in two days, or perhaps two and a half, because I read a good part of it on a plane flying from Seattle to Singapore.

The characters are all gloomy and messed up, and the details (of the scene, of the inner dialogue, of the dialogue…) are many, but the plot moves along, and you cannot put this book down. So, please make sure you have the time for it, because this book is so delicious, sucked in at one go.

Literary realism at its best. Artfully grisly? Because we all have dark impulses, and how do you know how you would act, if you were put in that situation? Despite the brutality, you feel sympathy for the downtrodden protagonist, and hope that somehow she finds some peace.


📖 The Wall 

“Billions of tiny cocoons hang woven into its threads, a lizard lying in the sun, a burning house, a dying soldier, everything dead and everything living. Time is big, yet it has room for new cocoons. A grey and relentless net, in which every second of my life is captured. Perhaps that’s why it seems so terrible to me, because it stores everything up and never really allows anything to end.”

Marlen Haushofer
The Wall


This story is morbid, disturbing and I loved it. It had me in a soft but firm grip, and there are no chapters, just a breathless report stretching 238 pages. The main character goes off for a holiday in the mountains and finds herself the sole survivor behind a transparent wall. The book follows her as she undertakes the task of surviving – cutting wood, planting crops, milking a cow… The narrative skips between the past and present, and that required processing but also made the read even more engaging. Even as it was clear that things would not generally go well, I was engrossed in the details, trying to guess what happens next.

This is not a fast-paced science fiction novel. It is an ode to the natural world and the human spirit. It is a simple story, told in beautiful prose. But as to whether the protagonist truly finds equanimity, I do not know.

[The book was first published in 1963, and I have never heard of the author. I am so pleased I chanced upon it at the bookstore.]



“But if time exists only in my head, and I’m the last human being, it will end with my death. The thought cheers me. I may be in a position to murder time. The big net will tear and fall, with its sad contents, into oblivion. I’m owed some gratitude, but no one after my death will know I murdered time. Really these thoughts are quite meaningless. Things happen, and, like millions of people before me, I look for a meaning in them, because my vanity will not allow me to admit that the whole meaning of an event lies in the event itself.”

📖 Real Estate  

“There were some small improvements. I now owned not one electric bicycle but a fleet of electric bicycles. In this sense, as far as I was concerned, I resembled a rock star I knew who owned a fleet of aero-planes. Yes, I had one e-bike locked up under the tree and two more in the garage. Friends came to stay from all over the world and we cycled around London together. It was a gesture towards a life I wanted, that is to say, an extended family of friends and their children, an expanded family rather than a nuclear family, which in this phase of my life seemed a happier way to live. If I wanted a spare room for every friend, my flat could not support this idea. If I wanted a fireplace in every room, there were no fireplaces in my flat. So what was I going to do with all this wanting?”

Deborah Levy
Real Estate


A timeless question – What have I done with my life?, sometimes interposed with a more materialistic – What do I have to show for it?

I appreciate how Levy captures the questions and how we answer ourselves, never losing a sense of optimism. I have read and adored Levy’s previous two volumes of her living autobiography. In this volume, she goes into questions about patriarchy and a woman’s place in this world, and much as one yearns for a strong message or resolution, I understand why sometimes ambivalence holds sway. We may not get the outcome we want in this lifetime, but we have to keep on trying.

Living is striving. Living is keenly observing. You may or may not have real estate to show for it.


“Yet my encounter with this rented house was a taunt, a provocation; it made me feel more alive. If I was full of desire for its ambience and grace, the fact that I did not have the means to buy it only accelerated my desire. Perhaps it was not the house but desire itself that made me feel more alive.

Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

📖 Narcissus and Goldmund

“One knew nothing. One lived and walked about on the earth or rode through the forests, and so many things looked at one with such challenge and promise, rousing such longing: an evening star, a bluebell, a lake green with reeds, the eye of a human being or of a cow, and at times it seemed as if the very next moment something never seen but long yearned for must happen, as if a veil must drop from everything. But then it passed, and nothing happened, and the riddle was not solved, nor was the secret spell lifted, and finally one became old and looked as shrewd as Father Anselm or as wise as Abbot Daniel, and perhaps one still knew nothing, would still be waiting and listening.”

Hermann Hesse
Narcissus and Goldmund


I love the writing and for the first few chapters, I was absorbed. There was a sense of not wanting to move forward, because the story may move such that I don’t get to enjoy the writing anymore. This not wanting to let it go, is a form of relishing.

Then, I went to other books, and came back again. Into the book I went; suddenly the story sped up and I was caught up in Goldmund’s travels, and Hesse manages to use this young man as a foil, teasing out the deeper questions of life, and yet, there is never an answer. Because life carries on, and meaning may or may not arrive.

It is clear that Hesse has insight into the human condition, and the way he described the natural world, it conveys a zest for life, an understanding of the importance of the simpler things in life. I read and re-read the first paragraph of the book. Goldmund is such a character – an aimless wayfarer – and Narcissus is so intellectual, perhaps overly so, but I love them both, and their differences perhaps reflect the different extremes one may struggle with, within oneself.

I am reading this in my 40s. I wonder if I would have loved this book as much if I had read it as a younger human. Would I have tasted the same sense of wisdom?

Highly recommended.

📖 Walking 

“My next project is to draw circles around places in which I find myself, say with a radius of one to five miles, and then to follow the circumference on foot all the way around.

Walking sometimes means undertaking an inner voyage of discovery. You are shaped by buildings, faces, signs, weather and the atmosphere. Maybe we were made to walk, also in cities? Walking as a combination of movement, humility, balance, curiosity, smell, sound, light and- if you walk far enough – longing. A feeling which reaches for something, without finding it. The Portuguese and Brazilians have an untranslatable word for this longing: saudade. It is a word that encompasses love, pain and happiness. It can be the thought of something joyful that disturbs you, or something disturbing that brings you plenitude.”

“Everything moves more slowly when I walk, the world seems softer and for a short while I am not doing household chores, having meetings or reading manuscripts. A free man possesses time. The opinions, expectations and moods of family, colleagues and friends all become unimportant for a few minutes or a few hours. Walking, I become the centre of my own life, while completely forgetting myself shortly afterwards.”

Erling Kagge


I was in the library and saw plenty of books on running, and I thought that’s not what I want, why aren’t there any books on walking? The simple act of walking is perhaps too ordinary to deserve books to be written on it. But I took a step to the right, and there they were – books on walking. I was pleased, the bright pleasure of discovery in a library, amidst too many books that may or may not interest you.

I enjoyed the author’s book on silence, and had expectations for the book. It did not disappoint. This ode to walking is a perfect book for my December. Contemplative but not too much, and in December, I took a few more walks, one much longer than usual.

Highly recommended.

📖 Lucy by the Sea 

“We all live with people—and places—and things—that we have given great weight to. But we are weightless, in the end.”

“He told me that his wife had Alzheimer’s, and that he could not remember the last word she had spoken to him, because she’d become gradually more and more silent and then she remained silent. And this man, her husband, could never remember the last thing she had said.”

Elizabeth Strout
Lucy by the Sea


This is a book about the early days of the COVID pandemic, and it is surreal to read about something while you are still in it. (In our country, the pandemic is in a way, over, and we are living with it endemically, but one can never be too sure.)

The prose is sparse, but words precisely used, evoke a sense of delight in this reader. The main character is a lady in her 50s and the writing was such that I felt myself slow, to inhabit her world and her surroundings. The book is poignant but does not overwhelm. There is a lingering sense of hope, which we all need.

Reading – 2022

Books here are only listed if I’ve completed them; recommended titles are in bold.


Snow Crash
The Hobbit
Born to Run
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
Crying in H Mart
Autopsy (Kay Scarpetta)
The Fellowship of the Ring
Mother of Invention
Truly Peculiar
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
The Nineties
Portrait of a Thief
Just Keep Buying
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir
Plays Well With Others
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race
Samsung Rising
Death and the Penguin
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
The Puzzler
Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis
Stolen Focus
Lucy by the Sea
The Two Towers
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The Power of Meaning
The Simple Path to Wealth
Walking: One Step at a Time
Impractical Uses of Cake
Life Time
How Will You Measure Your Life
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

38 books; 15 fiction

Mega books are being dealt with, and although LOTR is not done yet, I’ve decided to go into HP for 2023. Quite a number of good books this year; my top ones are Death and the Penguin, and This is How They Tell Me The World Ends.