Five life-changing books

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Books can be the best possible source of constant companionship. They come in all different sizes and stories to suit each of our tastes and needs. But a book can sometimes be more than just an instrument to alleviate boredom. Sometimes they can one’s outlook in life. They are the grand category of books often referred to as ‘Life-changing’.

As a bibliophile and a book addict I’m happy to say I’ve seen my share of such books. Sometimes these are confused with self-help books but I’m referring to works, born out of the imagination of genius’ of writers. But don’t get it wrong. I’m not one against self-help books and I have my favourites in this section too. But how impactful they are to life is questionable according to me. For a truth put straight seldom is received in the way it should and so are secrets. And when it comes to life it’s one big secret and one big truth as well.

So, the first in this line that comes to my mind is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s got a beautiful philosophy underlying all the adventure. It teaches a most important lesson in life- Let go. And there are anecdotes aplenty to take as the escapade progresses.

Here’s a beautiful line from the book:

 The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

Holden is the quintessential urban yogi of sorts whom I personally try to emulate in terms of outlook towards life and Salinger is the typical genius of a writer whose writing amazes me.

The next book that flashes in my mind is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It’s a one of a kind book and I’m only too happy that I was able to read last year. It was instantly my favourite the time I read it. Short and crisp though it is the point is nailed so very clearly. Even if the theme is not one that can so easily be said or understood. Only a writer who has felt it can impart such clarity of thought and fact to the reader and the reader in turn can capture the essence quickly. One needs a little spiritual spark to get anything out it; read the book at the least. But such a reader is bound to get a seed of the truth vital to his quest. I can say that with conviction for I did get a lot out of it. For others who simply want to get a glimpse into Buddha you get more than that. Herman Hesse has Buddha demystified for the commonest of people. I wouldn’t say it’s the most precise chronicling of Lord Buddha’s life and teachings but the essential extracts are set on a platter and hence the life-changing quality.

Oftentimes a book cannot be anything if it is a bestseller. A bestselling book is now a book which has reached its saturation level of popularity and its universal acceptance has sometimes invariably rendered it a clichéd image. It is a sad reality which won’t keep me from listing Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert here. Everything’s said and done and what’s more even shown in this case. Its honesty is pivotal to its success and reach and so is its passionate telling instrumental in striking that personal connection with me. The same lesson re-surfaces: Let go.

Now I come to another important book which is quite interesting in that I’m impelled to list it now but asked a year ago I would have fiercely detested its very mention. The book I’m referring to here is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. For an Austen fan much accustomed to happy ending and sweet twists reading this one felt like chewing a big chunk of raw bitter gourd. But after exactly one year I feel there was much truth. It wasn’t a waste of labouring over seven hundred pages of one heavy and gruesome book after all. Interestingly I also noticed having noted down just three lines from the book. And here the golden lines are:

“In the end, it’s all a question of balance”

“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair”

“…Please always remember, the secret of survival is to embrace change, and to adapt”

They may be lines we’ve heard over and over but that doesn’t reduce their truthfulness in the least. And put in their context and storyline they make one big, impactful picture.

Finally the last one that I’m going to name here, assuming that I’m to name only five books, is Wuthering Heights. Yes, the gothic romance by Emily Bronte gave to me understand what a hero can actually be at the age of thirteen. I read the book twice immediately after my first reading to just make sure that I didn’t make any mistake in discerning the story. One thing, it strangely made me braver in matters of death and other grim aspects of life. On a more philanthropic level it taught me what love can be. It can be dark. It can be grim. It can be excruciating. But it can be true too. Heathcliff is a one of a kind hero whom I’ll always turn to at some point of time in life repeatedly.

So, there’s a cherry picked version of books that strike me as life changing. As of now.

I hope to turn this into a feature where we have other book lovers talk about books that changed their lives and the lessons they imbibed from them. As always I look forward to your support and suggestions.







Lessons in Writing: It’s about being brave

Every little happening in the
world comes with its share of danger and risks. Agree or disagree, it’s always
lurking behind you somewhere. And it takes courage, just a good, sensible bit
of it to tackle such circumstances. And what would fiction, the words from the
imagined worlds whose very foundation is reality be without some elements of

I was caught by these words from
this article from ‘The Literary Review’. In the piece, the writer says, “Fiction
is not the place to play safe and, generally, the more risks you are willing to
take the more compelling your work” And I say, “What a great reminder to all
those aspiring writers out there!”

But a lot of things in this world
feature as intersection sets under the ‘easier said than done’ and the ‘morally
right or no’ categories. Now it’s a lot more clear to me why a plethora of
published writers harp upon the ‘Kill your darlings’ concept. And it’s hard to
imagine let alone do it, how one can inflict pain and uncertainty on one’s own
creation just to make the work spicier. I don’t agree that a piece of fiction
can seem adventurous and sophisticated only if the writer is brave enough to
pen down Mr. Chain smoker or Ms. Spoilt. I am now reminded of Frederick Bear,
the benefactor and admirer of Jo March from the book Little Women by Louisa May
Alcott. He tells Jo his opinion on reading her ‘Sinner’s Corpse’ which gets published
after many rejections of her really good but outdated works. And I go with his
opinion. He tells her that she should write only to please herself first. And I
can bravely say that too, to many writers who write what sells.

And then again I am not blind to
the fact that one has to sell as a writer to have audience and buy some pizzas
on weekends. But practising any form of art is about maintaining a balance
between the self and the outer world. And so it’s necessary in writing too. It’s
a challenge and that truly passionate writer triumphs who respects his art as
much as he loves it. Respect for art doesn’t only mean veneration; it also
encompasses the faithfulness of his work to his sentiments.

Then the next question would be
that about being unconventional. But that is the sole aspect of your writing,
as I have understood from my personal experience, which makes your work stand
atop the hill of other manuscripts on the dark circle sporting, pen-tip chewing,
and tired editor’s desk. Being unconventional is being brave too. So, the next
time an unconventional scene pops up in my head, that which is totally in line
with my sentiments, I am going to write it down that instant.