Blink and we’re already over halfway through 2021. Curated by my bibliophilic husband R.R.M., this latest edition of The Bookclub Series gathers together a bucket list of the best books of the year, so far! As with all our previous features, this collection is as vast in genre as it is relevant in scope, particularly from a modern day perspective.
The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good by Michael Sandel
A phenomenal book by one of the world’s great living philosophers and ethicists. Sandel is a professor of Philosophy at Harvard where he has achieved something like a rock-star status. This book leaves the reader questioning the whole concept of meritocracy, upon which so many aspects of our society are based – from school and college admissions to job interviews. In the best possible way, befitting a philosopher, the book will leave the reader with more questions to ponder than answers to digest.
The book is largely about the historic, linguistic, sociological and psychological underpinnings and backgrounds of merit and meritocracy. And that is where Sandel’s brilliance shines through as an academic who has written a book for mass publication. Yes, there are end notes and citations, befitting a book written by an academic, but it is also immensely readable. Written largely in the American context there are lessons in this book for other parts of the world, too.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
Akhtar, who is more a playwright than a novelist has written what could be described as A Great American Novel. Novel, too is a misnomer, because as the reader discovers, it is a thinly veiled autobiography on being an American and a Muslim, in the age of Trump. The bold expanse and scope of the book touches on many contemporary issues including identity. This is the kind of stuff that wins Pulitzers!
This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends by Nicole Perlroth
Perlroth’s book is an eye opener in the time of a pandemic. While the world dealt with existential questions and threats because of Covid-19, Perlroth reveals the dark underbelly of technologic dependence. Researched with an investigative journalist’s skills, she travels the world from Washington DC to reveal the fault-lines in our global technologically interconnected world and the mischief-makers who can wreak havoc.
The title of the book is sensationalist – the world is not ending anytime soon because of a cyber-attack! However, this book is more important now more than ever as we continue to grow more technologically dependent and let down our guards online, not just individuals but entire countries and governments. I’m certain a decade later, people will look back at this book and say “Perlroth had written about it!”
Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone
There’s a good chance that if you choose to buy any of the books mentioned on this list, you would buy them on Amazon. Or read them on your Kindle!
This book can be read by itself or as a sequel to the 2013 The Everything Store by the same author. Whereas the earlier book was largely about Amazon, this book is more centered on Bezos as a person. While there are bits about his affair and separation too, this book draws particular attention to his unbridled ambition. Written in the time of Covid, the author does a fair job of explaining why Amazon was necessary in the pandemic, whilst leaving you wondering about where any aspect of business domination remains. There are some great chapters in the book about the creation of Alexa and Amazon Web Services, two of the greatest inventions to come out of Seattle over the past decade, and drivers of Amazon’s growth.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Whereabouts is more a novella than a novel. It is an exquisite and wonderfully written book. The marvel of the book is that Lahiri – who gained prominence twenty years ago with The Interpreter of Maladies (about the Indian and Bengali immigrant experience in America) – wrote this book in Italian and translated it back to English herself!
Breaking from her regular themes of Indians abroad, Whereabouts’ first-person narrator is a woman in an unnamed Italian city navigating life. There are many themes of urbanization and solitude spread across a year in the narrator’s life. While the book has a relatively short page count, it is broad in its scope and brilliance.
Karma: A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting your Destiny by Sadhguru
Read this book by itself or as a sequel to Sadhguru’s Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy. Either ways, it is a quick read which debunks the very naïve and basic definition of the word karma as it is thrown around so often, instead exploring the complexity of the concept in just 200 powerful and easily-digestible pages. The book can get technical too, for those who want to understand the eight different types of Karma.
Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen
Written by a millennial herself in easy journalistic English, this book touches upon a wide canvas centred on Millennial Angst – who is a millennial; what are the causes of their stress (and distress); and what is causing their burnout to the point that Petersen feels the whole generation will remain burnt out. A must read, albeit without any compulsion to completely agree with the author’s views.
Languages of Truth: Essays 2003 – 2020 by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie has lost his touch as a novelist. His last three novels, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, The Golden House and Quichotte paled in comparison to his earlier masterpieces, Midnight’s Children or The Moor’s Last Sigh. But there is no denying that he is still a very important and intelligent voice on a range of issues. I discovered Rushdie as an essayist with “Imaginary Homelands” some fifteen years ago. And much like Orwell who is often remembered as a novelist, we forget that some of the most important literary voices in every generation write essays prolifically, too.
This is a great collection of essays – erudite in parts, readable in others, vast in scope and topics covered (almost to the point of appearing scattered all over the place). Bombay nostalgia crops up in some essays, as does homesickness in his boarding school days. All in all, a great medium to visit a wonderful contemporary literary voice.
About The Bookclub Series:
Books have always commanded pride of place (and storage!) in our home, with R.R.M.’s passion for reading manifesting in some of our greatest treasures. This series is an extension of his bibliophilic sensibilities, with curated bucket lists to inspire you the next time you’re looking for a good book to get stuck into.
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