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This week we curated a list of our favorite recent reads across several categories. We hope this is helpful as you embark upon your summer - whether that’s traveling to distant lands physically or metaphorically. Our recommendations are broken up into four categories - fiction, spiritual, thought-provoking and biographies. You can jump to the section you are most interested in!
This is a warm, funny-sad book about Eleanor Oliphant, a 30 year old woman who is completely fine, except she isn’t. In and out of foster care as a child, she has a traumatic past and has never been loved properly. She is quiet and socially awkward, a social misfit. But she is good at being alone and does not feel sorry for herself. Read about Eleanor’s loneliness and then her transformational journey towards a fuller life.
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer—a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
Folks of Indian origin are probably familiar with the Mahabharata and the story of the five Pandav brothers all married to one woman - Draupadi. This epic story has always been told from the male point of view. Until The Palace of Illusions came along. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni takes us back in time, re-imagining the story, writing it from Draupadi’s point of view. Read this magical story both for a woman’s viewpoint and also for the incredible relationship depicted between Draupadi and Krishna.
“What did I learn that day in the sabha? All this time I'd believed in my power over my husbands. I'd believed that because they loved me they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me—as much perhaps as any man can love—there were other things they loved more….The choice they made in the moment of my need changed something in our relationship. I no longer depended on them so completely in the future. And when I took care to guard myself from hurt, it was as much from them as from our enemies”
This is a 2014 collection of short stories by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, translated and published in English in 2017. These seven stories are written about men who have lost women in their lives, usually to other men or death, and find themselves alone. Murakami’s prose handles complex emotions with a wry sense of humor on how men handle harsh experiences in the face of rejection or loss.
“It's strange, isn't it?' the woman said in a pensive voice. 'Everything is blowing up around us, but there are still those who care about a broken lock, and others who are dutiful enough to try to fix it... But maybe that's the way it should be. Maybe working on the little things as dutifully and honestly as we can is how we stay sane when the world is falling apart.”
This is a story about growing up as a Muslim in post 9-11 America. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author describes his experience as an immigrant in America. Both his parents were doctors - his father embraced everything American and his mother quietly yearned for her home in Pakistan. The book also explores the relationship between a son and his father. Akhtar raises thought provoking questions about America - what it stood for and what it is now.
“America had begun as a colony and that a colony it remained, that is, a place still defined by its plunder, where enrichment was paramount and civil order always an afterthought.”
Spiritual books that inspire us to be present
This is an incredible book - offering interpretations on the 81 verses of the original Tao Te Ching. Wayne Dyer takes the original and writes an essay for each verse on how to apply the ancient wisdom of Lao-tzu to today’s modern world. I’m [Kinnari] reading a verse every two days to allow the simple practices to sink in.
“The advice to practice “not doing” and trusting that all will settle into a perfect place may sound like a prescription for laziness and a failed society, yet I don’t think that’s what Lao-tzu is offering here. He isn’t saying to be slothful or inactive; rather, he’s suggesting that trusting in the Tao is the way to be directed by the Source of your creation and to be guided by a higher principle than your ego-driven desires… Listen for what urges you onward, free from ego domination, and you’ll paradoxically be more productive. Allow what’s within to come forward by suspending worldly determination. In this way, it will no longer be just you who is conducting this orchestration that you call your life.”
This is a beautiful translation of Vijnana Bhairava which is one of the early teachings on yoga meditation. It describes 112 different doorways into meditation. The name, loosely translated, means “the terror and joy of realizing oneness with the soul.” The book is set as a conversation between lovers, the Goddess (Shakti - the creative energy that permeates the universe) and the God (Bhairava - the infinite consciousness that permeates everywhere.
This is a book I [Kinnari] like to savor. Read a page and meditate on it in the early morning or late night hours when you are surrounded by silence. Don’t rush it.
“If you love Rumi, Hafiz, The Tao, if you love words dancing out of the mystery, welcome to The Radiance Sutras: these are among the most profound, exquisite and luminous verses you will ever read.” - Jack Kornfield
Pema Chodron draws on the Buddhist concept of shenpa to help us see how certain habits of mind tend to “hook” us and get us stuck in states of anger, blame, self-hatred, and addiction. Once we start to recognize these patterns, they instantly begin to lose their hold on us and we can begin to change our lives for the better. The book provides insights and practices we can immediately put to use in our lives and reminds us of the importance of practicing meditation and presence every day.
“Taking the leap involves making a commitment to ourselves and to the earth itself - making a commitment to let go of old grudges, to not avoid people and situations and emotions that make us feel uneasy, to not cling to our fears, our closed mindedness, our hard-heartedness, our hesitation. Now is the time to develop trust in our basic goodness and the basic goodness of our sisters and brothers on this earth; a time to develop confidence in our ability to drop our old ways of staying stuck and to choose wisely. We could do that right here and right now.”
This is a classic novel that has delighted, inspired, and influenced generations of readers, writers, and thinkers. In this story of a wealthy Indian Brahmin who casts off a life of privilege to seek spiritual fulfillment, Hesse presents a unique vision of life as expressed through one man's search for true meaning.
Thought provoking, life changing books
This book was really helpful when I [Mitali] was making a big career change and was struggling with my self confidence as a leader. It provided a perspective on wholehearted living through cultivating courage, compassion and connection.
…Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
This book helped me [Mitali] as I reflected on my twenty plus year career in tech and started contemplating what was next for me after Google.
“...Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view . . . unsatisfying. They realize: This wasn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain.
And so they embark on a new journey. On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.”
Sukhinder was my manager at two companies and I [Mitali] learnt so much from just watching how she operated and interacted with people. This book is a great guide to decision-making and risk-taking for anyone who finds themselves afraid of making a wrong choice in their career.
This book-length essay by the Nigerian author talks about the definition of feminism for the 21st century. In essence, we should all be feminists not only as a commitment to women's liberation but also as a way of encouraging men to hold conversations with women on sexuality, appearance, roles, and success.
Memoirs and Biographies
As an immigrant in America with aging parents in India, this courageous memoir really resonated with us. It is about the weight we carry as women, daughters, and mothers--and what happens when we let go. This is a story of a daughter and her mother, of lies and truths, of receiving and giving care--and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us.
“Maybe at our most maternal, we aren’t mothers at all. We’re daughters, reaching back in time for the mothers we wish we’d had and then finding ourselves.”
We listened to this book on audio and highly recommend it as the author narrates it herself.
Cecile Richards—the president of Planned Parenthood—shares her story about learning to lead and make change, based on a lifetime of fighting for women’s rights and social justice. It is even more relevant today given the recent ruling by the US Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade last week.
“Don't sit around and wait for the perfect opportunity to come along —find something and make it an opportunity.”
“If you’re not scaring yourself, you’re probably not doing enough.”
This book is a fascinating read about the close partnership of two Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman (awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) and Amos Tversky, whose work on heuristics in judgment and decision-making demonstrated common errors of the human psyche, and how that partnership eventually broke apart.
“When they made decisions, people did not seek to maximize utility. They sought to minimize regret.”
“Amos was not merely an optimist. He willed himself to be an optimist because he had decided pessimism was stupid. "When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice," Amos liked to say. "Once when you worry about it and the second time when it happens.”