Leisure Reading : Soul-food For A Busy Spirit
Updated: Jul 2
Just open your email or social media. Or, when you’re simply browsing.
And you find yourself drowning.
Digital life throws a lot of content at you.
Videos, audios, case studies, training, marketing...
But most of these content is related to your work. You don’t really get a break from your real-world problems.
And that’s why I consider leisure reading or reading for pleasure one of the best stress-busters.
I enjoy the freedom to choose what I want to read without the pressure of doing so at a certain pace.
In fact, I find reading for pleasure not only rejuvenating but also a crucial activity that touches all spheres of my life. It’s so much more enriching than reading randomly in the digital world.
Triggers and Genres
The books I choose to read depend on how my life looks like at that point.
When pressed for time
A heavy work schedule would see me seeking out books from the humour genre.
P G Wodehouse provides choices along the entire spectrum of humour right from slapstick, wry-dry to pompous.
My target is to buy and finish the entire Psmith set.
Psmith was the first recurring character in whom Wodehouse invested his creative energies, while Jeeves and Bertram Wooster came in later. There’s a high chance Psmith will be rawer than the latter characters, possibly rendering it more enjoyable. Time will tell.
That powerful antidote to life’s ups and downs
Sometimes, when I’m hit by nostalgia, I’ve this strong desire to relive the joys of childhood through stories of Tom Sawyer, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Hardy Boys, Famous Five, etc.
These titles are great fun to read and they tend to reset the clock, both emotional and cranial. I’m almost always energized, after reading Tom Sawyer or Great Expectations, to see the optimistic side of existence.
In fact, I had the good fortune of visiting Mark Twain’s museum, twice. Set in Hartford, which happens to be the location of our US office, this museum tells the story of the storyteller, how and under what conditions he wrote, published, invested, went bankrupt and revived his fortunes.
Not only was Twain a best-selling author, he was also the original stand-up comedian and start-up guy, with a history of failures, pivots, and successes.
In his bid to revolutionize the publishing industry he invested heavily in printing machinery and publishing businesses. The ventures were loss making and he ended up deep in debt.
But he had the talent, and importantly, the intent and courage, to repay all his debts.
In the 1890s, he set out on an unprecedented lecture tour of the entire British Empire.
During this 14-month circumnavigation, during which he also spent 3 months in India, he wrote a travelogue which was published as “Following the equator”. The money earned during this tour was sufficient to pay-off his debts. Incidentally, I recently got hold of a copy and plan to read it soon.
Twain also spoke on stage, narrating anecdotes, stories and expressing his views. It was a form of humour-induced performance, not unlike our contemporary stand-up routines. The only difference was that he sat like a king on a large red armchair!
His humorous quotes are written all over the walls of the museum --- rich crystallization of his experience and views.
Actually, Mark Twain mandates a series of blogs about him, one can go on and on about him, so rich a life did he live.
The habit that hooks you. For life.
Nostalgia often drives me to into the arms of classics.
Sherlock Holmes remains a perennial favourite.
Using similes and metaphors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle excelled in creating an imagery of foggy London of early twentieth century as a setting for his crime and investigation stories, which have since become a source of inspiration for similar literature.
And then there’s Sherlock and Watson - the most amazing fictional character duo ever created. In fact, Sherlock is the most adapted character in theatre and in movies. So well described in words and so real in actions, that it’s impossible to believe that he never existed in flesh and blood.
In detective fiction, there’s a need to express but not reveal or explain constantly. The two-person structure comprising Sherlock and Watson exemplifies this - one is the brain that solves and the other is the audience that needs to know how it was done, with the verbal exchange beautifully built into the plot.
Truly worthy of several rereads.
A lot of detective literature post Sherlock has used this “team structure” in some form or the other.
Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot tried to break this format, but his dramatic reveal by gathering everyone involved at the end of each plot simply appears so impractical!
My first memories of Sherlock Holmes are not books, but television series. Jeremy Brett, playing Sherlock in Granada Television’s production, was telecast on Doordarshan in the late 80s when I was a preteen.
Though I gravitated towards the books much later, I became so hooked to the books that in spite of watching the movies and TV series adaptations, I still end up rereading chapters from the original edition!
Autobiographies on the move
When I’m on business trips, I prefer reading first person accounts of successful people.
Biographies or autobiographies if available and preferably not ghost written, are a rich source of experience. Especially if the personality belongs to a sphere of interest like sports, movies, or history.
The struggle for identity of now well-known and successful people seems so familiar and personal that the pinnacle they embrace seems within grasp. Real life stories of struggle are a source of great inspiration.
Autobiographies such as those of Shane Warne and Viswanathan Anand provide amazing knowledge as well. Knowledge literally drips from the narrative.
In his book, No Spin, Shane Warne gives a master class on spin bowling and how to literally get into your opponents’ head. In his book, he describes how he ascended the ladder of spin bowling, revealing that it isn’t talent alone but also perseverance, hard work and brains that make a person successful.
He describes how he planned scalping of wickets. Some wickets are taken over a series of deliveries and not in a single delivery --- this is my summary of his art and it says a lot about how we perceive a game as a spectator and how it’s really played.
His non-cricketing stories include details of his personal life, his gambling habits, his doping scandal, and the way his mother was ill-treated while being interrogated during the investigation. He details them all, admitting his failings, and coming clean where he deemed appropriate.
Shane Warne, who can spin the cricketing ball like a top, is a human who isn’t afraid to own his flaws.
That’s the message I got from the book. And I loved the message.
Sometimes we forget that our heroes are humans, with desires and needs. We, especially in India, tend to make Gods out of our heroes and in doing so, do a great disservice to them. As a society, we can be much better if we allow our heroes to be humans.
Mind Master, the autobiography of Vishy (Viswanathan Anand) was a real treat to read. Vishy gives extensive insights into chess and use of computing technology. I recommend his book to any business manager having doubts about using AI or analytics.
In his book, Vishy points out how the cycle of technological innovation, resistance, adoption, and proliferation isn’t new and won’t stop, it’ll only become more frequent with the cycles getting shorter. Adopt and adapt, else get outdated quickly.
How Vishy picked up chess and how his mom supported him in his journey are other highlights of his book.
Vishy has an image of a quiet and polite human who lets his chess moves do the talking. But in the book, he doesn’t mince his words, when he talks about his championship match with Kramnik. He speaks about the bias he felt against him and about how chess federations with their politics, influence rankings and tournaments.
But even in sharing these views, his politeness and humility remains prominent.
The “Tiger of Madras”, as he’s affectionately called, will always be remembered for pioneering serious competitive chess in India. He’s the ideal ambassador for India, propagating the image of the brainy, quiet and polite Indian.
Biographies of other sports people such as Sachin, Saurav and VVS Laxman are good but too politically correct to give away anything other than what’s known publicly. In that sense, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh books are more honest and forthcoming in airing their own views.
I’ve also read “My Sunny Days” and “Sandy Storm”, autobiographies of Sunil Gavaskar and Sandeep Patil. Though I read them long ago I remember a few anecdotes from the books, which adhere to the strict mould of autobiographies of Indian sportspersons -- tell a lot of stories but steer clear of controversial topics!
Having said that, they are far more entertaining than the current lot because the lack of technology and money in cricket at that time created more situations for humour and anecdotes.
I highly recommend these books for people who like sports and nostalgia.
One of Sunil Gavaskar’s anecdotes even found its way into English textbooks of my State Board curriculum, leading me to, first, read his book, and later, Sandeep Patil’s book. Few childhood summer afternoons spent well!
Of movies and stars
I love movies and enjoy reading biographies of movie stars to know more about their lives and their perspectives. And yes, access to some juicy gossip doesn’t hurt either!
I found Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir “And Then One Day” to be direct and unreserved.
Karan Johar’s book “Unsuitable Boy” is a good one-time read and seems like a non-manipulated narrative.
Rishi Kapoor’s biography stands out for its honesty.
Actors are often subject to needless public scrutiny, more than any other professionals. Their love-hate relationship with media is common knowledge.
However, the notion that a person whose craft is to just follow instructions and act by sticking to scripts is often wrong. I think good actors are some of the most intelligent people one can know. They possess innate insights about human behavior, something that’d take others a lifetime to gather from experience.
Reading books from this genre has helped me understand how movies are made, how stories are told and the struggles and exploitation that those from this profession often go through.
Makers of history
As a school student, I never found reading history an attractive proposition because it was narrated so blandly.
Another reason was that the narration of history textbooks was often the outcome of reckless editing for glorification and “gory-fication” of historical characters.
It’s well known that history has been distorted - some of it is true and some of it false. And it’s always debatable which is which because perspectives and emotional narratives play a huge role in settling debates when facts are missing.
So, history can be of two types, true narrated and false narrated.
Then, there’s the third type - the untold .
Recently, I chanced upon the works of a young historian Manu Pillai.
His book “The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History” was a fine read and a worthy investment of time and money.
The book has short stories, which can be read in any order, and provides incredible insights into the misunderstood past of India. The quarrelsome princely states, the ambitious foreign traders, the working class, the nature, and diversity of our society, all told factually and using the right dose of humour to point out subtle ironies in many of the stories.
His other book, “The Rebel Sultans”, is available for free reading on Juggernaut’s eBook application. I look forward to his work and those of more such authors.
The richness of our past lies not only in the stories of wealthy princely states, but also in the plethora of untold stories about common and uncommon people.
The lock-down period would’ve afforded me more time to read, or so I thought.
However, work was more hectic than usual.
I chose to reread Right Ho Jeeves and Pigs Can Fly from the PG Wodehouse set, stealing a chapter or two whenever the grey cells craved a rejuvenation through workout in the humour gym. In that simple act, I’d always find my stress levels, receding and my ability to focus, improving.
If you haven’t picked up a book in a while or you feel you don’t have the time for books, just try keeping aside 20-30 mins for reading books each day. You’ll experience a world of difference.
Go on, give it a try, you’ll love it!
About the author
Aureus Analytics provides analytics and AI enabled solutions for insurance companies and insurance intermediaries in India and the US.
At Aureus, Nitin is primarily responsible for technology, product development and integrations with enterprise systems, data acquisition systems, big data technologies and analytics technologies.
When not cycling or trekking, Nitin spends time reading books and watching movies. He also blogs infrequently on Blogger about a wide variety of useless topics.