Nice reads on Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited sucks most of the time. However, with a little patience, you can find some gems. Here are some interesting books that you can read for free:

1. As If Women Matter by Gloria Steinem
2. The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans (click)
3. Superhuman by Habit by Tynan
4. Em And The Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (click)
5.  I Am Vidya by Living Smiling Vidya (click)
6. MS Subbulakshmi: The Definitive Biography by T.J.S George (I have not read this)

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

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Photo: Amazon

‘Buddha’ is a Manga (a form of Japanese comic book and graphic novel) which mixes factual accounts of Gautama Buddha’s life with Osamu Tezuka’s own interpretation to create a masterpiece. A monk’s life is considered to be boring but Tezuka employs humor and wit to make Buddha’s life colorful. He has a unique way of keeping things simple without making the teachings simplistic.

Buddhism, despite its flaws, is different from other religions. Instead of obsessing about the origins of life and the existence of God, it focuses on practical matters like the way to reduce suffering. Tezuka doesn’t delve much into the Buddhist philosophy but he manages to create a sense of reverence towards The Buddha. I personally feel more connected to the universe after reading this wonderful series.

Why Loiter by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade

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Photo: Amazon

In ‘Why Loiter’, the authors make a strong case for aimless wandering on the city streets. While the focus is on Mumbai, the insights are universal.

As women, we are taught that loitering is not a feminine thing. Women in public spaces are expected to demonstrate a purpose (waiting for a friend, getting back from work etc). By loitering, women challenge the stereotypes and the label of a ‘good girl’. However, it’s not easy for women to loiter because the public spaces are designed in a way that discourages women from going out.
The authors have written the book with an aim of including all kinds of women. Differently-abled women, wealthy women, lesbians and women from the lower economic class find their place in the research on public spaces. Phade, Khan and Ranade don’t just highlight the problems; they have some innovative solutions to combat the problem of women’s safety in public spaces. The only issue with the book is that the authors often end up saying the same thing again and again.
If you are shaken after reading about what’s happening to women in this country, then this book will help you understand the root of the problem.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Photo: Goodreads

Rupi Kaur became a social media sensation because of her poetry and her Instagram photos (one of which was the famous period stain picture which was earlier taken down by Instagram). ‘Milk and Honey’ is a collection of her poems. Some of them have illustrations too. Kaur’s poems on body hair, self-love, feminism and abuse tugged at my heartstrings. It’s great to see a young woman using a modern tool like social media to bring the old world charm of poetry.

I always believe that poetry is one of the hardest art forms because one doesn’t have the space to fake it. If you are writing about heartbreak and you haven’t really experienced it deeply, then the readers will know. Kaur’s writing is beautiful because it is coming straight from her heart. Barring a few poems, most of her work is poignant. If you are planning to read her poetry, I would urge you to not judge it through objective tools of evaluation. Her work has to be seen in a larger context. Putting up an Instagram picture or sharing your poem on Facebook is not revolutionary but sometimes, it has the power to make someone feel less alone.

Reading, television and mental health

There is a tendency among people suffering from depression/other mental health issues to watch a lot of television (or web shows). While some TV/Web shows are enlightening and inspiring, television as a medium might not be the best choice for those who have mental health issues. When we watch a film, we are not actively involved in the creation process. Since it’s a visual medium, the filmmaker has already made choices: he/she decides what you will watch on screen. Reading, on the other hand, requires us to imagine. The author has described the characters but there is a room for our own creativity. This process of imagining makes us feel as if we are in control…which is (often) the last thing we feel when we are depressed. The process of imagining is like an exercise for the brain…it’s taxing but in the end, there is a sense of accomplishment.

The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad by Twinkle Khanna

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Photo: Amazon

 

As adolescents, my brother and I (like many other Indians) used to laugh at Twinkle Khanna’s mediocre acting skills. There was a pleasure in mocking her: she is privileged. She is the daughter of one of the most popular actors in Bollywood and her failure was an assurance that the universe didn’t give too much power to a handful of people. Who would have thought that someday, Mrs.Funnybones would completely surprise all of us with her wittiness and wisdom! I’m so glad that people like me have been proven wrong. We all applaud men and women who rise from poverty and make it big in their respective fields. But we need to also appreciate those who carry the burden of legacy. To rise above your surname and carve your own identity is a tough job.

‘The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’ is not a masterpiece but if you read Twinkle’s columns you will be pleasantly surprised by Twinkle, the fiction writer. She highlights gender issues with her trademark wit and humor. While I loved reading all the stories, I was really inspired by the fictional story based on the real-life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented machines to produce low-cost sanitary napkins. Another area where Twinkle shines as a writer is the research: the meticulous details about the places and people’s quirks enrich her stories. And it is refreshing to see a Mumbaikar setting her stories in different regions of India.
I am definitely looking forward to reading more fiction from Twinkle and I hope that she keeps proving her haters wrong.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

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Photo: Amazon

Verbal abuse is not taken as seriously as physical abuse even though it has the potential to permanently change the way we look at ourselves, our loved ones and the society. In this book, Patricia Evans takes up the herculean task of understanding and explaining an invisible form of abuse and challenges us to respect ourselves. So much of the communication that goes on around us is verbally abusive. Body-shaming, misogyny, classism, and racism disguised under jokes are “normal” things today but a “casual” comment has the power to damage a youngster’s self-esteem. Since physical abuse is punishable in a lot of countries, many have resorted to other forms of abuse and verbal abuse is a refuge for many helpless men and women who turn their most intimate relationships into a one-upmanship.

Unlike many self-help authors, Patricia doesn’t sell illusions to the victims of abuse. A victim of abuse didn’t “attract” and doesn’t deserve an abusive partner. A victim of abuse cannot magically change his/her partner…most of the times, the abuser doesn’t even admit that he/she is abusive. You cannot always change the other person by giving love. Some people are beyond emotions and logic and sometimes, the only thing you can do is protect yourself. Love is beyond boundaries but in an abusive relationship, you need to create boundaries. However, Patricia also gives you hope: self-love may compel you to cut some people off but it can also be a beginning of a healthy, peaceful and drama-free life.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

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Photo: Free Audiobook Guide

Like most people, I had a perception that this book is about the power of effort and that putting in 10,000 hours of practice would make one a legend in a particular field. It’s unfortunate that in many book reviews and synopsis, people have reduced this book to “10,000 hours” when Malcolm Gladwell clearly states that success is often a result of being born at the “right time”, getting the “right opportunities” and of course, effort. It’s really sad that many people will stay away from this book because of this perception and also because it’s a ‘bestseller’. If you are one of those people then I urge you to look beyond these things because you will miss out on some serious insights from this riveting book.

What makes Malcolm Gladwell different from other ‘best-selling’ authors is the depth of his research and the jaw-dropping observations made from mundane and dull data. When we talk about success, we either completely dismiss it as ‘luck’ or attribute it to ‘hard work’ and say that those who didn’t succeed didn’t work hard enough. In a way, this makes things easier because we don’t have to understand the nuances. But Gladwell says that success is much more complex. He explains that Bill Gates succeeded because he had an *opportunity* to practice programming for more than 10,000 hours and also because he was born in 1955! Because he was born in 1955, he had just the right amount of time to practice before the personal computer revolution. In another example of a plane crash, Gladwell observes that the first officer knew that they were in danger but he didn’t communicate this urgency with assertiveness to the captain and the air controller because the culture he comes from teaches men and women to ‘obey’ their elders and be always polite to them. A person’s ethnicity is the last thing that we think about while analyzing a plane crash!
Just like ‘Blink’, ‘Outliers’ has nothing new to offer in terms of the conclusion. Many thinkers have emphasized on the role of luck but what makes Gladwell different is “how” he gets to the conclusion. Instead of boring the readers with research, he creates a symphony of facts, insights, and stories. Gladwell is truly a master of selling ideas.

How to be alone by Sara Maitland

This book is a part of The School of Life’s efforts to give a makeover to the self-help genre, to make Philosophy more relatable for people of the 21st century. Naturally, I had a lot of expectations from it because The School of Life was co-founded by Alain de Botton, who is one of the wisest and smartest people alive. The topic of the book is also intriguing. Aren’t a lot of our problems a result of our inability to be alone?

Sara lives alone in an isolated part of Scotland out of choice. She fell in love with silence and wanted to explore it more. However, the society looks down upon anybody who lives alone. Sara points out that there is a contradiction in what society teaches us: on one hand we are encouraged to be more talkative, more outgoing or to be team players, somehow when it comes to ‘valuing’ and giving respect, we respect lone geniuses, solitary individuals who are calm and have ‘inner strength. Sara also points out that society only celebrates solitary individuals if they do something ‘heroic’ like go on a solo adventure, climb Mount Everest etc. People like Sara, who just live alone, are not exactly ‘heroic’ and hence mocked. They are also called ‘selfish’ if they enjoy their aloneness. In the first part of the book, Sara discusses the taboos around solitude and aloneness and says that even Science falls into the trap of cultural myths and prejudices. For example: Science says that socializing is ‘natural’ while being alone is ‘unnatural’ which is true up to some extent. Science gives examples of various species which socialize. However, there are many animals who are solitary . There are many ‘natural’ things that animals follow which human beings don’t (in some groups, the mother leaves the child after birth and it’s the father who raises the child all alone. Humans don’t follow this, do they?).
The rest of the book focuses on practical solutions for those who want to explore solitude. One interesting solution here is rote learning. Most of us are convinced that rote learning is bad but Sara says it can be extremely effective for those who want to live alone. According to her, we all are afraid of an empty mind and a ‘well-stocked’ mind helps in solitude.
The book didn’t make me fall in love with solitude but it certainly helped me in overcoming the stigma around it. I was perhaps looking for more detailed solutions, so I was a little disappointed. Also, I wanted to read more about Sara’s life, which seems so interesting!

The Gaslight Effect by Dr. Robin Stern

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Photo: scottnevinssuicide

 

Words and labels certainly cannot completely capture the essence of human emotions but sometimes, they empower us. It is ironical…words, language, are the invention of the rational part of us…or are they? The intention behind the invention was to reach out to fellow human beings. There are times when words are just not enough, but sometimes, there is a sense of relief when you discover that there is a word that perfectly explains your emotions/experiences. “Gaslighting” is one word that can probably explain generations of abuse suffered by anybody who is in a vulnerable position.

In simple words, gaslighting is “manipulating someone by psychological means into doubting their own sanity” (Wikipedia). It can be done by a person, a group, government, society etc. The victim could be anybody and in some cases, the victim turns the oppressor. Women as a group have been gaslighted into believing that they are worthless by patriarchy. Some religious leaders gaslight their followers and the poor souls give up their thinking and doubts and start worshipping the self-proclaimed ‘gurus’. Some advertisers have also adopted gaslighting strategies to sell their products (if you are not thin/fair, no one will love you). Dr. Robin Stern presents an unbelievably accurate analysis of gaslighters (the ones who manipulate), their motives and the strategies that they adopt to manipulate the gaslightees. Her focus is on personal lives and not on groups but the essence remains the same.

Stern must be lauded for the way she acknowledges both the rational and emotional parts of human beings. She says that even if the gaslighter is right, it doesn’t give him/her the right to gaslight you. E.g. Let’s say your friend is taking an impulsive decision to quit his job and start a company, without having a concrete plan in place. As a friend, it’s your responsibility to tell him about your apprehensions but to use this “truth” to humiliate him or dominate him or to forcefully change him is gaslighting even if your opinion is true. This can be applied to ‘concern trolls’. For e.g. There are people who believe that fat-shaming is a ‘good’ thing because it is ultimately ‘concerned’ about fat people’s health. But in most cases, mocking a fat person does the exact opposite: the fat person ends up eating more because he/she uses food to numb the pain that comes from exclusion/humiliation. It’s gaslighting because the concern trolls make fat people doubt their reality. Every human being believes that he/she deserves to be loved but concern trolls tell them that they can be only loved if they are thin. So fat people start doubting their reality (“I am lovable”) and start accepting the gaslighter’s reality (“I am worthless because I am fat”). They start eating more and are also preoccupied with their weight. Since the majority of fat people’s thoughts are about weight, they hardly get time to think about their fellow human beings. So, they might come across as self-absorbed and they might repel people. This way, the gaslighter has proved the theory (that fat people don’t really have a lot of friends).

Gaslighters are not always the intimidating types. Some of them do what you want and agree with you completely and yet you feel something is “off”. This person is actually worried about his good-guy image; so he will do exactly what you want him to do and yet you will never be satisfied because he didn’t do those things for YOU.

Stern is not harsh towards gaslighters, though. According to her, a person starts gaslighting when she feels threatened or stressed out. For example, some men feel threatened by the women’s liberation movement and hence their response is to gaslight them. That’s why you see a lot of men making fun of feminists. Some mother-in-laws also feel threatened by the “new woman” in her son’s life and her response is to gaslight her daughter-in-law.

At the end of the day, gaslighters are just human beings seeking love and approval. They are vulnerable people who find it difficult to love themselves and express their needs. If you are a gaslightee, the best thing you can do is protect yourself from the gaslighter. However, Stern urged us to do this with compassion and understanding…towards the gaslighter and yourself.