Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 2009 in Books

2009 was the year I got introduced to the graphic novel and leaped into a torrid love affair with the same almost immediately. I was extremely fortunate to have friends with a common passion which meant that I got some of the best novels without spending a dime.

Apart from graphic novels, there were other books I enjoyed. And thanks to Twitter I managed to keep track of my reading this year. Here’s a list of all the books I read (not as many as I’d have liked!) this year. Just for the record (in descending order)

1. RONIN – Frank Miller

Sci-fi meets samurai in this tale of revenge, corruption and high-tech gadgetry. I found the story a bit hard to follow, but it has one of the best love scenes I’ve come across in a graphic novel.


Ok, it doesn’t really count as a book, considering it’s just a few pictures and funny captions thrown it. I finished it in 4 minutes flat. But couldn’t bear to leave it out of the list.


I liked the movie, but this book in the series was just too bizarre for my liking.

Fantastic, inspirational book about how broken dreams (climbing K2) can sow the seeds for something far more monumental (schools for Pakistan’s deprived children).

5 & 6. MAUS 1 & 2 - Art Spiegelman

A hauntingly brilliant graphic memoir of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman captures his ageing father’s account of surviving the Holocaust, and in the process shows what it’s like to ‘survive the survivors’. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I finished reading it.

7. RUNNING WITH SCISSORS – Augusten Burroughs

Outrageously outstanding. Reading about the author’s bizarre childhood with a kooky mother and her nutjob psychiatrist, was enough to make me go on my knees and thank God for my ‘normal’ childhood. Written with a rare wit and candour.


Neat story, interesting characters. It’s quite cool to find the protagonists have their dark sides. One’s an opium addict, another uses his ‘invisibility’ to mess about in a girls school, a third is a rumoured lesbian.

9. EAT, PRAY, LOVE – Elizabeth Gilbert

Not being one for ‘chicklit’, I resisted reading this book for a long time. But when I finally did, I found it quite likeable. It also came to me at a time when I was restless and looking for a change in life, quite like the protagonist. Change did come, not quite as I expected. But that’s the topic for another book…

10. MW – Osamu Tezuka

Exposure to a deadly chemical renders one of the characters morally corrupt. And the other protagonist, a Catholic priest, spends his life trying to cover up for him. The story is rife with homosexuality, rape and other deadly sins. Simply brilliant. Amen.

11. ENDLESS NIGHTS – Neil Gaiman

Seven fantastic stories, each about one of seven immortal siblings – Dream, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium – collectively known as The Endless. If you read nothing else by Neil Gaiman, read this one!

12. MY STORY – Kamala Das

Her poetry shines through her writing, and even the mundane details appear grand. Loved her story and her sass in standing up to a chauvinist society.

13. BLANKETS – Craig Thompson

A coming-of-age tale about love, Jesus and redemption, beautifully drawn.

14. EMBROIDERIES – Marjane Satrapi

Iranian women talking about their love and sex lives. Gutsy and funny.

15. 100 BULLETS: FIRST SHOT, LAST CALL - Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

If you could get away with murder and revenge, would you do it? Delicious dilemma and each of the 100 stories hinge on that decision. Of the 3 stories (bullets?) in the book, I liked only the first one. The rest got a bit repetitive.

16. KARI – Amruta Patil

Dark and dense. It was hard to tell where fantasy ended and reality began. But that was what added to the intrigue of Kari. Saw shades of myself in the lead character (not the lesbian bits, ok?)

17. PERSEPOLIS 1 & 2– Marjane Satrapi

I read it with my jaw on the floor the whole time. Satrapi’s graphic novel of growing up during the Revolution and how it shapes her thinking. The details are stunning, especially her memories of people. Persepolis is a thing of beauty…

18. PUSH MAN & OTHER STORIES – Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Dreadfully bleak stories of depressive Japanese middle class people stuck in dead-end lives. I couldn’t get enough of it. I read the book twice!

19. ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO - Yoshihiro Tatsumi

You pass them by on the street and don’t spare a second thought. Tatsumi does, and that’s what makes his stories so compelling. Ordinary people, devious lives.

20. CORALINE – Neil Gaiman

Am glad I didn’t read this story when I was growing up. Downright scary!


My first encounter with Gaiman. Although it took me a while to get ‘into’ the story, I enjoyed the trip. Unlike anything I’d read before. Looking forward to reading the rest of the Sandman series.

22. HALF OF A YELLOW SUN – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Heard her speak at the Emirates Airlines International Literature Festival 2008 and came away impressed. Read her book and was further impressed. Hadn’t heard of the Biafran War until I read the book.

23. OUTLIERS – Malcolm Gladwell

Geniuses aren’t born, they’re made. By society, by fluke, by bloody hard work. That’s the essence of this very unputdownable book.


Or How A Terrorist is Born. A little gem of a book. The love story is very sensitively etched.

25. WATCHMEN – Alan Moore

My baptism into the bewitching world of Graphic Novels. What I learned: not all superheroes are good and noble.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Around the world in 3six5 days

Imagine a diary of 2010 written by 365 different people from 365 different corners of the world. And you'll have an idea of The 3six5 Project

The brainchild of two self-professed geeks from Chicago Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman, The 3six5 Project is a social experiment of sorts, to create 'a crowdsourced journal of 2010', which may (or may not) be turned into a book.

My first thought on coming across the project was, 'I've got to be part of this!' But first I had to convince Len Kendall about the 'unique perspective I could bring to this compilation'. I wrote that I looked forward to sharing about 'life in a city with the world's tallest building, richest horse race and the largest pair of chopsticks (22 ft., as recorded by Guinness Records!)'.

Perhaps, Len was really impressed by the ginormous chopsticks, but it turns out I'm going to author August 2, 2010.

There are still a few 'dates' left, so hurry over and pick one. Email with a short bio of yourself.

Monday, December 07, 2009

International Volunteers Day

Saturday, December 5th, was International Volunteers Day. And having offered my services a few times to an organization called Volunteer in Dubai, and also curious to meet people working in social development, I headed to The Shelter in Al Quoz, where a small event was being organized.

The studio was already packed with about 50-60 people when I entered. There were presentations by a few people about the work they were doing on their own or in partnership with other NGOs. And it was both humbling and inspiring.

There were several interesting things that I noticed at the event. One was that most of those involved in social work weren’t the hoary sorts who’d taken up social work in their twilight years or bored housewives with time on their hands. The four presenters were all in their mid-20s. Some worked with the underprivileged along side their regular nine-to-fives, while some of them had made it their life work.

26-year-old Masarat Daud shared how she quit a lucrative government job in 2008 to start a programme to educate and empower women and children in her village in Rajasthan. Through her initiative called the ‘8-Day Academy’, she has taught basic computer skills and public speaking to children and teachers, while also demolishing age-old chauvinistic structures in the process. She’s also planning the first rural TEDx Shekavati with an inspiring theme – IDEA REVOLUTION.

Mobisher Rabbani shared his guiding philosophy, ‘We can begin small but why should we think small’. And the long list of The Rabbani Foundation’s initiatives from community development to women’s empowerment to disaster relief, proved that he took his philosophy quite seriously.

At a time when Afghanistan seems to be one of the most dangerous places on earth, journalist and RJ, Natalie Carney headed to Afghanistan not once, but twice, staying there for a month and documenting the stories of the war orphans. One of the most touching moments in her documentary was a parent saying, “We sent our daughter to an orphanage so that she could get an education.”

Another interesting detail was that almost none of the presenters handed around leaflets or any other ‘literature’. I didn’t see too many visiting cards being exchanged either. All of them directed the audience to ‘look them up online’. Either on Twitter or You Tube or Facebook or through their blogs and websites. As Mobiasher mentioned to me, “I mostly operate through Facebook.”

And finally, what was most heartening to note was the presence of confident, articulate Emirati women making a difference. Two young Emirati woman along with their non-Emirati friends, shared their vision that had helped start the group ‘Promise of a Generation’ to ‘promote respectful intercultural interaction to improve our own understanding of the world and our responsibilities in it’. Even the event organizer, Nabila Usman, seemed far more advanced than her 20-something years , given her philanthropic vision and desire to make a difference in society.

As I drove back home, inspired and uplifted, I couldn’t help remembering a quote by Mahatma Gandhi – ‘Find purpose, the means will follow’.