Wonder, by R.J.Palacio
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Depending on how you normally view things in the world, this book can read like one that inspires hope. Or it can read like one that sounds so phoney that it’s almost like a fantasy story.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book, and it made me feel really good reading it, especially with the fact that I have a young child and how she copes with school life (and real life) worries me all the time. The story reassures me that there is more kindness than meanness in the world. People are born good, and bad behaviour loses its attraction over time.
Plus, the writer’s manipulation of events and situations in the story, and his ability to make the voices of the characters sound so authentic make the story a great read. A kid sounded like a kid, and a teenager sounded like a teenager.
Yet, I can’t help feeling that what happened in the book seems so far from reality most of the time. I mean, how often do we get children (and adults for that matter) like Summer and Jack who can resist being part of the popular group and have the courage to stand up for what they think is right or better? I’m not saying there aren’t such folks around, just that they are few and far between. I’m not even sure I’d have the courage to be Summer or Jack as an adult.
Nevertheless, I picked up the book because they’ve made a movie out of it, and I wanted to read it before I watched it. I think I’m looking forward to the movie. Of course, the fact that Julia Roberts is going to be the mum helps. I hope it won’t disappoint.
And yes, I will strive to spread a little bit of kindness each day. To quote from Mr Browne’s first precept in the book, it’s more important to be kind than to be right all the time.
VERDICT: Read it before you watch it… if you’re going to watch it that is.
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
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Wow, what a read.
I learnt that sapiens went from the middle of the food chain to the top because our ancestors knew how to cooperate in large groups. And they did that by creating myths – institutions and systems that sapiens believe in. Of course, this is not the only juicy bit from the book, but it was the most striking one for me.
The book raises more questions than answers, and I suppose that is good in a way, and totally expected of an academic writer. Yet, it can get frustrating sometimes, especially when I found myself going through the same section more than once, trying to get to the point that the writer was trying to convey.
Nevertheless, the book is written in a simple style, and certainly does not read like a boring history paper. The writer has tried to communicate big concepts in simple language, and I think he has managed to do it.
The last couple of chapters are more forward-looking, and talks about future possibilities very briefly. He recently published Homo Deus, which is like a “sequel” to this book. Some say it’s an unworthy extension of Sapiens; others find it an equally good read. I’m going to try it out!
VERDICT: Because the scope covered in the book is so wide, do not expect detailed descriptions of what happened in the history of human development. But if you’re looking for something that will help you understand our past and think about what it means for our future, try this book.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
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This is one of those books that give me hope, and yet make me worry about the future at the same time.
Having just gone through my grandmother’s passing last year, and facing two sets of aging parents from both my husband and myself, the thought of one’s mortality has been on my mind recently. Hearing about my husband’s colleague’s struggle with his elderly mother and a sister who has recently been diagnosed with cancer actually made it worse.. This was when I finally picked up the book, even though I had come across it some time back. I had thought it would be too depressing then.
Reading the book brought clarity to the questions we should be asking, when one is dying and time is short. Medicine and doctors, as opposed to common belief, do not have all the answers. But doing so requires a big shift in perspective, not just for the one dying, but also for the caregivers and onlooking loved ones. The writer has not only managed to capture all these through an engaging storytelling of cases he has come across, but also through his own experiences.
Yet, what worries me is that our ecosystem and society may not be ready for such an enlightened approach towards death. I’m glad this book has forced people to think about the limits of medicine and doctors, and what is possible beyond traditional nursing homes and medical treatments that may not be the best options sometimes.
VERDICT: This is a must read for everyone, not just folks who are in the healthcare industry. Because we are all mortals.