Book Notes – A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I’m calling this series ‘Book Notes’ because ‘Book Review’ sounds scary. Book Review suggests a thorough examination of the good, the bad and the ugly and then a careful critique of the book. My book notes are going to be a lot of random rambling. As I said in my previous post, I have embarked on a journey to read through this list. I began at the beginning with this book, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and boy am I glad I did.

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This book hooks you in from the word go and does not let you go. There were nights when my eyes were burning with sleep but I kept reading anyway. I will note here that I tend to get overexcited about a lot of things but I have never been so caught up by a non fiction book. This book is about the history of our planet. So in a way you could say that this is probably the greatest story ever told. And it is told so well. It just flows from page to page and the humour is just brilliantly done. Don’t worry I’m not giving away any plot twists, but you have to hear a few of my favourite lines from this book.

When talking about Mitochondria, the power house of the cell, “We couldn’t live for two minutes without them, yet even after a billion years mitochondria behave as if they think things might not work out between us. They maintain their own DNA, RNA and ribosomes. They reproduce at a different time from their host cells. They don’t even speak the same genetic language as the cell in which they live. In short, they keep their bags packed. It is like having a stranger in your house, but one who has been there for a billion years.”

Here’s another wise observation about bacteria: “Bacteria may not build cities or have interesting social lives, but they will be here when the Sun explodes. This is their planet, and we are on it only because they allow us to be”

I just love how this book covers so much ground, without ever leaving the reader feel breathless. You read with fascination about the quirks in Albert Einstein’s and Isaac Newton’s personalities which somehow helps to understand a little better the work that they did. I don’t know why that should be the case but it is. School textbooks should really take a leaf out of this book. My biggest complaint when studying the sciences was always that the way things were written in the textbooks were so unsatisfactory and choppy. I vaguely wondered about the connections between subjects but never seriously enough to find out more about it. If you have ever been in that position, I promise you this book will make your eyes pop and your heart sing. The author explores the history of the entire planet through the eyes of the pioneers of every field, giving fresh life to the dusty and musty impression most of us have of ‘history’ in the first place.

It also helps put things in somewhat more perspective than we are used to in our everyday lives. Time and space across the universe are such vast concepts that our minds are not even capable of grasping most of it. And we puny humans have been around for only the blink of an eye and for all we know that is about as long it would take to wipe us off for good. So the next time you’re running late for a meeting or irritated with the traffic on the roads or just grumpy because you haven’t had your morning coffee; instead of invoking the wrath of the gods, just relax and tell yourself that none of it matters anyway. We exist by accident; we’re not even as special as we think we are; and one day when we die, the universe will very efficiently break us down leaving no trace whatsoever.

I do hope you read and enjoy this book as much as I did!

Cheers!

PS # It is not a book for the fainthearted though, 575 pages with another 100 odd pages of reference notes if you like that sort of thing.

28 Days of February

I used to be fascinated by the concept of the leap year: one extra day every 4 years! Of course once you understand the logic behind it, it’s not that fascinating but it’s still kind of thrilling. It’s not as if I did anything special on the day except finish reading a very fascinating book so I guess that counts.

I have never been a fan of reading lists. Whether they are ‘classics’ or ‘must read’ or ‘super funny’, I never paid attention to these bits of collective wisdom from strangers. I know what you’re thinking. The next thing she’ll say is that she is now a convert. Well I’m not yet a convert but a list that I found recently has seriously given me reason to hope. It wasn’t so much the list but the brilliancy of the books themselves that shone through. Hats off to the creator of the list to describe them just right to catch the attention of the reader. The article declared as it’s heading: 7 Best Books That Will Radically Shift The Way You See The World and I must say that it seems to be keeping up it’s promise so far. I would highly recommend it to everyone purely based on the first one. It has actually got me thinking. Once I finish this list (and it will take some time, no worries about that), I intend to seek out more such lists. More books that will radically shift the way I see the world. Suggestions are welcome!

In other news, I watched the Oscars this year. I remember the first and last time I watched the entire ceremony while it aired. It was in 2008 and the ‘Best Original Song’ was won by this hauntingly beautiful song called Falling Slowly. To this day, I have the song in my phone and I listen to it often. I also remember that at that time, I hadn’t seen any of the movies that were up for nominations. Looking at the list now, I am happy to report that I have seen most of them and enjoyed them a great deal. From this year’s Oscar nominated crop, I had only seen La La Land and Moana and there were both a treat. How Far I’ll Go from Moana really should have won the Best Original Song Award.

Well that’s all for now. Wishing everyone happy reading and humming and a great month ahead.

Cheers!

The World of Ms. Jane Marple

So I did what I set out to do. A marathon reading spree of all of Agatha Christie’s Ms. Marple books. It was a heavenly experience and I’m almost tempted to re-read all her other books as well, but I thought I should take a detour into a different genre first (more about that in the next post) and then read the books she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. I’ve always shied away from them before because they aren’t the murder mysteries that we love but I think it’s time I gave them a chance.

While I read the books in the order they were published, the last book really does not belong in the end. For the uninitiated, this is the order I would recommend you read the books.

  • The Thirteen Problems (Collected Short Stories)
  • The Murder at The Vicarage
  • The Body in The Library
  • The Moving Finger
  • A Murder is Announced
  • They Do It with Mirrors
  • A Pocket Full of Rye
  • 4.50 from Paddington
  • Sleeping Murder
  • The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
  • A Caribbean Mystery
  • At Bertram’s Hotel
  • Nemesis

There were a few things that really struck me while I was reading the books this time around. There are some aspects of that bygone era that I had only half understood when I first read the books years ago and never bothered to find out more about later. I was content to let them take whatever shape they chose in my subconscious. But this time, I indulged my long ago curiosity and googled such words as ‘chintz’, ‘scullery’, ‘Yorkshire pudding’, ‘scones’ and well the rest of the list was mostly more food stuff. But you know what I mean right? There is always this tug of war inside, to leave things to the imagination or ruin the mystery by looking it up. Speaking for myself, I did a lot of looking up and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The other thing that struck me was the power of suggestion. Every time they sat down to tea, I longed to have a cup myself. Finally, this weekend, I decided to do it in style. I walked over to TWG and ordered myself a nice cup of earl grey tea and tea cakes (they did not have scones alas). It was a beautiful afternoon, after which I even condescended to click a few pictures of the truly breathtaking array of tea that one could buy there. See for yourself!

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Until next time.

Cheers!

On Indecision

It rained today. Heavily. Falling straight like a curtain without a hint of breeze and sounding powerful enough to wash away everything on the planet. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration but it was quite awe inspiring. This kind of rain makes you want to curl up by the window with a cup of tea and a good book and just lose yourself. I’m really glad about it actually. It’s been really sulky weather for the last two weeks with odd spells of rain as if the sky couldn’t really make up its mind. That is something I positively detest: indecision. I hate it when I see it in others and I hate it even more when I’m being indecisive myself. And apparently I don’t like it much when the weather is being indecisive :). I am fond of extremes: boiling heat, thrashing rain, biting cold, I’m quite happy with them all.

My trip down memory lane is going splendidly. This is the first time that I am reading the books chronologically and I must say that it is even more delightful this way. Small nuggets of information and continuing storylines of ‘village parallels’ show up across books and gladdens my detail oriented heart. In addition, I am noticing something more in my reading this time. There are very strong moral strictures woven into the stories but done in such a way so as not to bore the reader. It is really quite an achievement. It’s also interesting to learn about the time period and what life was like back then and there. Novels, I belive are much better at instructing one on history than history books themselves.

  • The Murder at The Vicarage
  • The Collected Short Stories
  • The Body in The Library
  • The Moving Finger
  • A Murder is Announced
  • They Do It with Mirrors
  • A Pocket Full of Rye
  • 4.50 from Paddington
  • The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
  • A Caribbean Mystery
  • At Bertram’s Hotel
  • Nemesis
  • Sleeping Murder

Since the rain has left the a cool and breezy after taste in the atmosphere, I shall take my own advice and curl up with the next book in my list and just lose myself till sleep overtakes me.

Cheers!

Of Slow Internet and eBooks

One of the worst things that can happen to you these days is if you happen to have an unreliable internet connection. Enough has been written about the addiction of the human race to gadgets but let’s face it, if those gadgets weren’t connected to the internet, we would most likely not be so hooked on to them. In the days of the dial up internet, we were perfectly happy with the snail speed of our connection. But now that we know about the existence of 1 GBPS internet; watching a page loading for more than 10 seconds is an agony. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. Just hear me out. My present internet predicament is that I have three different kinds of connections. I have mobile internet, I have a WiFi connection at home and I have a pocket WiFi. All of them are by different service providers and all of them are temperamental as hell. I can never say for sure how they will behave at any given time. The bars on the WiFi never falter but the speed of internet is anybody’s guess. It can be quite amusing sometimes but when it takes 60 minutes to watch a 20 minute show, it isn’t funny. Today is one of those temperamental days. My iTunes download failed thrice. It took me 10 minutes to get to the new post page of my blog. I’ve got an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ buffering away on another tab and I’ve given up on my Gmail opening at all tonight. All in all, not one of my good internet days. I did manage to buy a couple of ebooks on Amazon though. Having recently re-read Agatha Christie’s autobiography, I feel a yearning to read her books again. There is such a simplicity about them despite being essentially books about crime. A friend of mine once turned up his nose at her books saying that there wasn’t enough plot development, that the books were too short; but I disagree. The intricacy of her plots is what makes them so intriguing and her dialogue is always enjoyable. And of course its her observations about human nature that clinch the deal. I’ve started reading the Ms. Marple series of books that she wrote and I think I’m going to read them all.

ms-marple-collection

  • The Murder at The Vicarage
  • The Collected Short Stories
  • The Body in The Library
  • The Moving Finger
  • A Murder is Announced
  • They Do It with Mirrors
  • A Pocket Full of Rye
  • 4.50 from Paddington
  • The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side
  • A Caribbean Mystery
  • At Bertram’s Hotel
  • Nemesis
  • Sleeping Murder

Here’s to a wonderful few weeks of nostalgia.

Cheers!

 

A few of my favourite books

As I child, when I was asked about my favourite things, I used to feel very superior in the knowledge that favourites were not very static things and would change with the times. However, as we all know, there are some things which land on that favourite spot and never budge. When it comes to books, I still can’t choose one favourite, I have two and over the last 2 weekends, I decided to re-read them and it was a delight. I have enjoyed a lot of different books and will continue to explore more and maybe I’ll have more favourites of all sorts but these will be my all time favourites.

gone_with_the_wind_coverThe first is Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It’s possible that I haven’t read too many classics and maybe there could be others that are better. But beyond the powerful storytelling, the vivid imagery and the drama; at the heart of it, this book is about human nature. I’m ever curious about people and why they do the things that they do. I’m not very good at perceiving them most of the time but it interests me to read about it and then draw parallels with other situations. This book is a treasure trove of such insights and all the more delightful because the heroine is oblivious to them all. The rich history that the book is steeped in, makes for an electrifying canvas on which to test the mettle of the characters. The characters themselves are a delight and the close attention to detail and description makes one feel like they are actually inside the book themselves, watching it all happen. In the past while reading this book, I used to have some disdain for the length of the descriptions but this time I newly appreciated how important they were. In fact, every time I have read this book, I have discovered something new. There was a time I used to read it every year in the summer, I don’t know why I stopped after a time. My memory of this book will always be lying on the cool floor on a hot summer afternoon with the curtains gently swaying in the breeze. Even the book itself was quite a relic; ancient, with yellowing pages and old fashioned print and pages that had come loose from the binding and had to be held down while reading lest they fly away. Alas, away from home as I am, my most recent experience of the book was on the kindle. I was glad to read it in any form but I missed the smell of the actual book.

agatha-christie-autobiography-coverThe second is Agatha Christie’s Autobiography. In all honesty, if I had to pick just one favourite, I would pick this one. I am a huge fan of her writing and have devoured all her stories and used to wonder from time to time about her life and experiences and what drove her to write what she did. When I discovered this book, I pounced on it and it did not disappoint. It’s a sheer delight through and through with anecdotes and observations about all the little things in life. Written in a simple style which nevertheless jumps from time to time whenever the mood strikes making it thoroughly engaging and never boring. It’s a happy book. At the end, you put down the book, smile and think to yourself that you should enjoy your life more. She doesn’t preach, just tells you her own story, extremely fascinating and charming.

 

Of course both these books were made more enjoyable by the fact that I read them at the beach 🙂

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Until next time,

Cheers!

Of New Years and Notebooks

WordPress tells me that on this day 4 years ago I registered this blog. Well I must congratulate this corner of the internet for putting up with me for this long and here’s to many more such years. I also realize that this is my first post of the year.

As is customary, I have begun another New Year of my life as if its a brand new notebook, fresh and clean and tightly wrapped in plastic with the price tag label firmly stuck on. Waking up on the morning of January 1, 2017 was like tearing away that plastic and lovingly caressing the pages of the year yet to begin. I love the metaphor of the notebook not just because I have too many of them (which I do, see Exhibit A) but also because I feel like there is something magical in the way turning over a leaf gives you a whole new page to work with. Its like getting a fresh start with every new page. I believe that every new day is exactly like that too. No matter what happens today, happy or sad, when you wake up in the morning tomorrow, you get to whole new day to play with.

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Exhibit A

 

Now just like my many notebooks, I also have different kinds of days. Some days are like a perfect daily planner; everything neatly scheduled according to the time slots in the day; notes where they belong at the bottom of the page; reminders checked off as tasks are completed and maybe a little doodle for a bit of whimsy. Other days however are like a plainly ruled notebook, which tells you to chart a path just for you but with the lines acting like the safety harness in a bungee jump. You are free to make lists or write poetry or take notes; add page numbers or don’t; add the date or not; and generally have a more interesting page than that of the daily planner. There are yet other days where the notebook has thick and creamy pages with no lines on them and have this aura of elegance about them. These are the ones that really dare you to live; invite you to colour outside the lines; and boldly illustrate your purpose. These are also the pages that scare me the most. I’m so scared to make the wrong mark and cause a blemish and not a perfect paint stroke that I often leave the page completely blank, just staring at it wistfully and wishing something to materialize on it. Even when I hesitatingly go forth and make my mark, I always look back to that page and see something that doesn’t quite match up to the imagination of the page that I had. I’m glad to say the feeling is mostly momentary, I don’t regret much in my life.

My notebooks like me are combinations of optimism and realism. They are of different sizes, colours, themes, paper quality and what goes into them varies quite a bit as well. I think I almost treat them like my pets, like others do their dogs or cats. I preserve these pages over years and years. I rarely finish a notebook except at work. I write on each of them at different times depending on what kind of day it has been. I get super excited when I am in stores that sell notebooks, and I have to exercise a tremendous amount of restraint not to buy every notebook that catches my eye and gladdens my soul. Every time a new notebook excites me, I keep myself sober thinking how my poor notebooks at home must feel neglected. I treated myself to my usual annual notebook for the year and so far I have written in it at least once a week and hope to continue doing so. This blog of course has also been a kind of a notebook just with better images and navigation options. It has also made me think carefully about what I write since it’s not just some scribble that only I will see. Crafting each sentence, reading and re-reading the post to make it sound just right has given me many hours of happiness and for that I am grateful. I hope to see more of more of it this year.

Until next time,

Cheers!

PS # Yes, I spent time looking for the perfect spot in my house and then setting up for a photo shoot of my notebooks.

Good Morning! (Yawn)

So here is a post about my favourite topic (not). And since it is 9 am right now when I’m writing it, I think it is fair to say that it will not be earth shattering. To put it very bluntly, I am not a morning person. I resent the alarm, I often feel like my entire sleep has been ruined just because I woke up to the sound of the alarm. As if I would wake up singing if my eyes opened up naturally every morning; I rather doubt it. And there is this inexplicable thing that happens where on some days I feel perfectly refreshed with the sleep I’ve had while on other days it feels like mornings are the pit of hell. I don’t like coffee or tea in the morning so I guess there is nothing really that helps enhance the mood. Then there are days like today when my eyes open up unusually early for absolutely no reason. So I decided to see if I could figure out a little bit more about this strange phenomenon but because my brains are addled in the morning, I couldn’t do much meaningful research. But nevertheless, read some inspiring posts here and here. And rounded it off with one of my  favourite morning recharge music. Have a happy weekend!

Cheers!

Routine and it’s friends

The word ‘routine’ comes from the word ‘route’. So sometimes, just changing your route can give you a refreshing break from your routine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of routine. As a child I was quite averse to change of any kind and even though I eventually learnt to embrace the good in any situation, I reveled in the comfort of routine. I still do in fact. And by routine I don’t necessarily mean those that lead to high productivity; there are enough routines in the world that we fall into that do not benefit us in any way. They are commonly referred to as ruts. So spending the entire weekend doing nothing but binge watching TV shows and movies and ordering food is an example of a bad routine. But I digress. So sometimes by literally, physically changing your route, you get a new perspective of life or a situation. Sometimes this change of route can be inspired by a conversation or something you read. But most of the time serendipity doesn’t exactly strike, so we need to have a mechanism for ourselves to know when to break from routine even if for a single evening. I tried that today and found myself taking a long walk and then settling down at a cafe to research and write. After a while, on a whim I decided to try another cafe and treated myself to a delicious bacon and egg sandwich. As I sit here in the glow of lamplight, enjoying the soft music and writing this, I feel a sense of contentment. I wouldn’t choose to do this everyday but I liked it today and that’s what matters. And I hope I remember this feeling so that pretty soon I want to do this again. 

But I should know, as should you, that routine has a few sly friends who like to gang up on us. Apathy is one of them; we don’t even know it’s there – working behind the scenes – till the day comes when we find ourselves exhausted from it. So watch out for this one. It’s typical symptoms include a weird disinterest in all things good or bad, and a general sense of being bogged down. The next one is the all time favourite: laziness. Bad enough though it is by itself, when combined with apathy it can become crippling. I don’t need to define this one; if even the thought of wearing your shoes, let alone going for a walk makes you shudder, you’ve got a bad case of laziness. Ironically, the cure to both is actually to get moving and do something but it’s one of those inexplicably vicious cycles of life. The last one is my personal favourite, the future self syndrome. OK I made up the term but the concept exists. It’s the idea that your future self, be it a day in the future or years ahead will do all the things you cannot do today. But the beauty of this lies in the fact that the future is a mirage. The moment you arrive there it becomes the present and the more presents we waste, the fewer we have left to anything in. So I guess our forefathers had it right when they said we must seize the day. Carpe diem indeed. Let’s drink to that.

Cheers!

What I tell people when they ask me what I do in HR

I watched a TED talk a while back by language historian Anne Curzon where she tells an amusing story in the beginning. She says that when she is at a dinner party and people find out her profession, they usually have one of two reactions; they either (a) get really frightened because they think she will spot every mistake they might make or (b) their eyes light up because they want to tell her about everything they think is wrong with the English language. It is a hilarious and interesting talk and I would highly recommend watching it here. But there is something about this anecdote that resonated with me. Whenever I introduce myself, outside of my workplace, as a Human Resources Professional, I usually get asked one of two questions. It is either, “So that means you are a recruiter?” or “So that means you don’t have much work, do you?”. Now the first question makes me sigh in tiredness but the second one just pisses me off but we’ll get to that later. Let’s focus on the first question for a minute.

There was a time when the human resources department did little more than process payroll and shuffle paperwork and we have come such a long way since then but it still irks me the everyone still thinks its only about the most visible aspect of the function. At this point I must note that recruitment is an extremely crucial step in the entire employee life cycle and I have a tremendous amount of respect for recruiters. In fact, sometimes I wish I was a recruiter so that I could just answer the first question with a resounding yes and then we would move on to more interesting topics not involving work. But I’m not so I usually have to come up with some sort of explanation of the work that I do which more often than not leaves the person mildly baffled and they drop the subject (hurrah!). In recent months, I have amused myself by coming up with some unconventional answers, let’s say. If you plan to read on, please keep an open mind :). So here are some of my explanations:

  • I’m like a janitor, I clean up messes when they need cleaning up. I can’t take complete credit for this one as it was inspired by the movie, Michael Clayton but I love this the most as it is guaranteed to leave someone completely baffled if I do not expound further.
  • I talk to people all day long. Another head scratcher, this either invites more questions or leads to aforementioned baffled silence
  • I’m happy to spend the next two hours telling you about my work. Would you like that? This elicits a nervous laugh and then an immediate change of topic.
  • I’m an HR Evangelist. There is such a thing although I’m not one but I just get a kick seeing the stunned expression and the internal battle waging in someone’s head to decide whether to ask or not.
  • I issue a lot of letters. This one isn’t too creative and usually gets a knowing nod as it is very much in keeping with people’s expectations from the HR department. Disappointing.
  • I’m an HR Generalist. This is the truth and if I choose to use this one, I usually have a lot of follow up questions to answer about what it means.

However amusing this may be, it got me thinking. Why is it so hard to communicate about the work that we do? It should be possible to explain every aspect of HR in it’s simplest form so as not to frighten or baffle anyone but just make them ‘get it’. We really need more people to better understand what goes on and in that way we can get their genuine opinions and perspectives on the subject which will vastly improve matters for everyone. I’m going to ponder on that for a while and see what I can come up with.

Until then,

Cheers!

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