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10 Editor’s Picks From 2020 For Your Next 2021 Book Club Read

Posted: December 29, 2020

Looking forward to the annual budget? Here’s our wishlist for Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman!

Planning to read more in 2021 and would like book club recommendations? Here are 10 picks from the editor’s desk for you.

A new year begins with many new resolutions and challenges. Maybe you want to read more in 2021. Maybe you’re looking for great reads. Maybe you’re going to do a reading challenge from the many you can find on the internet. Maybe you are part of a book club, or maybe you will start your own book club.

What better than books we’ve handpicked for you that we know will start some involved conversations, from where you can explore much more beyond the book itself?

Here are 10 books from 2020 that we recommend.

A road trip on bikes: 4 women, 6 countries, 17000 kms

Road to Mekong, Four Women, SIX countries, 17000 kilometres – An adventure of a lifetime. The title of Piya Bahadur’s new book says it all.

Road to MekongThe cover of the book packs a punch – the photograph of 4 women on 400-cc motorbikes, and the opening lines of the preface take us right into the journey and into the author’s mind.

Wresting with a 400-cc motorcycle mired in slush focuses your attention like nothing else. The back wheels of my Bajaj Dominar were skidding on the clayey road and the adrenaline was making me completely ignore the spectacular scenery of the valley below.”

A road trip by four women across countries is something new – we experience the changing geography and culture as Piya and her team ride on their bikes. The author gives us a glimpse of her thoughts and emotions throughout the journey.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Road to Mekong by Piya Bahadur, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Should women’s safety mean that their lives are always controlled by others?

Control of women’s voices, lives, bodies is the norm, under the guise of ‘protection’ and ‘women’s safety’. Can we ever achieve Fearless Freedom? Writer-activist Kavita Krishnan’s new book explores this.

Fearless Freedom“Reject such work that requires you to stay out till late.”
“Why do you have to go at all? It’s too far, just cancel it.”
“Of course, you are free, to do what you like or go where you want. But, within limits.”
“Do you really have to go? It’s dark, and it’s not safe.”

These are just some of the things I, and I am sure you too, have heard as a woman.

We, women, have been restricted and confined for too long. These restrictions may be in the form of rules regarding what time they come home, what clothes they wear, and even who they meet and interact with. The fact is, all of this is control, disrespect, and in conflict with the idea of ‘freedom’.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Fearless Freedom by Kavita Krishnan, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

A look at anxiety in an Indian cultural context

Clinical Psychologist and author Sonali Gupta, in her book Anxiety: Overcome it and Live Without Fear; speaks of a dire need to deal with anxiety in an Indian cultural context.

AnxietyNever before have we allocated this level of time and resources towards mental health, as in this decade. Yet most of the conversation is privileged, and euro-centric, a reason why many Indian people still feel mental health and therapy is a ‘rich people problem’.

For example dating, marriage, parent children relationships are all significantly different in India from that in other countries. Our ‘desi’ problems, triggers and beliefs are very unique. And often when we try to understand mental health through the internet or books, the language, terms and context are lost to us. And that is what makes this book special because it is written for the average Indian person; it makes understanding these incredibly complex feelings easier.

Sonali Gupta has been practising for over 16 years, and this book contains various examples and instances that her clients have experienced, and also anxiety issues over COVID-19.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Anxiety: Overcome it and Live Without Fear by Sonali Gupta, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

What home means to us, as Indian women

Women have always been uprooted to go elsewhere, either following their parents, or after marriage, or even with the husband changing jobs – even today, women, even career women, often do this. So, what does ‘home’ mean to us?

Bread Cement CactusMuch more than being a memoir, Bread Cement Cactus is an exploration of the meaning of home and belonging from unexpected angles which intersect with author, Annie Zaidi’s own personal experiences of the two often elusive concepts.

This read becomes even more significant, when you consider the mass migration of daily wage workers and others from marginalised communities from cities back to their villages at the beginning of this pandemic.

Exploring all kinds of ‘migrations’ from simple relocation to the great migration of the soul in death, the flow of the author’s thoughts and ideas is peppered with personal anecdotes, learning and experiences, and it feels almost like we are on this journey of her life with her, experiencing all the meanings of home alongside her. It is a brilliant, incredibly moving experience.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation by Annie Zaidi, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Fiction that makes sense of our dystopia lives in lockdown

The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories, a part humourous, part despairing collection of ten short stories, by Gayatri Gill, speaks to the reality of our current times.

The Day Before Today“In the BC (Before Corona) era, we were like individual slices of an orange. Tied together by superficial, weak, woolly networks that were easy to break. But the AC (After Corona) era has changed all that. Now, we’re bound by this invisible virus that has all of us tightly held together, like the chhilka of an unpeeled orange.” 

Art often emerges as a coping mechanism; as a way to grapple with uncomfortable realities. While the current pandemic has left many feeling creatively burnt out or blocked, other artists have found solace in creating.

The stories in the book don’t fit into any one genre. From post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller, to allegorical fairy tales, this book does it all, and how! Accompanied by some fabulous illustrations by Niyati Singh, the atmospheric writing draws you into the stories. It is also a quick read that can be finished in a couple of hours.

The book never lets up on the sense of discomfort. However, it is also strangely comforting, because they give us a sense of ‘you are not alone.’ The lockdown has affected us all in different ways. But there are commonalities too. It also helps that the author has a delightfully snarky voice in some of the stories.

If you would like to pick up a copy of The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories by Gayatri Gill, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and atAmazon US.

How different is life of tribal communities from what we know as ‘tourists’?

Through her book White as Milk and Rice, author Nidhi Dugar Kundalia attempts to make the reader understand, empathize and connect with India’s isolated tribes.

We often experience spaces and lives of tribal communities as tourists, and popular media romanticises them. The book inverts that experience, putting these communities centre stage.

How many of us even consider the marginalized community of tribals a truth, forget being aware of their history and tribulations? How many of us even have the time or inclination to spare a thought about what it must be like to simply fight for identity and define one’s existence?

The language in the book is rich, poetic and inspiring. It flows rhythmically, alternately intensifying and ebbing, with powerful and evocative imageries. Every effort has been made to stay as authentic to the premise as possible, while also ensuring that the reader is an ally and not taking a peripheral view of the accounts.

If you would like to pick up a copy of White as Milk and Rice by Nidhi Dugar Kundalia, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Savitribai Phule, the woman to whose vision all Indian women owe their education

Savitribai Phule is an inspiration in more ways than one – overcoming the barrier of caste and her gender, she pioneered the education of girls in India.

Savitribai Phule and IIn her YA book Savitribai Phule and I, Sangeeta Mulay juxtaposes the life of Savitribai Phule with the life of a young Dalit woman trying to get an education and make space for herself in a casteist society, and in doing so she leaves us much food for thought about what we need to truly empower young DBA students.

A quote from the book: “I had not heard about her myself until I had chanced upon her diary. Was this ignorance on the part of all of us, or was it that she simply had not been given her due? A doubt crept in my mind. Were her achievements overshadowed by her caste?”

So many of us who are savarnas are often unaware of the struggles of those from DBA backgrounds, and even those of us who want to help, don’t know how we can. The book lays these out for us, and helps us understand how we can be good allies.

The book makes us wonder why we don’t celebrate Savitribai Phule much more. We should have a celebration, on the level of Teachers’ Day, that marks her work and her legacy, and which can be used as a platform to raise awareness about the many struggles that girls and women still face, while trying to get an education.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Savitribai Phule and I by Sangeeta Mulay, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

The world also belongs to those who are queer

Reading The World That Belongs To Us – An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia proves that being queer is a very personal and complex experience that defies labels.

Being queer, and feeling queer, is such a complicated experience. You cannot separate yourself from the words you are reading, while at the same time, you mourn for or laugh with these persons offering you their honest words.

The poems in the book are not split into chapters or identity markers. Which is great, because what we need much less of is labelling and boxing.

In the foreword, the editors Aditi and Akhil speak of the excitement and the steadily-rising complications of putting a book of this sort together. South Asia is home to a still-fully-unexplored variety of queer identities and expressions, so who are we to categorise them?

There is so much of soul searching in here. The simple, sparse prose of some of this poetry talks of re-writing and rebuilding all the structures that make open love difficult. Is it only possible in one’s imagination?

If you would like to pick up a copy of The World That Belongs To Us – An Anthology of Queer Poetry from South Asia edited by Aditi Angiras and Akhil Katyal, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

A mother with Alzheimer’s, and a daughter as her caregiver

What We Carry by Maya Shanbagh Lang is a memoir about mothers and daughters, lies and truths, receiving and giving care, and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us.

It’s a story about a mother and a daughter, their life together, their history, the equation they share with each other, and how the dynamics of their relationship change after the author comes to understand the person her mother really is. A person vastly different from the image she has carried in her mind all her life.

It is also a book about caregivers. Maya Shanbagh Lang looked after her mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The story is about how this change in her mother’s condition affected Maya’s life, her understanding of life, and of the people in her life.

How well do we know our mothers? Do we know the real person who exists behind that loving, nurturing exterior? A person, who might have a completely different story than the one we think we know? A person, who, if they were to let go of their identity, would be a completely different individual from the one we have known all our lives!?

If you would like to pick up a copy of What We Carry by Maya Shanbagh Lang, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

The lives of Dalit women in their own words

Dalit Lekhika: Women’s Writings from Bengal by Stree-Samya bears witness to the lives of the oppressed women who write their own stories.

Being apolitical is no longer an option in a society that needs urgent measures to check environmental degradation, fascism and oppressive structures.

A good way to do that is by reading Dalit literature.

A privileged person, even the one who is aware, might fall in the trap of thinking that these stories do not belong to the modern day, that such caste atrocities belonged to a different era, and that caste is slowly vanishing.

Wrong. The stories in Dalit Lekhika are written by a current generation of Dalit women.

There is a dire need to bring to the fore literature that lives on the margins. Literature that is from non-commercial ventures that dig deep into these depths. Literature in local languages that may be globally inaccessible, but by bearing witness to the lives of those marginalised and oppressed, have the potential to create and further movements.

In a very distant future, a very longish time later, perhaps there would be no caste. There would perhaps be no discrimination, and there’d be equity for one and all.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Dalit Lekhika: Women’s Writings from Bengal edited by Kalyani Thakur Charal and Sayantan Dasgupta, use our affiliate links at Amazon India, and at Amazon US.

Image source: shutterstock

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