Rehana Munir (centre)
Rehana Munir (centre)

Rehana Munir, Author, Paper Moon

As a lifelong resident of Mumbai, who has studied in a convent school and Jesuit college and lived in Catholic neighbourhoods, I was primed to enjoy Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao — but the book exceeded my expectations. It surprised me with its layered narrative and characters that initially resemble Mario Miranda types only to spring to life with their energy, peculiarity and often, pathos.

Borges’ familiarity with the milieu and empathy with her subjects comes through in this lively and nuanced debut novel, constructed deftly out of interrelated chapters that could just as easily work as individual short stories. A book that makes you smile, sneer, sigh and slurp at will.

A wonderful addition to the stories that celebrate Mumbai’s vibrant Goan Catholic community. I’m going to pick up Taran Khan’s Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul next.

Kevin Missal, Author, Raavanputr Meghnad

This year I read only a few books, but I did indulge myself in the Hercules Poirot series, which taught me how a killer can be anyone, it doesn’t have a megalomaniac demeanour. Also I read the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which taught me that the evil is not the monster, but the ones who create that monster.

Saikat Majumdar, Author, The Scent of God

Not Quite Not White, by Sharmila Sen. Lovely, humorous, painful memoir that puts race in the US in conversation with caste and class in India. The Undoing Dance, by Srividya Natarajan, a beautifully written novel in the backdrop of Bharatnatyam that is as personal as it is deeply political.

Out of Syllabus, poems by Sumana Roy. Moving, idiosyncratic poems that puts academic disciplines and fields of knowledge in an entirely new perspective. Conversations with Friends, by Sally Rooney. Rooney’s writing is colloquial, enviably limpid, and yet complex and real. A lovely story about a forbidden kind of romance.

Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History, edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai. A scholarly romp through Indian literary history, identifying instances of same-sex love and romance from the ancient times to the late-twentieth century.

Not Just Another Story, by Jhimli Mukherjee-Pandey, the story of three generations of prostitutes in Sonagachhi, Calcutta’s largest red-light district, a novel where deepest abasement of the human body and mind is articulated with the moving simplicity of a child.

The Sixth River: A Journal from the Partition of India, by Fikr Taunsvi, translated by Maaz Bin Bilal, a beautiful, poignant, personal account of the Partition.

Naomi Datta, Author, How to be a Likeable Bigot

Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers is that rare non-fiction book that travels into the human condition. The quirks of human communication with its sometimes disastrous consequences is rarely explored, but incredibly relevant. The book weaves its narrative around the invisible forces that may have shaped worrying incidents in popular memory.

As a writer whose tradecraft means listening to others carefully, or as a citizen of a fractious world, these lessons are ear-opening and mind-widening epiphanies.

Novoneel Chakraborty, Author, Roses are Blood Red

Though I read quite a few books this year, but the one which remained with me is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I had heard a lot of about the television series based on the novel, but as a practice I always try to give the book a read before watching its adaptation. I was spellbound and was immediately lost into the world the author has created.

The empathy triggering plot, the introspective nature of the characters and the way the outer situations affect the inner world of the characters was what struck me the most.

I think one of the most difficult thing about writing on subjects like these is to keep away from judgmental writing and the author did so in a refreshing manner. As is always the case with most of the memorable books, even though it had no relatability with the world, yet the universality of the emotions the major characters went through were in sync with my core vibe.

Siddhartha Gigoo, Filmmaker & Author, The Lion of Kashmir

Of all the books I read in 2019, two stand out in particular: Max Porter’s Grief is a Thing with Feathers and Anukrti Upadhyay’s Bhaunri. The former is a meditation on grief and despair.

It is part memoir, part novel, part fable, part drama, part essay, and part poem. And at the heart of it, one unusual character, Crow. Yes, the sentimental bird, who visits a bereaving family — a recently widowed man and his two young sons — and helps them overcome their grief and understand one another.

Anukrti Upadhyay’s eponymous novel Bhaunri is also part real, part fable, part folktale. The novel traces the journeys of Bhaunri, a child bride, who belongs to the desert clan of Gadoliya Lohars — a tribe of nomadic blacksmiths in Marwar, Rajasthan. It's also a story of love, of passion, and of desire.

Both the novels impacted me in ways more than one — the exploration into human condition, the character study, the experimentation (art and craft), and the treatment of themes — grief, despair, hope, love, companionship. What are we humans if we don't understand these properly. Both these novels open a window into the world we wish to understand and know.

Rinku Sawhney, Author, My Life I Decide

The books that I loved the most this year are: You are the Placebo, by Dr Joe Dispenza. Earlier this year I had a terrible foot injury. I was advised a surgery which involved a plate insertion. In this book I read about the power of human mind, and how it can help heal your body itself.

I didn’t opt for surgery and instead had complete faith on the power of healing through mind and I am completely fine now. Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo. I spoke at a TEDx earlier this year and this book helped me craft the speech and deliver it in a manner worthy of TEDx. Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch. I bought this book after hearing Guy Winch talk at a TEDx.

With practical solutions, this is an easy guide to treating emotional hurt. The Biology of Belief by Bruce H Lipton. This is a brilliant book which explains the science behind how thoughts become our behaviours and behaviours drive our lives, and then we search for reasons on how certain areas in our life aren't working.

The Power of your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy. A must read for understanding the working of our subconscious mind and how it directs our life. The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. A good read on unconventional principles which help us to redefine priorities in life and how we can be our own person by redefining our rules.

K. Hari Kumar, Author, India’s Most Haunted: Tales of Terrifying Places

I read few books this year: Collected Short Stories of Satyajit Ray, The Hiding Pace by CJ Tudor, Origin by Dam Brown, revisited Daisy Miller penned by Henry James. However, the one book that made me ponder upon the significance of the insignificance of the human existence was Contact written by Carl Sagan. I had seen the movie few years ago, but the book was a different experience altogether.

Amruta Khanvilkar, Actor

This year, books took a back seat as I was constantly travelling for work and for me reading a book needs to be in solitude and that is my den, aka home. But yes, I did get introduced to the world of wellness in an unexpected way. While talking to a friend about my struggles to meet health and wellness goals due to constant travelling, she recommended The Eat Right Prescription by Dr Muffazal Lakdawala.

The book is so insightful...It actually educates you about your nutritional needs without compromising on the taste. Recipes without sugar and yet so delectable. Even while travelling, I can actually cater to my nutritional needs without compromising on my health.

Shaina NC, Fashion Designer

This year, Amit Shah and the March of BJP by Anirban Ganguly and Shiwanand Dwivedi made quite an impact on me. The book speaks about how Amit Shah turned challenges and crisis into opportunities. I feel the biggest takeaway from this book is facing obstacles with will to turn losses into wins. From ABVP days to President of the BJP and making it a single largest ruling party...the book very aptly chronicles not just Amit Shah’s journey but also gives us a glimpse of the history of the party and the whole process that went into making it big.

Tanushree Dutta, Actor

One book I always recommend reading to anyone looking for meaning in their life is The Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yogananda. I read this book many many years ago and I still read excerpts from it from time to time to refresh my memory, which I did again this year.

A truly secular approach to an eternal principle, the book introduces readers to a world of possibility and shows a glimpse into the divine realm through the eyes of a self-realised human being.

A must-read for anyone who wishes to take baby steps into the spiritual path. Awe-inspiring and fascinating, the book transports you into a magical realm.

Mohit Malik, Actor

I recently read and liked the international bestseller Ikigai by Héctor García and Francesc left a huge impact on me. The book draws references from an island in Japan called Okinawa where the inhabitants go on to live for 100 years or more.

The book is about finding your purpose in life, the reason for you to wake up each morning, and the secret to living a happy longer life, which is, Never Retire. The book has impacted me in a lot of ways and I hope to keep working my whole life, I’m going to keep myself busy and all of us should follow this golden secret to living a happy long life.

Debina Bonnerjee, Actor

Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. This book gives a scientific explanation on extraterrestrial existence and how they helped us build some of the biggest monuments so that mankind can ask the question ‘how it is possible for mankind to do it alone’. The book states that the extraterrestrials have knowingly invoked the idea to do a research on them.

Payal Ghosh, Actor, The Courage to be

Disliked shows you how to unlock the power within yourself to become your best and truest self, change your future and find lasting happiness.

Using the theories of Alfred Adler, one of the three giants of 19th-century psychology alongside Freud and Jung, the authors explain how we are all free to determine our own future free of the shackles of past experiences, doubts and the expectations of others.

It’s a philosophy that's profoundly liberating, allowing us to develop the courage to change and to ignore the limitations that we and those around us can place on ourselves.

Mustafa Abbas, Actor

I loved The Girl in Room 105 by Chetan Bhagat. It's a very fresh and non cliched love story. It has an amazing graph and I loved the details and dynamics shown of a love story. It makes you nostalgic and I feel we all would be knowing a Keshav in our lives. I also loved the fact that it is coated with a mystery. Apart from this, I also loved The storm, The Institute and Alliance Rising.

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Free Press Journal