A Year-end List for A Very Unusual Year
Dec 26, 2020 | At home
In retrospect, every year seems special – whether you count travels or achievements, weddings and graduations, outer goals or inner peace. What makes this year unique is the fact that it has been equally unusual for everyone. No place in the world was left untouched by the Covid-19 virus.
Perhaps you stayed put at home, worried about exposure to the virus. Or lived in a safe virus-free cocoon, protected but isolated. While there was no single way to curb the spread of contagion there were many ways to manage within the constraints of your individual location and situation.
I didn’t travel as planned or celebrate my daughter’s college graduation the way I would have liked. My days grew increasingly hectic as I devoted myself to a Covid research project. In the few snatches of spare time, I found solace in my daily walks (twice a day instead of once), online yoga (since studios were closed), audiobooks (since I couldn’t get my usual haul of print books from the library), Masterclass subscription, and of course, my writing.
To my surprise, my weight dropped a bit, while my spending increased considerably. Better this way – I am not sure I would have preferred the reverse.
I learnt to enjoy watching streaming shows, listening to podcasts and learning how to be social on social media.
Although a reluctant late adopter to the concept of staycation which I had previously ridiculed, I enjoyed my short stay at a hotel in Sentosa whose most striking resident was a peacock. The staycation served as a birthday gift as well as a just in time intervention to prevent complete burnout.
Another never-considered-before activity this year was a ‘seacation’. A cruise to nowhere. Basically, it meant checking into a hotel room in a ship that floated on the ocean without a fixed destination or dropping anchor. Despite the discomfort of getting tested for Covid before and after the journey, I was grateful for having the option to go on a (pseudo) holiday this year.
The greatest surprise of all, has been my writing output.
For my author website that came up early this year, I wrote about 50 blog posts including 10 in-depth book reviews. In addition, I wrote 25 personal essays for various print and digital publications in US and Singapore on a wide range of topics ranging raising feminist daughters, my mother the mathematician, and the power of a daily ritual. Happy to report that nine articles appeared in the Straits TImes, the Singapore newspaper!
Instead of new year resolutions, I leave you with end of the year lists.
A pandemic year roundup of my favorite lists for 2020:
My top fav fiction books in my international reading series
- Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo – Despite my lack of familiarity with Korean culture, the impact of skewed gender expectations, and the unfairness that women in Korea face was a shocking reminder of my formative years in India..
- The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – The author is famous for her prize-winning novels like Purple Hibiscus and Americanah. But this book of short stories packs a punch. Listen to the audio version if you can.
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Listen to the audiobook narrated by Tom Hanks to get into the depths of sibling love – a topic that doesn’t get as much attention in novels.
- The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak – a masterpiece of a story that shifts between ancient Turkey and contemporary America with Sufism as the background.
- Before the Coffee gets cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – a simple time travel tale that takes place in a Tokyo cafe that sets you thinking.
My top five nonfiction books
- Becoming by Michelle Obama – I heard the audio version first and loved her straightforward and honest recounting of her life beginning with her childhood in Chicago’s Southside. I have the print version with me now.
- What We Carry by Maya Shanbag Lang – A mother-daughter story. A memoir. Of memory and loss thereof. Of role reversal. Of the stories we tell ourselves. And the lessons they hold for us. Highly recommended reading.
- Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Gottleib – Tales from a therapist’s office. And of the therapy received by the author herself, as she tries to make sense of her own life. Although the subjects are tough, the narrative is lighthearted but instructional. A long read but a good one.
- Everybody’s Got Something by Robin Roberts – Impressed by her Masterclass on authentic communication, I began reading her inspiring memoir of her struggle with breast cancer and her decision, as a public figure as host of the TV show, Good Morning America to share her story with her audience.
- Keep Moving by Maggie Smith – A twitter habit of posting something every day to give her something to do during a tumultuous time of her life. Imagine turning that into a book. An affirmation of life and it’s beauty. In bite-sized bits.
Newsletters of note
- Word-a-day: Not so much a newsletter as a daily trickle of words that enrich my vocabulary. I love the weekly themes, the little origin stories and the best part, the thought-provoking quotes that accompany the post. Their Instagram feed is beautiful.
- The On Being Project: A weekly newsletter that succinctly captures the gentle but inspiring ethos of the On Being podcast that I have enjoyed for a long time. Krista Tippet has the enviable job of interviewing interesting people from various fields. Through her I have met physician Atul Gawande, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and physicist Carlo Rovelli.
- What I read this month: A monthly newsletter by the well-known author of The Happiness Project lists all the books she reads in a month. Her list is huge – both in terms of the number of books she reads and the genres that she covers. I have often come across books that I have gone on to read and enjoy from Rubin’s list.
- Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings gives my brain a weekly anti-aging shot. Her carefully curated selections and insightful comments get my worn-out grey cells rejuvenated.
- The Curious Reader newsletter: While the rest of the list reflects a long-time habit, this newsletter came to my attention more than a year ago. Even before I began writing arclies for them, I loved their website and approach to revitalising the literary scene in India with their carefully selected lists that drew attention to all the noteworthy action in the area of books and publishing in India. I was sorry to see the last issue of the newsletter in Aug 2020.
What were your new discoveries in 2020? Share your favorites.
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