The holidays catch some of us like characters in a slapstick act pushing with all their weight against a closed door just to find it unlocked. After a semester full of groaning about hectic schedules (while finding ‘n’ ways to pass time less than three hours away from a deadline), we stumble, thankful but bemused, into the summer vacation, where a vast expanse of free time awaits us like a dream fulfilled. And we are not quite sure whether we know what to do with this. The nagging “I should be working” feeling, we realise, has left the back of our minds for a while, and ignoring it was what made many of us so creative with our free time during the semester.
The Vacation Guide throws ideas at such junta every year, in the hope that people in search of something to do other than eating and catching up on sleep will find it in at least one of the issues. Since previous articles in the series have covered enough ground to partially assuage my fears of not covering every genre or leaving out something awesome, this article is just a bunch of suggestions.
The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das
A balanced and earnest discussion on human morality, The Difficulty of Being Good picks a variety of characters from the wonderfully complicated story that is the Mahabharata, and goes on to explore the challenge of negotiating right and wrong in an equally (if not more) complicated world. Read if you enjoy thinking about questions that have multiple answers and therefore no answer at all.
The Book of Mirdad by Mikhail Naimy
Like the above, this book is about life’s questions. Where they differ vastly is that there are no inconclusive discussions here; each question comes with an eloquent and lyrical reply. Naimy’s language, like that of his friend Kahlil Gibran, is as beautiful as the thoughts that it frames, and each reading yields a new level of meaning. Whether these questions actually have answers is another question without an answer, but this work with its revelations and the other with its quandaries are both equally enjoyable.
Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne and
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Too often are treasures of wisdom dismissed as children’s books. These two (four) gems make great themes for Disney movies, but they are much more than that. Having once seen the beauty of Pooh’s way of life in the original Pooh books (Benjamin Hoff has some interesting things to say in The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet) one can never read them again without loving every chapter. The philosophical depth of Carroll’s writing, meanwhile, is obvious to anyone who’s read the original Alice books (for a guided tour into its mathematical and literary depths, The Annotated Alice and More Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner are sure to be very satisfying). The genius of both authors in poetry is a welcome bonus.
Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse at his best, in an intersection of the Blandings and the Psmith books. Wodehouse wrote to give pleasure; one can let his words play along with one’s mind, laugh at characters and events, and rely on a happy ending. The only source of mental strain is keeping track of all the relationships and coincidences, when the hilariously imperturbable Psmith finds himself posing as a dreamy Canadian poet in Blandings Castle, having been hired by his best friend’s wife’s stepfather’s nephew by marriage to steal a diamond necklace from the latter’s aunt with the noblest of intentions.
Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Arguably the best of the Foundation books, Second Foundation is full of surprises. With the reflection on society and on human nature and interactions that is characteristic of Asimov’s science fiction (and of the genre in general), it is an adventure spanning the galaxy and set about twenty thousand years in the future. The fun of this kind of adventure is that the most intense of the ‘action scenes’ involve little or no physical movement; words and thoughts, layer upon layer of plotting and counter-plotting determine the course of the story. In the shortest book of the series, Asimov manages to take the reader through two huge bends in the course of galactic ‘history’, with the Second Foundation striving to maintain subtlety and secrecy while steering the galaxy along the path recommended by psychohistory.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Engaging, well written and quite comprehensive for a book of non-intimidating size with such an ambitious title. Bryson has a light-hearted writing style and, since he is a non-scientist himself, he is able to take an outsider’s view of multiple fields and all the more effectively convey the wonder of the humbling experience that is finding out more about our world.
E=mc2: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis
‘E’ is for Energy, ‘m’ is for mass and ‘c’ is the speed of light – that is the standard set of facts most people know about the equation that symbolises both the beauty of nature’s secrets and the potential devastation that can be wrought with them. This book is, true to its title, a biography of the equation and not of Albert Einstein alone. It takes the reader on a journey through our understanding of mass, energy and light themselves – an understanding gained through the hard work, insight and conviction of many famous men and not-so-famous women.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
A dying man’s remarks on life and dreams, The Last Lecture was written by Randy Pausch, Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, shortly before he passed away from pancreatic cancer. The book, like the lecture that inspired it, is funny, insightful and honest.
The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot
This is part of a series of semi-autobiographical books by James Alfred Wight, a veterinary surgeon who lived and worked on the Yorkshire dales at a time when antibiotics were revolutionising medicine and machines were changing farming. His experiences- with the farmers and their animals, with his partner and other colleagues, with his wife and young children, and on occasional travels- take turns to be touching, serious and hilarious.
Stay tuned for more exciting recommendations- movies, music and more!