18 September 2014

What I marvel in others’ reading habits

These days, everytime I open up Facebook, there seems to be a new wave that is sweeping the FB-world. Sometimes, it is “I am a banana (or whatever), what fruit are you?”, sometimes it is “ALS ice bucket challenge” and so on.

Recently, my good friends Priya and Antara (may their tribe increase) pulled me into one more of those FB-waves. I think it is about the Top Ten books that I have liked. Or something like that. Much to their dismay, I have not written down any of the names of the books I have liked.

There certainly is an element of “If everybody else is doing it, then I am not going to do it” contrarianism that I revel in (btw, “contrarianism” is just a sophisticated word to give some respect to what can be referred to – and as my wife once famously did in a public forum – as “weird”). However, there is probably deeper reasons why I have never published my Top 10 books. And for the same reasons. I marvel at other people’s reading habits.

1. First and foremost, I do not read fiction. Much to my wife’s dismay, I do not watch movies either, for the same reason. I lost all interest in reading fiction about 25 years back. Which is when I probably voluntary saw a movie. Not sure why, but it simply does not interest me. Therefore, I am always intrigued by how everybody else can get them totally immersed in essentially completely made up stories.

2. So, that has narrowed me down to about 0.01% of all books published, I guess 🙂 Here again, I have no common themes – but I go thru “interest areas” during phases of my life. And I read up as much as I can for that period of time (usually lasts about two years) on that topic. Most of those topics are of little interest to my friends.

My current interest is around understanding “minimalist living”. I am early in this stage. Before this it was about “cocktails” (coinciding with my goal to work at a bar as a mixologist).

My previous interest before that was mostly around understanding “happiness”. There are books that most people have never heard of like “Wherever you go, there you are” that have deeply influenced me. As has “Stumbling upon Happiness”.

I remember, previous to that, I was deeply interested in understanding how our brains process logic. This was after my mom became a psychiatric patient and I wanted to understand how the brain processes data to conclusion. From “Story of the Human Body” to “Descarte’s Error” to “Predictably Irrational”, I must have devoured close to ten books on this topic alone.

3. Here is an interesting reading habit difference. Most of my friends, when I ask, say they have read their favorite book once. Maybe twice. I think most of my friends can absorb from one reading far far more than I can. It might have to do with the content (maybe our brains need a few data points in a fiction and it can “join the dots” in between). I tend to read my books many many times. I have probably read “The Power of Now” seven times. And the reason is, when I read these books, I think I get about 1% of what the author is trying to say. And most of it is because I can relate to recent events that I have experienced. Resulting in me picking up very different learnings and messages, everytime I read the same book!!!

4. Again, unless all my friends, I have seldom finished any book. I can get to about 70% and then I skim the rest. The good news is that most authors can get the core of their message out in ten pages. And you can usually get most of the ten pages in the first 10% of the book. The only reason they put in the other 90% is because their publishers advise them that nobody will pay 20 bucks for their book otherwise 🙂 Again, this might be a reflection on fiction versus non-fiction. The fiction, logic dictates, reaches the culmination at the end of the book and therefore, unless it is a very boring book, every reader is enthused to read till the end.

5. I also read a lot of business books. Just to give you an example, when I became a first time CEO, I must have read at least five books on “Common mistakes that first time CEOs make”. Usually, you get one or two “aha” moments from each of these books. But I have to, unfortunately, go thru the whole book often to get to those moments. Some books that reflect on businesses of the past – “A better pencil” or “Better by Mistake” have given me much more than a few such “aha” moments….

So, there you go, Priya and Antara. I think you were hoping for a simple ten bullet point list. Instead, you got an essay. Hopefully you got an idea about my reading habits and what I like….Curious about whether you two or any of my other friends can relate to what I am trying to say….

Posted September 18, 2014 by Rajib Roy in category "Musings


  1. By Rahul Guha on

    Rajib Roy interesting viewpoint. As an avid reader of fiction myself, I have to say that I find the characterization of fiction as “essentially completely made up stories” to be somewhat blasé. To describe the work of a Naipaul or a Coetzee or a Rushdie as such seems a tad naive and misguided to me. Perhaps it depends on how literal and narrow a view of reality one has? But to each his own. Where would we be if we all had homogenous tastes? What say you?

  2. By Suzanne McBride on

    I can relate to what you say quite well. Non – fiction, in my own experience, DOES require more from me to absorb the salient points. While I almost never read these kinds of books more than once, I usually read all of each one, and then refer back to parts that particularly struck me as important/relevant/surprising. But there are exceptions in both directions – ie some I only skim through, and some that get read over and over in depth each time. In the got-it-the-first-time but refer-back-often group I’d list “Stumbling On Happiness”, “Drawing OnThe Right Side Of The Brain” – B Edwards, “Rich Dad Poor Dad”. IN the over-and-over because I always get something new out of it category , I list “The Four Agreements” – M Ruiz, “The Power Of Now” – E Tolle, and “The End Of your World” – Adyashanti
    However, unlike you, I *love* fiction. And if it IS a favorite, chances are I *have* read it several times. Usually a story that includes doscovering some kind of personal excellence, or simply a tale well told. Some of my favorites I read for the first time when I was a child, and I still love them today. “Watership Down” – R Adams, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” – R Bach, “From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basel E Frankweiler”, and “The Phantom Tollbooth” come to mind.

  3. By Rajib Roy on

    Rahul, I am totally aligned with your view of not advocating homogenous tastes. In fact, I marvel, as I mentioned, in others’ ability to do what I cannot – read fictions. Regarding ” essentially made up stories”, indeed that is how I think. Perhaps mistakenly, given I am coming from a self-admitted platform of not reading fiction. The way I think about it is that fiction are made up stories. Perhaps inspired by certain real life incidents or memories of the author. But made up, nonetheless. Else, it would be a biography or a history book. Again, that is the way I think of fiction. Really curious about how you think about it…

  4. By Rahul Guha on

    I believe great fiction is about basic human thoughts and emotions and conditions. Like hope. Or ambition. Or loss. Or despair. The story is the medium not the end. I think great fiction has little, if anything, to do with paraphrasing real life or memories. If it were, I could write like Naipaul, which I decidedly cannot :-). Now, the question remains — are things like hope, ambition, loss, or despair real? Or are they made up? I think that depends on your point of view.

  5. By Neelima Annam on

    I can relate to you or perhaps more to your wife 🙂 my husband has a very similar philosophy ..he doesn’t like reading fiction anymore. Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress was possibly his last fiction many years ago..He goes thru phases of ‘interests’ and devours many books on a single subject before switching topics. I am curious about the impact of your readings on your family.. For us, it feels like there is heavy influence..We went thru the evolution vs creationism phase, a biographies phase, a social psychology phase, economic evolution phase…and it goes on. As someone who enjoys reading all kinds of books, I can’t imagine missing out on works of fiction

  6. By Neelima Annam on

    ..in continuation of my comment, I’d say fiction exposes people to things they would otherwise not really explore.. For example, medical thrillers offer an insight into the world of medicine, inner workings of the healthcare industry etc..as a side effect to made up story.. I have often picked up intriguing facts about law, museums, hospitality industry, real estate, marketing agencies etc..merely as a side effect of reading fictional works.. And I must mention the thorough enjoyment from painting a picture in my imagination from fictions like Rowling’s. You mustn’t miss out on those !!

  7. By Manisha Sharma Chakravarti on

    Rajib Roy I am not a fiction reader too. I think fiction is opinion, judgement and interpretation of the author and I want to know about my life from my own awareness by living my life and by meditating which has opened up new dimensions for me. I know lot of people learn a lot from reading fiction books and it is a huge part of their life but to each its own.

  8. By Kim Verska on

    I like your essay, Rajib. Let me recommend to you Happiness Is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager, if you are not already aware of it. Lots of wisdom there that bears re-reading. As for me, I commonly say I read anything but romances or mysteries. I have to keep a running document in my laptop of the books I have read so I can refresh my memory of what I learned from them (and yes, so I don’t accidentally buy the same modern fiction book twice).

  9. By Rashmi Jayakumar on

    Great write up. good fiction makes me join the writer on his voyage, to let imagination loose and imagine things/ places/people which one rarely encounters..fiction I feel has more dimensions and need more imagination both from reader and writer. But, mostly I pick non-fiction because great non- fiction for me has come from handful authors.

  10. By Rahul Guha on

    Rajib Roy Rajib, hope my previous comment was clear. My point, of course, is not about fiction or non-fiction. As I indicated, diversity of tastes and opinions is a wonderful thing. It is to be celebrated (on this topic or any other for that matter). What I was hoping to convey was that the distinction between what’s “made up” and what’s not is not readily obvious. Lies in the eye if the beholder. So it’s really your characterization or definition of what constitutes fiction that I fail to grasp.

  11. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    Maybe Rajib is too emotional inside to add external emotional drama to our already emotionally charged life! And to escape them is to avoid them! Maybe you are such a control freak that you shun those movie and fiction characters where they dance to the tune of directors or authors!
    Isn’t it strange that you are so much interested in charecterology but uninterested in fictional characters mostly derived from reality, only the shades maybe deeper. Someday your blogs might be read as fiction because not only yours but most of them are the writer’s part of the story and that too a part of it! But I love fiction and I’ll continue to love and admire your non-fictional blogs!!!Lol!

  12. By Rajib Roy on

    Rahul, totally got your point. I think it was your second comment that nailed it for me regarding the core of your message/point of view.

  13. By Rajib Roy on

    Kim, I was not aware. I will read it up. Right now I am reading “The Lady Tasting Tea. I know it sounds like a fiction novel based in England or something.. it is actually a book on how statistics deeply influenced the world in the 20th century. (credits to Neil). Moment I am done with this, I will pick up your book….

  14. By Rajib Roy on

    Neelima, interesting question!! I will ask Sharmila how my readings affect her or the family. My guess is that it affects my behavior. But not sure how that affects the family. It does lead to some hilarious situations..
    I started switching to minimalist living beginning of the year. I am nowhere close to where I need to be. But one of the things I did was cleared out my closet – down to one pair of dress shoes, five dress shirts, three house shirts etc etc etc. And donated the rest. That cleared out three fourths of my closet.
    Not for long though! Next morning Sharmila had filled up my closet with her clothes!!! 🙂

  15. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    To eschew worldly materials has long been practiced by our forefathers, monks , hermits of Indian origin.Your current fad(?) regarding minimalist living is not an easy task ! What about the extra rooms in your house that you do not need? Are you practicing vegan culture?Even family is too much and the overflowing banks and bank lockers will eventually make their way to Bill & Milinda Gates foundation I presume? The number of FB friends and real life acquaintances should also be pruned!!! Jokes apart , keep up the good work and decrease your flab and gab, and lead a healthy whlesome and full , not minimal life!

  16. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    And ultimately the mystery of the receding hairline(less shampoo, gel & conditioners) and upwardly mobile trouser length is revealed! Minimalist living Jai Ho!!!

  17. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    Rajib, your profile says your favorite author is P.G Wodehouse! How come a fiction writer has such a profound influence on you even if you have read him at least 25 years back?

  18. By Rajib Roy on

    I found him very funny during school days. In fact, so much so, I remember a lot of his memorable sentences. Remember, I did not say that I have never read fiction. Just that in the last 25 years or so, I have not – and that is because I could not find them interesting any more….

  19. By Neil Bhattacharya on


    I am glad that you like the book; I read it a while back and really enjoyed reading it. Love the fact that some of the important works on statistical inference have been done in Guinness breweries ☺ Got to love the chapter: March of Martingales…..



  20. By Shib Sankar Chakraborty on

    Not sure if you are a great fan of Peter Drucker, he also followed the idea of reading everything published on an ‘interest area’ till he found another ‘interest area’.

  21. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    Rajib, I wish you will write great fictions/ non fictions and maybe a best selling autobiography one day and not restrict yourself to writing blogs only! I had told you so earlier and I appeal to all FB friends to , yes persuade him to find time to write one!

  22. By Rajib Roy on

    Sibapriya, everybody and their mother seems to be writing a book these days. How about taking “the road less traveled by”? 🙂

  23. By Sibapriya Dasgupta on

    The road less traversed is the most difficult one and I know you love to take up challenges! But let tje mother and her offsprings write whatever they feel like, but my earnest request to you again is, write at least one, take your time, but write for your posterity! It will be difficult …but again, you love challenges!”!

  24. By Debatri Chakraborty on

    oh!!! u can read these books!!We already read Meluha,& 3mistakes of my life by Chetan Bhagat.After complete Puja Sonkha we will start Hungry tide. We heard that it is awesome.


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