Starving for a great story? Tweak India's family of readers share their best book recommendations
Some let us escape into a literary world while others thrill us with murder, mysteries and mayhem
There’s a special kind of satisfaction in being asked for a book recommendation. The excitement in your friend’s voice when they finish reading, finally understanding why you’d been talking up it for so long. We’ve all been virtually swapping titles, book recommendations and author names through this period of self-quarantine.
Books have been our respite from daily chores, demanding spouses and Netflix fatigue.
Some have taken us on adventures into their literary landscape even when we’re homebound. Others are a feel-good break that put a cheesy grin on our face.
But as the Great National Lockdown releases its fourth sequel, our reading list is starting to look pretty thin.
And with bookshops shut, asking the chemistwale bhaiya ‘what are you reading?’ seems like just the question to get us barred from the store (essential service providers are going through enough right now).
Instead, we turned to our trusted Tweak Family for their book recommendations to satiate our appetite.
We’ve come away with everything, from detective-style whodunnits to regional reads, inspiring biographies and mythological fantasies.
Book recommendations from Tweak India’s community of readers
A Fractured Life, Shabnam Samuel
“The closest thing to the Japanese art of Kintsugi I’ve ever seen is perhaps this story. Kintsugi is the art of mending broken ceramic pots and plates with gold, increasing its value and adding beauty.
A Fractured Life tells the story of a woman who is desperately trying to seek her worth and happiness in this world.
From being abandoned by her parents, raised by her strict maternal grandfather, being ostracised by her uncles and aunts, living through an abusive marriage and moving to the United States… this book becomes your journey with her.” – Rhea Shah @ivorymistblog
Bridge of Clay, Markus Zusak
“Bridge of Clay is a novel, poem, and a masterpiece all combined in one. Although the magic of Markus Zusak became prominent in his brilliant novel The Book Thief, it’s this one that stole my heart.
From the way the words have been intertwined to form a sort of poetic rhythm, to the way the story breaks the traditional linear template and dives right into the middle, this book is a work of art.
Even though the book sounds like a simple story following the lives of the five Dunbar boys, it derives its depth from the complex feelings and emotions that surround the brothers, the same feelings that defeat, devour, and deliver them, all while they fight the demons within.
There are no heroes, no villains, just humans in difficult situations doing their best to survive and thrive. If you love books filled with real, fleshed-out characters and dynamics, then this book is for you.” – @Likeridingafishpodcast
Becoming, Michelle Obama
“An autobiography, Becoming by Michelle Obama chronicles the life of an ambitious and hard-working girl born as Michelle Robinson, starting from her experiences at elementary and high schools, then moving on to Princeton and Harvard.
She works various jobs in her career, ultimately becoming the wife of Barack Obama and playing her part in the presidential campaign — very inspiring and relatable.
Michelle has described her experiences in an effortless yet eloquent manner and that is what makes the essence of a good book. It does not contain any verbose or superfluous details, but is rich in vocabulary. I would rate it 9/10.” – @Revivingreading
The Forty Rules of Love, Elif Shafak
“It’s a novel within a novel, or can we call it literary inception.
This book has two narratives — one of 40-year-old unhappily married Ella, and the other one set in the thirteenth century, of the encounter of Rumi and his spiritual mentor, the dervish known as Shams of Tabriz.
This is not a book that will preach some 40 rules but will make you experience each one of them.” – Preeti @book_shea
We follow the two parallel stories set out by Shafak that mirror each other on this literary journey.
Ella takes on a job as a reader at a literary agency. Her assignment is a new novel by a mysterious new author which tells the story of Rumi and his beloved Sufi teacher, Shams of Tabriz. It soon takes over her life.
The titular ‘Forty rules of love’ are charted out by Shams for Rumi, essentially Sufi wisdom that helps his student grow beyond social customs and comforts to maximise his potential, even if he fears it.
Ella takes the bold step to put her happiness before her unfaithful husband and society’s expectations, and Rumi questions the safety of his social cocoon.
Both our protagonists pay a price of living life on their terms, but also experience the happiness that comes with such hard decisions.
Manto: Fifteen Stories, selected by Nandita Das
“I wish I was more well versed with vernacular, then I could have read the short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto in their true essence. But this selected short story collection was an eye-opener.
I read this right after watching the movie Manto made by Nandita Das. A late entry to the #mantobookclub, but I am absolutely thrilled that I did.
It is said that a society’s cultural and political context can be explained only by authentic media or a great author.
Needless to say, Manto had done that job well, unapologetically with unabashed honesty.
The immediate years after independence had been difficult for the country broken into India and Pakistan. One can only imagine the pain and distress the people had gone through.
But it is more saddening to read through this legend’s work of brutal metaphors, sarcasm and raw reality. Dus Rupaye, Khushiya, Sadak Kinare, Thanda Gosht, Khalid Miya, and Toba Tek Singh are my top favourites from this collection.” – Somrweeta Mukherjee @afterword_conversations
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
“One of my favourite classics with language that’s easy to understand. Usually classics take their time to finish but for this one, I didn’t want it to end.
A heartwarming tale of an orphan girl’s voyage to adulthood amidst all the mistakes she makes, it was a magical journey for me.
Morals are taught with positivity and colourful imagination. ‘People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?’
Perfect book if you’re looking for some light reading amidst this lockdown or you can read it whenever you want.” – Anjly Pahwa @anjlyay
The Forest of Enchantments, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
“We are yet again reading this unputdownable book by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. It is a retelling of the Ramayana by Sita. The narrative smoothly portrays a web of challenges that the protagonist faces throughout her life.
It brings to light the various tests and turmoils including the infamous Trial by Fire (or the Agni Pariksha). But what we liked the most about the book was that it is more than just a retelling of Ramayana, it enlightens the reader about the various hardships faced by women throughout centuries and tries to convey a message that enough is enough.” – @Just.us.reviews
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
“Set in the American south between the wars, it is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls “father”, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie, and trapped in an ugly marriage.
But then she meets glamorous Shug Avery, a singer who has taken charge of her own destiny.
Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing herself from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.” – Garima Sharma @_gansta__.
The Fellowship of the Ring, JRR Tolkien
“A timeless classic which keeps you at the edge of your seat.
Powerful forces are unrelenting in their search for a magical ring. But destiny has placed it in the hands of a young hobbit named Frodo Baggins who inherited the ring from his uncle Bulbo. A daunting task lies ahead for Frodo.” – Scindia Edwin @scindiaedwin
Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
“This masterpiece by Walter Isaacson is nothing short of an encyclopedia. There’s just so much going on in this book: or to be exact, there was so much going on around this legend, Steve Jobs.
I always wanted to criticise Apple products for their exorbitant prices. But getting an insight into the foundation, and lives of people working in and around Apple, I just know that I’m ready to pay the full price for their products (if and when I can afford it, obviously)” – VJ @when_vj_wanders
The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
“The Last Lecture is a brilliant memoir of the life experiences of Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Randy and his loving wife Jai, have three beautiful children and intend to spend decades building a full life, raising their children to adulthood. But Randy gets diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. Now, their lives together will have to be squeezed into a few months.
All parents want to teach their children right from wrong and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. Randy was yearning to find ways to leave a legacy for his kids. His desire to do that led him to give a ‘last lecture’ at CMU. His last lecture was titled: Really achieving your childhood dreams (which he then turned into this book).
Randy packs in invaluable life lessons as he recounts his own experiences. The Last Lecture is part autobiography, part life lesson, and all heart. If you read this book, hopefully, you, like me, will be inspired. This book doles out essential life lessons without being preachy.” – @Febby’sBookshelf
Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
“Wrapped in beautiful weekly lessons, the book presents to its readers the value of love and friendship that is well known, but somehow forgotten.” – Suhani Popli @cosmopopliton
Albom’s memoir documents several visits with his former Sociology professor Morrie Schwartz in his final days with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
We learn about friendship and forgiveness, death and life, money and marriage through their experiences and conversations.
Morrie will remind you of all the wonderful mentors we’ve had in our lives, regardless of they were professionally educating you or not.
It’s a charming book filled with teachings and teachable moments that’ll make you want to reach out to your favourite professor after you turn the final page.
The Mahabharata Secret, Christopher C Doyle
“The book is full of suspense. Reading this book is like climbing a mountain, you never know where you might get a sharp twisted turn but when you reach the end, it is a breathtaking view.
The author familiarises readers with ancient Indian heritage, mentioning places which are unknown to people right now but existed with a rich history dating back to the time of Asoka the Great.” – Stuti Sharma @stutisharma18
The Girl Before, JP Delaney
“An engaging book which can be devoured in one sitting. It’s a murder-mystery with many twists to keep you on the edge.” – Apurva Singh @apurva1607
The Girl Before is a psychological thriller centred around a London house, One Folgate street. We read the story from two perspectives – Emma, a previous tenant and Jane, the present resident of the house.
Both moved into the award-winning minimalist property because of its low rent. What it did come with is pages of strict rules. The two women share their stories and the traumas that led them to the property through alternating chapters.
The women tell us more about the enigmatic designer of the home as Jane uncovers the many mysterious and secrets of the house. What’s with all the many terms and conditions on the lease? She stumbles upon the creepy similarities between all the previous tenants (including herself) and their ultimate departure from the residence.
She Said, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
“A book on the #metoo movement and how the reporting on sexual harassment at the workplace should be done. It’s a must-read book to know two things. 1. What is harassment at the workplace and 2. how to deal with it.” – @Kitaabaurkoffee
The She Said book comes from Pulitzer Prize-wining investigative journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey whose expose took on Harvey Weinstein and changed the world.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
“It took me fairly long to get through this one. A bit of a difficult read in parts but well worth it due to the unique, rich style of writing. The protagonist is under house arrest and sentenced to life in confinement in a hotel – very COVID-ish” – Kanupriya Kejriwal Aggarwal @kanupriyakejriwalaggarwal
The ultimate lockdown read – A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Rostov, an aristocrat sentenced to life imprisonment in a small room at a lavish hotel. Life in Russia gets turned upside down outside his window as the revolution takes over.
The book has a compelling cast of charming characters. Count Rostov befriends the hotel’s staff and visitors, all the while maintaining his gentlemanly ways, forging emotional relationships through his keen observations.
The Vegetarian, Han Kang
“This one of the best books I have ever read. It’s bizarre, eccentric and relevant. I was looking for new reads by searching the best suggestions when I came across this one. If you like this, also read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Asian writers are amazing and the talent is endless once you jump into the vortex.” – Kamya @noabsonlycheeks
Many have deemed this novel too cerebral, others say it’s bizarre and ‘weird’. On the surface, it’s the story of Yeong-hye who turns vegetarian after a harrowingly vivid nightmare.
Her decision comes as a shock to those around her who see her subversion of larger society’s meat-eating norm as an act of mental deterioration.
Her decision impacts pretty much every aspect of her life – her relationships crumble, her mental health questioned.
There are many different interpretations of what Kang is trying to say through this story. A comment on female autonomy, patriarchy, eating disorders, abuse and gender biases.
Whatever you come away with after reading this book, it’s going to stay with you a long time after.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
“It is, as they say, ‘every feminist’s worst nightmare.’ Some of the situations are relatable, especially with the lockdown. I hope this fictional dystopian future never comes true.” – Gayathry @gayathrylatheef
This book has stood the test of time, probably because it all seems so frighteningly possible. It’s almost a warning – a dystopian future in the Republic of Gilead where the protagonist Offred is a ‘handmaiden’ with only one purpose in life – produce a baby for the Commander and his wife.
It’s a world ruled by men with subservient women. The eyes are everywhere and women’s worth is limited. The themes of female subjugation in a militarized, patriarchal society and the ways in which the story’s women resist and attempt to regain their individuality and independence have echoed through time, making this book a classic.
This is by no means an easy read, but a book that everyone should read.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Although predominantly read by/for children, it has pearls of wisdom for grown-ups. And these incredibly important lessons are illustrated and articulated in a manner that’s so simple yet deep, making this book truly incomparable.
The one lesson that resonated the most with me is that yes, life is about growing up. But it is equally about never forgetting or letting go of the child that you always were. Isn’t it time we gave this gentle reminder to our so-called grown-up selves?” – @browneyed_bibliophile
The Little Prince is the story of a boy who leaves his home to travel the universe, learning (and teaching) many life lessons along the way.
His encounters are documented and then shared with the narrator of the story who crash-landed in a desert where he meets the boy. The book is scattered with little nuggets of wisdom expressed through the kind simplicity of a child’s gaze.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, Oliver Sacks
“I have always been inclined towards non-fiction. I keep going back to this book which recounts the stories of patients struggling to adapt to bizarre worlds of neurological disorders.” – Aayushi Lahiri @aayushmatibhava
Neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks shares real case studies of patients written in a style far removed from what you’d expect from ‘scientific’ work. There is a kindness to his words when talking about the patients. No judgement or jargon in his writing even when revealing distressing situations.
He presents neurological cases in accessible language to the public, often making you question how your own brain works and what it means to be human.
PS: A man really did mistake his wife for his hat.
* Paperback versions of the books will only be available via Amazon post the lockdown.