Book Recommendations — The Quarantine Edition

Most of our team has spent almost half of the year under some form of quarantine / stay-at-home order, which means all of us have had to come up with ways to spend this extra time at home. Reading has always been a focus for us through Pune Learns, and the quarantine has given us a chance to curl up with great books and make some major headway on our reading lists. Being a team with pretty diverse interests, our reading habits span the genres of historical drama, sci-fi, business, and psychology. Keep reading for a rundown of our favorite books from this year!

First off, we have a couple of non fiction book recommendations from Pooja and Tanvi. The quarantine has been filled with pretty drastic changes to our lifestyles, and these two books have helped our team make sense of the new normal, how to adapt to it, and how to succeed in it.

Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson
“My favorite read from the past 3 months is ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ by Spencer Johnson. This short, light book (<100 pages) features a simple story about mice in pursuit of their lost cheese supply. What may seem like a children’s story, actually holds a deeper meaning on setting expectations and dealing with change. I found this book extremely relevant, especially currently when our whole world has shifted and all of us have faced some form of disappointment. This book helped me introspect on my “moved cheese”, embrace change and take a more action oriented approach to certain aspects of my life. I’d definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re finding the quarantine a little challenging!” — Pooja Kulkarni

Outliers By Malcolm Gladwell
I picked Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell because the book introduced me to a very unique perspective on success, one that transcends individual merit. It conveys this premise by taking the reader through varied case studies and stories of distinguished individuals. Some arbitrary factors that play a bigger role than we realize in shaping our progress and our successes, are the way we’re raised and the culture we identify with. However, for me, the most striking factor that the author brings up, one that we all have gone through but rarely ever attributed our life story to, is the month that we’re born in! Weird, right? I thought so too. This has been beautifully explained by providing statistics (that is the most effective way to prove a point, isn’t it?) coupled with examples of how the birth months of people have impacted the world of sports and academia.

By the end of it, I was left pondering how the current COVID pandemic that we all are navigating will affect our future successes. I’m hoping that Malcolm Gladwell releases a new book that throws some light on this. Until then, go read this one!” — Tanvi Lolap

A few of us went in a different direction and turned to fiction. If you’re a fan of futuristic thrillers or sci-fi, look no further than these two book recommendations!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
I chose The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, a space “soap opera” filled with lovable characters aboard a spaceship called the Wayfarer. The story is set in a galaxy filled with extremely diverse extraterrestrial species, resulting in a world plagued by many of the same issues we’re all facing today, like racism, gun control, hate crimes, and colonialism, but on a much larger scale. The book seamlessly weaves in conversations about these topics into a wholesome adventure about the friendship between a spaceship crew separated by race, religion, and culture, but united by a common journey through space. Though the adventure is considerably lower stakes than most of the sci-fi novels I’ve read in the past and the actual plot often seems like it’s going nowhere, it was the absolute right read during the COVID-19 panic, and I would gladly spend the rest of the quarantine going absolutely nowhere with the crew of the Wayfarer.” — Pallavi Patil

The Warehouse By Rob Hart
One of the books I’ve read during this long, and seemingly interminable, shelter-in-place is “The Warehouse”. The book takes place in the near future, in which a mega-corporation operates and owns most of the United States’ commerce and supply chains, headquartered in Seattle. The Earth in this timeline has been ravaged by the effects of unchecked man-made pollution and deforestation, causing rapid global warming and all of its knock-on effects like climate refugees, food crises, rising sea levels et al. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
The main premise of the book is of a man who has lost his business due to the unfair, and unethical, business practices of this mega-corporation, and now has no option but to join this corporation as warehouse worker to make ends meet. There’s a lot more I can describe about this book, but this is a relatively short and fast-paced story, and I highly encourage you to give it a read, as it offers a glimpse into our near future — one that we are currently thoughtlessly hurtling towards.” — Dipack Panjabi

Interestingly, two of our team members read books which at least partially owe their roots to the second world war, but both the books couldn’t be more different. One is a gripping fictionalised drama, while the other is about Nobel Prize-winning work in the field of psychology.

The Undoing Project By Michael Lewis
The book follows the life journey of two noted Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, famous for their work in the fields of the psychology of judgement and decision-making, as well as behavior economics.

The book covers their upbringing, their experiences in the Second World War, and how these experiences later served as context for some of their most famous experiments. It delves with great detail into the nature and thought behind their experiments. The implications of the results generated when correlated with human behavior makes it an interesting read. Some of their most notable work involves establishing a cognitive basis for human errors that arise from biases, and understanding human perspective towards gains and losses (prospect theory) — these famous experiments have been covered in great depth, making it a difficult book to put down.” — Nishant Bidichandani

All the Light We Cannot See By Anthony Doerr
This book was an incredible depiction of the Second World War, told from the point of view of two characters in very different circumstances.

It switches between two narratives, the first of which follows Marie-Laure, a young blind girl living in France with her father, a museum caretaker. Forced to flee Paris, Marie-Laure’s father carries one of 4 copies made of the legendary ‘sea of flames’, a jewel said to bring bad luck and destruction on whoever holds it. The second narrative is Werner, a young German boy recruited into the Hitler youth and used for his exceptional intelligence with wireless technology.

Their stories run in parallel, and the prose is wonderful and enchanting, giving real insight into the terror of war and the effects it had on the lives of such different people, all without using characters who were soldiers, which gave this novel a different edge. The two characters eventually meet briefly and beautifully near the end, and to follow their stories and the stories of those around them was both heartwarming and heart-wrenching.” — Arzoo Sattikar

With a lot of countries still recovering from COVID-19, and some even going back into quarantine, we hope many of you will enjoy our book recommendations while we weather this storm together!

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