The Book Life

30-Day Challenge, Books, Fiction, Judge A Book By Its Cover, The Book Life

Winner Of The National Book Award by Jincy Willett

winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett/Judge A Book By Its Cover/

Judge A Book By Its Cover, #3

First, the disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet. In this series, I’m judging the book by its cover.

You may have heard the idiom, don’t judge a book by its cover, an admonishment to not let surface appearances sway you. Take the time to read the book, delve beneath the surface, and find what message lies within its pages. Get to know a person instead of letting your preconceived notions quickly fix labels upon them.  Don’t judge a book by its cover, someone entreats us, wagging their finger for emphasis. This series does the opposite- I’m judging a book only on the basis of its cover!

Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett/Judge A Book By Its Cover/

Today’s book selection is Winner Of The National Book Award by Jincy Willett. You already know why this book caught my eye at the local library book sale: look at all those accolades the book has garnered plus it’s apparently the Winner of the National Book Award! On slightly closer inspection, you learn that’s the book’s title. With such an eye-catching name and cover design, I hereby also pronounce it the Winner of the Judge A Book By Its Cover award! Here’s a link to the reviews of the book on the Goodreads page.

Tower of books for Day 12 of the 30-Day Book Photography Challenge

This book got me thinking about how ‘word of mouth’ and reviews influence us when choosing a book: some of us prefer to be guided by reviews, recommendations and book lists (Best of 2019 etc.) and some of us don’t. What type of reader are you?

Thanks for reading!

30-Day Challenge, Books, Tea, The Book Life

Once Upon A Tea Time

Once upon a tea time/ Bookended

Once upon a tea time is how the best of stories start. When I start talking about how teatime and books are a match made in heaven, I may repeat some of what I said in this post.

Once upon a tea time/ Bookended

Today’s book photography prompt is to photograph that match made in heaven, tea and books. I’m from India and growing up, the women of my family came together to drink tea. It was always around 4PM everyday and it was a dedicated time to relax, regroup, and indulge our collective sweet tooth. During summer vacations, the extended family, men, women and children, would get together for tea. There was much laughing and talking and catching up with each other. So, tea has always been an important family ritual. I think it’s fair to say that many families have this in common and when we grew up, we held onto the nostalgia and tried to recreate it in our new, busier lives. Most Indians have some cherished chai (tea) stories, one from the past and one for the present: stories of the best cup of tea they ever had, the best recipe for masala chai ( tea with spices, literally), the accompanying snacks, the camaraderie that the sharing of tea time can bring about.

Once upon a tea time/ Bookended

In my case, reading became associated with tea time because I moved far away from family and books were the only companions that went everywhere I went. Two quotes that capture the sentiment:

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.”

– Bill Watterson

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

– C.S. Lewis

The words once upon a tea time are an homage to this special time that usually involves slowing down sometime in the middle of the day, brewing a cup of tea and taking a few minutes to read, and to ponder and mull over what we read. But it’s also an implicit permission built into every day, a sanctioned time where you are allowed to rest. The more mere productivity becomes a benchmark of a successful day, the more the urge to cling to the ritual of teatime.

When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

Muriel Barbery

30-Day Challenge, Books, Cookbooks, Fiction, Nonfiction, The Book Life


Tsundoku/ Bookended

Tsundoku is a Japanese word that describes the act of buying a lot of books, accumulating them, but not reading them. So, there you are, surrounded by piles of books you haven’t read and yet you can’t seem to stop buying them. This is me. I usually don’t buy new books but if I’m at a library sale or a used book sale, there is no stopping me. That means my home is filled with books that I plan on reading as soon as I have a little time but until then, they take up space everywhere.

Tsundoku/ Bookended

The prompt for Day 9 of the 30 day photography challenge is to photograph a book or books that you’ve always meant to read but haven’t gotten round to doing so. I’m a huge fan of Anthony Trollope and have read the first 4 novels of his series Chronicles Of Barsetshire. The Small House At Allington (pictured above) is the 5th in the series and one of these days, I’m going to read it. I’d planned to start it a few months ago but somehow I forgot all the details of the first 4 novels and decided I would re-read all four before reading Book 5 and that kinda got away from me. I also plan to read Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. I haven’t yet but it’s reassuring to know that the book is right here when I’m ready. Aspirational reading also falls under this category: the classics that everyone recommends, poetry especially Penguin Classics’ The Metaphysical Poets, the complete Shakespeare plays. The list goes on and on.

Tsundoku/ Bookended

Ask any book lover and they will tell you tsundoku isn’t a problem because being surrounded by books is as close to heaven as we can get on earth.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

– Jorge Luis Borges

Of course, it’s one thing if one person in the household practices tsundoku (unclear if this is the right way to use it in a sentence) but imagine if your partner or spouse was similarly inclined!

If you’d like to follow along with the 30 day photography challenge, details are here. Thanks for reading!

30-Day Challenge, Books, Cookbooks, Judge A Book By Its Cover, Nonfiction, The Book Life

Coffee Table Books

Coffee table books/ Bookended
Reading list/
Above picture taken in happier times:2018

Coffee table books are apparently named because they are books that are kept on the living room coffee table and can help to inspire and promote conversation with/among guests. The theme for today’s (Day 8) book photography challenge is guilty pleasures. While these books may not necessarily qualify for the exact meaning of that phrase, nevertheless coffee table books are my guilty pleasure: I can never pass them by without wanting to bring them home with me. Of course, that’s true for many books that I see at a bookstore or a library book sale but I have a special weakness for coffee table books that focus on art, interiors, and textiles. One could argue that they are picture books for adults and serve as inspiration for colors, prints, and patterns, visual learning at its best, and not just as books to promote small talk with others! Cookbook/food-related books are another category that I love browsing, even though I’m not likely to try out any recipe (more on that here). Guilty (aspirational) pleasures indeed! In fact, one of the simple things I miss doing in 2020 is the ability to go into my local library (still closed except for curbside pick up), wander the aisles, and pick out a stash of coffee table books that I can browse on Saturday mornings with my tea and toast or any afternoon with tea and cake.

Coffee table books/ Bookended
Coffee table books/ Bookended
Coffee table books/ Bookended

Here’s my list of 5 much-loved interior design books:

1. Lisa Fine’s Near and Far, Interiors I love with photography by Miguel Flores Vianna

2. Haute Bohemians by Miguel Flores Vianna

3. and 4. Kathryn Ireland’s Timeless Interiors and Creating A Home

5. The Maverick Soul by Miv Watts and Hugh Stewart

Coffee table books/ Bookended

For more interior design books, you may want to read this post.

My plan is to keep updating this post with my favorite picks for books in the cooking/baking/food genre (here’s a link to one that’s interesting), art, textiles and more. Thanks for reading!


Coffee table books/ Bookended
30-Day Challenge, A Writer's Journey, Books, Nonfiction, The Book Life

The Book Life, September Edition

The Age Of Kali/The Book Life, September Edition/ Bookended

Welcome to The Book Life, September Edition. It’s 106 degrees today here in my corner of California and the searing, dry heat has sent most people inside. We were already spending more time inside as we sheltered from the pandemic but now, we are forced to stay indoors even more. Pandemics, lightning complexes that triggered wildfires in all parts of the state and intense heat waves have all become our new normal. The entire area was blanketed in dense smoke and there has been loss of lives, injuries, damage to property, and evacuations. Anyone here can tell you that it could’ve been worse but for the tireless work of everyone involved: firefighters, doctors, nurses, emergency technicians in the health care field, emergency crew working to restore power and countless others. There was a children’s book that I read to my kids with the title It could’ve been worse. I remember thinking that the book title sounded pessimistic, a kind of expecting the worst, but after reading it, I realized that it’s about gratitude because as 2020 has shown us, things can always get worse. So, taking time here to express gratitude for everyone and doing what I can, as a volunteer, to help.

The Age Of Kali/The Book Life, September Edition/ Bookended

The theme for Day 6 of the 30-day book photography challenge was “book bokeh.” You probably already know what the bokeh effect in a photograph is but in case you don’t or want more detail, here is a link to an article that describes what it is. You can see my contributions (above, below) to the book with bokeh effect photography challenge. The books is William Dalrymple’s The Age Of Kali, Indian Travels and Encounters that I’ve just started reading.

The Age Of Kali/The Book Life, September Edition/ Bookended
The Age Of Kali/The Book Life, September Edition/ Bookended

In the light of all these events, my writing has slowed as has my reading because both require more bandwidth than I can currently expend. But they haven’t stopped. I hope you are doing well.

A Writer's Journey, Books, Fiction, Tea, The Book Life

The Book Life, August Edition

The Book Life, August Edition/ Bookended
The Book Life, August Edition/ Bookended

I hope you and your family are doing well. Welcome to The Book Life, a type of post that I’m hoping to be more regular with. It talks about how things are going but from a reader’s perspective. It’s August and I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all gotten used to a new way of living. I’m a biologist and to me, the shelter in place has felt like an incubation reaction: we’re forced to sit with our individual circumstances, to grow where we are, and hopefully, we will emerge with new tools for life. Again, there are so many individual circumstances and I want to steer away from generalizations, but it does seem like we’ve had to weather our personal storms, enjoy our triumphs in ways that may not have seemed possible or desirable prior to this year and grow, albeit in different ways. Have we always done this? Maybe. After all, we live individual lives, each with unique sets of circumstances- no two people have exactly the same lives. Maybe we have always lived like this but 2020 has brought it into focus.

The Book Life, August Edition/ Bookended

As a reader, I’ve noticed that my reading has diverged to include two distinct groups: 1) books I’m reading to learn something and to engage with life in a more informed way, (all kinds of non-fiction) and 2) books that have guaranteed happily-ever-after endings (e.g. romance novels).

There is a quote attributed to Nora Ephron: “Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” The words brought home yet another beautiful contrast: reading as a way to escape the immediacy of our life, and reading to learn, so that we may be more present and more engaged with life. I have always thought of my reading as a happy escape into adventure or as a way to educate myself but in 2020, it’s apparent that it is also a coping mechanism, helping with anxiety about the uncertainty in the world today. There is immense comfort to be found in reading a novel where you know everything’s going to work out in the end but I have also found myself dipping in and out of Rilke’s Letters to a young poet and the translated Rumi because they assure me that others have navigated the up’s and down’s of life and found, in Frost’s words, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

What have you noticed about your reading habits in 2020? I would love to hear from you. Take care!

Books, Judge A Book By Its Cover, Nonfiction, The Book Life

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health And Happiness by Dr. Qing Li

Forest Bathing/ Bookended
Forest Bathing/ Bookended

June 23rd, 2020

A few nature preserves near our neighborhood stayed open during the coronavirus shelter in place but most of the others were closed. To be safe and to avoid crowds, I stayed away for 3 months until the restrictions were relaxed in June. That’s when I realized how much I had taken for granted the easy opportunity to be in natural surroundings, hills covered with trees, tiny brooks gurgling through them. Pre-coronavirus, I went for nearly-daily morning hikes in the hills nearby and returned feeling rejuvenated, both physically and in spirit. There’s a healing, replenishing quality to being in nature and while people all over the world know and have experienced it, this book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health And Happiness by physician and immunologist Dr. Qing Li goes into great detail on how spending time in the forest and experiencing it through all our senses is vital for our well-being. Forest bathing comes from the Japanese shinrin (forest)-yoku(bath), “bathing in the forest atmosphere.” The book talks about the forests of Japan and its culture of reverence and worship of nature.

Forest Bathing/ Bookended
Photo credit:

It tells us how we can practice shinrin-yoku, it’s benefits for the mind and body and how science backs what we instinctively know: we are happier, less stressed, sleep better and have stronger immunity when we make being in, and engaging with, nature a regular practice. It’s a beautiful book and I am looking forward to bringing home a physical copy from the library (now that libraries have also opened).

Photo credit:

Personal notes:

While I was reading this book, I had a conversation with a family member that got me thinking about how we select the books we want to read. I’m usually drawn to this type of book. Like for many others, being in nature, whether it’s in a forest or standing in front of the ocean, is a mystical experience for me. You could say I am part of the target audience for this book. When I borrowed the ebook from the library, I chose the book knowing, consciously or unconsciously, that it would affirm what I already knew: being in nature is an awesome, health-boosting practice. When we choose books, especially non-fiction, are we looking for books that will agree with our opinions? While it may not matter in this case, it was also a reminder that I have to be mindful of a covert selection bias and be more alert/engaged as to why I’m choosing a particular book. How do you choose the books you read?

Interesting related article from the Yale School Of Forestry And Environmental Studies: How immersion in nature benefits your health. Additionally, if you liked this post, you may want to read my series of posts on Judge A Book By Its Cover.

Take care, and see you tomorrow.

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