Books, Life, sketchbook

The transformational power of a book

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was one such transformational force that changed my life when I read it in 2013.

Sometimes in your life you happen to read the right book at the right time. and when that happens, there is a transformation. Up until then in my career there was a lack of women role models…

…and therefore no awareness of possibilities for the working mother.

Through her stories I understood it’s possible to have a career and be a mother, that workplaces can provide support structures, and so can the people in your life.

And that’s how I stopped holding back and took on the opportunities coming my way. Hope, optimism and possibilities – that’s how Lean in inspired me at a crucial time at a moment in my life…and I leaned in towards discovery.

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Books, sketchbook

My year in books: 2019

I read about 25 books this year, as compared to 33 books last year and 26 books in 2017. I try to have a healthy average around the number of books I read, since my reading habit also makes me who I am, but I’m not fixated into gamifying it by making it a challenge or beating my last years’ goals or anything like that! How about you? Do you keep a count of the books you read?

In 2019 I found that I read quite a bit of fiction, non-fiction and design books – and I’m still reading a couple of them. Also, if anything resonates with me, I often make quick drawings in my sketchbook while reading. It’s always interesting to go back and see which books sparked off drawings. On Kindle sometimes I leave tons of notes and highlights for myself, but drawing is usually much more alive!

Lots of great books this year:

Sapiens: I was late to the party but so good, nevertheless. Now looking forward to reading his other book.

Good Talk: I laughed and giggled through this one Sunday. If you’ve ever had to think about your race or felt uncomfortable about your identity you’ll relate to this graphic novel by Mira Jacob. (I also loved Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, obviously the defining book in this genre). Though Mira Jacob’s visual language didn’t appeal to me at first, it grew on me as I read, and integrated with the storytelling and the humor to emerge as an excellent read.

A quick sketch while reading Good Talk

The Messy Middle: A really useful handbook in my day to day work – pragmatic, relevant and inspiring at the same time. A great source for guidance around the choices a design leader makes. Check out my drawings from Scott’s other book Making Ideas Happen.

Dare to Lead: Gifted by my manager, it was my first book by Brené Brown. Inspired a whole post around empathy. A must read.

A smile in the mind: Take a look sometime…

Land of the seven rivers: A book published in 2012, and still so relevant. Found it in my parents’ house and really enjoyed it. It sheds light on a lot of questions that our classroom history of the Indian subcontinent didn’t answer. There’s also a version for children called The Incredible History of India’s Geography for young readers. The times we are living in are an apt time to be reading books like Sapiens and Land of the seven rivers as I found.

The Female Persuasion: Read the book if you’re interested in feminist thinking across generations.

A few other notable mentions: Men Without Women, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Sweet Shop and Transit by Rachel Cusk. I also read Plastic Emotions (Le Corbusier and Minnette de Silva) and Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process. This one was interesting to get an insight into their secretive culture, the design review process and how Steve Jobs prepped for WWDC.

Here are a few drawings made while reading Kudos by Rachel Cusk in Kolkata. Rachel Cusk has an amazing sense of storytelling, unique in it’s own way in the way she develops her characters. I will probably re-read this trilogy again.

Books that are movies:

Call Me by Your Name: Watch the movie. Then read the book. Each is wonderful in its own right.

Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything — what a waste!”

The Little Drummer Girl: I enjoyed both the book by John le Carré, and the TV miniseries. John le Carré is a master of craft, so I read not only for the story but also the language and the storytelling. The TV series was fabulously crafted by Chan-wook Park – the first time I watched anything by him and it was spectacular.

At the end of the year, I gave up a few books not worth the time, and I’m still reading The Year of the Monkey and a couple of other design books.

Someone once said that the point of reading is not to to see how many you can get through, but how many can get through to you!

And that is the pleasure.

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Books, sketchbook

Reading Sharp

Last year I read Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion and it was immensely inspiring. The women in the book whose lives and work are chronicled are Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Zora Neale Hurston, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. In fact after this book, I went on to read another book by Janet Malcolm which made me read another book and another, and so on.

Anyway in a nutshell what really inspired me was the incredible resilience all these women had, in the face of terrible partners, abandonment, difficult motherhood, creative and psychological rejection, financial troubles — apart from the usual baggage women subject themselves to — but they still kept at it! Some with a smile and poise, and some with just dogged determination. Great motivation for our ordinary, easy lives.

“I wanted to be cute. That’s the terrible thing. I should have had more sense.”

Dorothy Parker

” The critic shouldn’t need to tear a work apart to demonstrate that he knows how it was put together. The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made.”

Pauline Kael
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Books, Design

Making ideas happen: My takeaways

[I first read this book Making ideas happen: Overcoming the obstacles between vision and reality in 2013, and since then this book has been my daily guide, often standing in as a coach for my day job. Scott wrote this book while working at Behance: “I realized that creative professionals are the most disorganized community on the planet! But they are ultimately responsible for <so many things> that bring meaning to our lives…

I saw not only an opportunity but also a responsibility to help them overcome the obstacles to make them happen

…as such I committed my professional life to organizing the creative world.” The book is guidance and wisdom on every page, but here are three of the ideas that resonated with me:

Capitalize on healthy conflict: Use disagreements to foster valuable insights that would otherwise be inaccessible. Make your creative team resilient to advocate for their perspectives while respectfully considering that of others, until breakthroughs are revealed.

Short-circuiting the rewards system: Achieving a creative vision also demands a long term focus and sustaining your energy for the long term. Scott’s recommendation is to unplug yourself from the short term reward system and the desire to the validated in the long term.

Seldom is anything accomplished alone: One idea that stood out for me was that of Dreamers, Doers and Incrementalists. Find out which one you are, and then find the right partners. Serendipity comes from differences.]

A book worth reading if you’re a senior designer or in a creative leadership role, or a design entrepreneur; whether in product or services or consulting – you’ll find it useful. Follow up with the more recent book The Messy Middle, another useful companion for building resilience, staying inspired and bringing the best of your creative self to the “hardest and most crucial part” of any project.

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Books, sketchbook

Another one from The Only Story

As I wrote the other day, The Only Story was thought-provoking, not least in the social mores that it strove to question, but also about the very banal nature of love.

I often draw in my sketchbook about the books I read, fodder for the drawing in a way. These pages were made while reading The Only Story.

Who can control how much they love? If you can control it, then it isn’t love. I don’t know what you call it instead, but it isn’t love.

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

[Finished The Only Story the new book by Julian Barnes. A tale of such unequal love, and so much pain.]

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Books, Design

Empathy, a guide for myself

When I graduated from design school, I didn’t feel equipped to be a designer in the real world. I remember that I even googled for “core skills of a designer” and found that empathy was an important skill to have, so I started to teach myself to be a more empathetic designer.

[Empathy
The hardest skill that I tried to teach myself for a decade but finally this is the book that helped, Dare to Lead by author Brene Brown. She clearly breaks down empathy into skills.
For me though the number 1 skill is to Listen. I’m so uncomfortable with silence I keep talking and forget to listen. How to listen:
1 – Hear what is being said
2 – Absorb and try to understand
3 – Respond not react

Brene Brown says the top empathy skill is Perspective taking.

“Honour people’s perspectives as truth even when they’re different from us.

Brene Brown


Become the learner not the knower. I think this is the biggest breakthrough for me — the shift in mindset from “knowing” to “learning”.

And coming to why empathy is a core skill for designers: It starts with Curiosity, Learning, Empathy, which is used throughout the design process: To understand users better, to create inclusive product experiences, to stay problem-focused, not solution-focused, to grow and learn from feedback, and to be the best coworker and collaborator you can be.
And the true test of empathy is in practising it daily until it becomes second nature. So best foot forward towards being a more empathetic designer!]

Dedicated to Raj and JD.

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art, Books, Design, List, sketchbook

2017 in Books

I read a lot, and these days I also draw about the books I read. In 2017 though, my reading didn’t feature as much in my drawings. Here are 20 from 2017 in no particular order and the drawings.

SATURDAY A day spent reading about art, design, writing.
And making drawings about them and thinking.


The Best, not in order

Feeling is crucial to understanding a work of art. “Einfuhlung” coined by Robert Vischer in 1873 is “a way of feeling oneself into a work of art,” which ultimately becomes “empathy” in English. The meaning of an object influences the feelings it evokes.

  • Re-read Redesigning Leadership (John Maeda): As always I go back to reading John Maeda’s books at crucial times in my life. I was so happy to read this book while struggling with the leadership role. I think what I liked most was another way of approaching leadership – the artistic approach which I really resonated with. This was drawn on a flight layover.

And the rest

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art, Books, sketchbook

Read a book you hate

I read a lot of books in 2017 and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was one of them. I’ve always steered very clear of psychedelic fiction, being the straight-laced person that I am, but when I received the exact same edition on two separate occasions from two very close friends, I had to finally read it.

No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.

All the references to the Rolling Stones’ music and The Doors’ music was quite an educational journey for me – [who] steered so clear of all this narcotic-induced visions. This could be one of those “Read a book you hate” challenges!

I remember reading it and feeling quite hot, the language was so evocative of the Las Vegas strip and hot US highways in summer, and didn’t hate it as much as I expected to.

Here are some images from Google:

From Google

Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thomson had met once and it hadn’t gone too well: “A year later, Steadman was asked if he’d like to illustrate another, much longer, piece of Thompson’s for Rolling Stone magazine – about a drug-crazed trip Thompson had just made to Las Vegas with his Samoan attorney….Despite never having been anywhere near Las Vegas, he set to, and four days later sent off his drawings. “I was quite pleased with them, I remember. I thought I’d managed to complement the style of Hunter’s writing.” When the drawings arrived, Thompson anxiously unrolled them. “Ye gods,” he recalled. “Every one of them was perfect.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a huge hit and the two of them became friends. Under Thompson’s influence, Steadman’s work changed. “My drawing got stronger, less flaccid. He exposed me to the screaming lifestyle of the US.” But it was a friendship that came at quite a cost – to Steadman anyway.”

Have you read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Would love to know what you liked about it.

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Books, Design, Life, sketchbook

Reading “White” by Kenya Hara

Like I posted earlier, I read White last year and loved it. Here’s a drawing I made during that time.

white

[WHITE
Every morning I sit and drink my coffee and read a few pages of White in silence and calm, and it’s a beautiful meditative experience reading this book. I feel thankful for life and everything that is still left in this world for me to wonder at.]

Read it for the experience as well as for the content.

From the sketchbook called Captivity (Feb 2017).

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