Best books of 2022

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Since the pandemic began, I began comfort reading, leaning into romance and detective novels, rereading a lot. By 2022, I was reading very little else, though towards the end of the year I began reading some psychology. And I listen to a philosophy podcast on the way to work, so my brain cells have not entirely dried up.

But the result is that I don’t have to prune this list too much. As ever it includes books I read for the first time the previous year, not books that were released that year.

So in not particular order:

  1. Crossroads, Jonathan Franzen
    A family in which each member is imploding in their own way
  2. Atlas of the Heart, Bene Brown
    A starting point for identifying exactly what you’re feeling
  3. Ruth Galloway series, Elly Griffiths
    Addicted to this series about a forensic archaeologist who lives in a remote cottage on the Saltmarsh. More into the characters and the complicated romance than the mystery
  4. Truly Devious series, Maureen Johnson
    Truly charming YA mystery series set in a school for gifted kids
  5. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks, E. Lockheart
    Cross between Catcher in the Rye and a modern day boarding school story
  6. Wyckerley series, Patricia Gaffney
    Completely politically incorrect romance that gave me goosebumps
  7. Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman
    A detective story, but also about a woman reinventing herself.
  8. Becoming, Michelle Obama
    Michelle for president! But also so many lessons to learn about striving, being a wife, stepping back, changing tack.
  9. The Little Friend, Donna Tartt
    A murder revisited, that’s really the portrait of a family in the deep South
  10. Tempt Me at Twilight, Lisa Kleypas
    Part of Kleypas’ Hathaway series, a romance novel that I will reread

Runners-up,
1. Olive series, Elizabeth Strout
Loosely related short stories with an irascible old woman as a recurring character

2. Win, Harlan Coben
The last book in the revived Myron Bolitar series about a retired basketball player turned detective, and his waspy Wall Street bestie, about the bestie

3. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, Dawnie Walton
The spectacular rise of a rock duo and the racially charged moment at which they imploded

4. The Mothers, Brit Bennett
Two girls, both motherless in a sense, become friends.

5. Ghosts, Dolly Alterton
Chick lit for this generation.

India, at last, some more

From the time I boarded the plane to Bangalore, my body was exhausted. I fell asleep on the short flight, in the car to V’s house and super early that night. The kids were kidnapped by their cousin to do a sleepover at V’s sister’s house.

The next day was a family photo shoot at V’s sister’s house, and we spent the day there, and brought in the New Year’s with drinks among cousins. The younger generation ran wild; Nene stayed up till 3am. I had collapsed at 2.

New Year’s lunch was at V’s dad’s farm. This might be our last farm visit as the plan is to sell the property before some politician grabs it. There was even a contingent from Kerala.

Around 5pm, we wrapped up and drove to V’s other sister’s house where the elder and younger cousins hung out some more. I had proper conversation about books and art with niece, and realised I am uber uncool person who reads nonsense, while she is reading Russian literature and saying “no shade to romance, I’m not dissing it”.

I was working the next two days which was a bummer. But I worked out of MinCat’s house, and we fitted in lots of little chats, and then one massive chat after work.

The next day I worked out of V’s sister’s house and managed to get out for an Andhra meal lunch. And older SIL treated me to a scalp treatment (essentially glorified head and upper body massage) and kids to pedicures.

The following day was spent driving across Bangalore to see an uncle who is usually never visited because he lives so far off (and is also always fighting with other family members). But cousin and his kid were there, and Nene and that boy get on, so it was nice. They burst firecrackers, and also … drove a scooter. Yes, two 11-year-olds drove a scooter (Kinetic type, not kid scooter) – on an empty road in a layout, but still.

This after I had had a massive argument with SILs the previous day about safety of motorbikes and also diving as a recreational sport.

One of my cousins who has moved to Bangalore insisted on visiting to drop off a cake, and had an extended chat with him. Mimi had developed a cough, so took her to doc where she got (surprise) antibiotics.

SIL offered to take the kids for Avatar the next morning, and I tagged along to the mall where I spent 3 hours roaming around and bought: 2 bras, two basic tank tops to wear under transparent clothes, and one pair of sunglasses. After the movie, with SIL’s decisive opinion for assistance, bought two very fancy sets of Indian clothes for the kids to wear for Diwali at school according to me/Cousin E’s hypothetical wedding according to SIL.

I did not buy the thing I most needed to buy in India – Chambor foundation – because I fought with V when he was trying to order it in Bombay, and then it was out of stock in all the shops in Bangalore I checked. FFS.

Against V’s better judgement, we let kids loose on an arcade with their cousin instead of going straight home, and SIL and I had extended chat over chai about niece.

This was the day we were leaving, and V then called and shouted at me about spending the whole day outside, instead of with his parents, except that we had spent most days outside anyway.

I have to say V’s parents didn’t say anything to me about being flighty DIL who deprived them of time with their grandkids on very last day after spending a mere six days in their city, for which they should be honoured in some in-law hall of fame. Then again, maybe they think we are moving to Bangalore (we may be, I don’t know. It’s up to me apparently and I cannot decide. Which should tell you something).

I did not buy anything to distribute in office, to give to helper, or to give to friend in HK who hinted she expected gift. We did not go to FIL’s Bata store to get sandals for Mimi.

We did not sleep at 6pm so we could have a few hours of sleep before the flight. Against my expectations, Nene fell asleep at 7 and then Mimi fell asleep at 8, and I of course was last and we had to get up again at 9, to get our flight.

And then it was time to leave.

December reading list

The Taj Conspiracy, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Was not sure what to expect. I kind of wanted something like Indu Sundarean’s Taj Trilogy, and this wasn’t, but I ended up really enjoying it anyway.

This is a mystery novel, but it weaves together both history about the monument and contemporary Indian history, including the rise of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism, and communal conflict in India.

Someone Perfect, Mary Balogh

This is the last book in the Westcott series, and features Lady Estelle Lamarr, the daughter of Marcel Lamarr who married the erstwhile countess of Westcott. Marcel was an absent father, and Estelle was very close to her twin Bertrand.

In contrast, there is a rift between Justin, Earl of Brandon, who had been banished by his father, and his sister Maria, who is friends with Estelle.

Justin decides its time to move Maria (against her will) to London, and to make the transition easier, invites Estelle to spend some time at their home. Obviously, there’s attraction between them.

I did enjoy this book, though there was a lot of similarity between Justin, a dour man, and Gil, the hero of the Abigail story. If Balogh needed another kind of hero, she might tried a geek?

Where are the geeks in regency romance, I ask?

The Marriage Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell

Love these novels that take off on a painting. This one is of Lucrezia de Medici, who married young and died a year later. She is the inspiration for Robert Browning’s poem My Last Duchess, that is always cited in literature courses as an example of dramatic monologue and which I found somewhat pointless, until I read this novel.

I’ve also long wanted to read more about the Borgias and the Medicis and this was as good a place to start as any.

Also I’ve been meaning to read Hamnet by the same author, and I think it’s time to admit that that’s not going to happen because I can’t bear to read a book about a child dying.

Anyway, back to this novel, out of a portrait and a short life, we get a living breathing woman, trapped in a dangerous marriage

There is something to admire in Lucrezia, the very wilfulness her husband suspects and wants to crush.

The book made me sad though she crafts an improbably and unexpectedly happy ending.

Worth Any Price, Lisa Kleypas

This is the third book in Kleypas’ Bow Street Runners series. As per usual, I erroneously found myself reading the last book first, but anyway it was very hot and satisfying.

Nick Gentry has been tasked with tracking down a Miss Charlotte Howard, but he finds himself strangely attracted to her and disinclined to turn her over to his client. He ends up marrying her instead, and then they embark on the journey of getting to really know each other.

I liked it even as I had problems with some aspects of it – namely Nick arousing Charlotte without her consent on at least two occasions (a no means yes scenario) made more troubling given that both of them had been sexually preyed upon as children. Nick likes to tie up women and pleasure them so he’s in control, but this has the opposite effect on Charlotte. Yet she tolerates it without him giving any explanation / she just divines the reason.

And yet the chemistry between them works.

Lady Sophia’s Lover, Lisa Kleypas

Lady Sophia is the sister of Nick, from the previous novel. She is married to Sir Ross, who headed the Bow Street Runners and is a highly disciplined man, who in that novel only unbends for his wife. I was already sold on them as a couple.

Sophia seeks employment with Ross because she wants revenge – he is the man who condemned her brother Nick, who she believes has died, to the gallows. Instead she falls in love with him.

Enthralling mostly, but there’s a moment though when Sophia confesses all to Ross and you’d think he’d embrace her and he starts some sexual touching (“life giving” apparently) which (of course) she loves, but ugh.

Someone to Watch Over Me, Lisa Kleypas

Grant Morgan, a member of the Bow Street Runners, rescues a woman from the waterfront, and discovers her to be Vivien Rose Duvall, an infamous courtesan who once humiliated him. When he realises that she has lost her memory, he decides to do the same to her, but then falls in love and can’t exactly have his revenge.

The whole situation is slightly problematic, but Vivien calls him out on it.

India, at last

Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisaged a scenario in which I wouldn’t see my parents for three years and my sister for four. But that has been this pandemic. And yet, I have to be thankful – that we are all alive, that we are to varying degrees unscathed by the worst of Covid.

And that this trip happened – and in the best way one could hope for in terms of Hong Kong’s pandemic restrictions, which were almost all dropped by the time we returned. As for India, even filling the Air Suvidha form had been dropped, though ironically just after we arrived, there was talk of reinstating it – and other restrictions – for arrivals from China (including Hong Kong).

V was not for the entire family going to India in December. The dream of us moving to India this year is alive, and if we don’t he would have rather taken the kids in July/August for a longer time.

He suggested that I go myself. But leaving the kids for Christmas was not something I felt comfortable doing, despite the urging of a couple of friends, most of whom were also converging in Bombay for Christmas. Also, my sister was bringing her kids, and they have already missed so many meetings.

After the usual agonising, I decided to just.do.it. Then the tortuous negotiating of breakdown of time, made more complicated by the fact that flights have not resumed to full capacity, so getting certain dates out of Bombay/Bangalore was challenging. I insisted on Christmas and more time in Bombay seeing as we had Christmas the last time in Bangalore, and while there was every chance the kids could make another India trip and see family in Bangalore this year, not to mention moving there, the same is not true of seeing my sister, niece and nephew. It’s been a while, but negotiating the city breakdown of our India trip is still akin to the Middle East peace process.

I am also always stressed about asking for leave in December, but I didso as shamelessly as possible (two weeks entirely off, even though my boss had a daughter coming down). I still worked two days, and frankly would have rather not, but I just couldn’t find the gumption to ask for three weeks at a go in prime time.

So tickets booked well in advance – in August (my wake-up call was a colleague telling me they were booking their CNY tickets to Singapore in July) – and then in November, I had a panic attack when I realised that Nene’s exams were not before the holidays as I had assumed, but after. A few harried emails later, it turned out that we would be back in time for the exams (whew), though we would have to study over the holiday.

I planned in advance and spent several weekends in the run-up agonising over gifts for the significant people back home. I even took an extra day off before we left to pack/do last minute shopping, so for once, I was not in a flurry on the day of travel.

A few days before we were set to leave, the weather turned super cold, and Nene, Mimi and finally I fell sick with a cold and sore throat. I kept the kids home from school – we could have left that weekend then, though maybe it was all for the best because I got to make all the significant dates in Bombay – and we just inhaled/gargled/rested like fiends, so we were in some sort of shape to travel.

Our flight landed in Bombay at a reasonable hour, but we still only got home around midnight and to bed at 1am, and then the kids got up at 4am. The time on my watch hadn’t switched to India time so I thought it was 6.30 and time to wake up. My nephew E was jet lagging and woke up too, thanks to a bit of noise from the kids, though my sister swore he would have woken up anyway.

E – who had up till then following my dad around like a puppy – fell in love with Nene and the rest is history. Basically, E simps for the male gender, and except for his mom and sister, isn’t into women at all. He was basically obsessed with Nene the entire trip, and while it did get too much for Nene at times, I was pleasantly surprised bt how well he dealt with having a pint-sized stalker for the most part.

My resolution for this trip was to focus on my parents, sister, niece and nephew, and not, as my mother often complains, go gadding about. This was made challenging by the fact that the much vaunted friends reunions that had been planned and cancelled since 2015 was finally happening, not in an exotic destination, but in our neighbourhood in Bombay.

However, I recognise that my parents are old, I have not seen them for years, and apart from spending time with them, I need to help around the house. And then I did choose to bring the kids along, and while I had V for support, I also knew that there was an end to his patience.

I was pretty good for the first couple of days. The day we landed, friends made a lunch plan, which I copped out of. On day 2, we took the kids to Juhu beach. The tide was up so the usual plastic was not visible. The nephew frolicked in the water like it wasn’t filthy. I bought a plastic ball and Nene went to town with it. Mimi attempted to give me a sand pedicure. A girl from out of town spotted me in shorts and came over to ask where she could buy some, gesturing ruefully at her jeans (alas, I could not help, and she ended up getting her jeans wet). We ate roasted peanuts and drank coconut water. We turned down offers to do water sports, get our photograph taken, and get henna designs on our arms. I bought channa and fed a flock of pigeons (then as my throat started to itch wondered if I had contracted bird flu).

See, I doubt I would go to Juhu beach if I lived in Bombay. But it’s become something to do with the kids free of cost, and despite its many flaws, we almost always have a decent time there.

By afternoon my throat was hurting so badly I could barely swallow, but I went for a pedicure. I proceeded to let my dad dose with with something from his medicine cabinet (in addition to gargling with Betadine, which I’m becoming skeptical about because on two occasions, I’ve ended up really sick after), and headed out to the local gymkhana to meet my college friends.

Many laughs, chicken lollipops and four whiskeys later, I was properly sick. Despite much urging, I begged off the afterparty – which I am told involved six rounds of shots – and headed home.

The next day, I was at my family doctor getting a prescription of antibiotics. My aunt, uncle and cousin dropped by that evening and I realised that my mum wasn’t the only one who had aged and was chronically ill. My aunt was in a shocking state, not so much physically but mentally.

By December 24, I began to feel better, and I got a serious case of Fomo with regards to what my friends were up to. I had a lovely one-on-one chat over coffee with CurlyGirlie while Mimi and my niece were getting a pedicure, which helped.

My dad and mum had a big fight on Christmas Eve, during which my dad appealed to me and I didn’t take his side, so I was in the doghouse too. Which meant that I had a fractured night’s sleep, though I managed to make everyone make up in the morning.

I went for Christmas mass with my parents – it was nice but also very low key with no proper choir (all the best singers having presumably exhausted themselves at midnight mass) and the priest chose to lean into some creationist nonsense in the sermon (seriously, why?). I realised my children do not have any formal clothes because while I could find something appropriate for Mimi to wear, Nene had nothing but shorts and t-shirts, and my dad was getting stressed about him wearing that so even though the kids to my surprise expressed a last-minute interest in going to mass, I ended up leaving them at home with V.

We didn’t have a maid that day so I ended up sweeping and swabbing the entire house, something I haven’t done in at least a decade. But with that many people in the house – including kids – the sheer amount of dirt was too much to ignore. My dad kept trying to take the mop from me, and pointed out that he had been doing this duty for weeks during the pandemic.

I tend to like big Christmas lunches with extended family, but these days, Christmas at my parents’ house tends to be on the small scale. I got everyone playing travel pictionary for a bit and it was fun, until it fizzled out. I can’t remember everything there was for lunch, but the pork was outstanding.

At some point in the run-up to December, a very enthusiastic friend suggested we go for a Christmas dance. Like mopping the house, this is not something I have done in over a decade, and not an activity I’m very keen on either. But in the spirit of Fomo, I asked V if he would go and to my surprise, he said yes. Then I asked my sister and she said yes too! So I had no choice but to go.

The dance we chose ended up being quieter than the usual gymkhana Christmas dance affair that I’ve usually been too, but better organised. There were enough tables for everyone, snacks circulating, a good dinner and a bar where one could actually get a drink and even water if one wanted without having to do cartwheels to get the attention of the bartender.

Going into the dance, I had pledged to try to stay past midnight. Then it seemed that everyone would only get there at 11, though in the end, we managed to herd ourselves in by 10ish. Although the event was supposed to start by 9pm, I wonder if even the organisers would have been there if we’d turn up on time. In the end, V left at 3am and I left at 4am, when the lights came on and the music stopped. Not bad for someone on antibiotics.

There was talk of someone sort of gathering of the friends’ kids on Boxing Day, but everyone was too exhausted to plan anything. I woke up from an afternoon nap with a call from a friend who wanted to drop by and see my mum. It ended up being an extended chat on the swings downstairs, followed up by another extended chat in another friends’ house.

By which time I think V was truly sick of me. Gave him a day off on December 27 and took the kids to a trampoline park and arcade in a massive mall in Malad, where I spent two hours roaming about while the kids played, and ended up buying one comb. But this is how I shop these days. But I did manage to avoid going on a roller coaster with Nene – a rollercoaster inside a mall, imagine – and so I consider it a day well spent.

The next day, the sister and I snuck in coffee with a cousin at a quaint cafe that has become something of a tradition for us, then massive family lunch in another cousin’s house, unplanned coffee at one more cousins’ house where I reckoned with the dog-shaped hole in my life, and then my aunt’s 80th birthday shindig. Because of said birthday, my mother’s brothers had descended so I got to meet them too, in addition to lots of friends of my parents who I had not seen for ages.

The final day of our Bombay stint was my mum’s birthday. Descent of the uncles redux, this time at our house.

V had gone into his annual Christmas season sulk, for reasons unknown, rattling me completely. I ended up shouting at him in front of my cousin, waking my dad up from his nap and unnerving him with our display of marital disharmony.

And then we left for Bangalore.

2022 was the year

The pandemic was supposed to end, but didn’t

I fell out of love – but not out of like – with my job

I got Covid and it was the worst, mentally if not physically

I sorted out my period (finally)

I accepted (kinda) that I am not (entitled to be) rich

My husband achieved his dream of being made redundant

I gave up the pretence of reading anything intellectual

I indulged my inner beach junkie and it was good

I watched a lot of great sport on TV

I went to India after three years

November reading list

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The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm

This is the opposite of Alain de Botton, the very thing that de Botton critiques, or is flippant about. Fromm is one of those psychologist who believes in a form of love that is mature, not simply exhilaration at the collapse of walls between two people. He sees loving as an art that takes practice – though honestly it seems to be that one might have to be a zen master to practice this art. His version of true love is even more demanding and idealised than the Christian one Alain de boton described

To even get to the point of being able to practice such love one has to master discipline, concentration, patience … one has to practice these on a daily basis. Fair enough, but if we are automatons of a capitalist system as he also describes, are we capable of practising this whole being entrenched in that system? How many of us have the privilege of withdrawing from this system.

One of his preconditions is faith in the existence of a self, an I, that exists. But he is also interested in Eastern philosophy and what of Buddha’s revelation that there is no self? (I guess, if we make a up a self then we have to persist with it?) Anyway, his point is not be overly influenced by the ideas of others (clearly he’s not a fan of Cooley’s looking glass self. Though maybe the influence of others must wane in adulthood? Does it though?)

Love, according to him, is giving not taking and giving without losing  – you should be a person capable of doing this in general not just to the beloved , and it starts with the ability to do it oneself. I feel like I have lost this capacity, except with regard to my children.

He rejects Freud’s patriarchy but is homophobic, seeing homosexuality as a neurosis. In this, he was clearly a man of his times. This book was written in the 1950s, and I hope his thinking would have progressed had he have lived into this era. The bit about religion and how it relates to gender was interesting: matriarchal religions as revolving around the principle of the unconditional love of the mother, patriarchal religions as revolving around the conditional love of the father.

Okay, I can’t say that I can adopt a lot of this, but it clearly gave me a lot to think about.

Win, Harlan Coben

Loved it. It’s been a while since I really got into a book, but I’ve always loved Win. Home, told partly from Win’s perspective was disappointing, but I realise now that it’s because Coben tried to make him some sort of international man of mystery when he’s really best in his own narrow wasp milieu. I wish writer’s would just stick to their narrow town of village. Did Jane Austen teach them nothing? Anyway, this story had enough twists and turns to be satisfying. Also realised Win is basically Avery from Mary Balogh’s Westcott series.

The Appeal, Janice Hallett

This is a very finely crafted book. It’s very contemporary in that it’s told completely through emails and texts. But it has the narrow cast of characters of the traditional detective story. The story also touched a chord with me because it’s about fundraising and the shit that goes down, even when the best of intentions are involved – whether at the small information scale or the large international organisation stage.

Someone to Honour, Mary Balogh

This is the sixth book Balogh’s series about the sprawling Westcott family. It features Abigail Westcott, who lost her title when it was discovered that her parents were not legally married. Despite the efforts of the extended family, Abigail has withdraw from society. When her brother Harry is brought home from the war, she retreats to their childhood home to stay with him and meets his dour friend and superior officer Gilbert Bennington, who is an outcast too. Bennington has a problem that marrying Abby will solve, and she agrees because she’s attracted to him (“wants” him, is how she puts it). Don’t we all? But her brother is egging them on, seeing something they don’t. Abby is rather a paragon though. Gil turns into quite the insecure mutt, refusing to attend the wedding breakfast the family has decided to host for them (after telling Abby he would go along with the kind of wedding she wants) and instead of tearing into him, she is all understanding. Pah!

Someone to Remember, Mary Balogh

Throughout the series, Matilda is cast as the elderly, fussy, spinster aunt, but at the end of the previous book, we discover she has a past and a spine, and she’s not afraid to use them. That past reappears in full form in this novel of later love, and it’s quite sweet to see Matilda come into her own under the loving gaze of a man who really sees her.

Someone to Romance, Mary Balogh

When her favourite cousin Abby withdrew from society, Jessica was distraught, and held herself back too. She could not withdraw, but held at a distance the sparkling young men who surrounded her to pay court. Now Abby is settled, though, and Jessica is feeling slightly wistful, if not resentful. She finds herself courted by two men, one the perfect heir apparent to an earldom, another the mysterious Gabriel Thorne, a returnee from America, who it turns out is the real earl. Gabriel decides Jessica will be the perfect consort and announces his decision to wed her. She is intrigued despite herself, and orders him to properly romance her. The result is charming.

Someone to Cherish, Mary Balogh

Harry Westcott has become a recluse and his interfering family is having nothing of it. They decide to descend on him with suitable brides, but in the interim he gets tangled up with a widow who makes a daring proposition. Quite a nice story, but a bit too much gracious aristocrats, such as when they decide to stand by the widow Lydia when the village brands her with the scarlet letter.

Perfect 10

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I did not have a stake in this World Cup because Italy, the team I have supported since I was on the cusp of being a teenager, did not even qualify. But, of course, I was going to be all over it.

We weren’t sure how much we were going to watch because of the timings, but V got a VPN and we watched a lot (shout-out to SBS coverage in Australia). As ever, I depleted by data service watching replays on the way to work and at lunch, and had to pay for extra data.

Okay first, let’s get the politics out of the way.

Even before the World Cup started, I was sick of the handwringing over Qatar hosting the cup. I am so over the calls for boycotts – always of non-Western countries. First, Russia and the World Cup, most recently, China and the Winter Olympics. Even Japan was not spared – apparently, they should not have put their population at risk during Covid (even though they had no choice) and also they are not disabled-friendly enough. Brazil was criticised for something (corruption? spending money that could better be used for poor people?), as was India when it hosted the Commonwealth Games.

Frankly, I don’t know why anyone in the non-Western world wants to host these events, given the expense and all the preaching from the West, but oh well, dreamers gotta dream that dream of acceptance.

I’ve come to believe that only Western countries should host international sporting events so that we can be spared all this. No one else will live up to their standards, not even them, but at least we won’t have to listen to the strident virtue signaling.

Also, then everything can suit the Western schedule, and we don’t have to aghast that the World Cup being played in November will throw European club football into disarray. Okay.

Is Fifa corrupt? Yes, and has been for decades, but somehow Qatar is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Do I care about this? Not really? I would prefer everything was fair, and kudos to those unearthing the corruption, but I don’t care much where the World Cup or Olympics is hosted (up to a point. I feel picking Russia at the present moment would be too much). Just pick a country and get on with the sport. When the countries are off the beaten track, we get to learn something new (good and bad) about them.

Does Qatar treat migrant workers abysmally? Yes. Is its treatment of the LGBT community less than ideal? Yes. Should awareness be raised about this? Yes.

Did the UK and also the US invade Iraq, for literally no reason at all, a war that plunged the Middle East into chaos, resulted in countless lives lost, the repercussions of which are being felt far and wide even today, a war that “ended” in 2011, just before London Olympics in 2012. Also yes. Did we hear much about this though, leave alone a call for a boycott? I don’t think so (interestingly, the Indian government contemplated a boycott of the opening and closing ceremonies of that Olympics because of Dow’s sponsorship).

Does the Emir of Qatar own PSG, France’s premier club, which Neymar, Messi and Mbappe all play for? Does Qatar invest heavily in the UK? Did Germany ink a massive energy deal with Qatar even as its players were taking a stand against the treatment of the LGBT community in the country (I believe players should be allowed to take whatever stance they please, because nothing least of all sports is free from politics, but sport governing bodies consistently oppose this, and never has this injunction received as much attention)?

Once we got to the knockout stages of the Cup, and I started watching other things, I embarked on latest season of The Crown, and there is this episode about the royal family’s attitude to Mohamed al-Fayed, and it struck me as so similar to the Western attitude to Qatar. Basically, we’ll take your money, but you can’t sit at our table. (Watching The Crown, I realised that my own attitude to the al-Fayeds in the wake of Diana’s death was similarly racist).

I was uncomfortable with Messi having to wear a bisht at the presentation ceremony (as was he, I think, but he was too polite – or knew which side his bread was buttered on – to protest), but I also wondered if I would have a similar reaction to say a laurel leaf being placed on his head.

Bitch please. Let’s move on.

This was the most exciting World Cups I’ve ever watched. I loved the diversity of the countries getting into the group stage. That Japan and South Korea had a fighting chance (the noise at night here during South Korea’s match against Ghana woke up me). I loved that African teams came into their own (Saudi Arabia’s last minute goals against Argentina, anyone? Morocco-France?).

It has been pointed out that the location of the event in Qatar made it easier for fans from Africa and South America to attend in person. And these fans could be seen and heard in the stadiums, no doubt boosting their teams.

I hated how rough the sport has become. “And you wanted me to play rugby?” Nene asked not for the first time as I tsked over players pushing each other from behind, tripping each other up, elbowing in the ribs (Argentina in the final, I’m looking at you).So many players wearing those Hannibel Lector face masks. I hated the confrontations with the referrees, who I think should just card players for arguing.

That said, I think teams should be allowed to formally appeal for VAR a limited number of times as is the case in cricket. And also, can we just get rid of offside, please (and no, it’s not because I don’t understand the rule)?

I loved how France played throughout, how its players conducted themselves with such class. Brazil looked like a juggernaut, until it wasn’t (and also, I did not appreciate their samba-ing over South Korea. Seriously, have some grace, and also Richarlison did not need to fake an injury – he actually winked after – to get a penalty). I am not a fan of England’s defensive game, but again, by the end, I was impressed by their decency (especially their reaction to Raheem Sterling needing to go home, for example). When France played England, I was actually rooting for England.

I only wanted Argentina to win because of Messi. He and Ronaldo are the greats of our generation, but the way they conduct themselves is miles apart. I have followed and loved Ronaldo since he was a teenager playing for Portugal at the Euro Cup (I remember pushing the night editor to put a photo of him on the front page in 2003), but over the years he has become distastefully arrogant (with some reason though, he is a genius with the ball).

Messi is also a genius, but he is modest. He goes out, he performs awesome feats, he is a team player. Watching him with the world cup in his hands was an undiluted pleasure. Argentina had two clear goals in play time (I hate penalties), and deserved its win.

France had several players recovering from a virus, and its team on field by the end was relatively inexperienced (which showed in the penalties – not sure why they didn’t substitute in the more experienced players for the penalties as Argentina did).

But let’s talk about Kylian Mbappe. At some point during this World Cup, I was shocked to discover that he was only 23. Sure, he runs like a 23 year old – his acceleration power is amazing – but his poise is that of a world-class statesman (speaking of which, both Mbappe and I were over Macron’s hugging). He is a class act through and through, and as Messi takes his victory lap, it’s clear that the baton has been passed to him. He was gutted, but he has had held that trophy in his hands before, and he has another 15 years at least of football in him, so we’ll get over it, okay?

Thankfully, I am flying to India tomorrow so I have something else to live for now.

What’s been happening

I’ve been exhausted. I can’t remember being this exhausted since my children were babies and I wasn’t getting enough sleep.

I began to wonder if I had long Covid, and I’m still wondering.

But a body check also threw up some thyroid issue, and I was prescribed something that made me feel like a zombie.

But also, work has been crazy. I had just began getting to grips with one thing, when I had to move onto to something else. My boss got Covid and I had to step up for him. A change was in the offing, but it took a month to actually get implemented.

V came home from a month in India, and we had … an adjustment.

And then I pushed myself socially more than I had for a while, going out three weekends in a row (which I know is normal for most people, but I don’t do that because a) I just don’t have that many social engagements b) if I go out at night, I can’t just laze the whole day, but need to do stuff with the kids).

I went to a concert/ballet/opera and it was superlative. One of the reasons I haven’t been booking these things – apart from inertia/inability to pick something, is that I find wearing a mask for three hours (yes, we still do masks here) difficult, but this time, I just didn’t notice. Maybe the hall was well ventilated, but was basically the performance. There was this moment when the music reached a crescendo and I closed my eyes, and experienced the sublime.

Diwali in particular was super active.

Diwali is not a festival I usually celebrate. In India, as a child, Diwali was about firecrackers. I left India before I was old enough to celebrate Diwali with friends as an adult. In Hong Kong, I didn’t have close friends who celebrate the festival, which tells you how one’s closest friends tend to be like oneself.

I have raised the kids reading Hindu mythology to them, to the extent that I think they are better versed in it than Christian stories, but they seem to have forgotten much of it.

This year, a friend decided to have a dinner party, and she got sparklers – burning firecrackers is illegal, but all the Indian stories stock sparklers – which the kids enjoyed. It was nice for them to do something for Diwali, like most of the other Indian kids here, though I did struggle to get them into Indian clothes. We haven’t been back to India for three years, so all the Indian clothes we have are small – Mimi ended up wearing a raw silk blouse that used to be my mum’s and that I used to wear in my thinner days; Nene wore a kurta that used to be below his knees, but now is a short one, with my tights as a salwar, and I miraculously fit (snugly) into the salwar kameez I had bought three years ago (thank you Covid). The gathering turned out to be more people than initially planned, and frankly, I realised how much I find these large parties where you keep moving around and talking to people but never really having a real conversation pretty pointless.

I continue to do them because I feel like I need to exercise this social muscle or lose it altogether, but I most often come out slightly drained and not very rewarded. Sometimes, though, it works, like over Christmas where I ended up actually having quite an interesting conversation with a woman who did not seem like the person who would say anything except the most pretentious banalities initially.

I mentioned to one of Nene’s football friend’s mum how Mimi feels sort of in-between because we aren’t typically Indian so she leans into Chinese identity, but we’re not Chinese either. She invited us over to her house for puja on Diwali, which fell on a Monday. The kids were off that day, but I wasn’t, and it turned out that V had made an opthamologist appointment for them that we had already moved once so we couldn’t again, so we ended up going to the puja after the opthamologist, and frankly, I was knackered before we even got there.

I can’t remember the last time I actually was at a puja. Not that I ever a frequent puja-attender, but I’m guessing it’s been over 20 years. And frankly, I never knew quite what was going on. The friend’s mum explained stuff to us though, and I found it all quite moving. Then we did sparklers and a simple dinner and a lot of neighbours kept dropping by. It was nice, but also went on longer than planned, and even though I was not the host, I was properly wilting at the end.

I have been so exhausted, I haven’t even had the energy to set up a session with my shrink. I had no vacation days in between, and while I could have set up something after work, I had zero energy to.

The weekend after Diwali I slept 12 hours or so, and only after a couple of days of that, started to feel human. I’m still not completely there.

What I learnt:

  1. I need sleep
  2. I am not cut out to be even halfway a social butterfly
  3. I want to do art things, but again, do I have the energy?

And how have you been?

October reading list

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Someone to Wed, Mary Balogh

Alexander Westcott, the reluctant Earl of Riverdale, is trying to do the right thing and marry a rich woman, when one offers him a deal. The catch – she has a huge birthmark around one side of her face. It turns out, though, that Wren’s scars are deeper than skin deep. I enjoyed this till about halfway through.

Someone to Care, Mary Balogh

Viola, former countess of Westcott, has lost her entire identity when it is revealed that her marriage was bigamous. In a country inn, she encounters Marcel Lamarr, and the two decide to run away from their troubles, literally. Then their families catch up with them, and they’re steamrolled into doing the honourable thing. I found this one pretty exquisite.

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

I haven’t met a Franzen novel I didn’t love, despite myself, but there’s always a first time. I now understand why he is considered literary. In the opening section there’s this bit where Chip is trying to sell a script which has this unduly complicated opening monologue and, in some passages, it seemed to me Franzen is doing the same, though I’m not sure he meant to be ironic.

Like his other novels, this one has a family, and is told through the perspective of each of them.

All these people suck. Denise, the daughter, seems like the best of them, and you’re waiting till her section for her to become the asshole.

Franzen tries to get in the head of a Parkinson’s sufferer, and he succeeds, but it’s not easy reading.

As ever, these people stay with you.

The Jane Austen Remedy, Ruth Wilson

An 89-year-old woman decides to reread Jane Austen’s novel as therapy of sort. Obviously, I had to read this.

Did not expect it to be about a woman who separates from her husband in her 80s because she feels like a second-class citizen in the republic of marriage, and decides to see if reading Austen can help. Wilson writes about how in her generation, women did not have choices, and while much as changed, much as also not.

Overall, I found less insights about life than Austen fangirling, but I’m down for that anyway.

Essays on Love, Alain de Botton

Psychology seems to tell us that healthy relationships are this and that, offering an ideal that is difficult to meet. What a relief to read something that describes love as is, in all it’s immature insanity.

Romantic love is the not the Christian ideal of love – unconditional and perfect- it is the quest for perfection that we lack, the rejection of the lover who loves us because how could they, the viciousness when they depart from our ideal.

What a relief to understand this is normal.

Botton is also hilariously clever, for example, when he discusses the similarity between tyranny and love, or when he imagines what it might be like if Emma Bovary went into analysis.

Animal, Lisa Taddeo

I wanted to read about a damaged – or as she says depraved – woman, but this proved too much fur even me. It just piles horror upon horror, and while it’s compelling because Taddeo is a great writer, by the end of it, I had had enough.

House of Names, Colm Toibin

Never understood how Orestes could blame his mother, but this books offers an explanation by taking us through the traumatic experiences of Orestes and Electra after their mother Clytemnestra – justifiably, IMO – murders their father Agamemnon (for sacrificing their sister Iphigenia so that the wind would change and the Greeks could go bring Helen back from Troy).

September reading list

Someone to Love, Mary Balogh

A Pygmalion story about an orphan heroine, who carries herself with dignity, and a hero who is a fop. This is the first book in Balogh’s Westcott series, about a family that is thrown into crisis when it is discovered that the Earl of Riverdale, who died, was not actually married to his wife, and that his entire estate will pass to a daughter almost no one knew existed. Anna’s situation is interesting but it is Netherby who carries the tale.

Someone to Hold, Mary Balogh

The second novel in the Westcott series, this features Camille, the rather starchy and proper daughter whose entire life is turned upside down when it was revealed that her parents marriage was not valid. Her trauma leads her to follow the footsteps of the woman who usurped her place – Anna Snow of the previous novel, now duchess of Netherby – volunteering to teach in the orphanage in Bath, where she meets an attractive painter, who had grown up with Anna at the orphanage. I started out enjoying it, and then got tired of the dramatics.

Carrie Soto is Back, Taylor Jenkins Reid

I always feel like I’m not fully into Jenkin Reid’s novels when I’m reading them. But then they stay with me. This one takes off on a strand in Malibu Rising, about the protagonist’s husband having an affair with a tennis player. This is the story about that tennis player, a prodigy of Hispanic descent making her comeback. In some ways, Carrie’s aggression, her outsider status reminded me of Serena Williams.

Home, Harlan Coben

The novel is partially told from the perspective of Windsor Horne Lockwood III, and I’m not sure I liked that. Part of the appeal of Win is his inscrutability. But the actual mystery worked for me, even though it went international.

Shelter, Harlan Coben
Seconds Away, Harlan Coben,
Found, Harlan Coben

This is a spin-off starring Myron Bolitar’s nephew Mickey. I enjoyed the first book, but then it started getting a bit ambitious in the second book, and while I read through to the last one, I was not that into it.

Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown

I chanced on this blog, and because it resonated with me so much, and also because I felt like I need to read something other than pulp fiction, I decided to give one of the books mentioned on the blog a try. I’m more than a little sceptical of the self-help genre, but Brown’s work is based on her own and others’ academic research. The premise of this book is that a crucial step in dealing with one’s emotions is labelling them accurately because language shapes our understanding. If most people are only able to identify three emotions – happy, sad, angry – then there is a huge emotional terrain that we cannot access because we don’t know how to label hat we’re feeling. Brown takes us through 87 emotions, and while that is a lot, this book did as much for me as two years of therapy.

Becoming, Michelle Obama

I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, although one part of me wondered what she had to write about, even as I was well aware that she is a highly qualified person in her own right. And then there’s the fact that she had a unique view on Barack Obama, both the man and the president. I was riveted from the get go. The early part about her childhood is a beautiful evocation of what it was to grow up African-American at a particular time in history. Then she met Barack. I knew Michelle was not thrilled about Barack running for president, and I thought it was because of her fears for their safety but it was more complex than that. From the time Barack decided to run for the state senate, Michelle was essentially a single mom. There is this anecdote early on about their young family being on vacation in Hawai at the turn of the millennium, and their baby daughter running a temperature, and Barack missing an important vote on gun control to be with her. Michelle did not ask him to stay, he just decided to. But I loved how unapologetic she was about wanting him to stay, even as she acknowledged the political cost. I teared up realising everything Michelle had to give up so Barack could be president. This was a woman who had gone to both Princeton and Harvard Law School, who had put her career on hold when her children were young, and was just beginning to find her groove, when her husband’s ambitions superseded hers.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton

This is sort of a black version of Daisy Jones and the Six, but I couldn’t get into it initially. Maybe it was the format which opens with a young woman writing a book, and I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. Becoming primed me for it, and by the end, I had to acknowledge that it’s a work of art. Ostensibly about a rock group featuring a black and white lead duo, and the lynching of their drummer at a concert, it becomes a reflection of our own post-Trump times. Plus ca change, and all that.