Category: Book Reviews Page 1 of 2

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No Rules Rules- Netflix: Book Review

No Rules Rules- Netflix and the culture of Reinvention.

First, I love the fact as to how apt the title is to this book. Being a book that revolves around the concept of not having too many rules at a workplace, the title fits just right.

No Rules Rules, co-written by Netflix founder and CEO- Reed Hastings and author Erin Meyer, is an intriguing read about company culture. It focuses on highlighting the culture at Netflix and how Reed feels that it has been essential for the global growth that they’ve witnessed.

The culture at Netflix is about letting go of any form of control. It is about leading with context instead of control. The expectation, top-down, is about how you can let people make their own decisions and own up to any success or failure of it. Whether it’s the CEO or an associate, their decisions are their own.

Throughout the book, you get to read interesting incidents that highlight how Netflix has been able to build this culture. For instance, on the cusp of House of Cards’ new season releasing, Netflix had decided to partner up with Samsung to let viewers watch the show on 4K ultra high definition TV. To do this, they needed to get this experience to be reviewed by a Washington Post journalist   Geoffrey Fowler. Before sending the TV to the journalist, the day before the actual release, they tested the TV and went home. Now, for some reason, the TV was disposed of along with other old TVs in their office. So, instead of it going for the review, Nigel (Director responsible to get this done) was left incessantly calling nearby stores for the TV. But, he had no luck. He was panicking and felt like he’d failed. And then, a junior engineer Nick walks in and assures that the TV has been sent as required. This, because when Nick walked in the early morning he realized what had happened and immediately drove to a best buy and bought a TV worth 2.5k USD. He did that because he felt that was the right thing to do. He saved the day for his team by making a decision without waiting for an approval from his superiors. Netflix is known for similar instances of a no-approval-required policy. The concept of F&R (Freedom and responsibility) is what drives the culture at the company.

While the goal of Netflix has been to ‘Lead with Context and not with Control’, the book highlights the steps that have led them here.

As a reader, your mind immediately wanders to the question, ‘Can this be applied to ALL workplaces?’, ‘Is this specific to a US-centric work culture?’, ‘Not ALL workplaces can function without a degree of control, right?’. And the book tries its best to answer most of the questions.

The book is a good read if you are in a position where you assert a degree of control as a manager or supervisor. It brings a new perspective on possibly letting go of control. At the start, you’re on board with the concept, but as you read on, you realize not everything can be globally adopted. Not all cultures are the same and there would have to be an acceptance for contrasting culture/personality types to come to a middle path.

The book highlights how Netflix focussed on increasing its talent density and let go of anyone who wasn’t the best. ‘Adequate performance deserves a generous severance package’ is what Reed instilled as a practice. This meant anyone who wasn’t performing at their very best was fired. This came as a follow-up realization when they had to fire people at one time but the best-of-the-best who remained got the job done. At Netflix, everyone- the managers as well as the reports- has to take a Keeper’s Test. The test asks a manager how hard he’ll fight to keep an employee in the team. Individuals are also advised to ask their managers, this exact question to ascertain whether their managers are happy with them or not.

One of the other highlights of Netflix’s culture is actively seeking feedback. This applies and goes both ways. Employees are encouraged to provide feedback to their peers as well as managers. The feedback has to be actionable and should align with the concept of 4As. While giving feedback, Aim to assist and make it actionable and when you receive it, appreciate it and then make a decision whether you want to accept it or discard it. Later on, the book also talks about a 5th A- To Adapt.

A range of case studies, failures along the way to establish a culture, and learnings from a variety of people issues form the core of this book. It is definitely a page-turner and at no point do you feel like not reading what the people of Netflix have to say. It is, like the concept popularized by Netflix- binge-worthy!

Worth a read for those who’re trying to understand how cultures shape global organizations and the need to adapt.

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha

Book Review:  Memoirs of a Geisha

If I have to be honest, my instinctive reaction to think of ‘who a Geisha is’ was different before I picked up this book. It is easy to interpret definitions without putting an effort in understanding them.

This memoir changes that. Beautifully, by taking you on a journey of little Chiyo from a fishing village to the streets of Gion. In doing so, it not only brings forth the nuances of the Japanese art, culture and Life, but gives you a detailed view of the life of a Geisha.

Geisha. ‘Gei’ means Art. They are (were) trained professionals who are hired to entertain, dance and sing. The kimono wearing artists start training at a young age by devoting their lives to this.

With post-war influence in Japan of the Americans and English, the ‘geisha girl’ got associated with being prostitutes.

The memoir is an nuanced, poetic and transformative story of a famous Geisha recounting her life journey. Along with her memories, you get immersed in the sublime beauty of Japan. It takes you inside a world, we might not visit due to our pre-rendered inhibitions. From elaborating the training of a Geisha, to various initiation ceremonies and the competitiveness of the apprentices who are trying to better the other. It’s all poetically written.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this memoir does justice to the richness of Japanese culture and how nuanced it is.

And yes, maybe, there can be school of thoughts on just one aspect of a culture cannot encompass it all. And I’d completely agree to that. The book carves out its own place, the protagonist creates her own world and doesn’t let you venture out from it. The world-view is restricted to Gion and lives of Geishas. And believe me, you won’t complain.

Author Arthur Golden apparantly re-wrote it thrice after multiple interviews with prominent Geishas of the time. And the simplicity of the language, the philosophy makes you sit back and think of what you’ve just read. This happened with me quite a lot while reading this through.

This 500-odd page book is a page turner. A worthy read to the lives of a Geisha. Highly recommended.

Book Review: A Flight of Pigeons

It’s a breezy weekend read of just 133-odd pages which feels half that. One of those types of achool-book stories which we’re all familiar with. Ruskin Bond’s stories are always simple, easy to digest and doesn’t take too much of your time. This book follows the same set.


The story takes place around the time of the 1857 Revolt. The same which we term as the ‘First war of Indian Independence’ and the British terms as a ‘sepoy mutiny’. This becomes the background of the protagonists’ story and doesn’t dwell at all into the intricacies of what, how and why of the revolt.


The story is told from the perspective of Ruth, daughter of a British Magistrate. The story is of the time when Mr.Labadoor, the clerk, gets killed in a massacre at a church by the revolting armies as a revenge against the ‘firangis’. From then on, it is about the survival of Ruth, her mother Mariam, their granny and a few others. Fleeing from one place to another. How this takes a turn when a Pathan, Javed Khan, decides to take them all under his roof as he particularly like Ruth and wanted to marry her.


The characters in the book are somewhat caricaturish of the time this book is based on. But this feeling is also due to how fast the story develops. However, it is apparantly based on real events. Even a movie, Junoon, was made by Shyam Benegal starring Shashi Kapoor in 1978 on this.
It’s a good book that delves into the other side of what the mutiny would’ve felt like for the ordinary working class firangis. It brings forth the irrational fears of people during war and also contrasting generosity of people even during such times.


Do give it a read. It’s short but rich in unsaid emotions.

A Suitable Boy: Book Review

#BookReview: ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth.


First, no. of pages: 1473.


While I’ve not read reviews of this book, I’m pretty sure the length of it should be the first thing that needs to be addressed 🙂 Last couple of years, I’ve consciously made the decision to read more Indian authors and Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ ranks high in the list of very best. I started reading this book somewhere last year and it took me a while to finish it.


But, boy, what a ride. The story centers around Lata and her mother Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s primary aim is to find the most suitable match for her daughter. And while this book could’ve been just about that, it is way more than just that.


This is a story of 4 families. And even if I attempt to weave it all into a summary, I just won’t be able to. The descriptive nature of each character, their emotions and influence is stitched brilliantly. If you like to write, then this book is such a good example of connecting storylines effortlessly.


The book is more about letting the character’s do what they can do, rather than forcing a narrative on them for the sake of moving the story forward. And that’s something I really loved about it. The honesty of each character is brought out quite well by the flow of the story.


Even though the book is long, at no point you’ll feel bored of it. It’s a keeper. A keeper to revisit after a couple of decades. This was written in ’93 for the time period of early ’50s and it has aged well.


I don’t have any gripe with how this book is, except maybe it’s long 🙂 Having said that, the book takes way too long to get you hooked. Like, I was almost half-way through it and only then I was invested in the characters. Question is, does everyone has that much patience ?


Either way, I’m glad that I stuck to it and finsihed it. Of course, the lockdown weekends did help and I’m glad to own a copy of this mammoth book.


I felt the writer, Vikram Seth, let the writing be done by the characters instead of a central voice. The writing is easy flowing, captivating, poetry-rich and perspective-laden.


Do give this a read.

Book Review: RK Narayan’s The Guide

‘The Guide’ by RK Narayan is an amazing before-after story that captures the arc, deconstructs it and re-creates it in parallel. Guide is about passion driving a man to the shallows of life, by destroying familial bonds and a thriving business. But, all of this, written in a comedy-of-error way which keeps the humor intact even in tragic situations.

The story starts with Raju, the protagonist, coming out of jail. One part of the storyline tells how he manages his life’s construct post his jail term. While, his backstory deconstruct allows the reader a peek into how he ended up in Jail in the first place. Both the storyline follow the rise-from-the-bottom until tragedy strikes. A major part of the story is leading up to this tragedy.

In the current state, Raju’s rise to becoming a reluctant sage and the struggles of putting up a ‘show’ for the naive villagers who consider him as a ‘Swami’ with immense wisdom, is captured.

In both the storylines, Raju insists that he’s a hack and mocks the fools believing him. By being a Guide, showing him around the town of Malgudi or by becoming the Swami and guiding people in everyday lives, creating a verisimilitude in both. But, this is from the perspective of Raju, the guide and the sage, and does not take into account the impact he might’ve on people and their lives.

A major part of the book is about Rosie with who Raju falls in love with. It’s complicated because Rosie is already married.

RK Narayan is a master storyteller and Guide gives you just that. It’s a breezy short pageturner that’ll keep you interested. If you’ve read any of his work, and liked it, you would like this one as well. As always, the book is a simple read, but there’s so much to ponder at the end of it. That’s what RK Narayan’s stories are, and that’s why you love them every time you read one of his.

The book leaves you with a lot of questions which you don’t get answers to. The closure element is missing and this incompleteness makes the story more real-life.

Book Review: Lolita

I know a lot of you would have heard about this book. And a lot less would have actually read it. For some reason, a lot of people term this as ‘erotica’. I won’t lie, but going by the popular opinion around, even I held a similar opinion. And now that I’ve read it, I can definitely say, it’s far from that.

Notwithstanding the perversion of the narrator, and the uneasiness that this story creates, terming Lolita as another erotica would be missing out on a beautifully written tale. The words are nothing short of magical and weave a story that shocks and horrifies you.

The dark humor at play keeps you hooked on to the words in the first half of the book. As you move towards the culmination, the story does get draggy. But perhaps that’s because your intrigue is limited to ‘what all Humbert will do’ and not living in his head, unlike any other protagonist. Humbert is different, as you’ll come to know.

I don’t want to tell you what the story is, for the fear that it might put you off from reading this. We all are prudish in our own ways, I guess? But you should give this one a shot. The way this has been written will make you enjoy the beauty of the written word more. It did to me, at least.

Apart from Humbert, you don’t get to dive into the heads of no other character. Not even Lolita. All you’re left with are questions. Questions on how they thought of all of this? Not that there are many other characters. It’s all about Humbert and his Nymphet. Or as Humbert called it, his Lolita.

Few of the characters that Nabokov creates don’t appear more than caricatures added to keep the story moving. Perhaps, the centricity of Lolita’s obsession by Humbert is what the author wanted to present here.

Lolita makes you swing between the conflict of morality and aesthetics. Nabokov makes your to-and-fro conflicted with his brilliant wordplay.

Humbert is narcissistic, a paedophile, and out there to only look after his own needs. There’s background as to why it would have ended up this weekend way, but that still doesn’t substantiate the conflict. Humbert as well as the reader is clear on the morality of it all.

Stories are stories, irrespective of whether it fits our moral compass or not. Lolita is one such story.

Book Review: One Hundred Years Of Solitude

It’s easy to get lost in the confusion of similar names of characters of the Buendia family over generation when they all start living lives reminiscing another generation. It’s good that they added a family tree to revisit whenever the reader gets confused.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is fascinating. Not only because of the magical realism at play but how realistically believable the events are structured by placing chunks of real-world evolution of our society over decades. From simpler times with no governments to influx of gypsies showing magical inventions to the start of capitalism, the book is a humangous journey with the founding family of the place called Mocondo. The Buendia family, has their own set ways which has a tendency of repeating incidences with every generation. A huge credit to this goes to the names: Arcadio and Aureliano, Remedios and Amaranta. And other possible combination that come out of it.

There’s just no suspense in the stories. Before you read about a character, you already know when and how they’re going to die. The build up, of each character, is always good but without culminating into anything towards the end. Gone, just like that. And there’s a series of it. Just when you thought you’re starting to get attached to a character, they’re gone. All that’s left with each is the solitude they bring along before they meet their eventual end.

The absurdity is magical. The reiteration of the cyclical fate that every generation will phase is prophetic and the reader vaguely understands that and yet the book keeps you interested in the mundane. You question the mundane and believe the magic. That’s the beauty of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It’s not a page turner that’ll keep you addicted but would tingle your senses when you take little breaks in-between. And perhaps that’s needed and where this book becomes critical. It helps you draw parallels with world developments and society’s progress. No wonder this doesn’t feel aged at all.

From among a lot of things I liked, what fascinated me the most was how the author would take you through a setting. Like, describing the room like a strapped-on camera with just one view port sequentially describing everything on its path.

One hundred years of solitude is a book you can pick up from in-between, read a few pages and still enjoy.

Book Review: The Namesake

The Namesake.

How much impact does our name have on our lives?

My name ends up being my ‘last name’ to those unfamiliar with how Muslim names work in a lot of occasions. Not only that, the varied pronounciations and phonetically ‘right’ way of saying it, does make names sound different than it actually is. Not such a big problem for many who, like me, like their name.

Now, imagine someone hating their name!! Holding a grudge against their parents for doing that to them and especially when that someone is a first-generation American. That’s the central theme of this Pulitzar-prize winning book by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The one thing which I hated about the book was the Cover! Any book which has the cover of its film adaptation is something I hate. It deprives you of forming characters in your own head.

Other than that, the book is a breeze to read. Jumpha Lahiri is a good story-teller and she captures the life and times of the Indian diaspora, struggles of first-generation Indians and their immigrant parents, how they perceive India during their once-a-year India, but more importantly how the name which our protagonist has: Gogol, affects his outlook. There’s a back-story as to why Gogol was named Gogol which he does not know of, and is adamant of shedding off his Bengali origins (unlike his parents) and being an American only. The problems of this cultural identity occupies a major portion of this book by displaying the shift of Gogol’s parents: Ashoke and Ashima, from Calcutta to Cambridge.

Apart from this backdrop of culture, the book focusses on the Dynamics of family, relationships and issues where cultural identities play a pivotal role.

I loved reading the book, the introduction to a mixed cultural landscape and intrinsic struggles of families to remain together. And now, I look forward to watching the film as well.

Book Review: Godan

Godan.

This happens to be the first Hindi Novel (of such length) that I’ve read. I’ve read a few excerpts before and even watched the on-film version of this long back, but reading this book has been an experience that I’m glad to have done.

Premchand is a genius. Probably, as everyone already says, the greatest Hindi novelist. This definitely piques my interest in reading more of Hindi literature.

Godan, or more phonetically ‘Gau-Daan’ or ‘The gift of the cow’ as the translated version is referred as, is ideally on how a poor farmer’s innate desire to own a cow, so that when he dies, can be given away to a Brahmin as is customary. Of course, the death acts as a metaphor for the countless deaths that the farmer (and his family) go through.

The book largely paints the terrible state of farmers in the pre-independence era, the zamindari system, caste system, society’s treatment of the poor and low-caste, the lifestyle of the rich and their own problems and how all of this constantly crosses each other’s path.

The language in the book floats from the hindi-urdu to hindi, and is reminiscing of the way it’s spoken in the Oudh region (around Lucknow) and helps in the transition of the stories along with the characters’ laments.

Even though the book is set in the pre-independence era, it doesn’t meddles too much into the freedom struggle. In a way, this symbolises how cut-off the villagers were or how engrossed they were in their own problems.

I’m still amazed at the numerous stories stitched together to portray the life and times of that time. Godan has been a wonderful read and not only because it was in Hindi, which is another reason to love it, anyway.

There’s a translated version of Godan available and if you cannot read Hindi, you should give that a try.

I loved it. Hope you’ll love it as well.

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

If I’d known that all of Murakami’s work are translated versions, I probably would’ve shied away from reading one. I’m glad I didn’t.

This book has been a revelation! I’ve been blown away by the unique storytelling that Murakami has essayed through Kafka on the Shore. I’ve become such a fan, already.

Kafka on the shore captures the life of ‘Kafka’ who runs away from home at the age of 15 and ends up near the shore and a parallel story of an old Nakata who can talk to Cats. How are these two stories related and how the two protagonists cross path towards meeting each other, along with paranormal activities, UFOs, mystics and shady characters in their journey is what the book is about. There’s so much to this book that I cannot put it down without it being too lengthy of a review to read.

What I loved about ‘Kafka on the Shore’ is the increase in curiosity level as you progress in your reading. The book ends with loose ended answers and yet you feel like capturing the essence of the world which Murakami wanted to portray. I’ve never been intrigued by Japanese culture before, but reading this I feel like spending time in the library like Kafka to get all I can.

This is one of those books, which goes into my re-read list. Loved it. Look forward to more of Murakami!

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