Finished: Berlin by Bea Setton

Just finished listening to Berlin by Bea Setton. Utterly loved the book. It follows in the tradition of A Year of Rest & Relaxation but is even more funny and dark and has a much more satisfying ending. I adore unreliable narrators and first person narratives with all the narrator’s thoughts and whims interlaced with the story.

I borrowed it from the Seattle Public Library and finished it just in time before I had to return it. Towards the end, I was listening at 1.5x instead of my customary 1.25x and it still held fine. The last minute, I heard at 1x and after speeding up the audio, 1x always feels like a drawl. But it was also satisfying and luxurious because the final sentence of the book is just beautiful.

DNR’d two books back into 2023

Not a 2023 roundup post.

Just wanted to note that I was trying to finish 2023 with two audiobooks – To Her Credit and Classic Women’s Short Stories. Could not finish either of them. To the point that these are the only books that I picked up in 2023 that I will not finish.

“Classic Women’s Short Stories” is just too dated to read. There are a few short stories in there by some famous authors – Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf. But most of the stories were just too… boring… to read. Ultimately had to drop the entire book. Woolf’s story, A Mark on the Wall, and Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Daughters of the Late Colonel, were the only ones I finished. I would recommend you to read these stories individually instead of through this book.

I thought To Her Credit would be similar to Figuring by Maria Popova, the book that kick-started my love for Feminist Memoirs. Instead, it was just a series of “here’s a woman who did amazing things and here’s a man we want to put down through her”. We need more writing like Popova’s which celebrates women’s accomplishments (or non-accomplishments, like Three Women by Lisa Taddeo) without demeaning them with comparisons. I’m still looking for anything as well written as Figuring.

I’m starting 2024 with a wondering book named Berlin by Bea Setton. It’s very along the lines of A Year of Rest and Relaxation. I’m loving the inner monologue of the main character and the audio narration by Ell Potter.

A journey into audiobooks

A friend told me, when my wife and I declared that we were expecting, that it’s time to accept that I’m not going to be reading a lot of books or watching a lot of TV on loud any more.

He recommended subtitles, telling me that he’s watched almost all the movies and TV in the past few months on mute or low volume.

What I’ve discovered, instead, is that I’m now suddenly a fan of audiobooks. I couldn’t bring myself to hear them earlier. But now, they’re a godsend.

What’s important, I feel, is that I’m getting the right ones to listen to.

I started with My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh, read by Julia Whelan, on Audible. I’ve still not finished it, because I’m really savoring it. But also, because I’ve discovered that I can get a lot of interesting titles from the Seattle Public Library through the Libby app.

I’ve heard Figuring by Maria Popova on Libby. Through it, I discovered a plethora of things to read. The book ends with the life story of Rachel Carson and it was fresh enough (Figuring is a massive book, worth going back to over and over for ideas and a reading list) that I decided to listen to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson on Libby. Sadly, it didn’t hold my attention. I also tried Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, but it too didn’t keep me.

So, I moved on, bouncing from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer to All the Sad Young Men by Keith Gessen. Neither was an ear worm (to me).

Finally, I’ve landed on Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green. I’m on track to finish this one. The book is interesting, the narrator is just enough crazy, and the writing is arguably tight.

I’ve noticed that I like listening to stories of and by women who take control of their lives and lead it the way they want to. The protagonists of Turtles… and My Year… are both knocked down by their fate, and suffering through it, but are able to get through them, their inner monologue aflame with the pitter patter of random and inane thoughts interspersed with deep longing and pain. The women highlighted in Figuring were all pioneers and thinkers and brilliant, and tortured but always pushing, against society, culture, and their own notions.

I thought a few years ago that I want to read more women authors and women-centric stories. I know I’m late, but this audiobook journey sure is shaping up to be just that.

What should I read next?

Got vaxxed!

white and black labeled bottle

I got the second dose of my vaccine today. It was a breeze! I got there an hour early because I had some free time and the person at the counter hemmed and hawed about when I would get my shot. But there was no one in line and as soon as I settled down, my name had been called.

My reward for the shot was twofold – when I got done with it, I was greeted with thunder and torrential rain. Minutes later, as I gave myself the reward of great tasting natural ice cream, a hailstorm swept through the area, with the Sun twinkling in the background. It was an ethereal state and the weather seemed to be celebrating that I got the vaccine today.


I’ve been having a conversation with myself and with a friend lately. I’ve often thought about what changes I’ve seen in people due to the pandemic. For the most part, I’ve seen depressive states, acting out, bold declarations of the future (a sort of mania perhaps). But I rarely turned my gaze inward. But recently I started thinking about it and I realized what change has come in me.

When I was a kid, my parents gifted me a poster that I hung above my bed. As I would get dressed for school, I would recite the words on the poster. It was a short prayer towards optimism –

Today is going to be a great day. 
I can handle more than I think I can.
Things don’t get better by worrying about them.
I can be satisfied if I try to do my best.
There’s always something to be happy about. I’m going to make someone happy today.
It’s not good to be down.
Life is great, make the most of it.
Be an optimist!

That first year when I got the poster, my class teacher noted in my report card that “Nitin is a very optimistic child”.

Ever since, I’ve thought of myself as an optimist, sometimes blindingly so. Over the years, it has stood me in good stead – an attitude of “whatever happens, it’ll be good in the end” is a good way to coast through life.

Two years ago, I discovered philosophy through a podcast – Philosophize This. Apparently, there’s no better way to destroy ones rose tinted glasses than through a study of philosophy. Yet, for all the knowledge that I soaked in, it felt distant – a subject I’m studying rather than lessons I’m learning about life.

Or maybe the change started then, and the pandemic accelerated it, as it did everything else. I believe I’m now a realist. Every hopeful thought that comes about the future is quietly quashed by the reality of the pandemic. No matter how much we hope that the end is near, the facts and the reality of the situation in the US and India belie those fantasies.

My friend offered that perhaps I’m a rational optimist. What’s that? Someone who is optimistic within reason.

I don’t know if I’m that. But I think it’s a good thing to aspire to. Perhaps it’s time to find that poster and bring that prayer back.


I’ve discovered the joy of reading ebooks from the Seattle Public Library. It’s not only a great way to discover new fiction that I would not otherwise get my hands on, it’s also a good driver to finish what I start. I’ve got a loan right now that I have to return in 14 days. Better get on with it!