At the Gay Pride Parade, Bangalore!

I spent the better part of my last evening at the Gay Pride Parade in Bangalore (the rest I spent in getting back home in an auto rickshaw swimming through Bangalore’s notorious traffic). The Bangalore Pride Walk was held as part of the annual Bengaluru Pride & Karnataka Queer Habba celebrations.

Some pictures from the parade.

the crowd-partially
The walk.
Under my umbrella
Under my umbrella

Expressing solidarity with the LGBT community of the city, there were painted cheeks, elaborate headgears, flashy scarves, ethnic finery and of course rainbow umbrellas and flags braving Bangalore’s late monsoon drizzle that cloudy evening. Speeches, camera flashlights, thumping drums and folks generally shaking a leg or two complete the picture.

the don was here
The don was there.
the king among the crowd
The king among the crowd
My purple eyes
The girl with purple eyeshadow.
Selfie time!
Selfie time!

 

Homosexuality is illegal in India and social stigma along with harassment of openly queer people are common. Shows of support like the gay pride bring in a sense of inclusivity and instills confidence among the sexual minority group.

Have you ever walked a pride parade? Why not leave a comment and let me know.

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Seven somewhat offbeat things to do in and around Interlaken, Switzerland

If there is a Bollywood pilgrimage an Indian wishes to do, Interlaken would figure prominently on the list. And many Indian tourists seem to be doing just that. With snow capped mountains, jade green rivers and lush greenery, Interlaken and the region around have been  fertile playground for Indian movies – Bollywood started the trend and the regional movies have caught on soon enough.

With fountains sporting sculptures of marmuts, charming store fronts, church spires and petunias in different colors on its streets, Interlaken couldn’t get any prettier if it wished. In the odd scenario of you being overwhelmed by this cuteness, here are 7 other things you could do in Interlaken.

PS: I’d say, visit Jungfrau, but it’s probably already on your list anyway. 🙂

1) Visit Lauterbrunnen

The Trummelbach falls in Lauterbrunnen valley alone is responsible for draining the mighty glacier defiles of three mountains – Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. As a result, in summer, the glacier water melts and comes down with huge force in 10 cascades inside the mountain. It is rendered accessible by a tunnel lift and also illuminated for the sake of viewing the mighty force in which water drops down. Also the rolling meadows of the Lauterbrunnen valley is a sight to withhold.

lauter brunnen2
The Glacier river at Lauterbrunnen
Ariel view of the Lauterbrunnen valley
Aerial view of the Lauterbrunnen valley

Note: Lauterbrunnen is 20 minutes from Interlaken on the SwissRail system.

2) Take a river cruise on Thun / Brienze

The lake and castle cruise on the panoramic Thun River in west-central Switzerland spans the distance from Interlaken to the town of Thun in about four hours, providing glimpses of Swiss riverside life and its beautiful castles. Situated west of Interlaken, Lake Thun is picture postcard material. Crested with mountain peaks capped with eternal snows of Brenese Alps, its turquoise blue waters are fed by the glaciers and hence always cold. A cruise on Lake Thun takes one past picturesque fishing villages and castles steeped in history.

thunc ruise
Cruise on river Thun
thun cruise
Castles like this pass by as you cruise Thun

Note: You can use the Swiss rail pass on scheduled cruises. The day pass for the Lakes of Thun and Brienz cruises is available for a special price on Mondays for CHF 39 (INR 2500) for 2nd class tickets.

3) Explore the old town of Thun

If you take the sunset cruise on a summer day, the cruise boat arrives in Thun as the sun dips down leaving you with options to explore the town of Thun when there is still light. River Aare splits Thun into two and there are surfers in its unruly waters tethered to the wooden bridge across the river, practicing surfing in the waves. Set about walking the tiny alleyways of the city that has 45000 inhabitants and its old town, said to be formed in 12th century when Berchtold V of Zähringen built the Thun Castle.

the thun castle
Thun Castle
IMG_0922
Drehorgel, shown here, is an ancient musical instrument
A river surfer - thun
A river surfer – thun

4) Hike to the BachalpSee

Bachalpsee is at an elevation of 2,265 m can be reached from the First gondola station. Legend has it that Yash Chopra (who made around ten movies in the country, spurring an onset of Indian tourist arrivals in Switzerland) planned a Katrina – SRK number for his last movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan at the Bachalpsee. He passed away before the completion of the movie and the Bachalpsee shoot never did happen.

Views while hiking Bachalpsee
Views while hiking Bachalpsee
Views of Bachalpsee
Views of Bachalpsee
That's yours truly hiking Bachalpsee
That’s yours truly hiking Bachalpsee

Note: The hike can be done on your own. From Grindelwald station, take the gondola to First station and hike up to the lake.

5) Take an e-bike tour

If walking around Interlaken tires you out, do sign up for an e-bike tour. It covers a lot of ground and you can cycle on the gorgeous tree canopied streets and by the beautiful waterways of the town. You could stop at the town center, taste water from its fountain, take pictures wherever you feel like. It is of course, beneficial if you have a guide, who will explain you things and take you around.

Cycling in Interlaken
Cycling in Interlaken
That's me cycling in Interlaken
That’s me cycling in Interlaken

Note: Try the Flying Wheels (www.flyingwheels.ch) service in Interlaken town that also houses a quaint little shop that sells local produce (cheese, herbs and even organic cosmetics).

6) Try tandem paragliding

Two decades ago, Interlaken used to be known as the backpacking destination. Americans that love outdoors used to come in hordes. And then, quite suddenly, it became popular with Japanese. Japanese that love soft outdoor activities started discovering Interlaken and the opportunities for adventure sports. Now, it is more a family tourism destination for Indians and shopping destination for Chinese. There is still a large number of tourists that try their hand at tandem paragliding, jet boat, base jumping, mountain biking and so on in Interlaken.

Tandem paragliding
Tandem paragliding

7) Visit a dairy farm

If you are an urban product, who has never seen a cow in its elements, this will interest you. Even if you are not one, you will have to see how the Swiss treat their cows. The barns are really well kept and neat. The cows are treated well so much so that they are even provided with huge plastic brushes in the barn to rub themselves against if they so wish. The cows are also let loose in the meadows for three months during summer for grazing.

Cows in a farm
Cows in a farm
Left over bread recycled, for the cows
Left over bread recycled, for the cows

Have you been to Interlaken? What is your opinion? Why not leave a comment and let me know?

PS: I was kindly hosted by the Jungfrau Railways on this trip. I would love to say ‘opinions expressed in this article are mine’ but there aren’t too many of them in this, are they? Rest assured, I am not obliged to say anything I didn’t want to. 🙂

Walking tours of Mumbai!

Walking tours are a great way to know a city. Walking tours of Mumbai are no exception. You get to know the city from real close quarters. The city’s character, its people and its various layers are peeled in front of your eyes as you walk along its streets. I took a few walking tours of Mumbai when I was in the city recently (some paid, some with the help of knowledgeable friends in the city that never sleeps). Here they are for you.

The Heritage Walk

Mumbai’s colonial past lends itself to a variety of interesting walking tours. I took the one that covered South Mumbai, called the Heritage Mile Walk, conducted by Raconteur Tours. An able handed guide walked me through what is called the Heritage Mile starting from CST terminus along Dadabhai Naoroji Road towards Flora Fountain and touching upon Kala Ghoda, High Court, Mumbai University Building, ending the tour at Marine Drive. There was a lot of historical information, peppered with interesting anecdotes that made the tour likable. Also, I have noticed that when you go on a guided tour – where things are explained to you – you tend to remember details more accurately for a longer duration.

CST as morning traffic chimes in
CST as morning traffic chimes in
An old house in colaba causeway
An old house in Colaba causeway
Bombay when it was a bunch of islands
Bombay when it was a bunch of islands
The BMC building opposite CST
The BMC building opposite CST
A heritage structure opposite Cafe Mondegar
A heritage structure opposite Cafe Mondegar
The Flora Fountain
The Flora Fountain

The Highest Point Trail at Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National park is the green lung in the Northern suburbs of the city. I enrolled for the Highest Point trek conducted by BNHS. A slightly arduous trek that went on for about 4 hours, the trek takes one to the access point from where the Tulsi, Vihar and Powai Lakes can be seen. The trail also provides panoramic view of the city. Sadly though, the day I went on the trek, Mumbai’s smog decided to play spoilsport and I only saw a blanket of smog over the city’s skyline.

The highest point trek
The highest point trek

Bandra Art Walk

The hippest neighborhood of Mumbai, Bandra is where graffiti artists come to roost. Walk along the tiny lanes off Hill road and immerse yourself in the quirky street art that decorates the peeling, flaking walls rendering them a bit of character. Add to that, the recent St+Art festival has left the walls of Bandra’s villages with interesting graffiti and wall art. Walking along the lanes and stumbling upon children indulging in wall art is also a pleasure you can rarely find anywhere else.

Artwork in Progress - Bandra
Artwork in Progress – Bandra
An age old house in bandra
An age old house in bandra
Wall Art - Bandra
Wall Art – Bandra
Street art - bandra
Street art – bandra
Bollywood Wall Art - Bandra
Bollywood Wall Art – Bandra
Wall Art - Bandra
Wall Art – Bandra

Food Walk

The Vada pav city is also synonymous with street food of its own making – the healthy Maharasthrian bakris and the sweet-savory Gujarati farsans are proof. I got to taste Aloo Vadi, Bakris, Dhoklas, Teplas, Muthiyas and many such delicacies. But it is the dying breed of Iranian restaurants that got my fancy. This Keema Ghotala (minced mutton with eggs) is so rich it could trick your system into believing that it is time for your siesta. The berry pulao (that I did not get to taste this time) at Britannia restaurant also comes highly recommended by the city’s connoisseurs.

Kheema Pao Ghotala
Kheema Pao Ghotala

Where are you headed next this year? Leave a comment and let me know.

Walking in George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Leaving the precincts of Kuala Lumpur and its haze, high-rises, malls and traffic seemed like a release of sorts from the quagmires of urban life. Now don’t get me wrong. I liked KL and its veritable array of cultural and gastronomical experiences but I prefer a small town to a big city any given day. And I wasn’t going to exclude Penang, the northwestern coast of Malaysia, from my plans. So I boarded a bus and rode on it for six hours.

The pleasures of arriving in Penang are only multiplied by the beautiful visual scenery en route – the gargantuan mountains, vistas of the ocean, greenery and the tree rich landscape that is a relief from the landscape dominated by palm trees in KL. I arrived in the charming seaside town and its unhurried people to be welcomed by my host Mr. Henry. After a tiny tour of the neighborhood, Henry left me to my devices. Help was at hand, however. An architect friend Sanjay, took over from Henry but by then I had found a hawker stall, ordered the best tom yum soup I had in my entire life and finished slurping it. I felt welcomed.

The World Heritage Site title was awarded to the George Town area in Penang Island in 2008 by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The architecture of buildings in George Town infuses elements from the architecture of Europe, China and India. George Town was once a British trade post and hence colonial architecture is predominant. The rich cultural influences brought in by immigrants from India and China have also contributed to the city’s landscape and food.

The Street Art of George Town

The streets of Penang depict a curious array of art – iron rod sculptures on the theme ‘voices from the people’ and mural paintings on the walls by renowned artist Ernest Zacharevic. There are a total of 52 such iron rod sculptures present in almost every street of George Town, of which there are about 18 street murals by Zacharevic. There are maps available if you want to take a walking tour of these. A few pictures:

a wall art
a wall art
street murals of George Town
street murals of George Town

a street mural, up close

Temples of George Town

George Town hosts numerous ancient temples / churches – the oldest Anglican Church in all of South East Asia, the Maha Mariamman Temple from the 1790s, Chinese temples, Kapitan Keling mosque from the 1803 to name a few.

The Khoo Kongsi temple
The Khoo Kongsi temple
a chinese mazu idol
a chinese mazu idol
Kapitan Keling mosque
Kapitan Keling mosque
a smug buddha
a smug buddha

prayer lamps at the thai buddhist temple

a burmese buddhist temple
a burmese buddhist temple

Culture of George Town

Walk the streets of George Town and you are likely to find more than a handful of art galleries, art studios, puppet theatres and workshops, gold and blacksmiths who use ancient methods, Chinese coffin makers, book binders, perfumers and other quirks.

a chinese doll collection in a store
a chinese doll collection in a store
a chinese puppet in a souvenir store
a chinese puppet in a souvenir store
a souvenir
a souvenir

Architecture of George Town

The architectural treasures including the shop houses, colonial era buildings, Chinese clan houses are bunched together as a cultural enclave in the town. These buildings define the rich history of George Town and its cultural past.

the famed blue mansion
the famed blue mansion
an ornate chinese door
an ornate chinese door
streets of penang at night
streets of penang at night
penang skyline
penang skyline

Food of George Town

The coming together of various cultures has ensured a delicious variety of street food sold in the hawker markets of George Town, Penang. Taste the super pungent Assam Laksa, Mee Robus, Mee Rojak, Char Kway Teow and Fried Oyster and get introduced to flavors that you didn’t know existed. night time food scene

assam laksa
assam laksa
a funny sign board
a funny sign board

Contest alert: Win a souvenir from Myanmar!

Have you been enjoying the blog? If only you guys talked (or left a comment, as it were), but it’s okay. I might have something to start the conversation. Or at least show some activity on these pages. I am travelling to Malaysia and Myanmar starting Oct 15th and I thought I would bring a souvenir for you. You like?

Myanmar countryside - pic: backroads.com
Myanmar countryside – pic: backroads.com

Here is what you need to do:

All you have to do to win this souvenir is very simple. Go and ‘like’ The Sunlit Window’s page on Facebook. Leave a comment here saying so. I will randomly select one winner and announce it on these pages.

You’re nice and you already like my page. Now what? Share it on your wall and let me know in the comment section here.

I will bring you the souvenir when I get back from my travels in the last week of November. Sounds good?

Ancient temple ruins in Myanmar - Pic: backroads.com
Ancient temple ruins in Myanmar – Pic: backroads.com

Watch out for the updates about Malaysia and Myanmar until then.

Why freelance? A personal essay.

As days drew nearer to my month-long trip to a village called Kalap in the Himalayas, my feelings about quitting my desk job grew stronger. I had been contemplating it for a while but did not yet take any serious steps towards leaving the job. Liberal work-from-home policies at my workplace ensured freedom but on the days I had to go to the office, I could not but feel being constricted inside the cubicle. If I did leave my job, I would have no backup plan on the monthly mortgage payment for the house that would tie me down for ten years. I had only finished one year of the mortgage and nine remained.

Just one day short of my trip, my brother called me with news that my father had fallen sick. He had had a surgery to remove his infected kidney a year ago and now he was experiencing pain in his abdomen. Pain so aggressive that he could not walk straight. He was to be taken to the doctor. And I’d be high in the Himalayas with no access to phone nor internet for a month.

Those were the circumstances in which I boarded the bus to Kalap – a tiny settlement in Garhwal Himalayas. Anand Sankar, who has a responsible tourism initiative in Kalap, agreed to host me for a month. Having my basic cold protection gear covered, I still had to buy a sleeping bag which I did at a store called Cliffhangers located in the narrow side streets of Dehradun. I explored the streets of the town that was known as the boarding school capital of India and home to hundreds of schools. The Doon valley, Dehradun, surrounded by hills, was experiencing unseasonal rains in March.

Uneasy Contemplation.
Uneasy Contemplation.

The rain delayed my trip from Dehradun to Kalap but when I eventually left in a rickety bus early in the morning, for a five hour journey, there were no signs of rain. The bus crawled through the windy mountain roads flirting dangerously close with the gorges. I met Guddu, my minder in the village for the duration of my stay, at a dusty mountain town called Netwar. With his incandescent smile and hair curls bleached golden by the mountain sun, the amiable Guddu immediately inspired confidence in me about the trip. I was practically a stranger, but that evening, over home-cooked meals and the drone of his children studying, we got to know each other slightly better. Guddu’s children, like children in other mountain villages in the vicinity, went to school in Netwar – the only school available for miles in any direction.

The next day, we began a 5-hour trek to reach his village high up in the mountains. The trek, through an unpaved, boulder strewn, steep mountain path made me thirsty while the sun beat down heavily. The weight of my backpack pressed me down and threatened to crush me but I persevered and arrived at the village to the curious glances of village kids who, upon sighting me, a stranger, joined their hands in respect and said ‘namaste’ as a welcome gesture.

After reaching Guddu’s house and getting acquainted with it, I quickly fell into a routine. I spent my days reading and writing on the sun deck of Guddu’s wooden house overlooking the valley. I accompanied him to his field along with his horse to spread manure before the onset of the sowing season. I took long walks and tried to identify the plants and bird life around the village. On these trips, I mostly stood glued to the grand vista of the mountains, its terrace fields, while the deafening roar of the Supin River way down in the valley played backdrop to this setting.

I met strangers in the village and accepted invitations to visit their homes. Sometimes, I was taken to their kitchens, dining rooms, or halls and fed sweet, milky tea and whatever else happened to be on their menus.

I became the official photographer for the village’s Holi festival and, by the end of it, although I survived without being doused in color powder, my camera bore the brunt. I helped make Gujjia – a Holi special that’s like a sweet calzone. Its deep fried packets of dough are filled with a roasted mixture of semolina, desiccated coconut, jaggery (a traditional sugar) and raisins. By the end of it, Guddu’s wife, Pathuli – meaning butterfly in the local language – had thawed towards me after witnessing my able handedness at rolling and sealing the Gujjias. I asked extensive questions about what grew in Kalap and what didn’t, what kind of fruits could be cultivated, and compared their food with that from the plains. I also became accustomed to Guddu, Pathuli, and the other villagers switching to the local language in the middle of a conversation, unmindful or uncaring of my presence.

Lead by the master.
Lead by the master.

In all this, I forgot that I had an alternate existence – an existence that is punctuated by staring at different screens for ego-inflating status updates in social media outlets, a liberal dosage of pop culture consumption, and I also forgot about my sick father.

I watched myself in the mirror, the magnificent hills framed behind the reflection of my overgrown facial hair, gaunt face, sunken eyes, tanning skin, and cracked lips that needed moisturizing. In the cold, I rationed my shower to once in two days. My toiletries bag sat untouched, unused. I went to bed and woke up based on the sheer diktats of my body clock. The hand-drawn calendar I brought from the plains to keep tab of time, like all gadgets up here, also sat next to my bed, abandoned.

Most of the time the loud conversation of the villagers – which sounded like yelling at each other to my untrained ears – interrupted my silence. Even so, the rhyming dialect of Uttranchali was oddly comforting to my senses. It characterized the mountain to me – its cadence like the deep blue expanse of its skies, the whooshing of wind through its cedar trees and the chirp of the birds.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

I tried to make Rotis, the Indian flatbread, without a rolling pin in Guddu’s kitchen, learning the tricks of it from Pathuli.  She said, by way of instruction: take a bit of dough, roll it by hand and flatten it, pinch it round with the thumb and slap with both the palms to stretch the dough into a perfect round shaped roti. At best, I could only make ragged edged Rotis.

At night when the sky was clear, I sometimes stepped out. The gazillion stars in the sky resembled a crowded Indian railway station with numerous tiny stars and constellations jostling for space with each other.

Sometimes I saw raging forest fires in the night – bright orange and red flames spreading across the forest at a distance. But the icy cold night extinguished the fire, no matter how widespread, and normality returned in the morning.

The unpredictable weather in the mountains ensured drastically different days. One day the sky was clear blue with sunshine, while on the other, streaks of dark clouds obstruct the sun throwing out only weak sunlight. Some days thick grey clouds billowed past and a blanket of cold rain came down with occasional hail or snow falls.

All this notwithstanding, the predictability of my life remained the same. My dad’s illness did not vanish as I did momentarily from their lives. He was now prescribed to undergo two surgeries – one to fix the hernia and the other to remove his stone-infested gall bladder. Both keyhole, albeit. The world has been just as I left it. But I have changed a bit – adapting a bit of the matter of fact, yet laid-back, attitude of the hill people.

I knew this couldn’t last forever. Oases do not a desert make. While Guddu and Pathuli secretly longed for a life in the plains, I longed for more time in the mountains.

When I rejoined work, a month later, I felt something inside me was bottled up. Where before I negotiated craggy, bridled, forest path, I now climbed concrete stairs. Where I’d lifted my eyes for tumbling vistas against the backdrop of deep blue sky, I now lifted my eyes to see cubicles and torsos hunched over laptops. I sent my resignation in less than a week of my return. I traded a reasonable paycheck for wide open spaces, fresh air, opportunities, and a financially dicey, extremely uncertain career of freelance writing. Wherever I go in this new phase, at least I will be certain that I wanted this.

A version of this appeared in the last edition of the Outside In Literary Travel Magazine and can be accessed here.

7 books for the road!

I never travel without books. And I don’t consider travelling time as catching up on my reading. To me reading and travelling go hand in hand. Reading occupies my space everyday in intervals as fillers – that little time in the morning before I get up get up, that little time waiting for my travel partner to get ready before we step out, that little time after we order food in a restaurant and waiting for it to arrive, and wherever there is a scope for waiting there is scope for reading. Usually, my Kindle is stocked with books that I want to read during my travels. Sometimes, I also travel with paperbacks. My reading is a good mix of both electronic and print versions of books.

Here are the Seven books I travelled with and enjoyed reading (or sometimes left me with a deep sense of longing). I associate these books with the trips I made.

1. Footloose in the Himalayas – Bill Aitken

Part memoir, part travelogue, Footloose in the Himalayas chronicles Bill Aitken’s  eternal love affair with the mountains. A British citizen, Aitken travelled to India after his studies in the 60s and the book is a record of his time living and working in the ashrams of Kausani and Mirtola. The book provides rich, insightful anecdotes on life in the Himalayas and is also an often humurous account on daily life in the hills.

Footloose in the Himalayas
Footloose in the Himalayas – picture from amazon.in

2. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Murakami’s classic college love story ages quite well. No matter how many times you read it, you never tire of its characters set in the middle of 1960s Toru Watanabe, Naoko and Midori. This book is also considered to be Murakami’s ticket to superstardom. To me though, the book is often reminiscent of rides in city buses.

Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood – picture by beckybedbug.com

3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed lost her mother, drifted away from her family and went through a divorce fueled by her drug abuse. While going through a terrible phase in her life, Cheryl decides to hike the 1,100 mile long Pacific Crest Trail. She subjects herself to the physically gruelling trail and provides glimpses from her life that led her to the hike, capturing many beautiful moments in a beautifully felt narrative.

Wild - picture by grownorthwest.com
Wild – picture by grownorthwest.com

4. Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World – Pico Iyer

Travel writing legend Pico Iyer’s essay collection is about his travels, as the title suggests, in some of the lonely places of the world. Richly insightful and extremely entertaining, Iyer’s travels take him to far off corners of the world – North Korea, Iceland, Paraguay and Cuba.

Falling off the map - picture by thehindu.com
Falling off the map – picture by thehindu.com

5. The Road

If you are into reading apocalyptic novels, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is quite your type of book. This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world and follows the struggles of two survivors – a father and a son. McCarthy dedicates the book to his son John Francis McCarthy and the novel derives its roots from a road trip he took with his son.

The road - picture by amazon.com
The road – picture by amazon.com

6. Beautiful Ruins

The title for Jeff Walter’s Beautiful Ruins sits quite well with the book’s narrative and setting. Set in 1962 Italy and present day Hollywood, the narrative switches places and characters following the life of Pasquale and the mystery Hollywood actor Dee Moray who arrives at his doorsteps on a boat, seemingly to die. Walter’s writing evokes visually rich imagery and the book is quite, ahem, unputdownable.

beautiful ruins - picture by goodreads.com
beautiful ruins – picture by goodreads.com

5. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller memoir gets trashed a lot but it is quite amazing what she did with this book. With a cynical eye and never letting an opportunity slip up to laugh at herself, Gilbert’s entertaining account of her travels in Europe (Italy) and Asia (India, Indonesia) is quite a travel companion. And I read it when I was in Bali just so I could get a feel of the place through Gilbert’s voice.

Eat, Pray, Love - picture by gatheringbooks.org
Eat, Pray, Love – picture by gatheringbooks.org

Do you read during your travels? Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.