Read To Win

What India’s bestselling writers read when they read literary fiction

It is clearly a misconception that writers of romances and of novels that sell in big numbers do not read serious fiction.

Since my long years of liberal arts education prevents me from keeping my questions short, I added this long, somewhat unnecessary, caveat to my queries to eight of India’s bestselling fiction writers (seven of whom responded):

“I know the whole ‘literary’ angle is pretty subjective – so you can interpret it exactly as you want. (You can wonder aloud about the question too, and disagree altogether with the literary/popular distinction.) And I know that picking one book is often impossible for voracious readers. So it could well be the most recent favourite or one somebody recommended or one you accidentally picked up and could not put down. Feel free to suggest several if a rush of books suddenly comes to mind.”

Here’s your reading list if you want to read like a bestselling author:

Amish

Amish
Amish

It’s a little difficult for me to give an all-time favourite list since that would be too long. Frankly, I read very little fiction these days. Most of what I read is non-fiction. Of the books I have read in the recent past, I liked Sanjeev Sanyal’s Ocean of Churn. It is serious non-fiction, a book of history, which explores the centrality of the Indian Ocean in global trade, commerce and the flow of culture as well. It’s quite a brilliant book, lucidly written, and accessible to those who may only have a passing interest in the subject.

At the moment I am reading Sati by Meenakshi Jain. She is one of our finest historians. This is a scholarly book, so it may be heavy reading for those not inclined towards the subject. Sati is enlightening and reconfirms much of what I had read earlier in other texts. And, of course, it gives new insights into the colonial approach to the subject.

Sati is rarely mentioned in our ancient texts; almost none of the widows in our ancient stories (like the Ramayana or the Mahabharata) commit Sati, and there is very little evidence that it was a mass practice in historical times. Of course, the practice must be condemned even in the exceptional cases when it happened, but it is clear that there is almost no sanction for Sati in our ancient culture. And from Jain’s book, it becomes clear that the British had their own motives in talking about, and publicising, the practice of Sati.


Anuja Chauhan

Like you say, “literary” is hugely subjective and labels are so tacky! For me, writing that is rich and layered and somehow eternal and makes me laugh and keeps me re-reading is special, and I have three favourite books that deliver just that.

Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. It’s dark but funny and searingly honest – also thick and viscous and multi-layered and packed with eccentric characters. You open it on any page and get hooked immediately. It’s my go-to book for all time.

Different, but equally compelling for me is Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy – it has that same multi-layered, multi-textured feel. A buffet-banquet of a book, which you can go back to, again and again.

Then there’s My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, with eccentric characters on every page, all so lovingly described. Also, I love large cranky families and magical childhoods, and Gerry’s is the magical-est of them all!


Durjoy Dutta

(Photo credit: Durjoy Dutta/Facebook.com)
(Photo credit: Durjoy Dutta/Facebook.com)

My favourite literary books are, probably, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie. These are the names that came to my head right away. The Namesake is a constant, though. The other two might change if you ask me tomorrow!


Advaita Kala

One of my favourite works of literary fiction – hate labels! – is Disgrace by JM Coetzee. It’s a very difficult book to read and even talk about (so this will be brief): a slim book, political and emotional in turns, not to mention scarred by the devastation of sexual assault. Written in post-Apartheid South Africa, it tackles the reversal of fortunes with acuity and is unmindful of political correctness.

The Dog-Man grows in stature over the narrative. It’s a book that has been criticised and even called racist by some, but it’s that kind of honest, unflinching and all-too-real narrative that can lead one to question the writer’s motives. In its very obvious ugliness lies the beauty in its story-telling – dragging one into the lives of people one will never meet and moral turmoil that leaves one with no sense of who falls on the right side of the divide and who on the wrong, so that one must ask again and again who is truly oppressed.


Twinkle Khanna

 (Photo credit: Twinkle Khanna on Twitter)
(Photo credit: Twinkle Khanna on Twitter)

I find, sometimes, I forget not just a few but entire narratives of beloved books that I then have to read all over again, and I often console myself with the fact that at least it’s all swirling within my sub-conscious. It would be very difficult to narrow down to one particular book, so I have thrown in a few, rather grudgingly, I must add.

Also, I don’t see the distinction between popular and literary. In my opinion all a book must accomplish is to stand the test of time, to be relevant long after the time it was written in has ceased to be relevant itself. So, here goes:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though Tender is the Night has a starring spot on a shelf lined with my prized possessions, I never quite got around to reading Fitzgerald’s acknowledged masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, till just a few months ago. Stunning prose, so evocative of an era of bootleggers, cocktails and flighty decadence, all revolving around Jay Gatsby, a man trying to rise above his circumstances, hoping his redemption lies with Daisy Buchanan and her voice that “sounds of money”.

A brilliant commentary on the shallow pursuit of shiny facades and still relevant today. I also happened to accidentally stumble upon a letter that Fitzgerald wrote to Blanche, the wife of the publisher of The Great Gatsby, Alfred Knopf. In this scribbled document, he decided to conjugate the verb “cocktail”. I promptly printed it out and it has now found a prominent place on the pin board above my writing desk. Both as a homage to Fitzgerald and because if one must conjugate then “cocktail” is a better verb than, say, “diet”.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I did not read The Little Prince as a child but I bought it for my son when he was around three, thinking that the illustrations and the story of an asteroid-hopping prince would hold his interest, and mine as well, since I would be the one reading it aloud to him time and again. The book worked at dual levels: a simple narrative that my son could follow about a prince from another planet stranded in the desert, and, as far as I was concerned, an allegory about life, loneliness and love, all elucidated through simple conversations that the little prince has with various creatures that he encounters along the way.

And the most recent, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. I decided to read Hot Milk as a part of an experiment to broaden my horizons and bury myself in some of the books shortlisted for The Man Booker list. So I ploughed through Paul Beatty’s The Sellout that emerged as the winner, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, and then left Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh halfway through, only to pick it up again last week, but I found Hot Milk very compelling.

“My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep,” says the protagonist in this enigmatic portrayal of a mother–daughter relationship, fraught with complexities that arise out of the inevitable foibles and frailties of being part of a family. It transported me to a whimsical landscape, with its deceptively simple story that deals with guilt, love and obligation – layers that go deeper and deeper till you are submerged in Deborah Levy’s surreal world and stung by its myriad jellyfish.


Preeti Shenoy

(Photo credit: Preeti Shenoy/Facebook.com)
(Photo credit: Preeti Shenoy/Facebook.com)

Here’s my list – books that I loved, which I read recently.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: It’s a course in discovering oneself, whether or not one is an artist. It can be used by everybody, in all walks of life, especially if you think you have a creative block. The morning pages are a superb idea, if followed consistently.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom: I love Mitch Albom’s writing. It is poetry. His prose sings. He is a master of the craft. Here, he narrates this poignant tale through the voice of music. I loved the concept, the execution, the story, the writing – sheer brilliance.

A Japanese Manga novel named DeathNote. I discovered this book when my fifteen-year-old daughter bought it. It tells us the story of Light Yagami, a high school student, who discovers a notebook, dropped on Earth by Ryuk, the God of death. Written by Tsugumi Ohba and with fabulous illustrations by Takeshi Obata, this graphic novel made me lose myself in it. The book must be read from right to left, following the Japanese tradition.

The Tamil Story, translated by Subhashree Krishnaswany and edited by Dilip Kumar, is a collection of Tamil short stories, from 1913 to 2000. We get a glimpse into society, its evolution, the richness of Tamil literature and of life itself, through these lovely stories, which had me happily reading for many hours.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: The writer was a brilliant neurosurgeon who attended Stanford University and Yale, and, before becoming a doctor, majored in English literature. Cancer struck him at 36 and swiftly progressed, claiming his life at 37.

This book, deeply moving and powerful, is almost poetic too. It is the work of a man whose days are numbered, and yet not once is there a lament or an overly cheery tone. There isn’t a doubt that Paul is a gifted writer, but more than the prose what makes this one a must-read is the questions he asks and the answers he finds.

Throughout his life, Paul had sought to find the answer to the question “What makes life worth living?” In the face of death, he finds it. In many places, the book is heart-breaking, as it takes us on a journey through Paul’s life, his obsession about his work, the way he empathises with patients, and how he finally ends up as one in the very hospital where he used to perform complicated surgeries, sometimes working non-stop for up to 36 hours, before taking a break.

Having finished When Breath Becomes Air, I am now in that strange state of calm, having been made acutely aware that there exists a place where life meets death, and despite death having the final say, life wins.

And one final, last-second addition. It is on rare occasions that one comes across a book which is so riveting that one is unable to do anything other than curl up and read and read, till one finishes it in a single sitting. Goat Days by Benyamin is one such book. Not only is it extremely engrossing, it is also deeply moving.

It is the story of an immigrant worker from Kerala who lands up in Saudi Arabia. Powerful, compelling and profound, this book is sure to leave an impact on anyone who reads it. Days after reading the book, I am still haunted by the vivid images that Benyamin draws up, and I wince each time I think of the protagonist and his travails.

A story of hope, faith and a fight against destiny, it also showcases the human as an animal, with all the frailty, ugliness and cruelty of the human psyche. By juxtaposing this with the ingrained will in all of us to simply survive, Benyamin tells an impactful story, based on the real life of one such worker. A must-read!


Ravinder Singh

Ravinder
Ravinder

At the moment I am reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which a friend had recommended. Two books that have just been delivered to my home, which I haven’t unwrapped as yet, are Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

You know, I had the chance to hear Zusak at the Hindu Literature Festival and I was totally bowled over by the passage he shared at the reading. Durjoy (Dutta) was sitting next to me and when he told me that the narrator was none other than Death, I decided I must absolutely read the book.

I know he’s not quite literary but I also love Khaled Hossaini’s books. They are extremely moving. You see, I don’t really discriminate between books, between the popular and the literary. Sometimes I feel I am “a bad reader” – you know? – when I find myself returning to contemporary fiction. But I try to be honest. If I love rajma-chawal why should I say otherwise? I shall choose rajma-chawal even when the alternative is chicken cooked by a Michelin-starred chef.


Devapriya Roy is the author of two novels, The Vague Woman’s Handbook and The Weight Loss Club, a book of narrative non-fiction co-authored with Saurav Jha called The Heat and Dust Project: the Broke Couple’s Guide to Bharat and a so-long-stretched-out-that-it-was-nearly-abandoned PhD thesis on Bharata’s Natyashastra from Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.