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Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year

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Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 1
Friday, 24 Dec 2021
easynomics
A newsletter that demystifies complex economic jargon and explains how it impacts your everyday life
Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 2
By Vivek Kaul

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Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year

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So, have you seen Die Hard? Not the second, fourth or the 10th sequel, but the original 1988 release that turned Bruce Willis, a TV actor, into a Hollywood superstar. When it was first released, the movie wasn’t expected to become the success it eventually did. It’s now considered one of the greatest action films of all time.

When I first saw the movie on the Star Movies channel sometime in the 1990s, other than its adrenaline-inducing action and a David beating a Goliath storyline, what I loved the most was the song, Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 3   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 4   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 5   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 6

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For many years, until I moved to live first in Hyderabad and then in Mumbai, two cities that do not have a winter season, I associated very cold days with this song. It’s only the rise of Wikipedia which told me that the song was written in July 1945 by lyricist Sammy Cahn and the composer Jule Styne, in Hollywood, during the middle of a heatwave, when the composers imagined cooler conditions.

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Of course, over the years, the song has become one of the most famous Christmas songs due to its winter theme, and whenever I listen to it, in my mind, I can see Santa Claus in his bright red suit coming in on his sleigh with gifts.

The thing is, Santa didn’t always wear a red suit. Sheena Iyengar, a professor at the Columbia Business School in New York, tells the story in her wonderful book The Art of Choosing. As she writes: “When you think of Santa Claus, what do you imagine? Chances are, you see a jolly fat man wearing a bright red suit and cap, black boots and belt, and a generous smile on his rosy face. This image of Santa Claus was created by Swedish illustrator Haddon Sundblom, who was commissioned by the Coca-Cola Company to draw advertisements of St. Nick delivering Cokes to the thirsty children of the world.”

Before Coca-Cola did what it did, Santa’s suit had different colours. Iyengar quotes Mark Pendergrast’s For God, Country and Coca-Cola as saying: “Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, or red.”

In an interview I did with her many years back for a newspaper that has since shut down, she told me: “Ever notice that Santa’s suit is the exact same red as the label for Coke? That’s not a coincidence: the Coca-Cola Company holds a patent on the colour.”

Aside from spreading love and cheer, Santa Claus also brings gifts for little children. While I am no Santa, and you dear readers, clearly aren’t children, today is Christmas eve, and I thought instead of serving up yet another read on the economy and boring you and myself to death, let me share a few things that I read, watched, heard and enjoyed through this year.

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It’s a season for making year-end lists, so here’s mine.

Best crime fiction of the year

People who follow me on social media know that I am a big crime fiction junkie. Sometimes I tell myself that I will never hold a full-time job again, with the only exception being if someone pays me a salary for reading and reviewing crime fiction. That is my level of obsession with the genre.

That apart, while I haven’t kept track of the number of crime fiction books I read this year, but given that I usually read at least one a week, the number must be more than 50. Of those, I think these are books that I loved the most. They are in no particular order.

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1) Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby: This is a story about two fathers, with a rather dodgy past, trying to avenge the murder of their sons, who were a couple—sounds like a 1970s Hindi masala movie with a 21st-century twist. Though the plot might sound banal, the writing is simply sublime.

2) 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard: Set in Dublin, this is the story of a couple who start living in, during the early days of the covid pandemic, and nothing is what it seems like. If you are the kind who loves a good twist at the end of the book, then this is the book for you. You will spend years before you come across a better twist.

3) Turf Wars by Olivier Norek: Originally written in French by a former policeman, this is the story of France and the issues it is battling today, of course, told in a very entertaining manner with suspense that even the most passionate crime fiction enthusiasts won’t be able to figure out until the writer reveals it.

4) The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly: Writers like Connelly, who have turned out good book after good book for years, should essentially be banned from being a part of any list so that others also get a chance. Nonetheless, for someone who only writes good books and better books, The Dark Hours is Connelly’s best book in many years. But, of course, he is the master of the police procedural; no one can beat him at it.

5) The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin: Mcllvanney, the father of modern Scottish crime fiction, died in 2015. A few years later, his widow going through his belongings, found an incomplete script. Ian Rankin, reading whose books have given me more pleasure over the years than possibly any other writer, completed it. Set in Glasgow in the early 1970s, this book was music to my years. It has everything that I love in a crime novel, a disturbed, slightly off the hook detective whose family life is going to the dogs, a murder which no one can seem to solve, a setting where it rains all the time and some good suspense.

6) The Appeal by Janice Hallett: The most innovative crime novel I read this year, where the whole novel is written in the form of emails. Of course, at its heart the book follows the quintessential Agatha Christie formula of a murder within a small group, but the setting is very 21st century.

7) Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews and The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz: Two books about writers stealing, in the first the identity of another writer and in the second, the basic plot of a book written by a writer who has died. Both delightful reads.

8) Billy Summers by Stephen King: A hired killer is out for his last kill, after which he plans to take the money and retire. As a part of his elaborate plan, he is even pretending to write a book. The trouble is that life has other plans, everything unravels, until it comes back together again, sort of.

9) Suburban Dicks by Fabian Nicieza: A pregnant woman with four children, who once happened to be a budding FBI profiler, ends up at a murder scene. She can’t give up on what she has seen and starts to investigate the murder, along with a local journalist, whose best days are behind him. The last scene of the book is an absolute killer.

Best OTT crime series of the year

Given the amount of crime fiction I read, I rarely watch any OTT series. I saw two crime OTT series this year. The first one was Bosch. Bosch is a character created by Michael Connelly (whose latest book I mentioned earlier) and brought life on the screen by the actor Titus Welliver. Bosch believes that “everybody matters or nobody matters,” which is why the series has a very strong moral undertone.

Having read the Bosch books over the years, it is simply fascinating to see it on screen. This season ends with a Creedence Clearwater Revival song Long As I Can See The Light, which lifts the whole season a notch above the earlier ones.

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The other crime series I loved was the Danish series, Chestnut Man. It is based on the book of the same name by Søren Sveistrup. Having read the book a few years back, I knew the storyline, but it was still terrific to see the dark crime thriller being brought out so well on the screen. Given that Sveistrup was one of the writers of the series, that must have helped.

Of course, I have been a long-term sucker of Scandinavian crime fiction. So, give me anything dark, which has long-shots of the countryside and very little background music, I am likely to love it. Chestnut Man has all three. Highly recommended, but definitely not for the weak-hearted.

The third OTT series that I sort of saw almost every day while having lunch or dinner was Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which has nothing to do with crime fiction. The brilliance of Seinfeld and his guests was just at another level. Also, I love stuff that ends in less than 19 minutes, and I don’t have to break my head watching it for the next 22 seasons, simply because it reminds me of the never-ending soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. (Of course, Bosch is an exception to this rule).

The music I enjoyed the most this year

In my years of growing up in a public sector colony, one of our neighbours, a Punjabi widower, had a great fascination for old Punjabi singers and their songs.

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And that’s where, as a teenager, I discovered the legendary Punjabi singer Surinder Kaur and her beautiful song, Lathe di chadar uthe saleti rang mahiya. While there is a widely more popular Coke Studio version of the song now, in these days of auto-tuned voices, nothing, absolutely nothing, beats Kaur’s original. So, in 2021, I rediscovered this and other songs by Surinder Kaur. Another Surinder Kaur song I love is Mainu heere heere akhe, written by the legendary Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, who unfortunately died very young.

Of course, this year, my love for modern Punjabi music went up even further, and my Punjabi playlist now has close to 70 songs.

This year I also happened to discover the playback singer Rajkumari and her song Ek teer challa by from the 1949 film Mahal. The song was set to tune by Khemchand Prakash and written by J Nakshab and is filled with the kind of pathos I have never heard before. Ironically, the same movie had a young singer, who was probably still in her teens when she sang a song called Aayega aayega aane waala for the movie. A song that set the singer for decades of superstardom which no one has achieved when it comes to playback singing in Hindi cinema. The one and only Lata Mangeshkar.

In the time I have spent all alone during the covid pandemic, I discovered the Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot. And I have tremendously loved listening to his music, and in particular, the song Did she mention my name.

I discovered two other singers through this year and loved their music. One is Jim Coerce and his song Thursday. The other is Harry Chapin and his wonderful song on how numbing education can be—Flowers are red.

I came to know of this song in an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where Sarah Jessica Parker, who most famously played Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City, was Seinfeld’s guest. In this episode, Parker tells Seinfeld that she was a background singer on Chapin’s song Flowers are red when she was a kid. After Parker says this, both she and Seinfeld start singing the song. In the conversation, Seinfeld mentions that Chapin had died young of a heart attack on the very highway they were driving at that time.

Of course, like every year, I blasted three of my favourite rock songs whenever I could. Bon Jovi’s In These Arms, Guns N’ Roses’ November Rain and finally, Anjan Dutt’s Bela Bose with Kolkata’s most famous phone number, 2441139.

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And there was also Kabir Suman’s classic Tomake Chai. There are two kinds of people in this world, those who understand Tomake chai and those who don’t. And if you don’t, it’s time you did.

The newsletter I loved writing the most

Of all the Easynomics newsletters I wrote this year, the one I loved writing the most was published on October 8, and it was titled The Story of Life—Or Why People Go Mad in Herds. It proved once again that the best pieces are not written, but they simply write themselves.

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The other piece I enjoyed writing was a 2,000 word long-story I wrote for the Mint. It was titled India’s Unending Agony Over Coal. I enjoyed writing this for the simple reason that I never thought I would start a 2,000 word piece in a business daily with a song from Gangs of Wasseypur, and the editors would let it go. They did. Bairi coal, coal, coal.

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Best non-fiction books of the year

To know the non-fiction books that I liked reading in 2021, you will have to wait a little more. A list of the books will be published in the Mint early next week. But let me give one recommendation here as well.

The Number Bias – How Numbers Lead and Mislead Us by Sanne Blauw: I love reading books on how Maths is used in popular culture, especially in the media. This book was originally written in Dutch and has been translated into English. So, while the examples are largely from the Western world, the lessons are universal.

The non-fiction book I will be reading as the year ends

In each of the years since 2013, I have had an original book, a translation, a reissue or audiobooks, published. 2021 was the first year where nothing came out. So, someone said I needed a holiday, suggesting that I was getting lazy, tired and jaded. I think, more than that, I am bored, writing about the same things over and over again. Repeating the right thing at the right time is a very important part of being in the media because issues largely don’t change; only the noise around them does.

Anyway, I am thinking of taking a break from reading non-fiction, at least in the week through the New Year. I can’t take a break from writing non-fiction simply because my forefathers gave me the education and the upbringing necessary to make a living, but they never earned much. And that apart, there needs to be some variety in life.

I plan to read American crime fiction writer Lawrence J Block’s Telling Lies For Fun and Profit – A Manual for Fiction Writers. My next book, whenever it comes out in this decade, will definitely have a few murders, a disturbed detective whose family life is going all wrong, rainy weather and hopefully, suspense that leaves everyone surprised. It’s time to kill a few people, fictionally, and in the process become what I have been reading over the years. Life, as they say, is stranger than fiction. And why should I be left out of that?

PS: Here is wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Also, get vaccinated (if you haven’t already) and stay masked!

PS 1: I wanted to say this somewhere, but couldn’t fit it in, so here it is at the very end. My moment of the year was Washington Sundar, India’s fifth choice bowling all-rounder (or was it sixth), who hadn’t played a first-class match in years, hitting, Pat Cummins, one of the best fast bowlers in the world, for a six at the Gabba, in his debut test match. Nothing from the sport, where 22 men in shorts run around chasing a ball and the game ends even before Cheteshwar Pujara can say Jack Robinson, can possibly come close.

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Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 3   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 4   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 5   Easynomics💸: Secret Santa is in Town – The stuff I loved reading, listening to and watching this year 6

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Written by Vivek Kaul. Edited by Saikat Chatterjee. Produced by Nirmalya Dutta. Send in your feedback to newsletterskatanalivemint.com.

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