Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: Serve to Win by Novak Djokovic

Note: This is a guest post authored by Usama Sulaiman.

At first glance, Serve to Win appears to be made of the same material autobiographies are made of. Catchy title, a guy with a famous name standing smiling, ready and confident, all cement the idea of an autobiography. But if you miss reading the full title or if don’t read the blurb properly you might be led astray and end up having a book which is absolutely not what you expected.

--- In 2011, Novak Djokovic won a breathtaking ten titles, three Grand Slams and forty-three consecutive matches. Remarkably, less than two years earlier, this champion could barely complete a tournament. How did a player once plagued by aches, breathing difficulties and injuries on court suddenly become the number-one tennis player in the world? The answer is astonishing: he changed what he ate.

In Serve to Win, Djokovic recounts how he survived the bombing of Belgrade, rising from a war-torn childhood to the top tier of his sport. He reveals how changing his diet transformed both his health and game - eliminating gluten made him feel instantly lighter, clearer and quicker.

Now Djokovic has created a blueprint for remaking your body and your life in just fourteen days. With weekly menus and delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes, he’ll help you on your way to shedding extra weight and finding your way to a better you. ---

Serve to Win: The 14-Day Gluten-Free Plan for Physical and Mental Excellence
161pp | Bantam Press
Rating : 3.5/5

Serve to Win is the kind of book you should/shall find in the Health and Fitness segment rather than in Sports or Biographies in a bookstore. Obvious as it is from the blurb above, it talks about health and diet and fitness and shows you how to become the better version of you by asking you to change your eating habit for two weeks and seeing and experiencing the improvements yourself later.

The book starts with a little introduction by the author informing about how in 2010, when he suffered a terrible defeat in the quarterfinals of the Australian open, he was at the lowest low of his career and yet, just 18 months later, he was at the very top and realising his dream for good. But it is not all game technicalities and diet talk if you are thinking of that. The first chapter opens to the bombings in the dead of night in the neighbourhood of his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia. He recounts how NATO forces bombed the town for weeks and weeks, night after night and how lives changed all around him. He recounts how even in the face of destruction, people found a way to live life, found reasons to joke and smile, and for keeping their love for sports alive. He recounts how in a place where nobody knew or cared much about tennis, he kept working and working towards the realisation of his dream, which after many failures he did realise, and how his diet had a pivotal role in doing so.

Djokovic tells how he was introduced to a Gluten-free diet just like how he proposes it to you in this book. He took a fourteen day test and saw such definite and evident results that he never went back to his old diet. He stopped eating Gluten containing food, which as he explains, is the substance mainly found in wheat and other grains which makes food made from such grains doughy and holds them together and also the substance which if you are intolerant to (a lot of people are, to varying levels), can make you feel tired and drained and can affect your metabolism even when you are eating ‘healthy’ home cooked food.   

Novak paves the way for you to avoid Gluten, gives you motivation to do so, tells you what to eat (and when) and helps you understand your body well while he serves his dishes. The book shifts between his life events and advices, insights and information which he gives you in order to excel on the path to health renovation and revolution. The narration is fluid and doesn’t bore you, except for the recapitulation of how eliminating gluten proved one of the most rewarding things he ever did.

There are some nice things about the book that would make you feel good and maybe someday even draw you again to pick it up and read it again just for those things. But sadly, those things are not contained in the paragraphs which talk about gluten free diet. While Novak doesn’t leave anything hanging in there by giving you detailed information about what foods do contain gluten and which not and a list of recipes towards the end of the book and more importantly, a lot of enthusiastic encouragement which does fill you up to try the diet, the main reason for the book’s existence is not fulfilled. Which is to try and incorporate a Gluten free diet in your own life.

Like the book asked and as a responsible reader (and reviewer) I took the Gluten free challenge. I stopped eating wheat or any other grain in any form, didn’t take sugar unless feeling absolutely dying by the lack of it, excluded milk products and red meat. To give you a good overview, I stopped taking any form of bread, cookies, cereal, sugar and foods containing sugar like chocolates/sweets, milk, curd and other milk products, red meat, fried foods, packaged soups and juices, noodles, rice, and a whole lot many products which contained gluten for a good six days (after which I had enough). I live in North India, and if you’re an Indian, you can imagine what was there left for me to eat. Next to nothing. I was perennially hungry and since you can’t find a lot of foods suggested there in the book for Gluten-free living easily here, it is simply too much work to dig out gluten free foods for continuous practical implementation of the diet. Like Djokovic himself said, gluten is everywhere. Moreover, I realised (during and after those six days) that I am not much gluten intolerant, as I felt more weary during the diet phase than before and after it.

So to come to a conclusion, I would say that as a book, as a recount of a successful journey, Serve to Win is a likable read. You would feel positive and energetic just reading the book but when it comes to the incorporation aspect, keeping in view different ethnic, geographic and economic variation of the masses, it is hardly a ‘diet for everybody’, contrary to the writer’s opinion.

Serve to Win is like a swimming coach or a trainer who motivates you, tells you that you can really swim if you tried the technique right, shows you how he does it with elan and then goes ahead and asks you to jump straight into the deep pool, without giving you many swimming aids. You are thrilled. You want to do it. But at the same time, after the first dive in you realise it’s more thrilling an idea than the execution.

I would still suggest it to anyone who is in for a light read and/or who wants to try something new. Theoretically and practically. Although I liked reading the book, I give it 3.5/5 for the reason explained above.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: Winners by Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel
Title: Winners
Published: 2013 by Bantam Press
Pages: 334
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads Blurb!
When a horrific chairlift accident leaves 17-year-old competitive skier Lily Thomas paralyzed, she must come to grips with the fact that she'll not only be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but will never fulfill her lifelong dream of winning Olympic gold. Meanwhile, her wealthy father, who has doted on Lily since her mother died when she was three, is devastated as he watches his only child lose all she once cherished and suffer through the arduous road to recovery. 

But just as all hope seems lost, Lily meets Teddy, a young man even more badly injured than she, but as doggedly determined to live an enriching life. Danielle Steel is at her best in this powerful story of a father and daughter triumphing together over unthinkable tragedy, creating new lives for themselves and providing hope for others along the way.

My Thoughts! 
Winners revolves around restructuring your life after a tragedy. 17 year old Lily Thomas is a ski champion training for the Olympics. During a holiday she suffers an accident that makes her paraplegic for life. The story is about Lily, her father whose life revolves around his only child and others who're associated with them in different ways. Almost everyone has been in a tough situation at one point or the other, and the story tells how Bill Thomas, Lily's father, makes life easy and worth living for everyone. Once he's accepted his child's fate (after being in denial and having the world's best doctors look at her), he strives to do everything he can to make her life amazing, and help others like her. 

With a friend's help, he manages to build a facility for SCI kids, a project that meant a whole new life for not just the patients, but the many people he teamed up to make this project a reality. Lily meanwhile copes with her new life with a lot of optimism among moments of despair. She befriends Teddy in the rehab facility, a boy her own age and strikes a grand friendship. She's given a new lease of life when her physical fitness tutor suggests she try for the Paralympics and with a renounced zest for skiing, she starts training for it while coping up with school. 

The story's good and surmises that not all lives that seem perfect remain in that form forever. Human lives are frequently encountered by sadness, loss and depression and those don't look at perfection or poverty. They strike everyone. And when it a good life shattered, it takes effort to feel good about life again. Lily's strength and willpower, her passion for skiing and love for her father makes her go through her recovery and future life. Many people are involved in making it better for her. Her doctor, Jessie, who faces a tragedy of her own when her loving husband Tim dies, leaving four children with her. Teddy, the new friend who becomes her soul twin and best friend. Everyone who wants to help Lily are approached by her dad and they help him build The Lily Pad, the new facility for children. 

The characters seemed well-formed but some of the relationships (work and personal) seemed a little "too" perfect to me. In fact, a lot of things seemed to fit in tremendously well and mostly because Bill was indeed a billionaire. I'm not biased, but I'm sure the way Lily's life transformed even after such an injury, it wouldn't have been the same had her dad been a middle class man. But then the book is about the so-called perfectionists and none of the characters are snobbish and apart from what he does for her treatment and building the facility, there's not much "boasting" about it. In the end it's just a father and daughter's story and how they make "winners" out of everyone involved in The Lily Pad project. 

The writing although simple and easy, seemed a little repetitive to me. There is little deviation from the main theme, although it does go into other characters' personal lives too. It just could have been a shorter book, I guess. I enjoyed some of the lighter moments, especially Teddy's dialogues and it wasn't a really depressing book, but not something absolutely profound either. It's simple, nice and gives a good message. A little "too" perfect for my taste, but it's a happy ending, so that's cool! 

It's an easy read for readers looking for a story about hope, determination and triumph in the face of tragedy. Recommended for: Young Adult, Teenagers, Adult readers.

"It's just when we need it most that we don't reach out for help. And I look at what Carole went through and realize how insignificant my problems were, even if I thought they were monumental and worth ending my life over. They weren't. And thank God I didn't. Look at all the good things that have happened since... It's a whole new life."

Thank you Random House publishers for this book! :)


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