“I would devour books when I was younger”

For bookworms, reading lists present themselves with the hope of a well-stocked library. However, as the pressures of work and life pile on, we find ourselves missing the inked mark. Luckily, that’s where book recommendations can bridge the gap, as pointed out by Niklas Restle (Senior Product Manager, Freshworks).

Reading offers answers that are ‘deep, true, and enjoyable’. In a Zoom interview for Freshworks Book Circle, he talks about his interest in different kinds of books, the flexibility of technology, and how reading in general improves his work and life.

 What draws you to a specific genre of books?

In terms of genre, I am generally more inclined toward non-fiction. In fact, the only fiction I have read in the last two years is Cloud Atlas by the British author David Mitchell. I picked it up based on a recommendation from a Bill Gates book notes.

With non-fiction I have been trying to foray into different kinds of books. I spent my Freshworks’ reading allowance on recommendations from our internal book club on Workplace, and now I can say that I have added some really diverse mix of books to my personal collection.

Do you prefer physical books or e-books?

I would also add audiobooks to the list of options because of late, I have completely switched to Kindle. Since I read a lot of non-fiction books related to business and management, I need to highlight what I read to go back to my learning later. What I like about the experience of Kindle is that I can highlight stuff and then export these highlights to read them on another device.

 In fact, what I am doing lately is that I am buying both the Kindle and the Audible audiobook. Since your progress is synchronized—thanks to the power of technology—between the two, I can pick up whatever medium is right for me at that time. So, say, for instance, if you’re in the subway on your way to work, you will probably prefer listening to the audiobook with your headphones on and shutting the world out. On the other hand, if you are someone who is a fast reader or in some place that is appropriate for reading (like curling up on your couch), then a Kindle makes more sense. 

 What books have you read recently that have inspired you?

I just finished listening to Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey, which was phenomenal. It’s really one of those books where the narration by the author himself brings the stories to life in a way that a physical book can’t.

Green Lights resonated with me personally also because the Covid-19 lockdown period gave me plenty of time to reflect upon what I want out of my life. McConaughey has answers—sometimes hilarious, sometimes deep, always enjoyable.

Born a Crime from Trevor Noah is another book that comes to mind that exudes the same quality.

 I’m also a fan of Tianxia: A Possible World of All-under-Heaven System by Tingyang Zhao, whose original title in German is ‘Alles unter dem Himmel’. The system of Tian-xia or “all-under-heaven” is a philosophical re-elaboration of an ancient form of Chinese universalism. The world is constituted as a global unity and a basic concept of political philosophy.

Would you call yourself a bookworm?

I may not in all seriousness call myself a bookworm today, but I was definitely a bookworm once. I would devour books when I was younger. Then, as work and life piled on, my reading habit took a blow unless it was reading for vocational purposes. But now, I have started to nurture my love for reading again and I look forward to reading (and finishing) all the books I have bought.

What’s next on your reading list?

 A lot of books, actually.

 I recently moved to Hong Kong, and my work requires me to understand the lay of the land. I have been reading more about China, so it goes to say that the next book I have planned to pick up is Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China by Ezra Vogel. This gem of a book was recommended to me by a friend (who got his recommendation from Venkat Balasubramanian, Head of Design, Freshworks Neo Platform).

 At one point during the lockdown, I started reading Tuesdays with Morrie by the American author Mitch Albom. I also picked up these books at the same time to get back into the habit of reading: Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull and Leadership and Self-deception by the Arbinger Institute.

Going forward, I have been thinking more about reading classical fiction.

In fact, Tommy Collison, the younger of the Stripe founders, started a project on Twitter stating the classics that he wants to read, and I really liked the idea. I have bought Homer’s Odyssey, which is currently resting on my bedside table, waiting for me to stay awake for long enough to make good progress.