Four More

Here are four more books I completed:

5. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa – what an absolutely brilliant and splendid book this was! Very different from the usual, and what writing, so dense with imagery, so packed with detail, yet so very neat! I fell in love with it.

6. Not Just an Accountant by Vinod Rai – I normally don’t tend to read these sort of books, but both this book and Aunt Julia were presented in our local book club, and I thought it would be worth a read. It was really interesting to get a ringside view of some of the events, about which we’ve just read/heard news reports. Rai’s anguish comes across loud and clear, and it really leaves you wondering how crooked we Indians can be that we so methodically go about circumventing every safety measure ever invented! Left me feeling kind of sad, but also full of admiration for this upright, honest man, who just did his job the way it was supposed to be done. Honestly, is that too much to ask of everyone?

7. The Greatest Short Stories of Leo Tolstoy – Thought it might be a good idea to read this. His writing is still brilliant. The stories of course, are loaded with morals, but sometimes, it’s good to be reminded of the basics which hold true irrespective of era.

8. The House that BJ Built by Anuja Chauhan – This was a quick and easy read, lots of things to laugh about and nod your head at. I haven’t read Those Pricey Thakur Girls yet. I’ve read her Zoya Factor earlier, which was OK. This book was a fun read though, and I enjoyed it enough to sit up a whole night reading it! 😉

2016 Reading Challenge

I’ve decided to join the GoodReads 2016 reading challenge this year. I’ve setup a target of 100 books. About 2 books a week is easy, no?

I’ve decided that if I really, really enjoy the book, I’ll blog a separate post about it, else, will just mention it in my periodic updates.

So, the first four books I’ve read in 2016 are:

  1. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book #3) by Lemony Snicket
  2. Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood
  3. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  4. The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov

The choice of the very first book for the year is pretty ominous, right? 🙂 However, I absolutely enjoyed it (talk about schadenfreude!) and the last one too a great deal.

So what do you plan to read this year?

 

Re-Kindled

More than a few years ago, when it was the latest new thing, my niece sent me a Kindle from the States as a gift. Some registration issues and complications ensued, and the little device was relegated to a forgotten corner shelf, never to be used. Not sure why we didn’t pursue it to ensure that I used it, but at the end of the day, it was an unfortunate  stillbirth.

This Diwali I bought a Kindle Paperwhite after much hesitation. I wasn’t really sure if I would take to the device. At the same time, I had practically stopped buying books for both want of space and environmental concerns. The local library was not enough. The Kindle seemed the most appropriate way to go.

Well, the upshot is that I love my Kindle. I love the ease with which I can buy books that catch my fancy at any time, and read them without moving from my seat. The reading is not difficult – I’ve set the font to larger than normal, so it doesn’t strain my eyes. The device is so light and easy to handle, unlike physical books that can sometimes get quite uncomfortable, especially if you like reading in bed. I love the way I can get back to the page I was reading without having to mark the page somehow (the bookmark’s never around when you need it, right?)

The lower price of Kindle books is something that makes me feel better, not to mention the promos and bargains from Amazon. The fact that I’m not scrambling for storage space is also great.

I guess the toughest part is not to go overboard and buy books by the dozen. I’ve been careful and have been restraining myself. But it’s such a delight to have a new book in my hand at the end of a few clicks and spend the whole day (and night) slurping it all up!

What more could I ask for? 🙂

Some Books and a Movie

Brief thoughts on some books I read and a movie I saw recently.

Villages by John Updike: The sentences were so convoluted and long, I had very little sympathy for the main character, and I felt restless reading this book. I could only think: OK, people like this also exist. It isn’t a book I will remember too fondly or go back to, at least at this stage.

The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks: I loved Word & Void by the same author. I waited for long to obtain The Sword of Shannara from the library, but ran out of patience and picked up the second book in the trilogy. I liked this book too. It was classic fantasy. I’m going to try and read all the Shannara books.

Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi: I wanted to read this book ever since it came out, since it received pretty rave reviews. I did like the book, but I honestly felt a bit let down. I thought it would have been great if he had stuck to just one of the stories (preferably the older one). Trying to thread the two stories together felt a bit awkward to me, and distracted my reading. But it’s a nice book and worth a read.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: What a lovely read this was! Gave me a ringside view of the events and personalities of the Wright brothers. So awed by the way they worked with such single-minded determination! I guess some people are truly gifts to humanity. I enjoyed the book a great deal.

Kaaka Muttai: An absolutely delightful movie, worth all the praise it’s received. Everything revolves around money, but money doesn’t get you everything. I loved everything about this movie, from the writing to the visualization to the characters. But what I loved best about it was that there was no moralizing, no preaching, and no condescension. It treated the subject very candidly, with absolutely no judgement and just the right touch of humour. Performances were superb, and I actually clapped along with the audience at the important climactic scene. This was a movie that I had wanted to see for a long time since I had heard so many good things about it. So very glad I caught it!

Utopia

My ideal holiday is one where I hole up in a hotel room, order room service all day long, and read the stack of books I have brought along with me.

Being an avid reader all my life, it was somehow disconcerting and disheartening to suddenly come across speedbumps that almost threw me off-course. For the past couple of years, I’ve had such trouble reading books that I had kind of given up on them. Most of them just bored me. Nothing, not the story, not the language, absolutely nothing seemed to keep me interested enough to complete the books I brought home from the library. I even joined the local book club in an attempt to revive some interest.

This weekend, however, was as close to Utopia as I could get. Perhaps it’s just a cycle that I was going through, but this time, the books I lugged home on Friday evening kept me engrossed the whole weekend. I just loved all of them, and I count them as successes because they got me lost in their world, and left lingering notes for me to feast on.

Stephen King goes to the Movies: Stephen King reminds me of Ray Bradbury, in the way the words just tumble out. It might be careful work by these two writers, but when you read them, you get this sense of breathlessness, the sense that they are just unable to contain the flow of words, they will just explode if they stop writing. One of the stories was ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’. I loved the movie The Shawshank Redemption, but reading the story as written by King gave me a different vision, and it definitely didn’t bring Tim Robbins to mind as Andy Dufresne. That was also the night after the heavy rains in Bangalore, so when I stepped out for a cool walk in the night, King’s words circled me like a pet dog wagging its tail, and all at once I was inspired. A long-forgotten idea surfaced and clicked into place beautifully, and I’m excited to see how that story will turn out.

Running with the Demon by Terry Brook: YA novels have long fascinated me. I am a bit taken aback by the violence in many of them (Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner), but I love that age (in stories that is), the confusion, the maturing, oh so many things. Any book that has within the opening para, this wonderful sentence — ‘His voice cut through the cottony layers of her sleep with the sharpness of a cat’s claw.’ — can only get better as it goes along. Such a beautifully written book, though a bit predictable given the YA genre, yet the ending is so perfect, just the type that makes you heave a big sigh of relief after holding your breath through all the battles.

Bodily Harm by Margaret Atwood: Margaret Atwood is easily one of my favourite authors. She makes the story of just one woman so compelling. You can feel the heat of the tropics, the anarchy of her surroundings, the confusion in her head, the desperation of the search for that elusive something — she does it all so well. Every word is so carefully picked, not a comma is out of place, meticulous is the word that comes to mind. Rennie came with me on my walk last night, and I wanted to hold her hand and say that it’s going to be ok.

I’m currently reading the last book in that pile from the library, Solar by Ian McEwan. So far I like it.

I love that I’m reading again, and I love that I love what I’ve read. There’s no better feeling than to come away with the stain of the book on your fingers.

Freedom

Have been reading this really interesting book “The Underground Girls of Kabul – The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys.”

Though it is focuses on Afghanistan, the truths it touches upon are universal.

One passage particularly resonated with me:

“Freedom is an interesting concept. When I asked Afghans to describe to me the difference between men and women, over the years interesting responses came back. While Afghan men often begin to describe women as more sensitive, caring, and less physically capable than men, Afghan women tend to offer up only one difference, which had never entered my mind before.

Want to take a second and guess what that one difference may be?

Here is the answer: Regardless of who they are, whether they are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, Afghan women often describe the difference between men and women in just one word: FREEDOM

As in: Men have it, women do not.”

Budding Writers

I was invited by the children’s book club in our apartment complex to give a talk as a “writer”. I am still not at all comfortable with that designation, though I can claim to have books in my name! 🙂

Preparing for a talk with kids is always a challenge. The sheer unpredictability of the audience is what makes it so worthwhile. This was no different. I prepared a fun hand-out, and read up on the most popular authors that kids adore — Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and J K Rowling.

There were about a dozen kids (including Lil D, who joined the book club on her own, much to my surprise!), and my introduction was typical — I was introduced as Lil D’s mother 🙂 (She is more popular in the apartment complex by far)

I began with introductions and from that moment on, there was no stopping. The kids were so lively, so full of ideas, so keen on everything, and most important, so passionate about books. It was so heartening to see the way they devoured books, absorbing and internalizing every little detail. They were bursting with information, especially about Roald Dahl.

There was a memorable moment when one boy just stood up, picked up a book, turned to the right page, and read out a complete episode about Roald Dahl in connection with what we were discussing! The kids needed absolutely no prompting, and the hour passed by so quickly that I was surprised.

I was happy that I was able to contribute in some small way, but I must say that kids these days (yeah, that cliche!) are just too cool. One girl had this book where she had neatly written down her stories complete with gorgeous illustrations. I was so impressed!

Every single one of them wanted to be a writer. When I asked them to imagine their names on books, you could see their eyes sparkling with dreams. I do hope their passion remains strong and it would be so grand if one of them (or all of them!) does turn out to be a successful writer!

The entire encounter warmed my cynical old soul. The icing on the cake was the fact that so many kids waved hello to me when I went for my evening walk a few days later! Such a lovely experience, all in all.

Books I Could Not Read

I guess this is a strange post for a person who is such an avid book-lover. However, this is the first time that I borrowed four books from the library, and I could not bring myself to complete even one of them! That in itself is such a remarkable event that it’s worth recording.

The four offending books are:
1. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. This was a book I plunged straight into and I found it really engrossing in the beginning. A few hundred pages later, and I became weary of it. There was nothing uplifting about it, the characters were all rather dreary and just f***ing around with each other, and even that was so listless. I gave up half-way. There’s enough gloominess and ennui in the real world without having to be subject to it in a concentrated form through this book.

2. Letters from a Father to his Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru: I tried very hard to be impressed by the fact that he was in prison when he wrote this, and his daughter was just ten years old, but honestly, it did nothing for me. I felt like I was reading Lil D’s school book.

3. Migraine by Oliver Sacks: I love anything related to the human brain, and enjoyed greatly his earlier book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This book, however, was a huge mistake because I did not open it before borrowing it. Horror of horrors, the print was so fine that I actually tried reading it with a magnifying glass, and then gave up. It was ironical — I could have ended up with a horrid migraine reading this book!

4. A book that will not be named. It was by an Indian author and I don’t want to take names, but this was just unreadable. I barely skimmed a couple of pages, then gave up and shut the book.

So, there it is. A day I never thought I would see. A sad day for me. 😦

Master

If there is one author I cannot get enough of, it is Haruki Murakami (Henning Mankell is a close second at present).

I don’t recollect how I came across his name, but I first read his Kafka on the Shore. It was a strange book, unlike anything I had ever read before, and while I tried hard to make sense of it, I just couldn’t. I learnt to accept it as is, and I moved on.

I began reading many of his novels after that. Somewhere (again I don’t quite recollect where) it was described best: reading his books is as if you are in a dream. When you wake up from the dream, you can’t quite narrate what you experienced, but it leaves an intense impression and emotion which lingers on for quite some time.

It’s difficult to say what exactly I like about the books. The narrator is almost always a loner, a person who does not mind being alone most of the time, who cooks and cleans with precision, who listens to jazz or at least some sort of music, and who has strange experiences. The strange experiences seem almost natural in the book, it does not seem in the least bit bizarre. His language is terse yet not abrupt, his writing is clean but flows like a natural stream, clear and sure.

Every time I read or re-read any of his books, I am loathe to reach the end. I yearn to read more, to go along with him on this journey he takes, into a strangeness that is comforting in its unfamiliarity.

Above all, I want to shake his hand and say: Thank you, thank you for writing with such understated brilliance. There will never be another quite like you.

That Grand Old Story

The Illustrated Mahabharatha - Wilco Books

Recently, I picked up “The Illustrated Mahabharatha (Wilco Books)” for Lil D. She has a nice book on Ramayana, and I wanted her to get familiar with the Mahabharatha too. A couple of her friends watch the serial that’s airing nowadays, but I figured this was a better way to get her into the story, considering the serial takes five minutes after every sentence to show the reactions of the entire costumed cast!

So now her bed-time routine includes me reading a couple of chapters to her every night. The book has nugget-sized chapters that usually don’t take more than a couple of pages, so it is perfect. Of course, there are some issues with the editing, but by and large, I think the book does a pretty good job of getting the Mahabharatha down to an easily digestible level.

We don’t discuss what I read as such, but sometimes Lil D is struck by the unfairness of it all, and protests quite vehemently. Ekalavya was one such instance when she got mad at Drona.

The blatant unfairness in this grand old story is so mind-boggling. The way women are treated, for example, is old hat. I positively hate the way Amba is tossed about like baggage, till she decides to end her life and be reborn as Shikandi to take her revenge.

The caste equations for women are also pretty clear. King Shantanu can marry a fisherman’s daughter and not get affected in the least, but Draupadi will tell Karna that she cannot marry a sutaputra (son of a charioteer) and disqualify him from her swayamvara!

The less said about lineage, the better. None of the Pandavas are really Pandu’s sons, purportedly being the offspring of Gods themselves, and Pandu himself is not a true-blue Kuru descendant because he is the son of Sage Vyasa and Ambalika. In fact, technically speaking, the Kuru clan dies out with King Shantanu’s sons themselves: Bheeshma, who takes a vow of celibacy and so has no offspring; Chitrangada and Vichitraveerya who both die before they father any children.

So the big deal made out of Karna’s low-caste, and the raw deals given to both women and the lower caste folks (Ekalavya, Karna) is ironic, considering that both Pandu and Dritharashtra are not true-blue royal folks themselves in the strictest sense!

I guess the biggest plus about the Mahabharatha is that it makes us think about these overt injustices in the first place. In the end, it holds a mirror to society of that age, and the reflection is, just as life has always been and continues to be, not very pretty.