Of Books – Bought, Read, Abandoned.

I read Code Name Verity because my best friend from college recommended it, and I’m glad because I really loved it. If you have a friend whom you trust, adore and admire, keep her/him in mind when you read the book and I tell you – you just won’t regret picking this up. Elizabeth Wein has done justice to the characters, the backdrop of the First World War and her love for aeroplanes. There are about 440 odd pages – a little more than the average page-turner but it is an amazing read! I have no idea why this doesn’t feature in any of the bookstores I visit.

Which reminds me – I visited a bookstore twice in the past two days. Today I had a maddening day running around for my university documents and things haven’t been falling into place. I was upset, almost in tears and I went to this quaint bookshop at the mall (noone visits; a-mother-of-two came and asked if they have “colouring books” and the keeper of books (?) threw a mad fit) and touched the spines, with tenderness and stared at them and was marvelled at the prices (I didn’t have money) and mostly, just sat there and breathed in the fragrance of the pages. And I was healed! Yesterday I met a couple of friends and while they were shopping for clothes, I walked in nonchalantly into the hugeass bookstore, telling myself constantly that I shouldn’t buy any books. But I went and sat next to a girl who was reading a McEwan and I touched the spines, all the while hearing her next to me sighing heavily at On Chesil Beach and telling myself that I shouldn’t be spending anymore money on paperbacks, especially now that I have the Kindle. But I lose control when I see books. I don’t remember when I picked up the book and went to the counter and bought it but when I came out I was holding Cloud Atlas! *gasp*

Anyhow, I was reading The Interpreter of Maladies earlier today and I only have a couple of stories left. So tomorrow I will start another book. The Interpreter of Maladies was a bestseller when I was growing up – I saw the book everywhere. My friends were borrowing it from the school library, a teacher was reading it while invigilating during a biology test back in school. My Chhotomama (maternal uncle) and my Dida (maternal grandmother) discussed the nuances of  the book, I remember, one summer night while having a bowl full of mangoes for supper and I had shrugged from under my comicbook. But Lahiri’s book was a rebound book for me. I began reading it in school and I was disappointed because the first short story had not concluded the way I wanted it to. I had abandoned the book for The Third Reich. However now, eight years later, the book strikes a chord. The first story, A Temporary Matter, couldn’t have had a more apt ending. Also, the short story The Interpreter of Maladies is in itself a masterpiece. I cannot believe I waited this long to read it.

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Ten Things I’m Afraid Of

I’m reading Code Name Verity right now – I’m about 36% done, as per the Kindle, so I have a pretty long way to go. But the narrator just updated her list of her fears and in commiseration, I will put down a list of mine here. After that I will get back to the book and boy, will I finish it! There’s just so much to read!

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  1. I’m afraid of dying without reading all the books I want to read. Alternatively, I’m afraid of reading all the books I’ve ever wanted; that would be terrible, too.
  2. Growing up (not growing old, mind you). Growing up comes with a price; I’m not sure if I’m grown up enough to understand that. I have the Peter Pan syndrome and I’m quite delighted about it.
  3. Too many people.
  4. This aforementioned fear has evolved into never having any time to myself. With facebook, whatsapp, gmail, texting – I can’t stay away from people, even when I want to. And that is frustrating.
  5. Not being able to travel.
  6. Losing my parents
  7. Someone messing up my bookshelf/cupboard/drawers (this is mostly OCD, I know)
  8. Dropping/scratching/breaking my Kindle
  9. Lizards. How could I forget these guys? These vile vermins. Ughh.
  10. The friendship between the Boy and me changing – this is my number one fear right now. We’ve been apart for a long while now.

I will update this list, of course. 🙂

I will get back to my book now. Have happy Sunday, people!

Lady Oracle

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 Yours Truly, burying her fat face in Atwood’s book.

This is what I was frightened of, actually. Reviewing the work of an author for whom I have had unflinching admiration – the sort that would mean being completely uncritical, defensive when someone lashes out at them and always feel genuinely happy when you come across their work.

Margaret Atwood.

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 I began reading The Handmaid’s Tale because it was dystopian. I had finished Orwell’s 1984 a few months before I stumbled upon Atwood, and I realized dystopian literature was fabulous, haunting, maddening. And thus began the journey of devouring everything Atwood. I fell in love with her style of placing words side by side and founding a sort of labyrinth for the reader. I would dream of her characters, of the stories, I would feel for them, I would hate them. I’d find an Offred on the streets, and perhaps a Cordelia if I went through my high school photographs. And then last week the library (that believes in choosing a random book from a list you’ve provided them with; therefore, a blind book date every few days) sent in Lady Oracle.

I had been waiting to read Lady Oracle but not on the Kindle, for some reason. So when they sent in the book, I was determined to finish it off before anything else. However, I have been too busy trying to get my college documents together and this meant, travelling to the university – unenviable journey by train/bus, rains, muddy puddles, sleep quotient absolutely zilch – and hence, reading had to be stalled for a couple of days.

Anyhow, I digress. I have read Atwood’s later novels – The Handmaid’s Tale, Wilderness Tips, Cat’s Eye and others – and her first novel, The Edible Woman. I have not judged any of the books because I was bowled over by her style, plot, characters. However, I began finding fault with Lady Oracle as soon as I began it. The books begins like a dream, almost, “I planned my death carefully, unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.” Anyone who has understood the cheap thrills of wanting to escape her life would understand what I am talking about. Any escapist would look forward to a crazy history that would back up the a first line of the book. And Atwood does give us a protagonist of that sort, Joan Foster – writer of peculiar costume gothics, fat-then-now-slim escapist who has run away to Italy because things are closing in on her, mysterious secret past, many accidental lovers.

Joan Foster is what every girl is inside. Constant madness to gulp down massive amounts of food, and the constant guilt of being a shape that noone trusts and yet everyone feels comfortable around. Insecurity, the need to lie, the unfortunate ways in which she meets her lovers and continually falls deeper into a morass that she has herself created, the need to love, the need to run away.

However, Atwood, in parts, forgets to tie loose ends at least during the story (in the end, things fall into place, though very complicatedly but I can live with that. The woman is phenomenal. One mistake does not matter). The protagonist is complicated, her mission is complicated and the issues in the book are complicated as well. Atwood deals with so MANY issues – feminism, politics, adultery, betrayal, blackmail, religion, spirituality, abusive parent, psychologically damaged kid, body image problems, teenage angst. There are just so many things she wants to say and yet, all these issues are neither resolved nor provide with some consequence to the protagonist. And this is why the book couldn’t be as well-received as all her other books.

Two things made me sit back and really think during this book:

1. Atwood’s treatment of the protagonist. She is bullied and cornered as a child during her time as a Brownie. And this gives in to  a scene where she and her group of friends cross a bridge and they find a “bad man” with daffodils and later how this very man (possibly) saves her when her friends leave her there alone and realizes – “Was the man who untied me a rescuer or a villain? Or, an even more baffling thought: was it possible for a man to be both at once?

This scene is later perfected in Cat’s Eye where Elaine Risley is left alone to die in ice cold water by her friends who bully her. What started off, somewhat unsuccessfully,  in Lady Oracle with the victimization of Joan by Elizabeth and Marlene, is essentially completed in Cat’s Eye with the torturous bullying of Elaine by Cordelia, Grace and Carol. Atwood is elusive, as Michael Rubbo has himself said (No, I haven’t gotten around to watch the documentary; I don’t know how to download it for free, yet) and perhaps it is true. Many, like myself would possibly think that she herself was treated this way by a close friend – left in the dead of the night to die or to be raped. However, noone would ever come to know. Perhaps, in her childhood, she was the tormentor or a silent bystander while all this happened to someone else. Of course, who’d know this but Atwood herself?

2. The book won  my heart because of this sole sentence “Was every Heathcliff a Linton in disguise?“. We see Arthur, Joan’s husband, lose his Byronic indifference slowly throughout their marriage and then, the Red Porcupine starts off as someone so eccentric, so insanely out-of-the-world that the reader would want to know more about him. However, he too descends into a man of needs and this frustrates Joan.

Atwood, long before her success came, had bared the politics of a man and a woman. As the Polish Count in the book states (I paraphrase) that a man has to keep the woman intrigued by his mind and the woman has too keep the man’s interest with the use of her body. However, most of the men that Joan meets and begins to love, as it seems, cannot keep their mystery for long. This of course has happened to so many of us. And the reference to Wuthering Heights and HeathCliff is remarkable!

Because I am biased and I absolutely adore the author, I’ll give this book four out of five stars.

My Rules for Reading

I have a godawful mood right now, and I can’t believe that I’m turning to my blog for venting. I’ve done this in the past, and it hasn’t ended well – I’ve abandoned over three blogs in order to attain the overrated “peace of mind”. However, I won’t vent. No, I absolutely won’t. Instead I will write a post on the personal rules for reading that I have. This is inspired by a Book Riot post.

Here we go!

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  1. I treat books like people. This also means there are a selective few I can befriend; I often dislike the most popular ones; I take a long time to open up to them.
  2. When I buy/get a new book, I’ve got to read it first. Nobody borrows my new book.
  3. Talking about borrowing – I have a list of people who’ve borrowed what book. And people who don’t return my books are doomed to go to Reading Hell. Also, you must never fold/dog-ear/tear/write on my books. NEVER.
  4. The only time you can write in my book is when you gift it to me. I like personalized messages on the first page but never on the contents page.
  5. I don’t dog-ear. I use bookmarks. When I don’t have a bookmark around me, I remember the page number but I never dogear pages.
  6. While reading a hardbound, I remove the dustjacket.
  7. Never read more than one book at a time. I can’t divide my attention between books.
  8. I love my Kindle and roll my eyes like a baboon if I’m told that real books are the real deal. Hell yes, they are! But babe, moneydon’tgrowontrees.
  9. That being said, certain books I cannot read on the Kindle. Like The Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones.
  10. I cannot watch a movie adaptation unless I’ve read the book. It feels like I’ve betrayed the author.
  11. I read about one-third of a book and if I don’t like it, I abandon it. I may go back to it later, giving it the benefit of the doubt. I treat people this way too. If I don’t find you interesting by our third meeting, I’m sure I’d dislike you. So get back to that bookshelf.
  12. I (used to) collect bookmarks.
  13. Always a book in the bag I’m carrying.
  14. I cannot wrap my head around the idea of audiobooks, unless you’re blind or you can’t read.
  15. The smell of books (new, crisp pages or old, yellowed ones) always makes my mood better. So I do that often.
  16. I shamelessly update Goodreads. It’s the Foursquare of books but who cares, it’s phenomenal!
  17. I make lists about books.
  18. I talk to my favourite books.
  19. Always read in a boring class.
  20. Always have crushes on favourite characters and write copious notes on them.
  21. Lastly, the best reading I do is when the lights are off and I read with the cellphone light – the book on my tummy and the cellphone on my chest. I’ve finished many-a-books like this.

The Remains of the Day

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(Photograph I instagrammed – shallow, I know – the evening the book arrived. That’s my midnight snack)

I won’t lie – I started this book only because I wanted to watch the movie. It’s been sitting on the external hard disk for so long and I wanted to know if I should keep it, or delete it to make space for other movies. I have a rule – I don’t watch movie adaptations before I’ve read the book. And now that I’ve read Ishiguro’s masterpiece, I don’t know if I’ll be comfortable watching the film (To hell with the drama! I’ll watch it, anyway). The book was great. And great is an understatement.

There are two things  – a book with an unrequited love story, and a Byronic hero: world-weary, emotionally-conflicted, charismatic – that make me go weak in the knees. The Remains of the Day gave me both. The story is about Stevens, a butler of Darlington Hall, who embarks on a vacation. This holiday is his first time away from Darlington Hall in several years and the protagonist-narrator cannot but go back repeatedly to anecdotes about his time there. He is a principled man, dutiful and has achieved a certain amount of ‘dignity’ that his profession demands. It is also this very duty that has estranged him of his love for Miss Kenton. The journey from Darlington Hall to Weymouth is his journey from his present to his past – from the consequences to the sacrifices he made at a time when history was going through enormous changes and he believed that his service, his employer needed more attention than his own life and matters of the heart.

I was told that the book would be slow. Mostly because of how elaborate the prose is. But it isn’t. It is beautiful. Almost like someone’s life unfolding in a quick motion, right before your own eyes.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I cannot for the life of me remember how I came across Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Not a lot of people seem to have read it but it does have splendid ratings on Goodreads. However, that is not why I began reading it.

I have this habit with books, as with people. If I don’t like it after I’ve begun, I don’t force myself to carry on with it. I do try to get back to it at some point, making an earnest attempt to complete it. I read about fifty to seventy pages and if I like it, I read on. If I don’t, well … you know. I was reading Guernsey on the Kindle and even before I knew it, I was half-way through and was in love with the protagonist, Juliet Ashton – who is in many parts is like me. She likes the men in her favourite books more than the men she goes out with, she still can’t figure out what she wants from life, she loves her books so much that she breaks off her engagement when she realizes her finance has usurped her bookshelves. Ashton is introduced to a book club, born out of a lie to German soldiers, in Guernsey through a man, Dawsey Adams, who has come across her name written in a book by Charles Lamb. And thus begins a flurry of letters – which is in fact the novel (yes, the novel is an epistolary) – from the members of the book club to Juliet and her replies to them and her friend and publisher, Sidney.

In parts, the novel subtly talks about the torture in the Concentration Camps in Germany, the German Occupation and the transition that is hoped for in the Channel Islands. You can see the characters trying to come to terms with the War, and in their own way. Through reading. The book discusses many books, and many authors and there is a moment with Oscar Wilde in it and while you’re turning the pages, you may go whoaa!

It’s a quick read, possibly a great book to carry during a trip somewhere or even sit with a cup of beaten coffee and a box of Oreos, while you devour Juliet’s wonderful journey into Guernsey, her love-affair with writing and finding love.

I’ll give this book four of out five stars.

At the moment, I’m reading The Remains of the Day by Ishiguro and loving it.

33 Unusual Tips To Being A Better Writer

Thought Catalog

Back in college, my friend Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it. Nobody would talk to me for more than thirty seconds, and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours. Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me and said, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.” We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since, but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

33 other tips for being a better writer

Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Here’s the funny thing about this rule…

View original post 1,943 more words

Tsundoku

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I stole this image off the Book Shelf Porn facebook page because… duh, this is an insult to all book-lovers who hoard and collect books and then, pile them up on the bedside table, the favourite bookshelf or the mantelpiece but come on, it’s a new word. People who make words think about people who love books (possibly – in fact, I’m one hundred percent sure – they are the same people) and that is awesome!

Enjoy the weekend, but remember to redeem yourself from all the tsundoku you’ve been practising. 🙂

Of Book Photos

I don’t know why but for some reason I had forgotten about this blog. I know, I know – I’m weird. Also, there’s noone to remind me to post because except for the Boy, noone knows I write in here. Anyhow, so exactly five and a half minutes ago, I put down the book (the Kindle, actually) I was reading and sent the ‘reset password’ link to my mail to be able to open WordPress.

Then, I realized I really did not want to write.

The book – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – I am reading right now has become extremely interesting and I don’t think I want to distract myself. The book, by the way, is an epistolary novel – a novel that is shaped through a series of letters that characters write to each other – and something that talks about a literary society during the Nazi period. The last time I was this excited was when I was flipping through the pages of The Book Thief, frantically. I think I have a thing for novels that are based on the Nazi period and The Holocaust. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, though.

So, I leave you with photographs. These are my books, the ones that I brought back from my college – during the packing and the unpacking process. (My clothes, by the way, are still in the suitcase!)

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The BIG suitcase filled with my books the night before the packers came. I had deliberately put Douglas Adams’ So Long And Thanks for All the Fish on top as an obvious message before I left. However, noone seemed to understand it (Damn it!).

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The evening the packers delivered my stuff. I arranged and re-arranged till my OCD-laden heart was happy. That red thingie is my love, my Kindle.

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The favourite shelf (there’s a less favourite shelf, too) after arranging it. The toys all over it are an embarrassment, I know. Bleh.

Re-reading The Namesake

I started re-reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake last week. I realized that the first time I’d read I hadn’t appreciated it for two reasons:

Firstly, reading the book then was a fad so I read it pretty quickly without understanding its underlying narratives. Secondly, to understand what the protagonist feels, it is necessary to put oneself away from one’s “comfort-zone” – one’s home, city, country.

I do not know why I had decided to re-read it. In fact, I couldn’t even find my paperback (some idiot must have borrowed and never returned it). So I loaded it onto my Kindle and finished it in a day and half. I also downloaded and watched the film soon after. But after I read it again, I realized how I had come to understand the book through Gogol’s perspective only.  This time when I started it, I was reading it like the story was subsumed within Ashima. When I neared the end, I came to like Moushumi a lot. In many ways, I realized I was like her – fiercely independent, running away from her own identity constantly, doing things she can live without only because of her parents. I was happy to an extent that Moushumi and Gogol don’t make it – it is surreal on so many levels; two very similar (and similarly damaged) people can never *peacefully* be together.

Of course, as a reader, I had too many questions. Why would Lahiri make this her first novel? Obviously, the Bengali theme of a bhalonaam (the Indian concept of a ‘goodname’ used publicly) and a daaknaam (nickname/moniker) had been close to her heart. Perhaps Jhumpa was a Gogol. Perhaps her parents tried that she be known by her bhalonaam (Wiki tells me it is Nilanjana). Perhaps like Gogol, she preferred her daaknaam. Did she go through an identity crisis as a teenager?

Another thing that struck me how my Chhotomama has (nick) named his first-born, my cousin, Pushkin. Now was Pushkin a Gogol waiting to happen? Did Chhotomama like Pushkin’s poems to an extent that he could name his son so? Or did he have an incident similar to Ashoke Ganguli on a train to Jamshedpur?

My imagination must stop running amok.

I like how Lahiri shows the plight of two women dealing with this morass of identity in a place that is not home: Ashima Ganguli and Moushumi Mazumdar. And I respect her for doing this without judgment on either. In the beginning, when her husband leaves for work, Ashima is scared and there is a learned helplessness around her character – crying to go back home, losing her shopping bags in the train (and finding them, thereafter), running out and lighting all the lights of the house when she realizes her husband’s gone. But towards the end, we see Ashima has found peace in a place she could have never called home. She buries the hatchet with the country that took away her husband, her son and to some extend her peace of mind?

On the other hand, Moushumi wants to avoid this morass in the first place. She never does succeed, though. From India to UK to US to France to US. She often takes off because she does not want to end up like her mother. She demands to stay Mazumdar after her marriage to Gogol (as for Ashima, I don’t remember her maiden name – she takes Ashoke’s name and is known as Ashima Ganguli throughout). She reads, she studies, she drinks alcohol, she dances. She has an affair to escape her identity. She could possibly never make peace with America.

I could totally identify with Moushumi and though Lahiri paints her character without prejudice, the film adaptation seems to “judge” her. I really could not swallow that.

Also, Moushumi’s lover’s name was Dmitri. I have no idea why the lover in the movie was called Pierre. Was Mira Nair trying to convince the audience of Moushumi’s french connection?

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