Saturday, August 23, 2014

Picking Out That Next Read


How do you pick the next book you'd like to read? I'm sure you'd have gone through this predicament that most often leaves your TBR list glaring at you from somewhere.

Do you go with the mood?

1. I'm happy, make me happier!

If you've managed to distract the one obstacle between happiness and yourself, (YOU of course!) long enough to do the happy dance a la Pharrell maybe you'd like to keep the momentum going before bills, homework and things like that catch up with ya once again. My go-to genre for some high is obviously humour, with the added clause of dark humour. There's nothing like a sarcastic fix to keep your funny bone tickling and smirking your friends into annoyance. 

Then there's the good ol' feel-good genre (although the definition might vary depending on whether Hannibalism is you feel-good habit!). Read and ride the pleasant surf till the tide runs out. Here's a bunch of titles that held my adrenalin on an acceptable high in the past year.



2. I've got the feelies.

When you are in the mood for quiet reflection or dealing with the urge to understand the world at large in depth, you'd want to pick up books that allow a glimpse into your fellow beings who differ from you by choice. There's a whole spectrum of this emotion you can explore, from sad to sadder to indignation to war to why is this world so f***** up? Beware that this genre can bring you down if you are sensitive. The ghosts stay with you long after you've turned the last page and you might not look at people the same way anymore. They say reading is supposed to do that, shedding a few tears for an imagined character on paper shows your four chamber chronic pump knows what its doing. Afterall, this apparently makes readers best suited for relationships according to this study:

Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With


So, here are a few tear-jerkers that sent my blood pump into overdrive. 



Reality just not your kind of entertaining?

3. I don't belong here, where's that door to Narnia?

Sometimes, (okay, very often) reality just gets outright boring. Nothing makes sense and people appear too normal. I mean, who are you without the cloak and the broomstick? How can you not be fighting for freedom from the Capitol or over a bunch of thrones? Nope. I gotta get back home where the real action is.

There's no dearth for literature in this genre, so many authors who bring such stunningly written prose, such worlds woven so convincingly, that you wonder why people are staring at you on the train, you with your thick winter coat in the middle of summer, you turning your magazine upside down to figure out a clue to the Lovegood crossword. Its no effort to fall into and be sucked into these tomes for a reprieve, really. How many of these have you read?




Then there's the stuff you HAVE to read.

Book report? A promised book review? A self-prepared must-read list vetted by literary bodies looking down at you through their pince-nez?

4. There is such a thing as a compulsory read.

There is. Quite possibly because these titles stand apart in some way or the other thereby challenging your readerly instincts. Simply put, these are the books that'll make you step out of your comfort zone, hear the Who's, feel the magic. And contrary to popular sentiment, it is perfectly okay if you don't agree, don't understand a word, or simply think they are too pompously dense. Your readerly right allows you to judge as you may. (No matter what they say, people will judge you anyway, so don't bother.) Just remember, this list also most often includes titles that make sense or no-sense as you grow up. The book changes as the reader changes. Isn't that simply amazing?

Have you tried these mandatory doorstops?






You could also use a little trick and cover them one slim volume at a time. Equally engaging and equally powerful. 


And then there's the freedom read where you stand in front of your bookshelf, close your hands and pick out a book. Any book. Let the reading begin.



The one other thing that for me comes closest to this thrill of discovery is the long walk I undertake from my desk at work to the gates to receive the next two books from my library. No better feeling of serendipity comes close!


Do these choices apply to you? What do you do to pick your next read? 


P.S: My library does deliver books to your doorstep. No extra reading charges aside from the subscription. No limit on the reading time. That is the thesaurus definition for awesome! Check them out here - Iloveread and here.


All images are from around the internet. The book covers are from Goodreads. I do not own any of 'em.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Sudden Light - Book Review

Title: A Sudden Light
Author: Garth Stein
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 400
First Published: Sept 2014

ARC review



Garth Stein paints a detailed and albeit spooky tale of an elaborate family’s struggle to deal with its secrets and promises. Trevor, the current generation Riddell who narrates the story, is a fourteen-year old who is on the brink of his boyhood, facing a possible divorce between his parents, being a teenager in general. A summer trip that his father forces him to accompany him on changes his life forever to come. It is during this trip that Trevor peels at the layers his family hides behind, of promises made, forbidden love long lost, evil selfish schemes being hatched and a big chunk of inheritance holding up the equation.

Can Trevor make the right choices that would lead his parents to stay together and his family to finally find some respite from the ghosts that have been haunting them for generations? (Pun intended)

This is a review of the ARC I received from the publisher on NetGalley. The book is set to hit stores on September 30th, 2014. This review contains spoilers. Only ye of the brave heart that can tolerate them shall venture further :) All the other ye's can hang around at the pub, have a couple of drinks and come back later.

What worked for me

1 - Language and narration – Both terrific. Stein writes intelligent and evocative prose that hooks you right in. There are no unnecessary ramblings and the multiple narrative tools (dreams and letters aside from the narrator) do much to ease your reading experience. There’s no trouble being engrossed.
2 - Characterization – Trevor was delightfully reasonable amidst the horde of teenage boy characters being portrayed as souls in the singular pursuit of achieving an erection. Trevor likes to play detective and he is smart enough to snoop around and piece things together. A huge plus. The other characters fill in as required. They are quite fixed in their roles but their dimensionality does not affect the genre framework so no issues there. (I’ll pick a bone later around this.*)
3 - Logic, Pacing and Ending – The plot flows neatly from start to end with the various points of view accounted for satisfactorily. There was one shocking element in the climax that added to the overall effect and sealed the deal. Good job!

What did not work for me

1 - Serena* – Why did Serena have to be portrayed as an incestuous personality? Wasn't she already effective in her diabolical, manipulative role? It would've still worked if she had been one of those relatives who take to extreme measures to ensure they get what they want. Murderous, I could've handled. But incestuous? Hmmm…

2 - Trevor being a little too mature – At times, when the narrative gets going, you forget that the older Trevor is telling you the story. A few minor details don’t sit well in that aspect. For example, at one point he says he has read enough Kafka to understand the goings-on. Fourteen-year-olds drunk on Kafka? Stein does have him dismissing his speculations now and then reasoning that he is just a kid and he doesn't have the life experience to understand the situation – the equilibrium isn't quite achieved. But, minor thorn really.

Verdict
Intelligent writing that packs emotion, thrill and mystery throughout.

Rating

4/5

Off-Shoot Contemplation

This book runs on the strong theme that over-exploitation of a resource is leading to a loss of balance in nature thereby suggesting that what we take must be returned to the source to replenish it.  While I agree with this idea, (it makes sense to maintain a source so it can still remain a source) I am not very sure about certain arguments presented in the book. For one, the blame placed on Elijah for having been the sole perpetrator of such an uneven give and take. The extravagant North Estate with its palatial construction does scream unfairness, but there are instances when Ben and others object to trees being cut down at all (to be used to lay rail-roads for example).

Let’s think about this for a moment. Does that mean trees cannot be used at all for any purpose whatsoever? How about for building homes? Or furniture? Or as logs for fireplaces? Even if we go by the logic that what is taken must in due time be returned, with the turn of the century and the increase in population, wouldn't it only be logical that consumption has gone up? Post the 1900s with the improvements in medicine and therapy, population keeps growing steadily. How then would it be possible to force equilibrium when most of the world is forever constantly consuming? How do you decide who gets to use something and who doesn't?

Returning the North Estate to the forest floor might be a whim that serves as a metaphor for the general idea but I do not think it is a workable system in general. Resources are diverse and population has long gone beyond a point of no-return. One family assuaging their guilt over what they consumed centuries ago is not the solution. The Estate eventually gets turned into a park, but what would happen ten years down the line, when people from the city move to the countryside because of over-crowding?

These are just a few questions that I had, while reading about the whole exploitation argument. It seemed like a lopsided prescription that does not account for the practicality of human habitation. I'm not saying reclamation is wrong. I'm just saying blatant returns are not the right way to go about piecing the planet together.

What do you think?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This Week In Books - 17th May

Its been a stinking bout of reading for me...not many titles that knocked my socks off this past month...but a bookworm just soldiers on doesn't she? Let me wrap up my reads from last week...

1. How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Publication: Viking Adult
Pages: 240
First published: 2011

Well, after that jump start, with the mugging initiating some changes the book takes a nosedive and becomes a complete bore fest. Probably because we have two kinds of old people complaining about their lives in two different ways, one middle-aged character going through a mediocre-level middle-life crisis, an adulterer and his psycho wife, a mistress and her failed attempt at a remodelling contract -all of them written in a way that does nothing to make you feel anything towards the characters.
Beyond a point I couldn't care less about what happened to them. Peace out!




2. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi 
Publication: Riverhead
Pages: 308
First published: 2014

This book was quite disappointing given that it has garnered terrific support in book circles. I think the 'Snow White re-telling' tag used to sell it only increased my disregard for it. I didn't outright hate it, it does have some bouts of superb writing but those clash with some really bland and illogical parts that don't make the end result satisfying. The plot deals with racism primarily, how prejudice against colored people worked in the time period this book is set in and for such a serious issue, neither the exploration nor development of characters did any justice to the points of view they were entrusted with. 

Snow just became a ruse after a point, Boy became unreasonable without solid backing and hence boring, Bird was just annoying and not quite drawn out well. I expected better.








3. Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim
Publication: Picador India
Pages: 248
First published: 2013

Which is why this book was a life-saver! A redeemer of bookwormly faith. My word the dark humour. I loved every page of it. We have one more terrific Indian writer on the scene and I couldn't be happier. 

Salim deals cheek, wit and sarcasm with an expert hand and it is the Indianness of this book that makes it brilliant and super-enjoyable. Mine was a library copy but I fully intend to buy my own and mark the hell out of those lines! Two thumbs-up dear author. Looking forward to reading more from you. 


4. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Publication: Scribner
Pages: 368
First published: 1993

So this book won a Pulitzer and comes from the author who wrote Brokeback Mountain which is a short story/novella that was developed into the movie. I love that movie, Gyllenhall and Ledger acted the crap out of it and I was only super excited to read a novel by the same author. 

I began reading like this.


It was nice to start with.Then came this weird kind of writing and punctuation...one that makes you think someone wrote the lines and cut it all up and when they put it together a lot of words went missing. And this wasn't even with good reason. I understand the urge behind complex prose. You use big words and try expressing big ideas that take a couple of reads to get through...that's fine. But missing words in between deliberately, writing like its a gimmick, making me wonder if you are hiding in my closet sniggering at my annoyance...that's just rude. I ploughed through to 50 pages. And then I did what most people seem to have done with this book.

We hear ya Bradley...
I wanted to burn this book, but you know...library copy and all that.


Coming to my current reads. After that mostly unsatisfactory list, save for Vanity Bagh, I really wish I could find my pace and bliss again amidst written pages. One of my Goodreads friends recommended this book:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


The author herself calls it a re-telling of Cinderella, except Cinder is a cyborg machine. Sounds awesome. Let's see.

I also have Lisa See's China Dolls on my list this week. Its an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) and the book hits the market in June. I like what I've read so far. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

This Week In Books - 07th May

This is technically last week's post but I'm bending some boundaries here and posting a late-last-week, mid-this-week update. Maybe I've been time travelling and have lost my grip on the here and the now. Keep guessing! Here's the fare...let me know how I fared. (See what I did there? Bwahaha)

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Publication: Bloomsbury
Pages: 324
First published: 2003

I finished this book as promised. Another moving, gripping read from Hosseini that details the spoils of the wars in Afghanistan, if I may describe it thus. Hosseini tends to employ the drama tactic to deliver his stories and I felt they kind of did a backfire on him in this book because they came across as a little too forced/contrived at times. He didn't have to quite literally point out certain cause and effects or hint openly at a karmic or character conclusion for a touch of showmanship. I'm glad I read his second book first (A Thousand Splendid Suns) because the narrative in that one was more rounded and gut-wrenching that this one. 

The plot has many gaping holes, a few convenient elements and conclusions but it is once again a peep into the dark quite recent history that runs through Hosseini's home country and that is never a joke, no matter how you commercialize it. Give this one a shot if you'd like to know the background behind those far-away names you heard on the news now and then.

Moving on...

2. How It All Began by Penelope Lively
Publication: Viking Adult
Pages: 240
First published: 2011

This one was on my TBR list for quite some time and I finally decided to get to it. It is loosely based on the chaos theory, how some small incident can trigger changes in many lives completely at random, or otherwise. The story sort of begins off with such a random incident but after that it dives head along into the lives of the characters it deals with so chaos is free to retire. I didn't quite get the need to lay stress on this incident that kicks off the book, as opposed to causing a domino effect. I'm still reading this one so maybe fate turns up later too. We'll see.

So far the characters have been okay, none of them have left a lasting impression on me save for Anton and his English lessons. Everyone else comes off either as too detached and bent upon screwing their lives or too obsessed with being illogical. The narrative tries too hard to make a point and its gotten a little boring right now. Hopefully, I can chug through to the end. Fingers crossed.


3. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Publication: Riverhead
Pages: 308
First published: 2014

Ah this book. This is one of those refreshing reads that turn up just when you need them. My list has been quite heavy and dragging for the past couple of weeks and this is a welcome break.

Boy, Snow, Bird is the story of a girl named Boy (Bingo!), who runs away from her abusive father. How her life unfolds from that point onwards is the plot. The narrative, the language and the wit are delicious! Boy is a teenager when the book opens and you expect her to be dodgy and whiny but she becomes intriguing instead with a detached air that draws you in. When she runs away she is twenty and a bit of a drawl, she is one of those goth-characters who can either be super-mysterious or super-annoying, but Oyeyemi toys the line with such panache and control you keep reading on. Its a thrilling read with an ominous tone and I am loving it. Can't wait to read what happens next. 

Will keep ya posted. I'm doing this as a buddy read for May with Emily on Goodreads.


4. Vanity Bagh by Anees Salim
Publication: Picador India
Pages: 248
First published: 2013

And we come to the 4th book I am reading for this week, one by an indigenous author, and one that rightly merits The Hindu Literary Award that it won earlier this year. 

Salim's book is out and out regional.The language, the dry humour, the satire - they are done with a causal flair that pulls you into the book and if you like me read on the train, will make you laugh like an isolated loony. This is well on its way to being one of the best reads this year for me. More on this next week. For now, I leave you with one of those quotes that left me shaking with mirth. 

"Pather Pranklin frayed and frayed and 
balked and balked around the free.
- Ghulam Chacha (1902-2007)"


I mean there is a tree in this book, named Franklin really. SOLD!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This Week In Books - 26th April

This was a terribly sluggish reading week. Tch tch tch. I was able to complete only Jeffrey Archer's first Clifton fare and float lazily through the second, halfway. Work enslaved me. I was cornered...I was helpless...I was...who am I kidding? This was just one of those weeks when reader's block sets in and boy did it set in big time. Check out the stats below.



1. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton #1)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 388
First Published: 2011

The Clifton Chronicles is an elaborate story panning the lives of the Cliftons and the Barringtons primarily, detailing the inevitable ways in which their families are intertwined. The first book is set in England and follows young Harry Clifton as he goes through school, and becomes best friends with Giles Barrington. There are a dozen characters who pop in and out, sometimes a little too conveniently but Archer keeps confusion at bay. I liked the neat and comfortably paced narrative in the beginning but soon after it becomes completely 'tell' and not 'show' which quickly led me to boredom.

If Archer had let his characters develop in our eyes (like Kane and Abel) this series would be engaging. Instead you listen to him place characters in a square and it becomes very easy to predict outcomes. By the end of the first book, the 'pow' factor becomes merely cliché. But I decided to go ahead with the second volume.

Maybe it gets better?




2. The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton #2)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 352
First Published: 2012

Yes it does. I meant the cliché. It gets super strong and takes over the entire book.
So we have Harry sailing off to the United States and being arrested for murder because he assumed a different name. (I thought the reason was slim.) But fear not for he is a character in the Clifton series and he shall prosper, and quite extra-ordinarily at that, even in jail. He shall find a con-friend moments after being sentenced, the jolly good fellow giving him a 101 crash course to prison life in about one hour post which Harry gets the better of an a*hole warden and rises to the top by tricking the warden with his recollection of codes from the prison handbook. So, overnight he is a convict superhero!


If you think that's a little illogical, get this - Giles can't joint the army because he is colorblind and his crazy grandfathers judge him for it. They actually say he is just like his father, which hurts him so bad he walks into a different enlistment camp, joins the army and in a matter of a few pages, gets promoted multiple times, gets selected for special training, leads his platoon in two face-downs with the enemy, is captured as a PoW, goes to Germany, recuperates from his wounds, learns German, plots an escape plan towards which becomes a star-waiter (by recalling what his butler used to do at home), fools an entire group of officers, the leader being a dangerous, intelligent man, and escapes to Switzerland!



Yep. And I haven't even told you how the third superhero, Emma becomes a waitress...


Okay! I hear ya. I dared to wonder this morning about giving the third volume a chance but then read in the news about a scheduled fifth volume and I'm done. I don't want to read about the incredible Cliftons any longer. My guess is Archer will prolong the series until present day when it can be confirmed via DNA analysis that Harry is a Clifton and not a Barrington. So long fellas!

Anyone out there who has read till the current volume and still loving it?


3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Publication: Bloomsbury
Pages: 324
First published: 2003

I just began reading The Kite Runner. Mr. Hosseini knows exactly how to make you cry. My starting point into his modest back-list was A Thousand Splendid Suns which left me speechless.

I shed a few tears.

Gracefully like this...


  or maybe like this....well...you'll never know!




The writing was grim and evocative, atleast in my opinion. The book was not without flaws, I'll admit. Anyway, my point is after reading that book, I wanted to read more Hosseini so here I am. This one is a picking up a bit slow and does have its share of 'telling' and not 'showing' but its building up nicely. Fingers crossed. Hoping to finish it in time for next week' post.


Friday, April 18, 2014

This Week In Books - 18th April '14

So this week I had the privilege of reviewing a brilliantly written novel that is coming out in the last week of April, I chucked yet another Atwood and picked up the first volume in the Clifton Chronicles once again for a re-read.


1. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Publisher : Hogarth
Pages: 352
Expected DoP: April 29th

The plot follows the life of Ephram Jennings and his childhood love Ruby. The two are driven apart by life, circumstances and prejudices. In a roundabout arc they find their way back to each other but neither is the same as when they were young. Will Ephram let her slip away once again?

Cynthia Bond is a writing force to reckon with. She crafts her characters with such strong authenticity, they leap out of the pages at you. The differences and outright bias that they extend towards each other makes you want to grab them by the ears and knock sense into them. This is a haunting tale, gruesome at times and cruel at others, compassion and love fighting for a chance against life's overpowering bullies. The narration will make you furious and sad, anything but ignore it.

The plot is set in a time when racial prejudice against people of black ancestry was at a peak in the Americas. The language slang is perfect and rings out musical, swears and all. Aside from that there is also a supernatural element running throughout, serving as the sole motivation for certain characters actually, that to me was a sore distraction at times. You might like it. Give this book a shot when it comes out and let me know if you think the voodoo is what makes it awesome.

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 324
First published: 1986

I am not an Atwood fan. There, I finally admitted it out loud. Boy did I try to read her. I first failed with The Robber Bride and now this. My full-strength ploughing with the text did not help one bit.

My chief problem was the writing style. Atwood is a heavily acclaimed writer, beloved by many. It doesn't help the fact that I find her works absolutely unreadable. In a bookworm's world this makes me equivalent to the geeky nerd who steps into a new school in a new city neighbourhood, made to order bait dangling in front of all available bullies. Can't help. I still can't read her. Her sentences, especially this one Offred's make me want to pull my hair out. They sound like jumbles left out there to make whatever sense you'd like to make out of them. Perhaps in about 20years I'll have the patience to read one more page of this book and not swear the place down, but for the present, I chucked it and I chucked it hard. Too many books to read on the TBR to spend time swearing at just one.

For those adventurous souls out there, brave enough to want to give this book a shot, the plot is kinda terrific and spooky. It is about a possible future time when the government (of course the standard American government) is overthrown by religious extremists who have interpreted religion to their convenience and in general use women as child-bearing devices. Women basically get to do nothing, under fear of existence. The mere notion that Atwood made a fictional hypothesis (double negative, I know) of such a situation befalling women yet again, is super scary and if only she had chosen to write it straight, I'd have given it a shot. Check it out. Let me know if YOU like it!

Another version of this rant appears on my Goodreads page here.

3. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

After a double whammy of heavy reading with Ruby and my failed attempt with Atwood, I chose to turn to good 'ol Archer for some light reading. While not path-breaking Archer does write crisp, fast-paced and engaging stories. I'm re-reading the 1st instalment while the other three stare at me tauntingly from my bookshelf. This should be an easy read. Only time will tell...(see what I did there?)







Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prisoner, Jailer, Prime Minister - Book Review

Prisoner, Jailor, Prime Minister is the latest thriller to hit the Indian reading market, written by Tabrik C and published by the house of Hachette. It is also one of those reads that has disappointed me greatly in recent times. The blurb makes the book sound ominous and interesting and given India's current dynamic political situation, makes you hope for a terrific reprieve that you would want to apply to reality. The book delivers nothing of that kind. It does tempt you with a terrific first chapter that introduces a maverick Prime Minister, Siddhartha Tagore who arrives to take his oath of office literally with a bang. You expect him to turn the country inside out and all enemies flying...perhaps he does in another imaginary version of the book but in this version Siddhartha lives, or should I say floats deliriously in his past while people and things continue to exist and happen without any logical reason or meaning in the present.

I'm just going to have to get down to the grading. 

As always, this review also contains spoilers so if you'd rather not know what happens, you should read the book first and then come here to compare notes.

What Did Not Work for Me
1. The plot - Er...what was the plot again? A young non-formulaic PM who wants to fight the fire of terrorism with fire and begins by openly challenging the super powers of the world...lithium...piano...Mozart, Mozart, Mozart, Night Music, Night Music, Night Music, Symphony 40, The Mozart Man, PM is in a coma, has to live in calm for the rest of his life. The End. 
I am not kidding or exaggerating. I did not find any story at all whatsover, or perhaps there were too many plotlines vying for the spotlight and the author was busy putting Siddhartha into a junkie Mozart daze to care.

2. Characterization - Siddhartha, the hero was unfortunately made into a depressed maniac as a singular excuse for his irrational behaviour in the political arena. Why? Why couldn't someone be equally irrational because of ambition, arrogance or simply anything else? 90% of the book delves into Siddhartha's past that supposedly screwed him over, things he had to run from, to be thrust into the political scene he did not want in the 1st place. None of these incidents or phases are even remotely convincing. The attempt at romanticizing Siddhartha's plight and choices failed completely in my opinion. Instead, he comes across as an utterly clueless, mannerless, brainless sheepish junkie who claims to be in love with a woman, screws her twin sister who seems to have gone to bed with him willingly, apologizes, the original twin is raving mad with him but in the next few lines they are back together again....I can't go on. This makes absolutely no sense.

None of the other characters are anything solid. Rukmini Devi, supposedly a dangerous intellectual threat to Siddhartha's political muscle is nothing but a pawn for Thor, who was Gregory back from Harvard, the one who is, with no other possible explanation raped by Sid. How did I finish reading this book?

There are a dozen other characters who come by like puppets mouthing cliched dialogues, are basically useless to the plot and fade away into oblivion. Maybe they are useful in that other imaginary version where Siddhartha is changing the world. 

3. Mozart references - Because I'd really not swear in a review, let me politely ask of you - Did Mozart write just two compositions? Night Music and Symphony 40? And isn't Night Music actually called A Little Night Music? If Siddhartha or anyone for that matter is to be called The Mozart Man, wouldn't it only be logical for that person to know every single piece of music ever written by the man by heart? Would someone be called Harry Potter man if he/she knew only the word 'Wizard?' Thanks to this book, I've developed an intense distaste for the words 'night' and 'music'. But here, Siddhartha plays 'Night Music' at every single instance and everyone melts and says stupid lines like 'Wow...I've never heard anything like it before!'. Well, you just did...five minutes ago when he played the same damn thing on the mouth organ before he went on to screw your twin sister! Sheesh!

4. Language, Narration and Editing - Poor and ineffective. 
5. Title - Prisoner - Who? Where? Why?
              Jailor - Eh? 
              Prime Minister - The bold and rash one who might actually make a difference? Oh yeah that's him there..playing that out of tune composition on the piano...ask him what it is and he'll tell you it is Night Music and then he'll sigh and utter 'Amadeus' 

Verdict
No further comments.

Rating 
1/5 - One star for the hope of a better democracy that Siddhartha briefly dreamed of in a lithium induced moment if clarity.


This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Do you agree with this review? Got more to add? Drop a comment..let's discuss.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Writing it right - Knowledge Is Great

Given a chance I would like to take up a course in creative writing in one of the best universities in the UK. This write-up is aimed at answering the Why’s.

Why Writing?

The written word for me goes beyond a mere channel for communication. It is the means that fits me best when it comes to articulating my thoughts and expressing my feelings. Added to this framework, a well-stocked bookshelf ever since I learnt to read and write naturally led me to the point of picking up my pen and having my say on paper. I have been writing since I was twelve, the thrill of having one of my first stories published in a children’s magazine, adding to the magic that I had already attributed to this wordy vent of mine. I continued to write articles, the occasional story and the everyday journal that kept getting fatter with each year.

I wrote my way through teenage, high-school drama, lots of moving around, heartbreaks, betrayals, and peer pressure. I continue to write my way through the reality of adulthood and the big bad world. Halfway through my post-graduation, a path that was supposed to land me a life-time career dressed in a lab coat, wading through the research portals of science, I woke up to consider a career in writing. I began writing my first book, a novel, whilst working towards an M.Tech degree and with each day, found myself being assembled on the other side, one piece at a time. When I graduated, I knew I wanted a future with words, something I wish I had realized sooner.

I took up a job in the content industry, where I currently work as an Instructional Designer and I know I chose right. I published my first novel a year ago and I read 100 books in one year for the first time in 2013. While the journey was fantastic, I understand it is but a mere step in the right direction. My induction into the world of literature can only be validated if I can nurture the spirit and love for writing within me. It is to this effect that I would like to take up a postgraduate course in Creative Writing in the UK.

Why study Creative Writing?

While being a blogger and a book reviewer gives me ample incentive to write, these regular bytes of script are capable of doing only so much justice to the art of writing which in reality is hard work. Being a writer, aside from possessing a rich imagination, takes tremendous discipline and commitment that the occasional blog post chooses to relax. I view a course in creative writing as the means to bridge the gap between wanting to be a writer and learning the nuances of being one.

A structured course in writing would set ground rules for the business, present a framework that I would need to weave a tale, one when I become accomplished I would have the liberty to challenge or bend. Writing, as a course would put my talent, potential and commitment to the grindstone; a test to prove I have what it takes to showcase my voice out there amongst others. A course in creative writing would also expose me to an extremely talented peer group, both tether and cut my inner writer-animal loose and instill in me the ability to look at and judge my work from multiple angles.

I would like to experience firsthand the genius that is the MA program in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, UK.

Why UEA?

What could be more prestigious and exciting than being accepted to one of the most sought after MA programs in the UK, one that was initiated by the legendary Malcolm Bradbury. The course was also recently awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education and with a stellar faculty, remains my number one choice. The school is set to conduct the third edition of its creative writing workshop in India, later this year. Aside from the elite alumni list that includes the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, the course won me over with this description – “The MA should be viewed as a time of experimentation and play, an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.” The icing on this wonderful cake is the fact that Margaret Atwood and James Lasdun will be joining the teaching faculty as visiting professors beginning Spring!

These facts when combined with an automatic attraction towards the people and culture of the United Kingdom, born out of an inevitable history they share with my people, the wry British wit, the beautiful landscape, the diverse population and the plethora of career and learning opportunities available have indeed made me curiouser and curiouser!


I would love to be able to study writing in a country that is represented in the literary world by the likes of Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Zadie Smith. 


This post was submitted to the Knowledge is Great contest on Indiblogger. To know more about studying in the UK visit http://knowledgeisgreat.in/

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review - Asura: The Tale Of the Vanquished

Ravana sees himself as the epitome of a complete human being; So, Rama may be seen as God but Ravana is the more complete man.’ Thus proclaims Anand Neelakantan’s take on Ravana’s story, Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished. I’m hooked by these lines right in the beginning that describe why Ravana was perceived as a Dasamukha, what the ten ‘faces’ denote. I am extremely impressed with the point of view and thoroughly excited about listening to the other side of the story, giving the fallen a chance to voice their reason. And then I go on to read a fantastic book that cements my secret vote for Ravana, justifying the benefit of the doubt that I have reserved for him all along. Right? You couldn’t be more wrong.  

While the idea of shifting the point of view from the popular to the villainous is completely laudable, the book reads like a punishment save for the 1st chapter that details Ravana’s final moments of contemplation. I am not happy hacking away at this one, but I wish to be fair to the reviewing process.

This review contains spoilers. If you would prefer not to know what happens, I suggest you read the book before you get to this.

What did not work for me:

1 – Editing
Terrible to the say the least and virtually absent at too many instances. If I were to dig deep, I’d have to quote about 95% of the sentences used in the book for bad grammar and sentence formation. My copy is marked up in ink from start to finish and not in a good way. There’s a sentence in this book that describes someone’s growth as ‘matured into a mature minister of finance.’ If this doesn’t rest my case, no issues, I can still give you a hundred more.

2 – Language and Narration
While an interesting plot cannot survive on its own, shrewd and tight editing has a strong chance at salvaging the best parts of what’s available. This novel has biting wit running through its pages that makes for some seriously enjoyable moments. But the narration & language in particular begin to sound jarring beyond a point due to switching tenses and it gets outright annoying, the editing not holding up the least bit. What takes off to a glorious start, left me cheated and disgusted, by the nonchalant attention paid to details or logic, I can’t quite decide.

3 – Stereotypes
Any point of view finds leverage in a fact, creating a protagonist or an antagonist to support. The author grounds his story on the unfair treatment meted out to Asuras by the Brahmins of earlier society, eventually phasing them out and making outcasts of them all. While this is a strong reason for rebellion, one you can logically assume Ravana to revolt against, the plausibility holds good only for a while beyond which it just becomes an open Brahmin-bashing fest, without backing arguments. The equivalent of Hulk saying ‘Hulk mad. Hulk don’t know why.’ Assuming you are okay with the bashing and maybe hope that the Asuras would have a solid system that works for them, you can argue for, you’d be sadly disappointed. Throughout the book, the Asuras, and that includes the protagonist Ravana, claim nothing but disgust for their clan of men and women who drink, dine and sleep around all the time and basically agree that they are not worthy of redemption. They remain that way until the end, Bhadra being the stellar prototype. What are we expected to support here exactly?

4 – Characters
I cannot sufficiently describe how disappointing this novel was without detailing why the different characters portrayed did nothing to earn my respect, but considering I’d run the risk of writing a novella out of it, let me try to be precise.

A – Bhadra: Never have I come across a more disgusting man in stories that I have read. This one’s a spineless, pride less, jobless drunkard specializing in debauchery and the lowliest form of unfaithfulness, to his king, to the women in his life, a man with zero ethics and a terribly confusing portrayal from beginning to end. He has a back story where he loses his wife and daughter to a Deva raid, and how I wish he’s been killed too. He suddenly proclaims Ravana as his king, literally behaves like a dog with him, then jumps ship, then comes back again, drinks, sleeps around, kills men, plots against Ravana, goes back to being faithful to Ravana, curses him, always has access to the palace, falls at Ravana’s feet and declares his undying love for him and finally kicks Ravana’s bones from his funeral pyre into the sea. What the f***?
And like I already mentioned, he is the classic example of how every single Asura behaves in this book. Bhadra never moves a muscle to find work, chastises the king for treating him like a beggar and then scrambles with other beggars to retrieve silver coins from the ditch to buy drinks. What was the author thinking?

B – Mandodari
One thing that has always stood out for me in the stories surrounding Ravana that I’ve heard is the love he shared with his wife, Mandodari. Don’t expect that here. Ravana’s arranged marriage is a joke, one he makes of it in the beginning, where he hates his bride and suddenly two pages later, he is in love with his wife, just like that, out of the blue! Those two hardly talk, practically yell at each other all the time and appear to be in pain when in each other’s company. He cheats on her, multiple times, even makes a kid and the relationship they share is so very disturbing you can’t help but think they need therapy. I don’t know if there’s even a point discussing this anymore but maybe I should tell you this – towards the end, all of Lanka is at war, Ravana wants to tell Sita that he is her father and Mandodari suddenly appears out of nowhere to put a hand on Ravana and tell him it’s ok. And get this, Ravana begins to undress her (the author’s words. Not mine.) And nothing works. He is sad that the passion between them is lost.
I was just stumped. I read on only because I wanted to keep my word about reviewing this book.

C – Ravana
This one will seriously turn into a full size novel if I begin listing how badly Ravana is portrayed in this book. The stories I’ve heard about him, depict him in a tyrannical light, yet mention what a fantastic ruler he was, caring about his people and building an empire out of nothing. He was a talented man, devout and principled and for want of better analogy, did things that were terrible, yet great. (Similar to Ollivander’s description of the Dark Lord’s actions in Harry Potter.) The Ravana in this book starts off as a disadvantaged teenager with ample reason to fight for his place in the world and overthrow it in the process. And just as you watch him, he turns out to be a whiny, talentless wreck, more interested in women and occasionally the arts as he claims, surrounded by people he can’t control, behaving like a teenager right upto his death, absolutely clueless about what he wants and what he should do to get there, trying to answer the why’s along the way. It’s pointless to even write about this any longer. If you have even an ounce of respect for Ravana, you’ll lose it if you read this version of what could’ve happened. I’m going to revert to my opinion of him gleaned from childhood stories, thank you very much.

5 – Logic
Logic takes ad-hoc vacations at so many points in this narrative. To name a few:

-  Maricha’s supposed skinning of a deer and fitting under its skin and jumping around like a deer
- Every single Asura army man boozes on the job, dozes on the job, sniggers at their king openly, doesn’t even bother to light candles in the durbar, never takes any threat seriously and the entire system is a huge security threat. Bhadra keeps getting into the fort as do a number of other people, there are so many traitors around and all Ravana does when he acknowledges these gaping issues is go ‘Grrr’ in his mind. Sheesh!
- Varuna, the pirate-king/ enemy suddenly gets promoted behind the scenes to Ravana’s best friend. Abracadabra!
- The Vanaras are described as a mixed caste of people, led to independence by Bali and only referred to as monkey-men due to their jungle ways. So when Hanuman holds court with Ravana and he orders for Hanuman’s ‘tail’ to be burned, literally, so that he can feel the pain when he sits, your cry of anguish isn’t all that unfair. Not back, not butt, but his ‘tail’. Sigh.
- This is the best one of them all: ‘Women were treated by Deva men as nothing more than commodities’ thinks Ravana when he attends Sita’s swayamvar and isn’t fond of the whole a –contest-for-the-princess’s-hand concept. As opposed to Asura men, including Ravana jumping at every single chance to ‘take women’ (the author’s words. Not mine.) Now isn’t that very honorable. What WAS the author thinking?

I’m going to stop here and just say it was a task getting through this book that seemed to hold such promise in the beginning. If I could sum up Ravana’s argument based on this read, it would go something like this:

Ravana: ‘Hey, what d’ya want from me man? All I wanted was to be Emperor. Can’t blame all the crap that went on around me that I didn’t know how to control. I lost interest midway, anyhow. So yeah dude, whatever. Should’ve taken up music or something.’

Rating: 1/5 for the novel idea of a different point of view.

Verdict: Enough said.


Did you like this review? Agree with the points discussed? Or not? Drop a comment. Let's compare notes :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ring The Bell - Child Marriage


Women have been part of the backbone of change and development in this country for as far as one can trace back in history. While they have had to fight their way up at every single stop, it is quite disturbing to witness the baseless struggles that women continue to be subjected to, given the current state of empowerment we believe we’ve rightly earned.

To me, the glaring statistics presented with regard to child marriage in Bihar, only reiterate the difference I’ve always held between being ‘Literate’ and ‘Educated’. One of the long standing problems that this country is yet to find a solution to is a kind of stereotyping in the name of culture and tradition that has unfortunately been misrepresented under various circumstances and has not managed to undergo any positive form of evolution. It doesn’t help if a girl child in Bihar is taught to read and write when the practical education she’s going to receive from her societal setup is to obey what the family dictates, marriage being a part of the package.

So, the first step I would take in a ‘Ring The Bell’ gesture would be to create awareness about the difference ‘practical education’ can bring and sharpen the objective for the process. It is imperative that people first understand that there is a glaring problem, for them to be willing to work towards a solution. The parents of every girl child should be made to feel responsible for their ward as an asset and not as a liability warranting quick profitable disposal. A phenomenal change in attitude is called for.

Step two would be to create more exposure to the outside world, a term I use here loosely to denote the rest of India in comparison to the cocoon that girls in Bihar seem to be tied to.  A systematic education program can be included as part of schooling, to talk to female students about opportunities available, what they are capable of. They can be given material to read, watch and listen, on women achievers from around the world and quite simply on urban women who juggle work, family and ambitions every single day. They need to be made aware of the physical and emotional trouble that child marriage can bring in and counseled towards realizing their potential, taking responsibility for their own lives and making informed choices.

Step three would be to make noise. The cause could be projected as a brand and pushed forward to the common man, effort dedicated towards making people talk about it to a sufficient degree that Bihar would have no other choice but to sit up and take notice. The recent spot fixing issue has proved only too well how strong a wave of reaction we can create as a country of people together. For once, we could put our rage to better use. This article is my two cents and one voice, feeble as may be.  

Let’s ring that bell and bring about a necessary change.


This post was written as a part of the Ring The Bell initiative for IndiChange on IndiBlogger.inCheck out details here : Ring The Bell  Write a post and make some noise!