2016 reading

7 01 2017

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It had been a novel reading experience for me in 2016. Steered off my usual choices. Didn’t participate in any book clubs. Read loads of non-fiction. Loved most of them. Figured out that listening to non-fiction is much better than reading it. 😛

Nothing cheers me up like a good thriller. While Cormoron Strike’s new case, or rather mostly JK Rowling’s craftsmanship in Career of the Evil, thrilled me to the core, the fourth in the Millennium series – The Girl in the Spider’s Web, practically saved me from winter blues during a long holiday.

Harper Lee recreated the magic of To Kill a Mocking Bird in her much long awaited work – Go Set a Watchman with her powerful writing. Another gem I just picked from the library shelf is “Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka, about Japanese immigrants and their mysterious relocation from California during the second world war. Written from the perspective of Japanese immigrant women as a collective, it is a beautiful and deeply affecting depiction of their plight during that time. rice of Salt by Patricia Highsmith had also been a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a passionate love story of two women in love.

Listening to Steve Jobs, as narrated by Dylan Baker, was truly humbling. True that the man was eccentric and notably a jerk, but his ingeniousness, vision, and perseverance are ideals for future innovators. Read three books by Jon Krakauer. His personal account of the Everest mishap is chilling to the core. Into the Wild is a real classic. I was totally impressed by his narration. Such a tragedy. I was noticeably distressed days after I finished the book. The third book is on the rape and justice system in Missoula. Needless to say, it was quite disturbing. One book that triggered a change in my lifestyle is “Fast Food Nation”. I’m now officially averse to fast food.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History that I listened to towards the end of year was truly remarkable. It tells you the story of extinction throughout the history  of the world as known or theorized by man. Mostly, it talks about how humans are the agents of disruption and destruction for the varied species on this planet. It gives us a perspective. It’s a very engaging book and is based on extensive research. I have to particularly note here that the narrator of the audio book Anne Twomey, with her bed time story telling style, did a great job and actually enabled me to finish this book easily and made it more interesting. Kudos to her. Susan Cain’s book on Introverts, Quiet is something that will stay with me forever, precisely because I can relate to it so so much! 🙂

Gollapudi’s Sayamkaalamaindi is a feel good portrayal of Vaishnava tradition and customs set against a backdrop of simplistic Indian village life at least a couple of generations ago. That was a time when the social hierarchy was determined by one’s caste and was accepted by one and all, even the underprivileged, as the only way of life. The reader, as a more liberal being, may cringe at some depictions. But in this novel, the author’s intention didn’t appear to be supportive of it or to make a statement about the caste system in some way. It seemed like a honest portrayal of life with all it’s complications. The story in fact progresses along the inevitable change that happens in the societal norms. The best thing about the book is that it’s a story about good and genuine people. It left me with peace and nostalgic. The writing is excellent and a reminiscent of classic literature and language in its purest form. Must read if you love the language and the culture.





Donga Tallidandruluntaru Jagratta

10 03 2016

DongaTallidandruluntaruJagratta600This latest book by Ranganayakamma is about abusive, selfish, and unloving parents. As I read the first few pages, I was so shocked and disturbed by the way the protagonist is treated by her parents. It took me some time to recover and compose myself. Even though such parents do exist and may not be rare, it’s harder to accept the fact at the outset. Male chauvinism, the author’s primary forte, on the other hand, is not so shocking. I think it’s because the former is less prevalent than the latter. It is common knowledge that many fathers can be abusive, but abusive mothers are far uncommon. This novel portrays two such mothers and how they damaged their children.

This is the story of “Parvathi”, who has the misfortune to be born to cruel parents, who consistently abused her physically, and emotionally. The only saving grace is her grandmother, who is the epitome of love. She grew up under her influence to be a matured, loving, and righteous person. However, the same cannot be said about her sister. She became as self-centered, cunning, and hateful as her parents. Parvathi’s mentally unstable husband also suffered a lot by his mother. In fact, she was the one who caused his illness and led him to pitiful death. All for money.

In the preface, the author claimed that the ultimate takeaway from this book should be that children should beware of such abusive parents and try to protect themselves from being exploited. In many cases it so happens that people who were abused in turn abuse others. A daughter-in-law abused by her tyrant mother-in-law in turn becomes a tyrant when she becomes a mother-in-law. Likewise, people who were abused by their parents in turn abuse their children. It doesn’t make logical sense, but that’s how psychology works in many cases. In this book, the author calls for people to break that vicious cycle, and become better parents instead.

Like in many of her other novels, the author adds some communist stuff in this book towards the end for good measure. She is a great believer of the communist philosophy and I always wonder. For me capitalism makes sense. I agree that it’s not perfect and lends itself to misuse resulting in an unbalanced society. But I’m skeptical about communism being the solution. Maybe I should read the books suggested by her -Srama Dopidi and  Capital – and then decide which one I prefer – communism or capitalism.

One thing I want to point out is that the novel depicts almost all characters as white or black; they are either good or bad. The bad – abusive parents in this case, can be always counted on behaving like the most disgusting people. And the good – the protagonist and her friends – always act in the most virtuous manner. I understand such people do exist and also that it is important to depict the characters as such in order to drive the point home. However, I believe that most people fall in between the white-black spectrum. The goodness/badness may vary with time, circumstances, or situations. How should one deal with such people, who are bad in only a few aspects? I know that technically speaking, even a minuscule of bad makes someone bad. But all such people may not be beyond salvation. I hope the author writes about such people, which a large number of readers can relate to and thereby benefit from their stories.





No Country For Old Men

4 06 2015

ahf9-square-175I have read this classic novel of Cormac McCarthy years ago and marked it for re-read. Because I was painfully aware that I was not able to appreciate its greatness at that time. Actually, if I remember correctly, I didn’t even understand the plot completely. 😛 Guess, I wasn’t paying it the attention it deserved.

I just finished listening to this book, and this time I can say that I’m duly rewarded by my efforts. 🙂 It’s just brilliant.  I know that by no means I’m the first one to say it. Nonetheless, it feels good to say it aloud. The dialogues and narration are simply matchless. They made even ordinary characters extraordinary. I felt that Sheriff’ Bell’s reflections were particularly impressive. As also Moss’ dialogue with the hitchhiking girl. I also found the conversation between Chigurah and Carla Jean, right before he shot her dead, striking. ( A gem from that conversation – “Do you understand? When I came into your life your life was over. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the end.” What can one say to that? What can one say to anyone with a gun pointed at one’s head? )In fact, each and everything in this book this is just remarkable.

The narrator Tom Stechschulte did a great job and I guess I owe him for my better comprehension this time around. 🙂

I don’t claim to have gotten everything right in this encounter with the masterpiece though 😛 and look forward to reading it again sometime in future for better enlightenment. 😉

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book. It had been an immense pleasure.





Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

14 09 2014

“Troubled Daughters, Twisted wives” is a collection of psychological suspense stories from half a century earlier. The authors are all female and are supposed to be the trailblazers of domestic suspense. The editor Sarah Weinman claims that these praise-worthy authors, but unfortunately not widely acclaimed now, laid the  foundation for today’s crime fiction by women. These stories give the reader a fine taste of surreal literature. The stories are both subtle and chilly. Each one of the 14 stories is unique and deals with the pysche of the woman involved in a distinct way. My favorites among the collection include:

51SzgtNJIpL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Heroine by Patracia Highsmith. It’s a worthy piece to start the bundle of riveting stories. What the innocent, well-intended nanny is capable of leaves the reader shocked!

A Nice Place to Stay by Nedra Tyre reminded me of “The Cop and the Anthem” by O.Henry, in which the protagonist Soapy fruitlessly attempts to get arrested by employing a variety of tactics so that he gets a place to stay for the ruthless night. The story ends with an irony.

In Nedra Tyre’s story all the protagonist ever wanted is a nice place to stay. When she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit and sent to the prison, she finally seems  to have her wish fulfilled and feels content. However, it turns out to be short-lived as she is snatched away from her cocoon by a ambitious lawyer who proved her innocence to his personal glory.

Lousia, Please Come Home by Shirley Jackson is another jewel with a ironic end. A girl runs away from her home and tries her best to be a new person so as not to be found. But when she finally wants to go back to her home, she couldn’t anticipate what’s awaiting her.

In A Case of Maximum Need by Celia Fremlin,  a 87-year old , practically invalid, woman’s vehemently protests against having a telephone installed in her house. Despite her objections, when the welfare worker gets her a telephone, the reader is embarked on a journey to chilling revelation.

The People Across the Canyon by Dorothy Salisbury Davis is an uncanny story about a little girl and her crush on the new neighbors. It surely is an eerie story.

The collection makes a very interesting and worthy read.





Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination

25 08 2014

Going by my brief experience with Japanese literature, which can be put down to lot of strangeness, eeriness,196150 mystery, and intrigue, I expected heavy doses of the distinct flavor from The Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. I expected to be completely blown off, to encounter the unexpected which would leave me shaken and/or dumbfounded. I can’t say I was disappointed, but rather pleasantly surprised. These are classic stories by the father of Japanese mystery – Edogawa Rampo (Taro Hirai) way back from 1950s. Besides enjoying the very clever and original plots of these stories, I was glad to realize that there was little of the illogical and unexplainable eeriness, which, in my opinion, usually add only to the complexity and somehow seem very artificial crafted only for the purpose of bewitching the reader. Forgive me, if I am over-generalizing things here. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m speaking honestly out of my meager exposure to the popular Japanese literature.

These tales are simple and yet captivating. True that these psychological mysteries have their share of eccentricity with a tinge of perversion and body-shuddering turn of events, but I must say, it’s not really bad. Or, maybe my tolerance level is a bit high given my  considerable reading history. 😛 While each one of them is chilling,  a couple of tales, which have truly struck me as brilliant are: The Red Chamber and The Human Chair.

On a related note:

Of late, I find myself disturbed by some of the stuff in popular fiction. We have all read and/or listened to a lot of stories throughout our lives. There are some, which half a century earlier would have been a novelty and stirred our interest. The very same ones are stale now, and barely get our attention. Many of those things have become predictable. So now, in an attempt to invent new things to keep up audience’s interest, some people feel compelled to come up with bizarre and very unnatural stuff – extreme violence, gory, perversion, incest and what not. It seems to be easier compared to sticking to simple things and yet innovative enough to make them unpredictable. But the easiest way is not always the right way.

I don’t deny that the “dark” has always existed. But I believe that it should not be exposed to unsuspecting humanity at large. Again, I’m not generalizing things. There is good stuff too. My point is that it makes me sad when such negative things gain popularity and are widely available.





Second Thoughts

4 05 2014

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Second Thoughts by Shobhaa De is about a young woman Maya of Kolkata who has just married Ranjan and moved to Mumbai, the city which alluded her. It is about Maya and her insipid marriage.

I wonder about Maya. How she kept her sanity for long with her insensitive and reserved husband. I wonder how she even tolerated him in the first place. Grr… What an MCP! She is treated as little more than a piece of furniture, and this without any, not even a slight inkling of, sense of being wrong or at least inadequate. She can’t make calls without his knowledge and permission, she can’t even use the air conditioner in his absence. God!

May be having fewer expectations and general acceptance of the terms helped. But of course, not so much. Because despite being the typical conservative girl, she found him and the marriage suffocating. She is trapped and vulnerable.

As I think about it, Maya’s life is not an uncommon one. It’s actually the contrary, I guess. None of the events or experiences are extraordinary. Shobhaa De took such a simple and common story and turned it into something beyond entertainment. It provides not just the voyeuristic pleasure of peeking into someone else’s life but also puts forth the injustice of such a life as a matter of fact.

I can say that Maya’s life definitely makes many of us to feel better about our own lives (at least at the outset).





Cut-like Wound

17 05 2013

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Cut-like Wound by Anita Nair is a psychological crime thriller. Even though I absolutely loved her Ladies Coupe and Mistress, I was skeptical about this book as this genre is a deviation from her usual stuff. Having no prior experience with desi-crime thrillers also contributed to my apprehension. But I was to have a pleasant surprise. The book is an absolute page-turner. The story is well-crafted and narrated beautifully. She set her story in and around the world of transgenders, which presented a very refreshing and new backdrop. It actually adds to the appeal of the book.

Her portrayal of Gowda as an intelligent, middle-aged, not-so-successful in his career Inspector makes him not too intimidating and the readers won’t feel compelled to be in awe of him right away.

Color enters his drab life in the form of Urmila, his college-love.  Gowda gets carried away but not without initial resistance. If Anita comes up with more crime thrillers featuring Inspector Gowda, I’ll watch out for what happens to his affair with Urmila. 🙂 My guess is that the family man in Gowda will take over sooner or later and put an end to it. Because I believe that all affairs come to an end. An “affair” is temporary by definition. 😛

The way she unveils the psyche of the criminal and explores its dark corners is commendable. This book is going to be made into movie soon and I’m curious to see how it turns out. It is easy to maintain suspense about the identity of the criminal with the readers, because they have only the author’s description to go by. I wonder how the filmmakers will manage to keep the viewers in the dark.

PS: Part of South Asian Women Writers Challenge





Mumbaistan

28 03 2013

Mediocre and amateurish. I can think of no other words to aptly describe this collection of three Mumbai-based crime thrillers by Piyush Jha. I purchased it almost on a whim from the bestseller’s list on Flipkart against my prudent self warning me otherwise. Even as I was hesitating before hitting the magic button, I remembered that the book was featured in The Hindu with a moderately positive review. That did the trick and I went ahead with the purchase. (Regret!)

mumbaistan-3-explosive-crime-thrillers-Just into a few pages of the first story, I was stuck by the crude way the story was being told,  I cringed at the dull and familiar scenes unfolding , and I distinctly sensed the ‘filmy” style. Indeed I wondered aloud – “outright filmy”. Only then I bothered to check out the author’s bio on the first page. And not surprisingly, I discovered him to be a film director. Ha! This piece of information only made me more weary than before as I went back to the story and embarked on the reluctant journey of treading through the pages. Leaving a book unfinished is something I would do rarely, and that too only after I exerted my utmost will to complete it somehow. My principle is simple -“finish what you start”. It has both advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, in many occasions I ended up having a better opinion of the book than I started with. On the downside, I had to endure some very stupid books. But usually, I take great care in picking up my reads so, the latter percentage is rather small.

Coming back to Mumbaistan, as I mentioned earlier, it has 3 stories in it. The titles of the three stories shout lack of creativity and/or intelligence and added to my horror:

  1. Bomb Day
  2. Injectionwalla (What!!!)
  3. Coma Man

The first one is about terrorists, police informers infiltrating the enemy gang and busting their plan to blow up BSE. I gagged and almost puked at certain scenes. Above all, the ending. 🙂

Injectionwalla (God save me!) murders his victims by injecting a poisonous drug into them. Actually, he is a hero of sorts as his targets are members of an organ racket, who exploited ,and thereby caused the death of, many innocent people. Initially, he meant only to take the life of a renowned doctor as an act of personal vengeance for his father’s death. But his lover persuades the reluctant protagonist  to go on a killing spree and finish the other members of the racket as well. And can you guess the bait? – sex and blowjobs!! (Speechless! 🙄 😯 )

The last one seems slightly better only because by that time one gets somewhat used to the lousy , unimaginative and bland style. Sigh! It is about a man who gets out of coma after 19 years and ventures out in search of his beloved wife.  In the course of which, he recollects the details of the incident that caused his condition.

Warning! Spoiler below.

Even though the three stories deal with completely different types of crime, there is a common thread that connects all of them. It is this: In all the three stories, it is a woman who masterminds the crime involved. The typical twist/surprise element in the climax!

The contrived stories failed miserably to impress me. 😉

When I say “filmy”, I refer to commercial film stuff. I don’t mean to undermine films in any way (whatever kind they are of). I enjoy them a lot myself. However, I believe that commercial movie stories don’t make good literature. To comment on Piyush Jha – I don’t know about his movies, but I feel that this book is a disaster despite it being a bestseller.

Considering that I’m judging this work a bit too harshly, let’s look at it from a different point of view. May be the book never aimed to become a piece of literary art. May be it only aims to appease a certain section of readers, in case of which it is a success of sort. May be it all comes down to just a terrible mismatch – between the reader and the book. 🙂

Oh, last but not the least. I almost forgot to mention Ekta Kapoor’s review on the book cover. It says –  “A potboiling page-turner packed with three main ingredients: Entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.”

I was almost ROFL upon reading it. I’m sure she didn’t even glance through the book before coming up with it. So cliched! Entertainment????  😆 I don’t see how “crime thrillers” and “entertainment” go together. 😕 (unless they are movies, of course! 😉 )





Middlesex

17 06 2012

When I first came across the book ‘Middlesex’ by Jeffrey Eugenides , I took it to be about the England’s second smallest historic county. I surmised it to be a British novel depicting England’s small town/country lifestyle. For some reason, I expected it to be similar or along the lines of ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen, which is a dismal portrayal of American life – of a typical Midwestern family. Consequently, I assumed it to be not a very easy read as was the case with ‘The Corrections’.  Also at play was my preconceived notion (rightly or wrongly) that the British literature is a bit more complicated and often the famous/notable authors produce works that require considerable effort by an average reader compared to American literature. Added to these aforementioned misgivings, I was so intrigued by the author’s last name (it almost seemed magical/musical to me) that I unwittingly ignored the first name, which is clearly masculine, and somehow took the author as a female and awaited the distinct woman’s touch. It’s not until much later that I discovered (when I purposefully glanced through the back cover) that I was quite wrong. Talk about selective perception!

It was with all these reservations and prenotions that I picked up ‘Middle sex’ for reading during my vacation. I was so sure that it would last the entire two weeks of my visit to the  hometown that I didn’t take any other book along. But I was proved wrong. It was such a delightful read that I couldn’t stop till the end and finished it off very soon.

I was met with great shock as I read the little blurb about the novel on the book cover. It’s  an American novel and not a British one as I thought. Even before I got over this startling fact, I discovered, quite logically, that the story is no way related to the place called ‘Middlesex’ but rather the title is to be interpreted sort of literally. In fact, this is the story of a hermaphrodite. ‘Middlesex’ is about Cal, who had been brought up as a girl – Calliope – until 15 when he was confronted with the awkwardness of his body and the knowledge of the recessive mutation on his fifth chromosome.

The narration starts 3 generations back with Cal’s Greek grandparents and unfolds their lives of their subsequent generations from Bursa, a tiny village in Asia Minor (part of Turkey) to Detroit, USA. The writing and the narration sucked me into the story and I got absorbed into Stephandines’ lives inadvertently. It was hard to put the book down and the powerful prose was a pleasure to read. I couldn’t help but wonder at the way the story unraveled. ‘Middlesex’ got me completely hooked. It was not until about half into the bulk that I encountered the reference to the title. ‘Middlesex’  refers to the house Cal’s father Milton acquires in the late 60s, where most of Cal’s story happens.

The effortless way Jeffrey has interspersed past, present and future in his narration is something that should be marveled about. It seemed so natural with least confusion or inconvenience to the reader. Given the unusual subject coupled with its wonderful treatment, ‘Middlesex’ will remain one of the unforgettable books I ever read. I’m sure this epic tale lingers fresh on my mind at least for a long to time, if not forever.





Release and Other Stories

3 05 2012

“Release and Other Stories” by Rakhshanda Jalil is a collection of ten stories featuring Indian Muslims. Each story  is sensible in its own way and lingers in one’s mind long after it’s read. Above all, I loved the look and feel of sleek hardbound and its crisp pages with beautiful font and generously spaced text. Loved the book cover too. I found it irresistibly giftable. 🙂

“A Mighty Heart” is about a woman who accepts the sons of her husband with his, so far secret, other wife. It is incredulous that that person maintain two wives simultaneously keeping the first wife in dark, calls both his wives with the same name, produces similar set of offspring in the same order with the two women and even names the two sets of children the same to avoid confusion and possible trouble. Lol!

“The Failure” is about a man, in the opinion of the narrator, who has failure written on his face. He turns his majestic house in the middle of nowhere  into a luxury hotel and keeps it in tip-top condition for two years until his first guests arrive.  In “The Perfect Couple”, the husband gets all distressed and shaky upon the sudden and possibly terminal illness of his beloved wife. When an equally distressed colleague of her visits her in the hospital room, the husband receives the jolt of his life when he witnesses the love between his wife and her colleague, as is evident by the way they look at each other holding hands.

“The Strange Man” is about a wealthy man who wanders the streets of a popular hill station in a strange manner, clasping a tape recorder to his breast and cooing to it, oblivious of his surroundings. The story ends with the narrator’s reflection upon learning who the man actually is : “Compulsions that drive people, compulsions that make them do the oddest of things.”

In “The Stalker”, a middle-aged, plain-looking woman is stalked by an unknown person, whom she confronts in the end only to find the face of a teenage boy under the mysterious baseball cap. She couldn’t let out her anger and frustration seeing the innocent expression of pure love etched on his face. She could only wonder –” Who can ever fathom the depths of another heart?”

When Zulfi meets Dia after about 25 years, he discovers that the demure young girl of 19 got transformed into “A Real Woman” of mid-forties and he feels intimidated by her. “The Incident of the Frozen Snake” is a gossip story about a rising star who turns mad after seeing a frozen snake trying to get up from the birthday cake,  which was sent to her as a revenge from the Fading Star, whose long-time beau had been smitten by the rising star. Is it funny or tragic?? Not sure!

“Release”, the title story is about lost love, similar to Devdas. Hasan, who couldn’t stand up against his mother, loses Arza, his childhood love and puts his past behind him until he visits Arza on her death bed fifty years later.

Loved this quote from Release:

“A flower, no matter how sturdy the branch it grows on or how deep the roots of the tree that bears it, can have only one of the two fates: it can either bear fruit, or fall off the branch. No flower can expect to linger forever. So it is with young love; it must find union or wither away.”

A couple of verses from famous Urdu poets appeared in this story, which simply captivated me:

Your thought kept coming and going

Like my breath, all night long

——- Makhdum Mohiuddin

Come, let us weave our dreams of tomorrow

Or else, this night from these hard times

Shall sting us, and for the rest of our lives

We shall never gain be able to weave another beautiful dream

——-Sahir Ludhainvi

“The Break Up” is about a woman who finally finds the courage to break up her marriage. In “A Holiday Gone Awry” three girls get raped by a few men in the hills in front of the brother of one of the girls. As ghastly a tale as it turns out to be, the narrator wonders about what could have been the impact on the 12 year old boy who had to witness such a gruesome event.

Interestingly, all the stories are told in third person, who is often a person inside the story narrating a story. 🙂

Acchhaa hai dil ke saath rahe paasbaan-e aql

Lekin kabhi kabhi isey tanhah bhii chhor de

–Iqbal