Archive for the ‘book reviews’ category

Bed time reading : Installment #5

December 10, 2016

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Update (December 9th)

Possibly the last set of books this year. But since it is all from comfort zone, I do not expect them to last long.

Mahabharatha, (Book IV – Virata) 

Why :  A translation with transliteration on the side. And it is a pretty slim book that can be carried around. I’m excited!

Breathing lessons

Why : This was picked up randomly when book hopping through the library. Came back and googled and realized I had a Pulitzer prize winning novel on my hands.

Short stories are not real life

Why :  Again, a random book selection. The title sounds fun. Or at least interesting.

Twixt Land and Sea Tales

Why : Because Conrad.

40 retakes

Why : Because it is a list of slightly lesser known Hindi films with synopses. Hopefully all of them are on youtube.

 

Bed time reading : Installment #1

September 30, 2016

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September 30 : Only thing left to do is to keep the angst and depression at bay.

Update (October 16):

Loved Bhima the lone warrior and Bagombo Snuff box and other short stories. I think I will read more of MT and Vonnegut’s works.

Bhima the Lone warrior

Bhima the lone warrior was a very unpretentious but subtle retelling of the Mahabharatha. As MT points out in the introduction, he did not wander from the Mahabharatha, instead only choosing to fill in some of the thought provoking silences that Vyasa maintained. And maybe disregarding “stories of the past” which explained away the more morally ambiguous events. Most of the narrative consisted of stories which were of course very familiar, but I was blown away by the spin MT put on the Mahabharatha.

I am usually very wary of reading “interpretations” of the classic, because usually it dismembers and mutilates the image I have of them. Truth be told, I usually detest most of them. But from the start to the end, I felt .. comfortable reading Bhima, the lone warrior. Sometimes you simply know you can trust the author. I especially loved the part in MT’s introduction where he recalls how he was told to read the Mahabharatha in its original form. He tells the reader how he did “more out of duty” than genuine interest in the beginning but the epic intrigued and inspired him so much that it became a precious hobby and indeed contributed to some of his other works.

 

Though the black and white characters are grayed out here, they still retain their flavour. The complexities are gently thrown into the mixture and mixed so thoroughly that you don’t … *feel* the shock you might expect to feel. I wish I could learn enough Malayalam to read the original, but that is a very golden and far away dream indeed.

Bagombo Snuff box and other short stories

This is actually the first time I’m reading a Kurt Vonnegut book. I’m not very fond of science fiction and I vaguely remember someone telling he wrote science fiction. This collection of short stories represents his earlier work and they are amazing. Again, the introduction is wonderful and gave me the confidence that I would enjoy the rest of the book. There is a lightness to his words which is the comfort I seek while reading any book.

I especially loved the stories featuring mastero music master and incorrigible spender on band uniforms, the George M. Helmholtz. “The No-Talent kid” was fabulous. “Der Arme Dolmetscher” left me with a laugh, “Runaways” with a smile and “This son of mine” with an ache. Just what a great collection of short stories should be.

Barren Corn

Barren Corn is as unlike a Georgette Heyer novel as possible. It tackles a theme of inequality, but with a startlingly practical and almost cold gaze. The girl is of solid good lower class/middle class qualities. The man is an upper class, public school educated, dreamer/artist with no real talent or inclination to work.

They fall in love because they look good to each other, literally. The woman of course, is an idealist. She loves him with all her heart, though I don’t know why and I don’t think she does either. Sometimes I think this is the case with all women. They take love too seriously, without a single solid or compelling reason. For all the “uncertain, coy, hard to please and variable as the shade” labels slung at us by drunk lovers and poets, it seems to be the other way around .. Here’s an extract from Wodehouse for evidence (The adventures of Sally).

“For an instant it stood out nakedly without concealment, and the world became a forlorn place. She had realized the fundamental difference between man’s outlook on life and woman’s.

Success! How men worshipped it, and how little of themselves they had to spare for anything else. Ironically, it was the theme of this very play of Gerald’s which she had saved from destruction. Of all the men she knew, how many had any view of life except as a race which they must strain every nerve to win, regardless of what they missed by the wayside in their haste? Fillmore—Gerald—all of them. There might be a woman in each of their lives, but she came second—an afterthought—a thing for their spare time. Gerald was everything to her. His success would never be more than a side-issue as far as she was concerned. He himself, without any of the trappings of success, was enough for her. But she was not enough for him. A spasm of futile jealousy shook her. She shivered.”

Anyway, back to Barren Corn. They get married, against everyone’s wishes and along with their own doubts because she is not too respectable to be a mistress and his conscience pricks him when he thinks about seducing her. After the honeymoon period, when they have to return back to life .. trouble starts.

He thinks about issues he feels ashamed to think about. After a while he starts feeling trapped and begins to think he’s thrown his life away. She finally sees that his love is not strong enough to overcome them. The honeymoon is over. It is time to part ways. But being a “gentleman”, he will rather suffer through life with this marriage than usher in scandal with talk of a divorce. So she runs off a cliff. Literally.

There’s much to be found wrong with this book. It’s treatment is heavy handed (no witty banter, no clever repartee, basically no Heyer trademark) and the ending is terrible. But .. it is honest.

Conversational Telugu

The introduction is GOLD. And I’m just starting Chapter 1, so we’ll see how it goes.

The outcry

I read two pages and the sentences jumbled up and dashed around in my mind. I reread them and still nothing made sense. I don’t know what it is. I will give it one more try but it mostly looks like I’m going to give this one a miss.

 

 

 

 

Thirteen clocks by James Thurber

June 23, 2015

I never know,” the Golux said. “My mother was a witch, but rather mediocre in her way. When she tried to turn a thing to gold, it turned to clay, and when she changed her rivals into fish, all she ever got was mermaids.”

“His nights were spent in evil dreams, and his days were given to wicked schemes.”

James Thurber’s Thirteen clocks makes for such brilliant reading. I have read prose which has been stuffily squished into verse, but I have never before read poetry relaxedly reposing amongst lines, wide, roomy and free. And his concept of concretizing Time works beautifully.

Travelers and mariners would look up at the gloomy castle on the lonely hill and say, “Time lies frozen there. It’s always Then. It’s never Now.”The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried.

A lovely read indeed

Review: The Crime Wave At Blandings

September 2, 2014

The Crime Wave At Blandings
The Crime Wave At Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It all starts with the air-gun of George, Lord Emsworth’s worthy grandson. Wodehouse examines the impact it has on the inhabitants of Blandlings castle and the psychological impulses of the dormant criminal hiding in all of us. When presented with a loaded air-gun and in the view of a person bending over a flower pot (most of the time, it’s Baxter, the efficient ex-secretary of Lord Emsworth who last left Blandlings after breaking flower pots in a manic manner), who is weak enough to give in to the moment and take a shot ?

Followed by that, we have a story worthy of the 1940s Hollywood silver of a young personable British nobleman and a landlord, a smart beautiful American and unsentimental doctor who says “Say aah” to lovesick swains swooning over her, a platinum blonde who is presently Mrs Higginbothams.

And then we have some of the tales of young men in spats, of how Pongo-Twistleton-Twistleton and Barmy-Fotheringay-Phipps nearly became enemies and how in the end, they realized their folly and sealed their friendship with a superb show where Barmy had a red beard and Pongo, a green one. And mnay others.. A gem of a book !

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Review: Third Girl

August 25, 2014

Third Girl
Third Girl by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I borrowed it and after a couple of pages, realized a) I had read it before and b) I remembered the plot quite clearly, except for who the murderer at the end was. So that’s when I thought I’d be more systematic about updating my book list here, so that atleast I get to choose the books I want to re-read.

It follows Hercule Poirot and Mrs Ariadne Oliver (complete with her false curls of hair which come off now and then) playing the not very efficient bloodhound on the trail of Norma Restarick, a girl who *thinks* she might have committed a murder and who dares call Poirot “old” to his face.

It has a running commentary from various people about “girls these days” which after exciting your immediate annoyance, tends to be quite hilarious. On the whole, an OK who-dun-it.

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Review: Summer Moonshine

July 2, 2014

Summer Moonshine
Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(er.. spoilers ahead)

Jane has her hands full, what with talking to publishers who add extra expenses to her father Sir Buckstone (alias Buck)’s book about tigers NOT in Africa, listening to stories of Poona from Colonel Tanner, and putting her fiancee Adrian Peake’s mind to rest about rats in a houseboat he is inhabiting. And on top, she is pursued by a determined young man Joe who either wants to propose to her or read her notices of his successful play, unless he is occupied by drawing moustaches on statues of Caesar and others. It is quite a tight fit at Walsingford with process servers (aka the damned bullpit), Buck and his hunting crop, and the unfortunate love affair that once was between Ms Whittaker and Tubby which blew up after a trivial argument about “tomartoes and tomaytoes”. But as Lady Abbot alias Toots always remarks ” Everything’s going to be alright I suppose”

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Hotel du Lac

June 28, 2014

After  a cliched brainwave (which might be an oxymoron) of reading books set in the places I am visiting, I managed to get my hands on and read Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. It was quite a pleasant sensation to recognize names of places like Ouchy which were casually slipped in. [Note to self : must read more books in-situ]

The book hits a little close to home because the heroine’s character seems to be one of these sensible, slightly weak and meek women who are constantly rebelling against these traits. They are almost always dominated by any other person they meet and they resent it most fiercely, though it is not clear that they have anything interesting to say for themselves.

Edith Hope is a writer, of romantic fiction for the tortoises of this world, always assuring her readers that they will in the end triumph over the hares. She has been sent to Switzerland, ostensibly to finish her book, but in reality, really exiled temporarily by her circle of shocked acquaintances to a recuperating therapeutic holiday to get back her lost senses. Because of the classiest not showing up to her own to be wedding. But there are deeper tangles underneath the surface than those visible to others.

The whole book seems to be about Edith trying to make up her mind one way or the other and the author takes great pains to shew us how ill-formed her judgements are on even superficial things like estimating the age of a person or identifying what they do for a living. And it makes for a very satisfying  read but without a satisfying conclusion. [Maybe the latter makes it even more realistic]

A few (well, actually many!) excerpts of Edith’s thoughts which stuck with me afterwards.

“I am a serious woman who should know better and am judged by my friends to be past the age of indiscretion; several people have remarked upon my physical resemblance to Virginia Woolf; I am a householder, a ratepayer, a good plain cook, and a deliverer of typescripts well before the deadline; I sign anything that is put in front of me; I
never telephone my publisher; and I make no claims for my particular sort of writing, although I understand that it is doing quite well. I have held this rather dim and trusting personality together for a considerable length of time, and although I have certainly bored others I was not to be allowed to bore myself. My profile was deemed to be low and it was agreed by those who thought they knew me that it should stay that way.”

“She was already aware of powerful and undiagnosed feelings toward these two: curiosity, envy, delight, attraction, and fear, the fear she always felt in the presence of strong personalities.”

“Edith reflected how enormously one-sided conversations with the Puseys were always likely to be. They imposed their past as deliberately as they did their present, and to both of these one was expected, in some curious way, to
pay homage: They required no information at all; once they had assured themselves that Edith was alone, they had requisitioned her, and this was not only a kindness but a convenience, proof, to Edith’s mind, of sophisticated thinking. And as most of Mrs Pusey’s sentences began with the words ‘Of course’, they had a range of tranquil confidence which somehow occluded any attempt to introduce an opinion of her own. She found all this amusing and very restful; the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about herself.

Murmuring disclaimers, Edith sank into her wicker chair, and asked them what they had done that day. And was rewarded by happy expressions, and a great deal of delightfully inconsequential information.

‘Let me tell you what you need, Edith,’ he said. Not again, she thought. I have just told you what I need and I know what that is better than you do.

“For that is how he saw me, she thought, and out of love for him that is how I tried to be.”

“By this time their earlier intimacy had fragmented into a sort of disaffection; each was inwardly sighing at the wasted day. I should have stayed in, thought Edith; I should have spent the day writing. At least when I am writing I am gainfully employed. This strolling about is pointless. Functionless. Yet it is only a day, and I have no real duties, and I am not letting anybody down. In a way it is quite pleasant, really, she thought, heavy-hearted.”

“You thought, perhaps, like my publisher, and my agent, who are always trying to get me to bring my books up to date and make them more exciting, that I wrote my stories with that mixture of satire and cynical detachment that is thought to become the modem writer in this field. You were wrong. I believed every word I wrote. And I still do, even though I realize now that none of it can ever come true for me.”

“Think again, Edith. You have made a false equation.”