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Tag: book recommendation

You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Read These Books

A few weeks ago, I finally read The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare after having successfully TBR-ed it for nearly ten years! This was after yet another student recommended it to me. Now teenagers often and easily talk in superlatives, yet this one clung to my mind like a fly in a web. She said: you haven’t lived until you’ve read this series. Coming from a 10 year old, this statement earns a massive eye roll, yet… it got me thinking. Which books, to me, deserve this tag?
This post needs multiple disclaimers. First: Such lists are incredibly personal and there are many books I like simply because of my context, the memories that go hand in hand with reading them, the discussions they have led me to. I’ve tried to remain objective, here, and base my choices on ideas espoused within the books. It’s been grueling, but these are big words to live up to. Each of these books has meant a lot to me, and I do hope that you discover a gem for yourself. Some day, I’ll write a Part 2. For now – 

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

A part-sermon part-fantasy, this is my favourite book. I have never found it difficult to name one favourite book, because this has had a profound impact on the way I look at life, since the age of around twelve, when I read it. It’s the story of a boy stuck on a lifeboat with nothing for company but the vast waters of the Pacific ocean… and, a tiger. A survival’s tale which seems like an adventure but has terror brewing beneath the surface. It explores themes of spirituality, grief, dealing with crisis. It opens your mind to accepting abstract uncertainty, making you truly open-minded, and moreover, shows you that you have the power to write your own story, for better or for worse.

Favourite quote: “If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
2. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin 
A mind-bending science fiction tale of a human emissary to a planet where gender is not fixed for any individual; rather can be chosen and changed at will. Mating only happens at a certain time and it is then that different genders are taken on. To them, humans are a perversion, retaining their genders forever. Our protagonist, the emissary, must reconcile with these differences on his mission to establish diplomatic relations with this planet. The book puts a new turn on the psychology of identity, and how we see us and others in the context of gender. Gives you a new perspective altogether on humans; perhaps controversial, but definitely one that demands introspection.

Favourite quote: “A man wants his virility regarded. A woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. [Here] one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

3. Ransom by David Malouf 

Myths have power, but this retelling shows you that the true power of story lies in the detail. A fragment of an incident transformed into a novella, Ransom describes an incident in the Trojan war – the moment when King Priam begs Achilles for his son Hector’s body, and the war is momentarily put on hold for his funeral. Many life stories build up to this uncanny display of humanity.
The strange meeting, of the aged father and the murderer of his son, at the centre of an unending war, is a beautiful study of men turned to figureheads at the hands of politics and war, and a mortal ambition to achieve immortality.

Favourite quote: We are mortals, not gods. We die. Death is in our nature. Without that fee paid in advance, the world does not come to us. That is the hard bargain life makes with us — with all of us, every one — and the condition we share. And for that reason, if for no other, we should have pity for one another’s losses.
4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
A neurosurgeon diagnosed with lung cancer writes about death and what it means to be alive. We watch the irony unfold as someone who sees death on a daily basis ponders his own mortality. Through this memoir, born before his diagnosis, Kalanithi attempts to find the meaning of life. He discusses the point where philosophy and science intersect, as a man who intimately knows and loves both. He talks about the fate of relationships and ties in life and death. In a lucid and intellectual manner, this remarkable book says all the things we are afraid to think, and does so with a cutting clinical brilliance that only a doctor could manage. 

Favourite quote: Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.
5. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke was a German poet, who received a letter from 19-year-old Franz Xaver Kappus who was a poet himself. He’d sent Rilke one of his poems to critique. Rilke refused, giving the young poet his first lesson, that a good poet does not base his poetry one someone else’s appraisal. A short correspondence followed. Letters to a Young Poet is a collection of ten letters sent by Rilke to Kappus. It is about everything and nothing, life advice from an old soul. A book I think is just mandatory to be read at a young age, but of course, even later in life, as you begin to identify more with the writer than the intended audience. 

Favourite quote: Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Which books would you qualify this way?

How to Find a Book to Read for Your Kid

(It’s way past midnight and a stray thought brought this post on. I’m just going with the flow.)
In my last few years of teaching, I have noticed that
parents often ask me to recommend books for their children. I don’t know if
they realise how difficult it is to recommend a book to someone you know only
on the surface – I do try to get to know my students as well as I can, but it’s
hardly possible to remember their every interest and taste. Let’s face it: the
parents themselves are more likely to have a deep understanding of what their
child likes. So how does the choice go to the English teacher? It’s the
assumption that there is something mechanical about choosing a new book.
One of my favourite linguists, Stephen Krashen, oversaw a
study on what he called a “home run book.” That is, a single book that makes a
reader. In a study titled, “Can one positive reading experience create a reader?”
researchers Debra Von Sprecken and Jiyoung Kim along with Stephen Krashen
present findings from a survey of over two hundred Grade 4 students in L.A. Students
were asked just two questions: 1. Do you like to read? 2. Is there one book or
experience that interested you in reading?
The findings were interesting. Nearly all those who said they liked reading admitted that one book had ‘sparked’
their interest. Furthermore, they could name it. However, the book varied across the students, even for those with
similar backgrounds. This led the researchers to conclude that while there is
such a thing as a home run book, the selection differs for every child. The
recommendation the study ended on was this: to spark an interest in
reading in children, the sure-shot way is to expose them to many, different
kinds of books, hoping to get a home run.
Of course, this answer would not satisfy most demanding
parents. And yet, I won’t simply give arbitrary recommendations. I do rant a
lot about books in class, and I see children note down the names of books that
they think they might like. Children also catch recommendations from peers and
usually, once a book is bought by a kid, it doesn’t rest till it has made the
rounds through the entire class. Reading spreads faster than wildfire – I quite
like that. Apart from word of mouth, though, there are other ways to look for
First: Goodreads
. Goodreads has many faults as a social media platform, but it
does offer reading lists curated by thousands of average readers. This makes
them far more accessible and reliable than say the New York Times Bestseller’s
List. Not to mention, you don’t have to be a Goodreads member to view these
lists. It helps that there are Goodreads lists of recommendation for the most
ridiculous things. To illustrate this, I went to the Listopia page on Goodreads
and searched for the tag, “grass.” Three relevant categories (just to name a
few): 1. Books about Plants 2. Meadows and Fields, Savannahs and Steppes 3.
Young Adult books with grass on the cover. So, even if you have a weird kid
with odd demands on your hands, Goodreads would be your friend.
Second: Movies. This
sounds counter-productive. But there are so many great movies out there today
which have been adapted from books that are better. Wonder, Life of Pi, IT, The
Perks of Being a Wallflower, About  a
Boy, To Kill A Mockingbird, Ready Player One – all of these are suitable, if
not excellent, reads for your teen or preteen. But the problem is, once you’ve
watched the film adaptation; the interest in the book is gone. So if you ever
see your kid begging to watch a movie, check if there’s a book version and make them experience it first as a kind of challenge/reward scheme. I’d also
suggest scouring the internet for adaptation trailers to find book
Third: Bookstores
/ Libraries.
An astounding number of kids in my school have Kindles.
The reading rate should then be predictably high. Am I right? Wrong. Kindles
are great, amazing even, for readers; handy, convenient, sleek and shiny (are
they?)… But, here’s the thing – they probably won’t create great readers. I
couldn’t stress this enough, the best way to introduce your kid to a lifelong
bookworminess would be to take them to a bookstore or even better, a library. Once
a month, at least. These establishments, especially bookstores, go to great
lengths to create an attractive ambience. And whether we like it or not, we do
judge a book by its cover.
Make a picnic out of it, spend some time together, let them
take a stroll through the store and find what they like. Model the behaviour
yourself. Read. Your child sees you nose deep in a book often enough, trust me,
they’ll want to do it themselves. Don’t tell them they should read to improve
their language or expression or writing or thinking. Don’t make a medicine out
of it. Tell them it’s FUN. It’s like a mental adventure park. The benefits are
simply a by-product. They need not read a Charles Dickens, even a comic book
would work, or a picture book! You must always remember: a good book is far
more important than great literature. Expose them to a lot of different books
and hope that they find that one book that hits the right chord. There’s no
stopping them then.

“Aren’t we hooked on phonics?” – Top Ten Tuesday, Gilmore Girls and Books

I originally wrote this post two years ago. I have reposted it here, because it kind of almost fits the theme for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the BookishTop Ten Books If You Like a TV show / movie / play, etc.
These are books you should read if you like Gilmore Girls, but not because they’re like Gilmore Girls. These are books referenced on the TV show. If you’ve seen it you know how literature-centric anything Rory does is. And the kind of books, movies and songs they like says a lot about the characters. So – if you loved Rory and Lorelai like I did, you’d want to read on: 
Gilmore Girls is undoubtedly the most bookish TV show I have
ever come across. While the eccentric towns-people, the best-friend Mom and the
regular small-town shindigs never fail to irritate me, I do love the witty,
pop-culture-laden dialogue and the coffee love.
Rory Gilmore has an admirable amount of books stacked on her bookshelf and is
always seen with a book in her hand. Dean liked watching Rory read and Jess and
Rory bonded largely over books. There are, naturally, many Rory Gilmore Reading
Challenges and Book Clubs out there. In fact, WB had released a list
of Rory Gilmore’s reads. I only discovered them very recently.

But I have, over time, read a lot of books and authors
because my favourite characters (mostly Jess and Rory) from Gilmore Girls
mentioned reading and liking them:
1. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust – Lorelai borrows
this from Max Medina (Ah, Max, and his very English-Professor-ey bookshelf) Proust was a huge but definitely rewarding read.
2. Post Office by Charles Bukowski – Paris
and Jess argued over this one. According to Paris, it’s a typical guy response
to worship Kerouac and Bukowski, but never try anyone like Jane Austen. And then Jess says that he has read Jane Austen and that she would have liked
3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac – Kerouac is
mentioned a lot throughout the series. According to Rory, the Beats expose you
to a world you wouldn’t have otherwise known; that’s what great writing is
about. This book was good, though somewhat pretentious, but I preferred Bukowski’s style to Kerouac’s.
4. Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of
the Punk Movement by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
 – The book
is just (and you wouldn’t find this word in my usual vocabulary) insane. It’s
the history of punk music written through and by people who actually lived it.
Jess recommends this to Rory.
5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – I chose
reading this book over War and Peace, of which my sister has a copy also,
because it is one of Rory’s favourite books. Dean thinks it’s impossible that
every name in the book ends with “sky”, and Rory convinces him to
read it, because Tolstoy apparently wrote it for the masses, so you don’t have
to be very literary to get it. I did love the book, but I disagree.
6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain –
This is another of Rory’s favourites; though I don’t remember where this is
mentioned. I do remember that Rory made Lorelai celebrate Rory’s twelfth
birthday in a Mark Twain museum!
7. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – I’d read an abridged version a long time ago, but I re-read it when I watched that Gilmore Girls episode where Rory calls Jess “Dodger” for stealing her book (Howl.) Incidentally, I also read Terry Pratchett’s Dodger, which I adored, by the way. 
8. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – This is
the book that Jess is reading when he enters a class late, and is supposed to
be writing a test. He borrows a pencil from Lane, tilts the book and starts
writing (notes, probably) in the margin.
9. Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg –
This is the first book of poetry I have ever dared and managed to read; and
only because, Jess is supposed to have read it “about forty times”,
which automatically means it’s good.
10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – I
read Ernest Hemingway basically because of the time Rory promises to give
“the painful Ernest Hemingway a try” if Jess finishes reading The
Fountainhead. Jess also tells Rory, “Ernest only has lovely things to say
about you.”
Some of the authors mentioned or featured on the show that I still want to read are John Steinbeck, Tom Woolfe, Hunter Thompson and Alexander Pushkin.

(“Aren’t we hooked on phonics?” is what Jess comments when he first sees Rory’s overflowing bookshelf!) 

As you can probably see, Gilmore Girls has influenced a lot
of my reading. Actually, it has also influenced a lot of my music and movie
tastes. Do you like the show or any of the books I have mentioned? And would
you recommend any other bookish television show or movie?

The Random Number Survey (Or, A Stroll Through My Bookshelf)

I saw this survey on book musings. I usually don’t do this sort of thing on the blog (especially since I decided to have ‘no-memes-in-2013’) But this blog has been oddly stagnant this whole month and I hardly have time to read, let alone review. Plus the idea is kind of interesting, and it also gave me the chance to contentedly relive all the books on the awesomeness that is my (relatively) new bookshelf.

Here’s what you do:

1. Pick a number. (I picked 12.)
2. Go to your bookshelf and count that many books until you
reach your number. Answer the question with that book.

3. Count the same number of books from where you left off
and answer the next question.
4. Repeat until you finish the survey.
1. Joyland by Stephen King: 

What do you think of the cover?

I love it, especially how it totally brings out the 70s carny noirish feel of the book. I love that it’s painted, instead of a photo and that pulp novel font looks awesome, so do the typically vivid colours. The tagline reads “Who dares enter the FUNHOUSE OF FEAR?” It’s all very Stephen King.
2. This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson

Write a review in 140 characters or less.

A charming, thrilling, tragic history of Charles
Darwin and Capt. Robert Fitzroy and their life-altering expedition to Tierra del
The blurb’s better: A story of a deep friendship between two men, and the twin
obsessions that tore it apart, leading one to triumph and the other to
disaster. This is my actual review of the book.
3. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

How or where did you get this book?

I bought it in time for one of the readalongs for the R.I.P. Challenge, I don’t remember exactly when. I ordered it online, of course, and almost regretted my decision when I noticed it at the library. But it’s a good read to own!

4. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Who’s your favourite character in this book and why?

You can’t really side with someone in an allegory, but I’d choose the narrator, Utterson; the sort of rational view in the book – who exposes Hyde’s evil and Jekyll’s two-facedness (see what I did there?) Or Poole, the ever faithful butler. I don’t like Jekyll as much as I didn’t like Victor Frankenstein, which, I know, was the point.

5. Papillon by Henri Charriere

Recommend the book to a fellow blogger you think would like it.

I remember loving the book when I read it, but that was way, way back then. I’d have to to re-read it to really recommend it. As the story of a convicted murderer and his attempts to escape, the book is thrilling, harrowing and it’s true (or not, there’s a whole controversy) and there was a time I’d have recommended to all fellow bloggers. So why not just try it, right?

6. Love on the Rocks by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

How long ago did you read this book?

Funny story, this was the very first book I got for review on this blog. The naive review I wrote for it and the long list of pending reviews on my e-reader right now, makes it seem like an awfully long time has passed since. Turns out I read it in May 2011, though. Go figure.

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Name a favourite scene from this book. (NO SPOILERS)

With way this book dives right into the action, there is little chance of avoiding spoilers. But I remember this scene, among the narrator’s many musing recollections, because the very description pops into my head ever since, every time I feel a cat purr.

“The dread had not left my soul. But there was a kitten on my pillow, and it was purring in my face and vibrating gently with every purr, and, very soon, I slept.”

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Open to Page 87 and pick a random quote to share. (NO SPOILERS)

“She looked at him in the exact moment when he turned to look at her. They stood very close to each other. She saw, in his eyes, that he felt as she did. If joy is the aim and the core of existence, she thought, and if that which has the power to give one joy is always guarded as one’s deepest secret, then they had seen each other naked in that moment.”

Oh, how typically Ayn Rand. I did adore Hank Rearden.

9. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

How did you hear about or discover this book?

I was an unapologetic John Grisham fangirl. I still am! And I’d already read the bunch of legal thrillers at the store, so I got this. Playing for Pizza, a book about an NFL blah-blah quarterback, no less. And even though almost everything in it about football whooshed right over my head, I almost enjoyed this strange, inconsequential little book. The descriptions of Italy, the culture and the oh-so-delicious food made it worth the while.

10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

If you could redesign the cover, what would you do?

I hate all the covers of my Harry Potter books, except maybe The Order of the Phoenix. All the rest have weird-looking Harrys on them. The adult covers are so much better. But the fact is, I’d have loved it if it was either a close up of the Hungarian Horntail, like her eye and scaly face or something, with no Harry in the picutre. Or a beautiful shimmering Goblet. Or, or, a creepy graveyard, without letting it be a spoiler.

11. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Name your least favourite character in this book and why.

The Witch of the Waste is the villain of the book; she wants revenge on Howl for not loving her back (even though she disguised herself as a beautiful woman for him.) But it was Sophie Hatter, the ‘heroine’, who spent most of the book as a withered old woman because of the witch’s curse, who most often irritated me. She is a much stronger character in the rest of the Moving Castle series.

12. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

If you like (fill in the blank), then you should try (your book.)

Well. If you like bizarre, inane, often oddly lewd, albeit biting social satire, disguised as fiction, then you should read Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.

I have to add, in nonsense is strength.

13. Born Free by Joy Adamson

Name one cool thing about this book (under the dust jacket, map, font, photograph, etc.)

I pretty much grew up listening to the story of the ‘lioness of two worlds’ from my grandma, who loved the movie. Elsa was an orphaned lion cub who was successfully set free in wild Kenya (for the most part, anyway, she later died; but this story ends earlier, and so, on a happy note.) The book gets bogged down by the details in some places, but the evocative photos make up for it. The photos show Elsa the lion cub, with her cub sisters and the rock-hyrax Pati-pati and later, the lioness all grown up, and still acting like a house cat. She is adorable and the pictures are really cool.

14. The Ghost of Flight 401 by John Fuller

Where is it set, and would you ever want to visit that world / place?

Would I like to be on the Eastern Airlines jumbo jet flight 401, which crashed, killing 101 people? No. Nor would I like on the ships which are haunted by the dead pilot and crew. The writer does mention a cozy writer’s retreat-ey place, where works on his books and it seems like the most pleasantly calm place. I’d love to go there!

15. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt

Who is it dedicated to?

“For my mother,

K.M. Drabble,

Who gave me Asgard and the Gods.”

What makes a good holiday read?

(Here because of the title? You can skip the reviews and scroll down to read my answers!)

I have been away from this blog for far too long. I just got back from a very bookishly eventful one-week holiday. Over the course of the five days, I seemed to have a lot of free time, mostly because I wasn’t visiting some place, but someone. I spend this time reading, among other things and here’s what I read:

1. Inside the Haveli by Rama Mehta – This exotic little book gives you a lot to think about – the lives of the women of the Haveli, their customs, their willing discrimination towards themselves and others and the strong rejection of the changing ideas of the outside world. The language is very Indian, with many colloquializations (this word check tells me that’s not a word; isn’t it?) and a few words out of the regional language to add flavour. That being said, the style is fluid and the descriptions are vivid and apt. If you like books on India, this is a must read!

2. A Hero of our Time by Mikhail Lermontov – The version I read was a translation by Vladimir Nabokov, which makes it difficult to point out that I thought the writing was clumsy. It was very disconnected and the effort went into it showed through clearly – that is to say, it seemed like a translation, which as far as I know, translations aren’t supposed to seem like. The book itself was pretty odd. Of course, it was also very funny, which made want to keep reading and it was certainly interesting, how honest the book dared to be.

3. Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse – I’m working on a post on Wodehouse and that’s where this is going to be, thanks.

4. The Fall by Albert Camus – I read this book, gulped it down (to be precise) within hours at a library (free of cost… yay.) Interestingly it started with a quote right out of A Hero of our Time, which I’d read the previous day, and I didn’t notice that until I finished The Fall. Now, I think, the books have a lot in common. But A Hero of our Time is an endlessly better work. The Fall is disconnected, abrupt and while I was awed by most of the things written, it’s just not a good book. The premise, the framework that makes it a fiction is loose and unnecessary, Camus ought to have published it as a series, maybe, of essays. As a book, it’s is just very unfinished.

5. Howards End by E. M. Forster – What can I say about this one? Howards End was my favourite of the  five books that I read and it has definitely left a long-lasting impression on me. I am probably just developing a taste for that early modern (does that make any sense?) English prose; you know, at the turn of the century, where it is not quite Victorian but not like today. There is so much going on in that book, that I am going to devote an entire post to it, soon.

On my way back, at the airport and on the plane, I read Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber, the controversial ‘true’ story, which later turned out not to be quite as true as initially claimed, of the woman who was possessed by sixteen personalities. I haven’t finished it yet, so I am not going to comment on it.

Looking back at the books that I read, and other holidays and other holiday reads, I realized not all of them were ideal for reading on a vacation. So what makes a good holidays read? There are the few things that I’ll take into consideration the next time I pack my book bag / my Kindle (if my sister lets me have hers, tongue-in-cheek, I hope she reads this.)

# 1 The book should be short. You don’t want to drag on for 600-something pages when you’re on a vacation, there will definitely be distractions and frequent interruptions just don’t work go hand-in-hand with longer reads. 200-300 pages are good enough for me, but some might like fewer.

# 2 The book should not be too intense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you keep your brain at home, when on a holiday. But in that nice relaxing atmosphere, I don’t want to be reading Stephen King (and that’s saying something, because I love King.) It should make you think, sure, I don’t like immature, mindless books either, but not too much. You don’t want the book to invade your mind throughout the journey.

# 3 The book should be written by an author you have never read. This is just a personal thing. When I have fewer or no expectations, I’ve learnt, I tend to like the book more – often because I give it a fair chance. When you are at a place you’ve never been before, surrounded by new things, the book should be a ‘new’ thing as well. The 32nd Discworld novel would not have provided me with as much fun as my 2nd ever Wodehouse, not because I don’t like Terry Pratchett, but he reminds me of home.

# 4 The book should be fiction. I just do not have the patience for non-fiction on a journey. You want something eventful, distracting, maybe, swift paced and continuous, with a story. A mystery, a crime thriller, light horror novel, a family drama or a love story, a humorous fantasy, even a book of short stories (though I prefer novels to short stories) all work just fine.

# 5 The book should be hardcover and normal sized. By normal sized I mean well, not too wide or long, as it takes up more space (it should fit in your purse) and hardcover, mostly because you don’t want to end up with an accidentally cracked spine or bent cover-pages. If you carry an e-reader, convenience is certainly yours, but me, I just like the touch of a real book.

What do you think makes a good holiday read?

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling # 1

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a fun little book about reading, woven around the simplest idea: What if the Queen discovers the pleasures of reading? As she becomes a passionate reader, Her Majesty arranges a reception to meet and interact with some of the writers she enjoys reading. At the soiree, however, the Queen is disappointed and she realizes something:

“Authors are as much creatures of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books.”

I read The Uncommon Reader last week, but something like what Bennett has said has been on my mind for a month. I still haven’t finished reading The Casual Vacancy. I’m taking it slow. But I do like whatever I have read so far and here’s what I think (call this a mid-read review):

The first half of the book is very character focused and Rowling is great at building characters. You get easily attached to them and halfway through the book, you feel like you know them. The plot moves slowly but that doesn’t mean that the first half of the book is devoid of action. There are a lot of back-stories and memories and sub-plots to keep you involved and curious. The book is impressive and moving from the very beginning. I loved the way Rowling deals with hard emotions and gory details in brisk, matter-of-fact tones and the intended message is sent across subtly, even employing dark humour, quite unlike the bold life lessons in Harry Potter. The build-up is great, you just know something big is coming, and when it does, it arrives with a BANG!

Being the die-hard Harry Potter fan that I am, I can see why Harry Potter fanatics were shocked at how adult the novel is. In her defense, of course, Rowling did make it pretty clear that it was going to be nothing like Harry Potter. And yet, most of the bad reviews I came across were from disappointed Harry Potter fans, and were full of things like:

Rowling has written outrageous stuff for the sake of making the book “different.” She has tried too hard to sound adult. There is too much cursing and bad language and I lost respect for Rowling. 

After reading every single thing that Rowling had ever written about the Wizarding World and re-reading most of it over the years, her writing felt homey and comfortable and somewhere I felt I had a connection with her, which I am sure most people who grew up with the Harry Potter series feel. But then, like Her Majesty feels in The Uncommon Reader, we don’t really know an author just by reading their book. What J. K. Rowling shows us through Harry Potter is just one side of her. And so, even though the author of Harry Potter is someone that we love and is more than enough for us, J. K. Rowling doesn’t end there. She is full of surprises and The Casual Vacancy proves that.

Stephen King’s 11.22.63 – A long overdue review/rant

I have been putting off publishing this review for so long. It’s just been lying in my drafts and I have read it time and again, wondering why it just doesn’t seem right. You know, it’s difficult to write a review that does justice to such a long book – long, not only because of the number of pages, but because of the content. Let’s just say, your everyday non-Stephen King author could have easily made three books out of it – for instance, a love story, a science fiction book and a historical fiction novel.

Now I have decided to scrap the “About the book + Summary + My Thoughts” review format and write this instead. I have just read horror fiction by Stephen King, along with a couple of non-fiction books. I haven’t read the Dark Tower series, so I had no idea what to expect from a combination of science fiction and King. I read about King’s upcoming book on New York Times and I just had to get my hands on it; which I did manage to, thanks to someone who (apparently) noticed my silent plea in the form of a Facebook link of the review.
Anyway, right from the cover, the book is fascinating. The first thing that caught my attention were the lines: The day that changed the world. What if you could change it back?
And that is basic plot of the book. The “What If?” When Jake Epping is led to a time portal by one of his friends, when he is asked to go back in time, to Dallas, to the day that changed the world, and save John Kennedy – what does Jake Epping do? Does Jake Epping decide to take the fate of the world in his hands and stop JFK’s assassination? Can he go through with his plan?
Like I said, 11.22.63 is not just science fiction. It’s one of those very long stories by Stephen King that you wouldn’t want to carelessly throw into one genre. Jake Epping is a very lovable old character. He is an English teacher from Maine, with a failed marriage, and not much to look forward to in this time. When he discovers the time portal, the ‘rabbit-hole’ as it is called, he finds a purpose. I mean, really, wouldn’t you say yes if someone proposed the idea of going back and changing history? And how bad could it be? – in case of this rabbit-hole, whatever time (weeks or years) you go back for, when you return, you have always only been away for two minutes. There’s a catch of course, but Epping doesn’t know it yet…
Saying anything else would qualify as a writing a spoiler, and I try to avoid that. In the rest of the book, you watch (well, read) history unfold. I have always loved Stephen King’s characters, but this is one book where I appreciated the scenery just as much. You feel as if you are experiencing history along with the lead character (Epping, who now prefers to be called George Amberson.) The romance, though quite natural for such a book about time travel, did get a little too soppy for my taste for a while. The explanation for the concept of time travel and the rabbit-hole, which is not revealed till the very end, is very intriguing – actually, it is also a bit confusing, I had to re-read it a couple of times.
Along with everything else in the book (the Sci-Fi, romance and history) there is that suspense that builds up until the very end. The What If? That’s what kept my nose buried in the book throughout – even through those few parts that seemed sort of unnecessary. King surprised me till the very end, when I decided I already knew what was going to happen, when I decided it was now sort of obvious… the surprises kept coming.
The ending is lovely, if you do ever decide to read the book (and I think you should!) don’t give up halfway through. Even though the length is intimidating, the end is worth it.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett

The title of the novel The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett made me want to read it. When I started reading the novel, I hadn’t read any reviews or synopses and had no idea what to expect.

It is the story of a notorious book thief and a clever rare-book dealer who tracks him down. It provides a glimpse into the quite magical world of rare book collectors.

There is not much to say about the writing style. I found it a bit pompous, too literary; but it’s one of the things you learn to overlook when only the plot/ideas get you so involved in the book.
The author’s opinion about the fact that many collectors don’t actually read the books they collect was first surprising, then convincing. It is the love for the physical beauty of books that drives people to collect them. The yellowed pages, the delicate spine and that old smell, I’d be lying if I said never I loved books for all of that.
“Much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books’ physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories—we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.”
Don’t you completely agree? There are so many books that I do judge by their covers. So many books I don’t like but can’t manage to give away, because they have that special meaning, beauty attached to them. I have fond memories to associate with every book I owned as a kid; serious discussions along with bookish games and crazy fan-girl obsessions.
I still remember reading the first few pages of The Diary of a Young Girl in my school library. It was the first hardcover novel I read, and that edition carried pictures of the girl and her family and a map of the place she lived in; along with a few copies of the original diary entries scribbled in her own handwriting. The fact that I didn’t like the book as much as I thought, doesn’t remove the memory. The excitement it caused me to think that the book was actually someone’s life, gave me sort of a new perspective on reading. Like the author says, even physical artifacts (like books or paintings) carry memory and meaning.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves reading or loves to hold a book in their hands or loves, much like the author, to spend time in libraries, surrounded by books. It is one of the best books about books.
“Sitting in any library, surrounded by high shelves of books, I sense the profoundly rich history of scholarship as something real, and it’s both humbling and inspiring. This manifestation of reality is true of other artifacts as well. We can read about the Holocaust or where Emily Dickinson wrote her “letter to the world” or where Jim Morrison is buried. We can view online photos of all these places. Still, each year, thousands of people visit Auschwitz, The Homestead, and Père Lachaise. I suppose our desire to be near books rises from a similar impulse; they root us in something larger than ourselves, something real.”

Top Ten Tuesday #14

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic:

Top Ten Books I feel as though everyone had read but me:

There are a lot of books that have hit the bestseller lists, but I still haven’t read. But most of those books and the kind which I’m most likely never to pick up. For instance, any Nicholas Sparks novel or the books that fit into the ‘paranormal young adult’ genre. But there are some books that I could have read by now, along with the thousand other people who read them; but I didn’t get around to it. There are the books everyone seems to have read, except, unfortunately, me:

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R Tolkien – I am going to save these for some long vacation somewhere down the road.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

4. The Stand by Stephen King

5. The Tiffany Aching books (from the Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett – I will read them. Soon.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

7. Sandman series by Neil Gaiman – I am still not convinced that I could like comic books.

8. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin

9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

10. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher – From this entire list, I probably want to read these the most!

What makes a book a “must-read”?

Musing Mondays is a meme hosted at MizB’s Should Be Reading. This week’s musing is:

What is the one (or maybe two) qualities a book must have for you to pass it along to your best friend as a “must-read”?

Of course, the book depends on the person I am recommending it to. If it were my sister, I’d recommend every book I love; because she’ll also love almost all of them! But that’s not the same with my friends. I tend to read rather genre-specific books these days – mostly fantasy or science fiction. And they tend not to like them. So, for my friends to like the book, the first requirement is that the book does not belong to either of those genres!

Usually, what I tell my friends to be a”must-read ” has a different or new or unique plot. Not like your usual mysteries, crime stories, classics, romances or horror stories. The last book I really forced my best friend to read was Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (Isn’t this cover absolutely beautiful?) And the next book I am going to make her read is The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester.