Books I Meant to Read In 2020 But Didn’t Get To

Or rather, books I bought, but didn’t read. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic makes me sad, because that list is always longer than I’d like it to be. Here we go with ten random picks:

1. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – The second installment in the sequel-trilogy to His Dark Materials. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t read this year – dying to!

the colours are so pretty

2. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston – This is about the origin of the ebolavirus. It came highly recommended by at least two different people. As fascinating as the blurb makes it sound – science fiction thriller, mystery, horror combined but TRUE – it just hits too close to home!

3. Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch – This book is all about what the internet has done to language – the history of it, the science, the magic! I’m a little sad about this one because it’s been sitting half-read on the shelf for no reason.

4. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Speaking of sequels and trilogies, this is the third book in the Thomas Cromwell saga that started with the oh-so-brilliant Wolf Hall all the way back in 2009. I’ve been admiring this beautiful cover on my shelf for months now, but too scared to pick up the tome.

blue

5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama – I absolutely fell in love with Dreams From My Father, which I read a few years ago, but which was written over twenty years ago, when Obama had been elected as the first black president of… the Harvard Law Review. I expect this won’t be anything like that but would certainly like to read it.

6. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry – I found this at a book sale early last year. This a little guide to writing poetry, with tasks and exercises and advice from the inimitable Stephen Fry. Just haven’t had the time to read it!

7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This book was recommended to me by a friend, I gifted it to two people who both absolutely loved it and I still somehow haven’t got around to it. It will happen soon!

that coffee mug though

8. The rest of the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski – One of the highlights of last year was starting this series. I love it, love it, love it. Maybe this is my gateway back to fantasy series after many years!

9. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – Another book I was SO excited to read! I adore Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. But with Piranesi, the first ten pages were very different from my expectation. I was curious but worried it would be letdown, so I put it aside. Should I pick it back up?

10. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – The image of this gorgeous book has been haunting me for all of 2020. I left it in another city and was then stuck somewhere else for the rest of the year! We shall meet again.

look. at. it.

What about you? Any unfinished business, books left on the shelves last year?

Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 3

Hey, it’s January! This blog is getting ooold. Anyway, this post should have been written in December, but I have a lot of “looking ahead” bookish posts coming up and might as well start with this little unfinished Favourite Books Part 3. Links to the other two: Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 1 and Part 2.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I’d borrowed this gem from a friend and it came highly recommend and it was worth every moment spent on it. I have seen and read enough fiction around WW2 to feel compassion fatigue and a general wariness about picking up yet another formulaic designed-to-make-you-cry book. This was a breath of fresh air. The story is … – quoting the Goodreads blurb – … about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – One word: genius! The Sympathizer is set at the end of the Vietnam War. As multitudes of Americans evacuate the country, our narrator is one of the locals who escape. He works for a general of the South Vietnamese army. Except… he’s actually been a North Vietnamese spy all along, a Communist sympathizer. What unfolds is a social satire of the Vietnam War, its depictions by American media, the alienation experienced by those rendered homeless, loss of identity in exile, and the Westerner’s misguided understanding of the East. It’s a comedy, tragedy and psychological thriller all rolled into one.

3. Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman – Full review here. A detective receives a mysterious phone call with some clues from her partner, and hours later, he is found dead. She sets off on a mission to find out what really happened, following the few clues left by her partner… only to be lead into a dark supernatural trap that lies waiting beneath our mundane world. It’s an American Gods meets Dresden Files kind of adventure – with shadow creatures, clowns, goblins… and could it be possible?… dragons! One of the coolest finds of the year.

4. The White Zone by Carolyn Marsden – A touching, sweet story about two ten-year-old boys, growing up in Baghdad, both of them innocent spectators and soon-to-be perpetrators of communal violence, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In early 2008, there was a snow fall in Baghdad for the first time in a hundred years (in fact, it happened again last year after more than a decade.) This story is weaved around that one event, that miracle, that while it lasted, seemed to blur out the differences that waged war in lives of these boys. The story has an uncanny depth of character, and this subtlety, both surprising for a book means for young adults.

5. First They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman – Quoting the Amazon blurb – “Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups that formed the eight “national races. He was left stateless in his own country. In 2016 and 2017, the government intensified the process of ethnic cleansing, and over 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.” It is a small, personal glimpse into a modern tragedy, a political horror story that is too difficult to fit into words. Unimaginable!

6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali – Oh man, this book. You really need to have the stomach for this kind of brutal honesty; the kind that makes you uncomfortable, or “sounds funny” or sounds not-true, because it’s so beyond your scope of imagination. It starts out as a quasi-memoir, as Abdudali details her own experience and soon transforms into a cut-throat dissection of rape culture. A must read for any and all of us!

Five Signs A Bookworm Isn’t Getting Enough Books

Would you keep a pet goldfish out of water? Or neglect feeding a child? In much the same way, it is your job, as a member of a bookworm’s life, to ensure that she gets a constant supply of books. If you notice any of the following symptoms in a bookworm, chances are she is not getting enough books. It is for you to discover why and rectify the situation.
Stage 1. Disinterest: If a bookworm seems disinterested in the world around her, it is because she misses the fantastical, intriguing worlds of her books. Remember, these are the ones that help her cope with the routine. Give her a book, and she’ll be back to normal in no time. 

Stage 2. Irritability: Is she annoyed all the time? A bookworm, when confined in real life for too long, begins to show signs of irritation at everything mundane. If she snaps at you, ignore her, tell her to stop what she’s doing and place a book in her hands. This is the best way to avoid further complications.
Stage 3. Over-talkativeness: Does she burst into long unstoppable monologues? Please understand, a book-deprived bookworm is likely bored out of her mind. She expects you to be the entertainment she’s missing. Either stand up to the demands of the role or give her a book to read. However, be warned that if you choose the latter and do give her a great book, she may never speak to you again.
Stage 4. Sleepiness: If a bookworm tends to doze off at even the most random times of day, she is probably trying to dream up the worlds she is unable to read about. She will inevitably reach a stage when the dreams will not be enough. A bookworm in this stage of book-separation needs immediate attention. The ideal cure is a page-turner, a mystery or a thriller, to keep her awake long enough to adjust her sleep cycle.
Stage 5. Hallucinations: Did she just call you Harry? Say something about rescuing Sirius? Is she trying to fly a broom? Lead her to her favourite bookshelf, leave the room and don’t return for at least a week. This bookworm is in need of serious help and you’re not it.
There may be numerous doubtless justified reasons for a bookworm not getting enough reading time. But just remember, no work is worth this high a cost.

Side Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books

1. Ollivander from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – His first name was apparently revealed to be Garrick on Pottermore. I have always found him one of the most fascinating “minor” characters in the books. Anyone who is that charming in a supporting role deserves a book of their own. Wand-making adventures, imagine that.

2. Dick Hallorann from The Shining by Stephen King – Oh, we do see more of this guy in Doctor Sleep, but that wasn’t nearly enough. He is one of my favourite Stephen King characters, because he makes few appearances and still leaves an impact. I’m sure you’d agree he needs a book of his own, about how he discovered his shining, how learned to use it, or his life after the Overlook incident.

3. Francis Adirubasamy (Mamaji) from Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I love this book. And Mamaji, the swimmer responsible for the tragic French naming of Piscine Molitor Patel, is one of the most eccentric, brilliant characters ever. Pi does tell us a lot about him in the earlier pages of the book, but I’d love to read a book about the man, even if written in a vastly different vein from Life of Pi.

4. Professor Van Helsing from Dracula by Bram Stoker – If we count all the Dracula fan fiction ever created, I’m sure there are books on Van Helsing. I have seen the Hugh Jackman movie, which in all honesty, sucked. But I just wish Stoker had written something on his history. He is such an interesting character.

5. John Uskglass (the Raven King) from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – God, I wish she’d write a book on the Raven King, already. You just can’t create such a big, legendary character and basically only look at him from the points of view of two stuffy Englishmen. It’s not fair, the ruler of Faerie deserves more. 

This is the topic for Top Ten Tuesday today, over at The Broke and the  Bookish. Hop on over to participate! Which minor characters would you like starring as leads?

Five Places Books Make Me Want to Visit

I find myself making too many lists on this blog lately – the blame lies partly on Top Ten Tuesday, I’m participating after a whole year and very enthusiastic about it – and partly on the fact that having been annoyingly busy with exams, I hardly find time to read. Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is the ten bookish things I want to buy – but honestly, while I love the idea of some, I’m always reluctant to spend on trinkets what I could spend on books.
My topic today is from Indiblogger’s Indispire initiative. The idea is pretty straightforward: five places I want to visit because I read about them in books. I don’t mean fictional places here, though, no Platform 9 3/4 or Hogsmeade in this list. Here are five real places I want to visit because I read about them in fiction. Hopefully, when I reach a point where I finance my own trips, I will get around to this. (Till then all the places in fiction I get to visit would be ones right here in India.)
Of course, these five mean hardly the end of my list, but I’ve only included those books which have extensive descriptions of locations, particularly those I could find!

1.

Transylvania – Romania – Carpathian Mountains – Do I even have to say it? 
– from Dracula by Bram Stoker

(picture taken from Wikipedia) The picture is the view from Bran Castle, which is one of the castles associated with Dracula’s castle.

Beyond the green swelling hills of the Mittel Land rose
mighty slopes of forest up to the lofty steeps of the Carpathians themselves.
Right and left of us they towered, with the afternoon sun falling full upon
them and bringing out all the glorious colours of this beautiful range, deep
blue and purple in the shadows of the peaks, green and brown where grass and
rock mingled, and an endless perspective of jagged rock and pointed crags, till
these were themselves lost in the distance, where the snowy peaks rose grandly.
Here and there seemed mighty rifts in the mountains, through which, as the sun
began to sink, we saw now and again the white gleam of falling water. One of my
companions touched my arm as we swept round the base of a hill and opened up
the lofty, snow-covered peak of a mountain, which seemed, as we wound on our
serpentine way, to be right before us:-

“Look! Isten szek!”- “God’s seat!”- and
he crossed himself reverently.

2.

Spain – Roncesvalles – or the road leading up to it! 

– from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

These descriptions of Burgete made me swoon more than those of Pamplona. Pictured is the house where Hemingway stayed according to Wikipedia.
(picture taken from Wikipedia.) 
The bus climbed steadily up the road. The country was barren
and rocks stuck up through the clay. There was no grass beside the road.
Looking back we could see the country spread out below. Far back the fields
were squares of green and brown on the hillsides. Making the horizon were the
brown mountains. They were strangely shaped. As we climbed higher the horizon
kept changing. As the bus ground slowly up the road we could see other
mountains coming up in the south. Then the road came over the crest, flattened
out, and went into a forest. It was a forest of cork oaks, and the sun came
through the trees in patches, and there were cattle grazing back in the trees.
We went through the forest and the road came out and turned along a rise of
land, and out ahead of us was a rolling green plain, with dark mountains beyond
it. These were not like the brown, heat-baked mountains we had left behind.
These were wooded and there were clouds coming down from them. The green plain
stretched off. It was cut by fences and the white of the road showed through
the trunks of a double line of trees that crossed the plain toward the north.
As we came to the edge of the rise we saw the red roofs and white houses of
Burguete ahead strung out on the plain, and away off on the shoulder of the
first dark mountain was the gray metal-sheathed roof of the monastery of
Roncesvalles.

3.

Germany – The Rhein – The Loreley Rock – from the poem Die Lorelei by Heinrich Heine which is the first German poem I remember reading some four years ago. It’s a haunting poem relating a legend of the siren. This is a Mark Twain translation.
(picture taken from Wikipedia)


I cannot divine
what it meaneth;


This haunting nameless pain.
A tale of the bygone ages,
Keeps brooding through my brain.
The faint air cools
in the gloaming;

And peaceful flows the Rhine.
The thirsty summits are drinking;
The sunset’s flooding wine.

The loveliest maiden is sitting;
High-throned in yon blue air.
Her golden jewels are shining;
She combs her golden hair,

She combs with a comb that is golden,

And sings a weird refrain;
That steeps in a deadly enchantment
The listener’s ravished brain.
The doomed in his
drifting shallop,
Is tranced with the sad sweet tone.
He sees not the yawing breakers,
He sees but the maid alone.
The pitiless
billwos engulf him;
So perish sailor
and bark,
And this, with her
baleful singing,
Is the Loreley’s
gruesome work.



4.

Ushuaia – Tierra del Fuego – Argentina  – the Beagle Channel – from This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson

Granted, the book is pre-colonization-old, which is the point – the channel was named after HMS Beagle, which carried Captain Robert FitzRoy and Darwin. And also, it is my favourite book in the world. The location is also famous for Verne’s The Lighthouse at the end of the World, but the channel will always mean more to me.
(picture from Wikipedia)



The sun nudged aside the persistent grey clouds in
celebration. There, in a sheltered cove, nestled an acre or so of rich, sloping
pastureland, well watered by brooks and protected on three sides by low, wooded
hills. The pretty little natural harbour was studded with islets, the water
smooth and glassy, with low branches overhanging a rocky beach. It was so
beautiful, so unexpected amid the wilds of Tierra del Fuego, that it possessed
an almost dreamlike quality. It was the perfect place to build a mission.


5.

The Uffington White Horse – Oxfordshire – England – from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett 

For me, this will always be Tiffany Aching’s curious horse pendant. The young witch is from The Chalk, an area of rolling chalk downland near Lancre in Discworld and this is the most famous land mark. I love what Granny Aching says about the horse.
(picture from Wikipedia)
“’Taint what a horse looks like, it’s what a horse be.”
________________________________________________________________________

Is that it!? I only get to pick five? I can think of so many others. What about you? Any place you want to see from a book you love? Any place you already have been to? Content, though I am, as an armchair traveller, visiting the world through words, I’d love the words to make me go places, too.

Nobel Prize Laureates I Have Read

I recently read a really nice short story by Alice Munro. I am currently reading Blindness by José Saramago. What do they have in common? That’s right, they were both awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature: Saramago way back in 1998 and Munro only last year. When someone commented “How often do you get to say you’ve read a Nobel Prize winner?” at the book club the other day, it got me thinking. I honestly didn’t know if I ever had any – the only author I was certain about was William Golding, and only because Lord of the Flies formed a large part of my syllabus last year.
So I found this list of all Nobel Prize Winners in Literature ever and satisfied my curiousity.
I have read the works of twelve Nobel Prize Laureates:
  1. Alice Munro 2013 – Dimension (short story)
  2. V. S. Naipaul 2001 – The Mystic Masseuse
  3. William Golding 1983 – Lord of the Flies, The Hot Gates
  4. Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1982 – Love in the Time of Cholera
  5. Heinrich Böll 1972 – The Train Was on Time, Clown, And Where Were You, Adam?, Irish Journal
  6. Albert Camus 1957 – The Fall
  7. Ernest Hemingway 1954 – The Sun Also Rises
  8. Bertrand Russell 1950 – The Conquest of Happiness and Why I am Not a Christian (and something else) when I was younger.
  9. Thomas Stearns Eliot 1948 – Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, Portrait of a Lady, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, On Poetry and Poets
  10. Hermann Hesse 1946 – Siddhartha
  11. George Bernard Shaw 1925 – Pygmalion
  12. Rudyard Kipling 1907 – The Jungle Book (granted, it was probably abridged), The Phantom Rickshaw (short story)
I can’t say I’ve read enough of Kipling or Hemingway to decide whether I liked them. I don’t see myself reading anything else by Gabriel Garcia Marquez anytime soon. That leaves seven authors. I love William Golding, Heinrich Böll, Bertrand Russel and Eliot. I liked The Fall and do want to read The Stranger, which Camus is rather more renowned for. I was impressed by Siddhartha, but having read it in German, it was difficult to love it – but I do want to read Steppenwolf, I almost stole it from a shopkeeper once. Pygmalion was beautiful. As for Naipaul, I found The Mystic Masseuse funny, but I would have to read more to really know. And I have already ordered a collection of the best stories by Alice Munro!
Of course, there are many authors I love a lot more, contemporaries of these writers even, who totally deserved the honour (me thinks) and this isn’t my judging a book by its Prize. That being said, there is a whole other bunch of books by awardees on my shelves, virtual and real, some read half-way, waiting to be finished. Five! I counted. Should I be worried that I feel all mighty and haughty at having read (soon enough) seventeen Nobel Prize winning writers. Why, how many have you read?