Favourite Books of 2021 – Part 2

The past three months have been unreal. No words can describe my whirlwind of self-inflicted life changes – but it does reflect in the dark, dark reading choices. In no particular order, Part 2 of My Favourite Books of 2021 –

1. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong – a story of Alzheimer’s, caring for the old, caring for the young, unrequited love and coming to terms with death. It’s about all of this and still, breaks any of the stereotypes you may have associated with these themes. Khong’s charming, quirky, sad writing style is difficult not to like. Link to my review.

2. Lost Gods by Brom – WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN! No, seriously. Why am I reading this now? Lost Gods is a story of a man who finds himself in the land of the dead and has to push his way out of Purgatory to save his family. It’s peppered with art by the author himself (who is an artist) and is just so incredibly detailed, it makes your skin crawl!

3. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – A modern adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, this is the story of a pair of British Muslim sisters whose brother has left the family on a terrorist path, following in the footsteps of their father. It’s the story of a family’s loss and the little, big things that make up identity – language, food, nationality, what you wear, whom you marry. A haunting tragedy. Full review here.

4. Nightbooks by J.A. White – A little boy who loves to write horror stories finds himself trapped in a witch’s lair. In an Arabian Nights fashion, the only thing that keeps him alive is entertaining the old witch with his ghost stories. What happens when he faces the dreaded writer’s block? I wish I had access to such delicious, and also tasteful, horror when I was in middle school. I loved this book!

5. The Dark Interval by Rainer Maria Rilke – Self help in my world often takes the form of writings by Rainer Maria Rilke. The Dark Interval is about life and death. It’s a set of letters that Rilke had written to his grieving friends. Beautiful… that someone could be so sweet, sensitive and practical, and say the right things, in the face of loss… where most of us would just blubber and grimace.

6. Peter the Great: His Life and Times by Robert K Massie – Wow, I’ve spent two months on this monster of a book! It is absolutely incredible just how much detail, intrigue and character Massie has managed to squeeze into the roughly 1200 pages of this book – not a word is superfluous. It’s an account, not just of the life of Peter the Great, but a biography of the whole of Europe during the long reign of this Russian Tsar. I will write more soon.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

I’m moving home, and reminding myself constantly that, “coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving,” (Terry Pratchett said that.) I stayed up reading overnight yesterday; or this morning. It felt good. Been a while since I did that. Then I ranted about the book on Goodreads. Sharing the rant here, too! A rare long review.

Amazon Blurb: Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year. Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become

Disclaimer-ish: Okay, I want to get this out of the way – this book is nothing like the ‘kind of books’ I read, if all those many kinds can somehow be clubbed together as one thing that this book is not. Which is also to say that if this book were a ‘typical’ example of some genre, I am fairly certain I have no clue which, or how it lives up to others like it. Yep, the strange and uncalled-for disclaimer ends here. The obsessing and fawning and oohing begins –

Rant: I LOVE THE BOOK. It is so emotional. This is going to sound like a tangent, but bear with me. One of my favourite high school teaching moments is asking students to decide what the ‘sigh’ at the end of Frost’s Road Not Taken stands for – is it regret, relief, frustration, helplessness, or just a resigned acceptance, even an ironic celebration, of the inevitability of life taking its course. For me, it’s the last, always has been. This book is Frost’s resigned sigh stretched/packed into a novel.

I am someone who tends to live in the past, if I can help it; against my own better judgement. Tonight (or this morning, it’s past sunrise!) I am delighted that the book found me – on the precipice of a major life change, I think I needed to be told that I should salvage the present, and look up and away from that inevitable yearning for the past. I couldn’t stop reading it! I think I might read it all over again, just to see what I missed in my haste to devour it.

Khong does interesting things with language. She describes the main character’s attempts to make a relationship work as “grotesque, like trying to tuck an elephant into pants.” I came to a halt here at the ridiculous image. A simile shouldn’t distract you from the main prose and make you pause and puzzle over it, should it? Isn’t seamlessness a desired quality in a narrative? But. Tell me this didn’t make you smile! What a weird thing to say. Then there’s a passing comment about gutsy seagulls which look like Jack Nicholson, what with their piercing stares. I don’t think I will ever be able to look at a seagull or Jack Nicholson the same.

I made so many notes! Invented yoga poses, sabre-toothed squirrels, jokes hinged on a play on punctuation, and pronunciation, and pink loofahs. I just couldn’t steal away from the book to update my highlights on Goodreads or anything – and that’s a good sign right there.

An interjection of quotes:

Today we walked past a café’s colorful chalkboard and you asked me,
“Why is that sun wearing a bra on his face?”
“Those are sunglasses,” I told you.

~
“I’m just saying, if I were you, I’d forget about him,” she said. If I were you is something I’ve never really understood. Why say, “If I were you”? Why say, “If I were you,” when the problem is you’re not me? I wish people would say, “Since I am me,” followed by whatever advice it is they have.

~
I rip up the page. I mean to throw the pieces away but can’t. I put the pieces into my pocket to throw away later, or to forget to take out of my pocket and have destroyed by the washing machine.
It’s all so messed up. I think what it is, is that when I was young, my mother was her best version of herself. And here I am, now, a shitty grown-up, and messing it all up, and a disappointment.
What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person.
Here’s the fear: she gave to us, and we took from her, until she disappeared.

Rating: So why 4 stars? Some parts of the book are stretched a little too thin. One has to take the level of detail with a pinch of salt – the narrator’s dad’s journals chronicling her childhood weirdnesses are too unrealistic. Children do absurd things, but no child does so many absurd things, so consistently, all in one day – for so many days. It’s quirky, but the narrative framework is a flimsy support for it. The “fake classroom sessions” set up for the narrator’s dad also are impossible to pull off with such non-chalance. All the “side characters” unite in a mission to keep up a semblance of ‘normalcy’ for this man suffering from dementia; and the lengths they go to do it are over the top and forced. A small issue. If it was a book that was driven by the plot, it would matter more – but it’s not.

Recommendation: The book is not ‘ha-ha’ funny, but funny in the same sense as “life is funny!” A summary wouldn’t do this book justice, so I haven’t written one. I mean – what’s up there in the description is as much as anyone could say and it’s not enough. It’s not a book about breakups, or parents, or health, or Alzheimer’s or loss or memory – though it has all of that. You need not satisfy specific ‘experience credentials’ to get this book. You just need to have lived a little.

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!

Reading Looking For Alaska by John Green

Disclaimer: I reached the end of the blog post before I realised it’s not a review; so here’s a warning, this is not a review. In fact, I may have forgotten to write about the book entirely, as in its plot or themes or characters. Goodreads can help you there. Let’s call it what it is – It’s a rant. 

Disclaimer 2 – I also quote myself a bit; not being self-indulgent here, just lazy.

Have you read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? It is this tiny little book which poses and answers a question: what would happen if the Queen became a reader? Among other lovely things, there’s a scene in the book when the Queen invites all these writers she’s newly discovered to a dinner of some sort. And at that dinner, she discovers something that all readers eventually learn: the writers are not their books. She’s disappointed.

Ever since I read that book, I mentally put authors I read to the “uncommon reader test” – do I like them as much as I like their books? Stephen King and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only two writers to pass that test unequivocally, for me.

Over the last few weeks, I have been binge-watching old vlogbrothers videos from back when I actually followed vlogbrothers videos. I’ve also been wondering why I stopped following them because I absolutely ADORE John Green. Yet I haven’t read much by him. I’ve said this before on the blog in my Turtles All The Way Down review; but I feel like he’s one of those people who – when he writes, he becomes unstuck in time and is a teenager himself – the effortless points of view, the angst and rebellion – only to come back to his adult self when structuring his stories.

He just does teenage well; without that internal lack of structure and self-awareness that a real teenage point of view would have. He knows when to start and stop being his characters, you know? He also gets storytelling more than many writers that fall hopelessly into that young adult books’ club.

So, Looking For Alaska. This is the third book of his that I have read, and the first he has written. I did not like A Fault In Our Stars, the infamous tear-jerker. I LOVED Turtles All The Way Down. And now, Looking For Alaska completes the set by falling somewhere in the middle. Green certainly has a ‘type’ of plot, he has his own set of tropes… and I don’t know if his books spawned the many similar others, or he just followed someone else’s worn path.

But you have the school setting; the misfits who ‘fit in’ more than you’d think; that one English Lit/Arts teacher who is just a cool teenager in sheep’s clothing; the endless quoting of music and writing that, let’s face it, couldn’t possibly be so popular among real-life teens [I’m thinking of the likes of Faulkner and Maugham, and correct me if I’m wrong about this], not to mention, abysmal parenting that is taken in a stride by all the adult characters. Young adult tropes abound.

But so do the more-than-occasional delicious turns of phrase; the warmth emanating from every page; the depth of feeling and that kind of untamed teenage energy… Turtles All The Way Down had a lot more of it in my view, but this book does too. A few years ago, I wrote this about teenagers in an unrelated post on another blog. Kind of fitting to add it here –

As annoying as teenagers are, they kinda make me nostalgic. I mean, when else would you be so lost in your own little technicolor bubble as when you’re in your teenages, when the whole of life and creation is spread out before you and you’re this tiny speck floating around aimlessly in the wide universe, and yet somehow you picture yourself in the centre of the whole damn mess. You never get to be as beautifully self involved as when you’re sixteen, not before nor after.

Looking for Alaska is that – self involved, but beautifully so. I have got around to it rather late too. As it turns out, this was published in 2005 – when I was 13. How weird is that. I probably would not have liked it back then. I was busy playing very own young adult trope of being too “grown up” for certain books, you know, and judging them too harshly. Young Priya would have been wrong. I read the book rather quickly but it was an evening well spent. A whole three stars’ worth.

Do you read young adult books? What do you think of Green’s writing? And what about your “uncommon” writers – do your authors live up to their books?

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
books.
First: Goodreads
lists
. 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
recommendations.
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
Bukowski.
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
Fuego.
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.