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.

Top Ten Books that make Great Gifts

I was away for a couple of days and couldn’t find time to reply to the comments on my previous post. I’ll get to that a bit later, along with some serious blogging that I dearly missed. But let me start with a Top Ten Tuesday post – a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new topic every week and this week is a freebie.

I have always considered books to be the perfect kind of gift – there’s hardly anyone who totally hates reading. Many of my friends’ birthdays are coming up, not to mention, my own birthday is less than a month away. So, this week I’m going to list ten books that I think would make perfect gifts for everyone (no matter what age they are or genre they prefer!)

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel – Despite the Booker prize, I think this book is seriously underrated. My sister received this as a gift; she loved it and so did I! In fact, I don’t know anyone who hated this book. It’s unique, well written, exciting and also very moving. I think it makes a perfect gift!

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – This book is amazing. And if you’re going to be skeptical about that, I have to say I was doing just that until a few months ago. The book is brilliantly written, with an intricate plot and fascinating characters! I would gift it to any of my friends and would love to have it gifted to me (say…for my birthday?!)

3. The Godfather by Mario Puzo – The Godfather is another one of those books that (almost) no one actually hates. In fact, everyone I know, girls and guys, love this book. It would be a great gift, and I actually remember having given it to someone as a birthday gift.

4. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome – This book is hilarious; one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is situation comedy, written in such a simple manner that anyone who reads it is bound to love it. I can’t think of a book I could relate to more. It would be a great gift, for all ages, really!

5. Love Story by Erich Segal – I guess this one is sort of a “love it or hate it” kind of book. It’s just I know more who’ve loved it than hated it. Maybe it’s just a you-want-to-read-it-once kind of book. Either way, it might be one of the okay-ish love stories I’ve read. And I just know too many people who love love stories.

6. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein – I gave this book to my best friend on her birthday. I didn’t love it when I read it, but she totally did. I’d also given her a Harry Potter book, but in retrospect, I think this one made a better birthday gift than that. Mainly because it is sort of an introduction to the Lord of the Rings series; but unlike Harry Potter, it’s also a stand alone book.

7. Agatha Christie – Although I have hardly read any books by her, I think she has written the sort of detective fiction that is loved by everyone. Her books are funny and smart, and not too Sherlock Holmes-ey either. I love Hercule Poirot, though Christie’s books without her usual protagonists are also nice. Many years back, I had even given one of my friends And Then There Were None on her birthday.

8. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – I think fans of science fiction will love this book for how awesome it is, and non-fans will like it because, well, it is kind of amazing and at the same time, it isn’t too Sci-fi-ey for beginners. This collection of unique, funny short stories would make a great gift!

9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – This is a beautiful and touching tale of a young autistic boy, from the point of view of a young autistic boy. It takes you to a place where very few books can. In case of this book, I am somehow not sure many people would buy it for themselves, which makes it a perfect gift.

10. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – This great combination of fantasy and humour is one of my favourite reads. I might be a bit partial when it comes to this book, but you can’t blame me. It is two of the best fantasy and humour authors together – and it may not be the perfect gift for you – but it’s definitely the perfect gift for me!!

Stardust on the road!

Starting with this poem, which I’d first read in a Diana Wynne Jones novel, I spent the better part of a fourteen hour journey reading another simply amazing book by Neil Gaiman; Stardust.

When I was reading Stardust, I was actually transported back to my childhood. It is a fairy tale for adults, and a great one at that!

“A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?”

Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now that’s a question.”

Stardust is a fantasy novel written by Neil Gaiman in 1998. It is quite different from his usual books, written in a more traditional fairy-tale-like style.

Stardust is the story of a young man named Tristan Thorn. He lives in Wall, a village situated on the border of our world and the realm of Faerie. The village is separated from Faerie by a long and high wall, which no one crosses. One day a distant star falls down to the earth, and Tristan Thorn sets out into Faerie to retrieve this star for the one he loves. But as fairy tales go, this adventure isn’t very easy, and Tristan Thorn certainly isn’t the only one looking for the star.

“It was a violet, and it chinkled and sang as he held it, making a noise similar to that produced by wetting a finger and rubbing it, gently, around a wineglass.”

I absolutely adored the way this tale was written. I was reminded of a quote from Stephen King’s On Writing – you must be able to describe things in a way that will cause your reading to prickle with recognition. I think Neil Gaiman does just that.

I liked getting to experience another one of Gaiman’s amazingly unique worlds. Faerie is nothing like you expect and everything that you want all at the same time! It is a wonderful play on all the cliches in fantasy. Not to mention, that subtle, makes-you-chuckle humour made this book all the more enjoyable. It’s another Gaiman novel that I’d recommend in a heartbeat!

Popsy: Nightmares & Dreamscapes

Popsy is a short story by Stephen King published in the collection titled Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

While it certainly isn’t my favourite from the book (a review of my actual favourite coming up shortly) I did love it compared to most of the similarly themed stuff out there.

Sheridan is a pitifully disgusting man – a gambler, who is paying off his debts by abducting children and “delivering” them to a certain Mr. Wizard. Even as he does it, Sheridan tries to convince himself he isn’t doing a bad thing. (You begin to loathe this guy right from the first line of the story.) This story starts when Sheridan sees a pale white, green eyed kid crying in front of a mall. The kid is looking for his “Popsy”, who has apparently went off to get the kid something to drink. Under the pretext of helping the kid, Sheridan puts him in the car and sets off. Though the boy seems a bit odd to him, he has no idea what he is in for.

“You’ll be sorry.” The kid elaborated, “When my Popsy finds you, you’ll be sorry.”

This is the sort of story that you enjoy more for the scenery than the plot – because the plot is pretty obvious. The way Stephen King writes, it is almost as if you are there in that car too, along with Sheridan and the child; only unlike the poor man you know something is coming your way. And you are terrified. I love Stephen King for the way he manages to make me pity even the worst of the characters – if you are a Stephen King fan, you’ll love this story!

Like I said before, the story is awfully predictable, though. Too bad they didn’t have the Twilight mania back then; if they had, I’m sure poor Sheridan would have guessed in less than a second what he was getting himself into.

Short Stories on Wednesday is a meme hosted at Risa’s Bread Crumb Reads.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

There were eyes painted on the church door, narrow red eyes, and ugly stone demons the height of a man stood on either side of the entrance, their teeth bared like savage dogs.

“Welcome to the devil’s house!” said the bearded man with a mocking bow before opening the heavy door.
Inkheart (Original: Tintenherz) is a German fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke, translated into English by Anthea Bell. It is the first book in the Inkworld Trilogy. If you have ever read a book and wished that the characters would just come alive, this story is for you!

Rating: 3/5
Summary: Meggie is a little girl who loves reading books. She lives with her father, Mo, a book binder! One night, a mysterious stranger named Dustfinger shows up at their house. He calls her father Silvertongue and wants to warn him about some danger. It is the first time that Meggie notices her father lie to her and hide something from her. It is a battered, old book with a green cover; Inkheart. This is where and why the adventure begins.
Meggie learns soon, that the reason why her father won’t aloud to her, is because he can bring characters out of a book alive. Nine years before, Mo read out the characters of the book Inkheart – a terrible villain Capricorn and his men and Dustfinger, the fire-eater. That same night, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the book. Ever since then, Mo tried to keep his daughter safe from those very horrible characters, whom he himself gave life to. And now, he has to face them.
My thoughts: I thought it started out as a wonderful concept. The characters, though slightly pretentious about reading, are amazing and so is the setting.
My only problem is the plot – there isn’t much of it. It seems like the introduction to a series, but not quite a book all by itself. There isn’t much excitement till the last few chapters, and that is when we really get to know anything at all about the Inkworld.
I love the cover design and I love the way the author has quoted famous fantasy authors at the start of each chapter.

But it’s a magical story and the rest of the stories may make up for this. I want to read it to, in Cornelia Funke’s words, “taste the words, savour them on my tongue”!