Ten Questions You Must Stop Asking Book Lovers

(Reposting with minor edits a post from early last year, because it really fits this week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt and because I love it.)

Excuse the generalization. The title could be misleading; I’m not talking about all book lovers here, but me. Which means it’s perfectly fine if you aren’t annoyed by these questions. But I do think some of you book bloggers and avid readers out there would agree with me on at least a few of these.

1. *Gawping at my bookshelf* But have you read all of these? These askers almost always relax with immense satisfaction when I say no.
Of course not. I have read about half of them and that is the point of owning books: I do not want to run out of reads. It is not as if I have only read three from the three hundred. Like Umberto Eco said, what is the point of stacking your shelves with only books that you have already read? (Not verbatim, naturally.)
2. Which is your all-time favourite book?
I don’t really hate this question so much as find it difficult to answer. Um, my favourite horror is The Shining by Stephen King, my favourite romance is Possession by A. S. Byatt. If you catch me on a Wednesday, my favourite fantasy would be Discworld by Terry Pratchett, but Sundays generally see me raving about Harry Potter. So yeah, there is no single all time favourite book.
3. Why do you read?
Okay, tell me this: why do you breathe? Can you help it? Because you would die if you didn’t? Right. That pretty much applies here too.
4. What is the point of fiction? / What do you gain from reading novels? / How can reading about imaginary things be useful?
These questions depress, infuriate and amuse me all at the same time. I could give you a hundred instances of fiction being pointy(?) and useful. But the fact is, you can come up with a hundred reasons to eat pizza too or start wearing hats, very logical reasons, but I will do either only if I want to – and no one is making you read fiction unless you want to. All I ask is, do not expect justifications or explanations from those of us who do and stop being so damn pompous about reading useful knowledge-providing non-fiction only.
5. How do you read so fast? Do you skip pages? 
Hey. How dare you accuse me of that. No, I don’t skip pages. And I don’t speed read either, so don’t you go telling me how quality is more important than quantity. Yes, I have a lot of free time on my hands, and when I don’t, I make time. No one gets to make me feel guilty about missing a few socializing sessions and other dull chores to finish a book. And after years spent reading, you don’t have to aim to read fast – it just happens.
6. No, but seriously, how could you have finished … in two days?
Fine. I skip pages. Whole chapters, when I am bored. Then I read the SparkNotes summary and scan the Goodreads reviews, rephrase them, throw in a couple of Priya-isms and voila! Review done. Pretending to love reading, skimming through books, all so I can write a book blog is super-rewarding. There. Happy?
7. (so this is more reviewer-centric rather than book-lover related) Are you scared of writing critical reviews? Why are all your reviews so safe and “politically correct”?
No, I just like to make the most of what I read. I am a book lover not a critic. And in all fairness, there is no such thing as a good or bad book, only a certain type of reader. When I don’t like a book, I rarely spend precious time ranting about it, never without giving reasons. If I am required to write a review, instead of “Ugh, what a horribly mushy book”, I would rather say, “I don’t like it, but fans of heart wrenching sagas might.” Sarcasm may slip in, but come on, nobody is perfect… at least I try.
8. What do you prefer: ebooks or physical books?
Am I the only one who finds this particular topic over-discussed?  Sure, I like the smell of a physical book and love libraries, but I also like carrying along a teenie device full of books that would have otherwise weighed a couple of kilos. I mean, I like reading. The stories matter. If Rowling publishes her next book only on like eggshells, that is where I’ll read it. 
9. You read so much. Is that why you have glasses? / why you are tired all the time (because of no activity, apparently) / why you never call? / why you are such an introvert? / why you *insert unrelated “issue”*?
No, at least… I don’t think so. No, I am pretty sure that is not the reason. Maybe I should not read so much, what do you thi…? Wait a minute, you cannot scare me into reading fewer books. What do you know about getting glasses or being an introvert, anyway!? The last I checked, you aren’t exactly a doctor. Reading is not a problem, thank you.
10. Do you even have any other hobbies, besides reading?
Erm… Yes?

Written for IndiSpire, a nice little initiative by IndiBlogger, which I can rarely take part in because of the very specific theme of this blog. 

London’s Book Shaped Benches – Why am I not there?!?

The title says it all. I don’t think I’ve ever wished harder I lived in London. Books About Town is a project launched by the National Literacy Trust where 50 literary themed benches illustrated by local artists have been strewn across the city for summer, to be auctioned later in the autumn. These are my favourites:
The Librarian bench (Discworld by Terry Pratchett)

Earnest bench (The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde)

Peter Pan bench (Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie)

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe bench (The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis)

The Jeeves and Wooster Bench (the Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse)
Aren’t they delightful? I borrowed these pictures from the official Books about Town website, where you’ll find the pictures of all the benches. Of course, there are these pictures submitted by people who stumbled across the benches throughout the city, which are way more fun as long as you can keep yourself from turning green. 
It gets more fun: Guardian lets you vote for the book to feature on the next bench, the 51st. The choices range from the 101 Dalmatians to Adrian Mole, and Harry Potter, who needless to say is in the lead – you can change that with your vote, though I will have you know, I didn’t! Anyway, are you thinking what I’m thinking? I know, this has brought me whole new ideas about bookish furniture. 

A Short History of the World – A Book Spine Poem

A Short History of the World 

Red Earth and Pouring Rain
Magic of the Angels
Sacred Games, Burning Bright,
The End of the Gods.

Born Free, Going Solo,
All Creatures Great and Small.
A Time to Kill Men of Honour,
A Fraction of the Whole.

– a poem by my’shelf’

The books are all different sizes, which made it very difficult to balance them on top of one another, and they did topple over a couple of times. Not to mention, it was hard to take one whole picture with all the books and titles in the frame and legible, hence there are two photos now. 
I would love to know what you make of the poem, which is pretty much open to your interpretation. What I was going for was a fairly literal meaning, considering there is very little poetry in me. I don’t remember where I first saw this idea, but this post was inspired by Kid Lit Geek’s fantastic Book Spine Poetry.
And these are the books starring in the poem. I have read and I happen to like the bold ones. Clicking on the couple of highlighted names will lead you to my reviews.
A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra
Magic of the Angels by Jacqueline Rayner
Born Free by Joy Adamson
Going Solo by Roald Dahl
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
Men of Honour by Adam Nicolson
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
So what do you think of this? I would, of course, love to see some of your book title poetry!

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

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

Here’s what you do:

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

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

What do you think of the cover?

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

Write a review in 140 characters or less.

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

How or where did you get this book?

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

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

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

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

5. Papillon by Henri Charriere

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

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

6. Love on the Rocks by Ismita Tandon Dhankher

How long ago did you read this book?

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

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

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

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

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

8. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

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

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

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

9. Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

How did you hear about or discover this book?

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

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

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

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

11. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Name your least favourite character in this book and why.

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

12. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

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

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

I have to add, in nonsense is strength.

13. Born Free by Joy Adamson

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

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

14. The Ghost of Flight 401 by John Fuller

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

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

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

Who is it dedicated to?

“For my mother,

K.M. Drabble,

Who gave me Asgard and the Gods.”

How do you organize your bookshelf?

I’m in love with my new bookshelf and have already tried two looks on it.

1. According to size and boredom. 

The books in the lowest shelf are huge hardbacks that won’t fit well in the middle. After arranging the bottom two shelves, I was just too tired to try anything else and shoved them right in, proceeding happily to take a picture and just be generally delighted in the spontaneous appearance of a bookshelf in my living room.

2. According to size and colour.

It took me almost a month to get around to colour-coordinating the bookshelf. As it turns out there are just far too many whites and blacks in my collection; not to mention, some books have spines so battered, it’s impossible to guess what colour they are. Still, I’m happy with the result. (I borrowed the basic idea from here.)

Do you have any other ideas?
How do you organize your shelf: according to author, publication, genre?

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?