Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

About the series: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett is the fortieth book in the Discworld series (yes, four-zero-eth) and the third installment in a mini-series that describes a period of industrial revolution on the Discworld. 
For those of you who don’t know, Discworld is a long series of books set on a strange planet swimming through space, comprising a giant turtle carrying on its back four elephants who balance on their heads a magical disc. Discworld inhabited by characters at once like and wholly different from those who people our Earth. It is a humorous retelling of life with a few basic rules changed. The Discworld series has over fifty books, with miniseries dedicated to certain characters.
The Industrial Revolution series of the Discworld stars a scoundrel and thief named Moist von Lipwig who ends up at the centre of many new developments in technology. In the first book, Going Postal, Discworld gets a Post Office. The second book Making Money is all about the first mint and introduction of money to the Disc. Raising Steam, the third and unfortunately, the last in the series is about the invention of…. the steam engine. 

My thoughts: A long time ago, I had listened to a short clip of an interview by Terry Pratchett where he talks about his fascination with the Victorian delight in technology. Here is a link to the video. ”Once upon a time, people wrote poems about technology and communications… I wanted to get the feel of the world where the technology was so new and light and wonderful, that people really cared about it,” says Pratchett. 

Raising Steam is all about the spirit of invention, the curiosity and unending effort that drive innovation, its maddening, sometimes silly allure. It is also about the rejection faced by those at the head of change. The modernity embraced by the story and its characters, however, is not restricted to invention, and in a charming way, Raising Steam is also a modern claim on equality between the sexes, between castes and between species. If all this were not enough, it is a heady mixture of wise and sidesplittingly funny. 
When the first engine is built by a young self-made engineer Dick Simnel, it is initially eyed with suspicion. Soon however, it finds its happy audience in Ankh Morpork, a city of entrepreneurs. The engineer wins over investors and lawyers. And it is then that the Patrician of Ankh Morpork assigns the job of ensuring the railway brings profits beyond measure to his city to none other than Moist von Lipwig, reformed crook, fairly decent guy and now Head of the Post Office and Royal Bank.
It is the age of reform in every sense. Non-human species like trolls, goblins and vampires are increasingly letting go of their old binding traditions to become members of Ankh Morporkian society. But not everyone is quite so flexible. Trouble is brewing in the court of the Low King of dwarves. The Low King is modern for his position. But certain dwarf clans stand stubbornly in the way of change, ready to hunt down any of their own who yearn for it. The new railway becomes the perfect target for these anti-progress forces and it is up to Moist von Lipwig to guard the railway against the attack of the dwarves. Meanwhile, the Low King has a special secret to guard…
Select quotes: ”Sometimes, Mister Lipwig, the young you that you lost many years ago comes back and taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘This is the moment when civilization does not matter, when rules no longer hold sway. You have given the world all you can give and now it’s the time just for you, the chance to go for broke in the last hurrah. Hurrah!”
“The train is the future; bringing people close together. Think about it. People run to see the train go past. Why? Because it’s heading to the future or coming from the past. Personally, I very much want the future and I want to see to it that dwarves are part of that future, if it’s not too late.”
“Moist knew about the zeitgeist, he tasted it in the wind, and sometimes it allowed him to play with it. He understood it, and now it hinted at speed, escape, something wonderfully new, the very bones of the land awakening, and suddenly it seemed to cry out for motion, new horizons, faraway places, anywhere that is not here! No doubt about it, the railway was going to turn coal into gold.”
Afterthought: This is a strange, in fact bizarre… ridiculous, comparison to draw but the topic of Raising Steam kept making me think back to nearly twelve years ago, when I had read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, which was similar only in its supreme thrust on the industrial revolution through the construction of the railway. And I once again found myself realising how over-the-top, self-indulgent, threadbare the book had been (even apart from the whole matter of its philosophy), doubling with laughter at how I went through a phase where that felt like good writing. Today, I find, simplicity is the best and hardest to achieve. 

Top Ten Books that Make Me Laugh Out Loud

Last Sunday we discussed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the book club (yes, on Towel Day, though I do still prefer the glorious 25th of May as Wear the Lilac Day, because well, Discworld trumps everything.) But discussing Adams’ zany brilliance was fun and since humour has been on my mind, I decided to list the Top Ten Books that Make Me Laugh Out Loud for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday Freebie!
Clicking on the titles will take you to the Goodreads pages. Instead of posting summaries, I’ve posted some of my favourite dialogues – let me just say, though, these are all books I’d recommend you to read. Delightful, witty (some more than others) and the kind that deserve to be taken a lot more seriously than you’d think!

1. Good Omens – The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

2. The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it’s the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it’s just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let’s just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.

3. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 

Arthur: If I asked you where the hell we were, would I regret it? 
Ford: We’re safe. 
Arthur: Oh good. 
Ford: We’re in a small galley cabin in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet. 
Arthur: Ah, this is obviously some strange use of the word safe that I wasn’t previously aware of.

4. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

My tooth-brush is a thing that haunts me when I’m travelling, and makes my life a misery.  I dream that I haven’t packed it, and wake up in a cold perspiration, and get out of bed and hunt for it.  And, in the morning, I pack it before I have used it, and have to unpack again to get it, and it is always the last thing I turn out of the bag; and then I repack and forget it, and have to rush upstairs for it at the last moment and carry it to the railway station, wrapped up in my pocket-handkerchief.

5. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and were as much creatures of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books. Nor did they seem to think one had done them a kindness by reading their writings. Rather they had done one the kindness by writing them.

6. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C. when Saul and Delilah Korn’s inadvertent discovery swept across Western civilization. (Before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy, because although everyone agrees with the formula of affection times purity times intensity times duration, no one has ever been completely satisfied with how much weight each element should receive. But on any system, there are five that everyone agrees deserve full marks. Well, this one left them all behind.

7. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Lady Bracknell: I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

8. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

She was used to apologizing for her use of language. She had been encouraged to do a lot of that in school. Their English teachers would wince and cover their ears and give them flunking grades and so on whenever they failed to speak like English aristocrats before the First World War. Also: they were told that they were unworthy to speak or write their language if they couldn’t love or understand incomprehensible novels and poems and plays about people long ago and far away, such as Ivanhoe.

9. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre. Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.

10. A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. I really think that the people who buy these books have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back.

I had an amazing time making this list. Mostly because I went through all the quotes on each of their Goodreads pages and was laughing all the way through. I’m sure I’ve missed some and do encourage recommendations. Which books make you literally laugh out loud?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I read this for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.
I am completely sure only about one thing when it comes to this book, and it is this: I would not have been quite as charitable as I am now had it not been for my never-ending exams and lack of good books and sleep. So with that disclaimer out of the way: I LOVE IT. The Princess Bride by William Goldman needs to be added to that list of the most unique books I’ve ever read.
Summary (from Goodreads) What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?

As a boy, William Goldman claims, he loved to hear his father read the S. Morgenstern classic, The Princess Bride. But as a grown-up he discovered that the boring parts were left out of good old Dad’s recitation, and only the “good parts” reached his ears. Now Goldman does Dad one better. He’s reconstructed the “Good Parts Version” to delight wise kids and wide-eyed grownups everywhere.
What’s it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex. In short, it’s about everything.
My summary: And you’d think that’s all you need to know about this book to not be utterly disappointed, and it is (because that, having been taken right out of the book, should give an idea about the kind of book it is) but let me just spell it out for you anyway (because some Goodreads reviews suggest that the reader hadn’t quite figured it out from the blurb.) The Princess Bride is comic fantasy. So think Discworld, not Lord of the Rings.
Goldman’s “good parts” abridgment starts with the beautiful Buttercup realizing she’s in love with the stable boy Westley. He loves her back but wants to go to America to earn a fortune and has been preparing himself for just that. He does leave, with a promise to come back (but he doesn’t) and she promises never to to fall in love again (and so she doesn’t.) But then the Prince of Florin, where Buttercup lives, needs to get married before his father, the King, dies. And Prince Humperdinck (seriously) chooses Buttercup (more or less, they make a deal to get married, when he tells her the choice is that or death. He, of course, expects no love and she doesn’t offer any.) For a long time Buttercup trains to be a princess, until, right before her wedding she is kidnapped by three men: a Spaniard, who is good with the sword, a short, bald, conniving Sicilian and a giant of a man who likes rhymes. The Kingdom of Florin assumes it was their neighbour Guilder trying to mess up the Prince’s wedding (which is obviously wasn’t, when have fairy tales ever been so simple? Humperdinck, who has a hunting fetish, has bad-guy written all over him.) But then someone, a mysterious man in all black with a black mask fights all three kidnappers and rescues Buttercup from them, and you know who he turns out to be, don’t you?
My thoughts: It promised everything, and it did have a lot of everything – adventure, true love, to-the-death kind of hate, mind blowing characters with long back-stories and a lot of comedy. Then I reached a point, where I felt: um, sure, I mean, it’s great, it’s adventure, but it’s not exactly fantasy. I mean, where’s the magic? And BAM there was magic. And then I felt: whoa, this book is it. Of course, the book did have its very own non-fairy-tale message and it means a lot – I think that’s the moral books should teach kids, instead of mollifying darker tales into sweet nothings. 
But what I really liked was the structure of the book. It took some getting used to. The book is written by a reader. As the reader and the writer of the book, Goldman tells us the story and then tells us what he thought of the story at the same time. There are a lot of asides in the book, many parentheses, which tell us why Goldman added this or why he cut this part out, and that makes it different from every other book you’ve read. It’s an amazing technique, I have to say. Because essentially, this book is not about The Princess Bride at all. It’s about stories and what makes them endlessly fascinating. A young sick boy listening to his Dad narrate a book to him is bound to associate the book with that event and the feelings of abandon and excitement it created in him for the rest of his life.
I have had so many people rudely dismiss me over the years for liking fiction with a snarky, “But it’s so pointless” and I could come up with forty uses of fiction in retort. But the fact remains, you read fiction because it is fun. There would not have been quite so many legends, myths and folktales had story-telling not brought such pure pleasure. So, it boils down to what it means to write good fiction, doesn’t it? It should be engaging. Good fiction will make you cast off your grown-up need to learn something out of everything and go ahead and have innocent childish fun, already! And that’s what Goldman gives you with this book. Takes you back to the days when you’d throw aside all work, dive mind-first into a book and swim lazily in the pool of awesomeness that is a well told story.

I mean, Morgenstern (who is really nobody, but supposedly the guy who wrote this huge book that Goldman abridged) called his original version of The Princess Bride, S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure and literary scholars later told Goldman that is was about politics and satire and social commentary – but only pompous literary scholars would claim that that is what makes good books good. Because for me, how amazingly interesting (note how interesting doesn’t have to mean ‘happy’) a book is decides how much I love it. If it gets trite and boring, if fiction conveys a message before it tells a story, it’s magic is lost on me.
What about you? Why do you read fiction? Have you read this? And the movie: should I go to great lengths to acquire it? I’ve heard it’s better than the book…

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

“If enough people believe, you can be god of anything…”

I loved this book. So did the cat, as you can see, who turned it first into a pillow and then a bedtime toy. Small Gods is one of the bests of the Discworld series. You can read it as a standalone (in fact, you can do that with most of the forty books.) If you do like the Discworld series, but haven’t read this, do yourself a favour and don’t wait any longer. If you haven’t read it, you should start with this book, and perhaps a bit of an introduction.

The Discworld, written by British author Terry Pratchett, is a series of comic fantasy novels. The series is set on the Discworld – a flat disc, balanced on the backs of four elephants, who stand on the back of a ginormous turtle called the Great A’Tuin who swims through space.
The story begins in the Church of the Great God Om. The Cenobiarch of Omnia, a vulture of a man named Vorbis is busy extinguishing heretical ideas that keep springing up. “The Turtle moves.” The rumour has spread deep and wide, and it goes against the very truth that the Church holds. The rumour is that the world is flat. Ring a bell? The Omnians know the world is a perfect sphere and Vorbis is ready to go to any lengths to remove every shred of heresy from his people’s minds, even if it means removing the people, especially if it means that. 
Meanwhile, in the gardens of the Citadel of Om, Brutha, a novice finds himself in the company of a talking tortoise, who claims to be the Great God Om, caught in a difficult situation. Om tells the simple fat boy about his failed attempt to manifest in the world in the form a bull and his current state, stuck as a tortoise. Slowly, through Om, Brutha learns to see gods for what they truly are and religion for what it has become. 
Vorbis, who happens to come across Brutha is impressed by his eidetic memory and unquestioning outlook and chooses Brutha to accompany him on a diplomatic mission to Ephebe, a place where they have many gods and hence, many heretics. Brutha considers himself generally unintelligent and unimportant. But he is the only person in the world who believes in Om. So he is the only person who can hear the talking tortoise. Brutha is the Chosen one. You see, in this world, as I suppose in any other, gods need belief to exist. As people lose faith, their gods become lowlier, until they cease to exist. In Omnia, people no longer believe in Om, they believe in the Church and the clergy. And so, the once Great God Om, terrified by his sudden mortality, is desperate and clingy and convinces Brutha to take him along. As story progresses, it’s time for gods to start believing in people.
The book is at once eccentric and insightful. Pratchett takes his writing very seriously. What makes it brilliant is that he does it with a laugh. For every vehement supporter of the ‘learning through fun’ mantra, Pratchett is a must-read. Religion has to be one of the most parodied themes. Hey, it’s probably ‘cool’ to make fun of religion. But this book doesn’t poke fun at religious people. Small Gods doesn’t take sides and so, every reader has something to learn from it. Of course, that requires reading with an open mind, laughing at the jokes, because they are worth a chuckle; if you take offense, it’s your loss.

Philosophizing apart, the book is also engaging. Om is adorable as the poor little indignant tortoise who hates his fate, Brutha is a protagonist created to be loved and it’s fun to be inside his mind. Deacon Vorbis is frighteningly true to life. Every character you meet leaves an impression. And even though the plot basically runs on witty dialogue, it does have a beginning, a middle and fabulous fireworks-ey end. You know, when it comes to Discworld, I always feel my mind bubbling with things to say and when I sit down to write, no words seem enough. So, before my review takes on a defensive tone, I’ll take the easy way out, and let Pratchett’s writing speak for itself.

(on wanting gods to perform miracles)
“Humans! They lived in a world where the grass continued to
be green and the sun rose every day and flowers regularly turned into fruit,
and what impressed them? Weeping statues. And wine made out of water! A mere
quantum-mechanistic tunnel effect, that’d happen anyway if you were prepared to
wait zillions of years. As if the turning of sunlight into wine, by means of
vines and grapes and time and enzymes, wasn’t a thousand times more impressive
and happened all the time…”
(on Disc politics)
“The Ephebians believed that every man should have the vote
(provided that he wasn’t poor, foreign, nor disqualified by reason of being
mad, frivolous, or a woman). Every five years someone was elected to be Tyrant,
provided he could prove that he was honest, intelligent, sensible, and
trustworthy. Immediately after he was elected, of course, it was obvious to
everyone that he was a criminal madman and totally out of touch with the view
of the ordinary philosopher in the street looking for a towel. And then five
years later they elected another one just like him, and really it was amazing
how intelligent people kept on making the same mistakes.”
(on philosophers, the world being flat and the nature of Truth)
“But is all this true?” said Brutha.

Didactylos shrugged. “Could be. Could be. We are here
and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards

“You mean you don’t KNOW it’s true?” said Brutha.

“I THINK it might be,” said Didactylos. “I
could be wrong. Not being certain is what being a philosopher is all about.”

His mind was on fire. These people made all these books
about things, and they weren’t sure. But he’d been sure, and Brother Nhumrod
had been sure, and Deacon Vorbis had a sureness you could bend horseshoes
around. Sureness was a rock.

Now he knew why, when Vorbis spoke about Ephebe, his face
was gray with hatred and his voice was tense as a wire. If there was no truth,
what was there left? And these bumbling old men spent their time kicking away
the pillars of the world, and they’d nothing to replace them with but
uncertainty. And they were proud of this?

So, I read this as part of the Once Upon a Time VIII challenge, Quest the First (or the Third, if I join in for the June readalong.) I don’t have to classify this into a category, but it does fall into fantasy, and maybe a little mythology. 
Have you read the Discworld series? If you have, which is your favourite book and character? – I don’t know many Discworld fans in real life and don’t get to discuss this often enough! For that matter, any other humourous fantasy recommendations? What have you been reading for the Once Upon a Time challenge?

Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad

Summary: Adrian Monk is an eccentric genius, a renowned private homicide consultant, most famous, of course, for his ridiculous compulsions and phobias. Natalie Teeger, formerly just his assistant, is now an ex-op, studying for her PI license, the
last step to becoming Monk’s full partner.
Before taking the plunge, Natalie sneaks off to Half Moon
Bay for a retreat run by Miranda Bigley, charismatic leader of the “Best
Possible Me” self-help program, whose philosophy has helped Natalie deal with
her recent life changes.  Her plans for a
relaxing weekend are disrupted when Monk tracks her down, determined to rescue
her from the “cult.”  Their argument is
cut short when Miranda, in full view of everyone, calmly walks to the edge of a
cliff and jumps off.
Even though Miranda’s death looks like suicide, Natalie is
sure it is murder.  But Monk brushes her
off to help the SFPD solve the murder of a clown, despite his fear of
clowns (number ninety-nine on his list of one hundred phobias) Natalie and Monk begin their separate investigations and are
quickly caught up in situations neither one of them can handle.  If they want to solve both crimes – and
survive – they first need to learn how to be full partners.  Can Monk handle the change?
My thoughts: This book made me so happy. I suggest you read it, whether you’re typically fond of mysteries or not. I wish I could watch this book. I haven’t read the other books based on Monk (nor any other TV series, for that matter) but if they’re all this good, I’ve sure missed out on a lot. Monk was one of the few detective series on TV, where the detectives actually did detective work (and were damn good at it) with no help from ridiculously high-techie gadgets. There were neat puzzles, with clues strewn around, lovably comical characters and plots that weren’t so convoluted as to make any guesswork impossible. 
Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad is quite the same as the TV series it’s based on. It’s hilarious, engaging and just the perfect cozy mystery – except it’s not just one mystery, it’s three; the suicide, the dead clown and some mysterious anonymous packages that Monk keeps getting in the mail. For those of us who know and love (sometimes) Monk, just the idea of him solving a clown mystery ought to be enough to grab the book. But what I liked the most is that even those who’ve never heard of Monk will enjoy this! The author gives plenty of background info.
Without revealing any details, all I can say is that the book is honest in its portrayal of both the good guys and the bad guys, whose actions and motives are neither over emotionalized nor justified. The book Monk is a little different from the TV Monk, in that he is a little less obsessive, although his list of phobias is still increasing. Captain Stottlemeyer is pretty much the same as he was before, which is not surprising at all. Randy Disher is absent, of course, and there’s a new lieutenant, Amy Devlin. Natalie, our narrator, is an altogether new person in the book, but she makes a good narrator; with funny comments and enough suspense to frustrate you, along with clues to keep you glued to the book, guessing until, of course, Monk declares, “Here’s what happened.” I stayed up late into the night reading, and finished it at one go. I was sorry the book ended, when it did and I can’t wait to read the sequel!
You can buy Mr. Monk Helps Himself on Amazon and visit the author’s website here.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. For more reviews of the book, visit the Virtual Author Book Tours page.

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett

I was so thrilled when I saw this at the library. As if it were not enough that it was a book by Terry Pratchett,  it had an introduction by A. S. Byatt. I got it immediately and spent the next couple of weeks reading the many pleasing stories in it. I have to admit though, the introduction was a bit disappointing.

I am a firm believer in the fact that very few authors can write good short stories, ones with a plot (unlike those of Byatt, which are nice but pretty vague.) The first story delighted me, because Pratchett had written it at the age of thirteen. While it was nothing like what he’s written now, it was entertaining finding that voice in him that is so familiar. Most of the stories were based on various prompts, which he has elaborated on at the beginning of each story.
One of my favourites was The Sea and Little Fishes, starring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. A coalition of witches, led by self-appointed organiser
Lettice Earwig, asks Granny Weatherwax not to participate in the annual Lancre
Witch Trials, on account of her always winning. She agrees, becoming
disconcertingly nice. The sudden change in Granny’s usual stern unforgiving attitude hilariously terrified people. What follows goes on to show that you don’t have to be nice to be good. The story gets its title from an ancient Discworldian phrase: “The big sea does not care which way the little fishes swim.”

Death and What Comes Next was another favourite. It is the story of a conversation between Death and a dying philosopher. It’s short and not wanting to give anything away, I’ll just link you to it. Turntables of the Night was another story with Death; but a more Good Omens Death than the Discworld Death we all know and love.

Read it, if you are a Terry Pratchett fan! However, don’t let this be your introduction to the author. While awesome, this is certainly not Pratchett’s best work. I’d recommend starting with a Discworld novel and you have almost forty to choose from.

Reading P. G. Wodehouse

Over the years, I have had people heap scorn on me for not reading Wodehouse and yet claiming to enjoy English humour. I was told endlessly that I was missing the ‘real stuff’ and had to learn the hard way, that there was such a thing as a coolness factor even in the seemingly above-that-kind-of-crap world of books. Finally, last winter, I found myself reading a book I was generously gifted on my birthday, – Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by P. G. Wodehouse – eager to discover what all the fuss was about and ever so slightly desperate to fall back in the good graces of the cooler among us readers.
Far be it from me to disagree with Stephen Fry, whose blurb of delighted praise, the same one, stubbornly appears on every single Wodehouse book I own; but I didn’t as enjoy reading the books as I hoped to. I did like the language, don’t get me wrong, the multi-layered (which I hear is the word everyone uses to describe it) apt humour and the constant realizations it sent through me that none of it could have been written any other way. It was a stroll through language heaven.
But here’s the thing: I always picture true makes-you-laugh-out-loud humour floating through space on a turtle, which, you have to admit, is far more imaginative. I’ve only read three Wodehouse(s?) but the plots were all recycled. The confusions, misapprehensions and the solutions were all quite the same. And hilariously portrayed, though they were (am I being oddly defensive in my criticism?), they were rather dull. I like stories, almost as much as I like humour. After a while, I stopped wanting to find out about Wooster’s odd ex-love interests and apparent re-interests and his insufferable neighbours and relatives and the nice Carson-ly Jeeves. The characterizations, for me, were somewhat irrelevant, considering my yardstick to judge the Englishman stereotypes is more fiction. For all I know, it may have as much truth in it as every Indian guy’s accent on an American show. 
After making me laugh and smirk and snicker for a day or two: when I was done, the books made me slightly wary and drained of patience, in that: that was all good, but not another, please. At the end of the day, if I want a laugh, I’ll go back to my four trusted elephants.

There May Be An Asterisk Involved by Vedashree Khambete

Note: I’m sorry if this ‘book review’ is little more than a gushing rant, that happens sometimes with books that surprise me.
Very few people appreciate a well-written footnote. Most of my favourite parts of the Discworld books lie right in those wittily worded footnotes. They’re also where the narrator’s voice really comes out, and in any book by Terry Pratchett, that is most welcome. (Also a book with funny, comfortable, page-long footnotes: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.) Vedashree Khambete has managed to sneak into her book some truly wry, mocking commentary through the regular footnote asides. They top the list of reasons I adored There May Be An Asterisk Involved.
At the risk of sounding like a judger-and-labeller, I don’t generally read books by Indian authors, especially debuts. So I was mildly surprised when I read the blurb on the back of this book that my sister (who stays somewhere in the US – I’m bad with names) sent me to have it sent to her, because the book’s not available on Amazon. It sounded too interesting. I was also mildly surprised and curious by the lengths she went to acquire this tiny book. So I did a little sleuthing (I asked my sister) and found out that the book was written by a blogger (and, clearly, a book nerd, which gives her brownie points) whom she regularly read. The blog was entertaining and I couldn’t wait to get started on the book. For you, the blurb:
Ira Bhat, copywriter by day, sleep-deprived copywriter by
night, has only one goal: to not go utterly bonkers as she negotiates the
perils and pitfalls of a career in advertising. These include, but are not
limited to: comma-obsessed clients, award-obsessed bosses, obnoxious marketing
executives, high-strung creative types, impossible deadlines, obscure briefs,
fiercely competitive colleagues, the death of many a big idea…and the
ever-present danger of falling in love with the new account planner. Sounds doable,
but is it? Because, when it comes to advertising, somewhere, hidden in the fine
print, there may be an asterisk involved…”

I don’t believe I’ve read any book with good punctuation humour before. Now that I think about it, I haven’t read a single book by an Indian author (not that I have read many at all) that was humorous to the core. I’m often wary of reading things people find extremely funny; they don’t usually seem that way to me. I’m also not very fond of long-winded satire and don’t like scathing sarcasm. This book was somewhere between the two (three?) and it was fun. The writing was breezy, lighthearted, the plot seemed aimless and precise at the same time and it was just corny enough to be good. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there was nothing that bugged me.
The story was predictable. There was some almost pompous name-dropping that I would generally frown upon. The lead character had this Inkheart-ey air about reading: the assumption that no one else does it. Things like “Please, you’re so dumb, I read Hemingway, Calvino, Rand” were slightly annoying. That I like (or once liked) every one of these authors made it okay. The characters were stereotypes, both the nice and the obnoxious ones. Not to mention, every character including the omniscient narrator (yes, that’s the Lit student in me talking; no, I haven’t glanced at the books in a while, so I may be wrong) sounded the same: however, they did all sound comfortably witty, you know, not too slapstick, they didn’t drop Hindi words or cool urban slang in their talk and they were nothing like the LOLCats, which is to say, they didn’t make deliberate disturbingly non-funny grammatical errors. So, yeah, the fact they were all alike was better than even one of them not being that way just to be ‘realistic’.
This isn’t going to be the best book you’ve ever read, nor make you think a lot. But the book is a fairly good package. If not anything else, it will give you a delightfull time. It has romance, glamour, some inevitable drama, just enough advertising know-how, a lot of creativity and a narrator who can make just about anything sound interesting. It’s also short and reasonably priced. So, I don’t see why you shouldn’t just go grab yourself a copy
And before I forget, this is the author’s blog.

Update: Turns out a Kindle edition is available here

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

I’ve been on too long a break. This has been lying in my drafts, sad and unfinished for a while now. It is only fair to post it on my favourite author’s sixty-fifth birthday. Do I have to say it? Discworld is awesome and even if it seems impossible, this book is just as awesome. I am a big fan of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them or Quidditch Through the Ages and I didn’t think companion books could get any better. And then this came along in the mail. A little bit of Discworld was already spilling out from the middle of its delicious red cover. I couldn’t wait to dive straight into it.

The Folklore of Discworld: Its Legends, Magic and Customs
with Helpful Hints from Planet Earth has just what its title promises. Discworld, for those of you who haven’t read it (morons.) is a land somewhere in space – a turtle swimming idly through space carries on its back four elephants and on their heads rests the Disc; a world, which is quite like ours, but with magic. Accompanying the over thirty novels set in this world are a few other books, like the Science of Discworld and this book.

The Folklore of Discworld isn’t a non-fiction, quite unlike it, actually. It tells us about the uncanny similarities between the Earth’s legends and those of the Disc. About myths on the Earth that are actually real on the Disc and naturally, the other way around. You learn about the vampires, witches (and wizards, who are very different, of course) and zombies, the Luggage and the Feegles, the gods and Death. Our world and the Discworld do seem to have a lot in common and some of the reasons the author hypothesizes for this are: the constant drifting of particles of knowledge or through cosmic space, or the simple consideration that some or all of these creatures existed in all the worlds at some time or the other, and are now extinct. Read this book if you’ve read any books of the Discworld series, the fewer the better because a lot that is already in the books is repeated. But that doesn’t really matter as it is all very interesting and alo quite informative. For instance, I never knew that a story right out of Hindu mythology played with the idea of four elephants standing at the four ends of the world, holding it up, or something to that effect.

Pratchett’s writing is, as always, cheerful and witty. Good Omens told me that a collaboration isn’t really a bad thing and that Pratchett could really pull it off. The Folklore of Discworld doesn’t show any obvious there-are-two-authors-ey clumsiness, either. It is the kind of book that you can just open up to any page and start reading and before you know it, you’re buried nose-deep inside it.

As it has the word “folklore” in it’s title and everything, this book should qualify as my next read for the Once Upon a Time Challenge. And because I found this book extra nice, I have quoted an entire two pages – the story of how Ankh-Morpork, only the most horribly great city on the Disc, came to be. Read and laugh.

“Any self-respecting city has to have a legend about
its foundation. Ankh-Morpork, as is right and proper for the oldest city on the
Disc, has two.

The first is the official one. According to this, there were once two orphaned
brothers, mere babies, who had been left on the shores of the Ankh to die.
There they were found by a she-hippopotamus, who suckled them. When they grew
up, they decided to build themselves a home, and so founded what must at the
time have been a very small city indeed. In memory of this, the shield on the
coat of arms of Ankh-Morpork has as its supports deux Hippopatames Royales
Baillant, un enchaine, un couronne au cou. Which, stripped of its aristocratic
herald-speak, means two royal hippos yawning, one wearing a chain and the other
with a crown round its neck. The conventions of heraldry do not permit the sex
of the beasts to be clearly indicated, but in view of the tale we can safely
state that at least one of them is female. The legend is also commemorated by
eight hippo statues on the city’s Brass Bridge, facing out to sea. It is said
that if danger ever threatens the city they will run away.

Some people have expressed doubts over this ancient and uplifting tradition.
Why and how, they ask, would a she-hippo suckle human babies? And how could
they thrive on this eccentric diet? Did they but know it, these doubters could
find a tale on Earth proving that such thing are perfectly possible. It tells
of twins, Romulus and Remus, who were the sons of Mars the God of War and a
human princess. Their evil great-uncle, having just usurped his brother’s
throne, seized the boys and threw them into the Tiber, for fear they might grow
up to challenge him.* But the river washed them safely to the bank, where a
she-wolf fed them with her milk until a kindly shepherd found them. Later they
built the city of Rome. Considering what wolves normally eat, this tale is even
more wondrous than that of the hippo, but the Romans had no difficulty in
believing it. And, naturally, making a statue about it.

The second legend is not told quite so often by the citizens
of Ankh-Morpork, but is surprisingly widespread in other towns. It is said that
way back in the fogs of time there was once a great flood sent by the gods, and
that a group of wise men survived by building a huge boat into which they
crammed two of every type of animal then existing on the Disc. After a few
weeks the combined manure was beginning to weigh the boat low in the water, so
– the story runs – they tipped it over the side and called the heap
Ankh-Morpork. Anybody who doubts the truth of this should go and stand on one
of the bridges over the Ankh, preferably on a warm day, and breathe deep.

* Tyrants insist on doing this, despite the fact that it
never works.”


Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Having heard a lot about this book, I was looking forward to a good afternoon read. What I got instead was a 200-page rant by an author, who seemed to be in an exceptionally bitchy mood. I owe the popularity of the book to the fact that the author chose to write for the whole mass of self-proclaimed Grammar nerds out there who wouldn’t want to miss the chance to re-proclaim just how Grammar-nerdy they are, and would hence, buy her book. (Wait. Don’t they call themselves “Grammar Nazis” these days?)
The book is pointless.
From all the rave reviews I had read about this book, I expected it to be insightful in either of two ways:
1) It showed the importance of punctuation.
2) It taught punctuation.
However, the book was nothing but a weird mixture of the two. On the one hand, the author made it very clear that she considers punctuation endlessly important, but never mentioned just why it was important in more than two parroted (from other books, writers, grammarians) sentences. On the other hand, the book never fully taught the rules of punctuation, either. It only gave examples of ridiculously funny signs and boards, with all the wrong punctuation marks in all the wrong places; and the author went on to poke fun at the people who might have written them! Her condescending tone and her misplaced self-importance irritated me immensely. You can’t blame those who don’t know the correct use of punctuation for never having learnt it. You can say that you think they are wrong in assuming that it is unimportant, tell them why you think that, and correct them.
Right from categorizing herself as a case of exceptional genius and stating “While other girls were out shopping and making out, I bought books on grammar.” to the constant jabs at grocers and teachers, there were far too many stereotypes for my taste. The author also often mentioned her distaste for people who go out of their way to endorse bad grammar and spelling on the Internet and in text messages, but isn’t the lack of good language in the virtual world “old news”, so to speak?
Not to mention, in almost each of these so-called jokes, the author ended up throwing in a short explanation, which any true grammar lover would not have needed and which any person who had not understood the joke in the first place would have found too short. It seemed like she was thinking: I should probably explain the joke, just in case some self-proclaimed stickler doesn’t understand it, and feeling put down, stops reading my book. That is another reason why I didn’t like this book: it’s the least honest book I have read in a while.
The book was very disconnected and I had the impression that the author was herself not quite sure what she wanted to say: the parts about the art of punctuation and her general dislike of emoticons seemed abrupt, out of place and frankly, quite unnecessary. The book was, like I said before, a whole big pointless mildly funny rant. Sigh. Those were four hours of my life I’ll never get back. If you like grammar or humour of any sort, do yourself a favour and stay as far away from this book as you can.
This might seem like another rant too, which it sort of is. But it’s just a bad review on my blog, not a book that claims to be a lot more. If I were to write a book, it would be nothing like this. No. I would never write a book about mistakes, I’d rather be a teacher.