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.

Ramblings in Ireland by Kerry Dwyer

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.

I checked my e-mails this morning as soon as I woke up and found Kerry Dwyer’s Ramblings in Ireland in my inbox. I started reading it and just forgot to go to work. So, here I am, writing the review that I promised (this very morning) to post within the next two weeks.

About the book: This is not a book about rambling in Ireland.

It tells the tale of one particular walking trip and the memories and musings
it inspired.

Exploring the West of Ireland is a time for meditation, spiritual reflection
and strengthening the bonds of life. More practically the ability to read a map
might have proved helpful. The tourist office in Ireland has all their paths
clearly marked. You can’t go wrong if you follow that little yellow man. Or can

As British ex-patriate Kerry Dwyer leads Bertrand, her trusting
French husband, astray once more, they reminisce and reflect upon accents and
accidents, family and friends, love and what it means to be alive. Bertrand
doesn’t mind getting lost – he loves Kerry all the more for going off
the beaten track.

This is a book about ramblings in Ireland. Walk with Kerry and
Bertrand and follow where your thoughts lead you.

My thoughts:  I love the way the book is written. The author recreates the atmosphere, talks about the language, the people, the sounds and even the smell of Ireland. The detailed imagery brings the scenes to life! Having been on the road a lot lately, I have come to realize that travelling, for me, is more than just checking ten places off the “To-Visit List”. Every place makes me think of different things, every new experience conjures up older memories I didn’t even know were there and it is the most exciting feeling! The author has captured this perfectly and I was glad the book was not just about rambling in Ireland; they surely have travel guides for that! Instead of just dumping loads of information about the country on us, the author manages to make the most ordinary things seem fascinating and can weave stories out of thin air! The actual facts about Ireland and the descriptions of the countryside are interspersed with snippets of old conversations, funny anecdotes and obscure memories. I particularly enjoyed reading about the author’s experiences teaching English as a foreign language, about her childhood difficulties with accents, about French, English and Irish food and the running gag about her navigational expertise.

I found the book thoroughly engaging, right from from the very first page, when the writer tells us what to expect from the book. The narration has an ease or a flow to it. The book is very interesting, touching and fairly amusing all at once, and I was chuckling to myself throughout. It seems from the style of writing and the pure randomness of the anecdotes that the author wrote the book entirely for herself and that makes the book very genuine. And, being the kind of person who finds it very hard to write without going off on tangents myself, it was easy to relate to her! 

I loved the book. I haven’t written “what I didn’t like”, the way I usually do, because there was nothing I didn’t like! I would recommend this book to everyone. In fact, please, go buy your copy right now right here!

The Ghost of Flight 401 by John Fuller – R.I.P. VII

I bought John Fuller’s The Ghost of Flight 401 at a book sale recently. The copy looked and smelled wonderfully old, and that combined with the word ‘ghost’ in the title is what made me buy it. It was only after I came home with my bag full of books, read the back cover and looked it up on the internet, that I discovered that it is supposed to be a non-fiction ghost story. Wow. I was hooked. A week-long vacation and my unfortunate choice of the travel read (Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago) interrupted my reading of this fascinating book, but as soon as I came back, just yesterday, in fact, I immersed myself into the book once again.

Summary: In the dead of night in December, 1972, Eastern Airlines
jumbo jet flight 401 plunged into the Florida Everglades killing 101 passengers
and crew. Months later, the ghosts of its pilot and flight engineer began to
appear on sister ships carrying parts salvaged from the crash.

Ace investigative reporter John Fuller heard rumors of the ghosts and swore he
would uncover the true story, no matter how bizarre. At first, airline
employee, fearful of retribution, refused to talk. But Fuller persisted and
finally, one after another, stewardesses, pilots, and ground crews came forth
to tell one of the most astonishing stories in recent aviation history. This is
their tale–a hair-raising jet-age ghost story that can no longer be denied!

My thoughts: I never thought I would actually like a book where the author is convinced that the ghosts do exist and has written the book in the form of a non-fiction. I was certain I’d find it ludicrous. I was surprised right at the very beginning, when I actually liked the way the author wrote about his experience with the planchet. The author tries repeatedly to convince the reader that this ghost story is not just a story and that even though it sounds entirely crazy, it’s not.

That being said, this is not really a horror story. It’s more like a detailed study of a horror story. There are scenes when you’re absolutely scared, but there are also parts where you are absolutely bored by the author’s repetitiveness. I thought the premise of the book was fascinating. Though it may be best to keep in mind that this makes a good read for someone who dives in not expecting a scary tale. The book does have a good flow, even if at times there are too many unnecessary details. The writer could have withheld some of his extensive research to avoid information dumps. A thing I loved was how writer-ly his obsession with the new story sounded, the way he conducted his research, just travelling and talking to people and it was the most romantic concept. I’m sure it’s not quite as pleasant being a writer but he made it sound amazing.

Of course, people have said that Fuller tweaked a lot of the facts and made up almost half of what he’s written. People have said that there is no way they could believe what he’s written, because half the details aren’t even true. Considering the fact that I wouldn’t believe what he’s written even if he stuck to the entire factual truth, I’m not really bothered by the inconsistencies in the facts. That makes the book neither a history lesson nor an entirely made-up horror story. Call it the author’s point of view on what must have happened or just a made-up non-fiction, if there is such a thing as that. Either way, I liked the book and am glad I bought it.

And that’s my last read for the R.I.P. Challenge. Before I forget, Happy Halloween!

Top Ten Favourite Non-fiction Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and The Bookish.

Top Ten Favourite Non-fiction Books (in no particular order):
I finished reading the book Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life yesterday. I realized I have been reading quite a lot of non-fiction these past couple of months. I love fiction, but there are a bunch of non-fiction books that I just couldn’t help loving just as much.
1. Danse Macabre by Stephen King – (that’s French for Dance of Death) a look at horror books, movies, comic books, tv series and more by one of the best horror writers ever!
2. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – “how little things can make a big difference”; one of the first non-fiction books I read and liked.
3. The Wonder that was India by A. L. Basham – an amazing book on ancient Indian history that studies the culture of India before the arrival of Muslims.
4. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – a wonderful popular science book about the use of cadavers in science and the ethical issues surrounding it.
5. A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain – a collection of hilarious essays about a journey through central and southern Europe!
6. Lectures on the Science of Language by Friedrich Max Mueller – Well, this is pretty much the first book I have read on linguistics and I love it.
7. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a must-read for all fantasy fiction fans; written in the form of a tourist guide, the book pokes fun at all the cliches of fantasy fiction.
8. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – this is another favourite by Stephen King; a book that deals with the art of writing fiction and King’s own journey to becoming a famous writer, written more in the form of random anecdotes and experiences than a story.
9. The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by Ayn Rand – an extensive analysis of the four basic components of good fiction: theme, plot, characterization and style..
10. The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett – how a real cat is hardly anything like the ones that you see in cat food advertisements. This is a must read for all pet owners!!
What are your favourite non-fiction reads?

Balasaraswati: Her Art & Life by Douglas M. Knight Jr.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Blogadda.

About the book: According to Wikipedia, Balasaraswati was “a celebrated Indian dancer, and her rendering of Bharatanatyam, a classical dance style, made this style of dancing of south India well known in different parts of India, as also many parts of the world.” She has received numerous national awards for dance as well as music. This book, written by her son-in-law, is her first biography to ever be published. The book contains many rare pictures of the dancer, along with a huge glossary and notes by the author.

Summary: Born in a matrilineal family with a long and rich tradition of dance and music, we might as well say, that Balasaraswati had art in her blood. That won’t be entirely true though, as is the case with any real artist. Along with that inborn talent, it was years of practice that helped Balasaraswati reach her level of perfection. Ever since she was a little child, Bala learned dance and music from the elders in the family. Her childhood was quite different from yours and mine; she was rarely even allowed time to sit still. Various incidents, right from her childhood, display her love for the art, as well as her dedication.

“As a child just old enough to walk to the door of Dhanammal’s home, Bala was fascinated by a beggar who stopped regularly in front of the house on Ramakrishna Street, dancing wildly, chanting rhythmic syllables like those recited by a nattuvanar mirroring a dancer’s footwork. (…) Bala would imitate him, both dancing like monkeys. (…) That was the real starting point for Bala’s dancing mania.”

After her Arangetram (debut performance after years of training) at the mere age of seven, Balasaraswati began to receive growing recognition, in the art world as well as the general public all over India. The tours and performances that followed were her first steps towards becoming a revolutionary Bharatanatyam dancer, a legend.

My Thoughts: Honestly, I have no idea why I decided to review this book. I don’t have much experience with art – apart from a span of five traumatic years spent learning, quite ironically, Bharatanatyam itself. It taught me, if anything, that I can never be a good dancer. I did however learn quite a bit about the dance form. Besides, considering how I failed at it, I realize, respect and appreciate the effort and passion involved in excelling at it.

I loved it as soon as I tore open the package it arrived in. It is hard not to judge the book by its beautiful, glossy black cover. The stunning front-page photo of Balasaraswati, in a way, conveys more about the dancer than the entire book. Another thing I loved (most predictably) was the author’s note on the translations and transliterations from Tamil to English. The preface is pretty much a brief summary of the entire book, and a look at Balasaraswati through the author’s individual perspective (throughout the rest of the book the author stays clear of that personal touch.)

The book is long and the size can be intimidating. If I didn’t have to review it within seven days, I would have spent months reading it at leisure. That being said, it was hard to pull my eyes away from the book. The descriptions, the imagery is so surreal. It almost made me guilty that I wasn’t as informed about the culture and traditions of my own country. The only thing that bothered me was the chronology of events; I had a hard time keeping up with what happened when.

All non-English phrases or concepts are explained in the book wherever they appear – and more information is given in the extensive (and thoroughly fascinating) Glossary at the end. I guess that’s what makes the book so much more special; you don’t have to be a student of Dance to understand it. The language, of course, is wonderful.
The book tells us not only about Balasaraswati’s life but about the political and social conditions in the India of the 1800s and early 1900s, the evolution of Bharatanatyam and other forms of art, and many other renowned artists of her time. The fine detail makes you feel like you’re living history.

It is hardly possible for a biography to get all the facts right, not to mention be completely impartial, especially when it is written by someone closely related to the person. I am hardly qualified to judge whether all the facts are correct. What I do believe, however, is that while this may not by a completely true account, it is a very honest account of the artist’s life. It is difficult to do justice to a legend or fit such a glorious life in only three hundred pages. It is apparent that a lot of effort and research was required to write this book, and frankly, the result is commendable.
I consider myself incredibly lucky, to get to review such a book. I am also glad, that this book wasn’t published years ago, so that now it’d only be lying in some old library, where I would have hardly gotten my hands on it. It’s a must read for anyone interested in the arts, or anyone interested in getting to know one of the reasons India is known to have a ‘rich tradition’! The book has inspired me to read more about India. According to my mother, reading about great people such as these, makes us feel pretty insignificant and thoroughly inspired at the same time; and it’s true. If anything, I am going to make it a point to learn more about the history of Indian dance and music; if you happen to know me, you’d know that that is saying something.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!