Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two Movies & Books Galore!

No matter what else is going on, book reading is the one thing that is constant here in Vaayanasaala. But let me briefly mention these two movies before I go on to the books. First is Sridevi's English Vinglish that I had watched with my 8 year old daughter. She loved it too and we both wanted to get our hands on some yummy ladoos afterwards. I should really say Gauri Shinde's 'English Vinglish' because the movie shined in the debutante director's hands. It is loosely based on her Mom I believe. Sridevi acted without fanfare and was a pleasure to watch. I'd always been a fan of Sridevi. The second movie, Life Of Pi was watched by the four of us. Thoroughly enjoyed it. For a short excited moment at the very beginning I thought the background song  (Pi's lullaby) was in Malayalam but soon realized it was in Tamil. My kannan took to heart the antics of the young Indian boy called Pi from Pondicherry. My molu couldn't sit through the tragic storm scenes without crying. Well made movie. I guess that is what we have come to expect from director Ang Lee.

Now to the books. For the sake of brevity I will try not to preach too much on each.

A Severed Wasp By Madeleine L'Engle
L'Engle is a household name esp in children's literature. Her books can be enjoyed by the young and old alike. My son had liked her "A Wrinkle In Time" as I had hoped. Naturally I wanted to read more of this author. This story takes place in an aged Episcopalian Cathedral in subrban New York. Retired pianist Katherine Forrester and the people she meet in her retirement are central to the story.All are connected to the dark Gothic styled cathedral in one way or another! Mystery, entertainment, lovable characters, engaging story line.. . It is all there. L'Engle did not disappointment. Reminded me of the 'Da Vinci Code' sans the controversy. Don't get me wrong, I read the Da Vinci Code without putting it down and have my inner scope turned on for any Merovingian bloodline sightings:-)

Here is a passage from the 'Wasp'  that creeped me out but kept me going: "He-George Orwell, not Dave- talks about a rather cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man, and there was a period-twenty years, perhaps-during which he did not notice it. It was absolutely necessary that the soul be cut away. Religious belief, in the form that we had known it, had to be abandoned".

Here is another: "For we glory in tribulation, knowing that from tribulation comes patience, and from patience comes experience, and from experience comes hope".

The genius of L'Engle brings it all together beautifully by the end of the book. Both the idea and the story.

Anna Quindlen's Lots Of Candles and Plenty Of Cake  
Anna Quindlen first came into my acquaintance through a movie. One True Thing starring Meryl Streep. I loved the movie and had taken note of the author whose book it was based on. It was with pleasure then that I took this memoir by Ms. Quindlen to read. I enjoyed it and finished it in two days! This first paragraph from her book sums it all up: "It is odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn't know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I'd invented. And finally I was what I was again." Isn't that wonderful? This is a looking back into her life while she is still fully active but at a good place to write such a book. Many insights and observations are right on the money for me. Go Quindlen!

The End Of Your Life Book Club By Will Schwalbe
If ever a lover of books wanted a memoir by one of her kids, this has got to be it. Will Schwalbe shares the camaraderie that he enjoyed with his Mom over books. Especially how it helped them to keep the conversation going when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatments. Oh such a book! I loved every aspect of it... Knowing about all the books mother and son discussed and seeing how some of the books drew parallels from their lives or vice versa was a treat. It is a detailed tribute to a much admired mother from a son through books, books and books. If you love books you will love this book about books and families. A keeper of a book!

Geoffrey Eugenide's Marriage Plot
 This author is a proven storyteller and I knew with confidence that I will like this book as I had his Middlesex and Virgin Suicides. Just one more feather to this accomplished writer's cap.

Blood Of Flowers
By Anita Amirrezvani

Amirrezvani's book tells the story of a girl around 14 who was partially orphaned when her father dies and her engagement fell through. This unnamed heroine's life is set in 17th century Iran and the medium of her redemption is through carpet making. Flowers became a part of it because the rug makers got the dye for yarns from flowers and plants. The girl and her mom left their village with empty hands to the city where her father's step brother lived. They were of course treated just a little above the level of servants. Her uncle was the chief rug maker to Shah Abbas and lived close to the palace. The author chose this period on purpose so that the story takes place in a less contentious time for this embattled nation. Shah Abbas's time in Iran was the golden age,  a time when there was peace and prosperity and arts and architecture flourished. 'The Image Of The World' was completed during this Shah's time and is an important focal point in the story while our heroine goes around it in pursuit of the life handed out to her. Through perseverance and her love and talent in carpet making she was able to survive. I wasn't quite satisfied with the ending but that will not be an excuse to put this down. I think I am getting into the habit of identifying too much with the characters and get disappointed when it all ends. Time to get some real world friends time. This is why I immediately responded to my friend's suggestion for a lunch the other day despite being busy at work.  Both  food and company were excellent. Guess what we talked about? Yup, books!

The Art Of Racing In The Rain By Garth Stein

Dogs are quite lovable creatures and I hope one day to get one here like I had at home. Our narrator is a dog. And what a dog he is! Enzo is old and feeble and is revisiting his entire life lived with his beloved master Denny. Every line is a tribute to this master who was the center of his life.

Denny was a race car driver when he met Enzo. This dog is a human wannabe. That's right. He wants to be a human and thinks some mistake was made when he was created. Not only that, he hopes to be reborn as a human if possible! He is frustrated when he cannot articulate and is reduced to barking especially when his head is swirling with things to say. He knows how to race just like his master from being in his car and from the hundreds of videos he watched on TV. For a race car driver one of the most difficult things to manage is to race when it rains. Enzo's Denny has mastered this and therefore has an advantage when it comes to racing in the rain. Enzo was with the family through thick and thin and as you read, you envy Denny for having this very human like dog in his life. There is a phrase that we see repeated often: "that which you manifest is before you". This has helped both master and dog overcome many setbacks in their respective lives. A very interesting book to read. I almost forgot to mention Garth Stein. Such is the force of his characters!

Yes Chef By Marcus Samuelsson
Members of our household are diehard fans of the food network. Chopped, Next Iron Chef, Next Food Network Star etc are only some of the shows that we watch. Kids joined rather reluctantly, but they have come to enjoy the various facets of cooking. The aspects of owning a restaurant, getting the right ingredients for good food, being disciplined etc are some things that come through all the hoopla around food. I do wonder about the abundance of food that makes this kind of network a reality. But many countries are catching up or are already  bringing the saga of food to the idiot box and it is a reality show I can stomach, pun intended:-) What I am trying to say with all this is how I heard about Chef Samuelsson. It happened when he came on as a judge in Chopped. His quite and confident demeanor and the broad knowledge of cooking were quite captivating. I read this autobiography to get to know the man more and I liked what I read. He was born in Ethiopia, brought up in Sweden along with his sister and cooked in a few countries before settling down as a chef/restaurant owner in the USA. Add TV personality to that and we get a decent idea of the man. Told in a simple and forthright manner, I was able to finish the book in a very short time. Lessons of hardwork, perseverance, obedience, focus etc. are found a plenty in this book. The man is driven and we see how being driven and working hard is important to achieve one's goals.

The Language Of Flowers By Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This book of flowers is a true beauty and tells the story of Victoria Jones who grew up in foster homes
and eventually released from the system at 18 years of age. I finished it in 1-2 sittings. This is Vanessa Diffenbaugh's first book. She carries the novel on her able shoulders to the very end with the control and ease of a veteran. Victoria had a chance to learn the language of flowers in one of her foster homes and carried it forward despite her slack circumstances. The practice of adding meaning to flowers apparently started in the Victorian era through romantic poems. Lovers interpreted what was in each other's hearts through the flowers being exchanged. I really loved the way in which Victoria and a young man she met at the flower market in San Francisco were able to express their feelings though the flowers they gave each other. How very romantic! Ah.... the hidden romantic in me surfaced there for a moment and went hiding again:-) The book in this link is given an accompaniment to Diffenbaugh's book. Ultimately this is the story of Victoria's resilience in the face of adversity despite having grown up in an impersonal system. Diffenbaugh puts her money where the mouth is and has co-founded a network for foster children called Camellia Network. Among all the meanings, the one that most surprised and disappointed was the meaning 'hatred' assigned to basil and the best was 'remembrance' for rosemary. Now I wish to leave you all with a bouquet of jonquils for 'affection' and a bouquet of cattails for 'peace and prosperity'.

Don't I mean it when I say books galore? These should keep you guys going till New Year. Ciao until then my buddies.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Tools by Phil Stutz & Barry Michels

The Tools : Transform Your Problems into Courage Confidence and Creativity is the full name of this self-help book. It is rather interesting to read and can take the place of wisdom handed down through generations. Phil Stutz is a psychiatrist and Barry Michels is a psychotherapist and together they have created what they call 'the tools'. Reading through it, I felt like I was reading sound advice to handle any situation in life without the usual American indifference. Many times I have felt that when the doctors treat a patient here they only treat the body and leave the heart/soul out of it. If x equals y then z must be true is how it works here for patient treatment. Probably due to limitations imposed by the powerful Insurance companies and the fear of being sued. I can continue like this for a while but that will be forgetting all about the book. This book is for those suffering from depression or similar ailments as it describes how the two authors always wondered about helping the people who came to see them. I think it can be used by any one. What they speak are universal truths that can be applied in any situation. Essentially the authors dispense age-old wisdom through the use of new-age terms. Old wine in new bottle is still as good!

Here are the tools:
1. Reversal Of Desire : To avoid pain we don't do a lot things that could end up helping us or change our life. This tool is asking us to develop a healthy threshold for pain so we can face a problem full on. A mild example is gathering up the courage to ask for that long overdue raise to your manager.
2. Active Love : If we think that our problems are always due to something or someone, you know how that ends up just making us unhappy and does not change the situation in any way. We will will stuck in a maze of hatred and won't be able to come out. This tool asks you to focus and project a whole lot of love onto that person. Be mindful not to use this in abusive situations. That needs the other tools.
3. Inner Authority : Overcome insecurity. Didn't quite get how they described using the tool on this.
4.  The Grateful Flow : To overcome negative thinking.
5. Jeopardy : A way to come back to keep using the tools as needed even if you stopped them once you got some results and then things went down south.

Seems like generic self help gibberish? Not so fast! What differentiates this book from a myriad of others is the apparent genuine desire of the authors to help their patients outside of the usual steps of finding a clue in the past, writing prescriptions etc. They wanted to empower their patients to get over the difficulties they were facing. They advocate a belief in a higher force that needs to be brought out through the effective use of the tools. Read this book even if you don't need it. You will feel like you are listening to two grandfathers dispensing advise based on lives lived well. I am not sure if I fully get all the 'tools' but I liked reading many things in the book that appeared quite sensible. So if you sometimes want a reaffirmation for some of the things you think is right to do, this can help. I leave you with a passage from the book that gives an idea of what I am trying to say here: "We have been preconditioned to associate greatness with people who've achieved power or fame in the outside world, such as a Napoleon or a Thomas Edison. We place little value on an inner greatness that can be developed by anyone, regardless of his station in life (me - the boatman in Hesse's Sidhartha comes to mind here). But it is only this inner greatness that gives meaning to our lives, without it, our society becomes a meaningless shell."

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Three Dog Life : A Memoir by Abigail Thomas

So I was getting the Nora Ephron book from the non-fiction section when this book showed up right next to it. It is easy to assume that it is a generic dog book based on the front cover and the title but it is one of the most heartfelt memoirs I have read in recent times.The prose is honest, simple and down to earth and rather elegant.

"Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs on cold nights, the coldest being a three dog night". These lines in the preface made me curious to know more. A most beautiful memoir. I couldn't put it down even among the chaos of our kitchen remodeling! Interestingly enough a certain warm cozy feeling lingered with me even after I had finished. The author claims she dropped out of the first year of college and never thought she could read a book much less write one! She started writing seriously only after her husband got into an accident. The book is about all that happened in their lives afterwards. A superb and well grounded book rooted very much in the realities of everyday life. Yes, it is all sort of tragic but you will find the underlying warmth of this excellently written book quite inviting. Because it resonates so strongly with our thoughts I bet this book will continue to haul in readers for a long time to come.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Snow Child By Eowyn Ivey

Just finished reading this magical book . More than two thirds of the book is pure unadulterated writing at its best. Felt like a combination of Pearl S Buck (Good Earth, to be specific) and  Hemingway (for the non-flowery but engaging style of writing) of all people! I can assure you with confidence that it will be difficult for you to put it down once you start. There is no starting trouble for this one. You are in from page one! Then, depending on what held your interest, you might feel a let down towards the end. As if the book's end compromised on the enormous promise it held at the beginning. Not a show stopper though.This is Eowyn Ivey's first book but the writing feels more like pure gold formed over burning hot coal. The book is populated by catchy stories and evolving characters, not to mention pure magic threaded through the story fabric. I love this book. I do. Ivey has a master hand in what she does which is obvious from early on. Magical realism has never been so real for me. Story revolves around Mabel and Jack moving up to remote Alaska to farm virgin land and the mystery child who enters their lives as if through a snow fall. Let me just quote a few lines here for the yet hesitant: "She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?" I have only advise for you now. Please do not skip lines. Each line is imbibed with a beauty that should be devoured slowly. I have splattered superlatives all over this post which is not at all how Ivey handles her prose. In her hands words are like pliable mud formed so dexterously into what she wants. Ok, I'll stop babbling but I hope you got the point. And remember not to be too disappointed at the end. It is still enjoyable, just not as much as the majority of it. That is all.

On other news, see what my girl got on her hands with the henna kit we got from amazon? She saw it on a friend's hands who had gone to India, waited for summer to come since school won't allow it, reminded me promptly and went for it. It was fun. Took me back some days...

We then topped it off with a strawberry pattern on the nails that I had seen somewhere! My little customer was as happy as a butterfly!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Hemingway's Boat

I wasn't always a great fan of Ernest Miller Hemingway despite the Nobel Prize win. Had read some of his books long time back and it was not as satisfying as I had thought.  'Farewell To Arms' notwithstanding. Yet, the man is well respected and much loved by Americans as one of the great writers this country produced besides Faulkner, Fitzgerald and the likes. I had bought two of his books to own too. So it was that I re-read 'The Old Man And The Sea' on a recent whim. Now I am not sure why I didn't like it before. It is a good read except for a few pages that are like the last chapter of Hesse's Siddhartha albeit in the form of the interminable wait in the sea with one man and the one fish he wants to catch:-) Maybe I missed the warm relationship between the boy and the old man earlier because that is what anchored me this time. I was still in the throes of catching that Marlin when I saw this biography of Hemingway written by Paul Hendrickson in the library. It came home with me and took much longer than expected to finish. But let me tell you, you need to read this book if you have any liking for Hemingway and would like to know the man behind the author. Hendrickson, an accomplished writer in his own right has done a well researched and in-depth portrayal of Hemingway. He is not just that man with the long white beard and the benign smile anymore for me. Ernest H had a very interesting and tormented life. He tried to enjoy life to the fullest until he took it away himself one day in 1961 at the age of 61. Apparently he was following a family trait in this matter. He had a strong personality that was difficult to ignore and was a contemporary of many other great writers with whom he was well acquainted.

What Hendrickson tries to do is to divide Hemingway's' life into two parts. He postulates and lays out valid points to show that the author's style of writing changed after he bought his boat 'Pilar'. With this well equipped boat Hemingway spent more and more time in 'the Stream' (so named lovingly by Hemingway for the stretch of ocean between Key West, Florida and Cuba). He was indeed a great Marlin fisherman too! Hendrickson's success in this particular biography about this much written and researched author is the way Ernest was personalized for the reader. It looks like he checked out every link and any person who could give us a clue into this complex man's life. Kept me interested despite the daunting size. Do read it if you ever get hit by an urge to know more about Hemingway, aka 'Papa'. This is the book you need. It will show you the man and how his non-flowery, curt and to-the-point style of writing captured the imagination of readers everywhere, along with his life on 'the boat' that was the one constant in his life, more than can be claimed by any one person.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn

It is a lovely Saturday morning here at Vaayanasaala. My boy and H are asleep and my girl who wakes up and watches the flowers and birds with Mommy is at a friend's place for a sleepover.

Just finished reading this lovely book by Colm Tóibín over my morning coffee. Only one word to describe this book. It is such treat! It is all about an Irish girl named Eilis who travels to America in the 50's to find a job and be independent. It was not her choice but that is what life threw at her and she adapted very well to it. I am very much in awe of how well Tóibín is able to portray this girl, her actions and thoughts. Guess that is what makes one an accomplished author. Unlimited by one's own gender and write with such assurance and control about any character that comes to you. He will be one of my authors of choice where I am sure not to be disappointed. An engaging and light read with lots of substance to tingle 'the little gray cells' as M. Poirot would say. The Master apparently is his more acclaimed book. If Brooklyn is this good, it goes without saying that The Master is next in my reading list and I assume you are writing down the names of these two books for yours as well:-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Two Books

Remember the two books on the top of the pile from my previous post? I managed to finish them both though I had to let go of the others. I do have another stash piling up which is hopeful or hopeless as the case maybe. We had lots of visitors last weekend for my girl's First Communion which went well and it was great to have my brother, his wife, HAunt, HUncle and Hcousins all together. Lots of cooking went on and hopefully filled at least some tummies. Kids are ecstatic when people mill about the house. It is a fun feeling especially when in short supply.  Having work stress abated momentarily helped a lot too.

Chronicles In Stone By Ismail Kadare
If you have lived in the green state of Kerala during the monsoons over many years the first chapter of Ismail Kadare's much revised book will seep into you like rainwater and cool you down. Such beautiful and native is his description of the rain that the first chapter alone is enough to read if you don't have time to read the rest of it. I am serious. It is a total experience just on that first chapter. Given that he did many revisions to the book, added chapters, changed stuff etc, after it was published this is not surprising. It gives us a glimpse into a small little town of strategic importance during World War II called Gjirokastër in Albania . Its day to day life comes alive in Kadare's hands with familiar and real small town characters. The Man Booker Prize win and multiple Nobel Prize nominations are quite justified here. Everyday life in the town is the storyline and Kadare manages to make it so interesting! The book was originally translated by Arshi Pipa and there's been some controversies in that regard. Political connotations aside this is a good read.

Q By Evan Mandery

Yup, that is the actual name of the book. The alphabet Q! It really stands for the love of the narrator's life, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril. I sure had to know what it was all about. Very interesting love story where the narrator explains how he didn't marry the love of his life because of an advise from his own future self ! Sounds like science fiction? I agree, but my reservations were blown out the door because of Mandery's straight faced way of telling the events which included frequent time travel. To read is to believe. So go for it and have fun!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pearl Verses The World by Sally Murphy

This is all about the beautiful book for children that I got from the Library to read to my girl. Yes, I still read to her although she is a pretty good reader because, well ... because we love it. It is our cuddle time.

Then why do I show all these books in the picture here? It is a sad story. I had all these fun books from the Library in high hopes of finishing them fast. I always get tempted and get more books each time I take my kids when I still haven't finished the first set! Usually I get to them fairly soon but this time it was just too much rock for this poor dragon fly:-) Yes, I like dragon flies! It is a childhood thing. I'll finish the 2 books on top before the due date. I hope.

Our book  today is a beautiful narration in poetry written by Australian Sally Murphy. It is really an everybody's kind of book. Pearl worries about writing the rhyming poem requested by her teacher since her poems never seem to rhyme naturally. She is also suffering the slow loss of her Grandmother. Beautiful, beautiful book It has a single theme written not in rhyming verses but to rhyme with your heart. (Pearl Verses the World. Get it? Verses.) Murphy seems to have gotten the gist of the matter out very well  in her simple yet endearing verse novel. Do read it with your kids and if they don't want to, then read it for yourself. It is a treat.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tag from Soul Speaks and Some Random Stuff

 If the name Udacity does not ring a bell, we can try Stanford and go from there. I have never doubted the awesomeness of Stanford University (Ivy League of the US West) except for the equally awesome tuition fee. Now that I am getting a chance to enjoy a little of that awesomeness for free it is all good from here. When I heard about this free online University on NPR which goes by the name 'Udacity' I took a quick shine to it. I evangelized it to anyone willing to listen. Then it occurred to me that I should put my money (time in my case) where my mouth is and so here I am being a student at my own leisure in a wonderful learning environment of top notch quality. I know that my takeaway from an experience can be quite different from someone else's from the same set of events but still think this is a unique event for anyone to take part in.

Apparently Sebastian Thrun who is a Stanford educator as well as a Google executive loved the overwhelming worldwide response to a free online computer course he offered through Stanford. So he decided to spin the idea into a start up with the help of like minded world class educators. He has made it a reality and the teaching method from these stalwarts are so basic, down to earth and top notch that only a fool will ignore them. Despite the simple nature of the lessons, it is not easy to get back into being a student even when grading is pretty benevolent and there are no risks involved. The whole thing is free. Remember? I am on unit 5 of this elementary first course and I have to say I enjoy it much in the little time I have for it after dispatching kid activities, work and home duties. It reminds me why I loved being a student and makes me want to go and live in a University campus forever. Udacity is offering many free courses and you don't really need any programming experience to join up for this course although I found that having a decent smattering of programming background helped me to go on with the class without giving up as a first step. If you'd like to bring out that student in you or if you are just looking for something simple to play with, this will fit right in. There is only one thing to watch out for. It can become addictive and like all those books waiting to be read, it could mark the start of another craving to take all those courses offered for free by this quality team.

I will understand if by now you want to throw in your towel and say "I don't know what she is talking about...". Before that happens, let us move onto more immediate things like the tag from soul speaks that I should have done earlier.. Thanks soul speaks, who speaks beautifully from the soul in her blog.

The Tag
1. You must post the rules.

2. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post & then create 11 new questions
   to ask the people you’ve tagged.

3. Tag 11 people and link to them on your post.

4. Let them know you’ve tagged them!

So here are the 11 questions that soul speaks has tagged me with

1.) If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
    for everyone in the world to have the exact amount of love, power and money they need
    and not a penny more or less.

2.) What was your favorite childhood television program?
    can i simply say doordarshan? :-)

3.) Have / had any celebrity crushes ?
    most recently? arjun rampal!! i think the face is rather intelligent despite the looker label.

4.) If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?

    i just read about the Akshardham in delhi.
    embarassed to say i didn't know of its existence before and would like to visit. pictures look awesome!

5.) Name 1 thing you miss about being a child.

    asking mom "what's for dinner?" with the knowledge that something made of
    farm fresh ingredients will be ready for me instead of being on the other end
    with a bunch of mostly processed food to offer.

6.) Name the one comic/book character that you loved the most and why?

    mandrake for his magical powers and diana palmer walker (mrs. phantom for the uninitiated) for her     courage and beauty.

7.) What is the one thing that you are dying to try but haven’t had a chance to do so yet ?

    skydiving. the husband won't allow it. maybe when the kids r in college?

8.) Do you have a role model – someone you want to emulate? Whom do you admire the most?

    my maternal grandfather. one of a kind guy who i deem a classic. will be fine in any generation.

9.) What do others make of you?

    an enigma? just kidding but i liked how it sounded:-)

10.) Have you ever gotten into a fight or punched someone ?

     no. er.... maybe a little when the brothers egged on for a rare fight between me and my sweet sister?

11.) For Girls – If you woke up tomorrow to find out you are Brad Pitt, what would be
     the first thing you’d say upon looking in the mirror???

     how soon can i change back??????? nothing against the poor guy.
     i am happy being me warts and all..

Rules Check:
1. you know the rules as laid out at the top.
2. in the same lazy tradition of this tag, i am not changing the already great questions:-)
3. I tag anyone who spends their time reading my self serving posts in deep appreciation of the said act.
4. This post lets you know that you should take this up

Can't let it go without a book : Just read After The Prophet : The Epic Story Of The Shia-Sunny Split in Islam  by Leslie Hazleton. One of the many books on display in our Library. Since it was non-fiction I thought I may not last through it. But I underestimated Leslie Hazleton. Hazleton wrote the book in the same Arabic tradition of telling history through stories remembered without bending or limiting it. Just telling it like it is and traced back to an eyewitness account. Beautifully written and informative! She has given the most source credit to historian al-Tabari from the time of the fabled Caliph Harun-al-Rashid (i remember some comics featuring this Caliph and of course one thousand and one nights). Finished this gripping saga  in almost one sitting. I will be looking for other books by the same author. Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mary sounds promising for the next pick.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Nora Ephron's "I Remember Nothing" and 2 more books

I didn't know that Nora Ephron had written the screenplays for "When Harry Met Sally" & "Sleepless In Seattle" when I spotted her book on the shelves of a bookstore. The title words "I Remember Nothing", with "Nothing" put on a sticky pad proved quite interesting. I was glad to have found a copy in our library. It was not what I thought it was, but the book was engaging except for a few pages here and there that didn't make much sense. Ephron is essentially claiming not knowing much of anything lately, even what she is writing in the book! Well then we can't blame her for anything in it either. Curiously, I was OK with this premise! Now I know why my son loves the Pseudonymous Bosch book series so much.Who doesn't want to know a secret? Ephron's book starts off in a similar vein except instead of knowing a secret she claims no  knowledge at all:-) I fell for it. It has many chapters, each not necessarily related to the other.In the book Nora talks about life in general and things that happened before and happening now in an endearingly elderly yet sharp narrative.A short, fast read for when you want a quick non-fiction fix. Liked Nora's digs on e-mails and other social media interactions. Also loved how she incorporated some cooking elements into the book. I'll be trying the bread and butter pudding recipe of her deceased  friend Ruthie with whom Nora used to compete for the potluck dessert assignment during their annual Christmas get-togethers.

A Spot of Bother By Mark Haddon
Mark Haddon became well known with 'The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time' and this book is written in similar wry tones that characterizes his prose. Instead of the woes of a misunderstood autistic teenager, he has opted to give voice to a retired man in this book. George thinks he has a grave illness but not sure what to do about it.  So he goes into silent panic which makes his actions quite confusing to those around him. I can't say I liked this as much as "curious Incident..." but it still has some teeth in it for a decent read.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
Helen Dunmore's book was picked for the first ever Orange Prize in 1996 and it is no surprise. Cathy is the narrator who lost her mother and eventually her father when she was still young. All she has left was her brother and her reticent Grandfather who happened to have come from nowhere to the place where Cathy was born. This rootlessness could partly be attributed to the eventual making of Cathy. She is so sweet and accepting that the various events in her life fall into place without so much as a raised eyebrow from her part. Instead you will nod your head while fervently hoping that no one you know should be that accepting or gullible. Helen Dunmore's mastery in story telling is evident in every single page. Skillfully set scenes through Cathy's narration takes the reader into her life without much ado and therein lies the strength of this book and its merit. That it ends on a happy note redeemed me greatly from prolonged misery. Sweet understanding Cathy deserves all the happiness she can get.Read here for some Amazon reviews.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Tiger's Wife and The Missing Person

Read these two books recently. Here is my take.

The Tiger's Wife By Te'a Obreht
(The apostrophe should be above the e and I am not sure how to do that so I added it after..)

Literally an aphrodisiac for the nostalgic minded, this book is a fun read. It is full of folk tales effortlessly woven into the story fabric. Set in an unnamed Yugoslavian province, the story spans over many wars, both internal and external with indirect references which the author seems to be quite good at! I love reading good first books because a lot of the time it will be the story they'd been waiting to tell their entire life and has the most depth and vivid characters. There is some disagreement on the authenticity of the Balkan terms used but for those to whom this is transparent, it does not make a difference on the read.

The narrator is a young doctor and the stories are of her life with the maternal grandfather who was also a doc.
She travels through many time periods while narrating, mainly following her Grandfather's footsteps all the way to his childhood village of Galina. The Tiger was a real tiger that escaped from a zoo and blundered into the forests surrounding Galina. Grandfather was the one who identified the strange animal to the villagers as Sherekhan from his Junglebook illustrations. A book that he kept with him all his life and therefore very familiar to the narrator.

The deathless man is my favorite character and I believe Obreht has an amazingly controlled handle on this tricky player in relation to the story. Realism and fantasy is mixed so well that the boundaries are rather vague here. If you like waxing in a general nostalgic feel this book is for you.

The Missing Person By Alix Ohlin

The book has certain redeeming qualities that makes it a good addition here. It is about a New York Grad student from Albuquerque returning home in search of her brother who seems to have taken up with a group of radical environmentalists. In the process of finding him she almost becomes one of them. Then there is the little matter of her research subject of American women painters of the 1970s that brings up some interesting discussions on paintings that always appeals to me.Ohlin has done a fair job and I like what she has to say here. If you want to write that book, go for it and not be afraid of bad first drafts.

I am finding anew that reading is very subjective. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another.
That is where classics come in I guess where the book and its story is essentially timeless. Both of today's
books may not become classics but have the potential to be of great appeal to one reader or another.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Anniversary Reading

It is the 4th anniversary of my blogs this month and I am honored to have received an award from reflections at the same time! See here for award details and I would love all readers of my blogs to take it up and follow the steps as outlined.

So what have I been reading amidst all the rumble? Wait, wait,wait. First things first! Hope everyone is having a good stable New Year so far and wishes for it to remain so for the rest of it.

I have finished quite a few books and  I will add them here in a  few posts as always.

The Zahir

It took me a while to realize that Pauolo Coelho is a household name to the reading public of the Indian subcontinent (and the rest of the world of course)  through his famous novel The Alchemist. I saw it on the library shelf but my hands went for The Zahir instead. Some critics think this is  not up to his usual standards. I liked the book partly due to the integrity with which Pauolo handled the pitfalls of married life. Looks like the work is very much autobiographical.

Not sure if a marriage can survive that many affairs but Coelho's honest prose makes it a possibility to read on for more. As Coelho so painstakingly points out, most of us have encountered living with a zahir. Be it human, an inanimate object or a goal of one kind or another, it is there. Unless we find a way to disarm the zahir so that it won't overwhelm our lives, we may never chart the true and free path that our lives should take. The narrator is an author and he talks about the books that he could write only after his wife came into his life. He realized this rather late. From their description the books are essentially The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage. The zahir here is the author's wife who left him to look for the presence of true love in this world. This presence is addressed as a Lady and the book has a prayer to Mother Mary in the beginning pages but not sure if a connection is intended.. It is dedicated with a loving tribute to his wife and muse Christina. Like Odysseus's journey to Ithaca  all of Coelho's books appear to be about a journey to somewhere.  Here our author's journey starts off as a search for his wife because he thinks he loves her and because of that cannot live without her. He sinks in the realization that she'd been his muse all along and gets so obsessed in finding her that she becomes his zahir.

The trip eventually teaches him universal love and turns his journey into a  search to find himself before anything else. This helps him to make the discovery that  he loves his wife for who she is rather than what she is to him. This is a very important message and it is a learning process. Some people are born into this world with love as their anchor which enables them to love without reservation. Some others are not like this but it is in them to be discovered.  If they are lucky enough to recognize the chances, they will be able to take that journey to find the true love of the world and through it contentment. I feel all of us are on this journey in one way or another. Some find it earlier, some find it later, some may find it and enjoy it without being aware and yet some other may never find it. The book is thought provoking and is a great, expanding your heart kind of read.

Vinegar hill

This is a grim novel and therefore not for the airports I'd say. Take it up when you really need a serious read. I wouldn't have braved it after the first chapter if I wasn't so relaxed when I started it. No, it is not a gory, ghost story. Just raw lives of a family through the eyes of the young tired  mother of two school going kids and her husband. It is his family that makes the grim so depressing. A. Manette Ansay's strong, unwavering language tells the events of the story with the panache that it deserves. So read it definitely and you will find that it was not a wasted effort.

Hugo: The Movie and The Book

So we were all set to watch TinTin over a November weekend when we came across the little fine print that said it will be released in the US of A only towards the end of Dec. So what do we do? Like any law abiding citizens we picked the next available children's movie which was Hugo. Plans were made and time was available and we simply had to watch something on the silver screen. And what a movie it was! I knew it had my husband at the clock and gears. It had me at the view of the panoramic old train station, my son with the automaton and  my daughter with the girl who read a lot like the avid reader she's turning into. Directed by that maker of grand movies Martin Scorsese, this gem of a movie stars Ben Kingsley which should seal the deal for anyone sitting on z fence:-) I can't believe we would have missed this had it not been for TinTin being released late. The boy reporter was not forgotten and we watched him later on during the holiday trip to visit relatives in the east. In the middle of writing this note I heard over the radio that Hugo captured the most Oscar movie nominations. Go Scorsese!

After watching this epic movie that has two important crowd pleasers we came home and discussed it for a while. The first half had this majestic and crowded Paris train station full of old time monster clocks that ran on gears and levers that needed winding.This was done by Hugo, the young boy who is the movie's namesake and the last half was a treatise on silent movies based mainly on the life of Georges Meliez. The next day my son brought home the book from his school library! I thought I wouldn't read it but curiosity got the best of me and it was all for the good. Brain Selznick's book is an instant classic on its precise and large scale illustrations alone. As you will see from the book, Selznick is first an illustrator and then a story writer. Whether you read the book or watch the movie, don;t forget to go to his web site for a unique experience.