Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Little things matter

'Look for the little loves, find and shape the little bitternesses. Savor them in your mouth, try them on your typewriter'. 

(Zen in the Art of Writing - Ray Bradbury)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What are YOU reading this week?

There are some new books on the beanbag. I'm really looking forward to reading one of the books I got from Goa; Samhita Arni's 'The Missing Queen'.

And I've also got hooked to the epic saga that is the Malazan, House of the Fallen series. I read the second book, Deadhouse Gates, for our Desi Writers' Lounge - Karachi Readers' Club and now I'm reading from the beginning this amazing fantasy fiction series. So, Gardens of the Moon is also on the beanbag this week.

In case you're interested, check out my review on Deadhouse Gates here and a pictorial of our Readers' Club meet here

One last thing - there are some new titles in the book donation drive so if you'd like a free book delivered to your doorstep, just click here

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How I lost my books to the aliens...

Or in other words, how I never managed to finish the 15/15/30 project.

It wasn't the number of books, or the number of pages, or the lack of time or motivation which led me to abandon the project. Nor was it the fact that no one was reading along with me although I had high hopes that someone might join this crazy attempt. I am now revealing the actual, real and TRUE reason behind why I lost steam. 

There was an alien invasion in my backyard the night of 11th of July and these particular aliens only wanted to read books by female authors and since they were short of time (if they overstayed there was a slight chance of detection by the dog next door. Who is actually a four legged creature, with a tail and all. No subtle references here!) they grabbed the first books which they found which just happened to be the very stack which I was planning to read. Of course you can imagine how I went into a state of misery and shock to find no books the next morning when I woke up and thus, I was forced to abandon the project. 

No? You don't believe me? 

Well, there is another reason but it doesn't sound very plausible to me. There just might be a teeny weeny chance that I sort of backed down from the project because I didn't like the quality of my reviews. And I came to the conclusion that I am a failure with words and what makes me think I can ever write?  But, the likelihood of THAT happening is so much less than aliens disappearing with my books. 

Or is it?

[In Search of Love and Beauty was the fourth and last book I read for the challenge and you can find the incomplete review here].

In Search of Love and Beauty - (the incomplete review)

Aren't we all?

If you are not familiar with any of Jhabvala's work, I'd recommend you rush off to the nearest bookstore and buy Heat and Dust. In case you only know her for her collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions on many of their projects, you still need to rush to your nearest bookstore and buy her novel.

Jhabvala's novels are like quicksand; once you start the book you sink into its world completely. Her stories revolve around ordinary people living ordinary lives and facing ordinary dilemmas. What makes her novels an extraordinary read is the way everything is woven together. All the characters are linked in some way or the other and most, if not all, of them are in search of some sort of fulfilment. Her storyline is devoid of major twists but has very strong and well thought out characters.   The people in her story are alive; they have likes, dislikes, distinct personality traits and they change and bend according to their circumstances. While reading her novel, A Backward Place, I couldn't shrug off this feeling that these characters actually exist in people around me.

In Search of Love and Beauty is one of those books which, if you read in one day, can actually leave you a bit morbid. All the characters in the story are, as the title suggests, in search of either one or both. The novel starts in New York of the 1930s and revolves around the life of a group of wealthy European immigrants living in exile. The beauty of the story lies in the non-linear, episodic manner in which Jhabvala shuffles from past to present, explaining and revealing the lives and secrets of Louise,  her daughter Marietta, her grandchildren, Mark and Natasha and their association (and dependency) with the 'former Adonis', guru, spiritual healer, quack/genius - Leo Kellermann.

The story was absorbing but there was a feeling of gloom surrounding the novel and it came as a great relief when I finally finished it. The one thing which is common in all Jhabvala's novels is the end - it is usually very vague and almost without any definite conclusion.

[I wrote the above while going through my 15/15/30 challenge during Ramazan. Why I never completed this review and what happened to my reading marathon are questions I've answered in 'How I lost my books to the aliens..'].

Friday, July 11, 2014

Finding the Right Read

There are some works of literature which are permanent fixtures on every reading list. We read these works because they are supposed to be read by everyone. Initially we are introduced to the abridged versions by our parents (mostly) who try to force the reading habit in us by making us read the 'right' thing at the 'right' age. But this is the stage when we  stumble upon and are more interested in the 'forbidden'* books on the shelf of an uncle, aunt, elder sibling or grandparent. 

Then there are books which enter our lives as gifts and exit the same way. As we grow older we try and read what we fancy and this trial and error method yields both great finds and horrible reads. Sometimes acquaintances at school/college/work recommend an author and insist that after reading him/her we'll be fans forever. Others give us the book of some writer we've never heard of and we not only absolutely fall in love with that particular book, we try and get our hands on other works by the same author. Or we see a book in the hands of another person; it (the book) arouses our interest, we make a mental note to buy it only to regret it later. Or not.

Internet has made all this process so much more easier and less personal. But no matter how or why, sometimes a book finds you and sometimes, you find the book. 

* Forbidden mostly because they are not considered the 'right' book. Tess of the D'Urbervilles falls into this category if you're eight. 

Photograph: Farheen Zehra 

Types of Readings

"There are readings - of the same text - that are dutiful, readings that map and dissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey little pronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden or apples. There are personal readings, that snatch for personal meanings, I am full of love, or disgust or fear, I scan for love, or disgust or fear. There are - believe it - impersonal readings - where the mind's eye sees the lines move onwards and the mind's ear hears them sing and sing.

Now and then there are readings which make the hairs on the neck, the non-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shines hard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars in the dark - readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writing differently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how".

(Possession, a Romance by A.S. Byatt)

Monday, July 7, 2014

How real is The Real Life of Sebastian Knight?

When I was selecting books for the 15/15/30 project, I wanted to select female authors only, 2014 being the 'Year of Reading Women'. But I was short by three books (which was a reminder that I must read more female authors) and looking around the shelf in the last days before the challenge I came across this Nabakov novel which I'd just bought from States and I decided to add it to the reading pile along with Wodehouse and Thurber. 

It wasn't a good idea. 

Before I go on I want to make it clear that I have nothing against Nabakov. Some of his books are amazing reads (Laughter in the Dark, King, Queen, Knave) while others are a punishment (Pale Fire). I had great expectations from this book especially after reading the blurb, which started off saying:

'The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a perversely magical literary detective story - subtle, intricate, leading to a tantalising climax - about the mysterious life of a famous writer'.

So I fell in the trap. Wouldn't you? 'Magical literary detective story', 'tantalising climax', 'mysterious life' and finally, 'famous writer'. All the ingredients that make a perfect read. But in reality it turned out to be a very odd sort of detective story with a climax which was far from tantalising about a writer who was not in the Rowling or Gaiman category. The blurb, however, failed to mention that this novel was partially autobiographical and full of nerdy chess references. 

The first mystery in this detective story is the detective/narrator who is the half brother of the dead writer Sebastian Knight. He has made it his mission to write a book on Knights' life although he has no experience in writing whatsoever. Besides love and admiration for his half-brother, what is driving our narrator to write this book? Guilt? Or a desire to set the record straight about his half-brother's life? We never really find out. While filling in the gaps, our narrator stumbles upon information about a 'femme fatale' who destroyed Knight - personally and professionally. The hunt for this wanton woman and the subsequent meeting with her provides some interesting moments in the book. The end was indeed 'baffling' and  far from being 'uniquely rewarding' as the blurb promised. 

Even though I couldn't understand a lot of references Nabakov was trying to make, the beauty of his prose did leave me in awe at some places. Also, his dark humour was very entertaining especially the summary of Knight's first novel, The Prismatic Bazel.

What I loved and laughed over the most was this perfect description of 'the whimsical wanton that ruins a foolish man's life'. 

'Books mean nothing to a woman of her kind; her own life seems to her to contain the thrills of a hundred novels. Had she been condemned to spend a whole day shut up in a library she would have been found dead about noon'.

This was Book #2 of the 15/15/30 project. For a review of Nabakov's 'King, Queen, Knave' read here

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