Monday, April 14, 2014

Eccentric vs. Conventional

"Eccentric people, he concluded, were good for conventional people, simply because they made them able to conceive of everything being different".

                                                 (The Sandcastle-Iris Murdoch)

The book in my suitcase

No matter how hard I try, books usually end up in my suitcase.

It's a habit I've tried to rid myself of, albeit reluctantly. For someone who carries a book in her handbag and gym bag, it's rather hard to not take a book on a holiday. In all honesty it is never 'a' book but several and often, not always, I end up reading the books I've bought during the holiday. The folly of my habit hits me when the luggage exeeds the weight limit on the return journey. I'm also not one of those who leaves her own books behind for the pleasure of other travelers. Firstly, if I take the trouble of carrying a book (or books) with me it is quite obvious that I like it/them and secondly, I don't read thrillers, vampire novels or trashy romance.

The right book in the right location is a killer combination. I read 'The End of the Affair' (Graham Greene) while on a holiday in London and being in the same city, travelling on the tube and taking the same lines as the characters made it so much more enjoyable. It's not necessary that the setting of the novel be similar to your physical environment. I was reading 'Doctor Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party' on a beach last year, enjoying the sun, sea and sand as one of the main characters was skiing to her death. 

Sometimes it is fun to match the book with the location and it was this thought that was dominant in my mind today as I browsed through my book shelves. 

'A Capote Reader' has found its way in my suitcase. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some thoughts on 'The Mystic Masseur'

I'm not a huge fan of V.S. Naipaul and the only reason which propelled me to read this book was the Ivory Merchant film made on it. The movie was a disappointment which came as a surprise since most films made under the Ivory Merchant banner are very impressive (I recently saw Anita Desai's 'In Custody' and liked it immensely) but this one fell short especially where the screenplay was concerned.

The book, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. It was the right length unlike 'A House for Mr. Biswas' which seemed never-ending. The few conclusions I've come to (on a lighter note) after finishing it are:

1. The quantity of books on display in your house is directly proportional to making a good impression on people. Especially if you live in a place where most people are illiterate. 

Even though a lot of literate people around us don't read these days, I'm afraid large quantities of books will fail to impress people in your social circle. Invest in an expensive, designer book shelf and fill it up with expensive looking 'coffee table' books in order to impress. 

2. If you're not able to do something it is because it wasn't meant to be rather than your lack of skills or hard work. As the protagonist, Ganesh, put it, "We never are what we want to be, he wrote, but what we must be".

See? Just blame fate. 

3. A tip for a successful marriage? Don't read or buy too many books. Unless you have a back up plan of becoming a 'mystic healer'. 

4. The new 'it' word is mystic. 

5. It's a good idea to become a writer in a place where a) no one belonging to your race/nationality has ever written anything, b) there are no literature festivals and c) the only printing press just prints wedding cards, or handbills.

6. Your physical appearance is very important when it comes to climbing the ladder of success and wealth. Don't just play the part, LOOK the part. 

7. Coca Cola served in very fancy glasses on a hot summer day is guaranteed to win people over. These days replace it with something stronger and preferably NOT black.

8. Politics is the way forward to change your life forever. (Remember the emphasis is on YOUR life).

9. It is okay to change your name from 'Pundit Ganesh Ramsumair' to 'G. Ramsay Muir'. Modesty is not in fashion these days.

And finally,

10. Write what you want to write and if you pour your heart and soul into it, it will find the right readers. 

Image: Google

Friday, April 4, 2014

Opening lines that make you go...Oomph!

"Later he was to be famous and honored throughout the South Caribbean; he was to be a hero of the people and, after that, a British representative at Lake Success".

Does this opening line tempt you to read any further?

It didn't tempt me but since I want to watch the movie after I finish the book I must read on.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finding the Perfect Protagonist

I made an elaborate reading plan last month and, wait for it, I managed to follow it also. Not completely because there are days when I'm just in the mood for 'a' particular book. Making a reading plan is good in some ways but it's okay to derail from it a bit otherwise reading just becomes a task....and not an escape from life and its many, many tasks. 

My choices last month were very varied. I read Greene's Brighton Rock even though I had every intention of starting reading all of his work in chronological order. But on a visit to Frere Hall I happened to find the book, Greene by Cedric Watts (published by Pearson Education), which was a sort of biography on him and it had a section on Brighton Rock so I dumped the chronology idea. Brighton Rock was unlike any Greene I've read so far. It was dark, and had very strong religious themes. Even though it was quite a thriller and read like a detective novel, it made me think and not just speculate (read: what's going to happen next). I think Pinkie is one of the most complex protagonist Greene has created. He is young, rash, arrogant and above all, a murderer. And even though you know he is the bad guy, right from the start, you feel differently towards him as you progress through the story. At least I did although I never really liked him at any point and it is very seldom that one hates Greenes' protagonist. 

The other planned choice besides Brighton Rock was Tales from a Vending Machine by Anees Salim. So this particular vending machine dispensed, like many other such gadgets, tasteless tea and coffee. But it is important in the narrative because it is manned by our young, beautiful, naive, ambitious and somewhat selfish protagonist, Hasina Mansoor. The reasons why she's stuck at a vending machine at the airport are the usual ones - father's shop is in loss and someone has to provide for the house and the education of her siblings. There is a love affair thrown in, a family feud and a horrible boss. The humor in the book helps...and there is a fabulous twist in the end. As the central character and the narrator, Hasina tries to make the reader like her or atleast sympathize with her. I have to admit that there were a few moments when I did feel sorry for her like when her boss invited her to his granddaughter's wedding, much to Hasina's delight & surprise, only to make her stand at the beverages stall. Overall she wasn't very likeable.

At this point, I was feeling rather sad with my choices. There was no one to root for in my last two reads. Not one character. It was distressing. 

And then, even though I had promised myself I won't read any of his books this year, I turned to Gaiman.

In my defense, it was a last minute decision. As I rushed out of my room to make it to a very important interview I picked The Graveyard Book from the shelf....... 

.......and I found not one, but two characters who made me wish I had them as friends. 

Maybe I do. 

Images: Google