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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jeeves is Always Right!

How Right You Are, Jeeves and how I wish you were my butler!

When people ask me which book changed your life I'm at a loss to answer. But if there is ever a mood changer, it's the wonderful world of Wodehouse novels. Especially that inhabited by the foolish simpleton Wooster and the great man himself, Jeeves. The man who reads Spinoza, quotes Hamlet, prefers Dostoevsky's work and has a solution to every problem known to mankind.

This book is a perfect example of the 'idyllic world created by Wodehouse' although Bertie might have a thing or two to say on this. The action takes place in Brinkley Court, the country house of Bertie's Aunt Dahlia. Bertie is summoned by the 'old ancestor' to keep an eye on the various 'inmates' in the 'old snake pit'.  An American playboy (Willie Cream) and his mother, a famous detective writer Adela Cream, are among the guests at the large house. Also present is Bertie's headmaster from his Malvern House days, Mr. Aubrey Upjohn, and his stepdaughter, Phyllis. But the most dangerous presence of all is that of young Bobbie Wickham, the one of whom Jeeves rightly said, 'I would always hesitate to recommend as a life partner a young lady with quite such a vivid shade of hair'.

The silver cow creamer jug (Wodehouse readers will be familiar with this grotesque prized possession of Bertie's Uncle Tom) makes its appearance also and creates bucketsful of trouble for Wooster. Hearts are asunder, engagements made and broken but no Jeeves around to fix it all until better sense prevails and Bertie decides to fetch Jeeves from his holiday at Herne Bay where the butler was, among other things, judging a seaside bathing-belles contest. Which comes as a relief because how can a man only survive on Spinoza?

No matter how high or low the tide, once Jeeves is around the solution is not far behind. Something of the sort happens here too and the day is saved at the cost of declaring Bertie 'off the rocker', a 'kleptomaniac' and a 'man who has lost his marbles'. But Bertie bears it all in good stead if it helps the business deal of his dear Uncle Tom with Homer Cream (BIG American Tycoon). It was his Uncle Tom who used to send Bertie postal orders, sometimes for as much as ten bob, in the miserable Malvern House days. And Wooster is always there for his family. Even Aunt Agatha, 'who is known to devour her young and conduct human sacrifices at the time of the full moon'. 

Some might accuse the Bertie and Jeeves novels of being repetitive but that is an incorrect and unacceptable view. They have a timeless quality about them. And even if they don't change your life, they will always change your mood for the better. 


Image: Google

This was Book #1 of the 15/15/30 project. For more Jeeves and Wooster reviews on the blog read here and here

Thursday, July 3, 2014


15 books, 15 blogs, 30 days. 

You can join this crazy challenge too. All you need are fifteen books, a blog and some super reading powers. If you have a blog, please post a link in the comments below so that I (and maybe others) can  check out your reads. In case you don't have a blog, join the Facebook page (15/15/30) or follow the #15/15/30 on twitter. 

Let the reading..BEGIN! 

Photograph by Farheen Zehra