Sunday, February 28, 2016

The #100bookpact - Books 1-10

Sometimes undertaking a challenge is the only way to do things. Even though I consider myself to be an avid reader (at least that's what I keep telling everyone!), usually my book list at the end of the year doesn't have more than twenty books. Which is insane because I usually buy double this number of books every year.

Social media can make one do crazy things. For me the #100bookpact is just that. This year I've decided to read, yes you've read it right, a 100 books. It did appear to be a pretty daunting task but so far I've managed to finish nine books. For someone who only read the Malazan series last year, nine books is pretty amazing!

Here are the ten books with the briefest, most minuscule reviews.

1. Esmond in India by Ruth Jhabvala. Nostalgia, love, broken ideals and lost causes. Well written characters, each one striving for happiness and control of their lives, like we all are. Her work is a perfect example of how a story based in the subcontinent can be about ordinary people leading ordinary lives.

2. Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. Whatever I've read by her so far has been hugely entertaining and this book is no different. There is a potential for a movie in it. Her novels are short but she always has very strong characters with distinct qualities. For example, the staple diet of one of the characters in this novel was smoked salmon and lamb chops!

3. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. It was such a huge disappointment. Even the vodka guzzling cat couldn't save it! I abandoned the book after 50 pages. However, I highly recommend his other novel, Black Snow, which I've been thinking should be made into a stage play. It is not just very funny but totally relevant to the theatre scene in Karachi, if not Pakistan.

4. So Long, and thanks for all the fish by Douglas Adams and then,

5. Mostly Harmless, again by Douglas Adams. This book was such a bore. I think the best one in this five book series is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Even The Restaurant at the end of the World isn't bad either. I think the books which don't have Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin are really lame.

6. A morning with Jeeves is full of joy. Wodehouse's 'Joy in the Morning' was the sixth book. With preparations for the Desi Writers' Lounge stall for KLF in full swing in the beginning of February, this was the easiest, happiest read!

7. The famous Eat, Pray, Love came next. In all honesty I had never any intention of reading the book. I had seen the film and even though I had heard a lot about it, memoirs are not really my thing. But I read Big Magic last year by Gilbert and it made me curious to read her most famous work. It wasn't a let down and it gave me an excuse to watch the movie again. Also, it has a really smart plot. 

8. Tolkein's The Silmarillion came next. This book should definitely come with a disclaimer: Only for hardcore LOTR fans. 

9. Probably the best book I've read so far for this challenge was 'boom!' by Mark Haddon. A sci-fi for kids or young adults, it is one action packed story! It has aliens, toilet cleaner wielding spiders, mysterious portals, a jobless father who finds his calling in cooking, devious young boys who spy on aliens, and a road trip all the way from London to the Isle of Skye. Read it. Make your kids read it. Read it to your kids. Just don't die without reading this book!

10. I started Atonement last night. I've read two books by Ian McEwan, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach, and really liked them but I always shied away from this critically acclaimed novel. I'm hoping it won't be as insipid as the movie. Let's see. 

The next update on the #100bookpact will come after I've finished ten more books. Which will, hopefully, not be at the end of the year! 

Note: Image of Eat, Pray, Love and The Silmarillion are from Google.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How to keep and feed a muse

Ray Bradbury recommends a healthy diet for the muse consisting mainly of poetry. Read poetry everyday of your life, is one of the tips he gives in his book, The Zen of Writing. It's a great book. Easy to read and digest. Bradbury sounds like a friend. An older writer friend whom you visit occasionally and ask for advice over a cup of coffee, or a glass of whiskey, in a very by the way manner so it doesn't seem that that was the only reason you actually visited him. And he tells you, in a matter of fact way, to read poetry. Which, of course, is NOT the answer you were looking for.

It wasn't the answer I was looking for either and this post isn't about how I turned to poetry and it changed my writing life forever. Far from it. After writing on and off since the past few months I've realised that feeding the muse is not as simple as Bradbury makes it look.

Who is my muse? I think my muse is a pessimist by nature, generally good-for-nothing, and mostly  sarcastic. Whenever I sit down to write, it makes me feel uncomfortable and foolish about my writing. It also makes it very enticing not to write. Isn't it supposed to do the opposite? No matter how much and what I read, it refuses to get motivated and help me.

So I've decided to let my muse go. At least for the time being. Poetry is food for the soul but it wasn't really helping me take my story forward. The first time I realised I didn't need a muse to write was during NaNoWriMo in November last year. Maybe the goal of reaching 50k words acted like a muse but I didn't indulge in reading poetry or prose during that time. All I did was sit at my desk everyday and write. After November, writing became a bit of a struggle because the muse returned. It started creating uncertainties and doubts in my mind about my work and I became a victim to its rantings, once again. 

Today I've decided to let my muse go. At least for the time being. It is a little strange to shun it so because I'm afraid it might never return. But at the same time, I feel like it isn't there for me when I need it most. Or as Oscar Wilde put it:

'Art will fly if held too lightly,
Art will die if held too tightly,
Lightly, tightly, how do I know,
Whether I'm holding or letting Art go?'

Where's your muse today?