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Showing posts from 2016

The Villain of the Piece

Sometimes I wonder about grey characters. Come to think of it, every story is written from someone's point of view. One person looking out at the world. It must be then, safe to assume that the character description is already prejudiced. Take our fairy tale villains for one; a cannibalistic woman (the witch of Hansel and Gretel), the wicked fairy godmother (Sleeping Beauty), an ogre (Jack and the Beanstalk) and the most uncomfortable of them all, the baby-obsessed Rumpelstiltskin. It is only recently that interesting backstories and research into the original unadulterated versions of these stories are attracting attention. The happy endings are possibly the only things that are child-like in these stories; even one layer down, these stories are studies into complex human psych. 
Which brings me to the bothersome point. We have all done some pretty vile things at some or the other point. If someone were to listen only to the victim of our injudicious behaviour, why, we shall be …

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (The Original Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

Well, this was only the movie script, and I can only imagine how the coursebook might be. Dear God, isn't it a relief to relapse into that world, and especially if Rowling herself creates it. Mind you, I couldn't help but compare between the playwright Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and this one, and the difference is so stark. Both have good stories - maybe Fantastic Beasts has less complicated a plot as The Cursed Child - but the latter comes nowhere close to the heart-warmingness of the former.

I began Newt's journey on the big screen. We went for an evening show and we were thrilled as children. Personally, I have been a huge fan of Eddie Redmayne after the BBC adaptation of Birdsong, so it was easy on my eyes to accept him as the sprightly, yet demure Newton Artemis Fido Scamander. The setting was perfect - a 1920s USA, with everything in dull grey and black and brown - an overall dreariness, which was uplifted by the lush, navy blue overcoat-bearing Newt. And of …

Inferno by Dan Brown

Contradictions. All the way. I really love the character of Robert Langdon - he is the personification of all things romantic about growing up to be a hot professor dealing in history, mythology and all things mysterious with a touch of science (a bit of an Indiana Jones minus the brashness). I love Brown's plots concerning Renaissance-era artists and their quirks. I love the settings. I love the puzzles and their conspiracy-theory explanations. I love the pace too. But. When I put all of these together, why am I underwhelmed? The stories have all the ingredients of being a blockbuster of a book, and somehow they fail. The charm of The Da Vinci Code seems like a one-time hit, and a re-hash of the concept seems like a wasted attempt.  Maybe that's what it is. A blockbuster, I mean. At a time when, as a friend put it, apocalyptic doomsday seems to be the flavour of the season, mixing centuries old references with the present ominous environment seems like deja vu. History repea…

Does the thickness of books scare you ?

I swear I'm not being diplomatic about this, but the answer to that is 'It Depends. Smiley versus Karla trilogyhad me in raptures; I nearly cried (with misery) when I got sent the original version of David Copperfield. Both were bricks; and much as I love Dickens, there is something daunting about a thickset copy with font 8 on a Times New Roman (or something similar).

Thick books (strictly excluding text books) are usually fun. Look at A Suitable Boy; I bought it five years back and I'm still ploughing through. I haven't had the time to finish it or get bored of it (but then I'm a serial book-shifter*). And then there is The Old Man and the Sea; it is a pamphlet of a book, and I haven't (or rather couldn't) finished that either. So it depends on the content of the writing. I'm not saying family sagas are more fun or intellectually more stimulating than, well, an old man fishing in the sea, but somehow, the lack of activity in the latter seemed to dead…

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

When I was at school, our English reader used to feature some very interesting pieces; some of them used to be two pager snippets of larger novels. These stories - meant for an extremely drab educational purposes - ranged from an excerpt about a young boy nearing suffocation in a box in which he was kidnapped, to a dying rhino amidst a group of poachers, and a marvellous hidden national treasure which, in the middle of being robbed, set off the alarm by way of tinkling bells. I eventually read the complete works, having borrowed them from an English teacher who used to reside in the apartment below ours. One piece of work though, had been haunting me ever since I had read it way back in the year 2002. The story was titled 'The Boots of Kemmerich' and I can most vividly recall the pain in the words. Ever since then, I had been looking out for All Quiet on the Western Front, and it wasn't until 14 years later, that I got round to read it. And it feels just the same. 
This i…

Cooking up a storm - Cookbooks and our existence

Recipe books are books after all. And very sensual ones at that. It wasn't long back when cooking was still pretty much an exotic hobby to me; by extension, reading a cookbook wasn't really an option I found worth weighing. It was the same with cookery shows - I found them dull, except if the chef in question was kind to the eyes. Things changed gradually when I started staying by myself and the hostel/daily cook's food started tasting like grease. Browsing recipes started eating into my time for binge-watching series. My lunch box to the office started emanating alien odours - not wholly unpleasant, but certainly other-worldly. My colleagues started commenting on the shade of my dal and the abundance of salt in the curry. Mom used to describe elaborate recipes on the phone, and repeated them in case I had already forgotten the first step by the time it was time to serve it hot with a sprinkling of coriander. 
It was around this time that I realised that cookbooks or well…

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

Love is multi-dimensional; in the sense that it is a congregation of feelings, both good and bad. They all build up to something familiar, like an old pair of socks, and settles down snugly within us, without us much realising. The feeling of loss is also an indication of that love, and the only tragedy is not feeling anything at all. 
Murakami's beautiful South of the Border, West of the Sun is a journey of the heart. Nothing really is straight-cut when it comes to Murakami, but this is an out-and-out love story, as predictable as it can be in terms of the practical outcomes, while the complex turns of the heart are what makes this story so unique. Little Hajime is a single-child, who learns to live in his own quiet world, and befriends Shimamoto, another lone child at school. When both go their own ways as teenagers, Hajime still remembers her fondly, and moves on with his life , not realising how stuck he is. He is happily married with two daughters, with the thoughts of Shima…

What goes with a perfect sunny afternoon in the monsoons

Besides the pouring rain against the glass panes, the next best thing for me is a dry spell, with a shaft of sunlight escaping through the dark bank of clouds and illuminating a runway on my bed. These instances are rare to come by in the thick of the monsoons and so I relish them, as I am doing now with one or all of the below:
A good book: The lighter the better. Or else something as engrossing as a Harry Potter or an Alistair McLean. The intense plot only ferments too well in the rain-washed sunbeams. 
A good book and a takeway: A steaming box of wok or some incredibly cheesy pizza that dribbles on the pages. Nasty stuff, but there's no combination like comfort food and a comfort book.   
Long-drawn out, ballad-like music: My husband is a connoisseur of good music, and more often than not I am listening to some heart-rending song on the loop. On afternoons like today, it feels like an ode to love and loss and all things bittersweet. 
Watching out with a mug of tea: An epitome of r…

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Isn't that something to look forward to ?! An 8th in the line of the Harry Potter saga...Unlike when I was younger, I did not pre-book this one (sad what ageing does to you) but just tried my luck at the local bookstore and hit it off. Lucky me !
It went down in a week, which must have been the time it used to take me to tackle The Order of the Phoenix back in my schooldays. And it left me happy. Not delirious and confused, but happy. 
Nothing wrong with the book at all; in fact the story was as tight as you could ask for, what kept nagging me was that I was missing out on some of the finest writings of Rowling herself. If only this were a 2,000-pager, I would probably have taken a couple of days off from work and gorged on it till I was bloodshot in the eyes. However, considering that a story as complex as this is written in a theatre-format, I am pretty surprised at how well it has come out. Admittedly, the movies took some time to mature (personally I started loving the screen…

The Hiatus and the Inspiration

I am back from a most refreshing trip (Italy and Switzerland!!!). Actually, I've been back some time now and it took me this long to find my feet back into the mundane (ugh) life that I lead. If that sounds grumpy, its at least better than how I feel. No wonder travelling is touted as one of the best ways to gain perspective and general well-being. 
I daresay, my reading has aligned itself with my travels. I've always had a weakness for European literature (by which I mean predominantly British, though). And Italy - being the living, breathing image of all things romantic and chivalrous I had imagined, has turned my attention towards works that have so far been in the realm of reverence and oh-I-am-too-stupid-to grasp-all-that category. 
The one thing  have never really got a hang of, is poetry. At school, it used to be difficult for me; prose I found easier to read between the lines, but not poetry. I have in fact, always, attacked poetry with the intention of digging out de…

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

To write an r. about a Wodehouse, is pretty tough. It tests the beans. Every Wodehouse isn't the same, but a common thread runs through them all; not they-make-you-split-your-sides-with-laughter, that's so obvious; its that it makes me want to close my eyes and live forever in that idyll. 
Of course, it has its thorns. The insufferable aunts and stingy uncles, and untamed brats of nephews/nieces, equally untamed dogs and cats and a stray quaint anti-social elements. But the cynosure for the senses lies in the vast manors and gardens with their rhododendron walks and yew alleys, the lakes, the excellent cooking and of course, the impeccable judgement of one Jeeves. Ah, what would I not give to trade places with Bertie Wooster...
Floating back to the ground, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves was such a pleasure. The story is set in Totleigh Towers, amidst the weird bunch that inhabits it, where, as the title suggests. Bertie and Jeeves land for a few days. The former has always been a li…

What it means to be a bibliophile - the pain of withdrawal

Last week, I went three days without reading a page. Things were pretty tight at work, so on one of the mornings, while I was waiting for the bus, I suddenly realised that I felt a bit brain-dead. Of course, I wasn't fainting or perspiring beyond normal in the early-summer morning; there was just this part of my brain which felt like an automobile without gas. 
These moments come quite often, when reading becomes a luxury. While it doesn't really bore into you, but conversations with people who follow the habit of a-few-pages-before-sleeping have revealed that not reading is as good as a skipped medication. The impact is gradual, that is, as the next day starts/the existing one progresses, the lack of variety in our lives kicks in. I'm not sure, but adventurers may not be facing this issue (heck, they are the ones whose stories we read, after all), but for the mundane folk like us, a slice of a world that is not our own, is an addiction.  
So how do we sort this ? Because…

These are a few of my least favourite things ...

I have been feeling pretty mad lately; its the end of the fiscal year (which is synonymous with doomsday for everyone - the one in the job and the one tackling the one in the job) and though I have had a lot of 'free' time, most of it has been going into making time for me to be able to read anything besides corporate papers in the weekdays. Either way, I am touchy right now and little things set me off. Little things like...
1. There was a not-so-battered copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire lying in the heap at the foot of a second-hand bookseller. Really ?? You had the heart to give away the book where Cedric died ? And Voldemort returned ? I am astounded (disgusted ?) at your emotional strength.
2. An acquaintance said she found Hurt Locker so boring, she walked off the theatre at interval. I am sorry the movie wasn't a musical. 
3. Another acquaintance refused to come to Les Miserables. Oh I am so sorry, there are no guns blazing in this one. Russel Crowe, Hug…

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Nope. Not my favourite, and not by a long, long shot. 
This possibly amounts to sacrilege for may hardened fans (and there are lots of them), but seriously, no, I quite disliked the book. This was my first Stephen King and the netizens/citizens surrounding me have created a pedestal for King, which, though having never read one myself, I was apt to accept and respect. So when I found that the novel was littered with useless slangs and really going nowhere unpredictable with the plot, I was crushed. 
As rightly guessed, the language was my biggest concern. Call me old-fashioned or what, it seemed too juvenile to be using such parlance any more; it was too flippant for my taste, and in some parts, outright cheap (though in some cases, that might be pardoned, given that it was the perspective of a twisted psychopath). This story is effectively a script for an CW procedural drama. It looks fine on screen, but on paper, its charm is faded. I am talking Lee Child level , or maybe even Neil…

What It Means To Be A Bibliophile - Parlance

This happens to anyone who reads anything at all, right ? From newspapers to classics, our parlance becomes a function of the literary content we are dealing with currently. Right now, I am downing Winds of War (Herman Wouk) , American Gods (Neil Gaiman) and Mr. Mercedes (Stephen King), and their styles of prose couldn’t be more different. I am not a huge fan of King’s lingo (I find it too flippant), and naturally, Wouk is bordering on the delightfully stodgy so yes, my normal sentences these days begin with ‘nevertheless’ and end with a ‘booya’.
There are two kinds of bibliophiles in this regard (at least in my opinion): those who stun you with their choice and economy of words, and those who wind their sentences for the sheer pleasure of being able to employ all the worlds running amok in the head (see how I did it ?!). Unless you are deliberately trying to confuse someone, being taciturn and yet effective is an amazing ability. You need a very thorough knowledge, naturally, and t…

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

As one of my colleagues put it, short stories are tough. I agree, to an extent. And when it comes to the near-psychedelic themes of the brilliant Neil Gaiman, I agree completely. 
Trigger Warning is a collection of short stories (and sometimes poems) ranging from a couple of pages to a couple of dozen. The premises are varied, mostly fantastical, and some are outright brilliant. While they are not yet as eccentric and macabre as Roald Dahl's ones (of which I am a huge fan), they read well enough. There are a couple of spin-offs of old fairy tales, a Doctor Who story and an extended universe of sorts of American Gods among others. (The last one was my favourite). 
One way or another, the stories serve their purpose of tickling your curiosity. Some like Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains or My Last Landlady seem definitive enough - which, consequently doesn't make you think too much - others, like A Lunar Labyrinth end the typical short-story way, with any number of possibil…

Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller

Well, this was depressing. I get all the iconic status and the associated jazz, but seriously, I was sad once I was done. I was sad even before I was done. It started barely ten pages in. Sometimes, reading classics can be quite a task. 
Death of A Salesman covers the last few days of a travelling salesman Willy Loman and his  struggle to reconcile with his unfulfilled expectations, which, are never-ending. His career is flickering, his family - in his eyes - is strangely out of shape and his rigid, core beliefs seem to be crumbling, and with them, his very soul seems to be ebbing away. He is supported by his painfully loyal wife Linda Loman, and his two sons - Happy, who as the moniker suggests, is barely aware of the consequences in his gaeity, and Biff, who appears to be the only family member with some brains and conscience, but is sadly, between jobs and figuring out life for himself. There is something pathetic about Willy, in his misguided self-assuredness and the debt he owed …

Alphabet of Wit by Voltaire

This was a hit. I have earned a reputation in my family that I pick up the most ancient and abstruse work available (Dante’s Inferno for instance, or Silas Marner). Unsurprisingly for me – and surprisingly for those who haven’t read anything about or by Voltaire or Dante – their work is far more liberating than most present day writings. And they managed in far fewer pages too. Alphabet of Wit is 62 pages long – blank pages included. It is a collection of very short essays by Voltaire on various topics ranging from Adam to Zeal, and oh, the topics are listed alphabetically. Voltaire’s outlook is refreshingly practical, considering his generation. Even considering our own, actually.
Also, his sense of wry humour – at first a bit stodgy – is very appealing, once you get used to it. Since the essays are short, it is easy to stick it out for pages and get acquainted to his style of writing. Though admittedly, it is a short book and it is hard to say if the style could have survived an e…

Dream Star Cast

Being nearly as interested in movies as I am in books, I tend to allocate actors to certain characters in my head. With Harry Potter and his universe, I was naturally in a fix, because I didn't really know that many kids on screen at that time. But I guess the movie franchise's biggest victory lies in its perfect casting, right down from Albus Dumbledore to Dudley Dursley. 
While browsing through my bookshelf, I glance at each title and visualise the key characters and/or incidents. The cinematic nature of this activity (cinematic only in my head; nothing cinematic about me gaping at my books) is entertainment enough. I figured I may actually be making life that much easier for future movie productions, if I shared my insights into this aspect... 
Holden Caulfield: Johnny Depp. Hands down. If not him, then Matthew McConaughey. I'm thinking of soft, observant eyes and a drawling voice in the head.
Alistair MacLean's men: Daniel Craig fits the bill perfectly as suave yet …

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

"There was a time, long ago, when the only peaceful moments of her existence were those from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she attained full consciousness, a matter of seconds until when finally roused she entered the day's wakeful nightmare."
The 'she' is Scout, of course. The argument she presents above is a reflection of what Go Set A Watchman is all about. This Harper Lee work - which was penned even before To Kill A Mockingbird - bears only a vague resemblance to the book that won her the Pulitzer. It holds its own ground, story-wise; though the knowledge of the chronology of its creation adds to the understanding of Mockingbird
Jean Louise Finch is now 26, living it up in New York, with a heart full of ideals and steadfastness, sown over her childhood spent in the mundane town of Maycomb, Alabama. The town hasn't really changed much, maintaining its volatile balance between appropriateness and crudeness. Not that it matters to Scou…