Category Archives: Book Reviews

Patti Smith Tells Me What to Read

When I was a kid, before the usage of the internet was popular, I bought my books exclusively by browsing through the bookstore and picking up what looked interesting. I didn’t always buy and read books belonging to series in the right order, allowing my imagination to fill in the bits that didn’t quite make sense. But the overleaf or the last page of the book would contain the names of the other books in those series and I would keep an eye out for them. When I finally found and read the prequels of the books that I had read first, it was a cathartic experience. I’ll never regret reading my books in this strange way. But it did mean that I ended up getting stuck reading a certain author or publisher a lot.

The only reason my reading didn’t stagnate is because I tended to gravitate towards books about people that read a lot and write a lot and want to be writers or are writers, as a kid. (Whom am I kidding? I still gravitate towards such books)
In these books, there would be those treasured times when these fictional people that I felt I could relate to so much, read real books by real authors. And then I would get extremely excited and go hunt down those books. I found one of my all-time favourite children’s books, A Little Princess, this way. New books! New worlds! So magical.

To date, I adore reading books about obsessive readers and writers; about people who didn’t drop their reading habits, blaming adulthood for their default. And I adore books about writing and the writing process even more. My all-time favourite book (Spoiler alert: It may be toppled soon by a new book) Bird by Bird is about writing. And nothing– NOTHING– can beat the joy of getting book recommendations from such books even in the age of Goodreads and Booktube.

One such book that I had been reading for a while now is M Train by Patti Smith. It’s her second memoir, and it released in 2015. I took some time to get my hands on it because of Amazon’s idiocy, and it took me some more time to make myself read it because of the enormous number of unread books I have. I decided to start it over after reading about a third of it because I wanted to annotate it. After all of these obstacles keeping us apart, I finally finished reading it last morning. She reads like me, but more so; getting obsessed with authors, with stories, with the lives of the fictional people in those stories, etc. And she has made me fall in love with her and with all of the things she loves. She thinks of writing as prayer, the way I do. I feel like she just gets me.  I got so many book recommendations, so many author recommendations from her, that I felt cross-eyed. I wonder how many books I’ll own and have read by the time I’m her age.

In one part of the book, she speaks about how much she loves Mikhail Bulgakov, and I’ve had one of his books on my shelf for absolute ages and I bought another one recently. So… I’ve decided that it’s time to give this Russian writer a chance, even though I have a rubbish record of finishing Russian books. I haven’t finished anything by Tolstoy, I didn’t finish Doctor Zhivago, or anything by Gogol till date. I just think that the Russians have a style of writing that involves a hell of a lot of backstory and digression, and I’m unused to that style. Maybe once I’m accustomed to it, I’ll actually be able to read the other authors too: Especially Pasternak, because  Doctor Zhivago has such an interesting premise, which is right up my alley and I really, really want to be able to finish it.

So get tuned for two Bulgakov books in a row, and stay tuned because it’ll take me forever at the speed I’m reading these days.

What do you guys think of Patti Smith’s books? Her music? Do you like Bulgakov? Do you read any Russian literature? Tell me in the comments!

Here are my customary social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer

Keeping reading, guys!

Cheers.

Hoot,

Sin

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Going Beyond Storytelling– Reviewing the Cairo Trilogy

I have been reading the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. I’ve made my way through the first two books, Palace Walk and the Palace of Desire, and I’m going to read the third one, Sugar Street, as soon as I finish M Train, the book I’m currently reading. The Trilogy is a family saga. Family sagas are one of my favourite genres, because of the alluring promise of a thick book that the genre carries with it.

I have mixed feelings about this trilogy.

I really enjoyed the first book, and got invested in the characters and their lives. That’s always an indicator of talent in my eyes. I like authors who wring my heart and occasionally rip it to shreds, and that can only be done if I feel some amount of fondness for the characters.

However, and this is a pretty massive problem, I found the prose waxed entirely too self-indulgent, too rambling and too self-righteous, when the author narrated the internal monologues of any of the characters. I could still bear it in the first book, but in the second book, it got unbearable. In the second book, Kamal, the youngest son in the family (I suspected that the author based on himself and my suspicions were confirmed as true by the ever-reliable interweb.) grows up and attends college. And I must say that he thinks entirely too much! And the author dedicates his pen to the transcription of his every thought, regardless of its importance to the story. Thought for thought’s sake is great, and god knows I think a hell of a lot, but I maintain that they remain in philosophic books and journals. And yes, I do have an enjoyment for journals, which makes my distaste for this rambling writing style seem contradictory, but it isn’t. You see, journals are in the first person. These books are not. And when a person makes the stylistic choice of writing in the third person perspective, it’s a stylistic choice and the content should be altered accordingly. Else, things get dull. Very dull. Skim-read-till-plot-happens dull.

And that brings me to a connected thought that’s bothering me. Well, this story starts out in Cairo in the beginning of the 20th Century. The men in the story are terribly misogynistic. Their actions are appalling and their thoughts are more so. And the third person narration of these thoughts makes me highly uncomfortable because the author has not volunteered his opinion of them, making me constantly wonder if he’s in agreement with them.

This made me think about an author’s role in a story that’s written in the third person. In my opinion, when an author writes in the third person, he’s becoming a part of the story, an omniscient third party who is present throughout and whom the reader is counting on. Of course, an author can just narrate the happenings faithfully and get away with it if the story is arresting, and if he/she keeps the monologues to a minimum, but not otherwise. I believe that this should especially be the case in novels classified as literature, since literature seems to attribute a… responsibility, for want of a better word, to a book that mere narration does not fulfil.

I’m still eager to read the third book because the second one ended on a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are both brilliant and evil. Besides, I’m still extremely invested in the characters, who are well-rounded and flawed and interesting.

So, I guess I’ll post a follow up review of the trilogy (a complete one) once I finish it.

In the meantime, tell me what do you think. Is anyone else out there an aspiring writer who thinks as much as I do about writing tools and styles and the responsibility of writers of literature? Has any of you ever read these books? What did you think of them? What do you think an author’s role is in a story? What does literature mean to you?  Do any of you enjoy reading long monologues in novels? If you do, what is it about them that appeals to you? Let me know in the comments.

Hoot.

–Sin

Here are my social media links if you want to check them out:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer

Why I Love Terry Pratchett

Yes, I finished reading another one of Terry Pratchett’s books recently, his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. Just some info in case any of you is new to the Discworld: Most of his Discworld books can be read in any order since they’re all set in the Discworld universe but deal with different sets of people. Some of the books are little mini – series, though.

When Terry Pratchett died last year, I was actually kind of glad that I got on the Terry-Pratchett-reading train so late because it meant that I still have so many of his books left to read and that thought makes me so happy.  It is tempting to read all of his books at once but I do have an accusing (and ever-growing) pile of other unread books staring at me that I just can’t deny. Besides, I don’t want to run out of Terry Pratchett books too early because I’m painfully aware of the fact that I live in a world where Terry Pratchett isn’t producing new content any more and if I finish all the books he’s written,  there will be no more…

After I finished reading the Colour of Magic, and after I predictably loved it, I decided to be more original than posting another rave review and analyse what it is about his books that make them so appealing and bloody hilarious.

I thought about it for a few days, and I finally figured it out. Terry Pratchett does not have heroes. Terry Pratchett does not even have anti-heroes. Terry Pratchett does not have angsty brooding “bad” boys and girls. Not one. All of Terry Pratchett’s characters are weird and flawed and not very self-aware. Like real people. And no, they don’t have lovable little quirks. They have quirks. Annoying ones.  And yet… and this is is the magical part, and yet, I want to squeal and hug the crap out of most of them. I can already see a lot of his characters grimacing and wincing but I tell myself that they secretly like to be hugged.

Besides, his storyline is humorous and original, there’s magic flying about all over the place, and there’s a colossal turtle. What’s not to love? He makes a gentle, good-natured jest out of everything. Nobody and nothing is spared. It’s how I want to live my life, you guys. I want to be happy and I want not to take anything too seriously. If anything, that’s what you learn from these books, guys. You learn to chill. And there’s no better way to chill than to read one of his books. Which is… convenient as hell, when you think about it.

Well, there you go; my two cents about why I love Terry Pratchett so much, why I named one of the most important persons in my life, my dog, after him, and why I sometimes miss him even though I never actually knew him. If you haven’t read him, read him. Trust me. Eat healthy, wear sunscreen and read Terry Pratchett. These are the three pieces of advice I would give everybody. And I often forget the first two myself, being the hypocrite that I am, but I will never, ever forget the third.

Have you guys ever read any Pratchett? What do you think of his books? Which is your favourite book by him? Let me know in the comments!

I’ve run out of clever (“Clever”) ways to tell people to go look at my social media, by the way, so I’m just going to dump the links here and let you guys go crazy.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer

Cheers!

Hoot

Sin

 

 

Book Review (and mini rant) |Girl Online

This is a book review of Girl Online by Zoe Sugg, but it’s mostly a rambling account of what I thought about during and after my reading of the book.

Have you guys ever bought a book with the thought, at the back of your mind, that this is a book you’re going to love to hate? Have you felt like a fool for buying it as you bought it, but also excited at all the fun you’re going to have as you bash it? This isn’t something I do often, being short on money, and being an impulsive obsessive book-buyer, but I did do it on Saturday: I bought Girl Online by Zoe Sugg because it was on a major discount after the second book in the series came out.

Well, I am generally partial to books that are written as journals, letters, emails, blogs, etc. and books about writers, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. This factor also contributed to my decision to buy and read this book.

I also am still young enough to be able to channel the painfully awkward, tortured teenager I was, and remember how much I would have loved a book like this one about generic, awkward teenaged girl back then. With each passing year, the thought processes in such books seem more cringe-worthy and vapid, but I’m consciously trying to avoid being that way because my thoughts were frequently dismissed when I was a teenager whose spotty face seemed like the end of the world and I don’t want to do the same.

Besides, I have this rule that I’ll never knock a book until I’ve read it, no matter how ridiculous the premise sounds or how many bad reviews it gets. For instance, I read all three of the Fifty Shades books by E.L. James and took great pleasure in despising it from a place of knowledge and experience. I was able to, on more than one occasion, give elaborate discourses on why the books are problematic. Can there really be a greater pleasure? I think not.

I actually read this book in a few hours because it’s quick moving and the language isn’t complicated. I will get to the review but first some background:

I have been righteously sulking since she announced that she was writing a book and has gotten a book deal, grumbling that she doesn’t have any talent as a writer, and that some people have all the luck, etc. This is regardless of the fact that I haven’t had the discipline to finish even a first draft of a novel.

I also felt righteously smug when it emerged that she had used a ghost writer in the writing of the book even though the ideas and the story were hers. “What else would you expect?” I thought, smirking. I then righteously ignored the pang of shame I felt about my smugness when I heard that she had had to take a hiatus from the internet because all of the negativity triggered off her anxiety.

I have seen a few of her videos and I thought (in spite of myself) that she’s adorable. However, the sort of consumerist attitude she propagates makes me uncomfortable on a very primal level. I felt alarmed when I see the amount of makeup she slathers on her face to get a ‘natural look’. It doesn’t please me to imagine young girls following her example, and ruining their body images, not to mention their skin. I felt so happy when I saw beautyvloggers like CloudyApples talk about how it can be so tempting to tweak one’s appearance and hide one’s flaws but it isn’t healthy to do that, physically, mentally, and financially.

Unfortunately, this is a hypocritical view because I do use some makeup every single day. I’ve worn kajal on my eyes nearly every day since I was 17 but I have now started wearing lipstick as well to work. And face cream and face mousse. It makes me more confident, somehow. I don’t know… I guess what I’m trying to say is that when I try to be empathetic and understanding instead of automatically judgmental, her behaviour makes sense.

People are too impatient to be empathetic, however. It’s like everyone has been desperate to have a voice and be heard all their lives, and the internet has given them this opportunity, to be exploited from the comfort of their own beds in their pajamas. What could be better? Why would anyone choose to exercise restraint which is already forced on us in every other facet of our lives. We can be snide, disrespectful, downright nasty and not even be caught. And we can say them to anyone with even a smidgeon of an online presence.

I have heard people say things about celebrities that they would think a million times before saying to someone’s face all my life. We were comfortable in the fact that the recipient would never hear us, and even if they did, they wouldn’t care, because we are like gnats to them; just as important with just as much of a voice. This culture has carried forward into the age of the internet however, and people think it’s ok to put these harsh thoughts on to VERY public forums without any concern for if the recipient even has any feelings. In fact, a lot of people seem to believe that people waive their rights to be hurt or to have feelings (among other things) when they become famous.

That’s what Zoe’s book is about, primarily. It is about an insecure teenager with anxiety disorder who comes to terms with the lack of boundaries on the internet. The storyline was fairly juvenile, and the characterisation was two-dimensional. Despite that, I liked this book for the message. I liked that it spoke about the continuing stigma attached with psychological disorders. I liked that it spoke about the trauma attached with cyber-bullying. I liked that it spoke about the right to privacy that -gasp- celebrities too are entitled to. I liked that it spoke about a new kind of celebrity who’s emerging because of blogs and youtube, the bloggers and vloggers who are even less equipped to deal with their sudden rise to fame. I thought that the token gay friend who is now in every contemporary young adult novel was fairly cliché, and yet, some of the things he said to Penny, the main character, about relationships are hauntingly similar to something a gay friend of mine said to me.

More than anything else, it was a fast-paced, happy fuzzy book, which never end of becoming favourites of mine, but which I do read every so often when I’m overwhelmed by life or even by the heavy books I usually tend to read. It left me with a smile on my face. It isn’t a fantastic book, and it certainly “literary” in terms of story, characterisation or quality of language, but I can’t help but appreciate what Zoe has tried to do in the book.

Well, there you go. I am eating crow right now. I sincerely contemplated ripping this book apart for the sake of it, because it bothered me that I enjoyed it, and it is a book that can be picked on quite easily. But I’ve decided to be honest and tell you guys that it’s a book, the sum of whose parts is greater than the parts themselves, at the end of the day. I don’t know if it’s a book I’d recommend, because it isn’t a very revelatory book in terms of the themes it explores but it was a thought-provoking reading experience because Zoe Sugg went through the things the protagonists in this book go through and I feel like I was a part of the problem. We nerds, geeks and outcasts do so love to indiscriminately hate on the “beautiful” people, don’t we? Maybe because we think they deserve it, or because we think they wouldn’t care anyway… I don’t know. But you know. Um. Catharsis. Don’t hate on someone because they enjoy the things you think are lame, shallow and mainstream.

Well… There are my two cents about cyber bullying and about this pleasant surprise of a book.
Did any of you guys read this book? What did you think? What do you think about cyber bullying and celebrity bashing? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading and reaching the end of yet another abysmally long Sindhu-rant. You can now go back to having the nice day you were having before had a lapse in judgment and opened my post. :p
That’s all for today!
Hoot
–Sin

Firebird | Book Review

This is a book review of Firebird, by Saikat Majumdar. I was looking at my Goodreads Year in Review and Goodreads tells me this book is the least read one out of all the books I’ve read this year, coming in at 15 other Goodreads readers. That made me unhappy because I LOVE this book. It was chillingly beautiful, well-written and gripping. So I’m going to review it in the hope that at least a few of the people who read this blog (If any. :P) may get interested in reading this greviously underrated book.
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This book is set in 1980’s Calcutta. Stories set in Calcutta have a special place in my heart since it’s the place in which I’ve spent a majority of my adulthood. The atmosphere in this book is perfect and evocative.

It is the story of a boy named Ori, whose mother is a theatre actor. She’s married into a middle-class Bengali family to a man who was once passionate about her art and about her, but the marriage has since degenerated. The entire genteel Bengali community equates the theatre to prostitution and disapproves of it, especially of Ori’s mother acting as the wife or lover to other men, and the gossip and talk has turned Ori’s father’s head to an extent where he is now depressed and addicted to alcohol and sleeping pills.

At the beginning of the book, we see Ori proud of his mother’s talent and interested in going on stage himself. As time goes by, the persistent and pernicious talk about his mother continues and Ori’s perception of it also becomes more acute as he reaches adoloscence. His already teetering life becomes more unstable, and so does he…

The story is about Ori’s relationship with his parents, aunt, grandmother and cousins and the ways in which they relate to and conflict with each other. It paints an excellent portrait of middle-class values and gives us brilliant insight into Ori’s psychology, while telling a brilliant story too.

I really do recommend this mind-boggling and fast-paced book. Give it some love, guys. I’ve never read a book that deserves it more but that has received it less.

Here are my customary social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer

Hoot.

Sin

 

The Virgin Suicides| Book Review

This is my third Jeffrey Eugenides’ book. I read them in reverse order of publication, just like I did with Adichie’s.
This was Eugenides’ debut novel.
I really enjoyed his other two books, The Marriage Plot and Middlesex.
Both were completely different in genre, content and style of writing, which is kind of mindblowing when you think about it. And both were thoroughly arresting.
I didn’t get through this book on my first try, but I never hold that against the book since I am a mood reader.
As it turned out, I really liked this book when I gave it a second shot. 
This is an odd book.
It’s about 5 sisters whom we never meet firsthand, the titular ‘virgins’ which is more an allusion to their mystery and perceived perfection and purity rather than their sexual activities.
The entire book is from the perspective of a group of boys, now middle – aged men who are inexplicably obsessed with these blond sisters with their strict, overly religious mother and  hen-pecked father. 
The book takes the form of reminiscences of the men themselves, extracts from interviews they conducted, and assorted documents that they accumulated over the years. And they are all concentrated on one year of their teenage years during which all five of these sisters commit suicide, apparently for no reason. 
The format of this book gave it a hazy quality, overflowing with naiveté and nostalgia.
The style of writing was very lyrical, which was true of Middlesex as well. However, both books strike very different chords in one’s mind.
The Virgin Suicides is filled with overtones of longing for the girls, which blends in with the men’s longing for the old days, and allusions to a bleak future due to urbanisation and environmental damage, an apparent metaphor for a world sans the freshness, innocence and beauty of these girls. 
The level of obsession of these men is disturbing as is the level of… well, not objectification, but rather idolatry that these girls are subject to. The reason for the obsession, which predates the first suicide attempt is unclear.
I figured it was probably because they were unattainable, because of their strict upbringing, but that’s a fairly flimsy reason in my eyes for such a level of preoccupation.
It made me uncomfortable, but it also made the book more interesting. It’s supposed to be a look into the girls’ suicides but it read like a long love letter to all five of them. 
The only thing that I can conclude is that this is one of those books, rich with imagery, ideas and excellent narrative that has been written for the sake of a story, and nothing more than that.
There is no character development, there is no real beginning, middle and end, and there is no greater message. There is only pure narration… and it works. The girls are one dimensional because that’s how the boys saw them.  In an irritating way, it makes perfect sense. 
This is an extremely quotable book, which deserves a reread at some point, just for the clever lines that make one close the book, look up at the ceiling and smile.
It truly invokes all five senses and leaves one with a not entirely unpleasant bittersweet taste in one’s mouth.
Sorry if my review is meandering, because the book is too. 
It’s a unique and enjoyable read, I thought, and I would definitely recommend it to people.
Have you read this book? Have you read any of Eugenides’ other books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
Here are other places you can go find me if you want:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer

That’s all for today, guys. 🙂
Hoot,
Sin

Career of Evil | Book Review

I love J.K Rowling. Yes, that’s right! Apparently she’s Robert Galbraith, her friend that she keeps talking to on Twitter. -Gasp-
She introduced me to Blue Oyster Cult, apparently one of her favourite bands, through this book. Its songs form a key part of this book. I’ve fallen in love with the band now.
And that’s not all! The band’s song, Career of Evil, which is what the book is named after, was written by Patti Smith whom I recently fell in love with after reading her memoir Just Kids.
Ok enough fangirling about her taste in music.  Let’s start fangirling the book!
I’m of that generation that grew up reading mysteries. A lot of British authors seem fixated with mystery solving, by the way.  I just realised.
I grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton’s mystery novels. My favourites were the Five Find-outers and dog, with Fatty and his pockets of useful tricks and his disguises. And he had a dog!
I used to crave to investigate robberies,  kidnappings, anonymous letters and what not after reading these books.  I once wrote an “invisible letter” with orange juice and then ironed it to read it. I was so excited! It was an idea I read in one of these books.
My desire to solve crimes melted away with age but my addiction to mystery novels and whodunits didn’t.
Career of Evil is pretty classic. It contains tropes that have been present since the time of those Enid Blytons (in my timeline) like bumbling arrogant cops, and an unsocial detective with a more affable sidekick.
However, this story is unique in a lot of ways.
There are more than incidental mentions of the protagonists’ personal life which are as hooking as the mysteries at hand which are themselves intriguing.
Also, the gorgeous female sidekick is not just that. She’s strong, intelligent and accomplished. She’s an equal. And she does not allow herself to be condescended to. I adored that.
And the best (worst?) part? Rowling left us with a cliffhanger at the end of the book. Cliffhangers are the cruellest literary tool weapon known to authors and when they’re wielded expertly, they can make a reader think about the book for weeks and they can ensure that people come back for more. Not that I ever need more convincing to read Rowling, but yeah!
I loved this book, just like I love everything else that she’s written. I can’t wait for her new Cormoran Strike books.
Also, she said she’s written part of a children’s book which she’s very excited to complete. I can’t wait to read that either!
Yes. All the happy fangirling all the time. Yay. Queen Rowling is always happy making. 🙂
Did any of you read this book? What did you think of it?
ALSO are any of you doing NaNoWriMo? How is that going? Tell me in the comments or on any of my social media places.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/8681585-sindhu
Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
Instagram: owlishphotographer
That’s all for now.
Hoot.
Sin