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Writing Dilemma– Sexuality

ATTENTION: This post contains explicit content. It talks of alternative sexuality, female sexual habits, and a woman who does not want babies. If any of this is offensive to you, please don’t read further. Also, NSFW in case you hadn’t figured already.

Hello everyone!

I am doing nanowrimo this year! For those of you who have been living under a rock, or those of you whose mummy-papa just got WiFI, nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. This makes no sense because the event is very much international, but nanowrimo is a better acronym than innowrimo. Anyhow, the idea is that anyone who signs up for it undertakes the mad task of writing a 50,000 novel in the month of November. Third time’s the charm, one hopes, because I’ve never won nanowrimo before even though I tried in 2014 and 2015.

This year, I will be writing a novel about the world ending . I’m in the process of fleshing out an idea that came to me in a dream. Yes. You read that right. I initially intended it to be a short story but, courtesy of my imagination taking the idea for a long spin uphill on a winding road, then crashing it off a cliff and resuscitating it, bruised but unbroken, it’s now a potential novel idea.

I don’t want to give much of the plot away because spoilers. (I swear that’s the reason. It’s totally not because I have no idea what the plot really is. Totally.             -nervous laugh.-)

Now to the dilemma:

I had long since decided that all my protagonists are going to be female because I don’t understand the male psyche and I would never presume to imagine that I do. (Maybe if men waxed their legs, I could have my legs waxed like a certain bestselling author and learn everything about them, but sadly, most men don’t wax their legs. And I don’t enjoy waxing either, so that’s out.)

It also just so happens that every single one of these women pops into my head, partially formed, but determined to be androgynous in appearance and bisexual.My present protagonist Megha is no exception to this rule. We’ve just met, but it’s already deadly obvious. This still isn’t the dilemma.

NOW to the dilemma for real:

Megha is sexually promiscuous. Vociferously so. She’d slap me if I tried to tie her down. And I don’t think that this is something anyone should judge… or care. My Megha does not want to date. My Megha does not want many babies with Mr. Perfect. My Megha did not dream about her wedding day since she was a little girl. My Megha does not even want a civil union with a Mrs. Perfect. What my Megha wants is sex. And a lot of it.

My problem is this; historically, bisexuality, when acknowledged as real, has been associated with promiscuity. When I write Megha, will I be promoting sex positivity for women like I intended, or will I just end up perpetuating the stereotype? How do I avoid perpetuating the stereotype? How do I make it known that yes, Megha has a lot of sex but that’s not because she’s bisexual but because it’s fun?

Thoughts?

Tips?

Are any of you doing nanowrimo? What kind of story are you writing? Have any of you written an LGBTQ+ character before? Let me know in the comments.

Also, add me as a writing buddy on the nanowrimo website if you’re participating. I’m owlishwriter.

That’s all for today, guys.

Hoot.

–Sin

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Book Review –Cobalt Blue

This is a review of the book Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar. Honestly, I chose to read it because it’s been translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto. I loved his book Em and the Big Hoom. I knew nothing more about the book or the author and I like it that way. It helps me to keep an open mind while reviewing the book.

I’m swept away by this book after having read it over the course of a long day at court. It’s layered and well-written and transcends all genre. The fact that the author of this marvellous piece was 20 when he started the book and 22 when he finished it, makes me want to stand up on a chair and applaud and simultaneously to weep with jealousy.

Simply put, it’s the story of a brother and sister in love with the same man. The book is divided into two parts, each written in first person by one of the siblings. It’s a love story, yes, a love triangle if you will;  but mostly it’s a portrait. It’s a portrait of lower middle class life in Maharashtra, it’s a portrait of a generation clever enough to rubbish antiquated tradition but not strong enough to break away from regressive familial bonds. It’s a portrait about how mundane love can be, and yet so overwhelming, how it can make one forget the world around us. It’s a portrait of a society where mosr types of romantic love are forced to stay hidden, of a society where homogeneity and acceptance are the biggest aspirations.

It’s a small book, which only brushes the surface of each of the above aspects, but it’s nuanced enough that it does not remain a photograph. The work that was put into the resulting simplicity is apparent.

I love both the main characters, Tanay and Anuja. However, the seem to be caricatures or uni-dimensional stereotypes, rather than fleshed out persons.

I liked that Tanay’s part was in the form of a letter addressed to the man he loves, who remains unnamed. I like the digressions and the non-linear style of narration, and the way he circles back to thoughrs after having fleshed them out with background. I loved that Anuja kept a journal. She says that life felt like a hairball and keeping a journal helped to smooth things out. I completely agree. As everyone knows,

I quite enjoyed the fact that she’s so clueless about her brother’s feelings for her own lover because it serves to demonstrate the invisibility of minority sexualities. It’s simply inconceivable, even to the most loving and well-meaning people.

I felt that every line in this book was loaded with purpose and meaning. For instance, Tanay observed his parents’ relationship and craved a permanent relationship to “grow into” while Anuja only wondered why her mother does nothing for herself and has no space of her own.

On Goodreads, I read that the author felt that Anuja and Tanay are just masculine and feminine sides of the same person and not two separate persons at all. That confused me because I didn’t get that feeling at all, even though my reading was coloured by that quote that I read. I kept looking for signs of that being the case, and I just didn’t find any. All I saw are two siblings who were close and compatible to each other, and “different” in a family that greatly valued homogeneity. One sibling recovered and started to go down the path of redemption while the other seemed to get lost in an ocean of sorrow.

More than anything else, I saw this book as a portrait of a certain type of life in a certain type of family.  I also felt that the purpose of the third sibling, Aseem, the golden boy, is introduced only to juxtapose the reception of a conforming child with two other children who could not and would not conform to the values of the Joshi family.

I want to end this review with my favourite quote from the book, from Anuja’s journal:

Our house was big enough for middle-class dreams, but not for privacy.

Has anyone read this book? What did you think of it? Do you agree with my take on it? Do you agree with the author? Do you think this is a “gay novel”? Let me know in the comments?

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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

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Currently Reading

I read my first Sarah Waters book earlier this year, her newest one, The Paying Guests, and I really enjoyed it, even though parts of it were quite melodramatic.
I then read Night Watch last month and I enjoyed it a lot more. I loved it, in fact.
A lot of people said that Paying Guests was not her best work, and I’m beginning to understand what they meant by that.
Anyway, I was taken enough with her work that I bought two more of her books in one of my many shopping trips.
I’m reading The Little Stranger now, which is her only book that doesn’t deal with lesbianism or other queer themes. In fact, it seems to be a ghost story.
I’ve read about a 100 pages of it so far, and it’s genuinely devastating. I’m more devastated than most because it involves a dog that’s gotten into trouble. I can’t say more, because spoilers, but it strikes me with each page exactly how prolific a writer Sarah Waters really is. I’m really glad I started reading her. She’s fast becoming a favourite and a must-buy author.
I have sense enough not to read it at night, but it’s rainy in Bangalore right now, and I feel as though I might actually be in gloomy, desolate post-war England.
I’m very glad my dog is in another room right now or I may have begun to sob. I identify very much with the plain girl, Caroline, who’s devoted to her dog, I must say.
Well, that’s all for now.
Hoot.
Sin
Stalk me, go on. Cheer a frightened girl up.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
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Twitter: @sindrao22
Email: owlishreader@gmail.com
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Book Review | The Robber Bride

This is a review of the book The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.

I found this book in my favourite secondhand bookstore and thought at first that it’s about a woman who literally comes back from the dead; like a paranormal deal, you know? And I bought it because there hadn’t been an Atwood book that I haven’t enjoyed, irrespective of theme or genre. So I went ahead and bought it, in the interest of broadening my horizons in terms of the genres that I read. However, when I realised what the book was really about, I was struck by the misogynistic theme of the story. It’s about a “femme fatale” who sleeps with and “steals” men who are in relationships, for the heck of it, in addition to swlndling people and free-loading whenever she can. Her name is Zenia, and she is the negative protagonist of this book, and so wonderfully poisonous. I know someone a bit like her in real life, so I had no issues in believing in her existence.

I was really concerned; especially considering that Atwood is famously a feminist writer, and she seemed to have written a book about a Robber Bride who seduces innocent men, who are then absolved of all blame, because well, they’re powerless to the charms of the seductress. I decided to read it anyway, because I had already bought it, so I might as well. :p

Well, a few pages in to this book, I was already hooked. No joke. I said this in an earlier post of mine as well, that the writing style was so arresting that reading about the most mundane daily routine of a woman was suddenly fascinating. So I kept reading.

There are three protagonists in this story, Tony, Roz and Charis, and they are all very different people. I really liked that the book had distinct voices for each of them. I must say that the character I liked most was Roz, even though I liked her the least when she was viewed through Tony’s eyes.

Anyway, as to the theme of the book; the fact I realised was that the book functions as a social commentary, for lack of a better word, abou the way women are seen (were seen?) or see themselves.

A constant recurrence throughout the book was the realisation in the back of the minds of these women that their thoughts ot actions are somewhat counter-intuitive or hypocritical, but they continue to behave the same way, motivated by things like societal pressures, affection/protectiveness or the mere need for self-preservation or even a fear of being alone, That’s… very real somehow.

Some of the things said and done about Zenia still made me very uncomfortable at times, as did the portrayal of every male character in the book as weak, spineless and entirely vulnerable to the charms of the succubus. My problem with such a depiction was twofold, in that it simultaneously dehumanised the men while also exempting them from all culpability for their clearly wrong act of cheating while in a committed relationship. Maybe the reason for this portrayal is that that was the way in which each of the protagonists viewed the men, but I find myself unable to buy this reasoning somehow.

Roz and Charis’s relationships with their children were heart-warming and made me chuckle. I must use take this time to admit that people who have good relationships with their childen are increasingly endearing to me. Plus, I’ve been feeling increasingly affectionate to little kids and I’ve bitten my lips to stop “I want one!” from getting out. Also, this disturbing state of afairs started after I got my puppy. …What? I’m just as confused as you are. Pray with me that my longings are restricted to hazelnut cappuccinos, long daytime naps and nachos like a normal 22 year old, in the future. Please!

I was surprised and glad to see the inclusion of a gay character the book, along with an acknowledgement that gay men do need to lead double lives in order to flourish in a corporate environment.

Overall, this book was a good experience. Due to the philosophical differences mentioned above and because the pace got a little sluggish in the middle, with the predictable flashbacks at the beginning of each shift in narration, I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5.

I don’t know if I’d recommend it to people, in the sense that if someone asked if it’s a good book, I would say “Yes, definitely.” but I didn’t take enough away from the book or feel myself changed or impacted for having read it, and so, I don’t really want to actively tell people to go ahead and read it. Make what you wish out of that complicated sentiment!

That’s it for now, guys.
Hoot. 🙂
Get in touch with me on other fora too, now. 😀
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/owlishwriter
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Middlesex | Book Review

I am so guilty about not writing for so many days, especially since I’m leaving to Shillong tomorrow and won’t write again for a few days, that you folks are in for a barrage of posts today. Enjoy! xD

The book that I will be reviewing today is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, as promised.  Because I keep promises. Because I’m diligent. And not at all lazy. Yes.

This is Jeffrey Eugenides’ second book. I read the Marriage Plot, which is his newest book, earlier this year, and I really enjoyed it. I thought I’d read his remaining books in reverse chronological order so I went ahead and read Middlesex on my Kindle. (Instant gratification ftw!)

This book is about an intersex man, Cal Stephanides, who was raised as a girl until he hit puberty, at which point he didn’t physically develop as a girl would and he sort of discovers that he doesn’t have female reproductive organs. At this point, he chooses to the rest of his life as a man.

This book obviously has a very under-explored theme and it’s done well, for which I love it. I am an LGBTQ supporter, as I said earlier, and I love books that represent LGBTQ persons well. This is especially the case for transsexuals, transvestites and intersex persons who are still caricaturised in popular culture and are viewed with a mixture of fear and disgust. You know what breeds fear and disgust, guys? Ignorance, that’s what. Reading a combination of academic research and well-written fiction and non-fiction from the perspective of under-represented minorities is an excellent way to walk a mile in their shoes and understand them.

All of that is well and good, of course, but what took the cake with this book was the mesmerising narrative style. This book is a family drama first and foremost and the story of his ancestry is told by a 43 year old Cal in a series of flashbacks. You get to know his entire family this was and you see their growth and development through years, but uniquely, you only see it through Cal’s eyes. Cal’s narration is lyrical and graphic at the same time, and it’s simply fabulous. I seem to invariably fall in love with books that follow a non-linear narrative pattern, which this book obviously has, since it alternates between Cal’s present and his history, which is strange and shocking ways, made him what he is.

This is an excellent book, though it dragged on in a few parts, I felt. That may have just been because of the lyrical style of writing, though, because I personally belong to the Hemingway school of thought about simple terse language. Even though I do ramble on exceedingly, I do try to keep my language simplistic and I cringe more often than not, if I read ‘flowery’ writing. Really, the impressive part is that I was so taken with this book despite the language occasionally tending towards ornate and flowery. (There’s objectively nothing wrong with such language. I just have a preference for simple language in prose.) It was extremely arresting and gets full marks for premise, plot-line, narrative and character development. Many, many heart-bubbles are floating towards it, to quote a classmate of mine.

I totally recommend it. I cannot wait to get my grubby little mitts on The Virgin Suicides which is apparently his masterpiece. That begs the question, “My god, how much better can one write?!” Yes. Dwell on that, my little munchkins, until you pick up this book and discover how good this book is and how right I am.

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Past Continuous | Book Review

I’ve only read two books so far this month, and that’s quite slow by my standards. The worst part is, I’ve read so little despite having a lot of time because I’ve spent a lot of time on Youtube trying to work up the courage to start making videos of my own.

I’ve just finished Past Continuous by Neel Mukherjee and it’s left me quite unhappy, not because it isn’t good, but because it’s disturbing. Which obviously means that I loved it! I will post a review, or try to, because I have no idea how to dissect this book, and it is a book which requires a lot of dissection.

For starters, it tells two stories, one of the main character Ritwik, reading English literature in England and the other, the story of a British lady in Colonial India in the 1890’s, which Ritwik is writing. This book terrified me because the tool employed was that of the ‘unreliable narrator’ because the life Ritwik is leading has strange echoes from the novel he’s writing. Their stories intertwine in mind-boggling ways which make you question Ritwik’s reality, which the author has no trouble whatsoever in convincing the reader to accept as her own reality too. That effect is disquieting, to say the least.

Additionally, this book also deals with themes of child abuse, the effects of growing up in poverty, sexual abuse, etc. But that’s not the main reason I wanted to read this book. I’ve owned this book for about a year already, and I’d bought it on a whim without knowing anything about it.

It was not on my original TBR list for this month, as you’d know if you’ve seen that post. And then I read an excerpt of an interview of the author (Who’s just been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his second book, The Lives of Others. Yes, I own that one as well) and I discovered a crucial fact: The protagonist Ritwik Ghosh is gay. I am a huge LGBTQ supporter and I feel like gay protagonists are hugely under-represented in literature, especially in Indian literature, but in general too. I wanted to see how Neel Mukherjee manages his representation, so I picked up this book, off-schedule, since it still went with my Indian authors theme for the month.

After reading the book, I found the fact that the novel wasn’t about his homosexuality pretty refreshing. I feel like gay(or bisexual or lesbian or transgender) persons can’t be seen to be accepted as such if their sexuality continues to be the main ‘theme’ of any pop-culture of which they are a part. I feel like this dehumanises us somehow. On the other hand, Ritwik is depicted as a person with very real struggles, ideas, needs, distinct from being gay. I love that. Despite this, it still made a reasonably accurate representation of the furtive struggles and fears of a closeted gay man trying to find a sexual partner in the 1990’s in England.

However, this aspect isn’t the focus of this novel. The focus of the novel of Ritwik’s journey into life as an illegal immigrant from being a scholarship English Literature student. It’s about his relationship with his dead mother who still haunts his thoughts with the burden of her all-consuming, dependent love which leads her to become abusive. It’s about his frustration at the seeming opacity of the character of the protagonist in his novel, which is a frustration everyone who writes knows so very well. It’s about his friendships with people, which are necessarily transient due to his illegal immigrant status.

Ritwik, in my opinion, is one of the most real, most relatable, yet complicated characters I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. He’s a character I’d be proud to have written. I dream of writing about a contradictory character like him all the time, but I’m too scared to because I feel like I may step into the realms of the absurd.

I almost gave this book five stars of Goodreads, but I haven’t because of a couple of loose ends, including a couple of characters on whom I didn’t get enough closure. The novel doesn’t aim at closure, of course, quite the opposite, but the author’s treatment of a couple of characters, like Aritra, Ritwik’s brother was just not believable to me. I don’t want to give anything else away so I’ll leave it at that. 🙂

I’ll think about this book and about Ritwik for a long time yet. I feel like my review didn’t do justice to all of the various layers in this book, but I could write a thesis on it if I tried, and this isn’t the appropriate forum to post that!

I’ll stop here, hoping that I piqued the interests of at least one person to read it!

That’s all I guess.

Hoot.

-Sin