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Unexpected Book Recommendations and How I Deal With Them 

(Spoiler alert: I deal with them poorly.)

How have I never heard of Diana Wynne Jones?!

Some context: I am reading A View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. I am at the part of the book where he talks (has written?) about people he’s known.

I’ve just read the one about Diana Wynne Jones.(I have also flipped to the next page and seen that the next essay is about Terry Pratchett and I’m itching to read it. But first; this post.) I read the first few lines and then I said, “Who the fuck is Diana Wynne Jones?” I almost said it out loud, which was problematic, because I was in court at the time.

Then I googled her.

Apparently,  she is wildly popular, and has written a large number of books in the fantasy genre (which I adore).  She’s been compared to J.K Rowling (whom I adore) and to Gaiman himself (whom I have stopped adoring and started worshipping.). Neil Gaiman seems to delight in her writing, and it seems to be right up my alley. But I have never heard of her!! I’m in shock, if that wasn’t already evident.

But eh. Better late than never, right? Neil Gaiman said that he read her books in his twenties and it felt like coming home. I am in my early twenties. It seems to me to be a clear sign.

So… I went ahead and bought one of her books off Amazon and will be getting on to the task of remedying my ignorance as soon it is delivered.

Yes, it breaks my oath to not buy more books until my birthday.

No, I have no shame.

No, this isn’t even the first book I’ve bought since I started reading this book. I also bought Coralline on my Kindle earlier today. Heh. Whoops.

(Should I simply stop reading non-fiction, guys? It seems to be a downward spiral of more book-buying every time. Don’t answer that.)

I think that I’ll do daily posts about The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel after I start reading it.

I AM VERY EXCITED.

Now I’m off to read about Terry Pratchett!

Have you guys read Diana Wynne Jones? What do you think of her? What do you think of A View from the Cheap Seats? Do you like Neil Gaiman? Do you think I’m insane for buying so many books? Let me know in the comments!

That’s all for now, guys!

Hoot

–Sin

 

 

 

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Currently Reading — A View from the Cheap Seats

I am sitting in court and reading The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman while waiting. God bless the day I decided to install the Kindle application on my phone

I came across a delightful idea in one of his essays which I wanted to share with you guys. In the days when I was at college, I would have run to a friend’s room and gone into ecstacies. Now that I’m an adult, I am forced to attempt coherence in my excitement

(It occurs to me that the worst thing about adulthood is not the waking up early or the responsibility but the loneliness. What do you think? But I digress.)

Neil Gaiman has a brilliantly put opinion on the differing roles of a creator and an academic. 

It is the job of the creator to explode. It is the task of the academic to walk around the bomb site, gathering up the shrapnel, to figure out what kind of an explosion it was , who was killed, how much damage it was meant to do and how close it came to actually achieving that.

I agree with him completely. What do you guys think? Do you think you’re better suited to being a creator or an academic? Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments! 

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Things Fall Apart | Book Review

This is a book review of the Book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

The language is strikingly simple and engaging. It sucks you into the story immediately. This is the kind of writing that I take to and enjoy the most. It’s the kind of writing I aspire to. Always, always write like Hemingway. Or as I shall now say, always always write like Achebe. Big emotions don’t need big words.

It’s the first book of a trilogy and I am aching to read the next two books. (The only thing stopping me from buying them immediately is the staggering number of books I’ve already bought and not read yet.) Yet, it works perfectly well as a standalone, which I really appreciate because of my exasperation with authors using cliffhangers to get readers to read the next book. And using them poorly, to boot. A cliffhanger can’t just be stopping a story mid-scene. It’s a cheap gimmick in a consumerist era. It’s so much more delightful and authorly to cause your readers to care deeply for your characters so rhat they want to know what happens to them. The impending fate of someone you care for is cliffhanger enough, in my opinion.

Chinua Achebe made me pity, love and root for his characters, even the misogynistic, patriarchal, violent protagonist, Okonkwo, which is an achievement in itself. Harper Lee said that to understand a person, you have to step into their and walk around in it. Achebe forced me to step into Okonkwo’s skin and sprint a few miles in it, until I ached with his hopes, dreamed his dreams, and felt his helpless anger. Who hasn’t felt futile rage of helplessness against people in power against whom we have no recourse? Whose eyes haven’t stung with rage at  the grave injustices we suffer at the hands of the privileged people? Okonkwo makes you relive each of those moments.

Lastly, I want to talk to you guys about a question that’s relevant to me as a book reviewer. Right after I read this book, I read the Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. Things Fall Apart is referred to in that one. One of the characters states that the book is about the lack of unity being the downfall of the tribe which really struck me because I simply didn’t get that message from this book at all because I thought the book is about culture imperialism and the pain of becoming obsolete regardless of if you’re united. Now I can’t stop thinking of the magic of layered and nuanced books.What do they teach their readers really? Do readers see books in their own image? Whose opinion is even relevant? Is everything in literature subjective? What do you guys think?

Have you read this book, or any other book by Achebe? What did you think? Are there any other African authors I should read? Let me know in the comments!

Hoot.

-Sin

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The Weight of Expectation on a Tiny Book

I’ve renewed my blog domain for another year, which is optimistic considering how little I actually post these days. I chose to take it as a promise to myself to post more often and write more often and give myself more time in general. Cheers to that. 🙂

Having read and enjoyed The Orchard of Lost Souls, I’ve decided to read more books set in Africa and written by African authors. I have a couple more books matching that description which I’ve bought during my ridiculous book hauls. 

Today I’m going to start reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s a short book, clocking in at about 150 pages. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this author on Book tube and I had that in mind when I bought the book a little less than a year ago.

These days, I’m making a conscious effort to buy books and authors that I’ve heard nothing about just so that I can come to my own conclusions about them without my opinions being coloured by others’ opinions and the weight of my own expectations.I made this move after I realised that I was only reading books that others have read and that it was severely limiting me. That’s not to say that I’m not reading well-known or “mainstream”; I still am, but my reading experience is very different when I already know about the book or the author. 

When I pick up a book that I’ve heard good things about, I get in to it having made up my mind to love it. If I don’t love it, I experience feelings of guilt and i justify the perceived problems with the book because of my determination to love it. If I happen to review the book, my criticism is riddled with apologies. A decent or good book which isn’t as amazing as people have said it is remains forever sullied in my memory as the book that wasn’t good enough. Any book that I’ve heard is good both has to try harder and less to impress me because of a battle between my faith in certain reviewers and my objectivity. 

This is why I’m nervous to begin reading this book and am writing this post instead to know what you guys think about this problem and how you deal with it. What do you think? Have you read this book? What did you think of it? (Because after everything I just said, I still am a sucker for affirmation that I’ve made the right choice in devoting my limited time to a book.) Which is a book that you expected to love but hated? Which is a book that you were told you’d hate but really enjoyed (or loved)? Which is the last book you picked up without knowing a thing about it which you ended up adoring? Let me know in the comments! 

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Monday Morning Commute Thoughts

I’m currently reading The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed. It’s the story of three Somali women who lived during the Somali civil war. It’s a beautifully written book and it prompted me to talk to you about the cathartic experience that is a good book. 

The weather is beautiful and even the fact that it’s Monday and I have a long day ahead of me does not take away from the joy that good prose gives me. 

As I grow older, I realise that being a writer isn’t just a childhood dream but a real, honest longing that I can’t overcome. As this longing increases in intensity, I notice the music that the written word produces more and more each day. 

Gone are the days when I sped through books, desperate to know what happens next. Now, after coming across a particularly delightful line, I set my book down and stare at the ceiling for a while, marvelling. I wonder what humans have done to deserve the delight that is language  And I thank my lucky stars for the family and the time I was born into. I hug the book to my chest. And I smile. As long as the words I’ve read dance on my tongue and in my mind, I stay smiling. 

I may take an extra day or an extra week to finish my book at this rate. And that’s okay. As long as there exist words that send me into ecstacies, everything will always be okay. 

“Kawsar closes her eyes in embarrassment, the kisses making her skin sing” That’s the latest line from the book that I’m delighting in. In case any one is wondering. But there are several brilliant lines in the book. Read it. 
Do you prefer plot-heavy stories or language-heavy stories? What kind of language are you more comfortable navigating; flowery or simple? Have you read this book or any of Nadifa Mohamed’s other books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Ghachar Ghochar | Book Review

This is a review of the book Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag.

This is a book originally written in Kannada, translated to English by Srinath Perur. I bought it on the recommendation of the owner of  Bookworm, which is one of my favourite stores in Bangalore. I hadn’t heard of the book or the author before. After buying it, though, I’ve started to notice this book everywhere. It seems to be gaining popularity by the day, and deservedly so.

I want to begin by saying how embarrassing and shameful it is that I read the English translation over the original text in my native tongue. The truth is, though, that I am a product of colonialism and schools that preach English hegemony like the pope preaches the Bible (I went to “good”schools, in other words.) and I am far more comfortable with English then any Indian language. My Hindi teacher told us that the key to learning a language is to think in that language and I’ve been thinking in English for as long as I can remember. I can read Kannada though, albeit far more slowly, so I am going to try and read the original text of the book at some point. Additionally, I want to read more books in Kannada. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

Now to the book: The back of he book likens Shanbhag to Chekhov. I must confess that I’ve never read Chekhov, but if his books are anything like Ghachar Ghochar, I want to read him post haste.

The book is set in Bangalore, and I am partial to books set in Bangalore, which is my hometown. It is in the first person. The narrative is non-linear, which seems to be rather common these days in all literary fiction, but which continues to be one of my favourite literary styles. It is the story of the narrator’s family.

The story starts off at a café where the narrator sits, obviously in mental turmoil. His thoughts are meandering, and naturally drift in the direction of his family. He reminisces about his childhood and his family’s sudden rise to affluence. He reminisces about his past relationship and the state of his marriage. And as he remembers and thinks, a story emerges, mundane and yet, disturbing.

This book is definitely worth a read. It captures your imagination and makes you smile and worry and fret. It makes you care for the protagonist and his family. All this is in spite of the limitations of a translated version of any book. I really want to read the original.

Tell me what you thought of this book if you’ve read it. Also, suggest other good books written in Kannada.  What do you think of translated books in general?

Let me know in the comments!

That’s all for now, guys!

Hoot

–Sin

 

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Book Haul!

Confession: I buy a lot of books! A lot more than I read these days, which makes me sad. I don’t usually do book hauls, because I don’t know if they work in blog posts as well as they do in videos.

However, I am particularly excited about this book haul because one of my favourite second hand bookstores in Bangalore, Bookworm, expanded. EXPANDED. In this day and age, when people are debating whether the time of independent bookstores and physical books is over, the owner bought a 5000 sq ft location and opened a brand new bookstore, moving from the tiny-ish basement location. I still adored the tiny basement location, of course, but this is something else!

I went at the beginning of this month and it was so beautiful, so spacious and just such a lovely atmosphere, that I simply HAD to buy a buttload of books, regardless of how many unread ones are already chilling at home. Judge me all you like, but I was helping the independent book-selling industry! What did you do with your effin’ day, huh, Judgment-face?

Anyway, here are the books that I bought, some second-hand, some shiny and new, but all discounted. Because I’m a loyal customer. And because I buy way too many books. 😛 IMG_20160410_180207710There. Books I’ve been dying to read, books I’d never heard of before, authors I’ve been dying to read… all in one beautiful picture. This picture sort of represents my reading style. A bit of fantasy, a bit of science fiction, a lot of literary fiction, a tiny smidgeon of non-fiction, a lot of humour, some Indian writing… but one thing is completely off, as I just realised: No women! I read a lot of women as a rule, consciously to be more diverse, but I also migrate towards women writers sub-consciously because I like their writing styles and the themes they write about. I’m surprised at myself.

Huh. Who knew that book hauls lead to so much introspection?

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Have you wanted to read any of them? Let me know in the comments!

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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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Currently Reading (Taking Weird Decisions)

Hello everyone! What are you all reading right now?
I am currently in the middle of M Train by Patti Smith. It’s a memoir, which is my favourite genre of non-fiction. It’s her second memoir after Just Kids.
I found so many quotable and lovable quotes in it that I panicked about
forgetting them. Therefore, I have decided to recommence my reading of the book and write and underline and whatever else in it since I’m never going to give this book away anyway. Yes, I know. It’s ridiculous when I already hardly get time to read but I must. I feel like I’ll really miss out on something if I don’t.
Plus, I’m seriously considering buying a hard copy of Just Kids and rereading that because I feel like the Kindle edition may not have done justice to it.
In other words, I may have lost my mind. I have reconciled myself to it though. M Train, here I come! (Again)
Has any book given you this feeling before? Do you write in books or do you abhor the practice? Have you read either Just Kids or M Train? What did you think? What do you think of Patti Smith’s music? Is her latest album any good? Let me know in the comments!

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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