Book Review– The House that BJ Built

THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW

As you guys may have deduced from my pointed silence, I am suffering from abject writer’s block. It may be time for that to end now, however. As you know, there no better inspiration that irritation and I’ve read a book today that’s irritated me for many reasons. 

The book is The House that BJ Built by Anuja Chauhan. 

First, a bit of background: After downloading the Kindle app on my phone, I’ve taken to randomly buying inexpensive (and sometimes slightly expensive) books that catch my fancy when I’m bored on my commutes. These are books that are usually easy to read page-turners.Potboilers, so to speak. (Although I did read The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood recently, which is a dystopic novel. I liked it at the time, although, on second thought, some of it irritated me as well. But that’s a topic for another day) The reason I do this despite having a long suffering, neglected and marvellously well-written Wolf Hall in my bag is that it’s usually 8pm by the time I leave office, by which time it’s too dark to read a regular book. 

A friend of mine told me Anuja Chauhan’s books are quite fun, so I decided to go for it. Needless to say, I may never talk to her again. (Kidding. Mostly)

Anyway, back to The House that BJ Built: 

This book started decently enough. I went into it expecting a light-hearted romantic comedy, nothing too heavy and it seemed to deliver. As I read on, though, it mostly only irritated me. 

I’ve decided to make bullet points on the most facepalm moments in the book.

SPOILER ALERT

  • The author uses the word “pugnacious” too often
  • The book treats issues of domestic violence too lightly and seriously trivialises it. What else do you expect from lower-class Muslims, right? Completely normal. And fixable by a vasectomy without the consent of the abusive husband
  • The male protagonist thinks it’s ok to kiss one woman while in a relationship with another so long as you don’t have sex with the woman you’re in a relationship with after having kissed the new woman.
  • The female protagonist not only agrees with the above, but also is touched that he didn’t have sex after having kissed her
  • Why the fuck are step-cousins romancing each other?! I get that y’all aren’t related by blood, but eesh. 
  • The Thakur girls repeatedly mock their sister for shaving her head and not having her upper lip waxed. Sure, she turns out to be “evil” at the end of the book but maybe she wouldn’t have hated your guts if you hadn’t mocked her appearance or her bodily autonomy. Just a thought.
  • Why the fuck are north-easterners referred to as chinks and other derogatory terms so often?! Is it supposed to be a wry social commentary or something, because it doesn’t seem that way at all. 
  • There’s a money hungry Muslim who’s supposedly standing up for the rights of two north-easterners (who are actually from Bhutan!) and it so happens that he was actually being an opportunistic asshole. Therefore, as the characters conclude, these Muslims are all like this only. Extreme facepalm
  • The representation of the judicial system made me want to weep. They discovered that a will was fake and they didn’t even have to tell the judge. The case, along with the interim order not to alienate, authomatically ceased to exist and they could sell the property. 
  • SELLING IMMOVABLE PROPERTY IS NOT THAT SIMPLE
  • Trademark infringement is fine so long as you have big eyes, curly black hair, and a big butt and big boobs while infringing the trademarks. 
  • The female protagonist is referred to as “brat” and does not mind it despite being a 26 year old entrepreneur. Other characters are also referred to as “brat”, mostly girls and women of various ages. They all accept it as a matter of course.
  • When a character calls out the male protagonist for making a sexist item song, he says that he has 4 aunts who would ostracize him if he made a sexist song and therefore it isn’t sexist.
  • The mother of a seemingly talented female actor yells at her daughter for not stealing the male protagonist from his girlfriend in the way that the female protagonist was able to. 
  • Everyone and his neighbour is concerned that the youngest Thakur girl is unmarried even though she seems successful and fulfilled
  • One of the characters talks about “the cheerleader effect”, which is from the sitcom How I Met your Mother, without any attribution whatsoever. But eh. We already know how the author feels about intellectual property. 
  • The only likable character, BJ, the grandfather, dies early on in the book. 
  • Seriously, what kind of name is BJ? You know about “cheerleader effect” but you don’t know what BJ is??!

    So… That was a painful book to read. I wouldn’t recommend it. But at least it made me blog again. So yay… I think. 

    If you’ve read this book, tell me what you thought of it? Feel free to tell me if you disagree. Have you read other books by the same author? How did you like them? Let me know in the comments

    Hoot.

    –Sin

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    A Bookish Thing that I’m Doing…

    …That you all should do too!

    So, this year, I’ve decided to do the Read Harder Challenge that’s run by Goodreads. Some of the categories of books that it requires me to read have just made me go “wut”, which is, I believe, the charm of the challenge.

    Please follow the link above to get a hold of the list (and downloadable document) of all the categories of books you need to read to successfully complete the challenge. There are 24 in all, which adds up to a reasonable two a month, especially since it is permissible to read one book that fulfills multiple categories.

    I always think it’s a good idea to read books diversely and outside my comfort zone and outside my genres of choice even if I’m reading for pleasure because it’s helpful to me as an aspiring writer. However, even I weren’t an aspiring writer, I think it’s a good idea to learn something about the points of view of people who don’t think the same way as me. With the world getting smaller each day, and with social media becoming an echo chamber of our thoughts and ideas, varied perspectives have become more valuable than ever before. Varied opinions are rarer still. Varied thoughts, varied priorities, varied ideas are all something that can be picked up from books. Even if I’m only reading for pleasure, and I don’t want any sort of information or knowledge from the books that I read, I feel like reading diversely makes me a different person; maybe even a better person.  Maybe.

    Serious thoughts aside (Earnest is not a colour that suits me), who knows where my new favourite book or my new favourite author may be hiding, right?

     

    From the comfort of our homes and cosy cafés (or taxis or metros or buses or offices under our desks or in line at the bank. Demonetisation, amirite?), let’s dive into books and go exploring in 2017. Come #readharder with me, guys. Journeys are always more fun with friends!

    Watch out for the hashtag #readharder on my social media, guys.

    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

    2016: The Year in Review

    I never thought I’d talk much about my life on this blog, but now that I’ve done it once, the floodgates have opened. So here’s more. 

    This is a year in review type of post that I’ve seen floating around lately. This has been an eventful year for me, and a not-too-terrible one either (excepting my growing conviction that a post-apocalyptic future is imminent). So I thought I’d tell you guys about it.

    So yes. The headlines. Do comment if you have any questions. 🙂 

    This wasn’t too fabulous of a year literary-wise. I didn’t get much writing done, my blogging was sporadic, and I didn’t read much at all towards the end of the year buuuut:

    I did meet my new favourite book of all time

    It beats out Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott by a tiny margin. I also love Patti Smith’s music, so that’s doubly exciting. 

    I gave up on my dystopic novel 

    Not gonna lie, guys, it started to resemble reality too much and I realised that by the time my last ass is done with it, it may have to be published as very dull non-fiction. 

    I started a new novel 

    It’s fantasy and I’m not even close to being done with the first draft but at least the idea and beginning and loose outline are there. 

     I graduated

    Technically, I graduated in 2015 but my convocation was in February, 2016.  I got to go back to Calcutta, the city in which I attained adulthood, and the city which I will never complely get over. I got to meet my friends again, some of them after ages. And I’ve come to accept that it may have been the last time I see some of them. 

    I cut my hair short.

    I had longish vaguely irritating hair for about 5 years that I got massively bored of.

    So I cut it off:

    I completed a year at my job

    This isn’t my first job on graduating, but I think of it as my first one. It reaffirmed my love for the law, and now I know that even if I choose to be a novelist, I can never give up on law completely.

    I realised that I have far fewer friends than I’d imagined 

    Having very little time to myself made me prioritise an insane amount. And it made others prioritise over me too. It was enlightening. Hurtful, but enlightening. 

     My boyfriend and I got engaged 

    Yes! I am now freshly minus one boyfriend and plus one fiancé. 

    He bought me an amethyst, which is my favourite stone and surprised me with it. (Purple 4 lyf) We were both exhausted from travel and dirty and sleepy that day, but it’s still one of my favourite photos of us.

    We started dating at 18 nearly 7 years ago. This was us then:

    I turned 24

    This has always been a nightmare age for me, the age of adulthood, because my parents had me when I was 24. It hasn’t been too bad so far though, even though I’ve done my fair share of adulting and growing up. 

    I have the entire series of Fantastic Beasts movies to get through before I have to grow up completely. (How good was the first one?!) Cheers to that. 

    So that’s been my year, a year of many firsts, of adulting, of complicated conversations and difficult decisions, of joys, of nights spent crying, of trying not to cry in court, of becoming an early to bed early to rise kinda gal, and of becoming a different person. 

    How has your 2016 been? Did you do anything exciting at all this year? Let me know in the comments.

    Currently Reading

    I’ve had something of a reading slump the last couple of months. It wasn’t exactly a reading slump because I did read a bit, but I didn’t finish most of the books that I started. This explains why my ‘currently reading’ shelf on Goodreads has 10 books in it, although I’m actually, really reading just the one book. The other books that have been retained on that shelf are… aspirational, shall we say? (Don’t worry. I frequently don’t understand myself so there’s no judgment if you don’t understand me.)

    Anyway, the book that I’m currently reading is White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I saw a quote from the book on a book group that I’m a part of on Facebook, and I saw that several people whose taste in books I trust had commented that they love this book. So I bought it for my Kindle. I only got around to reading it a few weeks later, though.

    I’m really enjoying this book, which is about a girl Astrid and her life after her mother Ingrid, is imprisoned for murder. Her mother is a published poet of some acclaim before her incarceration. 

    Astrid is a child who grows up in the background of her mother’s whims and fancies and she warms to anyone who gives her some attention. She is a talented artist.

    I love the writing in this book. It’s beautiful, poetic and picturesque but it’s so measured. The author never gets carried away. She is never verbose and it’s clear that there isn’t one word in here that she didn’t want there and that she didn’t put in there after much thought and deliberation.

    I love how an absent mother like Ingrid still has specific ideas about what her daughter should and shouldn’t be. Her letters from prison contain quite excellent advice, actually. This book is so good of quotable quotes, and I keep highlighting them. This is a book that I need to reread. I never reread books anymore. I wonder why that is. I need to set aside days where I only reread books; lovely, heart-wrenching books like this one. 

    I don’t know where this book is going, though, don’t know how it’ll end. I’ll do a full review once I understand that. Till then, I’ll just go along for the journey and bask in the language and smile whimsically to myself at intervals. 

    I’m kind of glad this is likely the last book I’ll read this year because it’s frightening but kind of bittersweet, just like this year has been. I’ll do a post describing this year in review for you guys soon. 

    Have any of you read this book? What did you think of it? What’s your favourite quote from this book? What is everyone else reading this holiday season? Let me know in the comments! 

    Hoot.

    Sin

    This is a Post about My Life

    This is not a post about books. I haven’t read too much in the last month and a half or so. No excuses; I just really haven’t felt like it. I feel like I may get back in the groove of reading soon and I’ve charged up the ol’ Kindle in preparation for it.

    Buuuut that’s not what this post is about. Obviously.

    I want to tell you guys something about my life today. I don’t often do that on this blog, except in bits and pieces, but I really feel like sharing today.

    I have a friend. I won’t name her. She’s been in my life for seven years. She’s usually socially awkward and has me talk her through social situations, just like she talks me through professional life and academics. She’s the Brain to my Heart and my life is incomplete without her.  She lives in a different city and is in a very busy, high-profile job (because she’s brilliant and wonderful) and that makes staying in touch hard. We lived in the same college for 5 years before we moved to different places and it’s been hard.  She isn’t usually demonstrative, whereas I’m super-demonstrative and that makes me insecure as all hell. Also, most of my friends are in different cities and being something of a people person in my own strange introverted way, I feel rather lonesome. I am not always sure that she understands this, close though we are. She’s more of a loner and quite comfortable in her own company.

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    Recently, I really dropped the ball and didn’t give her a major life update partly out of forgetfulness and partly out of passive aggressiveness and I really hurt her. Yesterday, she told me how much I hurt her. I apologised. She made me promise to never do it again. I did.  I was truly ashamed when she said “Please don’t drift apart” and I swore to myself never to do that again. And I thought that was the end of it.

    Today, despite being severely sleep-deprived and exhausted, she called me. She said “Tell me about your day.” I said “Eh?” She said “I intend to make it a daily thing. I am not allowing you to miss out on telling me something again.”

    Just… Wow. 

    This is a post about gratefulness. In the spirit of the holiday season? Maybe. But it’s more than that.

    This is a post about friendship and love. And the things people manage to tell you when they do the things that they do.

    Do this for someone, guys. Don’t wait to be a lovely person. Be the person who made their friend smile like a goofball for a few hours and then cry ugly, snotty tears while blogging about you. Or not exactly that, because ugly crying sucks, but you know what I mean. In 2017, be the person my friend was, today. Don’t wait for the holidays. Do it in the sweltering summer. Do it on a Monday. Hell, why wait? Do it today. 

    This is a post about my life. And how it’s better with you in it, DP.

    Hoot.

    –Sin

    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

    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?