Saturday, November 1, 2014

The One That Started It All


Last month a lot of people on Facebook shared their favourite books. As per the rule, one was supposed to share the names of only 10 books, but you know how it can be with books. Narrowing down the number of just 10 can be really really tricky. So, when I was tagged by a friend to share my list, the torture of choosing just 10 got the better of me and I did the next best thing. I didn’t participate in this tag game. Like always there was a bunch of sourpusses who dissed the whole thing, saying that people Googled the best book and listed them out. Whatever the case was, it was good to see people talking about books for once instead of some other random event or human being who don’t affect our lives even minutely.

Anyway, I started making a list before I gave up. The whole exercise was excruciating in a way as I was juggling the list of favourite books in my mind. Some names got replaced every time I made a list but one book retained its place each and every single time, remaining the first name on the list. And it was the very first novel I had read. "Dr Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". I still remember the day when it came into my life. 21st April. It was my birthday. I lived in a small town, in a close-knit community. Before going to a birthday party, everybody discussed which presents to take for the birthday girl/boy so that there were no repeated gifts. How thoughtful right! Even the store owner knew which gift was taken by whom. I guess it was my 9th birthday. Like any other 9 year old girl I was expecting some exciting gifts. Something no one ever gave me before. And that wish came true when this one guy gave decided to give me a novel because ‘all other gifts were taken’. I remember being extremely disappointed and angry at him. I mean how could he give me something that kept me confined to one spot and I actually had to make an effort to read! I did that in school..why would I want to do at home. Don’t get me wrong, I liked reading but I was more into comics and short stories rather than a full fledged novel. Nevertheless, I was angry and I shoved the book into some corner of my bookshelf. It saw the day of light when one unforgiving summer afternoon forced all us to stay indoors. After all, it was the only way you could survive. (Seriously, the heat could have easily melt or evaporate anyone. Well at least the 9 year old me thought so). I decided to look for a comic to re-read when I saw this novel. I saw it a lot of times whenever I spent some time with my bookshelf and I never paid attention to it. But this time, it almost seemed like it was screaming at me to pick it up. I was sceptical but I did pick it up. I thought, if I had to be confined to one place and read, I might as well read something new. What’s the worst that could happen? I would lose a few hours of my life. Not that I was bothered about this issue back then. I turned the first page. Then the next one. And another. Another. And I got up after the last page was turned. Between a few hundred pages that lay between the first and last one, I found a new world. A world which I refused to leave since.

That birthday I was given the greatest gift. It gave me the ability to step into different worlds that were fantastical, scary, happy and sad, all at once. I could step into different dimensions, slip into the shoes of a million characters and feel a multitude of emotions. All sitting in the same place! And I thought books confined you to just one place! Heights of naivety I’d say. I guess that moment when I felt this power of transporting to new, imaginary yet such believable worlds was the most exciting moment in the 9 years of my life. It was almost surreal. I remember that story so well, even after 17 years of reading it. I was just blown away by how story-telling can be so damn absorbing. I was in awe. I fell in love that day. I fell in love with a book. I fell in love with reading. I fell in love with the art of story-telling. Today, it is such a big part of my life. Rather, it found a way to weave my life around it.

They say that the first of anything is special and this was my first novel ever. No book can ever take away its importance and its significance. Since that day, I believed that every book enters your life when it is supposed to. So, the next time people judge you if you haven't read some particular classic or if you cannot pick up a book that’s being lying around your home around since ages, it’s OK. The time is not right. Maybe you won’t get the story or relate to it or find it unexciting. Wait for the right and the book will become a big part of your life. Permanently. You will know when to start reading it. If you love books the way I do, they communicate with you in their own way and you will understand them. You will know when to pick up a certain book. Maybe if I read the novel as soon as I got, I wouldn't it have enjoyed. Maybe it wouldn't have changed my life. Or maybe it would have. But I know one thing for sure. I picked it up when it wanted me to and it showed me a way. Even though it came in my life in April, it wasn’t until June that I started reading. And till this day, that June has been a life-changing month for me. Is this my favourite novel of all times? Probably not. Is this the one that changed my life? Hell yes.

So, thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson for writing it. Thank you A, Mr. and Mrs T. for picking it up and thank god for finishing off all the ‘good gifts’. Otherwise they couldn't have gifted me the novel. A, I’m sure you don’t remember this birthday because it was eons ago and I'm pretty sure you don't even remember me. But wherever you are, know that you gifted me a lifetime of joy that accompanies reading. If someone ever asks me again, which was the one book that changed my life, I know my answer. It was the very first novel I read, the one that started it all.

Which was that book for you?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

   Hurting Distance -- Sophie Hannah

‘Love is blind’. A cliché. Overused adage. But there are people going great lengths to exemplify the same. Hurting Distance is an example of the same. How people go to any lengths for love, fall in the process, make mistakes but still (somehow) manage to believe in the power of love.

Naomi Jenkins is a professional sundial maker and runs her own business. She’s a beautiful and successful woman, who has loving boyfriend. Although he’s married to someone else, she loves him to pieces and believes them to be soul mates. From the outside her life looks just perfect. But if the top layer of her seemingly perfect life is scratched, a different story is revealed. Robert, her boyfriend, is married there is a limit to when and where they meet. They meet once a week, without fail, in a hotel room. This continues for a couple of months. But one day he misses their weekly plan and there is no contact from him, henceforth. Naomi is dead sure that something has happened to her lover as he wasn’t someone who would bail out on her or someone who would go against a plan, being the perfectionist and methodical guy he was. She approaches the police to file a missing person's report, but they brush away the case saying that the man must have chosen his wife over his mistress and just moved on with is life without feeling the need to inform her. Call it a lovers’ bond or intuition, something assured Naomi that something was amiss. With police not believing her, she comes up with a plan which came with a necessity of digging deep in the well buried past and exposing her skeletons. But for Robert, she was willing to go down the hurtful lane. She tells a story which promptly puts the police on their feet, and they start their search for the missing Robert. Charlie, the cop leading this case had her own share of painful past. The ‘search’ unravels dirty and unpleasant secrets of a lot of people. All their lives intertwine and a dirty picture is slowly painted. Did Robert’s wife find out about his extra marital affair and hurt him in the process? Why did Naomi go to such extreme lengths and what story did she tell cops? Was she the only one with an unmentionable past? What did Charlie’s and Naomi’s life have so much in common in the end? You need to pick up the book to find the answers.

The narrative style of the book is pretty interesting. Though some readers might find it a little confusing, but once you get the hang of it, you might like it. While Naomi addresses her story to Robert, Charlie and the cops’ narrative is directed towards the readers. The narration between the two alternate throughout the book. It starts of at a good pace but towards the end the story starts crawling. There are a few ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ moments but, unfortunately, they last for a short period of time. If you pay attention at the little hints thrown here and there, you might easily figure out the ending. This is where the mystery loses its essence, and it becomes just another crime novel. This is the second book in the series of three. This novel had a ‘movie like’ feel to it. While reading the novel, you’ll feel like you are watching a movie. And probably it might make a good movie too. It might stir up a few more emotions than what the book minutely managed. What started as a really gripping read turned into a disappointment. The magic somehow waned off midway. It is written in a very simple manner and makes it an easy read. Some brownie points earned there!

If you are looking to pass a lazy afternoon with an easy read and like crime thrillers with an average plot, you might want to pick it up.

P.S : There are really graphic and unpleasant details in the story. This might disturb a few. Though it lasts just a few pages, it might leave a bitter taste.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Water for Elephants --- Sara Gruen

Circus is something that has always fascinated one and all. There is something so intriguing and enthralling about all the performers and the animals. It is meant for the kids but one step into the circus tent, and everyone becomes a child. Wide eyes, fearful exclamations, laughs, delight and claps echo within the tent. When a love story takes place at such a premise, you can expect something unexpected. And that is what Water for elephants is about. It rests its foundation on circus. Set in early 1900s’ Depression Era, circus brought sheer joy in the otherwise glum period. Joy and a few more things.

The story starts as the 'old Jacob', narrating his story to a circus employee. The 90 year old had carried a secret for almost 7 decades and is finally revealing it. Fed up of the care centre he escapes the watchful eyes of the hospital staff and goes to the circus that was in town. His secret keeps the man totally mesmerized, who almost forgets to report to the care center.
Flashback to the past follows. Jacob is an aspiring vet who is just one exam away from becoming a licensed doctor. With the plans to join his father’s practice, he is ready to start his career. But after his family’s tragic accident and loss of his house, he sets out with no idea of where he’s going. A chance encounter with a train that crosses the tracks he was walking upon changed his entire life. The train was the circus, Benzini Brothers. After a rough start, he becomes a part of the circus and starts from the bottom rung in the circus ladder. Slowly he rises up the ladder when he starts working as a vet. He noticed stark contrasts in the way the ‘workers’ and the ‘performers’ lived and were treated. He experienced both the worlds and made friends in the entire troupe. But there were only two things he loved in the Circus family. The animals and Marlena.  He first experienced love in that chaos.  That love made him take extreme steps which he otherwise wouldn't have taken. How the story progresses between the love triangle and the animals is what is story is made up of.

The narrative is very simple which makes the entire novel easy to read. Sara did an extensive research on the topic, which is very evident throughout. The harsh reality of the circus, plight of the animals being used in them and the performers will make your heart wrench. This is one of those books that can read in one sitting. (I personally took just 3 hours to read it. Yes, I'm bragging :P ) Though it had a nice story, especially of the lovely bond that animals and humans share, I got disconnected at many instances. There was a lot of use of Polish dialogues. One who doesn’t know Polish will definitely get lost and there are chances of the reader getting bored beyond a point. The story is otherwise like any other love story, predictable and dramatic. The only thing that kept me going through the pages was the lovely connection animal-human connection that is portrayed. It was very endearing and something really fresh. If you are an animal lover, and get repelled by thick books but still want a good read, or you want something light and a simple, uncomplicated story to read over the weekend, this is your pick.

This novel sends across the message that love and friendship do not need a perfect setting like most people dream of. It can blossom at the most unexpected places, amongst different kind of people. The people who may seem weird and crazy can turn out to be the best of friends and silent stares can lead to a beautiful relationship. And though there are no words shared, the animals/pets can understand us so well and even they have their own unique ways to showing that they care. The bond between a pet and his master is beautiful and this book celebrates that relationship. Read it for the pet-master bond more than the protagonists' love story, because the latter is rather disappointing.

P.S: This is one of those books of whose movie I preferred over the book. At least watch the movie. I’m sure you’ll like it. Yes, there are some changes in the movie compared to the book, but it works. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tribute to Teachers

Everyone has a favourite teacher. A teacher who teaches you more than the defined school work. A teacher who believes in you more than you believe yourself. And someone who just makes a better person out of you without you even realising that. And there will be a teacher you will always be grateful about. Everyone will have a different way to express their gratitude. Few show their gratitude by giving presents, few by spending time with the teachers even after passing out of school/college and some, like Mitch, will write a book about their beloved teacher. There are two books about teachers which celebrate them as teachers and their teachings. Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture. There was something so positive and captivating in these books, I wanted to share these books with all of you.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Morrie Schwartz was a much loved teacher by all this students. He was someone who lived each day to the fullest, loved whatever he did and was totally content and happy with his life. Till the day a life threatening disease struck him. He knew his days were numbered and his mobility would be challenged. This wasn’t an easy thing to take for the otherwise active and lively person. When one of his old students came to know of his ill-health, he just thought of giving his favourite teacher a visit. One visit turned into several life changing visits for him. Little did he know that his teacher would be teaching him, will be giving life lessons right up till the moment he breathes his last.

The Last Lecture.

This is about another popular and loved teacher, Randy Pausch, who had a little time in his hands. But he chose to live the last few months living a king sized life rather than wallowing in self-pity. In Carnegie Mellon, where he taught, there was a custom of every retiring teacher to give one last lecture to all his students. What they shared in their last lecture varied from teacher to teacher. Randy gave his last lecture in front of hundreds of students and staff. He chose to speak about his life, from his childhood to that day when he was speaking on the lecture. What he shared is thought provoking, inspiring, and humorous and the experiences as a teacher who was learning something new form his colleagues and students as he was imparting to his them. The examples and experiences shared are heart warming, and for sure there will be something each of us will like to adopt or pass on to others.  

These books are nothing but a collection of moments between a teacher and his student(s). A few might find the books to be preachy with all the life lessons shared but it’s nonetheless a sweet tribute by a student to his teacher (Tuesdays with Morrie) and another being the desire of a  teacher to impart everything to his students in his last moment as an official teacher. I read these books twice. Whenever I had my moments of self-doubts, I read them. It was again like my teachers shouting a few encouraging words and giving a hand to pick me up again, just like my school days. The last lines in both the books gave me goose bumps and I was drawn back to the days I shared with my favourite teacher. Both these awe-inspiring books will do that to you. I’m sure that you will find these books a little comforting whenever you are feeling low, just how a favourite teacher does. Overlook the ‘preachy’ part and you will surely like what you read.

 Reading these will seal the fact that teachers will ALWAYS want to give something to their students, unknowingly too. Guess they are just made that way. All they know is that want teach and they do it till the time they can, being on the job or retired doesn’t matter. Once a teacher, always a teacher.  You will be reminded of your favourite teacher and will definitely think about them and thank them. I’m sure that you will start thinking of the ways to tell him/her a great big Thank You for making a change in your life. It’s never too late to say Thank You to them. Write a book on them or dedicate something to them, it’s your pick. As for me, I dedicate this blogpost to them.

Thank you ma’am. Thank You sir. I’ll always always always be grateful for what you taught me. J

P.S : If you are feeling too lazy to reach these books, watch the video of the The Last Lecture. It’s really worth it. Tuesdays with Morrie also came out as TV series. Do watch and let me know how they are.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Tent, The Bucket and Me -- Emma Kennedy

Family holidays are definitely an occasion everyone looks forward to. That is the time when we get a chance to go to new places with our family and explore new experiences. Those are the times to leave all the worries, stress, hassles and tensions of daily lives and let the hair down and just have fun. But what happens when things go wrong during family vacations? It can have a disastrous outcome for the family but when all such incidents are compiled in the form of memoir, it proves to be nothing short of a hilarious book. Emma’s ‘The Tent, The  Bucket and Me’ is one such fine example. But it was all at the expense of herself and her family. And no reader would complain about that as everyone loves having a laugh or two at someone else’s embarrassing moments.

For the Kennedys, the tent and everything related to camping, held a special place in their hearts. Emma’s life began in a tent. Literally. She was conceived in a tent and the tent experiences were a part of her life till the time she turned into a teenager. If adventure was in the blood of this family, then misfortune was their middle name. The over-adventurous and over-enthusiastic parents were always game for trying out a new ‘adventure’ every year but it was just their luck that everytime they went out camping/ holidaying, the ‘Holiday Gods’ conspired against them to do everything possible to ruin it. Emma, who initially loved the whole concept of camping, slowly started to dread to the very idea of family vacations. The mentioned incidents possibly scarred Emma for life when it came to family vacations. (No exaggeration here.) Who wouldn’t be? After all the ridiculous experiences, which incidentally proved to be the ‘entertaining’ for the readers, anyone would think twice before going for any holiday. Eating ‘exotic’ raw meat which cost them a fortune, falling in the human waste, unwelcoming weather are just a few of the things that this family went through in their decade long disasters in the name of vacations.

This is a good book to tag along with you for your next vacation. This brutally honest memoir by Emma will leave you with a smile. Many of you with camping background might find some situations familiar or atleast you might be able to relate to what they were going through. The next time you go on a vacation, after reading this book, you will for sure think of this family once, wondering if they were there, what disaster would have struck them. If you are not going on a vacation anytime soon, just read this book for the fun of it. It’s a light read and it just might act as a stress-buster after a tiring day. If you are expecting some literary brilliance, you might be disappointed. This is just a collection of memories and not some classic in the making.  It feels like this family is sitting with you and reminiscing about their holidays. But you won’t be disappointed if you are looking for a light, fun read. Who doesn’t love listening to the embarrassing stories of others and have fun at their expense. This is definitely one ‘LOL’ book with collection of the funniest and ‘best embarrassing moments’ of the Kennedy family. Definitely an enjoyable book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pride and Prejudice -- Jane Austen

It is every mother’s dream to see her children married. When her brood consists of daughters, that dream tops the list. Every time someone gets married, the mother wishes it was her daughter’s wedding instead. And just imagine the pride and happiness of the mother when her daughter(s) get married into a well to do, rich and cultured family. Jane explored this issue very subtly and humorously and, I can safely add, accurately, in her book ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Seems that marriage was a hot topic back in the 20s too and mothers then too were obsessed with the big M word.

 A well to do English couple have 5 daughters. The mother is obsessed with only one thing, which is her daughters’ marriage. The father was a little easy on this though, which no doubt irked the mother. When a new neighbour (read: eligible bachelor) moves in, he instantly becomes the talk of the town. Mrs. Bennett tries every possible tactic in the book to make sure that one of her daughters gets married to him. So, did other mothers with young daughters. The story revolves around how the sisters meet their suitors, the problems they face due to their pride and preconceived prejudices and how they eventually get married. Different people in the story get married for different reasons. Some marry for money, some for status, others for lust etc. But the major part of the story revolves around the two elder Bennett sisters. How they look at love, marriage, courtship, relationships with different people involved due to the union and how they marry for the only reason that’s worth marrying for, i.e. love. They face tricky situations, got hurt due to either their own wrong judgement or due to someone’s dirty mind-games, they stumble, and they got up and eventually did the right thing. The kind of marriage each person had due to their choices and reasons, makes it an interesting read.

The story brims with funny situations. To jot down a few, the unsuccessful attempts made by different male characters to impress the ladies was really amusing, the language and  vocabulary used by Jane in these scenes kept me in splits; the way Mrs. Bennett was happy that her young daughter was finally married to someone, irrespective of the fact that the son-in law was almost worthless and that her daughter had actually eloped with him to get married; the eloped daughter shamelessly demanding appreciation for her actions;  the way mothers neurotically discussed marriage and showed off their in-laws  was another amusing part, although that hasn’t changed much till now (I guess).  Sure, a lot has changed since the 20s in terms of technology et al, but when it comes to marriage many similarities can be drawn. I noticed that even way back, men in uniform were admired, adored, drooled upon, sought out after :P , how at a certain age everyone literally obsesses over marriage (mostly mums and all those dreamy girls), how superiority/position/class matters more than anything when it comes to settling marriages.

It’s a book which explores love in a fun and humorous way. It transcends the idea of loving someone who’s like a ‘knight in shining armour’ or ‘a beautiful damsel in distress’. It says that love can be found and can flourish in the most unlikely places. Jane celebrates the idea of love and marriage in the truest manner through the two eldest Bennett sisters.  Jane was one of the first authors in her time who outlined the psyche of the human minds and society with such accuracy. Her satirical rants are something to look out for. It was written almost 2 centuries back and people can still relate to it. That’s the beauty of this classic. It has stood through time and cultures.
I loved how I could actually enjoy a story that revolved around something I dread, Marriage! Throughout  the story I was smiling, laughing and having fun. When I first heard about, as a kid, I assumed I would never be able to enjoy this book. It sounded like heavy stuff to me. How wrong was I. This book is a complete joy-ride. Wish I had picked it up earlier, but as they say, better late than never. And if you haven’t read it till now, you know what to do. And do it ASAP.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kite Runner -- Khaled Hosseini

After ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns (ATSS)’, when I picked this up, I was reluctant to begin it. Not because I doubted that it wouldn’t be a good read, but because the effect ATSS had on me was still fresh. I could still feel the pangs of pain that book gave me, and I wasn’t ready to go through that again (Yea, go on, call me mushy or childish or unreasonable!), but I guess some of out there know what I mean. I just procrastinated reading it. And once I picked it up, I finished reading it in one go. Khaled’s first attempt as an author was an exceptional one. Not a fragment of doubt about that!

Amir and Hassan were two little boys who grew up together in a then trouble free Afghanistan. Their daily routine consisted of any regular boy. Playing, reading, playing, eating, playing and sleeping. But there was a hierarchy which sort of separated them. Amir was the master’s son and Hassan was the servant’s son and above all they belonged to different caste. No points for guessing that Amir was of the superior one and Hassan of a lower one. Their playtime and time together was punctuated by Amir doing his school work and Hassan doing the household chores. They shared an unusual bond. There were almost like brothers but something created an invisible rift between them, with Amir completely conscious of that rift whereas it hardly mattered to Hassan. Although they grew up together, they had qualities as different as opposite poles. Amir was more of a coward sadistic (at times) and selfish whereas Hassan, younger of both was the brave one and an epitome of a loyal friend and selflessness. These qualities formed the foundation for the entire story.

Growing up without a mother, Amir yearned for his father’s attention. He did whatever possible to get his father’s affection but little did he know that the father was dealing with his own demons. Hassan on other hand, also motherless, was happy and satisfied with whatever little he had and had no complaints. He selflessly, along with his father served Amir’s family and always stood up for his friend. And then came the ill-fated evening. The very qualities which outlined each boy till then outlined their entire life they had ahead of them. A moment of cowardice and selfishness started turmoil within Amir which stayed with him for almost two decades. Hassan, who bore the brunt of that ominous evening, tried to look beyond the evening, beyond Amir’s lack of guts and character and lived on with his life. That evening moulded the boys’ life henceforth and forever snapped the bond they shared. It separated them. Guilt, regret and questions stayed their companions. Amir moved to a different country and hoped that it would help him erase his shortcomings, mistakes and for a while that plan seemed to be working. Till a phone call which proved to be another turning point in his physically calm but emotionally turbulent life. The call diverted him back to his birth country and the truths that unravelled there proved too much to handle. What was it that made the coward Amir finally stand up and fight? Did he redeem himself of all the wrongs and finally lead a guilt-free, unburdened life is what you folks need to read and find out.

It is a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal, lost innocence and childhood and a child’s yearnings for affection, friendship and redemption. The loyalty portrayed by Khaled through Hassan almost seems unreal in today’s world, when people are getting more and more selfish and greedy with each passing day. While Amir portrays a dollop of the raw reality, Hassan is that slice of fantasy that people would wish for. This story proves that one moment is enough to alter a person’s entire life and there are some skeletons which just can’t be hidden in closets. They knock till they are dealt with. So sometimes, one just has to pull up their socks, gather the courage and face those demons because there’s no other option other than that. There are heart-wrenching moments and again, they are difficult to shake off. This book has a little more drama and is less heavy read compared to ATSS , but the as expected from Khaled, a beautiful tragedy was created. At some level, all of us would identify with Amir (loathing him at certain instances) and wish for a friend like Hassan and be like him. This is a book that’s worthy of being hailed as benchmark for ‘the most amazing friendship story’.

I saw the movie of the same a few days. Did it have all the scenarios mentioned in the book? Yes. Did it have the same effect as the book/were the emotions portrayed well? A big No. The incidents which felt me utterly sad or had the deepest impact when reading the book, left me with a ‘bleh’ when I saw the movie. So, while the book is totally unavoidable, the movie is better avoided.

 There is a line in the book which says that tragedies make good stories. Weirdly true in this case as this very line proves to be cent percent true for this story. This book will somehow manage to come back to you time and again, maybe when you see two little boys playing, or when colourful kites fill the sky or just when you see two friends who share something very strong yet fragile. If you haven’t read this book, don’t procrastinate like me. Just pick it up now and start reading.