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Showing posts from 2014

In the Year 2889 by Jules Verne (or possibly Michel Verne)

Somehow with every passing day, my tastes in reading are inching towards the wildly fantastical rather than the thought-provoking. My current reading list would attest to that. As I noted in an earlier post, I had picked up this article In the Year 2889 purely out of my utter reverence for Jules Verne, and I dare say that I derived some childish pleasure in reliving some of his visions. 
I wouldn't certainly put this up as must-read, but for a 'futuristic' article, it serves its purpose quite well. As the title suggests, the article follows a day in the life of a Rupert Murdoch-ish character in the year 2889. You should remember that the article was written in late 19th century and most of the author's fantasies have been already realised. Some are yet to be conceptualised though, and make for good imaginative reading. 
The work however lacks the awe-inspiring nature of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island, and sounds more like a wishful after-dinner…

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

This was my first H.G. Wells. After The Caine Mutiny I was looking for something entirely different to read and science fiction was the obvious choice. Flitting through Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, I came across this. And I think it was OK. 

The premise of the story was far too mundane for today; in fact it even surpasses today's thought-processes - it is, after all, about Martians attacking the earth. Nevertheless, there is something attractive about the way the book starts. It is a first person narrative, and hence is a slightly rambling, personal account, with plenty of digressions and explanations. There are negligible dialogues and a few flitting characters besides the narrator himself.
What holds the story together, is however, the timelessness of the concept of chaos. I have always scoffed at what a good friend calls 'apocalyptic doomsday scenario' plotlines, but The War of the Worlds brings out very accurately, the repercussions of mass panic in the face of the sai…

The Caine Mutiny - Herman Wouk

I remember that there have been some books that have left me utterly sucker-punched: To Kill a Mockingbird (my favourite), Stuart - A Life Backwards, Birdsong, The Catcher in the Rye (my second favourite), Apollo 13 and HMS Ulysses. (I'm sure there are more, but these are the few that come of the top of my head). These books have mostly made me walk around like zombies, thinking and re-thinking and feeling incredibly insignificant and ashamed of my pettiness. When I recall my feelings during or after having finished these books, I can almost pin-point the instant of the change in my thought process. 
Then there are others - Rebecca, The Casual Vacancy and quite possibly I Capture the Castle for instance, upon finishing which I have heaved a sigh, smiled to myself and thought, "Now, that's a proper thinking man's book", not quite realising that I did not really understand all the thinking that went into the pages; at least not until much later. My mother put it d…

Reading List - December

Last month of the year ! The weather is near perfect and the prospect of snuggling up with a book and a steaming cup of tea is increasingly taking the shape of the carrot dangling before me every day. I had a spell of slightly frenzied reading in November, what with The Caine Mutiny and The Golem's Eye, so this month I decided to keep things light and fun. 
1. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells: I had heard of it as a kid, and tucked it away as one of the innumerable stories I swore I would read some day. All these years later, as I was browsing through my Kindle store, I came across it again. I started the book a couple of days back and am quite delighted to find that the story is very much on its way right from the first page. Considering that the novel was penned in 1897, the language is not in the least stuffy and the descriptions are remarkably cinematic. There has been very little exchange of dialogues yet, and the Martians have already arrived on the scene, though their de…

Cult of Crime - Franklin W. Dixon (and a brief history of my early reading days)

This was pure guilty pleasure ! And given a chance, I would plop myself down with a Hardy Boys right now and try to finish two at one go...
I got introduced to The Hardy Boys when I was at school and as far as I remember, that is how I got hooked to reading in the first place. I mean, there were conscious efforts by well-wishers to induct me into the bookworm's club but as a kid, I was more annoyed than pleased when I found that about eighty percent of my birthdays gifts were books (I sound like Dudley Dursley). How the times have changed !
My high school library was a real gem. It was always choc-a-block with all kinds of books and besides my parents, I owe my reading interests entirely to the apparently glum-faced librarian, who often let me in during lunch breaks and suggested titles to me and kept aside a particular edition if she saw that I was distraught about not getting it next week (we were permitted to issue two books at a time). Well into my plus two levels, when most …

The Golem's Eye - Jonathan Stroud

Well, Stroud sure has a very endearing way of treating his characters. I finished The Golem's Eye a little before lunch today and though there were times in the book when I felt like things were slacking a bit, in the end, I was filled with the same warmth and snorting-smile-to-self as had happened at the end of The Amulet of Samarkand. It was a good story and even better story-telling. 
Perhaps the latter supersedes the former. 
The plot isn't exactly genius, if you discount the use of detailed mythology and historical facts, which, on the other hand, is spot on. I like the way Stroud weaves through his characters and actions, more than trying to build up unnecessary potboiler-suspense. The book benefits from the firmly established characters of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus and some other side characters, and the add-ons to their existing layers of personalities appear well-thought of and disconcertingly real. The opening pages of the book were absolutely riveting, but in all fa…

Reading List - November

Its a week into November already, and I am rolling over October's due The Golem's Eye into this month. (Yes, I never manage to meet my targets!). Besides, that I have a feeling, its going to be a well-balanced month, considering that there is one of each of the boisterous, the light and presumably the nerve-racking.
1.  James Herriot's Dog Stories: Reading James Herriot is one of the surest ways of uplifting the spirits. While I have read most of his other collections of stories, I never really got round to this collection, as my mother wisely thought it would exclude the cows, the pigs, the cats and the horses. But my last library book was The Night Watch, so I decided to take up Dog Stories anyway (and especially since I'm a dog-person!). I've read a few chapters and, though I had already read quite a few of them in his earlier collections, it isn't dimming the sparkle one bit. Its absolutely delightful! What's more fun is that this omnibus also includes …

HMS Ulysses - Alistair MacLean

Trying to pass off my opinions on HMS Ulysses would be a grave error of judgement. So I shall not. I hardly get the time to read as much as I want to, and so I try to pick books which I am fairly sure I'll enjoy. A lot depends on the mood that I am in at that point in time, which enables me to stick to the end. 
And then there are stories like the HMS Ulysses. They create their own mood. They shove you, face first, into an unimaginable world which is so unfathomably different from the your own environment that you almost forget to breathe. There is an attraction, like a fly-trap; I knew all along what would happen and that it would break my heart, and yet I couldn't stop myself from hurtling towards it.

HMS Ulysses is an aggregation of numerous complicated stories, which consolidates into a fairly simple one. There are no usual twists and clifffhangers, for the simple reason that the entire premise of the story is itself one giant cliffhanger. The shock factor is omnipresent, …

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield

"If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moment count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time." - Commander Chris Hadfield
This line appears in the ending section of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, and in my opinion, this concept is the nucleus around which Commander Chris Hadfield - the first Canadian to walk in space - has beautifully woven the fabric of his days at NASA. I am not particularly inclined towards non-fiction in general, and had picked this book mainly because I had just finished reading Jim Lovell's and Jeffrey Kluger's high-octane Apollo 13 - another work of pure non-fiction, which felt anything but - and going through the brilliant photos and videos tweeted by astronaut Karen Nyberg during her stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of Expedition 36/37 in 2013. In short, I had something of a grounding on what to expect, but as I began and finished the book, I was pleasan…

When Eight Bells Toll - Alistair MacLean

OK, so this is my excuse for not having been on top of my September target. The book was lying on the shelf, cosily fitted between two severely tattered editions of a monthly that my mom reads, and I was still recovering from the disappointment of San Andreas. Its times like these, that I get weak-kneed, and despite the voice in my head speaking words of wisdom, I decide that I should live in the moment and make a grab for the book; to hell with targets!
I may not be saying this too often, but I'm glad about my impetuousness. 
When Eight Bells Toll is apparently the only MacLean to have been set in the waters around his native Scotland (the rest of his sea-faring stories are based further north, near the Arctic Seas). The story is a very typical MacLean; the sea, the vessels, the gales, the stealth, the nerve-racking danger... It had all the trappings for a James Bond movie (minus the tux, maybe). The story begins almost in an instructive mode, the topic of discussion being the wo…

Reading List - October

Well, October began 12 days back, and I have to admit to some lack of discipline in my reading challenge for September. I finished The Night Watch and San Andreas in time, though An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is still very much a work-in-progress. Besides, a week-long trip to home culminated in further digression, as I picked up some other works too (which I shall report on in due time). So, I'll be rolling forward the last month's dues and fix my targets for October, some of which I have already embarked on. 
1. The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2: The Golem's Eye by Jonathan Stroud: The trilogy came highly recommended to me by a colleague and Book 1: The Amulet of Samarkand did manage to hold my attention rather well. Given that everything magical pales in comparison to Harry Potter, I was wary of embarking on The Amulet, reminding myself of how I had been disappointed in Artemis Fowl. But its been quite some time since Harry saw off his sons on the Hogwarts Expre…

San Andreas - Alistair MacLean

I never thought I will live to say this, but I was disappointed with this one. I finished with San Andreas a couple of weeks back, and I can still feel like I have a few pages left.
The story was a typical MacLean - set aboard a maimed ship in a wicked sea, infested with the enemy. There was the stoic bo'sun Archie McKinnon and the usual Scots stereotypes, the incapacitated captain, the strong, intelligent but naive nurse Janet, and several other members of the crew, a number of whom get eliminated quite early on. The suspense however remains, as the ship is crippled by saboteur/(s) and time is running out as the incredibly clairvoyant bo'sun scrambles desperately to remain ahead of the mysterious moves of the nasty Germans. Unlike some of the last few novels of MacLean, this one did not disappoint in terms of action. There was quite enough (but not too much) of leaping about and swimming in cold waters and battling the blizzard, punctuated by lengthy, sardonic discussions, w…

The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

It seemed quite improbable that I would be able to finish any book this week, but I held my ground and wrapped up The Night Watch last evening. I've been thinking about the book ever since and have realised that the more I brood on it, the clearer it gets to me. 
This was my first novel of Sarah Waters' and I can see why she is such a popular author. The Night Watch is set in the period between 1941 and 1947, effectively straddling the WW II. As I read through the pages, I was astounded at how the author went about from one incident to another, which were all set in a vast range of circumstances - both ordinary and extreme - and noted them almost factually, but still did not undermine the shock factor and imagery. Perhaps, it was the richness of details - which Waters has gone to extreme lengths to describe meticulously - which cushioned the jarring notes the incidents could otherwise have rung. A wealth of research work has gone into the making of this novel and the intimacy…

Reading List - September

I am one of those readers who likes to have a balanced diet, unless it is something like Harry Potter, which will have my whole, undivided attention at all times of the day (bad news for my academic endeavours in the past and my professional engagements now). Since I am not very picky about what I read, I have, on an average at least three books in my WIP list. This month, these three are on my bedside:

1.The Night Watch by Sarah Waters: This was the result of my random browsing through the booklist of the British Council Library, and I was caught by the synopsis… “This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past – drawn with absolute truth and intimacy… Their lives and their secrets connect in sometimes startling way.  Wars lead to strange alliances…”. The book is partitioned in three sections and I have just finished the first one. So far it has captivated me well enough.
2. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield: It has been nearly a yea…

Asterix and the Black Gold - The Crazy Gauls !

I was at the mall yesterday. One thing led to another and I found myself browsing for books at the only bookstore in the mall. Since I hadn't planned out on what to buy, I was mostly flitting between the aisles, thumbing the spines and standing on tip-toes to look at the ones beyond the reach of my vision. I ended up at the graphic novels section (I always feel like saying 'comics' instead of 'graphic novels'; the latter is politically correct, but 'comics' has a happy ring to it), and my eyes stopped over a shelf full of Asterix. I went home, among other things, with Asterix and the Black Gold
The thing that caught my attention was the cover illustration of Obelix in a desert, carrying a camel on his back. 

The plot is fairly simple - the Gaulish village has run out of rock oil (or petroleum to you and me) which is apparently an important ingredient for the potions that druid Getafix brews. Consequently, there is nothing that can save the little village…

Partisans - Alistair MacLean

So this is my first post on this blog and I want to do the honours by starting off with one of my favourite authors - Alistair MacLean. I don't know if you are going to judge me for this, but his books are quick-fix solution for most of my mood swings. Though not all of his books are superbly brilliant and coherent, I continue to enjoy his characters more than the plot. My first tryst with MacLean was Partisans when I must have been thirteen or fourteen and the affection lingers even now. 
Partisans is set in the middle of WW II and follows the journey of the suave protagonist Major Peter Peterson and his friends/enemies through treacherous lands and seas. The principle group comprises of five men and two women, all of whom give away far less than necessary. They are all moving towards the common goal of reaching Yugoslavia in one piece - chiefly with the help of Major Peterson - but their ulterior motives make for several life-and-death situations on the way. 
This is a very cloa…