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Showing posts from 2017

Top 10 books to read when you are depressed

Books are handy weapons to stave off blues - be it the dregs of the Sunday evening or a nasty bout of flu. When you are depressed, it takes herculean efforts to shake off the feeling. And I'm not even talking about the more severe, clinical form of depression. I can't get myself to pour myself a glass of water the day after Diwali; on Fridays on the other hand, I am the epitome of eternal sunshine. For such moody, dull days, these top 10 books are the surest way to dust a little sparkle in your life.
1) Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog): This is Jerome K. Jerome at his absolute best. It was published some 130 years back and is still capable of eliciting raucous laughter. It is the honest journal of three young, bumbling flatmates and their dog on a river cruise. Look out for some meandering, pedantic pages, but they offer some relief from the relentless humour. 
2) James Herriot'sDog Stories: If you love animals (and dogs, in particular), this is the ultimate…

A Legacy of Spies - John Le Carre

Genre: Fiction
Sub-genre: Spy-thriller
Rating: 4.5/5

Sometimes, I really do feel that an intelligence organisation must be very much like any other workplace. What is at balance is certainly much more valuable and capable of altering the course of history. All the same, it is a workplace, an office with employees and clients. 
John Le Carre's Circus is thus a workplace. It behaves as drudgingly as one, and there lies the connect that every single book about this agency elicits in its readers. A Legacy of Spies is fittingly another installment in the legacy of the Circus. The murky past catches up with my beloved Peter Guillam in his retirement years; it unlocks suppressed corners of his heart and makes him revisit the morality of his life's work. I say his, but I really do mean in the plural. 
Le Carre's stories have always been remarkably steeped in cynicism, and part of me believes that we still love them because, in some dark way, they resonate with our daily experienc…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes

Genre: Fiction
Sub-genre: Autobiographical narration/mystery
Rating: 4.5/5

It won the Man Booker in 2011 for good reason. As I have mentioned in this post of mine, the number of pages is hardly the yardstick of the intensity of a story. I can safely club The Sense of An Ending with the likes of Of Mice and Men or Animal Farm; their slender spines pack a whopping punch. 
Middle-aged Antony 'Tony' Webster mirrors the common folk. His demeanour and personality are not uncommon. The story centres on a particular episode in his life, described in his own self-flattering, borderline-pitying tone. What began as a perplexing letter, ends in the unlidding of the Pandora's box. 
The genius of the story rests on the author's ability to turn the tide - not once,  but repeatedly - for and against the narrator. This is like an extended diary entry not meant for anyone's eyes. save the author himself. The recordings are true, but then truth is so qualitative, so relative and so …

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

How are rugs and books related

As a child, I was pretty indifferent to rugs or carpets. Back at home, they always existed. They were scrubbed and vacuumed and dirtied and dribbled upon and I didn't quite imagine life without it. Till I moved out. 
Basic amenities do not cover rugs, far less, carpets. The first few days I didn't mind, basking in my new-fangled independence, traipsing over bare floors with un-socked feet. Eventually though, the irremovable stains on the bathroom floors made it clear that, in the absence of carpetting, a near-permanent use of slippers is a must.
Then came the winters. It brought the chill from all possible directions, including and especially, the floor. The soles of my feet must have been frostbitten on a regular basis and I yearned for the luxury of a nice woolly carpet to sink my feet in. As a conscientious student out making her life (not very successfully), I chose to brave the chilblains (they were not, really). 
It wasn't until I was married that I invested in carp…

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell

Genre: Autobiography (may be a bit fictionalised, but who cares!) Rating: 4.5/5

When you are down and out and in need of some form of strong restorative, My Family and Other Animals is the medicine to resort to. Contrary to popular belief, you need not be in love with animals (though it certainly helps if you are) to read this book. It is a slap on the face of turmoil and a reminder that when life is down in the dumps, there are always a few cicadas around to marvel at (or whatever catches your fancy). 
My Family and Other Animals is not the first of Gerald Durrell's writing expeditions, but it sure is his masterpiece. By the time he had begun writing this book, he was a reasonably seasoned hand at mounting expeditions and collecting animals all over the globe. In 1956, recovering from a bout of jaundice, Durrell penned this sweet little piece of work about his life as a child on the Greek island of Corfu. 
My Family and Other Animals is a collection of short stories, mapping the e…

Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

Genre: Thriller Rating: 5/5

'Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' The epic opening line to Rebecca ushers the unsuspecting readers into the docile, slightly sad life of a young girl, who shall remain nameless throughout. Rebecca is one of the crowning works of Daphne Du Maurier, the others being The Scapegoat, My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica. It can be safely proclaimed that nothing really comes close to Rebecca
Rebecca starts as a meek little story, like its protagonist. It seems as timid as Little Women, wherein a young girl is swept off her feet by the taciturn, kind gentleman Monsieur Maxim de Winter. It ends in the two getting married within a fortnight of their meeting.

The marital life of the girl starts like any other, filled with trepidation, doubt and a lot of love. As days pass, she finds cues in her magnificent marital home - Manderley - and gets acquainted with the household. Not everyone is friendly, certainly not a particular Mrs. Danvers - who is ope…

I am currently reading...

The Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. This is proving to be a very empowering read, which I believe was the whole point of the book anyway. For those judge a book by its cover (which is also pretty badass), it really doesn't seem to even skirt the edges of feminism. At its crudest, it is a collection of stories and their analyses to help rediscover what it means to be a woman. If it sounds redundant, then it goes to show howo much we need this book. 
I must say, books of this kind are not up my alley. It feels too verbose (even by my standards) and the bluntness induced by my utter worldly view of things makes it really difficult for me to penetrate the exuberance of being a woman, as noted in the book. I am just three chapters down, so it wouldn't possibly be wise to quote a favourite right now, but La Loba seems very ethereal. The whole concept of some force (our own, presumably) that can join broken, littered pieces, is deeply appealing. 
Newspapers a…

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic, Drama Rating: 5/5
There is no arguing the sheer brilliance of John Steinbeck. The long list of accolades and the controversy he had courted in his days (some of which still continues) is proof of his influence in the current society. Some deem him (astoundingly) mediocre, partly on account if his opinionated take on events; others, consider his work as American classic. Neither argument is completely false, though I, personally, align myself with the latter. If it would be possible to keep aside for a moment, the political ramifications of Steinbeck's work, one cannot deny the strength of his writings. He does not waste words; his economy only accentuates the somewhat lean personality of the settings and the characters. Everything is stripped unappealingy bare and covered flimsily with sardonic humour. A bit like J.D. Salinger, in some ways, but with a bigger lens on the society.    
The man is a Nobel laureate (the logic of which, too, is widely contested), and his…

The Friday Feeling

The tedious march that began on Monday is coming to a halt by today evening... the week is wrapping up and I am unwrapping myself from the cocoon of drudgery to welcome, with open arms, the onset of the weekend. 
I know my weekend won't amount to much (the more the the anticipation, the more I sleep). Here's the plan, anyway. I shall compare on Monday on a wistful note. 
Will read:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Manfred. I can't possibly deal with the views of Clarissa Estes in Women Who Run With The Wolves against the backdrop of those of the megalomaniac Hitler. Manfred keeps reminding me of Montreux and is so my happy place.  Will bake: Egg muffins. I just learnt that they are super easy and non-messy. And the husband loves it. So.  Will visit: The aquarium store! Yay! I have been circulating the water in my aquarium this past week and it is sitting pretty and petite, churning water and bubbles, waiting for its inhabitants. I miss my original brood, though. Sig…

I am currently reading...

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. This is a heavy read and a very big one (I am only at 7% on my Kindle and I began a week back). 
My interest in this book was piqued by a colleague who is in the habit of picking up and tackling esoteric volumes that leave me feeling markedly inferior. Of course, I had let the complex slide, until a couple of weeks back, when I was at the theatre watching Dunkirk (what an amazing movie!), and realised that I am an ignorant fool. That night, I downloaded the book on my Kindle. 
So far I have reached only upto the parts where the young Adolf Hitler has just completed the Munich Beerhall Putsch. The chapter ends with snippets of Mein Kampf.  Those parts were probably the hardest and I had to reread each paragraph twice to get through the convoluted language and the horribly twisted ideology (I mean, how did people fall for this in the first place ?). That, right there, is slowing me down too. 
The preliminary details about Hitler…

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Genre: Contemporary
Rating: 5/5

Stories about expats make for a very touching read. As a Bengali myself, I have revelled in reading about the idiosyncrasies of my community. But somewhere, they touch a bittersweet chord. I may not have stayed long enough to be a pure-bred Bengali, but snippets from my culture still fill me with a sense of love and belonging. 
The Namesake was all about the prodigal son. Set in Massachusetts, the story chronicles the life of one Nikhil Gogol Ganguli, starting from the time his parents met and set shop in the city and ending in him finding his way back. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli lead a very docile life in Massachusetts; Ashoke as a professor with the MIT and Ashima, as a new bride, coming to terms with a whole new kind of life, both as a married woman and in an alien country. Baby Gogol, named after the Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol, journeys through life as more of an American than as a Bengali, creating sweet memories and clashes along the way. The ab…

The Fatal Englishman - Three Short Lives by Sebastian Faulks

Genre: Biography
Rating: 4/5
There is something romantic about the English way of living; it has perhaps become more so now. Even the English themselves no longer stay the same way as during the wide span of time of Sebastian Faulks' work. It certainly wasn't romantic back then. The English have had their share of the good and the bad; they have been hated and revered. And through all of this, like in every other civilisation, the society and its principles have ruled the overarching impression we have created of and about them. But really, we are all humans; how different can we be after all ? Not much it seems. 
The Fatal Englishman  is set over seven odd decades, and chronicles the prodigy (in more ways , referring to things beyond just talent) of three remarkable British citizens. The common tie is the fact that they all died terribly young, barely having touched the thirties. They all hailed from different aspects of life - Christopher (Kit) Wood - a well-remembered (if not…

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

The morbidity of tragedy doesn't diminish its astounding nature, particularly if it is well-documented. Its like witnessing a gory accident - our mind instructs us to stop looking into details but curiosity is hard to abate, much to our own extreme discomfort. I am not uninitiated to the topic of the Everest, and more specifically, the darker aspect of it, having read a few accounts of George Leigh Mallory - who remains a quaint personal inspiration. Irrespective to the same, high altitude tragedies do not seem to blunt the pang I feel - several thousand feet vertically below the scene of action - for the men and women up the slopes. And what men and women they are...
Into Thin Air is no mean feat. Of course, being based on the painful spring of 1996, when the majestic mountain claimed the highest toll since foot was set upon it with the purpose of summitting it (later outrun by the events of 2014 Everest avalanche and the avalanches triggered by the 2015 Nepal earthquakes). Jon K…

The Relevance of Myth

Like good manners, mythology, in all cultures, is an inadvertent, yet obvious ingredient in a child's rearing. This in itself, is something of an aberration, given that mythical incidents and characters are hardly ever the epitome of ideal or good behaviour. The ultimate outcome is all that matters. Mostly it pertains to the good-over-evil card, or absolute faith or sheer strength. As children, these tales generate awe. To adults, well, we just note the discrepancies; some of us move on, others hold on.

The real purpose of mythology is not to mobilise our good senses. These can be viewed as guides in leading a sane life. Mythology appears based on  very real experiences. Their characters, when one considers dispassionately, are as flawed as me and you. They are scared, hurt, ecstatic; they wage wars, plunder, have fits of anger, cheat, love, lose and do every other thing in the book (pun intended) to live by. Their condensation into a powerful rhetoric is what does the trick. Tha…

The Long and Short of It

Call it stuffy, but there'a a charm about long-winded sentences. 
People my age - and by that I mean the early-to-mid thirties - have had a disgusting time with school texts, which were expressly chosen for their remarkable abstruseness. Most of us were put off with the language, given the  endless probing into seemingly harmless pieces of text and losing marks to our seemingly erroneous interpretations (at this age, I am told that I am never wrong, I can decipher things the way I want; evidently an adult's imagination holds more value than a teenager's). Abstruse works were seldom long-winded, but vice-versa always held true, and does so - to some extent - even now. Excerpts from classics (I remember Shakespeare's pieces - abridged, they said but that didn't make a spot of difference at that age) lacked any modern adherence to placements and abounded in queer, archaic phrases jumbled in a sentence spanning three lines; we were taught conjunctions like 'nevert…