Asian Writers

June is dedicated to authors with ASIAN ORIGIN....review of books in this category will be posted all month....

Monday, December 26, 2011

Season's Greetings & My last book review of the year

Sending out Merry Christmas and Happy New Year wishes to the universe :-)


Am reading the last book of the year - Indian Short Stories selected by Kushwant Singh [Vol 1], a collection of stories in the indian backdrop from some famous and some not so famous authors [surprisingly some famous names like Premchand didnt make it to the list].. the stories are short and as most of them are translated either from Hindi or Urdu, one can sense the lost in translation effect - the phrases that can be captured in one language cannot always make it to a different language without losing their beauty. I found most of the stories that I have read so far a bit abrupt without a clear message, also the earlier indian authors had a marked inclination towards sad endings...probably they mirrored the indian society problems of religion and poverty which we have been shielded from by our parents very effectively so find difficult to relate to.

I give it * * stars, pick it up for a journey or some situation where you dont have the luxuary to give undivided attention to the book. You can leave it in the middle and come back [which wont be difficult as its definitely not a page turner] and continue again without the "interuppted" feel.


Anyways this will be the last of my very brief reviews of the year - Will be back next year and hopefully 2012 would be more regularised with book reviews on a frequent basis...

Going back to creating the resolutions for 2012 [with generous inputs from my husband - good and bad ;-) ]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fiction Book Exchange

I am sure quite a few of you would have heard about book SWAPS -between strangers :-).

So as I have quite a few books [all original & in very good condition] that I have read [and re-read], I thought of letting it out to other book lovers in the country who would like to read them and in that way make space for new books.


Why am I doing this? - Because I cant keep buying books everytime and hoarding them up and in the country the library system is really poor, so this is my effort to find a solution for it.

For the complete list of books that are available please check the tab Book Swap
The rules for this exchange are simple and listed below:

    
1. Its open only for India

2. When you request for a book from the above as a comment to this article, mention a) why you want that particular book b) which book are you exchanging it for [provide me a list as I may have read some of them] c) a URL to your blog if you have one

3. The shipping cost [regular post] will be borne by me (obviously) and the only reason I am doing so will be because there will be a book in exchange that I will get for it [exceptions allowed if reason is genuine]. This is a complete TRUST based exchange, so there wont be any books in the future if you don’t play fair, which will be a loss to the other genuine book lovers out there as everyone will be a suspect going forward.

4. If there are multiple requests for the same book, the selection will be random pick between the names.

5. Once you get the book, please post an acknowledgement so that I know it has reached safe hands

6. The address where the book has to be shipped will be exactly what will be provided by you in an email to me.


Bhagavad Gita To be Banned?


“In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmological philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita , in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial” – Henry David Thoreu

I came across a news article today in the Economic Times (India) which published the news that the Bhagavad Gita (An Indian religious book equivalent to the Bible) is all set to be banned in Russia for fuelling “extremism and hatred”.


The Gita, as it is also known, is essentially a conversation between Lord Krishna and his favorite student/devotee Arjun before they go for the war (Mahabharat fought between Pandavas and Kauravas) and has been split into 700 verses (18 Chapters). The Lord Krishna gives a discourse on different subjects that plague the common mind and answers to which lead to self realization and relationship with God.

The conversations are in the form of verses in Sanskrit language, which I am not proud to say I don’t understand, and for the obtuse minds like me, there is an explanation that follows if you buy the English copy like the one I have.

I have never read the Gita, but I have heard it many times, [growing up with my granddad I would hear him chant the verses every morning religiously, which I am sure an experience many Indian children will share], chanted some of the verses in the morning prayer at high school [in school I was in a Convent so it was more of Christianity..], and also attended an ISKON gathering in Bay Area where the teacher (an American who spoke fluent Sanskrit I am ashamed to say) and his regular students (which also had a lot of fluent Sanskrit/Hindi speaking foreigners, ahem..) were discussing one of the verses and I happened to be present because one of my senior team member dragged me there with the lure of good food at the end of the session [yeah I know what you are thinking…].

So, seeing this article today was actually a surprise if not a complete shock. Unlike other religious books which do have content that are fascist and extremist, the Bhagavad Gita is quite a passive book so the thought process behind banning this book cannot be what is being told in the papers for sure.

But then with people like me and my generation and the next...who have never gotten around reading this book the question that comes to my mind is if the book will be lost into the oblivion eventually – with or without the ban?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Adverbs

Rating - * (for story) + * * (writing style)

You know the feeling when you are sitting with your favorite dessert in your hand [after days and days of being deprived of it...] and how much you relish and enjoy every bite yet somewhere there is a growing sadness that with every bite its also getting over? Its the exact same feeling that I had when I was reading this book.

I dont even think its possible that someone cannot like the writing - there were lines which upon reading all I could do was marvel at the geniusness [if thats a word] of the author and his creativity to come up with such beautiful expressions. I havent read any of his books but I already am a huge fan of Daniel Handler.

Of course, I have to also somewhere conceede that these are not your typical run of the mill kinds of short stories - no Kushwant Singh, Jhumpa Lahiri stuff - these are stories that are abstract leaving you to guess and correlate, and the fact that he repeats the names of his characters adds to this confusion and you kind of question yourself - is this the same Andrea? is this the same Joe? If you just look at the story then its very hard to appreciate this book and many will be tempted to abandon it mid way.

Don't pick up this book hoping that you will get a start and end, with a strong story in between. No, that is not something that will happen.
Pick up this book if you want to soak in some really good writing and let yourself bask in it - and just like you eat your dessert with relish, read this one with the same feeling dont rush through it or the magic will be lost.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Comedy of Errors

Rating - * * 1/2 *

Nope, this isnt Shakespeare. Its an Indian author and his commentaries on Project Management with the IT industry as the context.


I had purchased this book at the airport book stall seeing that it was a "thin" book with a humorous touch and so would help me during my dull flight back home. No prizes for guessing the reason why I am writing a review now.

So I picked it up day before yesterday morning and finished it by night - the pace was not rushed and I even snoozed for an hour or so and the other regular things like eating etc. This is a clear indication that this is a no-stress, light book and indeed that is the case.


Its a book in which a fictious manager "Bob" passes on pearls of wisdom on several subjects (project management, people management, strategy, self-management in terms of promotion, branding etc) to "Sam" to whom he has taken a sudden liking for reasons not clear till the very end of the book - actually the ending is so pathetic it made me weep -think the author got tired by then as he ran out of ideas and one-liners, some original and some borrowed and peppered with quite a few cliches.


Its a conversational style book which is very simplistic but that doesnt neccessarily make it bad Simplicity cant be bad else what can justify Chetan Bhagat's phenomenol and self-proclaimed success?? [sarcasm intended]. There are several anecdotes which are informative, funny and ring a bell of truth. I am not sure how much of it can be directly applied to work, but there are definitely some takeaways on "upward management" aka boss management, how to cosy up to your to-be customers, team bonding etc.


The author also does a fine balancing act in the very last segment of his book in which he talks about techniques and strategies related to self-promotion and branding. He lays out some tricks and then as if his consciousness gets the better of him in the end, he plays the "I am an honest guy with a good consciousness" card via Sam. This is typical Indian characteristic - we always shy away in the end after taking the first step in that direction for fear of appearing too greedy and self-motivated. Our "morality" gets the better of us in the end. Why? What is wrong in blowing your own trumpet, in today's corporate world if you have to prevent yourself from donning on the "invisible employee" cap, this has almost become a pre-requiste. Who am i kidding, I myself am still old school believing in the my work will speak for me...eye opener - and to quote Mr Prasana (though he cant claim IP for this line) - You get what you NEGOTIATE, not what you DESERVE. So true!! And we Indians with the slavery virus still running in our blood and ever so eager to please the others that we are horrible at negotiating.


The book will in many places come across as disconnected and without any theme or story line - which is because there is no story line. Its essentially a management book in a lighter vein. I am myself from the IT industry so as I read the book, I felt that it was something that I could write and that it was modeled after me. I am sure it will resonate 100% with all the indian IT folks out there and on which the author would have hoped to cash on.

[Interesting anecdotes - The Kalahari monkey and the Pharos-pyramid story analogy to the current software development projects is spot on.]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The A-Z ToDo List of 2012

I came across this idea in another blog.




Its quite simple - all you need to do is read one book that begins with the letters in the alphabet in 2012 i.e. 26 books each beginning with one of the alphabets.
Its got me pretty excited and I have created my list - well, almost created it...its still a long way to go and I have yet to finalize the list and fill in some of the placeholders, but then this is the fun part (the reading will of course follow).

So here's my list that I have come up till now -
A - Adverbs Couldn't wait till the New Year to start on this book .. now have to find a new one (updated Dec 12th)
B - Buy-o-logy Swapping this one for Bhagavad Gita to show my support after the proposed ban ( see my post ) BELOVED by Toni Morrison
C - Catch 22 or Catcher in the Rye...yet to finalize this one
D - Diary of a Wimpy Kid?
E - Extremely close & incredibly loud
F - Fast Food Nation (Depends if I will get a copy here..) I got this delivered by Flipkart (200bucks) and its on my shelf all set for reading.....
G - Great Indian Novel, The
 H, I, J - not yet decided
K - Kafka on the Shore
L - Liar's Poker or Life is Elsewhere? Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, The
M - Money
N - Neither here or there OR Not on the Label (dropped these options - being frugal is 2012's mantra!!)
O - One flew over the cuckoo's nest
P - Pappilon
Q - Quarantine
R - Rich Dad Poor Dad Ronald Dahl, Best Of
S - Strong Medicine OR Screw it, Lets do it? Selected Works of Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle - Sherlock Holmes
T - To kill a mocking bird (I have to have this one in the list, although there's really tough competition for "T")
U - Unaccustomed Earth OR Until I find you?
V - Vanity Fair (There has to be a classic)
W - Wish You Well?
X, Y,
Z - Zen and the Art of Mortorcycle Maintenance (finally I think after hearing so much about this book, I will finally read this one)  Zero Percentile 2.0 [got this in a giveaway]

So there is a lot of work still cut out for me, but I am still happy with some of the choices, but its a WIP so will be updating it soon and hopefully will have a fair mixture of all genres of book....Excited (rubbing my hands at the mere thought of it)

When God was a Rabbit

Rating - * * *
I am writing the review of this book after atleast 2 months of reading it and as usual my memory is playing tricks -- really what is with that? Is it me or the books not that impressionable? I think its the former, I am just playing lazy and not trying to stress too much (blame it on work, things have become so lethargic there that its casting a shadow on other things as well...)

If i dont stress I remember - Elly (the protagonist), her brother (Joe), her friend Jenny Penny (I was confused about this character, she had problems for sure but they were kind of hard to believe - why did she refuse to meet her best friend in jail?) her brother's gay friend (what was his name? doesn't matter either way), and a few other characters whose name i don't remember (but of course) however their eccentricities I do.

So its promoted as a book that highlights the relationship between a brother and sister - which is true. But it also portrays the crazy life that these two led. It was definitely not normal - I had a normal childhood were things were so predefined that you could predict what and how things would happen from the day you started school till you went to college... There was no psychotic Jew, no weird visitors or relatives in the family, no lotteries to be won and no gay love between anyone. Yes i understand that if it was so normal it wouldnt have been made into a novel, but the amalgamation of so many crazy and untoward accidents to the same group of people is possible only if they had been born with a really bad karma! (if you believe in that)


Also, the 9/11 context has become so overused (books, movies, documentaries...really when is it going to stop?) that it borders on being tacky now. Indeed it was a life altering event and Sarah Williams writes the chapters very subtly, yet its there and so are the ramifications of the event in the book. How Elly's brother loses his memory in the incident and then it all comes back to him (memory, sister and his boy friend...all of them) suddenly is nothing short of a miracle and kills the unpredictability aspect which is the charm of the book throughout. I am not sure why she succumbed to a happy ending that is so unrealistic. What is not understandable in this section is Elly's reaction and lack of empathy for her brother. I was unable to find any justification for it.

I got attracted to it due to its unusual name and was disappointed that the rabbit/god was treated with a lot of indifference and to me it seems that it was almost forced into the book as an after thought.

The book is cleverly written, subtle in style, some remarkable events and some irrelevant ones, some that leave you guessing about their purpose and some that make you nod your head along in agreement. Its a book that you will enjoy but for me I would rather borrow and read than buy it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Re-Reading Phase

I am going through a re-reading phase for books, for no apparent reason.
Was purusing through the limited stock of books that I have right now (post shifting houses and a life as well) when I came across Atlas Shrugged. Its been 6 years since I had read this one, and with my limited memory serving as an aid i.e. having no recollection of the book, I started reading it. The pace is excruciatingly slow - juggling with work, home and whatever time is left after that with a few pages of the book. What is making it more daunting is the fact that Rand is a complex writer. Every sentence of hers has numerous implications and meaning and absorbing each line is an effort. This is not one of the books that you can take up for a light read for sure. It actually makes me wonder how I read it the first time (ok a little confession here - I didnt actually finish the book, abandoned it towards the very end). But still its a classic which any genuine lover of books has to read.

The other book that I am planning on re-reading from my collection is "A million little pieces" , "Liar's Poker" and one of the John Grisham's just to lighten up the process. Thinking about the re-reads it makes me realize that I can practically re-read all of them - I seem to have forgotten most of it....I wonder if other readers also have this same experience...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Chick Lits of the trashy category

Chick flicks (umm what is the equivalent of that for books?) of the sub standard quality.

Chasing Harry Winston - 1/2 *
I dont know how she does it - * *


I have made some bad judgments and at times I have made unforgivable judgments. And buying “Chasing Harry Winston” was one of them. I don’t know what I was thinking then & I don’t know what I am thinking about it still….

There should be a ban to publish such low and sub-standard books and use the marketing hype of previous bestsellers (even that surprises me) to sell shoddy work!

I completed the book, flipped through multiple pages at a time without even reading and yet ended up having a headache. The three characters (the author obviously wrote this when she was sleep deprived and had lost complete control over her writing abilities) are shallow, confused and apparently have nothing better to do in their life than to die over boys/men and have stupid get together and some how things miraculously work for them in work and in personal life – LAME, oh so Lame…. What a shame! And what a shame on me to even read it..yukkk….makes me sick even thinking about it…am using up all my self control to not dump this one into the garbage can. If anyone wants a free copy, let me know asap!! (ps – but don’t shoot me after that)

Poor writing, no memorable characters, situation – junk.

The other one that I read was “I don’t know how she does it”. Actually let me correct that. I “re-read” this one as I had nothing better to do. I had also clearly forgotten the book entirely with very few sections that I still somehow vaguely recollected as having read before….but it was surprising that the book turned out to be a new read for me the second time round.

Anyways, coming back to the book and a possible reason why I don’t remember reading it was because I couldn’t relate to the main character – a working successful mother of 3 kids who is juggling (obviously) both work and home. Why can’t authors come up with more innovative themes?(a corollary would be why readers (i.e me) can’t read more innovative books?) But, the change this time around was that I could empathize with the character atleast 50%...er…because this time around I had gone from single to married – perhaps I should read it a third time..you can guess when…

It’s not bad, better than Crappy Harry Winston – atleast it has some smart writing that does guarantee some good laughs, plus has more believable character who for a change are not losing sleep over men (atleast its not the single most thought all the time in their head). What was sad to know that she struggles so hard to maintain her work had to quit for home (although in the end she tries to indicate a reversal) is not a message that should go out in today’s world where most of the firms are finding ways to keep their women employees at work post motherhood.


Again not a book men (read husbands) would be interested in and this is solely for the married and working women out there – read it and forget it.

The color Purple

* * *
I came across the name of this book from one of the mailers of Oprah’s website that I had subscribed to. Since then it had always been on my mind as a book I had to read – why? Well for starters the name stood out and for the other obvious reason that it had won the Pulitzer. (Should one of the reasons have been that it was referred by Oprah…?)


BTW, this is a 2 decades old book and not easily available. So when I saw it thrown across one of the book shelves of the bookstore that I frequent (due to the lack of any other store in the vicinity) I picked it up without a second thought.

The book surprised me – I was not expecting a “letter-format” book addressed to “God” – I had my fill of such letters, but the content of these letters was different and that kept me hooked. Its written with a different narrative style, the English very old African that at times was a little confusing to follow (and required re-reading).

It’s about a lot of things – the “color” regime that was prevalent in the 40s, the oppression of the women back then and let’s be honest still now (perhaps to a lesser degree), gay love, the Christian missionaries – but the thing that sticks with you long after is the innocence and simplicity of the main character and you sort of blend into her life and smile and cry with her in equal measure.

But then there are strong characters and controversial themes as well that are a sharp contrast to Celie (the main character, did I mention that?). Sofia is one such person – growing up among men she has learnt to fight them unlike Celia who is quite servile and subjugates to all the pain and humiliation – be it from her father or her husband. Even when Sofia is jailed and later out of it her pride and do or die spirit at times makes you shake your head in wonder and you kind of get to be in awe of her.

The disappointing character for me in this whole novel and around whom the story sort of wraps itself as does Celie is Shug Avery. She is supposed to be the role model for Celie, however, in my view her characterization falls short and does not in any way mesmerize the readers (i.e me) as it did Celie and her husband (and other lovers). That is one failing in the book for me as I fail to see the reason why Celie is so in love with her (now this is the controversial theme that I was talking about – all the gay love – I could do without this too).

Another thing that was not required was Nettie’s detailed life in Africa. It was unnecessary and distracted from the main story and for me actually made it quite boring in parts. The rest of the characters are also quickly forgotten….

It was after a long time that I got my hand on a decent book that it was too much for me to put a pause on the reading. But I had to as I had to go to work. And there I killed quite a bit of the fun by reading the summary of the novel on Wikipedia. That was a foolish thing to do. But even after that the book was a lovely read and is recommended (although it will appeal more to the women readers than the men because of it’s…er…subject)

The Color Purple