What I’m Reading

Every so often, I list out the books I’ve managed to eke out precious time to read. The time constraints imposed by a day job and a baby means I have less time to read than ever before, so my annual totals are nothing to write home about. I have dipped from an average of 3 books a week to perhaps 1 or 2 a month.

Despite that, however, I recently read and enjoyed five rather popular and well-reviewed novels.

 

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

I recently joined a readers group on Facebook that has fuelled my reading like nothing else has before! This one was recommended by one of the members there who had posted the link to it as it is available online. This is an amazing science-fiction novella, though the title might scare away potential readers who might mistakenly believe it is a software engineering textbook. The story revolves around “digients” – digital pets who are trained to grow and gain intelligence, and how their human owners strive to maintain them.

 

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Here’s a book that I wanted to read before watching the movie. I had read so much about it but finally I caved in and read it. A young girl called May joins a Google-type company, and while initially she’s lost at sea, she eventually gets sucked into its vortex. Reviews online have criticized it for adding nothing new to the conversation about tech companies like Google becoming an overarching monopoly, which I agree, but I enjoyed reading it nevertheless and totally recommend it.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The TV show is making waves on Hulu but I haven’t started on it yet. This is another one that I wanted to read first before watching the show, and I’m glad I did. It’s dark, foreboding, but page-turning, more quiet and literary than a thrilling adventure. For some reason it brought to my mind Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, though they have nothing in common apart from both being dystopian novels. Read it at leisure, and wait for the drama to slowly unfold.

 

Carrie by Stephen King

I have to shamefully admit here that I have NEVER read a Stephen King book other than On Writing because he writes primarily horror! I am very squeamish and even violent or gory thrillers give me sleepless nights. But I caught the movie version of Carrie and generally knew the story, enough to know that it was well-within my tolerance limits. So this became the first Stephen King novel I have read. And I, of course, loved it. I am glad to have read it and will be seeking out more of the same, non-gory stuff that he’s written. This one is not gory (in my opinion, YMMY), and recommended for all who are on the fence like me about Stephen King.

 

 

Unbroken by Nadhika Nambi

I came across this on my Juggernaut app and simply started reading without any context or background, knowing only that it was YA. A few pages in, it dawned on me that the protagonist Akriti is in a wheelchair, which is probably what fuels her acerbic chain of thoughts.

I have to say – it was an engrossing read. The author writes sensitively from the POV of the teenager, who is suffering twice the regular teen angst thanks to her situation. My only gripe with this book is that the character of the brother is a bit of a Mary Sue – almost too good to be true, but nevertheless, this is a great read for young and old alike!

 

Note: All links above are Amazon affiliate links.

 

Have you read any good books lately?

Jane Austen in India!

I had blogged earlier about the inclusion of my essay ‘Jane Austen Lives in India’ in the anthology Cocktails with Miss Austen.

Here’s a tantalizing glimpse of the print books!Jane.jpg

The book is out in the world since November. It had a great launch day and even made it to number one in Amazon UK’s hot new releases in its category. Just above Philip Pullman at no. 2 and Umberto Eco at no. 3 – so we have some famous company!

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What’s more – we’ve even bagged our first 4-star review! I was thrilled to find it mentions my essay specifically, as well as two other brilliant ones!

These “conversations on the world’s most beloved author,” as the book’s subtitle has it, are charmingly informative: Pride and Prejudice serialized on TV in India and a rapt teenager and her mother both, in their own way, musing about the man the teenager — Gargi Mehra, one of the collection’s seventeen contributors — should marry. Another piece with a fine meditation on the subject of complicated lives by the Australian writer Imogen Armstrong Orr, who has learned from Jane Austen that “. . . the quietness of the lives lived in her pages highlights the passion of the women who live them.” When I tired of reminiscence and craved some straight lit crit I found it in several essays, my favorite being one combining the two, mingling criticism with anecdote. Elizabeth Davis’ “Jane on the Brain” is an occasionally hilarious account of the author leading a class of young American students around England as well as around their much loved Jane Austen.

The subject is so close to my heart that the essay was relatively easier to write. The words flowed when I was writing and all I had to do was edit it for clarity and structure in my subsequent drafts.

The book is a treat for Jane Austen fans, and it would make a great Christmas/ New Year gift! It is available for only $0.99 on the Kindle store right now. Do pop over and take a look! Please leave a review if you read the book and like it!

I’ll be sitting curled up with my own copy meanwhile!

ReadingBook

The Big Birthday

Not mine, but Harry Potter and JK Rowling.

Twenty years ago, the story of a boy wizard and his adventures lit up our lives. Seven books totaling around four thousand pages gave us more than we needed for the rest of our lives to obsess over.

Only, I didn’t buy into this particular bestselling phenomena until the fourth book was out.

I had been aware of the hype building up around Harry Potter, which had reached a peak around book 4, but I contented myself with the knowledge that I never read much fantasy anyway, and even if I did I wouldn’t delve into childish tales of wizards and witches flying around on brooms like imbeciles casting spells on one another for lack of anything better to do.

Boy, was I wrong.

Around a year before the fifth book released, I spoke to my sister, a voracious reader just like me. She said, have you read Harry Potter?

I said, no, why would I?

She said, read it. It’s like John Grisham for children.

Are you serious?

Get it now!

But I was still not sure. And I was weary of shelling out money and more importantly purchasing books that would further add to the burdens on my already ever-groaning bookshelf. Fortunately, I had a neighbor who was also a fan – a teenage boy who had read the books to tattered bits. I loaned them from him. He was kind enough to loan them to me, albeit with a sigh. I just can’t wait for book five, he said.

I thought: What losers! What could be so suspenseful that you couldn’t wait a little for a silly book?

That evening I read the first book. It was fun! I couldn’t guess the villain, which disappointed me profoundly.

I read the second book. I didn’t like it too much at first. Too dark for me. But the suspense pulled me over to the third, which many ranked as the finest of the series. By the time I reached the fourth book I was madly hooked. I read well into the night and woke up with puffed eyes.

When I reached the end of The Goblet of Fire, I was mad! We had to wait months for the next book? Where was the justice in this world?

From then on I stood in queue for the books. I put off packing for my trip to Singapore because I was too busy shedding tears when (do I really need to put a spoiler alert here??) Snape kills Dumbledore in Book Six.

Book Seven sealed my love for this series.

I tried to analyze why it appealed to me when other fantasy fiction didn’t. The answers I find online don’t match with my experience. I believe I liked it and it goaded me to consume more fantasy fiction because it was easy relatable in terms of the magic world that was created. Up until then I had found it difficult to dive into the fantasy world, but this one was easier to visualize.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I overcame the inertia and embraced this book with all my heart. JK Rowling made all our lives richer, and deserves all the accolades for it.

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Which is your favourite book of the series? Do share!

The Legacy of Jane Austen, and a New Story Publication!

I’m happy to post that my story Perils in the Post has found a wonderful home in The Ilanot Review in their Letters-themed issue. The Ilanot Review is an excellent literary journal from Israel! Do hop over and take a look.

In other exciting news, 18th July this year marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. How fitting that my essay on Jane Austen was accepted just days ago, for an anthology by Ben Bulben Books. The piece, which I drafted over a week, captures my love for this great author and her delightful work. I would love to share a link to the anthology when it comes out.

Though I’ve read all her books, my favourite works of Jane Austen are the usual culprits: Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. My next favourite after these two would be Emma, followed by Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I haven’t read Lady Susan yet but as it was her first novel she wrote, the general consensus is that it differs from her later work.

As a Jane-ite, I am not enamoured of all the variations on her work that have flooded the marketplace in the past few years. I’ve read only a few of them, but haven’t had the stomach to read any more. Here are a few that I’ve read: 

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

Pride and Prejudice strides into the mystery genre courtesy the late great P.D. James and what an entry it is! I loved this book and would wholeheartedly recommend it.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

This was quite successful but I didn’t enjoy it much. It spawned a movie version as well, and I tried watching it in an attempt to help reading the book, but that did not work either. It’s just one of those where my taste apparently doesn’t mesh with the general reading public. 

Prada & Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

I read this years ago and though my memory of it is vague, I remember enjoying the read. She incorporates dialogues from the original text as well.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, and others in a similar vein

Pure blasphemy in my humble opinion, but that’s just me. The book was quite popular and well-appreciated, though I am sure it literally left JA turning in her grave.

This is only a sampling and there are many more, but I don’t want to tarnish the image of the original in my mind by reading derivative works. Perhaps at a later stage, I might grow a taste for it, but not now.

What’s your favourite Jane Austen novel?

 

The Other Jane

21st April this year marks the 200th birth anniversary of the author Charlotte Bronte. I have read only one of her novels, i.e. the infamous Jane Eyre, but that has made a lasting impression on me.

I first read the book as a teenager in school. I cannot remember if it was an abridged version, though it might have been, but I do recall noting several points that set it apart from a book like, say, Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Eyre is a plain heroine, indeed quite markedly so. This is different from the books of Jane Austen’s that tend more towards classic romance fiction where the main protagonists dazzle society at large with their looks. Elizabeth Bennett is not the prettiest girl in P&P, but she is “second only to her sister Jane”, who is known to be a beauty. Mr. Darcy is widely touted as one of the handsomest men, but Mr. Rochester is neither young nor known for his dashing good looks.

The other central point of difference is of course the life of the heroine. Jane Eyre is downtrodden and underprivileged to begin with, earns her living by the time she’s eighteen, and [SPOILERS FOLLOW] eventually lands an inheritance from a relative. Jane and Elizabeth Bennett aren’t piling on the riches, but they’re not living in abject poverty either. They manage to deck themselves out for ball after ball, where their primary motive is to find en eligible suitor. This does not apply to Elizabeth, of course, but for quite a few women in Jane Austen’s novels.

In my first reading and interpretation I found Jane Eyre a bit strange. I did not understand or appreciate its beauty, and I closely connected most with the protagonist’s years spent in her school. The whole angle about the woman in the attic, Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, puzzled me. I found it almost unreasonable and illogical that a man could conceal a lunatic in his house and not have anyone in polite society know or discover this fact. I could never understand how Mr. Rochester landed himself in such a tragic situation in the first place.

A second reading of Jane Eyre completed over recent months revealed its beauty and understanding of human nature to me. The prose in the book is dramatic, and it’s interesting how many times Jane is described as plain, leaving no doubt in the reader’s mind that the character in question is no beauty. But she is intelligent and fascinating, considering the strength of conviction she displays in her circumstances.

The first time I read Jane Eyre, the book had a preface that offered a brief biography of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters. I found it interesting that Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte published books under their assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Only later when their books became popular did they come to be known by their true names and gender.

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre already, then I suggest you do so straight away. And once you have finished that, you can check out The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, one of my favourite books, that features a literary detective called Thursday Next who allegedly brings about the relatively happy ending of Jane Eyre!

Though I haven’t read Anne Bronte’s novel, I did read and love Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Have you read any of the novels by the Bronte sisters? Which is your favourite?

Re-kindling my love for Reading

Since I last posted, I’ve enjoyed two writing successes:

  1. My story The Facebook Identity placed in Words with Jam’s Genre Spoof contest.
  2. My vignette ‘Singapore City’ was chosen for the Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014 collection.

 

These two successes have proved bright lights on a path littered with rejection notes!

 

Over the last five years, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically with the advent of the smartphone and e-readers like the Kindle. Whenever Nathan Bransford ran his poll, I’d silently vote for the option ‘you can pry my paper books out of my cold dead hands’. Between the library and online retailers offering huge discounts, I didn’t think I’d ever move away from print books.

 

This year, however, I’ve done most of my reading on my smartphone using the Kindle App. I can’t be thankful enough for this device that has lit up my lunch and snack breaks in office!

 

Some amazing e-books I’ve read this year:

 

Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn

I’d read quite a few reviews of this book which aroused my curiosity. It is a satire centered on the Elysian Literary Prize, based apparently on the Man Booker prize. Critics disliked it, but I found it extremely funny, and though I hadn’t read any books by this author earlier, I’ve added the Patrick Melrose novels to my TBR list.

 

The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

Many years ago I’d seen the movie based on this book, and found it quite touching. I came across it while browsing titles on the Kindle Store and purchased it immediately.

This is a beautiful novel, with simple but lyrical prose that touches the heart.

 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua

They say if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If that wasn’t the case then I might have written a separate blog post on this book alone.

The way Amy Chua obsesses about her parenting style, it sounds as if her children have discovered a solution to world peace or invented a viable alternative source of fuel.

Reading this book, I discovered that I’m almost a ‘Western parent’, one who gives their children freedom of choice and doesn’t force the kids to do something they don’t want to. Of course, some tenets of Asian-style parenting are common and ingrained in me –being respectful of parents, aiming for first place in studies etc. But forcing a ten-year-old to practice the piano for three hours straight without a bathroom break? No thank you. I’m happy to forego such madness, even if it means I or my child won’t ever perform at Carnegie Hall.

 

14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Satyajit Ray, who received an Academy Honorary Award in 1992 while on his deathbed, made many films from short stories and novels, but he imbued each film with his own touch even without straying too far from the original storyline. This book contains 14 of the stories that inspired the great director’s movies, and though I’d read many of them before, it was a delight to return to them again.

 

Also, do take a look at these helpful blog posts I came across recently:

A list of reasons for writers to be thankful

If you’re writing short stories, polish them and send to Short Story Competitions 2015

How to write 1000 words a day every day

 

 

Any interesting books/articles you’ve read recently?

What I’ve been Reading

I haven’t been reading much. There, I said it. I’m ashamed to have said it but it’s the truth, especially coming from me – a person who used to finish 2-3 books per week with consummate ease. 

To clarify, I haven’t read too many novels this year. But to compensate, and because I’m writing 1 short story every month as part of the Short Story Challenge, I’ve been gobbling up fiction and essays from literary magazines everywhere, mostly online. 

At the rate of 1 short story a day, I might have easily read as much as 2-3 books a week! 

Despite that, I craved my novel fixes. So I got back in the game with two of the most talked about books that have recently been made or are going to be made into films. 

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I came to the Divergent party a little late, because I didn’t know how much I could stomach. I was also worried that it would end on a cliffhanger and I’d be forced to read the sequels just to know what happens next. 

Luckily I’m pleased to report this was not the case. I enjoyed reading the book. It ended on a note that surely promised a sequel, but it is no loss if you choose not to. 

Though I found it very exciting, the premise felt a little too derivative to me. The sorting of people into factions reminded me of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, and the violence between adolescents brought to mind The Hunger Games. I understand the appeal, of course, but I’m happy to see the sequels solely on screen, with my niece serving as my guide to plot lines that I may not follow. 

Here’s the trailer for Divergent:

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

If you haven’t read the book already, then there’s nothing I can tell you about it. I knew that there was a halfway plot twist but I didn’t know what the twist was. Briefly, all that I can tell you about the book is this: 

On Nick and Amy’s 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Nick is the prime suspect – because, almost always, it’s the husband that did it. The book is narrated alternately by Nick, and Amy’s diary entries. 

Now that I know the twists and the endings, I can safely say – please read the book if you haven’t already!

The film is out in October. The trailer is brilliant, as is the casting for the movie:

 

Right now I’ve started on The Silkworm, written by Robert Gilbraith aka JK Rowling. So far, all I can say is, JKR is JKR. She hasn’t lost her touch, or her sense of humour, or her writing skills, one teeny bit.

 

What have you been reading lately?