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?

The Interpreter of Stories

I was 19 when I first read the Interpreter of Maladies, shortly after it was published. At the time I did not properly understand, or indeed appreciate, many of the stories. The two that stayed with me, but didn’t receive much attention in reviews and discussions of the book, were ‘The Real Durwan’ and ‘Sexy’.

I remember reading ‘A Temporary Matter,’ the first story in the book, and feeling a touch of gloom, but overall it left me underwhelmed. My family and I were all crammed into a car, on a four-hour road trip. My sister was expecting at the time. The discussion turned to Jhumpa Lahiri and her book. I mentioned that I had started reading it, and had finished the first story. My father had read the book before me. When my sister asked what the story was about, I slipped her the one-line premise. My father, unseen by my sister, and strongly suspecting that I possessed the emotional intelligence of a raccoon, gripped my elbow, to stop me blurting out the underlying subject at the core of the story – a miscarriage. He needn’t have worried. I was 19 but not foolish.

As I prepare to write seven more short stories during the year, I am reading the masters to study what works and what doesn’t. I am especially dissecting the stories that resonated with me, made sense to me, and left me thinking about the characters long after I’d turned the last page.

In short, to become a better short-story writer, I have to become an Interpreter of Stories.

Most of Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories fall into this category. Somehow her novels never tempted me, though Mira Nair made an amazing film out of her novel The Namesake. An excerpt of her latest novel The Lowland looks promising, but I haven’t got around to reading it yet.

In her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I enjoyed the stories of Hema and Kaushik that form the second half of the book, more than the unconnected stories in the first half.

The other story collections I’ve read recently are:

The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran

Revolt of the Fish-eaters by Lopa Ghosh

Have you read any short-story collections lately?

What I’m reading

 

Inspired by Mridu Khullar’s post, I decided to jot down the books I’ve read so far this year (the below is a partial list):

Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

This is the eighth book in the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. Doesn’t pack as much of a punch as its predecessors, but I love the series and the author, so I’m a fan! It baffles me that no Hollywood studio has churned out a movie version of Artemis Fowl yet.

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

This book turned out depressing enough to be Booker-worthy but awesome nonetheless. Most of the book is serious, but JK hasn’t lost her sense of humour. When she writes a funny line, you have to laugh, even if its black comedy.

Serious Men by Manu Joseph

I loved this book – beautiful writing and interesting novel. I’m eager to read his next.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

Readers accustomed to his Thursday Next series will find this a slightly different cup of tea. It was good, and I read it quickly, but I like Thursday Next better.

Custody by Manju Kapur

The title makes no bones of the plot. This sensitive portrayal shows both sides of the divorce and the custody battles that ensue.

The Boleyn Inheritance by Phillipa Gregory

Phillipa Gregory’s novels on the wives of Henry VIII are quite famous, and this is one of the lesser-known books as it narrates the stories of Katherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Jane Rochford. A history lesson and fiction rolled into one – what more could a girl ask for?

Following Fish by Samanth Subramaniam

I had wanted to read this since a long time and finally got it from the library. I don’t read as much non-fiction but I enjoyed it, more so because I am a hard-core fish-eating hands-stained-with-mustard kind of Bengali.

No Onions Nor Garlic by Srividya Natrajan

PG Wodehouse. Indian version. Madly funny. Author is most intelligent woman in the universe. Too much to say on this subject. Separate post forthcoming. I demand the author’s next book right now!

Origin by JA Konrath

This novel owns the distinction of being the first I read using the Kindle app on my iPod touch. It turned out to be a most exciting experience for me. I am now hungry for more ebooks! The novel is based on an exciting premise – what if the devil exists?

So what have you been reading lately?

South Asian Challenge 2013

Last year, I signed up for the South Asian Challenge 2012. Knowing my schedule, I allotted myself a conservative estimate of 10 books to read.

It turned out that I was busier than I thought. The figure of 10 books was way too puffed up, and finally I fell two short as 2012 hurtled to an end.

Out of 33 books I read during the year, the following qualified for the challenge:

  1. Diary of a Social Butterfly by Moni Mohsin
  2. She’s a Jolly Good Fellow by Sajita Nair
  3. Beast with Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon
  4. Who let the Dork Out by Sidin Vadukut
  5. Broken News by Amrita Tripathi
  6. Love Over Coffee by Amrit Shetty
  7. The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran
  8. Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

I had been waiting to read Chinaman for such a long time, and absolutely loved it when I finally got around to reading it. Two of my favourite things – literature and cricket – all wrapped into one! What more could I ask from life? It is a little-known fact about me that I was a huge fan of Sri Lankan cricket even before they won the World Cup in 1996. So reading a book set in that era was quite thrilling for me.

Another amazing book I would highly recommend is The Beast with Nine Billion Feet. I can’t remember the last time I absorbed so many different ideas from one source. After reading this book, I truly felt enlightened.

Lavanya Sankaran’s exquisite writing in The Red Carpet bowled me over. A couple of her stories set in the corporate world have inspired me to try my hand at something similar, though I doubt I can achieve her level of finesse and subtlety.

I also enjoyed Broken News by Amrita Tripathi, which, for some reason, I wasn’t really expecting to like because I know nothing of the world of news and television journalists and their hectic life.

Though I haven’t signed up for the similar challenge in 2013, I have already read 3 books by Indian authors and have lined up 2 more.

What good books have you read lately?

Book Review: Room by Emma Donaghue

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since the buzz broke about it, even before it became shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2011. 

One reads many of these news items about women and young girls being held captive for years on end and even forced to bear the children of their tormentors. I skim over these articles usually, as I cannot bear to think about the ordeal these women suffer. 

However, I steeled myself to read this book. Its USP, as you might know by now, is that it is narrated by a five-year-old boy called Jack. Incorrect usage of words pepper the story. Plenty of instances of ‘I runned’ just like my daughter says. I like how he refers to his mother as Ma throughout and we never know her real name. He simply refers to her name as ‘her other name’. 

I squirmed while reading the parts where the captor visits her in the night and Jack sits in the cupboard and counts the creaks of the bed. Equally tension-inducing were the parts where they planned their escape. 

Jennifer Weiner conducted an interview with the author which made for very interesting reading. Overall, the book is as brilliant as it is promised to be, and very thought-provoking. 

Now that Room is off my reading list, I still have the following gems to tackle: 

My TBR Pile:
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
There but for the by Ali Smith
Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
Meltdown by Ben Elton
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
The Dog who came in from the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith

What books have you read recently? 

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I had read a lot about this book even before it was released. The blogosphere was abuzz with the news of a debut novel sure to scorch the bestseller lists. I also read the first chapter and was intrigued enough to want to read more.

As it happens, the book slipped out of my mind in the following months. But thankfully I have my trusty library at hand! They keep slotting the books in the shelves in such a way that the most interesting titles jump right out at me.

On that particular day, I bagged a handful of good ones – Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, and Across the Universe.

I finished reading Across the Universe last night and I have to say I was zapped. It was awesome!

The brief synopsis, from the book’s website, is this:

Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to wake up on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed’s scheduled landing, Amy’s cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed.

Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed’s passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.

Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.

 

I really liked how every chapter was narrated alternately by Amy and Elder. I have used a similar device in my novel Mabel, so this book had a lot to teach me.

Amy is a nicely written character – a fiercely independent woman who questions and challenges everything that is told to her and accepted as a matter of course by the people on the ship.

I liked Elder too, though he is seemingly less fleshed out. His mental turmoil about how he will manage the ship really comes to the fore and I totally identified with the conundrums he faced.

Though the book focuses on Amy and Elder, the character of Eldest is appealing too. Eldest is the current leader of the ship, from whom Elder is slated to take over. Eldest is almost dictatorial, and not very nice to Elder or Amy, but gradually we discover the reasons for his particular brand of leadership.

The spaceship and other aspects of the book set it firmly in sci-fi territory, but it embraces the genres of dystopia, murder mystery, romance and so easily could’ve been a Twilight-type YA but mercifully it avoids that angle.

The sequel to this book, A Million Suns, is on sale now. I look forward to reading it too. This promises to be an exciting trilogy to read!

Some other reviews of this book online:

http://iamareadernotawriter.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/book-review-across-universe-by-beth.html

http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2011/01/31/book-review-across-the-universe/

http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/across-universe-by-beth-revis-reviewed.html

 

What new books have you read lately?

Book review: She’s a Jolly Good Fellow by Sajita Nair

A novel about women in the army? Sign me up!

When I first started reading the book, I feared that the terms army people regularly use might trip me up and I wouldn’t be able to follow any of it. However, my fears were unfounded and I read the entire book without a single trip to the dictionary.

The novel centres on Deepa Shekhar(Dips) and Anjali Sharma(Anju), two among the first batch of women due to graduate from the army. It is narrated in first-person from Deepa’s point of view. The book chronicles their journey as they negotiate the tricky obstacles in a male-dominated world.

I often wondered about whether the women ever regretted joining the army and this is also touched upon in the book.

Anju, emotionally the weaker of the two, drew my sympathy, as I could completely understand her predicament. Why would any woman welcome the idea of abandoning their feminine side voluntarily, as Dips always prods her to do?

As a team leader myself, I also fully understood Deepa’s logic and reasoning – if you give the troops even a small reason to doubt you, they will do so. Women have to be more firm and deal with matters with a heavier hand, at least in the beginning.

I am in complete awe of the characters in the book as well as real-life women who’re in the army. I’m quite a sissy if you meet me in person, and some of the descriptions of the harsh living conditions left me squirming. I don’t have the guts or the smartness to sign up for that kind of thing.

The book educated me and I am happy to have learned so much about the army as well into the bargain. Recommended read if you, like me, focus more on escapist fiction.

Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of the book for review.