05 March 2018

After the Quake - Haruki Murakami

Although Murakami isn’t my ‘favourite’ writer, I find him highly original and hence, respect. I usually enjoy his stories, with some exceptions of course; one thing is for sure, the stories are always bizarre. I have always been a fan of short stories and prefer reading a collection of short stories or anthologies over a novel. These collections give freedom to the reader to start and end wherever they want to.

One of the few quirks in my reading life is that I prefer to start reading newspapers or magazines from the middle or the last few pages. It somehow makes the whole process very enjoyable. I seldom use this approach to short stories though. I don’t know why. Probably that is why it is a quirk and nothing else.

Back to the book, ‘After the Quake’: I did flit from one story to another like I usually do in a magazine. I had a good time too. The six short stories in this collection involve the earthquake that shook Kobe, Japan, during the year 1995. Not the center in each of the story but always lurking in and around – never letting the reader forget about it either.

‘UFO in Kushiro’ – is a story of a woman leaving her husband and going back to live with her parents because she feels living with him is like living with air; no depth, no emotions. It is a baffling story – I wanted to know more about the woman and why she felt the way she felt about her husband. The story doesn’t really give much information on that.

‘Landscape with Flatiron’ – depicts two people, a man and a girl, who have left their respective homes and what bothers them in life. The girl is afraid she cannot feel anything anymore. The man is afraid of dying alone. This had an eerie atmosphere all through. The cold night and the bonfire on beach was the most arresting imagery that stayed much after the book was over.

‘Super Frog Saves Tokyo’ – a giant frog and a loan recovery agent get together to save Tokyo from a giant, evil worm. The whole story is surreal with an unreliable narrator (the recovery agent). I totally enjoyed the story.

‘All God’s Children can Dance’ – I was so bored with the story that I cannot even remember clearly what it was about.

‘Thailand’ – a woman goes to Thailand combining work and leisure together. Her chauffeur is a mysterious Japanese man who seems to have an answer to a problem that she doesn’t know she has. Loved it.

‘Honey Pie’ – more normal than the rest, this is a love story that had had a break and seem to find a closure. Again, I enjoyed the story mainly because it just made realise how the author tenderly paints a picture of the human emotions.

It is a strange book as most of his books are, but that does not take away the fun from the reading.

27 February 2018

Daughters of Cain - Colin Dexter

Colin Dexter is a successful crime writer known for his series of novels based on the capabilities of a Detective Chief Inspector Morse. I had not read his books earlier so when a friend offered to lend a book, I was more than happy to try it out.

The Daughters of Cain is a whodunnit mystery where, an Oxford professor Felix McClure is found stabbed to death on a Sunday morning with no traces of the murder weapon nor any evidence of a murderer. Many suspects emerge over the course of the time, however, no evidence to pin it on.

The story is interesting and the writing egged me further on to find out what happens next however, somewhere half way through the novel, it was beginning to get tiresome. The length definitely needed editing. 
Another thing I noticed about the character development: it seemed like the author enjoyed fleshing out the characters and then suddenly lost interest. I would have loved to know more about Julia Stevens – one of the key characters in the story. There was also a tiny little love story that died before it had even formed well. Inspector Morse is an interesting character no doubt, but I felt he seemed to have given up on life (based on the story line, of course). Was this what the author intended? I don't know, it felt like I had reached the end of the series. I found out later it was the almost the end. (he wrote two more books after this novel in the Morse series)

I would have voted for this highly had the length been taken care of. Still, it isn’t a bad book at all. A light read that is needed especially when one is too tired to deal with serious stuff in life.

26 February 2018

The Bridges at Toko-Ri by James Michener

A war novella, the Bridges at Toko-Ri is based on the US-North Korea war in the 1950s. It focuses on the US naval efforts to destroy the said Bridge Toko-Ri so as to debilitate the enemy forces. The central theme of the story deals with the many moods of the soldiers involved in the war as well as the civilians affected by it.

The story revolves around an American lawyer who has signed up with the US navy to fight against the North Koreans. He is reluctant, afraid and worried about his family and how the war will impact his choices. Yet, when faced with the do-or-die situation, he is brave and fights to win. There are many characters - war heroes - who are larger than life and stay that way and then there are people who make fighting a war a personal issue, justifying the means and the loss of lives.

Overall, it is a well-written story; certain portions did affect me emotionally. The writing is crisp in most places – many of the jargons though difficult to understand, do not really come in the way of understanding the story. The writer was a soldier himself with first experience of war during his tenure.

This is an old story (published during 1953 talking about the 1950 US war with N. Korea) but it also reminded me how far removed we are from such situations. We are indeed blessed to have that safety from the cruelties of war.

31 January 2018

2018 - The Usual Post-it

This year I am planning to read 40 books. I could not reach my reading goal last year (18/52); it was the lowest count in the last three years. Still, I plan to keep a lofty goal of forty so that I can read more than last year.

I also plan to read more of Kannada books and I have already finished one. This time, I am also thinking of maintaining a list of quarterly goals. I was inspired by a book blogger who speaks of these. Considering a month is already gone in this quarter, this is my quarterly goal list:
  1. Read a book every week – I am not sure if the second half of the year will give me enough time to read (with other personal goals in place during that period), so I want to read as many books as possible this quarter. One a week will ensure some form of discipline. If I manage to read more, I will consider myself a lucky one.
  2. Write every day – I want to make sure that by the end of this quarter, I definitely want to finish a report on healthcare that I have been meaning to do for my personal use and COMPLETE the first draft of the novella I have been sitting on.
  3. Finish my financial and legal work – small little obstacles that have grown over the years and suddenly I realise I am going to be in trouble if I don’t resolve them right away. 
I am going to track these goals every week to see how I am faring.

30 January 2018

2018 - A New Year and New Books

New year began with a Kannada book called 'Anudinada Antaragange' ('ಅನುದಿನದ ಅಂತರಗಂಗೆ') by Pratibhaa Nanda Kumar.

I had not heard about this Kannada poet earlier nor had I read any of her poems or books. A friend gave me this book – a memoir – from this poet saying it was something I had to read. She mentioned she found the poet and her life quite inspiring. Curious, I started and soon I was hooked.

Before I mention anything about the book, a background on the author based on her book and a quick research on the internet: Pratibhaa Nanda Kumar is a Bangalore based poet, journalist and a playwright. She is also a documentary film maker. She is well-known for her feminist views and path breaking poetry. She wrote for the well-known ‘Lankesh Patrike’ that was known for its radical views.

Anudinada Antaragange is not a proper memoir, in the sense, it does not really deal with all aspects of her life, but focuses mainly on her internal struggles with her self-image, and her constant search for emotional security and love. Many people move in and out of her life and the only constant seems to be her love for writing and her children. The writing is crisp and bold interspersed with poems. The poems ring true; they touch you in unexpected ways. They paint a tortuous yet beautiful picture.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It has intrigued me enough to look for her poetry and other writings. My next trip to Bangalore will definitely include a trip to the bookshop.

27 December 2017

The Last Week

Despite my best intentions, I have turned away from books.
I guess I will have to take a deep breath and leave it at that. May be the new page in the calendar next week will coax me to drastically change my habits, break the mental block against anything that is productive - I find it ridiculous even as I type.

I have been wondering what is this negative streak that's been running in me for a long time. What is the solution to this?
How do I get over this reluctance to read or write? Does this mean I don't really love books, 'enough'?
I had hoped I would end the year on a better note.

11 December 2017

2017 - Where am I?

This year has been unbelievably hectic with life and its demands. While it is easy to assume this is one more of the excuses I normally manage to give myself for missing out on reading, things have been happening.
The house got built and the house-warming ceremony got conducted. This required innumerable visits between the two cities, dealing with unreasonable people and shopping and managing and arranging and more.
Finally it's all done and I had promised myself December will be the month of reading and writing.
Life just laughed at me.
I have to fight back and get back on that horse.

I am currently struggling to read Philip K Dick's collection of short stories (science fiction genre), 'We can Remember for You, Wholesale'.
While many of the stories are very arresting, some are mindbogglingly boring. I have to have to finish the book. I am tired of not completing library books. I need to return it before this week.
I am going to get back to the story I stopped long ago (35K words and incomplete). I have to somehow to bring it to completion and then I can throw away that draft and feel good about it.