11 May 2018

To do or not to

I wonder if I should add an image of the book cover along with the post I write on a particular book.

I remember a couple of years ago, I was shocked to discover that the same book could have multiple cover designs - what opinion I form of the book could be completely different from other readers all because of a different design. Now come to think of it, it makes sense even to myself to remember what I read long ago.

A good idea. Yes. Considering I am the sole reader of my blog (bit sad actually but I shall wallow in misery some other day) I can do ABSOLUTELY whatever I want! (the only good part)

10 May 2018

The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller

I had heard so much about the book and the movie that I was prepared to be disappointed. I was lucky; I didn’t have to worry about such a probability. Of course books get hyped, and movies even more so, but this book manages to scrape through, although, only by the skin of its teeth. I can’t say the same about the movie: I have not seen it.

Can anybody fall in love, deeply and instantly with a stranger? Can it be reciprocated with the same fervour if not more? Can two people feel the bond so strongly that they want to spend the rest of their lives together after having spent just four days with each other? Possible. Probable? I don’t know, considering both of them have already spent a major part of their lives elsewhere, with other people. But that is what remarkable love stories are made of, and Bridges of Madison County is a through and through love story.

Set in Madison County, Iowa, the story is about two such people – Robert Kincaid, a photographer who is working on a NatGeo project, and Francesca Johnson, a house-wife whose life seems to have come to a standstill. They fall in love the moment they set their eyes on each other and later discover they were the meant to be together. However, real life considerations and social obligations are equally strong and the affair remains as a beautiful experience for the rest of their lives.

The book is high on romance and the character Robert Kincaid, if ever there was a man like that, is a memorable one. I am on the fence when it comes to this story – the cynical in me shakes her head – the romance is too fantastic to be believable, yet, there is something charming about how desperate they are to be together and how impossible it all is.

The prose is pretty okay – it does not sweep you off your feet – in some places, it is quite ordinary. It is the story that carries the book upon its shoulder.

I can say I did enjoy the book. I didn’t fall in love with it though.

30 April 2018

McCarthy’s Bar - Pete McCarthy

I have developed a taste for the travelogues and McCarthy’s Bar by Pete McCarthy certainly ranks high among the travel writing books that I have read so far. Irish, quirky, funny and touching in the way many situations were described, this book was a difficult beginning. The reasons are many – It jumps right into the travel documentation, the cultural references are not easy to understand for a non-British, non-European reader, and I feel I had not prepared myself to put in an effort to understand and absorb it. After a few pages it was a merry ride across the Irish coast along with the author.

The book is about the author (half-British and half-Irish) tracing the Irish coast looking for the stone ruins of the past (his favourite hobby) and stopping at any pub that is named after his own. He finds the country rising up to meet the demands of tourism and the resulting consequences of that haphazard growth is not too much to his liking. In addition to the native Irish who are wonderful if not slightly eccentric, he also meets others – many British, Germans and other Europeans – who have traded their city lives to be at the country side, to live at their own pace. The commentary on the social changes (more accepting of the outsiders), cultural transformations (exchanging Irish architecture of stone and wood for UPVC, pyrex glass windows), and on food is delightful and sharp. There are references to religion and its heavy impact on Irish life, also a hilarious account of a religious trip that the author took on a whim. It is an extremely well-written book.

I would highly recommend it for its humour, pithy observations about people, and a country at large.

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.