Thursday, April 23, 2015

Read more, live more.

Like so many people I know, I love books: the look of them, the feel of them, and of course that famed deliciously musty scent of them - old and new.

But I love e-books too. Or rather, I love my e-book reader, my Kindle PaperWhite.

When people complain about e-books and the forever imminent demise of paper, I don’t get it. E-books are a good thing. A great thing. One of the best things that have happened to me, technology-wise.

Before buying my Kindle last year, I was really skeptical about whether it was a worthy purchase, whether I would enjoy it the same way I enjoy paper books. It was needless fret. I love e-books even more than I love paper books, mostly because I can change the font size (make it bigger to make it easier reading for my weak eyes) but also because I can learn the meaning of new words without having to move an inch (thanks to the in-built dictionary) and because I can highlight stuff and have it automatically saved in a text file full of highlighted stuff. And contrary to popular perception, I feel that Kindle strains my eyes far less than reading paper books.  

Then there is the practical value of how e-books make reading a much, much cheaper affair despite the intense moral conflict involved with downloading free versions of books that are not supposed to be available free. But I’d rather not pursue that line of discussion right now. Or ever. After all, we’re all entitled to our share of guilty pleasures, aren’t we?

To get back to the point, today is World Book Day and even though I always say I’m not a fan of such “Days”, I thought I’d commemorate by listing out the books I’ve read so far in 2015. I usually don’t keep track of how much I read every year but it’s something I’d like to do this time, so here goes:

  1. Red Rain, by R.L Stine - Supposed to be spooky, isn’t really. Borders on amusing, in fact. Gripping read.
  1. Girls in White Dresses, by Jennifer Close - Was a suggestion from a Thought Catalog post. Didn’t like it much. I’ve read better “chick-lit” as the genre is called.
  1. Adultery, by Paulo Coelho - The first ever Coelho book that disappointed. I just didn’t get it. It lacked his usual magic.
  1. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy - Err, I’m not sure how I feel about this book. It was beautifully written, of course, but I don’t know, it’s also sort of depressing, sort of a let-down.
  1. The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri - Dedicated an entire blog post to this one. Well-written but not my kind of story.
  1. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel- Brilliant.
  1. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger - Again, brilliant. I loved the writing style!
  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green - After reading the Fault in our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines, this book didn’t live up to the kind of awesomeness I associate with John Green. But it’s still a great book if you enjoy YA fiction as much as I do.   
So that’s 8 books in 4 months, which means I’m reading approximately 2 books a months. Not entirely accurate because I almost didn’t read at all in January and February on account of wedding festivities at home. Also, I started on several other books which I then kind of abandoned halfway. I hope to get back and finish them sometime, since I’m aiming to read at least 50 books by the end of the year or at the very least 30 or 35.

Here's wishing you great reads, always. :) 

Friday, April 10, 2015

My thoughts on Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland

I remember reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake a few years ago and thinking: “Wow, I wish I could write like that. I want to write like that some day.”
It became one of those books I enjoy going back to and re-discovering every once in a while. I love everything about it – the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflicts; even the movie adaptation of it.  

More recently, a friend gave me Lahiri’s debut, Pulitzer-prize winning short-story collection - The Interpreter of Maladies - and although I liked it, I felt that a lot of the stories were just too similar in mood and context to The Namesake. I like my authors to be versatile so it became a bit tiresome to read about Indian immigrant lives all over again, even though - of course - the plots were gripping and beautifully penned.

And now, I have just finished reading The Lowland - which was a nominee for the Man Booker – and am disappointed, to say the least. Here’s why:

1. Immigrant life. AGAIN.
I wouldn’t mind reading about people who relocate to the US. In fact, I am quite fascinated by immigrant life and trying to write a novel of my own based on this theme. But there’s something about Lahiri’s stories that make life abroad seem just so depressing. Her narrative is infused with a sense of nostalgia and loneliness that make me wonder why anyone would move to America at all. The characters seem to be perennially brooding and leading empty lives that make me wish they would just pack up and move back to India already. I doubt real-life immigrants are such sad empty shells of people. When you move to a new country, aren’t you going to be excited about the new start, happy to settle into a new life? Of course, nostalgia would strike now and then but you would hopefully be too preoccupied with the business of living to let it overwhelm you so. The character of Subhash in The Lowland is about the most dull, monotonous character I’ve ever encountered in a story. And he makes the most stupid moves which drive the plot to its sad inconclusive, deeply unfulfilling end.     

2. Too much description (about natural surroundings and weather)
I’m sorry but I don't see how knowledge of what trees and plants are growing around the protagonist’s home helps the plot. Why do I need to know how much it rained in June? It’s not like the characters are meteorologists, for heaven’s sake! I can’t stand over-descriptive passages in any book. (It’s the sole reason I abandoned all attempts to read The Lord of the Rings.) So I found myself skipping over a lot of the unnecessary stuff in The Lowland, mentally urging the author, "Oh, for god's sake, move on! Get back to the point, the plot!”

3. Stupid, selfish immigrant children  
Why are the children in Lahiri’s books so utterly detached from their parents? It’s as if she’s trying to say that being born American by default makes you an automaton with absolutely no empathy/sympathy for family ties! I’m pretty sure no regular kids anywhere behave the way Lahiri’s young characters do – like heartless monsters that deserve a good whack around the head with a cricket bat. Like, have a heart, guys. I grew up in a foreign country too but it was never a reason to be cut off from my roots, to not learn my native language and to behave like I owe nothing to Mom and Dad.

4, Trans-generational story (if that’s the right term for it)
I hate books that encompass several generations of characters at once. (This is one of the reasons I didn’t quite like the ending of Harry Potter. – I didn’t need to see Harry’s kids when in my head he was still a teenager for god’s sake!)   
I mean, that’s what television soaps are for. That’s why they go on for years, so you can grow at least a little bit with the characters. In the case of books like The Lowland, within a few hours, characters have become grandparents while I’m still exactly the same and wondering, what the hell just happened?
Moreover, such stories are depressing because you have to witness the protagonist age, often not so gracefully, and in worst cases, even die. Like how does that help me? I’ve just connected with a bunch of imaginary people and they died before I could even fully get to know them! Bah.

So, all in all, I think that The Lowland is one of the most depressing books I've ever read despite the illusions of happy endings the author weaves in towards the ends. I don't think I'll be reading Lahiri again, or maybe I will, just to see if she ever changes her style. Don't get me wrong; I still think she writes brilliantly and I have immense respect for the fact that she has won the Pulitzer Prize(!!) and was shortlisted for the Man Booker(!!!), but I also believe some happy non-immigrant stories would do her readership a lot of good. 

On a scale of five, I’d give the Lowland a 2.5 solely for the un-put-downabale way in which it’s written. It takes a lot for me to complete a book after I’ve already decided I don’t like it, yet I stuck with The Lowland till the last page! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Wordspinner

The wordspinner was a young woman with an old spinster's soul. She worked in isolation, removed from the world, content within her imaginary cocoon.  While people her age (and even younger) got married and started families and happily settled into a lifetime of routines, she longed for just the opposite: quiet time and lack of structure. No fixed schedules for eating and sleeping and "working". For her work was her raison d'etre; her subsistence, her very existence.  

The words made her head spin, didn't let her sleep at night. Though they didn't always come easily. Rarely so. Often, they jarred and bored and needed to be re-spun entirely or touched up with a snip here and a tuck there. Embellishments were often needed to dress up the plain words and make them sparkle with genius. 

Her words tired her, made her eyes hurt from staring at them so much and tweaking relentlessly to achieve perfection or at least her idea of it. For what is perfection but merely a point of view? But despite the strain and frustration, she kept at her work, resolutely, in the unending quest of getting better and better and spinning more elaborate prose for her beloved word lovers. .The people who read her stuff and liked it and appreciated it. 

Sometimes, she tried to sell her words but mostly ended up giving them away for free just so that they could go out there and be heard, perhaps even touch or help someone. When payment did come, it was prized and treasured and inspired the many applications she sent out - to a fellowship here, a residency there. Earning for her words lent the courage to think "Maybe I'm good enough to do something great, to be great." 

She longed to "get away" - from the babble and routine around her. She just needed some uninterrupted quality time with her craft, her words. She needed to write better, to achieve her technicolored dreams. She dreamed of freedom. Of flying, quite literally, around the world, on her own, or with someone who didn't come with the baggage of wanting to "see" certain things and "do" certain other things in the manner of tourists. She wanted unique adventures, novel stuff she could write about and vibrant places that could give shape and form and color to the many stories that buzzed like restless wasps in her convoluted mind. She seemed to want to too much. To achieve the impossible or at least the un-achievable, by "normal" or simpleton standards  But to her wordspinner mind it didn't seem that much. After all, all she wanted was some space. And a fistful of time to call her own without being reminded that she was getting older...that time was a-ticking, running out. She needed to get married. Start a family. Settle down. Into routine. Mundane routine. It was her nemesis, that damned routine. 

Picture from: