And one more spin….

So the Classic Club has initiated another Classic Spin. The rules of course never change; same ol, same ol!
• Pick 20 Classics of your choice
• On Monday, i.e. Aug 19th, the Club will pick a number
• You read the book that you have marked against the number through August and September

Now the big question, will I do it again? I know the last time I was absolutely bowled over by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation and was extremely grateful that the Spin had forced me to re-visit a book I was determined not to like since my first initiation with it at school. I loved the book as an adult and as everybody who visits the blog is aware, made me brave enough to venture forth to Bleak House. While all this is good, let’s not forget the lessons of the past and I had quite detested reading through Madam Bovary, my Classic Club Spin book for April and it reinforced all my first dislike for the book. The success rate is of course 50% and this one chance can heavily tilt the balance in favor of my future participation or non-participation in this activity!

Yes! I know! The nail baiting moment! The single instant in time on which the very direction of one’s life and destiny is to be decided!!! (Yes! I am aware that I am high on drama quotient!)

And the answer is – YES!!! (Yeah! I know! Big Surprise? What can we expect from an inveterate nerd???)
Let’s face it, the nerd bookish me loves books and a chance to offer a classic is like double chocolate icing on an ice cream cake! So how in the blazes could I let another such chance go? Besides, there is no denying that I am reading and redefining my opinions on books that I would not have otherwise touched!

This time I have decided to be a little more bold and adventurous and set forth in the brave new world! What that means in simple English is that this time to be free of all prejudices, I am listing books that I have never read and though I might have read other works of the author, the book listed below in themselves are complete uncharted waters!

So to the sound of rolling drums – here goes the Spin list
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (I know I had listed this one as to read in July, but I never got around to it!)
3. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
8. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
11. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
13. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
14. My Antonia by Willa Cather
15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
16. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
17. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
18. The Name of a Rose by Umberto Eco
19. A Room with a View by E.M Forster
20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Let’s wait now for what faith decides on August 19th!

The absolutely magnificent and completely unforcasted holiday……

So I have not blogged for a while! I am so aware of this shortcoming and feel extremely guilty about it. A combination of reasons including work pressure, emotional turmoil and ill health have contributed in keeping me away from penning away my idiosyncratic thoughts. The same reasons also contributed towards making my weekend near perfect!

No I am not crazy and am not making contradictory statements. And Yes I have recovered from my illness so my brains are not damaged and I am not talking rubbish!!! One must cultivate patience…let me explain – the week had been extremely stressful (Yes! We all have stressful weeks; let me add that mine was more stressful than usual) and I just could not bring myself to be creative or intelligent or even tenuously funny. Every single cell of my brain rebelled from associating with anything remotely related to intelligence. After staring at the blank word document for 2 hrs I gave up – a smart creature always makes best use of his/her resources or in my case rather lack of resources. I am smart, if nothing else, so I gave up on trying to finish writing Book 1 of my novel and instead spent the whole weekend reading!!! So I gave myself a reading holiday!!Yipee!!!

There is nothing more joyous or more blissful about an unexpected holiday – you know when you were in school and it rained/snowed heavily and school got cancelled? It especially becomes great if you had horrid assignment or test that day. Or at work, you are dreading this Business Review with the VP and then you realise that it ain’t happening because, the VP hurt himself playing tennis???? My weekend was on the same line – I was expected to finish book 1, but I just could not make myself type a single word. I gave up and started reading – I read through 5 books and Boy! Am I glad I did?

A wise man once told me that when you are really really down, wear bright colours, cook up something great and read something really funny. So I wore red PJs (yes! I like red) and about the food see below and finally when it came to books, who can make me laugh more than Mr Terry Pratchet? I recommend Mr Pratchet whenever you are sad, ill, unhappy or happy, contended and having fun – he is a man for all seasons. I loved and I mean loved as in 40 Bold Font size, his Good Omens which he wrote in partnership with Neil Gaiman. It’s a brilliant take on Omen (The Movie) and the battle between good and evil without being didactic. After being restored to my natural sense of absurdity, joy and unbound optimism, I was ready to take on anything in the world, so I read George Orwell’s Burmese Days. It’s not a book to make you jump with joy; but it is brilliant take on the British colonial occupation and double standards that are imposed by the society that leads a man away from his destiny and ultimate happiness. It’s not a fun book, but worth a read for the richness of the language and the vivid portrayal of a country under imperial rule and subjected to a desperate fate, because of the infighting of her own people. I followed this up by re-reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. What can I say about this book that has not already been said before? His take on sensational journalism is laugh out loud funny with a good dose of rolling on the floor! William Boot and his travails in getting a scoop for the Daily Beast in the civil war torn Ishmalia will bring tears to your eyes (because you are laughing so hard; not crying! I do read such books but do not discuss them in public). I then changed the variety and read through John Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium. I love history and read it as closely as fiction and have a minor obsession about the Eastern Roman Empire, which had been condemned for poverty, obscenity etc. but produced some of the most magnificent works of art and in whose absence, the west would have completely lost its tracts of Roman and Greek works. Lord Norwich writes in a light, but scholarly way making the bygone era come alive with vivid characters and a hue of colours. Finally my 5th book, which I began reading and am still reading at the recommendation of my flat mate is Erich Maria Remarque’s The Three Comrades. I am still reading it so I will withhold my opinion, but just to give all of you a brief glimpse the story traces the lives and friendships of three friends in 1930’s Germany, where they have to live and make choices in a society that they never wanted to be a part off.

Since the books were so awesome, I ensured that the food I ate was also awesome. If I was going to be decadent I was going to be decadent all the way – Pizza’s with extra cheese, Pasta, Devilled Eggs and Fried Chicken. (Yup, it was an orgy of food and books)

The net result however is magnificent. I have got back my bounce back; my cherry optimism floweth unbound and I can laugh at myself and look at things at a 360* reverse angle again. Since the efficacy of this medication was so good for my bruised and battered soul, I wanted to share with all my blogosphere friends and proclaim it out loud – when your heart is not in it! Don’t do it….Just let it is and instead do something that you want to do and things will fall into place! It’s ok to take some time off once in a while and recharge yourself!  Take a reading/painting/cooking/walking/manicure holiday and you will see the difference when you come back to tackle your original bidding.

Let us read, let us dance…..

I want to ask to that part of the population that is passionate about books and reading and that too in an obsessive compulsive manner like me, who needs to read at least 3 books a week if not more, have you been asked this question – How can you read the same book twice? or “How can you waste your time reading the same book again? And the best question of them all “Do you not get bored reading the same thing again? Don’t you want to do something better in life?”

I need to find out if it is just me who is always snowed with such questions, or others have been in my shoes and felt similarly flummoxed. I usually get this question from mostly from those who not read, but what really really confuses me is when people who claim to be a readers ask me this! I need to understand this phenomenon.

A lover of books will always go back to certain writings again and again. For instance, when I have a bad day at work or have an argument or something nasty happens in way of things, I resort to what I call my “comfort” books – Jane Austin and Terry Pratchett. On the other hand, if I am in a leisurely mood, eating something delicious (yes! I read when I eat! Yes I am aware it’s a bad habit and my mother has yelled her lungs off about it…but I enjoy it so I am sticking to it!) or generally contented with life, then its Saki, Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Arthur Conan Doyle, J K Rowling , Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, A S Byatt and Gorge Orwell. On a long vacation, I tackle, Leo Tolstoy, John Galsworthy, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, Joesph Conrad, Thorton Wilder etc etc. The list is endless but this is not about the list. It’s about the fact that there are books we all (I am referring to the reading population) go back to time after time, because we have developed a special bond with them. The characters of these books are our friends, confidants and comrades who sooth us and entertain us. The locales give us a get away from all that is mundane and trite and allow us a break from our humdrum existence, revitalizing us for our foray back to the real world. These books are our partners in our life journey……that’s why they are classics. They are timeless; we can go back to them whenever we feel like. I do not know how many of you feel a sheer, reasonless joy when you pick up one of your favourite comfort books from the your shelves and run your hands over its much thumbed pages…I love this feeling, especially, when I have not read the book for a while. I love the anticipation of trying to reach a particular chapter that I especially enjoy, from a novel I have read so many times. Like when I re-read Pride and Prejudice, I actually wait to reach the part where Elizabeth Bennett along with Mr and Mrs Gardiner set off on a tour of Derbyshire. Or even the part when Wickham and Lydia return to the Bennett household after their elopement. I read through the entire book, just in anticipation that I am still to read my favourite parts!

There are books which I will never ever get back too. I am not going to name them, but there many so-not-worth it books out there in the market today; many of them make me feel at the end….er…why did I read this again? But that does not take away the fact that these cases are far and few in comparison with all the brilliant writing out there which can be read again and again! In the words of Oscar Wilde If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

I am convinced that those people who ask me this question, and trust me I have been asked this question many times, see reading as a task. Naturally a task that needs to be completed cannot be a joy (in most cases) and more importantly, cannot be repeated. I am completely tolerant if you are not a reader…lot of people are not; many people do not and I am sure they have many other ways keeping themselves amused! But I do draw a line if you ask inane questions about it. I mean do I ever ask you “Hey Dude! You are Go carting/adventure sporting/head banging again?”  So please, you stay at your side of turf and let me stay on mine and we will have world peace!

Satire be my song….List of 10 best satires from all times

In the words of Lord Byron, I believe and am strongly of the opinion that satires are perhaps the best social commentary of any time besides being from a literary perspective, one the best reads. I know Anthony Trollope had argued that a satirist should write only little otherwise people will believe that his/her words are a reflection of his own caustic nature, but I do not think satirists are inhuman. True, the do derive a lot pleasure from the various follies of mankind, which they pass on to others through their writing. But they never laugh at what is wise or good; if certain actions of mankind were not contemptible, well, we would need satirists.

In this post I would like to list my all-time favourite satires, some of which I believe had brought significant change in their own times. They are listed per the year of publication and are in no way reflective of any order of preference –

  1. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes (1605 and 1615): The adventures of Alonso Quijano and Sancho Panza as they set off for knightly adventures and castles and beautiful ladies exposes the fallacy of chivalric romance and knightly virtues.
  2. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, by Jonathan Swift (1726): The immortal classic, often handed down in illustrated and abridged version to  children is perhaps one of the best takes on the machinations of the “democratic Westphalia governments” and the corruption within mankind.
  3. An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews by Henry Fielding (1741): Hitting out at the moralizing Pamela by Samuel Richardson, Fielding unveils a heroine who has no morals and will do anything to entrap her master into marriage.
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759) :Tristram Shandy’s so called narration of his life where he does anything but narrate about his life. Sterne made several digs at the then popular “sermon writings” which were actually considered by many as only gentle and acceptable reading material; especially Robert Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy” from which Sterne even satirized his chapter titles!
  5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austin (1803): Gothic romances will never be the same again! At a time when every girl including Austin herself swore by the writings of Ann Radcliffe, Catherine Morland’s adventures within the Abbey expose the very ludicrousness of such genre of writing.
  6. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928): Waugh takes on the “roaring twenties “ and splits it wide open in this social satire as his protagonist is expelled from Oxford and takes up a teaching job , gets engaged and imprisoned, only to come back from where he started at Oxford
  7. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938): Fleet Street and dramatic journalism gets a whole new twist in Waugh’s novel as we follow William Boot through his travels and travails in Ishmaelia and the underlying theme that when media descends on a place, even if nothing is new worthy, something has to happen!
  8. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): Communism and Stalin’s government is satirised in an Animal Farm run by a committee of Pigs with Napoleon their leader resembling the Soviet Dictator.
  9. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961): What can one say about this classic ……its lines are immortal “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.” World War II and the questions of heroism are unremittingly taken apart and re –examined in this masterpiece.
  10. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966): Though written in 1940, the complete unedited version was only published in 1973, more than 33 years after Bulgakov’s death. The book is unremitting take on the bureaucratic and red taped system of Soviet society under the Communist regime. In parallel it also works through an allegorical allusion of sensuality without feeling through the character of Nikolai Ivanovich

Please feel free to add any work that I have left out or you feel has far more impact than the ones listed.