What The July Showers Bring

Finally July…Fall is only 3 months away and I survived yet another horrid Indian Summer. Actually, there are 3 more months to go, but these are technically the Monsoon months, where it rains and floods and while it is quite pleasant when it rains, immediately after that the humidity soars and the baking heat now with high humidity, makes life, well miserable to say the very least!! But like my oft repeated motto, as long as there are books, life will always look up!

Whats in my July book bag then? A very eclectic collection! I am slowly and by slowly, I mean barely crawling through Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War as part of the The Well Educated Mind Reading Challenge – Reading The Histories! And I cannot say, like Herodotus’s The Histories, I am enjoying it! In addition there is OMG-I-CANNOT-BELIEVE-HOW-PONDEROUS-IT-IS reading of The City of God by Saint Augustine, again part of the same project. History, the subject I love has never seemed such an uphill task! To continue my interest in the subject, it is extremely important, that I spice things up and I go to other end of the spectrum to read The Raj at War – A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Yasmin Khan. I have heard some amazing things about the book and am really looking forward to it! Now for Fiction, I have everything from 19th century Russia to 19th century England and finally, 19th century India. I should complete Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I also continue with The Pickwick Paper Read Along and finally, I am hosting The Shadow of the Moon Read Along, for which the plan is to finish reading this month! I also have on my Kindle, The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne (of Winnie The Pooh fame and yes, he wrote a adult mysteries as well!) and Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy; his first book which is considered to very different from his Wessex Rural novels.

All in all and exciting (I think!) and somewhat exasperating Reading month! I leave you all with a video that I think capture the very essence of Indian monsoons!

Happy Reading!


The Mills of Manchester…

Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell had been lying on top of one of my bookshelves for some time At least for 3 years, it remained in the same corner of my book shelf, untouched and unread. As everybody knows, I worship Elizabeth Gaskell and I would normally never let a work of hers that I possessed, lay unused especially for such a long time. But the blurb behind the book and I am quoting verbatim from Penguin Classic publication –

“Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two me.”

Gave this book a very “Hard Times “feel and I was not sure I wanted to tackle sadness or hardship when my reality was hardly joyous for more reasons than one! Anyway, when Classic Club declared its  November event as the Victorian Era Literature and it seemed like a good time for me to prod myself to finally take this book down and start reading it!!

Mary Barton”, as the name suggests is the story of Mary Barton, a young girl apprenticed as a dressmaker, whose father, John Barton is a mill worker in the Manchester factories, circa. 1841-42. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that Mary, like many other girls, has aspirations of a better life – a life outside the squalor and poverty of the mill workers colony and dreams of being a grand lady. This cherished dream of hers gets a boost, when Henry Carson, the wealthy and handsome son of Mr. Carson one of wealthiest mill owners of the city, starts courting her. She is also courted by Jem Wilson, a workshop supervisor and the son of John Barton’s closest friend; however in her aspirations for higher life, she does not encourage Jem’s suit. It is very clear that Mary Barton is not in love with Henry Carson, but nevertheless is flattered by his attention; furthermore the good life that she so wishes, is not only for self, but also for her father, whom she loves desperately and wants him to be comfortable in his old age. All this while, the socio-economic condition of the Manchester Mill workers, worsens; as wages are brought down lower and lower, many of the factory workers are laid off and their children and other dependents begin to die due to malnutrition and illness. John Barton, one of the spokesperson for the mill workers trade union grows bitter and bitter as first the mill owners and then the government turn away from the pitiful conditions of the workers and deaths due to starvation increase. The increased divide finally lead the trade unionists to take some harsh actions, to have higher authorities listen to their demands. Amidst this unrest, Henry Carson is shot and Jem Wilson is imprisoned as the prime accused. It is now up to Mary Barton to decide what her heart truly wants and how can she go ahead in achieving its object.

To begin with never go by the blurb, it says what the book is, without really saying what the book is. Therefore not only do not judge the book by its cover, but also use discretion when reading a blurb. To begin with, the blurb makes Mary Barton out to be one social-climbing opportunist, which she is anything but. Like all young girls, she dreams of better and richer life, but that’s for the enriched value of life itself. How many of us have not wished for a better, more prosperous life? In a restricted, confined Victorian society, Mary leveraged the only option available to her – that of marrying someone better. She is conscious of Jem Wilson’s liking for her and because she thinks that she may seek another man, goes out of her way, to not make sure she does not encourage him or raise his hopes, that may lead to him being hurt. The wish of for bettering herself does not discount that she is a generous and a loyal friend and a dutiful daughter. Her decision are made well before any shots are fired and there is no social-climbing in her sincere wish to do what is best and what is right, all the while following the dictates of her heart! You will really like Mary for all her courage and gusto in doing everything in her power to make someone’s life better or comfortable. The supporting characters are also brilliantly drawn – you cannot help but be touched by the humanity and kindness in both John Barton and Job Leigh’s character. The simplicity and dignity of Alice and Margaret’s life and conduct is wonderful and extremely joyous, especially in the atmosphere that is both sobering and tragic. You cannot help but love the Wilson cousins – Jem and Will; they steal the reader’s heart with their honesty and earnestness. Finally, there is Mr. Carson, a wealthy man, who worked his way to the top from his childhood in grinding poverty and who in his most testing times, showed how much greatness, mankind is truly capable off! I know Ms. Gaskell wrote this book as a social commentary of her times, but it’s more than just a social drama – there is a sense of thrill and chase, especially in the second half of the book, that makes you want to reach the next page as soon as possible. The pace never flags – it a big book, 494 pages – I read it through the night. No credit to my reading skills and all kudos to Ms. Gaskell fast-moving plot that keeps you going. There are bits and pieces on Christianity and faith which may a bit challenging, but are completely in keeping with the social times of the era she wrote in and are far and few and do not really distract one from the plot! One of the key factors of this novel which makes it easy to read despite the very serious nature of the subject is that Ms. Gaskell is never didactic or pedantic. She never preaches, but observes and provides incidents, written with extreme sympathy and understanding. Not for once did she make this tenacious issue black and white – her sympathy was for the workers, but she was gentle in her exhortations of the owners, allowing them with far more human elements, than books of such genre usually allow. Most importantly, she succeeds in showcasing that even in amid most painful and difficult times, good things do happen and the most vengeful is capable of kindness and forgiveness.

Ms. Gaskell, thy name is versatility and you are truly one of under-sung but brilliant heroes of that age!!

Come November, Come Books….

November approcheth and my heart singeth…yes! I cannot eulogize about Fall – Winter enough. However after dedicating nearly every 3rd post to the praise of this glorious time of the year, I have decided to move beyond and give a scintillating synopsis of my bookish plans for November!

Cometh November, Cometh several book club activities (No idea, why I am writing like this, but then as Mark Twain said, ) To begin with, I am participating in Brona’s AusReading Month 2014. I am actually in a middle of this big project which goes live in November and this project was launched in partnership with our Australian counterparts… now that’s fate!! How can I not be part of this event? Besides, for some time I have planned to expand my reading horizon beyond the obvious British American, Classical/Historical genre. This event is therefore godsend and I plan to make the most of it! To begin with, I am planning to read the following for this reading episode –

  • “The Dressmaker” by Rosalie Ham – I heard some brilliant things and much praise about Rosalie Ham. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to this one!
  • “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay – I saw this book as a film (a rare one for me…I always read the book and may or may not see the film) and is based on a true incident regarding disappearance of a group of college girls out for a picnic in 1900. I was intrigued then, but was too young to follow on the details. Seems like a good time to dig on the details.

Besides this, I see that Classic Club is organizing a Victorian Literature event this month and I will naturally have to be part of it. My parallel life lives in the Regency-Victorian age, I cannot really pass up this event. My reading plan for this one includes

  • “Three Men In a Boat” by Jerome K Jerome – I love this laugh out loud book and began reading it a day before Classic Club announced its event. It makes complete sense that I continue reading this book.
  • Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë – I always have mixed feeling about this book, but it is a time for a re-visit, re-read and re-consider.
  • “Lady Audley’s Secret” by Mary E Braddon – I bought this book, like a million years ago and if I don’t read it now, I will never read it! So onward, Mary E Braddon
  • “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell – I really really enjoy Mrs. Gaskell’s writing, but the plotline of Mary Barton seems a bit tedious and I have therefore hesitated reading this for some time. But courage and brave heart and so and so forth, and I sail forward bravely to try this one, this month.

Among other reading news, I have yet to start Michelle Lovric’s “The True and Splendid History of the Harrington Sisters” as well as Susan Howatch’s “Penamrric” . I think I plan to read these two every month, but with the each month having its unique reading event lately, these two are getting shelved. I think, in December, I will do Will-not-finish-the-year-without-finishing-these-books event, for myself. These two will star right on top of it that month. I am also wading through Henry James’s “The American” and Mark Twain’s “Innocents Abroad” – I thought it would be fun to read to contrasting genres, authors and plots around the same subject and around the same time (“The American” was published in 1877 and “Innocents Abroad” in 1869)– an American travelling in Europe to enrich his/her cultural understanding. It’s an extremely interesting exercise in contrasting literary forms and narrative style and I will post about the same one of these days! I have also begun reading “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan and so far I am holding on to my opinions on this book!

That’s about it for my November bookish endeavors.

Before I sigh off, one last note – as you all are aware I am leading this project to gather funds as part of a crowdfunding initiative to help make a documentary to preserve the dying food culture of East India. The Crowdfunding event is unfortunately not doing too well and I again seek your help in making this happen. There are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website. You can more information on this project by visiting http://cogitofilmsindia.wix.com/idenityonapalate
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!