Reading done in 2011

December 28, 2011

The count for this year is 31.

The Kindle experience
I enjoyed reading on my new Kindle (thanks C!). I could read a 1000 page tome like Shogun just as easily as I read a comic book. I remember what trouble I took to make sure I didn’t crease the binding on my copy of the Lord of the Rings, its nice not to have to worry about that anymore.

One of the things I miss about physical books is the ability to rapidly go back and forth to brush up on some events from the previous pages – I haven’t been able to do that on the Kindle.

New genres, new forms

This year, I started reading Science Fiction and Poetry for the first time. I begun with classics of the science-fiction genre like Ender’s Game and Dune, both of which I enjoyed.

I am not a fan of poetry in general so I picked up something sufficiently low-brow – Bukowski’s Love is a Dog from Hell. I chose this volume over his others because both the title and the cover were interesting. The poems were amusing and a few of them were quite well-written. Most of the poems are anecdotes about drunkenness, sex and shit-stained underwear; it is by far the dirtiest book on my shelf.

Two fantasy series that I was looking forward to reading disappointed me. The anti-Catholic vitriol in the first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy made me uncomfortable and detracted from an otherwise good story which had stuff like daemons and armoured bears battling to the death. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series started off pretty weak with The Colour of Magic but I heard that other books like Guards! Guards! are much better so I will give the series another shot.

Best book: Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

A dark, serious and masterful novel.

Worst book: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

The plot is unbelievable (even for fantasy) and the imagery is so childish at times that it made me cringe.

Fiction:

  1. Still William by Richmal Crompton
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  4. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  5. Hotel by Arthur Hailey
  6. Shogun by James Clavell
  7. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  8. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Grahame-Smith Seth
  9. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  10. Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut
  11. Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  12. My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  13. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
  14. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
  15. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  16. Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horses, Old Man, The Bear by William Faulkner
  17. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  18. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Biographies/Autobiographies:

  1. Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by Dean Faulkner Wells
  2. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

Poetry:

  1. Love is a Dog from Hell by Charles Bukowski

Fantasy:

  1. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  2. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
  3. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  4. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Science Fiction:
  1. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  2. Dune by Frank Herbert
  3. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Non Fiction:

  1. Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik
  2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  3. Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson
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Title: The Color Purple
Author: Alice Walker
Pages: 262

The Color Purple is a novel set in the American South. It is about a black woman called Celie. The book is unique because it consists entirely of letters. The bulk of them are written by Celie to God. There are also letters between Celie and her sister.

Celie is a poor woman and barely literate. Her letters are full of colloquial and badly spelled English:

“She tell me, Your skin. Your hair. Your teefs. He try to give her a
compliment, she pass it on to me. After while I git to feeling pretty
cute”

I liked the style this book was written in. Celie’s journey from a quiet woman who is bullied, beaten and abused to an independent and proud woman is remarkable. You would think that trying to tell a story entirely through letters would present some narrative difficulties and you would be right. The author sometimes mixes up voices in the letters. For ex, Celie is writing in the first-person but then she suddenly begins quoting Sofia (her daughter-in-law) in the first-person. It was a bit confusing.

Title: The Lord of the Flies
Author: William Golding
Pages: 225

The Lord of the Flies is a novel about a group of schoolboys whose plane crash-lands on a deserted island. No adults survive and the boys are the only people on the island.

At first the boys all get along but then things start to go wrong and they turn violent and cruel. The tone of the book is dark and serious.

Golding’s main characters – Ralph (the elected ‘Chief’), Jack (the athletic and popular boy who wishes to be Chief) and Piggy (a fat, cerebral and asthmatic coward) are vivid and brilliantly developed.

I loved some of Golding’s dark prose:

As if this information was rooted far down in the springs of sorrow, the littlun wept. His face puckered, the tears leapt from his eyes, his mouth opened till they could see a square black hole. At first he was a silent effigy of sorrow; but then the lamentation rose out of him, loud and sustained as the conch.

Golding was a Nobel-prize winner and this is his most-famous book. I wonder if his other books are as good.

Reading done in 2010

January 1, 2011

I read 43 books this year! This year’s number is a massive improvement over last year’s (20).

Best book: Light in August by William Faulkner

I stand in awe of Faulkner’s florid and powerful prose:

He seemed to himself to be standing just and rocklike and with neither haste nor anger while on all sides the sluttishness of weak human men seethed in a long sigh of terror about the actual representative of the wrathful and retributive Throne

Worst book: Second Degree — One Crazy Year at IIM-A by Prashant John

Badly written. Parts of it are so amateurish one wonders if it was ghost-written by a precocious  schoolboy.

Fiction:

  1. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
  2. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows by J. K. Rowling
  4. Metamorphosis and other stories by Franz Kafka
  5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  6. Wheels by Arthur Hailey
  7. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  8. 2 states by Chetan Bhagat
  9. Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry
  10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  11. Airport by Arthut Hailey
  12. To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite
  13. Second Degree — One Crazy Year at IIM-A by Prashant John (absolutely mediocre writing – do not buy)
  14. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  15. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  16. The Class by Erich Segal
  17. Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
  18. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  19. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson
  20. The Color of Law by Mark Gimenez
  21. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  22. Alibi for a judge by Henry Cecil
  23. The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum
  24. Potrait of a judge by Henry Cecil
  25. Big Money by P. G. Wodehouse
  26. The Fakir by Sunil Gangopadhyay
  27. Light in August by William Faulkner
  28. Youth by J. M. Coetzee
  29. Bullet Park by John Cheever
  30. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  31. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  32. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Biographies/Autobiographies:

  1. Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
  2. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  3. The story of my life by Hellen Keller
  4. Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln

Plays:

  1. Death of a salesman by Arthur Miller
  2. Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

Graphic novels:

  1. WE3 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
  2. 365 Samurai and a Few Bowls of Rice by J. P. Kalonji
  3. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Technical:

  1. Microsoft SQL Server 2008: T-SQL Fundamentals by Itzik Ben-Gan

Miscellaneous:

  1. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster

Book review: Twilight

June 19, 2010

Title: Twilight
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Pages: 498

Twilight is a teenage romance novel featuring Isabella Swan and her lover, Edward Cullen. It is set in the remote town of Forks to which Isabella recently moved to live with her father.

Edward Cullen and his family are all extraordinarily good-looking and smart. They’re also vampires.

The first half of the novel contains a lot of romantic nonsense that bored me. After that the pace of the novel picks up considerably when Isabella is pursued by a vampire who wants to kill her. Stephenie Meyer is skilled at creating suspense and I found myself beside with excitement and looking forward to an epic vampire battle. Unfortunately, all that fever-pitch suspense and expectation came to naught. Meyer left me feeling unsatisfied.

Her descriptions of the history of the Cullen family and the supernatural gifts they possess are fascinating. Sadly, there is little of it.

I feel Meyer could have spent a little more time on the evolution of the relationship between Isabella and her father. They start out pleasantly enough with Isabella appearing to be independent and her father being treated like a man-child. All of a sudden her father turns into a typical over-protective dad; he suspects she might sneak out and so checks in on her at night, disconnects her car batteries so she can’t leave, etc. The sudden shift of power seemed odd to me.

Cut out most of the romantic stuff and throw in a battle or two and lots more vampire history and this would be a very good novel.

Title: Such a Long Journey
Author: Rohinton Mistry
Pages: 339

Such a Long Journey, like Mistry’s two other novels (A Fine Balance and Family Matters), deals with a poor Parsi family in Bombay. Like his other books this one too is set during Indira Gandhi’s rule. I wonder what Mistry’s fascination with Indira is about, did he grow up in Bombay during her rule?

This novel follows the Noble family. The head of the family, Gustad Noble, is the main character in the book. Gustad is a hard-working, honest man who works as a bank clerk. Unfortunately Gustad is beset with many problems. His eldest son, Sohrab, refuses to join IIT and instead wants to study Arts instead. His daughter, Roshan, falls seriously ill and does not respond to treatment. An old friend, Major Bilimoria, who rudely and abruptly disappeared writes him a mysterious letter that starts a chain of events that leads to fraud and crime.

Such a Long Journey is full of many little sketches of Indian life; riots, markets, brothels, all of them are described vividly and poetically. Mistry does a good job of creating suspense too. I don’t recall his other works being suspenseful.

I liked this book because it describes Parsi culture well. The Parsis are an ethnic and religious community in India who are the descendants of Zoroastrian refugees who fled Islamic persecution in Iran around the 10th century A.D.  They are fully integrated into Indian culture but still remain distinct; they strongly condemn marriage outside of the community and are slowly dying out.

Although Mistry’s novels are about poor Parsi families some of India’s richest business families like the Tatas and Birlas are Parsis.

Book review: The Road

April 3, 2010

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Pages: 256

The Road follows a man and his son as they travel across america after it has been ravaged by some unnamed disaster. The disaster wiped out almost all vegetation and animal life, ash is present everywhere and people must wear masks. Very few people survive and most of them are criminals who resort to horrific means of survival like cannibalism. The man and his son, however, survive by scavenging for food.

The book is based several years after the disaster, maybe even a decade, and therefore very little remains that has not been scavenged. Animal life, including fish and birds, has become extinct along with all vegetation. Not even grass remains. The situation is heart-breakingly desperate and yet the man does not give up hope.

Interestingly, McCarthy names almost nothing in the book. We do not know what disaster took place, the names of the man and his son or even what country they are in. Thus the reader’s attention is focused on the relationship between the man and his son and whether they will ultimately survive.

The man loves his son deeply and survives solely for him. The son, who was born after the disaster took place, knows nothing of what the world was like before and has lived a hard life from the very beginning. The man possesses great moral courage and refuses to resort to criminal behaviour. Instead, he teaches his son that he is “carrying the fire” and is one of the good guys. They starve rather than kill humans to eat their flesh.

This book poses intriguing questions like, is it worth living in such a horrible world? What does one have to look forward to?

If you answer: “No, death is much better” then perhaps suicide is moral in a non-apocalyptic world?

Book review: Wheels

April 3, 2010

Title: Wheels
Author: Arthur Hailey

Wheels is a novel about the auto industry in the American city of Detroit. I don’t have anything much to say about this book other than it is not the best of Hailey’s books. It is too short and does not excite and thrill like many of his other books do.

Title: Metamorphosis and other stories
Author: Franz Kafka
Pages: 299

This is a collection of the influential German writer Franz Kafka’s works that were published in his lifetime. He set very high standards for himself. So much so that he wanted all of his unpublished writings to be destroyed after his death. His best friend decided to disregard Kafka’s wish and published the stuff.

The preface of this book said something about Kafka being universally accessible and that anyone can read and appreciate him. I beg to differ. Very often, Kafka’s metaphorical style makes it difficult to understand exactly what he is talking about or referring to.

Some of the stories like “A Fratricide” were beautifully and clearly written but others like “A Little Woman” are so obtuse that I found it torturous to continue reading and had to skip them.

Tip: I had incorrectly used tortuous instead of torturous in the sentence above. Tortuous means winding/twisting whereas torturous means unpleasant/painful.

Book review: WE3

April 2, 2010

Title: WE3
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Frank Quitely
Pages: 104

WE3 is a graphic novel about 3 pets that are kidnapped by a U.S. Air Force research team and turned into killing machines. Their senses have been greatly enhanced and they have been equipped with armor exoskeletons, they have even been taught to talk. They are referred to as “biorgs”.

The team, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, carry out a number of missions (mostly assassinations) and it has been decided to decommission the team and put the animals to sleep. Their trainer however cannot bear to see the animals killed and so she sets them free.

The animals, led by the most intelligent among them – the dog, manage to elude capture and so the Air Force decides to use another, newer and much improved, biorg to take them out.

Although the animals are trained to be killers they do not attack unless provoked. This, along with the fact that they were once pets makes it easy to empathize with them.

At 104 pages this is a short book but it is full of touching scenes. I felt compassion for the poor dog who berates himself as “Bad dog, Bad dog”. I would love to see a movie based on this book.