City Vibes #BookBytes 23

Hola folks! 

It’s #BookBytes time and today we’re talking cities, through book quotes, of course. The best way to get to know a city, other than actually living there, is through a book. If only geography was taught through fictional tales I’d have absolutely fallen in love with it. The sights, the sounds, the streets, the markets, pubs, bistros, coffee shops – an author has the power to bring it all alive for us making us live the city with his/her characters.

I recently finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The City of Girls and it gives a wonderful feel of New York of the 1940s. I have travelled to Istanbul with Elif Shafak (The Bastard of Istanbul), Afghanistan with Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and closer home I roamed the lanes of Malgudi with RK Narayan (Malgudi Days), the streets of Mumbai with Rohinton Mistry (A Fine Balance), and Calcutta with Dominique Lapierre (The City of Joy). What an absolute delight these books have been!

I’ve picked a quote from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, a book I read long time ago that describes Bombay with accurate poignancy.

“Mumbai is the sweet, sweaty smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of Gods, demons, empires, and civilizations in resurrection and decay. Its the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the island city, and the blood metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and the waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and love that produces courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches and mosques, and of hundred bazaar devoted exclusively to perfume, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. That smell, above all things – is that what welcomes me and tells me that I have come home.

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

Have you read a book that brought alive a city for you? A contemporary read?

If you had to describe your city in a word, or a sentence maybe, what would it be?

As always, thoughts from fellow Bibliophiles brighten my day. I’d love to hear from you.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on Tuesday, February 4th.

The Crimson Meniscus #BookReview

Book: The Crimson Meniscus
Author: Jason Werbeloff

The Crimson Meniscus is a set of six dystopian sci-fi short stories.

Before I go on to tell you what the book is about let me talk a little bit about the setting. So sometime in the future there’s a place called The Bubble protected by and separated from the rest of the world by a force field. The Bubble is the land of plenty with wine fountains and automated hover cabs where the inhabitants live a luxurious life. 

Then there’s The Gutter, home to the poor and destitute who struggle for survival. They are beholden to the state for their very existence. Their organs are routinely ‘harvested’ for the inhabitants of The Bubble, and replaced by low-quality generic ‘printed’ organs. The Bubble isn’t even visible to the Gutter inhabitants without special glasses.

The divide is complete.

It is in this setting that Jason Werbeloff weaves his stories – dark, twisted and gory.

What I liked

I like books set in an alternate universe. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I find it intriguing how an author sets out to build a whole different world limited only by his imagination and yet manages to make it plausible for the reader. Here he does it deftly, meticulously and I was drawn right in.

Also, the stories have unexpectedly twisted ending. They talk about how the world is being taken over by technology and the dangers therein. They talk about the frightening results of meddling with the natural order of things. I specially liked that most of them present the reader with a moral dilemma of sorts with grey areas that keep one trying to figure the right from the wrong.

Most of all, even beyond what the individual stories talk about, the book brings home in horrifying reality how terrible the world can become if we shut ourselves in our own small secure ‘bubbles’ of existence. In the alternate universe created by the author the rich struggle with problems that come with privilege, problems of excess – a lung gone bad, a heart that’s dying out. They proceed to buy organs without a twinge, without for a moment wondering what happens to the people from whom the organs are harvested. They are completely indifferent to the people from the Gutter and unaware of their own privilege. Because, to them, that’s just the way life is.

That was my biggest takeaway from the book, a shocking realisation of what the world can become if the privileged continue to apathetically cordon themselves off from the underprivileged.

The one thing I didn’t quite like ..

….was the gore and I skipped paragraphs to avoid it. That said, I have to add that I have an unusually low tolerance for it and I do get that it was perhaps required in order to shock and appal the reader. And it did that with success. 

Last thought: If you like dark, twisted dystopian stories, this one’s for you.

Tackling the TBR #TBRChallenge2020

This year, with the idea of keeping life simple and uncomplicated I had no book-reading goals except to make headway on the ones I already have. With that thought I stayed away from all reading challenges except the one on Goodreads only because it gave me the freedom to choose my own books. I’ve pledged to read 36, like last year. Three books a month is ambitious enough.

Then Shalz and Soumya came along with a challenge with an almost similar goal – to make a dent in your TBR pile. I went through the prompts and managed to fit almost all the prompts with books I have – 20 out of the 24 required. Can it get any better? This challenge might actually help me stick to my TBR. Also, I have the freedom to read 12 other books to make up my Goodreads Challenge. Sounds like a win-win.

Here is my (almost final) reading list:

  1. A book from a genre you generally avoid
    The Crimson Meniscus by Jason Werbeloff
    I once had the notion that science fiction would be boring but one short story changed that for me. Now I’m looking forward to exploring more in this genre. 
  2. A book that’s a part of a series
    Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
    Last year I read Cinder and completely loved it. I am now dying to get through the rest of the series and am trying to pace myself, reserving each book for days when I can read it at a stretch. Yeah, that’s how much I loved Cinder. 
  3. A book you started but never finished
    One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan
    I haven’t quite made up my mind about this one. I liked it but didn’t absolutely love it. But I do plan to go back to it.
  4. A book by an author you have been meaning to read but haven’t dared to so far
    Letters from a Father to His Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru
    I’ve heard so much about this one but have dismissed it as boring. I hope to give it a shot this year.
  5. A book written 100 years ago/Classic
    A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
    I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages and yet Dickens’ style of writing is proving a bit much for me. I’ve read him earlier – Oliver Twist, Great Expectations but I just don’t seem to have the patience any longer. Hoping I’ll get thought this one. Maybe I’ll settle for an abridged version. It would be pretty weird though, graduating from originals to abridged versions.
  6. A book picked up after reading a favourable review on a book blogger’s site or a recommendation from a book obsessed friend/relative
    The Book of Fate  by Parinoush Saniee.
    This one was recommended by my sister-in-law, who is an avid reader. Also, she’s completely off social media so her recommendations stem purely from book-merit, not media hype.
  7. A book set in the past or the future
    Cress by Marissa Meyer
    That’s book three in the Cinder series – Scifi, set in the future.
  8. Re-read an old favourite
    Love Story by Eric Segal
    What can I say about this book. I just want to re-read it.
  9. A book to be read on a vacation or the plot is based around a holiday (could be a travelogue) – Down Under by Bill Bryson
    He’s an author I love for his humour. Looking forward to this one.
  10. A free hit (choose any book you wish here)
    City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.
    Giving a last chance to this author, despite DNFing Eat Pray Love.
  11. A book that would be a foodies delight
    The Lemon Tree Café by Cathy Bramley
  12. A book with the cover in your favourite color
    The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa
  13. A book with a love triangle. TBD
  14. WWI or WWII drama (could be a true story or fictional)
    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr/ Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
    I have had Catch 22 with me for ages. 
  15. A book written by a famous personality (could be an autobiography/memoir or just fiction) – Dopehri By Pankaj Kapoor
    I stumbled upon this one pretty recently recommended by Shalini and I had to read this because it’s set in my hometown. I’m still trying to decide if I should go for the original Hindi version or the English translation.
  16. A book gifted to you
    10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
    This one was gifted by Shalz and is by one of my favourite authors. A must read.
  17. A YA book
    Fairest by Marissa Meyer
    Told you I want to finish the series! That’s the last of the Lunar Chronicles.
  18. A book based on mythology (Indian, Roman, Greek etc)
    The Baramullah Bomber by Clark Prasad.
    This is ‘a science fiction espionage thriller and India’s first mythological thriller’ according to an online description. Doesn’t it sound intriguing? 
  19. A book that’s been on your shelf for more than 5 years
    Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez
  20. An award winning book
    Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Bonus Prompts (Optional):

21. A self help book. TBD
This is not my favourite genre. I thought I’d slot ‘Who Moved my Cheese’ but that has less than 200 pages so I’m still looking for options.
22. A book by an author whose name starts with the first letter as your name
The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam
23. An Audiobook/e-book or a PDF read
Anne of Green Gables LM Montgomery
24. A crime fiction
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Everyone seems to have read this and I shall get to it too.

So that’s it. Have you read any of these books? Got a better recommendation for any of the prompts? Do share. Also, drop by here if you find the prompts interesting and want to join in.

Let us make glorious amazing mistakes this year #BookBytes 22

Hola folks. Happy happy new year to all of you. I know I know I’ve been lax in sharing my bookish plans for the year. Year end celebrations left me feeling listless and unable to write. But as always, #BookBytes pushed me on and here I am.

Today I’m not sharing a byte from a book. It being New Year and all, I picked up a few lines that I found very inspiring from Neil Gaiman’s blog.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” 

– Neil Gaiman, on his blog

Isn’t this just the bravest thought? The perfect inspiration? No matter what your field of work is, these lines empower you to be better, dream bigger, without fear of failure. Gaiman wrote these lines as a New Year thought, way back in 2011 but they’ll always be relevant.

Here’s wishing you a happy and productive 2020.

Oh and stay tuned as I shall be sharing my reading plans for 2020 soonest.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on Tuesday, January 21.

The Bell Jar, Metamorphosis #MicroReview

Here are two books both critically acclaimed, yet both didn’t work for me.

Book: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath

I picked up The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because it’s said to be a modern-day classic and also because it’s the only book written by the author. When an author writes just one book, it is often close to her/his true self and that’s a treat to read.

The book introduces us to the bright young Esther Greenwood who is in New York on a writing scholarship. It traces her journey as she tries to fit in, to do things expected of her but fails. She finds she can neither be a true blue society girl nor a ‘good’ girl. Flitting somewhere in the middle, she loses her real self. She tries to fit into societal moulds but feels suffocated by them(like she’s under a bell jar, hence the name of the book). Then on begins her spiral into depression, slowly and surely, as she lets go of one opportunity after another. Finally she finds herself in a mental facility, struggling to regain her balance.

I found it hard to connect with Esther. She is so confused about what she wants from life. Perhaps one needs to be in a specific state of mind to understand and appreciate her, perhaps one needs to have experienced some of that depression to truly empathise. Or perhaps Plath spilt her own disinterest in life into the book. That might be a  testimony of the honesty with which it is written but it renders this a hard book to read.

Book: The Metamorphosis
Author: Franz Kafka

This is as unusual a book as they can get. It talks about Gregor Samsa who wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a vermin. Interestingly, we don’t even know whether it was actually a vermin or an insect of some kind because the book is originally written in German and Kafka is known to use words that keep baffling translators.

Moving on, Gregor’s change scares and disgusts his parents and Grete, his sister. Grete, initially shows some concern leaving food for him and at least noticing if he was eating or not. She even tries to make his room a little comfortable for this new version of him. His father has to begin going to work again as does Grete while his mother has to take up sewing assignments to run the house. A depressed Gregor gives up eating and finally meets his end and his family moves on living together happily.

This is a less than 100 page book but boy, it proved hard to read. Like The Bell Jar, I couldn’t empathise with Gregor, perhaps because I come from an entry difference space as compared to him. The book reflects Kafka’s dissatisfaction with his own life, stuck in a nine-to-five job routine which, he felt, took away from his true love which was writing. It also shows his real life alienation from his family. With that background, I could get some understanding of the book but it still remained too dark for my taste.

Who Should be Buddha? #BookBytes 21

I’d read and loved Liberation of Sita by Volga so it was with high expectations that I picked up Yashodhara by the same author. Here’s a quote from the book that made me think:

I can’t become a path finder though I have the desire to become one. So, I must make the path of the pathfinder more comfortable for him to tread upon. That shall be my aim and my life’s noblest ambition.

Volga, Yashodhara

I get Yashodhara’s point of view here. It’s an unselfish perspective, where she’s thinking what’s best for the world, rather than of her own personal journey and that is definitely appreciable.

Yashodhara and Siddharth were a perfect match – two souls who thought the same thoughts, felt the same emotions. If anything, Yashodhara was the more evolved of the two (as depicted in the book). And yet she gives up her desire to be the ‘pathfinder’ because she realises that, being a woman, she wouldn’t be able to impact the world as Siddharth would and a valuable message would be lost to the world. And so she decides to take a backseat, letting Siddharth go, allowing him to become The Buddha, while she remains a ‘facilitator’. It’s only a long long time later that she is able to complete her journey.

There are many things about the Yashodhara-Siddharth story that have troubled me ever since I was a child. Finding out that Yshodhara was just as much a thinker as Siddharth only made it worse.

Perhaps, what she did was the right thing to do, specially in the context of the times she lived in.

What’s sad though, is that even today, a lot of women are content to play supporting roles rather than take centre stage. The tired old saying ‘Behind every man…’ gets to me sometimes. It’s as if the woman is given a consolation prize so she stops fighting for the Gold. Perhaps I am being harsh here and I do get that it isn’t always intentional however one does need to rethink this whole facilitator role that women are permanently cast in.

One needs to remember that sometimes they shoulder roles left to them unwillingly, protesting all along, at other times they step back and don’t push themselves enough to take centre stage and sometimes they actually delight in the sacrifice, in giving up their dreams for the men in their lives thanks to years and years of conditioning.

That’s just sad. The world would be a better place if people took up roles best suited to each one, irrespective of gender.

Perhaps then Yashodhara would have been the Buddha.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

***********

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

BookBytes will be on a break now till we usher in the new year. See you on the first Tuesday of 2020, that’s January 7.

Lock Every Door #BookReview

Book: Lock Every Door 
Author: Riley Sager

I never gave thrillers much thought till a few manuscripts came to me for editing and I realised I completely enjoyed them. The only problem – if the book turns out to be good I find myself unable to put it down and that completely upsets my routine. Now if I find a highly recommended thriller I make sure I have a day or two at my disposal when I begin reading. That’s worked out fine for me.

And that’s how I began reading Lock Every Door on a relaxed Friday.

The Story

Life hasn’t being good to Jules Larson. First, her sister disappears then she loses her parents in an accident. Even as she’s trying to make peace with all of that she’s let go from her job. She comes home to find her boyfriend cheating on her and her life falls apart completely. She’s been rooming in with her friend Chloe when she spots an ad for an apartment-sitter in the poshest apartment complex of Manhattan – The Bartholomew. The building houses the richest and the most famous people who value their privacy above all else. The money is very very good but there are few rules to be followed – no night-outs, no visitors, no talking to the other residents. They seem simple enough, if a little weird, and a bankrupt, desperate, Jules accepts them eagerly. She looks upon it as the ‘reset button’ for her life.

Soon, however, she realises all is not right at the Bartholomew. It’s an indefinable feeling she can’t quite reason out. Is it prompted by the gargoyle at her window on the facade of the building? Is it the strange wallpaper design in her apartment? Is it the unexplained noises at night? Or is it just her imagination fuelled by Chloe’s warnings and media stories that insist that the building is cursed?

Then a fellow apartment-sitter, Ingrid, disappears and Jules cannot but begin to investigate.

What I loved

The most interesting part of the book is that barely anything scary actually happened for much of the early part of the book. And yet I was on edge waiting for something to happen, trying to read between the lines, urging Jules on to look around, to be careful, maybe even to get out. Part of me wanted her to find out if Bartholomew really was cursed or haunted, and if yes, why. The other part wanted Jules to stay away from everything, get her money and leave. I could see why she’d want to hang around despite the warning signals.

Bartholomew reminded me a little bit of Rebecca’s Manderley. It has a character of its own as much as its inmates. I loved the way Sager describes it. The gothic structure, its air of opulence, the luxurious apartments, the secrecy, the snobbish flat owners – it all comes together in an intriguing mix.

I liked Jules. I felt her closeness to her sister and her heartbreak at her disappearance. Which is why I could understand her desperation to find Ingrid.

Lock Every Door isn’t a pacey read yet the tension keeps one hooked.

Last thought: If you’re looking for an edge-of-the-seat atmospheric thriller, this ones for you.