Five things you need to be, to make use of a Books-by-Weight Sale

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Have you ever gone to a Book by Weight sale? I went to my very first one recently. Honestly, I used to find the idea appalling – I mean how insulting for books to be sold by weight, like old newspapers. But then the insatiable book lover kicked in and ‘What the heck!’ though I, as long as I was getting to pick up a load of books without going bankrupt that’s all that mattered.

So off I went and was completely blown away. I’d taken my son along and between us we packed away a carton full of them. It was like a book deluge – an entire room lined with tables from end to end sagging under the weight of gorgeous gorgeous books. There were books on the window sills and more books in cartons under the tables and all around the billing counter. Any self-respecting book lover would go crazy and I did too.

And yet there were friends who came away disappointed because they didn’t find books of their choice or because the books weren’t in a newly minted condition.

So here I am…

listing out preconditions for enjoying a books by weight (BBW) sale.

You should be a lover of books and a voracious reader

Well obviously! If you aren’t a voracious enough reader Amazon and Crossword will satisfy you. It’s only when you’re looking for much much more that you should head out to a BBW.

You should be a bit broke

Yeah BBW is about getting a LOT of books CHEAP. If either of those two things aren’t a criteria for you, you don’t need to go there.

You should be an adventurous reader

If you go to a BBW looking for specific authors or specific books, chances are you’ll be disappointed. You might get lucky of course and find exactly what you’re looking for OR you just might see ‘your’ books in someone else’s shopping bag or not there at all. The thing is you have to have an eclectic taste and be open to new, unknown authors to make full use of a BBW.

You should be a canny blurb reader

You should be able to gauge a book by its cover/blurb or maybe a quick cursory glance through the pages. There are just so many books and so many people jostling for them that that’s all you’ll have to make your pick.

You shouldn’t be finicky about the condition of books

This one’s pretty important. This is NOT a book exhibition. There will be some books in good condition and there’ll be some pre-used ones and others with yellowing pages and some others that may be dusty or musty. If you go by what’s in the pages rather than what’s on them, a BBW is for you. I have even picked out books from the kabadiwala so I was right at home.

So there – that’s it. If you’re all of those things head out to the sale. Don’t forget to carry some big sturdy bags with you unless of course you want to totter home with your precious pile spilling all around you.

The Girl With Seven Names – A review

The Girl With Seven Names – A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee

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North Korea as a country has intrigued me for some time. I heard about books like Camp 15 but was apprehensive to take them up because I find them too disturbing. I couldn’t sleep for days after I read The Boy in Striped Pajamas.

The Girl With Seven Names is the story of a young girl Hyeonseo told in the first person and it proved just right. It is a simple read, fast paced and easy and gives a first hand description of life in North Korea without getting too grim.

The story

Interestingly, it isn’t a passion for freedom or poverty that pushes Hyeonseo to run away from her country. She comes from a relatively privileged family that has managed to stay on the right side of the regime for the longest time. She lives in a border town  on the banks of River Yalu with China just across it. In winters when the river froze over, all one had to do was avoid the border security guards of both countries and walk across it and one could be in a different country.

Hyeonseo love for adventure prompts her to take that walk. With a month to go for her 18th birthday she decides to secretly visit her uncle in China. Unfortunately her disappearance is discovered and she cannot come back. Leaving the country in North Korea is counted as defection and if caught, brings severe repercussions not just for the defector but also for his/her entire family.

The book then on traces her struggle to establish a legal identity and make a home for herself first in China and then in South Korea, living and travelling without an ID or a passport. Hyeonseo starts out as a rather naive, impulsive, headstrong girl. The book traces her growth into a smart and courageous woman as she struggles to find her feet and keep her family together.

What I loved about the book

North Korea sounds straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is hard to imagine that this is not fiction nor from an era long gone. The book is set in the eighties and the nineties.

The leaders wield absolute power. The complete insulation of people from the outside world, the constant threat from the government, the constant worry of being informed upon by neighbours and teachers, the entire education system pandering to the government including changing the history of the country – All of this is hard to believe.

And yet how would anyone who isn’t exposed to any other way, even know that this wasn’t the only way? And so people accept it, get used to it and even miss it when they’re out of the country. Her mom and brother are reluctant to leave even when they have the option to do so.

Hyeonseo also talks of the challenges of settling down in a capitalist country which is  something I had never thought of. The book turned out to be a very enlightening read. It talks about the dangers of an all-powerful state.

Last thought: I’d say go for it.

The TBRs for 2017

This past week I’ve been in book paradise. I’ve sifted through book suggestions from  friends, read up booklists and blurbs and gone through Goodreads reviews to make up my TBR. I’ve stumbled across phenomenal reads – funny, suspenseful, thought-provoking, mushy – all kinds. I have been constantly amazed at the realms that the human minds can delve into, the worlds it can create, the stories it can spin.

Anyway, after much thought I have arrived at my TBR list based on last week’s Wishlist.

Here it is.

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Those are the books I aspire to read through the year. What do you think of the list?

For some genres I have more than one because I just couldn’t make up my mind. Some are by familiar authors so I have a fair idea what to expect and some will be a complete surprise.

I have favourites, of course. The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake as also The Hundred Foot Journey, The Red Notebook, The Siege at the Taj Hotel – can’t wait to get to those. Some are intriguing like The Egyptian since I’ve hardly read anything about life  during the times of the Pharaohs other than what I picked up in history class.

I know I’ve left out some good books but then the TBR list is not binding and I will add and subtract, along the way. I’ve missed out some genres too like Life in Space and Aliens as well as Spirituality as Sulekha pointed out. They’ll just have to wait.

A big thank you to Shantala, Lata , VinayVinithaTarang and Mithila for helping out with their suggestions. I shall always be grateful for the presence of friends and readers like you through my reading journey.

Even as I finalised the list I am done with my first book of the year – The Girl With Seven Names. Review coming up soon.

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I also managed to get in the BAR Wordy Wednesday prompts:

Aspire, Always, Anyway, Arrive

I know I know I should have done better with them but I was too taken up with the TBRs and didn’t want to let the prompts go. I hope to do them justice next week.

Do join in every Wednesday with the hashtag #BarWoWe on twitter.

Booked for 2017

Last year, for the very first time, I took up a reading challenge – to read 30 books over 365 days. That’s a little over two books a month. With all that goes on outside of books that’s all I could hope for.

I managed 32. That was heartening.

I am a rather disorganised person and I have grown to love Goodreads for the order it brings to my reading. With that support this year I intend to streamline my book adventure further and also bring in some diversity. There are plenty of reading challenges across the Web I know, but I need one that caters to my personal preferences.

The idea is to :

  • Include some genres I haven’t much delved into – short stories, translations, travelogues.
  • Challenge some prejudices – ‘I cannot read non-fiction’, ‘biographies are boring’.
  • Read fiction from countries that intrigue me – North Korea, China, Israel – I’d love to know more about them. I must also add Pakistan and Bangladesh – our neighbours – so like us and yet so distant.
  • Try something new, audio books, for instance.

None of this is binding of course. I hereby give myself complete liberty to dump a book mid-way if I don’t like it. Reading shouldn’t be hard work, right?

So here is the list I’ve drawn up

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I hope to be ready with my TBR within the week. I’d love for you guys to chip in with suggestions since some categories are completely new to me.

And now, totally awed and satisfied with how organised I’m being this year I shall head out to meet the day. Wish me luck!

Do share your reading plan. Do you have one? Are you following a challenge? If you don’t and if you aren’t, join me and we can read together.

Birds of Prey – A review

Birds of Prey by Archana Sarat

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Let me begin by saying that the deep dark world of psychological thrillers is not one I would like to delve into. However, and this is a disclaimer, I had to pick up Birds of Prey because it is authored by a friend. That said I have been completely impartial in my review, or so I hope. There is definitely something about the trailer and the cover – chilling yet intriguing – that makes one want to read this book.

The story

When a number of men from affluent families are abducted in quick succession police suspect a serial offender is on the prowl. Ex ACP Anton Pinto is pulled out from his peaceful life of retirement in Goa to the Mumbai crime scene to help track the killer. In keeping with his promise to his wife, Anton tries not to get involved in the case even while providing insights to the investigating team. However when yet another man is abducted he rescinds his promise and throws himself into the chase, trawling through schools and old age homes in search of his quarry. Then, the inevitable happens as the hunter becomes the prey and Anton finds himself trapped in a well that seems impossible to escape from.

That’s all I am going to tell you here. Go read the book for more.

What I liked

I read the book in a single sitting. It’s that gripping. You may figure out the ‘who’ early on but the ‘how’ keeps you turning the pages. It’s a simple enough plot but I liked the way the story unfolded, bit by bit, clue by clue – just how a thriller should.

I need to like or at least understand the characters to like a book. Birds of Prey did that for me. Anton is very likeable, so is his wife Sheeba and most of Anton’s colleagues even though they only have minor parts to play. In fact, the characters have been drawn out with clarity and consistency.

The story comes from multiple perspectives, each of them convincing, making you struggle to take sides. So while you understand Anton’s itch to get back to crime solving you also understand his wife’s reservations; while you of course root for Anton, you feel for the antagonist too, who is far from all black.

Also, compared with the Indian authors’ works on offer, the editing was decent enough, not perfect, but nothing jumps out at you or takes away from the flow of the story, for that I am grateful.

What I didn’t like

Some developments, I felt, came a bit too easily – some revelations during Anton’s  investigation as well as the final escape in the last few pages.

My one major issue with the book would be the description of sexual violence, which was graphic and gory. I could feel the dread in me grow as the chilling bits approached and details of abuse became only too real. I wouldn’t recommend it to young adults or the faint-hearted. But I guess that’s the way psychological thrillers are meant to be, so this is just me. I did say in the beginning that this isn’t my favourite genre.

Oh and the end is tailor-made for a sequel, so that’s something to look forward to.

Last thought: Pick it up if you are intrigued by edge-of-the-seat thrillers that can result from the workings of twisted minds (and I mean that of the antagonist here!).

Books, movies and I

Is there anything more satisfying than bullying a bully? For that pleasure alone, if I had to choose a film character to play, I would pick Matilda Wormwood from Matilda.

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You know her, right? From Roald Dahl’s novel, if not from the film of the same name?

I fell in love with the idea of this little girl standing up to the biggest bully of them all – Thrunchbull, the evil headmistress who would grab girls by their pigtails and fling them away or pick boys up by their curly mops and drop them down without batting an eyelid.

Oh she was brave. However, that is just one of the reasons why I would like to be her. Matilda was a prodigy. She was a self-taught reader and found her way to the library when she was just four. I love her love for books. At four she was reading Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Hemingway, Kipling and Austen. That image of a tiny girl sitting with a book almost as large as herself, a glass of hot chocolate by her side, lost in the pleasure of reading is just  adorable.

I could do with some of her telekinetic powers too. The wonderfully exaggerated, over the top, typically Roald Dahl film where good, well and truly, trounces evil would be a dream to be in.

The other choice (which would actually have been my first choice if I hadn’t already spoken to death about it) is Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail – the sweet, self-deprecating Storybook lady. I love her. I love everything about her. Her passion for books and reading, her cosy little Shop Around the Corner, her story-telling sessions, her personal connect with kids… just everything. I love that she finds it difficult to be nasty, even to people she quite dislikes. That’s a lot like me. Yeah I’d definitely want to play Kathleen Kelly.

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That she bumps into a handsome, funny, rich, book-shop owner would only be a cherry on a  cake that was perfect already.

Rather coincidentally, the book she’s reading out to the kids during the story-telling session in the film, is by Roald Dahl.

Which film character would you like to play?

If you want to check out some more fun posts hop on across to Jaibala’s blog. She picked Hermione and Katniss, by the way, two of my other favourites.

#TadkaTuesday

Rita Just Wants to be Thin – A Review

Rita Just Wants to be Thin by Mary W Walters

I stumbled upon this book at bookbub.com. It caught my eye obviously because of its title. Perhaps because I started off with hardly any expectations, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

(If you don’t know what bookbub.com is do go take a look. It’s a resource for ebooks, either at no cost at all or at a very minimal cost. If you’re a reader of light romantic fiction this is an absolute goldmine)

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The story

28-year-old Rita was young, pretty and thin before she got married. Marriage brought her a husband, Graham and two rather unpleasant step-children. She also has to contend with Graham’s dead and quite perfect first wife who she can never measure up to. Graham is a work-from-home journalist. He isn’t really a bad sort but is self-centred and inhumanly insensitive.

Overworked, undervalued, exhausted and lonely, Rita finds solace in food. As the pounds pile up she begins to hate the way she looks. She tries out new diets regularly but fails to stick to any of them, fuelling rounds of self-loathing and more bingeing.

Things come to a head when her mother-in-law comes to stay with her until finally one day she decides to walk out.

What I liked

Rita’s struggle with weight is something common to a lot of women — the constant awareness of one’s weight, the acute self-consciousness due to it, the self-loathing that comes after a binge and yet not being able to find the will-power to do anything about it — all of that made the book extremely relatable.

Later the rush Rita gets when she begins to walk, the way she learns to disengage herself from her situation and make time for herself – I loved all of that.

Also, her story isn’t just about her fight with fat. It is about how she learns to assert herself, how she decides that she will be the one in charge of her life. It is a reminder for anyone stuck in a rut that they alone can change their lives.

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That quote is only too true

What I didn’t like

Rita’s struggle is so long that it gets tedious and depressing. The turnaround comes after a long long time.

The book ends right at the beginning of Rita’s new journey. I would have liked an epilogue, at least. I will always have the niggling feeling that she slipped back to her old ways and that takes away from the perfect ending.

Last thought: Some books aren’t great literature but you like them because you find you can connect with them. This was one of those for me.