Category Archives: Books

10 minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World #BookReview

Book: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Author: Elif Shafak

After January’s reading spree February was a month for slowing down. Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds was the perfect pick for the purpose. One cannot open a Shafak and breeze through it. Her books are to be sampled and savoured at leisure.

But before I get carried away by my love for the author let me introduce you to the story.

The story

This is the tale of Tequila Leila – a prostitute in Istanbul. We are introduced to her as her body lies in a dumpster waiting to be found by friends or family.

The story stems from a piece of research that suggests that a person’s brain is active for about 10 minutes after the heart stops beating. 

Each minute of Leila’s time in the dumpster brings a memory.

Fragrance, flavour, sights and sounds translate into memories as she reaches into the depths of her mind to relive moments of her life. We piece together her story through each flashback. More importantly, we get to meet The Five; five of Leila’s friends who constitute the family she could never have.

That makes up the first part of her story – The Mind. There is also a second and third part – The Body and The Soul – that take up the narrative after Leila’s mind stops working.

You might also like The Bastard of Istanbul by the same author.

What I loved

One would imagine a novel that hinges on death would be about death and dying. Contrary to that, the focus of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds remains on love and friendship and the relationships we form throughout our lives. Here’s what I enjoyed about the book

The premise

I absolutely loved it. What a fabulous peg to weave a story! 

The poetic storytelling

While the story or the narrative is the life of a novel, there is also a special kind of charm in the way it is told. And that’s where Shafak excels. Almost every page of the book is a quotable quote.

Sample this one on friendship:

On days when she wallowed in self-pity, her chest cracking open, they (her friends) would gently pull her up and breathe life into her lungs.”

A sensory treat

Shafak’s story-telling stimulates the senses. So potent were her descriptions that the situations are forever tied up in my mind with the smells and sounds just as they were in Leila’s. The fragrance of cardamom coffee, the smell of sugar-and-lemon, the aromatic lamb stew as also the taste of watermelon and that of soil in her mouth – they will all remain with me forever.

The narrative

The first part was unputdownable as I followed Leila’s journey through the young innocence of childhood to her stormy and traumatic growing up years and then as she lands into prostitution. The individual stories of her five friends kept me glued. While I didn’t much like Part 2, the third part was beautiful, though a little short. 

The treatment

I loved Leila’s portrayal. I liked that despite the tough situations life threw at her, she didn’t turn cynical or bitter. If anything, she valued love and friendship ever more and made warm heartfelt connections. Which is why her friends are ready to go to any lengths for her.

Most of all, there was Istanbul

No one, absolutely no one, can describe Istanbul the way Shafak does.  Her love shines through each page even as she makes no attempt to camouflage its warts. Istanbul comes alive as a city with a million shades, innocent yet heartless, a city changing and growing constantly.

Istanbul was an illusion. A magician’s trick gone wrong… In truth, there was no Istanbul. There were multiple Istanbuls – struggling, competing, clashing, each perceiving that, in the end, only one could survive

Quotes like these are liberally sprinkled, often innocuously placed in the narrative. They build a picture of the city without you even being aware of it. If I ever go to Istanbul, it will be Shafak’s version I’d be looking for. Here’s another quote I loved:

This city always surprised her; moments of innocence were hidden in its darkest corners, moments so elusive that by the time she realised how pure they were, they would be gone.

What could have been better

The ‘friend-list’

That’s my first gripe with the book – that her friend list, the ‘water family’,  seemed contrived. It was almost as if Shafak was collecting one misfit of each kind to bring together to the group.

The individual stories…

… were too too short. I’ve said earlier I loved each of them and I wanted to know more about each of them. Some, like Humeyra, got a very raw deal. Her picture was incomplete, truncated somehow.

The bonding

I would have liked Shafak to spend a few more pages establishing the camaraderie between the friends. I got their deep connection with Leila but they didn’t come together as a group for me. And that was crucial since they were working together as a team in the second part of the book.

The second part

This part, The Body, was to me, the weakest bit of the book. Moreso because the first part was so beautifully written. It comes as a rude shock waking one up from a poetic bit of writing to something almost caricaturish as her friends attempt to give her a befitting burial. A book like this didn’t deserve it.

Last thought: Despite the weaknesses, I’d say Read it.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book gifted to you’. This one came from my dear friend and an exceptionally generous Santa, Shalini.

Chai and a book with a dash of nostalgia #WordsMatter

Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

It’s a wet wet day but I’m not complaining. I like this respite from the sun. Besides, when it rains, the balcony beckons, the tea tastes better and a book looks ever more inviting. Giving in to temptation, I drag out a bean bag, grab a cup of tea and pick up a book from my nightstand resolutely pushing away thoughts of unmade beds and messy rooms. Just this once, just one hour I promise myself as I settle down for a read.

‘What are you reading?’ did you ask? Here take a look.

Yeah, I recently started re-reading Gone with the Wind as part of a buddy-read.

I pick it up now running a hand over the plastic cover that has turned translucent with age. I imagine myself covering it lovingly, possessively (and numbering it too). It has been a long time since this book came to me, and I mean a really really long time.

As I open it to the first page I find a simple inscription from my aunt.

My aunt marked it is as a gift for my birthday even though it was some six months later.

Reading those well-loved lines brings a smile and a deluge of happy memories. Despite the rain around me it transports me to long hot summer days, of noisy coolers that blasted air along with occasional drops of water and the delicious smell of khus khus, and noisier cousins who played, fought, chatted all day.

Each vacation my aunt would come visiting along with my cousins. Before she left she would get us a gift. Each time she would ask, ‘Do you want a dress or a book?’. Each time, without fail, I’d say, ‘a book’.  And off we’d go to browse and buy.

Books were precious treasures back then. We read a lot yet owned a few unlike now when parents start building a library even before their child is born.

Gone with the Wind was the most expensive book I’d ever wanted. Our budget used to be somewhere around Rs 50 but this came at 60. I well remember standing in the bookstore staring at it, knowing it was beyond reach, too embarrassed to tell my aunt just how badly I wanted it, yet unable to tear myself away from it. And so I stood there, desperately wanting to wish away those ten rupees standing between me and my happiness.

I am not even sure my aunt noticed my dilemma. All she said was, ‘You want it? Okay.’ And just like that, in a heartbeat, the book was mine. I cannot even begin to describe what that meant to me. Not only did I get to read the book but I also got to own it! I went through it at breakneck speed, sitting up late into the nights. I strutted about school for days magnanimously lending it to everyone who asked for it.

As I leaf through the yellowed pages now, I notice a few are coming loose from the binding, some evil silverfish have dug in fine holes too. And yet, each page is more precious than the freshest, crispest, whitest pages I will find in any new edition. So no, I won’t be ordering a new one. I’ll sit down with tape and put the pages together, I’ll leave it out in the sun to get rid of the silverfish and I’ll read it multiple times. I’ll preserve it for as long as I can because, more than a book, it’s a cherished memory.

Do you have a book that evokes a special memory for you? A person who was instrumental in igniting a love for stories?

*****

I am participating in the #wordsmatter bloghop. I received this tag from teacher and writer Jyotsna Prabhakar who blogs at  Jonaatbest. I’m passing on the tag to the very artistic, very humorous Rajlakshmi at Destiny’s Child. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop for some interesting reads.

Reading plan for 2019



Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

Hola people and welcome to this brand new year. Reading-wise 2018 was a good year for me. I got through 36 books and am pretty happy with that.

Normally I plan my reading meticulously but the end of 2018 was so chaotic on the home front that I was caught off guard without a reading plan. The thing to do then was to get my act together fast.

Very quickly then, here are the Challenges I’m taking up.

#ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge

To be honest this was already a part of the plan formulating in my head for a long time even though I did not consciously give it voice. Taking a cue from that (the voice in my head) the first Challenge I pledge myself to this year, is the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge. I desperately need to, and I will, focus on reading the books I already have, at least one, maybe two, of the three I hope to read each month. I really have just too many of them and it’s an absolute shame to have them all sitting there staring at me while I pretend to ignore them and continue on a buying spree.

Of course part of me is already protesting:
There are new books coming out everyday and they’re so interesting and everyone talks about them all the time, and social media is buzzing with them; the covers are so enticing and the blurbs are intriguing and they’re so inexpensive on the kindle…

But Shushhh! I tell that part of me, as I renew my pledge to make a dent in the TBR pile at home. That’s going to be the mainstay of my reading this year.

The Goodreads Challenge

Then there’s the Goodreads Challenge which I’ve faithfully taken up and completed for the past three years. I love the freedom it offers: one can set his/her own target, read any kind of book and also that one can revise it at any point in time. Though if one does revise it, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the challenge. But hey! To each his own.

That said, it works well for me because it gives me a push without making me feel the pressure. That sounds oxymoromish but it works perfectly. Also, more importantly, it does not distract me from my primary goal of reading the books I already have. In fact it is right in line with it.

The Write Tribe Challenge

Lastly there’s the Write Tribe Reading Challenge that sounds deliciously interesting while seeming easy to take up. Since I’m already pledging to read 36 books, this one seems doable too and so I look forward to reaching the level of a ‘bookworm’ at WT. I’m hoping the one ‘luxury book’ I allow myself each month shall go towards this Challenge.

And now I feel guilty for implying that books I already have are ‘non-luxury’ which sounds like they’re unloved and that is not the case at all – they’re all books I’ve bought or have been been gifted, very lovingly. I still need to fit titles into the WT categories and I shall get to it soon enough. I shall certainly be sharing it all here with you guys and looking for recommendations too.

That’s it from me. I’d love to hear from you. What challenges are you taking up? Do you too have a pile of books waiting to be read?

In Search of the Self #BookBytes -2

For #BookBytes this week, I have here an excerpt from The Liberation of Sita by Volga. This short read, packs quite a feminist punch. In this passage Ahilya talks to Sita, telling her to find her own self.

You means you, nothing else. You are not just the wife of Rama. There is something more in you, something that is your own. No one counsels women to find out what that something more is. If men’s pride is in wealth, or valour, or education, or caste-sect, for women it lies in fidelity, motherhood. No one advises women to transcend that pride. Most often, women don’t realise that they are part of the wider world. They limit themselves to an individual, to a household, to a family’s honour. Conquering the ego becomes the goal of spirituality for men. For women, to nourish that ego and to burn themselves to ashes in it becomes the goal.

#BookBytes

Share a #BookByte

If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage that leaps out at you demanding to be shared don’t ignore it. Share it on your blog.

Leave a link to your blogpost in the comments and I’ll drop by and also share it in my next week’s post.

You could use the #BookBytes badge and leave a link to this blogpost, but that’s optional.

Dear ______ ,

letter

All day today I have struggled to write this letter. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, neither is it about being able to find the words to say what I have to. The trouble this time round is rather strange – I don’t know who I should be writing this letter to. Who is it that made me want to write? Who is it that continues to inspire me?

Should it be my grade I English teacher who told my dad I needed to read storybooks because my English wasn’t up to the mark or my class VII English teacher who taught me to appreciate Shakespeare making me mug up speeches from Merchant of Venice till I could recite them verbatim (I can still reel off My Mind is Tossing on the ocean.. and The quality of mercy is not strained..)?

Should it be Enid Blyton who made me fall in love with talking toys, magical trees and mysterious islands or should it JK Rowling who reminded me that magic wasn’t only for children?

Should it be Georgette Heyer whose style I copied, without even being aware of it, in the first story I ever wrote (and tore up right away) or should it be PG Wodehouse who still appears unwittingly in some of my writing?

Should it be the editor of the daily who picked me for my very first job even though I had no experience or should it be the one who accepted my first story?

Should it be my twin muses who inspired me to begin a blog and then later, pestered me to come with a new story every night for years on end and then listened to them so spellbound that I began to believe a little bit in myself? Or should it be friends who laughed at all the right places when they read my writing?

Should it be my mom, dad and sister who read what I write, come up with ideas when I’m stuck, even vet some of my posts, or should it be my fantastic blogging family that keeps me going day after day with kind words of encouragement?

I shall never know and for that reason this letter shall never be written.

***********

Written for the Write Tribe Festival of Words June 2018 for the Day 6 prompt:

Write a letter to a person who supported your writing career, whether that be a friend, a family member, a teacher (even one that supported you at a very young age before you knew that it would blossom into a writing career), an author you’ve never met but have been inspired…


Write Tribe

Linking up with Shantala’s #ChattyBlogs.

 

Books and Memories

reading childhood

Books and reading formed a huge part of my childhood and for that I shall always be grateful. I had no clue then, that my stolen moments with this favourite hobby would one day offer me a second chance at a career.

To our extreme good fortune our father was friends with the owner of Universal , the biggest bookshop of the city back then. So we would get brand new books on loan, to be read and returned. I lost myself in those large glossy pages or the super glamorous pop-up books. I had one of Goldilocks that I haven’t been able to get over even now. Reading them once always left me wanting more. I didn’t want to let them go. I wanted to keep them with me forever.

Perhaps that’s where the itch to buy and own books was born.

Between our school and home lay the poshest market of the city with our dream bookstore. Hobby Corner. Nope, this wasn’t the one that belonged to our father’s friend but another one that sold books and then bought them back, at a small discount.

So some days (and I hope the children never ever read this bit) we’d sneak off the school bus mid-way, my sister and I, and we’d go to this book shop and indulge ourselves. Those days we didn’t have helpers in the bus to keep an eye on us so it must have been easier. Even so, this was a rare treat because we hardly ever had any money – even the two or three rupees that we would have had to pay up. Besides, there was also the issue of getting back home without the bus (for which we had a pass) and that also meant money for private transport. We managed it on some very lucky days and our parents never knew.

Long summer holidays were painful because with no access to the school library we were left bookless. Lending libraries were a dream in our city back then. Once we heard of one close by and I jumped and joined it only to find it was one of those that only stocked books on subjects like ‘meditation’ and ‘finding the true meaning of life’. I have nothing against all of that, but it most definitely wasn’t what my young teen self was looking for dreaming as it was of Heathcliff and Rhet Butler and the like.

I never did develop a taste for non-fiction.

In hindsight, I remain grateful for each of those childhood memories. Books and reading became that much more precious. Each time the Amazon delivery person knocks at my door even today, I get a happy thrill. While I constantly bemoan the lack of space in the house, I never want to part with my books, nor put them away in cartons, as the Husband once suggested. *Shudder*.

What are your earliest reading memories?

*************

Linking up with Amrita for #ThankfulThursdays.

Healthwealthbridge
And also with  with Tina’s Mommynificent for the Booknificent Link-Up
Booknificent-Thursdays

The Reader

Beat About The Book - fictionThe reader

Craft class was in progress. Forty girls sat on either side of a long table bent diligently over their embroidery frames. At the head of the table sat Ms Mathew, The Dragon. That’s what the students called her, for she breathed fire at the littlest opportunity.

Did I say 40? Well, I meant 39, for the 40th girl was not quite there. Sara sat right at the end of the table, with her head bent like the others, except she had no embroidery frame. On her lap rested an Enid Blyton and she was far far away in a land where a gorgeous tale was beginning to unfold.

DEAR BESSIE, FANNY, JO AND DICK,
We know that you don’t want any more adventures just yet, but you might like to know that there is a most exciting land at the top of the Faraway Tree just now.  It is the Land of Do-As-You-Please, even nicer than the Land of Take-What-You-Want. We are going there tonight.  If you want to come, come just before midnight and you can go with us.  We will wait for you till then.
Love from SILKY AND MOON-FACE

Midnight! This sounded dangerous… and exciting.

Oh go go go! urged Sara as she read on, her eyes shining brighter than those of the kids in the story. ‘The Land of Do-As-You-Please!! Wow! I’d eat honey pops and read all day‘, thought she turning over the page.

Of course the children decided to go – down the garden, through the lane, into the Enchanted Wood. Their torches shone in the moonless night. The forest was silent. Ominously so. Wisha wisha wisha whispered the mysterious trees.

An owl squealed and something ran across their feet.

The kids jumped and so did Sara, upsetting her neighbour, who pricked her finger, dropped her needlework and squealed louder that any owl ever could.

Tiny drops of blood were beginning to blot her young neighbour’s lemon yellow runner and before Sara could apologise she bawled, “OUCH Miss.. Sara pushed me and I hurt my hand, it’s bleeeeeding.”

O get on with it drama queen!‘ thought Sara, the apology dying on her lips, ‘It’s just a tiny prick for goodness sake!

She did try to look contrite but The Dragon was already bearing down upon them. Sara glanced at the book in her hand. Too late she realised she had no embroidery frame. Her heart sank right into her shoes. She would be caught red-handed.

**************

I need to put in a few apologies: One to Enid Blyton for taking liberties with her writing. And two to Bernhard Schlink, for borrowing the title of his book although there is nothing similar between the two tales except perhaps, a love for the written word.

It’s Day 4 of the #BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘Caught Red Handed’.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON