the in-between

I’ve been consumed with book blogs these past few weeks. I don’t know why. There, I said it. Not that there’s anything shameful in it but I’ve been wondering at this need to hunt down and devour all things book. Some decent ones I’ve had the good fortune to stumble on:

www.openlettersmonthly.com/novelreadings/

www.readallday.org

Oh & a look at the syllabus from the far far future —

http://littleprofessor.typepad.com/the_little_professor/2012/06/the-syllabus-of-the-very-far-future.html

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Fifty Shades of Enough Already – I’m all for escapism and losing yourself in a fantasy but the brouhaha over Fifty Shades escapes me. I can’t help wondering whether the fascination stems from that segment of (women) readers who don’t have any exposure to romance as a genre. There’s plenty of books out there which combine Alpha heroes and sex scenes (if that’s what has got all the women swooning) with good writing (Lisa Kleypas) and humour to boot (Susan Elizabeth Phillips anyone? Or Laura Willig? Or Julia Quinn?). For me the troika of bad writing (grated on my nerves), zero plot and cardboard characters meant passing over this series. For all the Fifty Shades fan out there I’d say more power to you but really, there’s plenty of better stories.

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Books done with in the last two months – Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness), Great Escape (Susan Elizabeth Phillips), Death Comes to Pemberly (P.D. James), The Magician King (Lev Grossman), The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)

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There are plenty of books in the ‘betwixt’ stage right now as well; a consequence of being a grown-up I think.

As a grown-up with all the grown-uply things which have to be taken care of I find my reading confined to the slivers of time during the commute, before/during/after dinner, in queues and other such-whiles.

As a reader I hate this with a passion. I love immersing myself in a story to the point of oblivion. The fall-out of reading in slivers of time is the loss of this gradual dissolution of my self into the story. Just when I find myself settling in, I have to tear my attention away. This hugely detracts from my enjoyment of the book. More importantly this slows down my progress towards what I call the point of no-return. (The point till which you have to diligently wade through before the story takes hold of you). And so it is that I find my progress on Wolf Hall stalled.

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Considering picking-up Cloud Atlas again. Having had to continuously renew the book from the library had made me finally give  up on it (I’d managed to finish the first two story arcs). Considering that the movie’s made by Wachowskis and features Tom Hanks and that I remember enjoying whatever I’d read, I’m thinking of picking it up again.

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Currently Reading: The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnet (just started the first one in the series), From Eternity to Here by Sean Caroll

Books which I flit to during the in-betweens: An Agatha Christie mystery, a Georgette Heyer book, The Oracle of Stamboul, Pride & Prejudice

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P.S. I’m beginning to understand why I love reading in the night – it’s a relatively distraction-free zone

the love of a lifetime

It started with ‘The Children of Kidlin’ when I was all of eight. It was the middle of summer vacations. I had just finished my class 3 examinations. My mother gave me a two-in-one story book by Enid Blyton: The Children of Kidlin and one more story the details of which now escape me. I’d never heard of Enid Blyton and wasn’t quite sure what to make of this gift. Little was I to know that I was about to embark on a love affair which was to last a life time. Or that I would gorge on Enid Blytons one-after-another for the next 4-5 years, pestering everyone I knew to give me nothing but an Enid Blyton book for my birthday.

When I think back to all those years ago what I remember the most vividly is the feeling of gliding into another world as soon as I started reading – a world that had seemed as far away from the reality I inhabited as possible. It was a world full of children who braved spies and storms, and of children who gathered together for midnight feasts. It was a world of picturesque little villages dotting the English countryside and of my favourite character, Fredrick Algernon Trotville or F.A.T-ty as he was christened by his friends. Fatty, who effortlessly outwitted the village constable Mr. Goon, solving one mystery after another and leaving poor Mr. Goon looking like a bumbling old fool.

As I’ve stepped into the world of grown-ups the stories and the worlds they play out in are not so innocuous anymore – shades of heartbreak and fear and failure colour them often. Yet, these fictional worlds continue to suck me into them; at times offering solace from my own concerns and anxieties and at times inciting in me another sort of tension as I worry about the fate of a particular character. In fact there are so many instances when I am unaware of the specifics of what awaits me inside a story. It could be a fast-paced adventure sweeping me along, depositing me in the middle of a gritty climax where ordinary boys and girls become heroes and heroines fighting tyranny and control (like The Hunger Games trilogy) or it could be about the problems and the mundane concerns which plague people as they go about the business of living their lives (like The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series).

It does not matter.

As I’m forced to see the world through the eyes of a character I have trouble warming up to, I learn compassion. And the fact that everyone has a reason for acting the way they do. I learn about the newspaper business and about the struggles which accompany the old giving way to new. I’m able to see the stupidity of not saying, “I love you” to people you love because of pride and ego. I come to know about the Incas of Peru and experience the heart-aches of being the odd one out. I find myself empathizing with and cheering on the fascinating women who lived in the nineteenth century. I feel comforted by the quirkiness and whimsy nature of our species.

Philosophies of life and the mysteries of the universe; a look into the human psyche and a glimpse into tinders which spark war; the tides of fate and the power to shape your own destiny; love which catches you unaware and hatred which has no reason; grand passions and the everydayness of our lives; social injustices and the seemingly simple gestures which spark revolutionary changes – all this and much more have I encountered inside the words of the bound pages.

And this is the reason why I love the written word so deeply – it not only allows me to escape into a world not my own but also allows me to re-emerge from it with a deeper understanding of who I am and the world I inhabit.

the whole enchilada

From the Smart Set:

Whatever their motivation, however, book collectors help to preserve this physical culture and ensure that our printed matter will still exist in the future. They are the most likely to fight libraries for the preservation of old newspapers or dig around estate sales and attics to find lost manuscripts by writers like Poe or Blake.

The whole thing makes for a good read. I just take a bit of an exception to the above. The idea that it’s the book collectors & not the passionate reader who will ensure the continuity of printed matter doesn’t sit well with me.

While a Kindle or a Sony e-reader most definitely has its own set of advantages, it cannot make up for the experience of holding a book with its crispy new papers in your hands… with the print all fresh and its smell pervading your senses. Nor (with a Kindle or a e-book reader) can you end up creasing the paper inadvertently or stain the pages with the tiny crumbles of whatever you were eating which despite your best efforts lands on the book. In other words, the book in the Kindle/reader retains its aloofness – you cannot subject it to the process which makes a book indelibly yours.

This making of the book indelibly yours is an important rite for the reader, I think. It’s why a reader like me loathes to misplace a book. Or as the writer says:

I don’t miss the stories in Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales. I can hop over to East of Eden bookstore and probably find a copy of the same book. But it wouldn’t have the same smell, it wouldn’t be a perfect 1960s Modern Library hardback edition, and it wouldn’t have my 2007 Dublin bus schedule jammed between the pages as a bookmark. I don’t miss the book, I miss the book. I hope it’s being read and loved right now, and my bus schedule replaced with a subway pass or a receipt for coffee and an almond croissant.

The book becomes more than just the story. It absorbs a part of the reader within its pages.

a strange ennui

I’ve been trying to read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “Shadow of the Wind” for the past couple of weeks but find myself in a strange ennui. Mostly, I don’t feel like submerging myself into an atmosphere which is all gothic-y & super mysterious.

I know. A strange reason to not be able to read.

How I came by the book is also a somewhat strange story. I’d read about the book on The Millions and then promptly forgot the title. However, the “feel” of the book clung with me.

A few months later, I was browsing around in Crosswords and thinking it would be nice if I came across that book that I’d stumbled across on The Millions.

A first glance around the shelves didn’t reveal anything which triggered my memory. Browsing around, I came upon another book which hooked my interest –  a girl who is born in Australia, loves books & ends up working in a mysterious bookstore in New York. I’d started reading the book & had finished the first few pages & decided to buy it when I happened to glance up.

Perched on the edge, staring up at me was The Shadow of the Wind! Turns out that was the only copy that Crosswords had.

A little weird, isn’t it?

Anyhow, I just realized another thing – I find myself attracted to stories which feature other books/book lovers/writers. Probably the reason why I’ve asked for The Anthologist!

Getting back to my original point – has anyone else ever found themselves not being able to read a book because you didn’t feel like being subsumed by the particular mood of the book? (probably something I’ll write about another time – I am lost to the world around me when I read. I inhabit, totally & completely, the world of the book.