Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #8

Update on Weeks 8, 9,10

As it is obvious from the lack of posts here, not much reading happened during these weeks. All I read was a bit from Ivory Throne, which is progressing painfully slow. So, there is not much to write about on the reading front.

I had been busy with other things like my Vlog (Wanderscapes), which turned one recently, my drawing pursuits, writing and more. Sadly, reading has taken a back seat in all this. But I hope to bounce back in a week or so.

Until then, keep reading and discovering joy of letters... Cheers! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #7

This week also saw me reading less than I had wanted to. A lot was happening around me and the week was one wherein I couldn't do everything I set out to... 

However, the good news is that I finished reading Heads You Win and did speed reading of another book too. Here's a quick round-up:

Heads You Win – Jeffrey Archer

So, this was a typical story by Archer - the underdog making it big in life against all odds. If I remember correctly, all his protagonists are ordinary people who rise above others and become extraordinary.

What makes Heads You Win is the parallel narrative, which he seems to handle quite easily. The same character with different lives in two different countries. After reading Archer's short stories, which by the way I rate higher than his novels, I am not surprised he can tell the two stories convincingly. If he had to come up with a few more versions, I am sure he would have done that with much elan.

It was nice to follow Alex and Sasha to their different destinations - while they wonder what would have happened if they had climbed into the other crate, the readers don't wonder about it. The writer lays down the two different lives that leave no room for asking what if...

I guessed the identity of the childhood friend and it was oddly satisfying to know my guess was correct. 

Although this cant be termed as the best of his works, Archer definitely keeps the readers engaged and amused. A good read, to say the least.

Do it Today - Darius Foroux 

This was kind of reading in bits and pieces for me. I read this book in between my chores and other free times I managed during the week. This is not a book I would have read from cover to cover at one go.

It was good to read - I am a procrastinator when it comes to some tasks and it was interesting to read about the reason for such behaviour. I should say the author is right. Will it help me overcome procrastination? I am not sure.

There are few other insights that I received from this book and I think overall it made a nice read. I love to read personal development books and this one has its merits. The language is easy and understandable - no jargon or wordplays. That for me made this a good choice for some light reading.

And thus ended another week of not so much of reading. I have not been able to catch up with the Ivory Throne this week because I didn't feel I had it in me to invest time and attention for serious reading - so probably I will come back to it at a later date.

I hope all of you had a good time reading what you love. Keep reading and enjoy the world of letters.. until next time, bye...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #6

So, this week I literally read very little. All I can say is I have read a few more pages of the Ivory Throne and started reading a book on procrastination (which is halfway through) and finally started reading Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer.

I enjoyed reading all of them and I hope to write a better review of these books next week. 

Although this was one of those weeks where I couldn't get enough reading done, I can't say I am hugely disappointed. On the contrary, I am at peace with myself - I knew a slump will occur sometime. Especially when I read non-fiction and on days when I am really busy with work, I knew reading would take a back seat. However, I don't intend to leave it there and so, this is not a failure or disappointment.

The main thing to remember is that like life, reading is also a journey - sometimes up, sometimes down. The key is not to remain stationary or think it is a lost cause. So, in that sense, this week has been a learning experience too.

That's all for now. Hope to be back next week with a better performance :)

Until then, you enjoy your reading journey... 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Books I read in 2020 # 5

February Week #1  

The first week of February saw me reading a little less than I would have loved to. Yet, I read a couple of books and continued my tryst with the Ivory Throne.

Tell Tale – Jeffrey Archer

I had taken this book on loan from the library and loved reading it. I enjoy reading Archer because his writing is easy and enjoyable. Yet it stands out from the ordinary because of the way he treats every storyline/subject. I enjoyed almost every book I read and Tell Tale was no different. I particularly enjoyed the 100 word short stories and the three different scenarios he presented in the story – a holiday of a lifetime.

‘A Road to Damascus’ was a profound story and so was the ‘A Good Toss to Lose’. The way Archer portrays the characters in the story is wonderful and one can picture them in one’s mind. ‘A Gentleman and a Scholar’ made a unique read and ‘Who killed the mayor’ was intriguing, to say the least.

The beauty of Archer’s writing is the clarity and simplicity he brings to the board. And yet, the stories are captivating like a thriller or so. Needless to say, the flair and command over writing are excellent. I have enjoyed all of his books – except perhaps ‘First Among Equals’, which I read when I was too young to understand UK politics and the way it functions. Ironically, it was one of the books I took ages to finish and was relieved when I finally read the last pages. (I don’t remember the story well and so, I might re-read it one of these days). 

The Essential Collection For Young Readers – Ruskin Bond

I love to read Ruskin Bond. He is an amazing storyteller and I absolutely enjoy reading his stories. That’s why I re-read this book now. It has a lot of stories – The Room of Many Colours, Last Tonga Ride, The Girl on the Train, Coming Home to Dehra, Four Feathers, Blue Umbrella and many more. It fills a certain degree of nostalgia in the reader.

Again, the language and premises are as simple as they can be. The characters are portrayed vividly and the story is told in such an endearing fashion that the reader feels one with it all. Also, the agony of losing the only parent who cared for you, the pain of losing friends, and such things never fail to touch you deeply. Your heart aches for the little boy…

I particularly love the way he writes about the nature around him and also about the people in and around Dehra. A delightful read without any doubt. Ruskin Bond is one of the few writers even the children can read and enjoy. His language is simple and easy to understand. More importantly, it connects you with the story and the storyteller.  If you have a child at home that you wish to initiate into reading, gift a few books by Ruskin Bond. It is highly likely he/she would be hooked.

That’s more or less what I read this week. Apart from finishing the Dead Man’s Shoes and progressing very slowly through Ivory Throne, I haven’t read much. I hope to start Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer sometime this week and finish it soon as well.

So, that’s all from me folks… until next time… enjoy reading! 

Image courtesy: Google 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #4

Books I read in 2020

Review of Week 4 ending on 29/1/2020

This week saw me reading lesser than the past two weeks.

The Ivory Throne - Chronicles of the House of Travancore – Manu S Pillai

I had heard great reviews of the book from many corners. It was on my wish list for a long time but could manage to find a copy only now. I knew it was going to be a long read because reading non-fiction is always time-consuming for me.  

I have managed to read only about 20% of the book in the past week because of the nature of the topics. I absolutely loved reading the history of Travancore, of which, I must confess, my knowledge is very poor. The book helped me understand the Kerala society of the earlier times better and I hope that by the time I finish the book, I will be better informed.

The author has taken a lot of effort to research and validate his writings and it shows in the writing. As far as I know, I don’t think there are many books on Kerala history with such an in-depth portrayal of people and events. Although it is too early to say, I think all the characters are portrayed as they are and without any favour or opposition.

I have often wondered what would be the state of the world if we lived in a matrilineal society instead of a patriarchal one… I got a glimpse of it while reading about the Ranis and their reign.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies – J K Rowling

It must have been almost twenty years since I read Harry Potter for the first time. Since then, I have re-read the books, seen the movies many times and been fascinated by what I saw and read. I watched some of J K Rowling’s interviews too. In those interviews, she mentioned how she developed each character with their own backstories.

So, it was interesting to read about the other sides of the normally impassive ‘Prof. McGonagall’, Remus ‘Moony’ Lupin, ‘dramatic’ Sybil Trelawney and ‘reckless’ Silvanus Kettleburn.  

Although the Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies was published some time ago, I read it only now. I loved reading this short book and hope to read the remaining books in the series in the days to come.

This certainly was a quick and light read, and it was a welcome change from reading the Ivory throne.

A Dead Man's Shoes: and Other Strange Tales - C.J. Wright

I had downloaded this book on kindle thinking it was a detective story or something like that. Instead, I found it was all spooky stories. It dealt with mind, spirit and all the supernatural stuff.
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed reading them. But as a book that offered an entirely different subject, the book was a welcome change. I haven’t finished it yet though. 

Of the 13 stories, I liked the first, A Dead Man's Shoes and Lay Me Down To Sleep better. The story Love Bite reminded me of Dracula, although there is nothing similar in the content other than the vampire.

I think I have two more stories left in the book, which I might finish at leisure.

So, that’s it for the week. I don’t think I have read as much as I liked. Still, I am happy that I have been able to keep the wheel running… I paid a quick visit to the library and have borrowed two titles by Jeffrey Archer, who is one of my favourite authors. I look forward to reading Head you win in the coming days. The other book, Tell tale is a collection of short stories and I have finished a couple of the stories by now. More on will follow in a detailed review.

So, that’s all folks… I hope you all are reading loads of books and enjoying them. Until next time, keep reading!!!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #3

Review of Week 3 ending on 22/1/2020

Week 1 review can be found here
Week 2 review can be found here
Ok, so I finished the book, Scion of Ikshvaku this week. The feeling is mixed. As mentioned earlier, I liked the premise of the novel, but can’t say I was too thrilled to read.
One of the things I felt was that the author was superimposing the events of the present into the narrative. Especially the killing of Roshni after cruel gang rape led by a minor and the accused being spared by law because he was a minor alludes to the infamous rape case that happened in Delhi a few years ago.
Also, mentioning of Vyomkesh (undoubtedly referring to Byomkesh Bakshi, the famous fictional detective created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay) also was so unnecessary. It didn’t add to the narrative, I thought.
Although the book, much like the Shiva trilogy, we can see reference to actual places of today. And yet, the very concept of India was much different then as compared to what it was in those ancient times. It felt a bit forced – like a conscious effort to tie the past and present together.
Having said that, the idea that Ram wasn’t the favoured child was indeed a bold premise to develop the story. As expected, it depicts the protagonist as a normal human being (with idealistic views and ways) who elevates himself to a higher stature through his words and deeds. Of course, we will have to wait and see how it all ends…
Sita – Amish 
This can be termed as Sitayana or the journey of Sita. Much like Ram, she is also troubled with many things – her birth and status as she grows up. Amish advocates gender equality in his books and hence his Sita is not the typical all enduring, servitude type woman. Instead, she has a will and opinion of her own, which is one of the reasons Ram falls in love with her. He bows his head to her with respect and admiration.
Their union is much of completion of each other - unlike a usual marriage where the husband is the master and supreme power, and the wife is nothing but his glorified servant catering to his needs. One is not entirely surprised by this treatment because it was seen in the Shiva trilogy too where Parvati was portrayed as an independent person.   
Although the author tries to reveal the underlying layers of the society and the characters, most of the time he comes up with a justification why things are the way they are – or at least that’s what I felt.
This was a quick read because many of the passages were sort of repetition from the first book – the story being told in a linear narrative from the point of view of the three main characters, Ram, Sita, and Ravana.
The constant reference to Vayuputras and Malayaputras gets a bit too tedious – I don’t know why the author needed to explain who are they now and then. Likewise, the presentation of some of the central characters (as well as the absence of a few) like Hanuman, Jatayu, is so entirely different from the original that the reader is somewhat curious to see how their story develops.
I had trouble visualising the elaborate settings of the places described – the Mithila bee quarters, Agastsyakoodam mountain, etc being some of them.
Ravan – Amish
I could finish Sita a lot quicker than I expected – thanks to some extra reading during bedtime – and hence proceeded to the third book of the series. Ravan is usually portrayed as a villain and it is not easy to write about someone like him in a positive light.
Even so, it is not surprising to find that a troubled past led him to what he became in the future. Although the author wasn’t justifying or glorifying the protagonist, one couldn’t help thinking of numerous instances narrated in history where troubled childhood has been stated as a reason for someone turning into the beast they’ve become later in life.
The premise sounds common – a child walking out of his father’s home with the pain and grudge for the constant ill-treatment meted out to him by the parent. The only difference here could be that Ravan was forced to flee with his mom, newly born brother and uncle to save their lives.
Life was hard and although he loved his brother Kumbhakarna more than anything else in the world, Ravan was more of a loner all his life. There are parts of Ravan’s mind even Kumbhakarna couldn’t reach. The brothers shared a very strong bond and at times it felt like reading a modern TV series on two brothers because it is difficult to picture Ravan and Kumbhakarna as bosom buddies… however, Kumbha was to Ravan what Laxman was to Ram.
Having read the two books of the series, it was easy to guess where the story will lead to. The undisclosed love of Ravan towards Kanyakumari and how that urged him to be the best version of himself, how her death changed him and made him worse were all on the expected lines. Even the so-called suspense ceased to be – I could rightly guess the identity of Sita and Kanyakumari even before the author revealed it.   
As with the earlier books, the author seems to try to intertwine present with the past. The mention of Sabarimala and the traditions associated didn’t add any value to the plot, I felt. Why did the author feel compelled to use a burning topic of present times (this book was published recently, after the Sabarimala verdict and all the controversies around it) to the story of Ravan?
Of course the portrayal of Ravan, the protagonist was good as with the protagonists of other books. The reader feels for him when he suffers. Most of his actions could be justified too. However, the portrayal of Kumbakarna was more interesting and intriguing to me. The way he changes – from hero-worshipping his brother, to helping him achieve his greatness and then to try and put some sense in his mind when he chooses the wrong path – all these are layers of the character which I haven’t seen before. There is more to Kumbakarna than his usual portrayal as a giant that loves to eat and sleep all the time.
And yet, overall the book wasn’t that exciting to read. I found it tiring and boring to read the same passages for the third time (of the instances common to all three books). So, I am not waiting for the next book with bated breath. I still might read it if I happen to come across it. But, I am not too excited about it.
So, that’s the end of the week and I have already started reading Ivory Throne by Manu S Pillai and you can hear from me about it in the next blog. Since it is nonfiction, I am sure it will take me longer to finish. Yet I hope to finish it at the earliest and go on to read the next book.
Until then, enjoy your reading and share your thoughts too…

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #2

Find the previous post here

Review of Week 2 ending on 15/1/2020

 1.      Jim Corbett Omnibus – Jim Corbett – Ok, so the omnibus included some of the stories I had already read, such as the Maneaters of Kumaon. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the book as much as I had enjoyed reading the stories for the first time. I absolutely loved the chapter on Robin, the author’s dog.

[I had, a long time ago, fantasised myself as a forest explorer and used to wear my father’s old discarded raincoat (with two big pockets) and search for clues in the thick bushes around my home. I had my revolver (fashioned out of old newspapers), currencies (leaves of a wild plant), old canvas shoes from the previous year of school, a discarded Click-III camera hanging on my shoulder to add to the effects. I remember carrying the ‘pazhampori’ made by my mom as emergency snack in those pockets while I carried on my role of explorer. A dog to follow me and track the beasts of the jungle would have completed the picture, for by then, I had managed to add a discarded cap too, to my wardrobe… Thankfully, I did all these role plays while the elders enjoyed their afternoon siesta or else, I would have been ridiculed or told off in the least – such pleasures of life!!!]

I was instantly transported to that magical time when I read Corbett. Of course, I would have not had the courage to go into a real jungle with or without a dog at my heels. So, Corbett feels like a hero even to an older me.

Other titles in the book were all so interesting that I was spellbound once again. I wished I could walk along those jungles with him – not to shoot or even sight a tiger, but for the simple pleasure of being able to be in the lap of nature.

After reading Corbett, I could sense that he felt no pride in trophy hunting – even if he had hunted for glory at the beginning. As soon as he understood life better, he saw the worthlessness in hunting for trophy. A keen observer and learner, he derived much pleasure in being a part of the nature and not in killing the animals for fun. He understands a tiger  or leopard takes to eating man not out of choice, but of compulsion. In most cases, the reason such animals turn man eaters is man himself. Man is not the natural prey of these big cats and so they turn man eaters only by compulsion of old age or wounds that make them incapable of hunting their natural prey.

Even if you are not a wildlife enthusiast, reading Corbett could be beneficial for you. It will give you a better perspective of nature and why it is important for us to protect nature and be a part of nature and not work against nature.

2.      Time Management – David Tracy – I started this book in the earnest because many a times I find myself staring up a mountain of tasks each day. It is not that I take up things I cannot handle, but it is mostly my inability to manage time to do the things I take up.

Although I have an idea of time management and follow some methods, sooner or later I find myself reverting to old ways - procrastinating and struggling with time. So, from time to time a refresher course like reading helps me to be back on track and this book is one such attempt. 

This book took me longer than I would’ve liked to finish. Not because it was hard to read but because I had a very busy week and could read only during bedtime on most of the days.

I didn't start the books I thought I would read next, and I think those will be put on back burner as I have started with the Ramachandra series by Amish. I had read his Meluha series years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the first book. The second one was ok and the third one I endured because I didn’t like leaving the series unfinished. On the whole, I loved the premise and presentation. I hope I would like the Ramachandra series too- I read a sample from the book sometime ago and although wasn’t so excited as Meluha, I was encouraged to go on. Somehow, it didn’t happen and so here I am, trying to read it this week. 

3.        Scion of Ikshvaku – Amish – This is a novel based on the epic Ramayana and it tells the story of Ram in an entirely new way. As in the case of Meluha, I am impressed with the freedom and courage the writer took to take such a popular story and give it an entirely unusual treatment.

Of course, there are different versions of Ramayana as numerous writers had written the story from their perspective. However, in this modern age of intolerance and limited artistic freedom, it is nothing short of a wonder this book (for that matter the Meluha series too) didn’t ruffle some delicate feathers.

Anyway, I hope to finish at least the first book by the end of the week.  Until then, enjoy reading… 

Notes: I had a busy week with a lot of editing for our vlog and so reading has been a casualty. In spite of that, I had used some time in between to read some Malayalam blogs and to respond to them. I have also been able to meet my weekly target of writing at least a blog and so, overall, I am happy with the outcome. And yes, I also managed to read a short poem or two from Kumaranashan’s kuttikavithakal sometime during the past week.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #1

This year, I am making a conscious effort to read more. I love reading - right from children's book to serious books (although history and non fiction makes my reading a bit slow paced). Even though I like reading both English and Malayalam (can read in Hindi too - might read Munshi Premchand one of these days), I have difficulty in accessing Malayalam books here. So, most of my reading is and will be English books. But I am reading a bit of Malayalam via blogs and FB posts and also some books I could download on Kindle.  

On that note, let me get on to the Review of Week one ended on 08/1/2020

Here, I hope to keep a record of the books I read this year. My target, although I am not very sure it is achievable, is 100 books this year. I have started in the earnest and seems to be on the right track because today is just 8th of Jan 2020 and I have already read close to five books.

So, without much ado, let me make a quick note of the same.

Speed Reading – Justin Hammond - I don’t know if this qualifies as reading in the true sense of the word. But when my kindle unlimited suggestion threw this up, I downloaded and read the book. Can’t say I gained much from it, other than revisiting some of the facts I knew. However, it did help me confirm I am sort of a speed reader – definitely not a slow reader – and I guess for that fact alone, I am happy to have read it.

My India – Jim Corbett – I become a fan of Corbett ever since I read the Man-Eaters of Kumaon a couple of years ago. I remember feeling scared for him especially while reading about the man-eater that stalked him. I can’t remember the specifics of the stories, but I can’t forget how thrilled and enchanted I felt walking along the Garhwal forests along with him.

In My India, Corbett paints a picture of India that few of the new generation might know or can imagine. Although growing up in the south, more specifically in Kerala, I was immune to most of the sufferings of the people of the North, I have a fair idea of the different world out there, thanks to the few years I spend up North. In this age of division and alienation, it was fascinating how a British man could identify himself with the locals and understand their problems more than someone from another part of the country. I would recommend this book to anyone, at least to appreciate and understand the country better – for he has very clearly painted a picture of India, which is seldom overlooked by most of us. Of course, the stories from the jungle are welcome bonuses.

The Temple Tiger and more Man Eaters of Kumaon – Jim Corbett – Now, I think I have this habit of continuing the same genre of stories – whether books or films- when I start with something. So, it is not surprising that I chose to read more of Jim Corbett as soon as I finished My India. This book is mostly about the man eaters, but it definitely paints a picture of India of those times,  the socio-economic-cultural fabric of the country is vividly presented in the stories. I think I can safely assume it was not a deliberate attempt on the part of the owner, but after having spent so much time in and amidst India, it is only natural that he imbibes a lot of it.

Of course, I am not forgetting the fact that he was born and brought up here and spent a large part of his life in India, and had led a privileged life of a sahib. But I guess that didn’t stop him from loving the country – or at least its wildlife – as much as any Indian.

I loved to read about the landscapes, the birds and the behaviour of the animals and I couldn’t stop admiring the way he intertwined everything – much like life itself. I don’t think I will be bored to read this book again in future.

By the way, I am almost three-quarters through the Jim Corbett Omnibus – with a forward by Ruskin Bond, another of my favourite authors. Hope the review will join this pages soon.

Agatha Christie Investigates – Alison Joseph – Anything with the name Agatha Christie on it is an attraction for me. I downloaded this book out of curiosity – the author actually uses Agatha Christie as a character solving the crimes. Although I was amused by the premise in the beginning, I think I didn’t enjoy the book as much as an Agatha Christie creation. That, I think is quite natural because the author is trying to solve the cases with Agatha as the protagonist, but without the flair, expertise and craft of the writer Agatha.

So far, I have read only one story from the series – I think there are three stories in total – and have stopped reading as soon as I was through with the first novel. I might read the other two as well, but truth be told, I am not exactly looking forward to it.

Notes: I have a couple of books in Kindle – A dead man’s shoes and other stories, as well as one biography on Ambedkar. As someone who loves to read thrillers and detective stories, I might start reading the dead man’s shoes before I start reading the book on Ambedkar. This is also because of the fact that the latter book requires more serious application of mind and cannot be read as light reading or for recreation. Likewise, there is a book on Tesla, a workout book by Rujuta Diwakar and a few old Malayalam poems, which I may read for leisure in between.

NB:I hope to update this journal next week or so. It will keep me on track and I will be able to keep a record of my reading history as well. As they say, well begun is half done. I hope it is really true in my case. I want to read as much as I can and enrich myself. Hopefully it will give me the courage to write and publish too…

Pic courtesy: Google