Musings

Welcome Home: Books that Arrived in April & June 2012

“Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in:…” – Arthur Schopenhauer

Right now in my life, time is in short supply. I get up, go to work, come back home and collapse in exhaustion, only to start all over again 5-6 hours later. Still I try my best to find time to read and the good news is that I succeed most of the time. But book buying excursions have become few and far between. As it is there are not that many bookstores left in my area and I don’t like purchasing books online so I have to wait for some free time (weekends are spent on activities like sleeping, washing, cleaning, more sleeping; etc). As a result, fewer books have come into my home and here they are,

April 1, 2012.

The Plague. Albert Camus.

Crooks Tour. Jane Shaw.

I saw The Plague on one of my friend’s dad’s bookshelf. I think I was 8-9 years old. The name got stuck in my head. I wondered what the book was about. Now as an adult I’m hoping to satisfy my childhood curiosity.

Crooks Tour, I admit, I bought only because of the cover. I am greatly attracted to anything vintage and the Retro Press covers are just so prettily ‘retro’! The story may not be anything deep or great but I love the cover! Shallow of me but there it is!

June 13, 2012.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee.

The 50th anniversary edition of a great American classic. Of course, I had to buy it!

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Welcome Home: Books that Arrived in January & February 2012

“The good, the admirable reader identifies himself not with the boy or the girl in the book, but with the mind that conceived and composed that book.” ― Vladimir Nabokov

“Which literary character/hero/heroine do you most identify with?”

This is definitely a ‘frequently asked question’. Many readers I know identify with Anne from Anne of the Green Gables, Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, some with Hermione, Ron or Harry from the Harry Potter series of books, others with the characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy; etc, etc. Whoever you identify with, the fact of the matter is that most readers identify with someone. But being the weirdo that I am, I almost never have identified myself with any literary character. Rather I have identified with the people behind the words and the characters, the writers.

The author I most identify with is Emily Brontë. I grew up in a place that is quite similar to Haworth, Yorkshire. Not only do I have the same birthday as her but I also share a lot of her characters traits. Shyness and suffering from severe bouts of ‘social awkwardness’ are only two of them. I, of course, do not have her talent. She wrote about raw and unrestrained human emotions without the fear of meeting with the disapproval of the 19th century audience. She is probably one of the most honest writers I’ve ever come across.

Alright, enough of comparing myself with one of the greats of literature. Here are the books I bought in the months of January & February 2012.

January 2, 2012.

The Agony and the Ecstasy. Irving Stone.

The Day Of The Jackal. Frederick Forsyth.

The Railway Children. E. Nesbit.

Measure for Measure. William Shakespeare.

Cranford. Elizabeth Gaskell.

I have been wanting to read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy for a long time. I have seen this book on shop shelves but never picked it up till now. I have recently started it. Lets just say I shall reserve my judgement till I write my review of it.

The Day Of The Jackal, classic suspense from the 60’s. Do I need any other reason to pick it up?

I have been making up for lost time for the past two years. Growing up, I have missed out on a lot of children’s classics. Even though I may have enjoyed children’s books such as The Railway Children more as a child, I do still find joy in these books.

I bought Measure for Measure while participating on the Shakespeare Reading Month this January. I have always been kind of intimidated by the Bard but after breaking the ice with two of his comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, I felt much more confident. And Measure for Measure didn’t disappoint.

I have been watching this battered copy of Cranford lie neglected in a book shop for over a year now. No one seemed to be interested in it. I felt sorry for the book (yes, I quite often feel sorry for books) and having never read anything by Elizabeth Gaskell decided to bring it home.

Feb 18, 2012.

A View from the Bridge and All My Sons. Arthur Miller.

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is one of my all time favourite plays. I had been eying this Penguin edition of two of Millers most famous plays f0r a while. I hope to enjoy A View from the Bridge and All My Sons as much as his Death of a Salesman.

Happy Birthday Charles Dickens!

 

Charles Dickens (1855) by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858)

It is no secret that Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors. All January I have been singing his praises through my January – Charles Dickens Month posts. I have talked about how I first came to love Charles Dickens’s prose in My First Charles Dickens, about my favourites from him in My Favourites, about the only Dickens book I didn’t enjoy in  Dud from Dickens and I compared two of my favourite authors from the Victorian era in Dickens and Collins.

Today, 7th of February, 2012, is his 200th birthday. Check out the Google Doodle celebrating the characters of Dickens if you haven’t already.

I would like to wrap up the January – Charles Dickens Month by wishing a very happy birthday to the incomparable Charles Dickens. May his legacy live on forever!

My Top Ten Books 2011

I am normally very sure about what I like and what I don’t. So, doing top 10 best reads is usually a cinch for me. But last year was such a whirlwind! Also, my reading experiences were a bit of a mixed bag. There were a lot of books that I didn’t love but didn’t hate either. Thus, putting together a top 10 was more difficult than it usually is. Anyway here is my Top 10 Books for 2011 with excerpts from my reviews (Click on the titles for the full reviews),

1. 

Detective Stories. Philip Pullman.

The collection starts with The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine in 1892. Panic grips a lonely woman when she starts to hear the same late night whistling noise that her twin sister spoke of in her dying moments…

2.

Very Good, Jeeves. P.G. Wodehouse.

Jeeves and the Song of Songs (1929) has Bertie right in the middle of Tuppy Glossop’s tangled love life as he is forced to sing at a concert for Beefy Bingham. Anyone who has seen the 1990 series Jeeves and Wooster will appreciate this story even more. I recently watched a re-run of the show (I am too young to remember its original run) and thought  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were absolutely marvellous in it!

 3.

 
Rebecca. Daphne Du Maurier.

For me, Rebecca is about Rebecca. Long after the book ends her laughing, beautiful, cruel face stays vividly alive. She wins, as always, even in death.

4.

The Diary of a Nobody. George Grossmith.

I found several parts of the book quite funny. Like Lupin recklessly driving a pony-trap and causing general havoc in the streets while Mr. Pooter being seated at the back has to bear the wrath of  ‘a gang of roughs in a donkey-cart’. Or Mr. Cummings becoming ill and being angry at his friends for not reading about his illness in ‘The Bicycle News’. And Mr. Pooter getting annoyed after having to eat the same blanc-mange repeatedly.

5.

A Short History of Nearly Everything. Bill Bryson.

I really liked how Bryson talks of the people behind the science. The lives of known and unknown people behind some of the greatest discoveries come alive through Bryson’s narrative.

6.
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax. Liz Jensen.

Louis Drax is an accident prone boy. Ever since he was a baby he has been involved in more than his fair share of near fatal accidents. But so far they have all been just that, ‘nearly’ but not wholly ‘fatal’. On his ninth birthday, however, things may change for the worse. Louis may never come out alive from this ‘accident’.

7.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Haruki Murakami.

Sprawling, odd, complicated, scary, these are the words that come to my mind when I say the name, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I tried to keep an open mind and take it all in. But still at times I had to stop and think,

‘What on earth is this?’

8.

The Inimitable Jeeves. P. G. Wodehouse.

In Introducing Claude and Eustace and Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch, Bertie’s cousins, Claude and Eustace, come home with a top hat, several cats and a Salmon. Meanwhile, Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted nerve specialist, comes to lunch and questions Bertie’s sanity.

9.
Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings. Charles Dickens.

After Mrs. Lirriper’s drink loving husband perishes in an accident, Mrs. Lirriper starts to take in lodgers to make ends meet and also to pay off Mr. Lirriper’s debts. Mrs Lirriper’s Lodgings describes some of her experiences as a lodge keeper… I liked how Mrs. Lirriper keeps addressing the reader as ‘My Dear’, as though she knows us all and is having an ordinary conversation with us. It is sort of comforting somehow.

&

 
Mrs Lirriper’s Legacy. Charles Dickens.

Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy is a worthy conclusion to the story of Mrs. Lirriper.  The hopefulness of the first book comes to fruition in the second one.

10.

It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography. Charlotte Chandler.

I like the cover of the book. It is striking. As I read this book en route to my workplace many people asked me what book I was reading and they seemed genuinely interested in it.

For the Love of Short Stories

Today I want togush’ about an oft neglected genre, Short Stories.

Short stories are my favourites. I think that a writer who can put all the emotions that requires a whole book to play through in just a few pages deserves to be applauded. Only a really good writer is capable of doing that. But in the hands of mediocre writers short stories can become bungled messes that come to an abrupt end without any rhyme or reason.

Most people feel that short stories do not satisfy a reader’s hunger, that it leaves them wanting more. But I feel that little bit of ‘want’ that a short story leaves behind is what makes it so good!

Here are some of my favourites,

Mystery; Inc.

Since mystery is my favourite genre I like reading mystery short stories which in my opinion are the hardest to write. The writer has to be really adept in creating the right amount of  tension. The solutions also have to be good.

Some favourites,

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Chilling atmosphere of fear and distrust. 

The Idol House of Astarte by Agatha Christie – A touch of the supernatural works perfectly well.

Murdering Max by Peter Lovesey – A twisted tale of jealousy and revenge.

The Biter Bit by Wilkie Collins – Not a ‘mystery’ per se but has got to be the one of the funniest detective stories ever.

Things that go bump in the night!

Horror/supernatural is another difficult genre for short stories. Packing just  enough elements to shock the reader, to get that tingle up the reader’s spine in such a short span of time is a difficult task.

Some of my favourites,

Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier – It’s the unexpected ending that took my breath away.

The Upper Berth and The Screaming Skull by F. Marion Crawford – A little longish but spine-chilling. The latter one is especially scary.

The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins – A dream comes true for our hero Isaac Scatchard. Too bad it’s really a nightmare!

Love Hurts

I am not a major fan of romance in general. But I do have one or two favourite short stories where love (and not just ‘romantic’ love) is the central focus. And where the romance itself is the focus almost all of them are about the disillusionment of love.

Favourites,

The Kiss by Anton Chekhov – I love the brutal honesty of the ‘love’ story of an insignificant, unattractive soldier.

The Last Leaf by O’Henry – A non-romantic story but I feel it’s about love.

The Letters by Edith Wharton – Another story about how unrealistic the idea of true love can be.

A Mixed Bag

Finally, there are some gems out there that refuse to fit into any one genre but are great reads nonetheless. The Unicorn in the Garden by James Thurber deserves a special mention. Read the story yourself and figure out what Thurber meant by it.

Some favourites,

A Shocking Accident by Graham Greene – I actually understood how a situation that sounds silly to one may mean life and death to another.

The Revolt of Mother by Mary E. Wilkins – Feminism, nineteenth century rural New England style!

And of course, The Unicorn in the Garden by James Thurber.

It has been fun doing this post! It got me remembering all of the great short stories that I have read.

I would love to hear from any other short story readers out there. Just to know that I am not alone!