Sunday, January 23, 2011

My Bookshelves

So, with my new room and my new bookshelves, I have some leverage to arrange my books (which are generally only my fantasy books and a few others) in any way I want. And my preferred way is alphabetically, by the author's last name. The result?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

A Suitable Boy is one of the most influential books I've ever read.

A Suitable Boy: A Novel (Modern Classics)

When you see A Suitable Boy outside, you are going to be scared, trust me. Its about 1500 pages, a thumping huge book that is hard to even carry - and which you will hesitate to even look at. But as the author himself warns in an introduction to this book - buy this book before you think and come to the conclusion that this book will "sprain your wrists and strain your purse." And you better do that, because this book is worth each and every rupee, all the weight lifting that you will have to do, and all the sleepless hours you are going to spend on it, because A Suitable Boy is one of the best books I have ever read (and ever hope to). In A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth spins a delightful tale of family, love, and life - but more than that, he manages to map developing India and all the various things - good and bad - that make us who we really are. 

The story is set in 1950s in India, and maps the struggle of one mother to find 'a suitable boy' for her daughter among a variety of interlinked families - and is, in fact, a story of these families and all the struggles that go on around them. But in the end, there is so much in this book that even me, living in 2010 in India, could identify with - and so much that everyone, no matter where they live and when, will find in common with it, mostly because of the author's superb skill in fleshing out the characters that we've all seen. I mean who hasn't seen a hypochondriac, meddling, perfectionist mother like Mrs. Rupa Mehra? Who hasn't seen a boy like Maan - a little good for nothing, living on his father's money, and yet good at heart? And who hasn't seen a person like Lata, the main character of this story - sweet, and intelligent and maybe not ready to marry just yet? If I had to name one thing that lifts this story beyond 1500 pages of boredom and makes it as lively and as beautiful as it is - well - it has to be the characters. They're beautifully etched, the kind of characters we've all seen somewhere or the other in our lives, and who fill us with joy. I've actually laughed out loud and cried while reading this book - a feat not easily achieved by any book. 

The setting is wonderfully done - in an imaginary state of Bharampur in India, where the political struggles, the disasters, the religious turmoil is all original - and yet so easy to identify with. The story, as one reviewer describes it, is 'a pilgrimage into India', and I agree totally. This is a story that takes you into the heart of India, into the pulsating core of what makes it what it is, and everyone will find something in this book to satisfy them and touch them - either the politics, the family struggles, or the state of the peasants, the state of the evicted landlords, the religious struggles, or just the discovery of self that forms the basis of this book. 

Incidentally, this is the kind of book where you will soon fall in love with most of the leading characters - a lot of whom are on opposing sides, and is the kind of book where some will lose and some will win - and where you will be tantalized by the beautiful poetry that is in the index that tells you about the chapter (the last chapter, for example, has "One person, five, and thirty thousand choose - some win, some draw, and as must be, some lose" - and by about half way through I not only knew what this meant but I was rationing the book so I didn't reach this chapter too fast). The ending might indeed not be to your satisfaction (it certainly wasn't to mine - I wont give you any spoilers but I don't particularly like Lata's choice), but I swear the journey is worth it. So don't be intimidated by the size of the book - even spraining your wrist and straining your purse will be totally worth it. 

Final thoughts: There are just two words really - read it. Now. Beautifully etched characters, excellent writing, wonderful portrayal of India - a book to warm your heart and change your life. 

Other thoughts: I have many, many more reviews planned - expect a review of Jane Austen's Emma sometime next week, and keep giving me recommendations of good books to read.      

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is absolutely hilarious.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

So, this was a book I first read (or attempted to read) a few years back, simply because I'd heard excellent reviews of it even then, and I found the book lying somewhere in my house. But back then I certainly didn't understand any of it, and so I let it go. But a few days back, I went and hunted for it and started reading it again, not sure really what to expect or whether I would like it. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is definitely not my regular genre of reading materials - its sci-fi with ironic humor, neither of which I tend to appreciate fully, but I definitely, definitely, dont regret picking up this book again - simply because this book is  interesting, intelligent, and extremely, extremely fun. 

The book is written in a witty and delightful style. The interludes in the book from the book 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', which incidentally is being written by one of the main characters in the book, and its comparison with the Encyclopedia Galactica are absolutely spot on, and besides this the irony in the book is also worth reading. (I love, for example, the entry 'earth' finally gets in this book.) The book is written in a loose, almost conversation style that works really well with the plot, which ranges from mostly improbable to totally crazy and takes you in all the corners of the universe and introduces you to a whole load of aliens of different temperaments, a very droll human, and an extremely morose robot. I love this last character - in fact, most of the characters in this series are genuinely hilarious and yet so real that they are completely worth reading, you don't feel the disconnect that you'd think you'd feel between yourself and these other-wordly robots and aliens and mice who form the major characters. The author has fleshed out a whole universe - more than this book can accurately portray (and mostly gives just a glance into) - in an interesting and deep way. 

I'd recommend this book emphatically to anyone who is actually interested in science fiction or enjoys dry, ironic humour, but I'd also recommend it to other people who like philosophy, who like to read, and who're into trying something a little bit different, and also most certainly to any fans of Terry Prachett . Its a book for all ages (beyond a certain age), and its the kind of book that can be read again and again and enjoyed again and again. 

Final thoughts: Hilarious, intelligent, thought-provoking - I recommend this book to anyone who is in to try something new and get taken for a ride. 

Other thoughts: Wow. Its been a REALLY long time since I've blogged. Rest assured that this is not going to continue - expect regular reviews from now on, as well as a lot of fun stuff. And if you've read an interesting book this winter, well, come on in and drop me a line because I've been looking for some recommendations in order to buy a few new books.

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