Thursday, April 3, 2014

An irate gym instructor and Colin Firth- How I learned to love audio books

Gym by itself is not an unknown concept to me. I have been aware of its existence ever since my mother was aware of the existence of the three rolls on my stomach. Refusing to bring up the poster child of childhood obesity, I was forced to be a guest feature at quite a few gyms across the country, where I mostly treated them as a place to take a shower before moving on toanother dessert hunt. Until the campus introduced a free gym and I had no more excuses to be fat. Not with the instructor eyeing me in the glinty, fascinated way an evil scientist must eye rabbits.

What did come as a surprise to me was how utterly dull the process of getting thin was. The zeal for fitting in a size 10 refused to consume me and all I could really concentrate on was how terribly, incredibly and completely boring a treadmill could be. I made playlists full of upbeat music. I tried watching sitcom episodes downloaded on my phone. I even tried to sneak in an Agatha Christie once. Neither option worked very well. I still wince when I hear the strains of a bass guitar. The instructor definitely did not appreciate the fact that I had to take breaks between jogging so that I could gasp out in laughter. The book simply received a wry "Are you kidding me?" 

It was desultory Google searches, mostly on  the lines of "How not to try to kill yourself on the treadmill", where audiobooks came up as a suggestion. I was not a believer in audiobooks, mostly seeing them as another fancy way of avoiding real, physical books (this was also way before I bought a tablet and embraced all fancy ways out there). However, I was overweight, unmotivated and was already nursing an intense desire to punch bass guitarists everywhere. Then the choice was made easier. Colin Firth. Colin Firth with his dulcet tones and memories- sweet, secret memories- of a puppy-faced Darcy. It did not matter what book it was he was narrating, it did not even matter that the book seemed to be a combination of romance and religion, both genres I  tend to avoid. It was Firth. He could read the definitive text on Monetary Policy to me and I would lap it up.

And lap it up I did. The End of the Affair is not a book I would have liked to read. I found it slightly overbearing and shallow. But I will always maintain that the reason I fell in love with Greene and his mastery of sentence writing is Colin Firth. He read the words aloud as they were supposed to be read, with a hint of irony mixed with melancholia and indifference. He brought the book alive as I listened, lost,  to words written sixty years ago, all the while running on a treadmill. Not perhaps how Greene ever imagined his work might be appreciated. But appreciated it nevertheless was.

Needless to say, I have stopped looking at gyms as wormholes who suck up hours of my time. I have stopped considering audiobooks as an aid to the lazy. I have also added another genre to my reading experience. All because my gym instructor believes that to exercise is to suffer. And the magic of Colin Firth.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013- Reading wrap up and general sobbing

So, 2013 was a bit of a disappointment. Not only did I not reach the 100 book goal, blogging was forgotten mostly. Though there were guilty twinges felt at random moments, life was, you know, HAPPENING!

But 2014 is here with new, firmer resolutions. But before we get to that, let me see how 2013 really did go. Here is a survey I have stole from Reading Rambo, who in turn stole it from Alley, with some additional material I might remember while writing this post.

Number of books read in 2013: 80. My go to excuse is that I am in love! But this is far, far lesser than in 2012, when I was also dating someone. But 2013 is happier so blehph! I will take 20 books lesser any day for a year like 2013 again.

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? This is hard because the entirety of my book love went to Terry Pratchett's discworld series this year. I am passionately in love with the man's intelligence, inventiveness and the sheer amount of humour. I have laughed out aloud in public buses, shaken with uncontrolled mirth in cafes and wept joyful tears while falling off my bed. Terry Pratchett, sir, you have shown me my capacity for an obsession I never realized I had the depths for. 

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t? An Ocean at the End of the Lane. I read the whole book desperately trying to love it and hating the fact that I could not. But it was too on-the-nose and preachy and Gaiman, for the first time, failed me. And I spent $25 for an autographed copy!

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? Busman's Honeymoon. I had given up on Sayers by the last book and had read it only because of my endless desire to see things through to the long, bitter end. But it turned out to be a very interesting and gentle story about a marriage of two damaged people. And, well, a murder, but that remained an afterthought for all, including the author. Sadly, it is hard to recommend the book when you know readers will have to go through a few tiresome ones to appreciate the last one. 

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013? Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I refuse to believe there are people who can dislike this book. It is a warm, friendly, bittersweet book, like going back home and meeting your best friend after a long time.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013? : Discworld! This does not even merit an explanation.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013? I heart Pratchett!

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I have read pathetically little science fiction but this was an amazing read!

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013? Guards, Guards! (Again, discworld!)

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year? Though I do re-read books, most of them are old favourites. Probably one of the Enid Blytons. I am not ashamed.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?  Any of the covers from the Buddha series by Osamy Tezuka. 
Look. So completely odd. So pretty.

11. Most memorable character in 2013? Captain Vimes (Yes, Discworld again). Such a complex, fascinating study. Such a thrilling journey. Additionally, his views on chess.

“He hated games they made the world look too simple. Chess, in particular, had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the king lounged about doing nothing. If only the pawns would've united ... the whole board could've been a republic in about a dozen moves.” 

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013? Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It is an achingly beautiful book where you sometimes forget the entire story because you are so completely distracted by how each sentence is formed.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? Magicians by Lev Grossman. I physically detested the book and kept on wishing to stamp hard on the copy I had. I would have, except it came from a library.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? Terry Pratchett. I could have started 8 years ago except I thought the covers looked too frivolous. Oh foolish, self-important 18 year old me!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?  I don't know. Do people note this stuff?

 16.Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2013? 

Shortest: A Calendar of Tales, 31 pages.
Longest: The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl, 768 pages.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? Every romantic scene in Busman's Honeymoon. I was so excited, not only did I discuss every single scene with the boyfriend, but wrote an actual blogpost on it. It deserved all that appreciation.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc). Read previous.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Especially since the previous book had been a bit of a snoozefest.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation From Somebody Else: Where'd You Go, Bernadette? All the exalting blogposts finally convinced me.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013? Fantasy. It accounted for 37.5% of my reading last year. 

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013? None. Somehow, love failed to happen.

23. Best debut book you read? Bossypants. Apparently, no other debuts were read.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013? Seriously, people note stuff like this?

25. Book That Was the Most Fun To Read in 2013? Any Pratchett book.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I wept profusely. This book is meant to be for weep fests.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out? None really. Most of the books I read have been well recognized.

28. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year? None. I am terrible at goal completion.

29. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2013 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2014? End of the Affair by Graham Greene.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: Busman's Honeymoon (1936)

I have had a curious-disinterest-coupled-with-my-need-tofinish-series in my relationship with the Lord Peter Wimsey series. The earlier books often seem absurd, Lord Wimsey apparently becoming more and more talented as years pass by. Even the breath of freshness which is Harriet Vane cannot save the fact that Sayers often spends dozens of pages in explaining incredibly complicated clues I am certain more than half of her audience happily skips to go to the result. Sayers was brilliant, but a gripping mystery writer she was not.

It took the last Wimsey book for me to realize where the charm of her writing lies. It never lies in her mysteries. Or even in her hero. It is again, as dear old Poirot calls it, the human factor, which makes this book so beautiful. The mystery barely exists for half the book. The book is primarily about Harriet and Peter, learning what it means to married and the support the other requires. Their love, blooming in Latin and French through four books, finds a passionate outpouring in this book the author could only have written to add her own contribution to intelligent love stories. The fact that there is a murdered man is purely incidental.

Sayers writes a tale of a couple new to love and togetherness, both discovering the meaning of marriage and the confusion it brings upon them. The first hundred pages are just details of their weddings and conversations, mostly epistolary in nature. We learn a lot about the Wimsey family, more than perhaps the previous books let us. We also learn what it is like to spout French while lovemaking. It is almost mandatory to have google translate around when you read this book, there is an incredible amount of the hot and heavy stuff disguised in European languages. Even the superintendent appears to have a thorough classical education which would make the modern reader feel incredibly ill-read and ignorant.

What makes this book far superior though is the end. The murderer is caught about three-fourths in the book and we expect a happy ending. But Wimsey is the man torn by a sense of duty and extreme guilt over sending a man to his death, no matter how guilty or unremorseful. It is then do we see the strength of the marriage, the need the couple has of each other, and the hope of a happy ending for a new couple with old, old pains. This book could serve as a treatise on a mature marriage, with couples battling out their individual insecurities and growing confusions in their mutual aim to remain united and happy. The last chapter, an alternatively brooding and emotional Peter and his wife, calmly supporting him, the book lives in that moment, growing from all the past pages of mutual understandings and experiences.

I can not recommend this book less happily. As a mystery genre, it lacks a lot, most often a mystery itself. But as a book on a couple discovering each other, it remains one of the best written works out there.

Rating: Fantastique!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Jazz by Toni Morrison (1993)

These are the books I am terrified to review. Mostly because the intellectual theses on them out there are terrifying for ordinary readers. What more can I say after endless pages on the narrative styles and the emphasis of blues music on the storyline?

Well, I can add, with every other reader, how incredibly beautiful the book is. How beautifully the sentences just blend into each other. Sometimes you just gasp at the sheer audacity of phrases, words which never should have belonged together forming such terribly beautiful ideas. Then there is here deep insight into human nature, and her strong, abiding faith in love. Just the first paragraph is an auditory pleasure enough to make this book a classic.

Then there is the question of an unpunished murderer to whose woes we are introduced. While none of the characters here appear sympathetic, and law could not have been very sympathetic with the African American race ( an understatement if there ever was one), to just let a murderer roam free when there are witnesses is bordering on the absurd.

But then here is your narrator, the book itself, slowly letting you discover it, through a tale slowly unravelling and letting you fall in love with it and falling in love with you. And you are left by a book which tells you at the end that it loves you and your head scream "Meta!!!" and your eyes look confused, but in your brain, you know the book is just a shy lover and it is the end and it does not want to let you go not knowing.

And however distressed you might have been, at the end you leave something soulfully beautiful telling you words which will haunt you pages after you have shut the book.

"That I have loved only you, surrendered my whole self reckless to you and nobody else. That I want you to love me back and show it to me. That I love the way you hold me, how close you let me be to you. I like your fingers on and on, lifting, turning. I have watched your face for a long time now, and missed your eyes when you went away from me. Talking to you and hearing you answer- that's the kick."

Because do look when you are reading. And look where your hands are.


This book satisfies the following challenges:

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Back To The Classics 2013- A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Well, thus ends the first book of the year (disregarding a few re-reads of soulfully satisfying books. Fine, I was re-reading the Anne series).

I think the most notable part of this book was my surprise at how much I enjoyed this. As a reader who has never enjoyed non-fiction, barely passed Physics and is yet to decipher the difference between an AC and DC motor, this book came as quite a refresher. Bill Bryson is in love with science, realizes it is usual to not be in love with science and then does his best to show us why he loves it so. In the process, we get introduced to a world of marvels and mysteries and shocks, from our pillowcases to the stars.

The raison d'etre behind the popularity of this book is obviously the accessibility of its facts. History, science, evolution is made alive to us with anecdotes, ego battles, doomed scientists and rags-to-riches stories. We are at once made inconsequential in front of the universe and then become the greatest story of survival ever written.Men become heroes and then the villains who put the very survival of earth in question. Not all this is unknown. But Bryson's book is rich in fascinating details and though begins to drag a little in the middle, is an easy read if taken in short bursts rather than a long read.

This book is recommended to everyone, from science lovers who will still find a wide variety of information and some biographies they could not have known to people who run away from science, to show them the miracles which humans have achieved for ages.

This book is my first read for the Chunkster Reading Challenge and has 668 pages.
450-550 - 0
551-750- 1
>750- 0

Rating: J'adore!