Books I read, Oct – Nov 2011

As promised last time, I finished the remaining Harry Potters and threw in the tales of Beedle the Bard for the sake of completion. Is it ok for an adult to like the series? I can imagine why it became so popular. It has all the romanticism to catch the attention of the young. And the rags-to-riches story of the author is no less romantic.

My second Jane Langton “God in Concord” was interesting read as well. The story sagged in the middle but the narrative style made up for the sag. There seem too many deaths (a couple of gory descriptions too) that makes much of the book morbid, but at least the ending is all “happy happy joy joy” – good triumphs over evil and so on, which makes it, in my eyes, wholesome. I could take a couple of corpses for that kind of ending.

After Langton, the attention wavered. Started Clive Cussler’s “The Wrecker” but couldn’t go past the first chapter, for no reason in particular. Started “The Eden Legacy” by Will Adams and abandoned the attempt with the first page. Again, no correlation to the quality of the book, just my mental restlessness.

I switched to non-fiction – “I remember nothing”, a collection of essays and musings of Nora Ephron. The first essay about forgetfulness struck a chord – I am one of those who can remember the name of the company in which my school classmate’s father worked twenty five years back but can’t remember where I put the d#$% car keys this morning. And you know, the most embarrasing moments of life that I want to forget, surfaces at the most unexpected moments ! I believe someone else also wrote about it – I think it was Dave Barry, but knowing my memory, I wouldn’t bet on it. But I digress. Nora Ephron has a self-deprecating humour that I find typical of American writers. Much like Erma Bombeck, but with a tad less warmth. The style is breezy and makes for good bed-time reading, but if you are looking for something more substantial, it could leave you unsatiated.

Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont was a good candidate on the “substantial” section. His stories are unpredictable, plots poignant and narrative style gripping. My favourite story in the collection is “the Vanishing American”. Although the story was written in 1955, it transcends time and geography in its premise that we become invisible to the world when we forget our joys and desires, however materially inconsequential they are, particularly so, in fact. The story is of an average office-going American middle aged man, who suddenly becomes invisible to everyone – his boss, his colleagues, even his wife. He becomes visible again when he does something he always wanted to do as a child – climb a statue and sit on it. The story made me wonder about my own impending invisibility.

More than a decade back, in an attempt to appear erudite, I read a Booker winner – The God of Small things. I found the narrative style too distracting to the plot, and so read it a couple of times to understand the plot and correlate it to what seemed to me a very disjoint and pretentious narration. A few years later, I read another Booker winner – Rushdie, although not the prize winning book, but The temptress of Florence. I loved the narrative style, but hated the plot. A year back, I browsed through The White Tiger. I realised that all three of these had an underlying similarity – they depressed me. So, I concluded that in order to win a prize, the book must be crushingly depressing. That made me stay off any book (or author) that won any prize.

J.K. Rowling dispelled the myth with Azkaban winning the Hugo and with dude into award winners now, I dipped carefully into the Pulitzer. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields is a very well-written fictional biography. The story is of a very ordinary, run-of-the-mill 20th century born and died Daisy, with a very ordinary, run-of-the-mill middle class life. But what is not ordinary is the narration. Shields uses various narrative styles to bring out the story. The first chapter is a first-person narration where Daisy describes what she knows of her birth. Then the narration shifts to third person story telling. A part of Daisy’s life is then revealed through letters written by and to Daisy. A part is an interview with all the people who have known Daisy. The story then shifts to narration by Daisy’s niece before it ends with eulogies to her by her friends and relatives. Perhaps I am prejudiced, but I perceived a slight undertone of gloom in the book, but it was not strong enough to make me swear off Pulitzer. Yet.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help thinking that had I been an undergrad student when this book won the Pulitzer (yes, I am ancient), my creative English lecturer Mythili Nair would have made me read the book and write a critique on the life of women at the turn of last century from a feminist view point. I shudder to think of the assignment now, but I am sure I would have enjoyed it then.

I have a couple more Pulitzers in my Kindle. They will keep me busy until the end of this year.

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About LG

Just because...
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