Month: February 2016

Without You, by Preethi Venugopala

Without You, by Preethi Venugopala is a book I picked up only because I was systematically clearingpreethi-venugopala-without-you-sreesha-divakaran up the unread books off my shelf. It had been lying there for a while and seeing that I needed something that did not tax my brain too much, given my recent spell (which I’d described in a previous post), I thought now was a good time as any.

Genre: Boy-meets-girl-and-some-insta-crushing

Summary: 20 year old girl meets 26 year old boy. Both profess their “love” for each other though they’ve barely had a conversation. He does creepy stuff like watching her sleep all night. Then his crazy mother insults her, while he just stands there watching. She attempts suicide. Later they reunite (all is forgiven, hallelujah), and she comes to know that he had been sort of stalking her all this while but had not got in touch “for her own good.”

You know what that is? The Twilight Saga 1 & 2, without the vampires or werewolves or glitter. Add in a dash of the cruel mother-in-law from Indian television serials, and there you have it!

They say there is nothing original left to be done in the world of fiction. I’ve no authority to question that statement, but even then, I would not say books are entirely without surprises. Except for Without You – I knew on page one what the ending would be, including the smallest bits which I won’t reveal in order to keep this somewhat spoiler-free. The language is poor, rife with grammar errors (missing articles, incorrect placement of prepositions, wrong punctuations (commas, especially, were murdered), random capitalizations, bad sentence construction) and purple prose. The characters, including the narrator, speak like Yoda (“shameless, she is.”, “you know him, but.”), and many a times, I went like this:

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The heroine is one of the weakest literary characters I’ve seen in quite some time. She faints every now and then in the manner of 18th century dames, that need to be revived with smelling salts. She is also constantly telling us about how blessed she is because of the kind of people she has in her life. She’s the literary version of the overly sentimental friend you have on Facebook, the one who updates status lines such as “feeling blessed with Vishal and 38 other people” Speaking of Vishal, he was a character who had a prominent role in the first half, only to vanish later.

But the funniest part has to be – she plots to get her guy back with the help of “zodiac signs”! That’s her genius plot – the hero is a cancerian so she is sure he will behave in a certain way, and with that she knows how to win him back. Well, hello! Newsflash: zodiac signs are fun, but definitely not airtight-behavioural-pattern predictors. Oh God!

Also, the hero: Bro, you’re 26, and a cardiologist, FFS! How are you so stupid and immature? And he’s weirdly creepy too – meets girl, says “I love you” after, like, a day, texts her 5 times after leaving her house just cos he didn’t get an instant response. Bro, why you no chill!

The predictability of the (clichéd) plot, the overly-detailed and unnecessary description of every surrounding, the stupidity of two people saying “I love you” without even knowing each other, the spinelessness of the hero, the doormat-like behaviour of the heroine, the incorrect over-use of the word “literally” (“I could literally hear his thoughts” Babe, no, you can’t) and the word “alluring”, the dialogue tags added to run-on sentences, the bad shape and repetition that convinced me no editor had probably seen this, the sly goodie-two-shoes judgemental tone (“except for a few stolen kisses, our love was innocent”, “I would’ve made you mine. I’m only human” (sense, this makes none.)) and… I could go on; my point being – it was all off-putting.

I had mentioned in a previous review this month that I seem to be reading a lot of romances lately, something I rarely do. Reading Without You reminded me why is it that I stopped reading romances in the first place.

Rating: 1/5

Goodreads | Amazon 

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Alphabet Soup for Lovers, by Anita Nair

There was anita-nair-alphabet-soup-for-lovers-sreesha-divakarana time when I used to believe Anita Nair could do no wrong. I have enjoyed her writing as much as her characters have enjoyed each others’ company. I believe Idris is the only book by her that I’ve not read, and the ones I have, I’ve treated with a fangirl-like devotion.

Alphabet Soup for Lovers, on the other hand, could have been ghost written by an amateur.

In many ways – no, actually – in every way, ASFL is an abridged copy of the far superior Mistress. Those who know me know that Mistress ranks high on my Top 10 list. ASFL disappointed me in more ways than one. Reading it felt like someone was trying to copy Nair’s style, and plagiarize her work. I know how bizarre that sounds, given that the book is published in her name! But I cannot help but compare:

Mistress is the story of a kathakali artist, Koman, who tells us his story while watching his niece get entangled in an extra marital affair with the man who has come to interview him. He uses the nine forms of expression used in the dance form to narrate the story.

ASFL is the story of a cook, Komathi, who tells us her story (much less fascinating than Koman’s) while watching the woman she brought up as her own daughter get entangled in an extra martial affair with a man who has come to live in the homestay run by her and her husband. The cook uses the 26 letters of the alphabet to narrate the story.

ASFL is the alternative ending of Mistress. With only half of its beauty.

While the nine forms blended in a seamless metaphor in Mistress, the letters do nothing at all for ASFL. And while Mistress had complex characters that developed throughout, ASFL has characters out of a mould. They’re shells. Empty shells. Forgettable. Crumbleable.

Nair has not explored her full potential as an author, and in fact has done injustice to herself. The book reads like something she wrote on a whim – like a filler.

Disappointing, coming from Anita Nair, and thoroughly ordinary.

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Short Update

I just realized it has been a while since I wrote anything here. I was feeling pretty good (read: borderline arrogant) about myself when Goodreads told me how far ahead of schedule I am with my reading challenge. I am guessing that attitude is to blame, cos it pissed karma off.

I have picked up quite a few books over the last few weeks, but sadly, I haven’t finished any. Not that they weren’t good – they were all surprisingly good. But I felt I was only grazing their surface, and not really getting into them. I normally enter the world of the story through some kinda osmosis or something, so since that didn’t happen, I kept choosing a different book each night, and all that’s done is left a pile of unfinished books to be returned to at a later point. And return I will, because like I said, they were all very good.

I just feel like listing them all out here, maybe more for me than for the reader, but if you have read any of these, do let me know how you like/dislike them. The books I started, in no particular order are:

  1. The World According To Garp, John Irving
  2. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
  3. The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
  4. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  5. Chocolat, Joanne Harris
  6. Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk
  7. The Devil’s Star, Jo Nesbo
  8. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
  9. Write Your Own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris
  10. Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
  11. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
  12. Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil
  13. Palace of Illusions, Chitra Divakaruni
  14. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

I spent my Valentine’s Day in a bookstore and I don’t know if I got overwhelmed by my growing TBR shelf, or if I was just really worried about Mike Ross’ trial to focus on books, but either way, this list is… funny. The read percentage varies from 5 pages to 1/3rd of the book, and I can assure you, they’re all worth reading.

Do you think I should take a mini break from books? Nahh, I didn’t think so either. Which one do you think I should finish first? Or should I just pick something else up entirely?

Bengal Nights, by Mircea Eliade (Translation: Catherine Spencer)

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“I do not love her, I admire her. She disturbs me. Her body and her mind are overwhelming.”

Bengal Nights, or Maitreyi, or La Nuit Bengali by Romanian historian Mircea Eliade is a title I came across by accident. After reading the summary on goodreads, I was quite intrigued, but what drove me nuts was the fact that this book was not available anywhere. This gave Bengal Nights the halo of “the book that I couldn’t have” and like all things we cannot have, it only made me want it more. Otherwise, there is no chance on earth that I would hunt far and wide for a romance. I had given up on ever getting a copy of this book, after searching for it for about a year, when just as unexpectedly, I found it!

Looks like this is the year of romance for me. *secretly hopes not*

Summary <may contain some spoilers>: Alain (Eliade’s alter ego) is a European engineer working in Calcutta. His life is filled with frivolous parties with his friend Harold and “the girls.” While working on a project in Assam, he contracts malaria and is hospitalized. When he regains conciousness, he is surrounded by his friends, all of whom have a prejudice against India and its people. Just then, his employer, Narendra Sen, visits him with his sixteen year old daughter Maitreyi, and invites him to stay at his residence as he recovers. Alain’s friends are convinced that it is a ploy to make him fall in love with Maitreyi and get him married. Alain does not believe it; also, he dislikes Maitreyi’s appearance. However, he accepts Narendra Sen’s offer and moves to his house. Maitreyi is interested in learning French, and soon, he begins to give her French lessons, while she teaches him Bengali. He is sure she is flirting with him, but she assures him that she is in love with Rabindranath Tagore, her teacher, to whom she had once given her word she would never fall in love. Later, however, under the pretext of arranging books in her father’s library, she calls Alain for help and challenges him to invoke feelings in her. She soon realizes she is truly in love with him, and Alain realizes he has been in love with her since the very first time he saw her. Things soon take a turn for the worse when Maitreyi’s parents come to know of the affair, and it leads to a tragic end.

Although this book is set in the early part of the last century, I am unable to call it a historical romance. The main reason being, although most of the customs and traditions mentioned in the story are now outdated, the story could as well have been set in present day India.

Never have I ever read a story of such inner turmoil, such indecisiveness and such passion. Eliade writes in detail about each of Alain’s emotions, his every thought and he employs a rich vocabulary while doing so. The flaw, however, is that it fails to invoke anything in me, as a reader. Why is it that despite such vivid detail, as a reader, I neither sympathized with the tragic situation nor felt any flicker of emotion in my heart? The only reason I could think of is, Eliade’s writing is too much like spoon-feeding. It crosses the thin line between vivid detail and the murder of imagination. It leaves the reader with the sole job of reading, and not imagining – not completing threads in his or her own mind.

Yet another thing I do not understand is, whilst Eliade has published this as an autobiographical work, he gives himself an alias. He mentions Maitreyi (and her guru, the well known poet Rabindranath Tagore) by the real name, and also writes about every little thing they experienced, with, seemingly no thought to consequence. Why then has he adopted an alias for himself alone?

I would recommend this book only for the setting – Calcutta through the eyes of Alain looks charming, haunting, and beautiful, though he was, at the beginning, filled with prejudice against the land and its people. As a literary piece on the whole though, it leaves something to be desired.

Rating: 3/5

Get it here: Amazon

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

If you have ever reeleanor-and-park-rainbow-rowell-rain-and-a-book-sreesha-divakaranad this page where I’ve listed my genre preferences, then you know I hate romances and I am very, very choosy about YA.

I’ve scoffed at Erich Segal’s Love Story and called it highly overrated.

I’ve found so many flaws with The Fault In Our Stars that the very reference to the book and any praise for it is something I haughtily wave aside.

I’ve looked at shelves bearing Nicholas Sparks’ books with a half-contemptuous-half-pitiful “Oh, honey…” expression.

Maybe I am too cynical for my own good. But am I? Because interestingly,

I am also the person who sobbed into her pillow after reading Eleanor & Park.

Oh GOD. What is this book? Which is this bit of an episode from the characters’ lives that reduced me to such ugly crumpliness?! What are these things floating in my mind, all these, what are these – these emotions!!!

Clearly this is an unfamiliar territory for me. Believe me when I say this – I am trying to look at this book objectively and review it as such, but there’s just too much water in my eyes for me to do that.

Genre: YA, Romance

Summary: Before I give you the summary, let me say, this book moves at a very unhurried pace, so each little scene, each little thing hits you like a minitruckload of “feels”. If I do give you a summary, however spoiler-free it may be, it will ruin it for you. So this is all I am going to say: Eleanor is the new girl in town – a tad overweight, with strange clothes several sizes too big for her, lots of unruly red hair – with whom no one wants to share a seat on the school bus. An irritated Park, a half-Korean kid from the neighbourhood, orders her to sit down next to him. Park reads comic books and listens to music. One day he notices that Eleanor has been looking over his shoulder and reading the comics with him (she calls it “eavesreading”). They don’t talk a word, but Park lets her read – waiting a bit longer than usual to turn the page so as to let her finish. Until one day…

Well, that’s all you’re gonna get from me.

Have you ever experienced this – you feel like there’s so much emotion in you that you feel you’re heart is being squeezed and the pain shoots right through your chest to the centre of your palm? It’s a horrible feeling. It’s a glorious feeling. Along with that, the fluttering butterflies in the stomach. I was reading, and every time that pain shot through, all I wanted was some kinda icepick to stab my palm, because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I read this book in secret, because I knew I could collapse into tears any minute and I did not want to call any attention to myself – no one in the family is a reader, and, really, “sobbing because of a scene” was not something I saw myself explaining.

The book explores various themes, such as body image issues (Eleanor’s weight), identity issues (Park’s mother is Korean and he feels like a misfit), abuse, bullying, domestic violence, but the central theme is first love. The characters are well written, but a wee bit too one-dimensional. There’s not a lot of explanation about the characters’ pasts, and the author has spent a little too much time on the romance that she has not entirely done justice to the other themes, in my opinion. The writing style is simplistic, very YA-relateable. I would not call this groundbreaking literature, but for what it is, it works well. I personally liked the first half more than the second, and I wish the ending was not so open-ended. Maybe there’s a sequel coming up? I hope so. I loved the comic book references in the book, especially part where Park looks at Eleanor smiling and thinks she looks like Joker from Batman, then thinks she wouldn’t see it as a compliment, but that’s how he meant it. That was… cute!

A heart warming and heart wrenching tale at the same time, on a rating scale, I would give it between 3.5-4 out of 5.

You can get the book here. And some tissues here.

And remember, this book forces you to remember parts of you that you have forgotten.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s something in my eye.

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, was the only blog I used to follow back in the day when I was still a baby allie-brosh-hyperbole-and-half-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookin the blogosphere. I stopped following it around the time I stopped blogging (2010-2011) and when I returned to the scene, I realized Hyperbole and a Half was not being updated as frequently as it used to be. Some of you know that I returned to blogging to help cure me of my depression (which it has, in large part) Around the time I had been away, Allie had shared her depression story, in her unique, trademark style accompanied by colourful MS Paint comics. Later, in the year 2013, she shared the story Depression Part Two, which really resonated with me. It gave words to that which I had been struggling with for so long, especially the following:

“I had always wanted to not give a fuck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn’t have to feel them anymore. But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there’s a huge difference between not giving a fuck and not being able to give a fuck.”

Hyperbole and a Half – the book – is a collection of a few of the stories from the blog, with all the pictures. It is a hilarious take on life and – as Allie puts it – unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem and other things that happened. It has several laugh-out-loud moments, although the stories follow no particular order. Exactly in the style of the blog, they are non sequential. The best part about this colourful book is that it reaches a wider audience, to those who had not heard of the blog before this. And it is something that all of us would enjoy reading.

I was hoping to find some of my favourite stories from the blog that have not been included – such as the famous Alot, How A Sandwich Makes You Its Bitch, and The Year The Easter Bunny Died. But I am glad I have this beautiful, funny book in my collection. I do hope Allie returns to blogging soon. I miss reading her!

It’s a really quick read – I finished it in just under 3 hours, which is I think the fastest I have ever read a book – given my limited reading time and everything.

Get the book here: Amazon

I hope you like it as much as I did.

How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran

A few years acaitlin-moran-howtobeawoman-sreesha-divakaran-rainandabookgo, my good friend, Caitlin Moran and I were discussing the possibility of me releasing a memoir. I asked her to ghost write it for me, which she did, but I received the shock of my life when the book came out – in her name.

I’ll wait for you to stop gasping about this betrayal. Shocking, right?

OK, no, that’s not true. You can all stop hating her for the betrayal that never happened.

Nor is she my friend *sobs* Why is life so unfair!

The thing is, this book could have been about me. No, I know what you’re thinking: that I say this about every book I read and I relate to every protagonist and antagonist there is in this world. But this is not like that. You see, everyone has this one thing about which they turn madly, passionately, near-fanatic. Nearly everyone. Some people blow themselves up for an imaginary fairy in the sky, some people get the Prime Minister’s name tattooed across their chest. For me, it is, and almost always has been, feminism.

Lately, I have been getting really pissed off with people, especially women, who have been declaring they are not feminists because of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with feminism. There is a man whom I used to respect a lot (used to) who referred to feminism as “rebellion.” What was ironic was the context – it was mentioned a highly pro-women blog-post; so I assumed, like 50% of the population and numbnuts like Sarah Jessica Parker, this man had no idea what feminism was, because otherwise why would anyone be so self-contradictory in one breath?

Caitlin Moran touches upon the key issues women face daily, starting with sexism at the workplace – she mentions how it is so ingrained in our system, that sometimes we don’t even realize it – how women are constantly judged, in ways that men are not, about the clothes they wear, about their career choices, personal life or almost literally everything. She talks about the question that only women are asked all the time, “When are you having kids?” To which she has an excellent response: “Batman doesn’t want a baby in order to feel he’s ‘done everything’. He’s just saved Gotham again! If this means that Batman must be a feminist role model above, say, Nicola Horlick, then so be it.” Caitlin has two children of her own. In this context, I have to add, I have been asked by several people why is it that I advocate that to have kids or not is a woman’s choice when I have a child of my own. I am also asked this illogical question, “Do you not want others to have what you have?” The answer to that is simple: How do you know what makes them happy? Who are you to decide and judge?

“Batman doesn’t have to put up with this shit-why should we?”

Yet another key issue she mentions is how clueless and ignorant (education, literacy, career status not withstanding) women (*cough* SarahJessicaParker *cough* KatyPerry *cough*) seem to be claiming they are not feminists; which is a question that has been plaguing me for a while. The only thing that I ever had in response to that was, “If it weren’t for feminism, you wouldn’t be offering your opinion right now, so go invest in a dictionary, you moron.” Of course, Caitlin puts my thoughts into much more funny, straightforward and eloquent words that sound somehow more polite than my brash ones:

“These days, however, I am much calmer – since I realised that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on women’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor – biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game – before going back to quick-liming the dunny. This is why those female columnists in the Daily Mail – giving daily wail against feminism – amuse me. They paid you £1,600 for that, dear, I think. And I bet it’s going in your bank account, and not your husband’s. The more women argue loudly, against feminism, the more they both prove it exists and that they enjoy its hard-won privileges. We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

Really. It’s that simple. I wish I get to be “calmer” one day about all this like Caitlin says she now is. God knows I could use it! But until then, I can do two things: 1) Recommend this book to everyone – men and women – and tell them the would enjoy it – both the content and how funny it is 2) if anyone comes at me with ignorant and idiotic lectures against feminism, I will clobber them on the head with this very same book. I think Caitlin will not appreciate this second one, because she has repeatedly mentioned anger isn’t the answer – humour probably could be. Hence, I will leave you with one final quote from my new favourite book by my new favourite feminist role model, who sadly isn’t my new best friend:

“But as the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human.”

Get it here: Amazon.

Immediately.