Author: Sreesha Divakaran

Tagged! Anything But Books

I haven’t accepted tags/blogger awards in a while. It’s shocking how lazy I can be when it comes to answering questions about myself. Really, my laziness is limitless. But when Shantala tagged me in the Anything But Books Tag, I decided to give it a go.

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Here’s how it works. I’ve been given a set of questions. My answers have to be about anything – as the name suggests – but books. At the end of the post, I’ll tag a few other bloggers to share their answers.

Here goes!

Name a cartoon(s) that you love

I haven’t watched cartoons in forever, but as a kid I absolutely LOVED Dexter’s Lab. I also liked Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, and Duck Tales.

What is your favorite song right now?

I take a break from music every once in while (just like I take a break from books, writing, social media, etc.) My latest music break started on June 11th. At that point the following three were my favorites:

Sia – To Be Human feat. Labrinth 

Luis Fonsi – Despacito (Original) ft. Daddy Yankee

Calvin Harris – Slide ft. Frank Ocean & Migos

What could you do for hours (that isn’t reading)?

Sit on the beach, staring at the waves.

What is something you love to do that your followers would be surprised by?

This is going to sound super weird coming from me, and even I’m surprised – cos this is something I discovered recently about myself – I really enjoy cleaning! This doesn’t explain why my house is almost always a mess, but whenever I’m in the mood, I’ve learnt I can go around scrubbing, dusting, mopping for as long as I feel like. It’s almost therapeutic.

What is your favorite unnecessarily specific thing to learn about (this can do with books, I guess)?

I keep watching random tutorials on YouTube and my interests keep changing (I have a terribly low attention span). At one point, it was T-shirt laddering and all other kinds of T-shirt makeovers. Then it was nail-art and water marbling (I don’t even know why; I don’t have the patience for it, but I just like learning I guess?) I even tried to learn crochet and knitting once. The bottomline is, I spend way too much time on YouTube!

Aside from all of that, as of this moment, I’m learning the ropes of travel writing.

What is something unusual you know how to do?

I can mend broken toys. At least my son seems to think so.

Name something you’ve made in the last year (and show us, if you can).

The last thing I made was a little stand for my earrings back in the year 2012! Other than that, last year, I upcycled an old t-shirt. I don’t have a pic, but the design was similar to the Teary Fringe on this link (yes, I know it’s ridic simple). I do plan to make a nameplate for my house, and also a collage (although I’m planning a very basic one – nothing intricate) inspired by this post by Jini.

What is your most recent personal project?

Buahahaha, there’s something in the works. But it may be a long while before it comes to light (if it does at all). That’s all I’m gonna say.

Tell us something you think about often (maybe while staring out of windows).

Oh wow, I love this question. Until last year, I used to think about my purpose, and wonder where “home” is. This year, I’ve decided it’s futile to try and figure that out, cos half the fun is in not knowing what’s coming, or what we aim to do. Instead, this year, I’ve been pondering over other things. That is, I know I’m searching for something (NOT the meaning of life), something extraordinary, but I don’t know what it is. So yes, I think a lot about that. And I still wonder where home is.

Give us something that’s your favorite, but make it something oddly specific, not like your favorite food, but like your favorite food when you’ve been studying for hours and forgot to eat. Or, you know, something like that.

Does it have to be food? If yes, then I have to have pani puri when it rains. If not food, then let’s see – everyone knows my top three TV shows are HIMYM, Sherlock, and Friends, but specifically on the days I’m feeling low, I choose the first one over the other two (and over everything else). Listening to Ted’s (sometimes questionable) advice to his kids really lifts me up.


So that’s it! Those were all the questions I got from Shantala. I’d like to tag JaibalaNamy, Vidya, Shinjini, Chandni, Lalita, SudhaLouise, and Debra. I’ll keep the tag open for anyone who wishes to take it up. Please do share your answers on your blogs (or the comments section – whatever suits you 🙂 ) Looking forward to it! 

 

 

Reading Slump and Half of a Yellow Sun

Hello. I’m back. Or am I? Too soon to tell!

I’ve been facing the reading block from hell such that there is little else I think about these days. This time last year, I was on book # 31. Whereas, as of this moment, Half of a Yellow Sun was book # 4 for this year. I’m so disappointed in myself that I don’t even feel like counting the other three books. It’s like the gap in reading negates everything I’ve done.

My last review in 2016 was published on Dec 1st. Post that, all I was doing was trying to read. To be fair, I was even trying to live, so everything I did on a daily basis got lost in the effort of keeping myself alive. I confessed in a post last year that I read books to consciously keep the real world out. Therefore, not being able to read was doubly suffocating. Like a singer who woke up one day to find she’s lost her voice.

I tried my best to fix my reading problem – a candle of hope that if I read one book from start to finish, maybe, just maybe, other parts of my life would begin fixing themselves. We attach significance to certain actions in certain ways. In an effort to bring this to fruition, I joined a book club. It didn’t help with the reading, but it helped in other ways – it allowed me to revert to a side of me I had hidden for the last few years under a cloak of introversion. It was quite beneficial to my self esteem which had been on an all-time low. But with the reading, nah – I’d bring a new book with me each week, pretend to read a chapter, and then put it back on my shelf. Nothing stuck, nothing stayed.

6318821It was the same with Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The first time I brought it to the club, I didn’t even open it, as I was  too busy chitchatting with everyone else. Two weeks after that, while at home, I decided to start reading it on a whim. This isn’t my usual “book called out to me” phenomena that I keep talking about on this blog. This was just another attempt to kill the block. At first, it was as bad as ever – not the book, but my focus and concentration. I felt like a calf learning to walk and constantly failing. I’d read one sentence and dream of clouds for the next three paragraphs. I chided myself and a part of my brain became a stern parent to another part. Instead of giving up on the book, I’d go back and read those paragraphs that I’d missed. I vowed to not let the slump get better of me this time. Slow and steady (real slow cos it took me a month to read a book I would have finished in maybe four days before).

Adichie is someone I admire a lot for who she is. I’ve listened to her talks and interviews and I have immense respect for her. Last year, I read Purple Hibiscus and quite enjoyed it. The prose was simple, the story realistic, with characters that stayed in your mind even after you put the book down.

I decided to read Half of a Yellow Sun more out of my love for Adichie than anything else. I didn’t even read the blurb before signing up. And, forgive me for being so ignorant, but I learned about the Nigerian Civil War only after reading this book.

Set in the ’60s, the story does not follow a linear timeline. It starts with the early ’60s, then moves to late ’60s. we go back to the early ’60s where some important revelations are made, and we return to the late ’60s, in the middle of war and starvation and destruction. In the beginning, the characters seemed almost hopeful that the war would come. A fight, a hope for independence. The story is told through the POVs of the three central characters – Ugwu, Olanna, and Richard.

The story begins with Ugwu accepting a job as a houseboy for Odenigbo, a professor and an intellectual strongly in favor of creation of the new state, Biafra. Odenigbo entertains other intellectuals every evening, while Ugwu observes their mannerisms and tries to learn as much as he can.

Enter Olanna, the beautiful woman Odenigbo is in love with. She has decided to leave behind her hometown and rich parents and move to the university town with Odenigbo. Her arrival makes Ugwu uneasy at first; with her polished manners and refined language, Ugwu believes she is not right for his master, but soon his respect for her grows beyond his respect for Odenigbo. When Odenigbo’s mother hatches a plan against Olanna, it is Ugwu who tries his best to warn her.

Olanna has a sardonic twin sister, Kainene – the ignored one. The different treatment the two girls received from their parents has turned Kainene cynical and indifferent. She meets Richard, a shy English journalist at a party and the two soon become lovers. Even though Richard falls in love with her, he is too afraid to ever fully express his feelings. It is Igbo art that draws him to the country, but he stays to document the war.

In the beginning, the book gave off a Gone With The Wind vibe, as both have a war setting. There is also a tinge of The Kite Runner. However, Half of a Yellow Sun focuses more on the characters in the story than the war itself. The brutality of war has been captured to an extent, but not with the severity it demanded. The war serves as a backdrop, and is almost like an afterthought in the work as a whole – more time could have been devoted to show just how terrible it was (this is just my opinion). In this regard, I liked Purple Hibiscus better, as in that book, the setting is as important as the characters.

I quite related to the character of Olanna and her blind love for Odenigbo. There was a devotion in her love that I could understand in a way that I wish I didn’t. However, it is Kainene I looked up to. Her development as a character has been very well written. She is a perfect blend of strength, willfulness, and levelheadedness. I absolutely admired her (and wished I was more like her than her twin).

I’m yet to read Adichie’s other works of fiction (Americanah, The Thing Around Your Neck etc.), but I enjoyed the two I’ve read so far. Although I liked Purple Hibiscus more than Half of a Yellow Sun, I will still equally recommend both, the important reason being they’re not exactly comparable and are so different from each other, they could’ve been written by two different authors. That said, I will always remember the story of Half of a Yellow Sun. It is, after all, the first book I read in a bloody long and hard time.

Goodreads | Amazon

Paris for One and Other Stories, by Jojo Moyes

“Actually, I’ve had a large white wine. Which means I’m saying what I think.”
“Don’t you usually, then? Say what you think?”
“Never. Safer that way.”

cover105449-mediumJojo Moyes is a name I across all too frequently these days, after the massive success of her books Me Before You and After You. I’ve not read either of the two because at first I wasn’t too sure if I would be into them, given my experience with and opinions of popular romances (such as The Fault in Our Stars or The Notebook). Later, when I thought I might take a look, I learned the ending of the first book, so I didn’t think there was a point to going back. And you can’t read the second book if you haven’t read the first.

I’ve been in a reading slump for a while. This time last year, I had read over 12 books. This year, I’ve read 2 (and now 3). I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Scribbles, and while Yiyun Li’s writing is nearly flawless, there’s only so much you can like a book while disagreeing vehemently with the writer’s views. The other books I picked up (for instance, The Stand and Lifting the Veil) were not what I needed at that point in time.

Paris for One and Other Stories came as a breath of fresh air during those times. I stay away from chick-lits, but this is one that surprised me. Like they say, it is all about feeding your needs.

Paris for One is the story of a girl who never took risks – she was always described as safe, stable, trustworthy etc., never bold. On a whim, she decides to take a trip to Paris with her boyfriend. She is stood up by the boyfriend, and ends up alone in Paris. She changes her mind about leaving, and decides to enjoy the city on her own.

There are eleven short stories in this collection, all with uplifting, positive endings. My favourite is the first and the longest story – the one I’ve talked about above. Two close contenders for the top position are Margot and The Christmas List.

Margot is the story of Em, who meets the titular character – a boisterous American lady – at an airport and learns something important. The Christmas List is about a harrowed housewife who is fed up of her demanding husband and mother in law. A conversation with a cab driver convinces her that she needs to turn her life around.

If you’re going through a dull time, and need something to lift you up, I think this book would just be perfect. It certainly helped me! I wanted this review to be posted on Valentine’s Day, but unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the book in time. Nevertheless, here it is. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

Amazon | Goodreads

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Penguin UK-Michael Joseph/Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

 

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li

“A word I hate to use in English is I. It is a melodramatic word. In Chinese, a language less grammatically strict, one can construct a sentence with an implied subject pronoun and skip that embarrassing I, or else replace it with we. Living is not an original business.”

30211990I have had limited exposure to Chinese literature (or English literature about China, to be more accurate) but I’m sure I’ve read something in another book that conveys a similar sentiment about the letter “I”. I find truth in that statement. It startles me, as a realization, and yet, brings clarity at the same time.

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a memoir in which Yiyun Li tries to decode life. She talks about her childhood in China, her mentally ill mother, and more. She wrote this memoir while battling suicidal depression and throughout, you feel, she is examining, sentence by rich sentence, about the point of life.

This is a complex narrative. I quite enjoyed the beginning, but in the later parts, although the prose was worth savouring, I found my mind wandering. This is essentially my problem and should not stop you from enjoying the book. Perhaps I felt she was going off tangent in certain places; I may be wrong about this though. There were several parts of it where I could not bring myself to agree with the author (much like Laura Esquivel’s memoir) but I still could see things from her point of view (unlike Laura Esquivel’s memoir, which I just gave up halfway)

Read it for the prose, read it for the quiet contemplation and wisdom, read it if, you too, are wondering what life is and where it’s going. She may not give you answers, but you will form your own.

Note: I received an ARC from Penguin UK/Netalley for review. My review is honest and unbiased.

Goodreads | Amazon

Big Mushy Happy Lump, by Sarah Anderson

“Swimsuit season is coming up! Better get beach-body ready! Work on those abs! Lift those butts! Um… no. Forget all that and just be a lump. A Big Mushy Happy Lump!”

big-happy-mushy-lumpSarah Anderson is my new hero. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, (and one with poor internet connectivity; not one of the better caves), you’ve heard of Sarah’s Scribbles – those insanely relate-able comics about life and adulthood and everything in between. Her first book, Adulthood is a Myth won the Goodreads Choice Award for Graphic Novels & Comics (2016). I am yet to grab a copy of it, though it has been on my TBR since it came out. Following this, I feel almost honoured that I got an ARC of her second book through NetGalley (Netgalley rules!)

In this second collection, Sarah talks about important things – female friendship, growing up, social anxiety and introversion, cats. What could be more important than cats, really?! I was already familiar with some of the strips in this book, thanks to Facebook (and yes, these I’d seen before quitting FB), such as this one:

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Copyright: Sarah Anderson

This one was one of my favourites, and I remember seeing variations of it on the net that pissed me off. Sarah’s work had been stolen, reworked and frankly, wasn’t half as good as the original. In Big Happy Mushy Lump, she has dedicated a chapter to art thieves. It won’t stop plagiarism as we know it (sadly), but it’s important to address these issues, and call them out wherever possible. I loved that chapter! Almost inspired me to return to my own personal blog – plagiarism being one of the (many, many, many) reasons I’d quit.

Humour is important. Much like Allie Brosh uses her comics to address depression, Sarah Anderson uses it to address issues faced by us introverts. If I could get Allie and Sarah to be my friends, I’m telling you, I would be the “big mushy happy lump” being referred to in the title! Add Caitlin Moran to that mix, and I will have achieved Nirvana!

She also uses humour to touch upon this very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed:

big-happy3
Copyright: Sarah Anderson

In light of recent events, this should be enlarged, printed out, and posted on billboards across this country. Except that the helpless, hopeless tone at the end will not do. Yes, it seems like nothing can be done, but maybe, just maybe, the more we call out, the less bleak things will appear…? Let’s hope so.

I am glad this is the first book I finished this year (I’m also reading The Stand, but I don’t think I can finish it before March or April). It took me about half an hour and by the end of it, I felt great – truly! (If you follow me on IG, you know I’ve been having a sucky time lately). Such a happy book, I could just cuddle and kiss it!! Highly recommended!

Goodreads | Amazon

Release Date (Expected): March 7th, 2017

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Andrews McMeel Publishing. My review is honest and unbiased.

Shadow In The Mirror, by Deepti Menon

imagesShadow In The Mirror: A Thrilling Quest for Redemption is a book whose subtitle does not quite go with the plot. It starts with the suicide of a pregnant woman named Nita. Vinny, a journalist, who is covering the story receives a note that says Nita did not commit suicide, but was murdered.

I honestly believe this story would have been much better had the whole scene with the note been avoided. We are told in the first chapter that it was a murder, and because we know it, we identify the murderer just a few chapters later. If the reader was convinced that it was suicide throughout, and if the murder angle was revealed only at the end, the word “thrilling” in the subtitle would have been justified. In this case, there’s not so much as a twist as a blatantly obvious conclusion with regards to the identity of the murderer. There’s not a lot of redemption either – those who are mad stay mad and those who are sad stay sad. Those who are dead (thankfully) stay dead.

With that said, the most interesting character in this story overrun with too many characters is in fact the murderer. Not that she/he committed the murder, but her/his history, as revealed in the chapter set in 1962, Dark Icy Winter. That was one twist that I did not see coming, and was totally impressed with that storyline.

The language is simple, and therefore this was a breezy read.

Too breezy.

And with that, we come to the flaws: the plot is wafer thin. Too many characters running amok in the story, but almost nothing of substance. Nothing meaty. All their backstories felt rushed, and there was too much telling and absolutely no showing. Do not tell me again and again that a character has “always” been a certain way (friendly/moody/artistic/level-headed/business-minded/whathaveyou), show it to me! Given the number of characters in the book, a little more care could have been taken to turn it into a character study of sorts – jealousy, possessiveness, effect of aging etc. Alas, it was a wasted opportunity – only the murderer’s psyche was fully delved into.

Some characters added nothing to the plot, such Kavita’s maid or the whole Gautam angle.

The prose is covered with a thick layer of adjectives, adverbs, cliches, and dead idioms and metaphors. While in the beginning, every setting was described in purple, this reduced as the story progressed. There was, however, no shortage of extra adjectives. Even the cliches and idioms take away from the reading experience and you wish the style of writing could have been better.

The plot takes you from 1958 to 1994. I noticed some inconsistencies in the timelines that I can’t quite wrap my head around. If you look at the dates preceding the chapters, technically this should make sense. But if you close your eyes to the dates and read only the plot, you feel there are some things off. For example, Roma and Vinny were once classmates, so let’s assume they’re of the same age. In one chapter, Roma is said to be older than Nita: “Roma had been shrewd enough to realize the immense advantages of playing tag with a girl, who despite being slightly younger than her, would catapult her straight into the upper bracket of society.” On the other hand, towards the end, it is revealed that Vinny is younger than Nita. Also, in 1989, Roma has a teenage daughter who runs away and becomes a model – considerable amount of time should have passed between these events but there’s definitely a mismatch. And there are several instances where the story jumps in time, but the same does not translate on to the page (no extra line gaps/section breaks). One such instance is: “Vinny brought with her all the normal upheavals that a brand new baby does. . . late nights, erratic feeds, colic and the smell of vomit and Johnson’s baby powder everywhere. “Mummy!” trilled Vinny one day when she got back from kindergarten.” When did kindergarten happen out of the blue? We were talking about colic, weren’t we? You feel at times that the author’s thoughts are not being correctly conveyed through the writing.

On the whole, Shadow In The Mirror is OK. It’s not a new story, but it definitely takes a longer route to reach the usual destination. It’s fast-paced (albeit at the cost of character development) and it keeps the reader mildly curious. Read it if you want a break from heavy literature.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: I received a PDF copy of the book from Readomania. My review is honest and unbiased.

Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh

29779229What a sick, twisted, perverted little book!

I will not rate this book. The writing is excellent. Since this is a collection of short stories, I cannot reveal much. But I will say this: rarely do I feel so affected by unpleasant situations in fiction.

Here’s the thing though. I nearly DNF’d this one – I put the book down so many times, because it just went from gross to worse. Only a faintly disgusted curiosity kept me going. Like I said, the writing is good. The stories though… You know when you first watched a movie like, say, (off the top of my head) Trainspotting (I haven’t read the book – only watched the movie adaptation) and you weren’t sure whether to keep watching or just stop, but you kept watching anyway? Reading this book was like that.

I have a habit of reading at mealtimes. If you’re like me, then let me warn you, reading this book during lunch may cause you to throw up.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s voice is powerful and her stories are well-rounded and articulate. But you do begin to wonder if a lot of it was just done for shock value. The stories reminded me of Carver’s works minus the annoying open endings. Moshfegh’s stories reach somewhat satisfying conclusions, thank goodness. You don’t feel “this is incomplete”. You just hold your hair back and hurl.

I’m conflicted about yet another thing: I want to recommend this book to people, but I also feel I shouldn’t because really, should I choose powerful writing over how disturbed this might make people feel?

If you decide to read it, let me know what you thought about it!

I also have a copy of Moshfegh’s Eileen, which has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker. I won’t lie – after reading her short stories, I don’t know if I have the courage to face a full-length novel by her.

Goodreads | Amazon

PS: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/Random House UK