Sunday, October 27, 2013

56. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Halloween 2013#1

I know this is a highly unusual book to kick-start my Halloween readings this year, but the book easily earns its place amongst the spookiest and the creepiest books out there. Nurse Ratched has easily made its mark as one of the most well known (if hated or feared or both) literary characters. I saw and recognised the Cuckoo setting in the "The Real Slim Shady" video, long before I ever read the book (even if I am unsure if Eminem ever formally recognised the inspiration). And then, there was the Jack Nicholson starrer movie version, not to mention countless references in books, TV Series and movies.

At a superficial level, the book is about a tug of war between the infamous Nurse Ratched (also referred to as the Big Nurse) and the incorrigible McMurphy. The anti-authoritarian stand Ken Kesey takes through this book is quite obvious and very, very well done - in sheer literary value and impact, it is just a notch below Orwell's 1984, less Dystopian and more realistic, which probably makes it scarier?

And then you start peeling and keep peeling and you are never sure how deep the rabbit hole goes. From the physically very feminine Nurse Ratched's sheer dominance over everyone else in the Institution - patients, other nurses, ward-boys, doctors, etc. to the imaginary (?) "Combine" the Chief is so afraid of.

There is a very obviously sexist tone to the book I didn't really care much about, but I will put it down to the times in which the book was written and move on, which is probably easier for me to do as a guy.

The ending of the book is no less powerful, quite Kafkaesque in its tragedy if you ask me, but probably absolutely necessary for the message to get across.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween 2013


I have been doing Halloween Reads for 3 years now, which starts in the month of October, with other readers from Librarything. One of the most interesting feature of such a Group Halloween Read is that while there is a suggested List created by one of the members, everyone is free to pick all, a few, or even none of the books from the List and create and follow a List of his/her own. There is no restriction on the number of books either, readers read 1-13 books depending on their time availability and inclination. Nor is there any time restriction, one can take as long as one wants to, to complete the reads. And despite such a loose structure for a Group, it works remarkably well. Readers share their opinions on the common reads, on reads they may have done earlier and get to add new books to their TBR (to the uninitiated, TBR stands for To Be Read) stack.

In all my previous Halloween reads, Stephen King is one author who makes an appearance every year, figures, right? Well, this year is no different. In fact this year, I have two Stephen King books in my list of 7, Blockade Billy, a novella on Baseball, a game I got hooked into from Anime and Manga of all things! The second one is Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the classic, and one of my all-time favourites, The Shining. A sequel which comes 36 years of the release of the book. The Shining was one of the, actually probably the only book, that really, really scared me. Even the Jack Nicholson (who happens to be one of my favourite actors) starer movie version looked like a Disney version of the real thing. Needless to say, I am all excited and a little spooked to start with Doctor Sleep.

Listed below, is my proposed Halloween List for this year.

Halloween Reads Planned:-

1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
2. Blockade Billy - Stephen King
3. Day Watch (Book 2) - Sergei Lukyanenko
4. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
5. Brother Odd - Odd Thomas (Book 3) - Dean Koontz
6. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
7. Doctor Sleep - Stephen King

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

55. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan has never been my favourite character, be it the comics or the cartoons - now Mowgli was an entirely different story! And the irony strikes. In the last year or so, I have read both the Jungle Books, which were barely readable, the characters nowhere as snappy as I remembered them from my childhood cartoons.

And so, it was with great skepticism that I started with Tarzan of the Apes, and was I surprised! The writing was very simple, the story captivating and the characters endearing, even if stereotypical - be it the pretty, pretty Jane, the absent minded Professor or the mighty Tarzan. The never ending victories of Tarzan were not dull, nor were the highly noticeable and distinct villains bothersome. The repetitive fainting of poor Esmeralda did get on my nerves a few time, but well, she had a character to play as well, did I mention stereotypical?

The ending of the book didn't lack in flourish either and I am left wondering, whether to dare the sequel and risk getting my impression shattered or go the way of Dune and Ender's Game and leave the series on a high with fond memories and none of the regrets.

54. The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

A stand-off novella from Sanderson, a form which was just right for this work. After reading so many of his works, it is easy to see a pattern emerge, in which he uses simple objects like colours, stones, chalk, metals, lenses, etc. as articles of power, the theme being a simple object can be used with varying effect based on the skill of the user. This book was a little different with soulstones (not always necessary) and the individual's skills being used to forge - change the history of an object making it take the properties and appearance of another one.

Shai, the master forger was caught red-handed at a stealing attempt and her skill being held in blasphemous contempt, her seemingly only choice is to rewrite the consciousness of the comatose king within 90 days to survive her execution sentence. Oh, a couple of small roadblocks, what was expected of her has never been done before; and she has to carry her work while trying not to get knocked off by the council members after she finishes the tougher parts of her work.

A decent piece, even if it lacked the usual twists and turns of a usual Sanderson book.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

53. Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 1) by Steven Erikson

And thus do I start with the Malazan series. A very voluminous book and a very voluminous series - something which made me delay and incur false starts a few times. It didn't help that I was quite lost during the first half of the book, where the story kept jumping and in the absence of any background, it was difficult to keep track of the characters, timeline or the story. I persisted and was richly rewarded in the second half when the book really picked up pace, the dots began to connect and the characters got fleshed out.

This is one of those series in which everything is gray, and there are multilateral angles to the story with no good side or an evil one, except possibly the Empress Laseen (whose story we don't know yet). There are lots of political and social undercurrents; unlikely alliances and truces; a world where no faction ever trusts another.

And then there is action. Truly unconventional, amazing action. What more can one expect? Needless to say, I will be diving into Book 2 soon.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Read for a RL Book Club. My first feeling after reading this tome of a book, was that I was SCAMMED! Upon further examination, careful consideration and deeper deliberation, I came to the conclusion that my prima facie, snap judgement was indeed spot on! Scammed I definitely was, no two ways about it! Lured by reputation, snared by that horrible book-lust, I was made to read a 400+ page book, a book with little semblance of a plot, a static storyline and god-awful characters who first irritated, then agitated and later annoyed me to no end. And the character development, what to say about the character development, or the lack thereof, that even after wading through this book and making it to the end, we still have only and elementary and superficial understanding about the characters. Was the purpose to show the volatility of Spaniards? Perhaps...but it still doesn't excuse the blatant disregard to even making an attempt at understanding the thought process of any of the characters. I am at a loss to comprehend, how could this doorstopper of a thing be dubbed as a piece of Literature, a Type II error perhaps?

The Old Man and the Sea, was probably in the not-good-not-bad category, and even that had a story, which moved, even if painstakingly! Such frivolities and excesses can, however, be overlooked in short stories. My feedback – Stay away from Hemingway! Read Alistair Maclean if you want to read War stories.

Ruler of the World: Empire of the Moghul by Alex Rutherford

Book 3 of the Moghul series with a lot of Akbar and a lot of Jahangir (Salim) and their not-so-great relationship. Akbar is probably the most celebrated king in India, because of his many virtues, tolerance towards other faiths being principally one of them. Rutherford portrayed Akbar in an all too human light with his virtues and his follies. The book also manages to bring out the difference in character between Humayun and Akbar and later Akbar and Jahangir, with Akbar coming out as the more rational, if less likeable (as a person) in comparison to his father and his son. For instance, for Akbar, the matter of highlighting and showcasing his religious tolerance was as important as being religiously tolerant, his marriage with the various Rajput princesses (including Jodhabai who hated Akbar with a passion) being a prime example of the principle.

No piece of work dealing with the relationship of Akbar and Jahangir can indeed be complete without the mention of Anarkali, right up to her being buried alive in a wall. The author admits to the story being his fabrication, rather than based on the literature he found and studied, a testament to the popularity of the story in Indian folklore.

Another very readable instalment by Alex Rutherford.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Another book for my RL book club, and one I was hugely excited about, the book being a Wilde after all. While I won't go as far as to say Plays aren't my thing, they are definitely not my staple reading either. There have been a number of plays I have read and enjoyed, but I always have suspected in it being my luck more than anything else, in picking those plays - not to mention, the not-so-decent plays are thankfully, easily forgotten. The witticism, the cynicism, the antipathy, were all there as they could be expected to be and the play more or less delivered to my ridiculously high expectations.

And the quotes, oh the quotes!

"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."

“My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!”

“Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.”

...and there were many more...

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This marks my debut with Gaiman books, an author I have been meaning to read for a long time, but it took a RL Book Club for me to get around to him. Having said that, I am happy that get around to him I eventually did. I am not sure how representative Stardust is, of his general writing style, it just seemed so different a book, so I will restrict my thoughts to the book in question. How Gaiman transformed this story from a bunch of fairy tales woven together into a coherent and may I add, amazing story continued to amaze me throughout the novel.

The book has more than its fair share of bloodshed, and yet there is no slaying of the great evil by the hero and saving the world stuff - which makes it without doubt a most refreshing fantasy to read, after all the other stereotypical ones, no matter how well written. And the ending, well, it is like no other ending either, with its simplicity and realness, an irony in a fantasy if you ask me, and yet after the way the entire book read, it came as no great surprise.

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Kumar

It is like High School Physics revisited with all the cool stuff that was missing in those textbooks. Manjit Kumar has done a great job tackling this otherwise overwhelming topic. It sure was the recounting of the golden era of physics with such stalwarts, some of them, less recognised, just in contrast with the Einsteins, Bohrs, Heisenbergs and Schrodingers of the world. I personally didn't even know of the existence of Pauli, whom the author has equated with Einstein in sheer intellect. The personal chemistry between those scientists, animated through the correspondences between them, the gradual timeline with non-gradual developments in physics were all very well manifested. The book weakened in the last few chapters, probably because of the complexity of the phenomenon the author was tackling with. The author, perhaps, would have been better off, if he had given a conceptual summary of the developments in the last 25 years, rather than doing such an unsatisfactory job of forcing a closure. There was nothing I gained from the author's explanation of the future efforts made on the leggett inequality or the inequality itself, other than the name itself. The book lost some of its hold on me in the aforementioned last few chapters, but the overall experience was fantastic.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

This book happens to be my first book written with a Swedish background and indeed my first encounter with a Swedish author. A thriller based based in Oland, Sweden where a small child goes missing from an island, without a trace. Does that ring a bell?With a similar background, and with a not so distinct plot, it is easy to see from where the author gets his inspiration, and I just wish publishers will stop posting Steig Larsson's name on all thrillers, be it by Scandinavian authors or by Japanese.  But well, the story, the narration, the outcome, the quality of writing, all differ from the Steig Larsson masterpiece. Not a bad read, but nothing too commendable about the book either.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Wow! A superb thriller with a minimal of characters (and really weird ones at that!) and hardly the semblance of a plot. And yet, the story progresses, like a ticking time bomb, till everything comes to culmination. An interesting read, despite the lack of character development, Hitchcockish in a way (the movies), with the final twist being accidental, a point where it deviates from the creations of the brilliant filmmaker.

The Tower of Silence by Gyan Prakash