9, 8 and then 7, the numbers are falling. This is the third quarterly update of my Book Reading Challenge which prescribed for reading 52 books in the year, of which I’ve completed 24 so far. Not even half of the full tally.
But, I wouldn’t have to look for a new year’s resolution next year, so that’s nice. Here are the 7 books I completed in the last quarter, a couple of which were pretty hefty, so I’m not taking full credit for the slowness
Here are the seven books which I read in the previous quarter.
1. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta – A Non-Fiction Book
India is a land of contradictions. ‘Unity in Diversity’ is the cliché. And, Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) is the epitome of India’s contradictions. The city’s population exceeds that of many countries of the world. ‘It is a claustrophobic nightmare’. It is this mess of a city that is the protagonist of this great piece of writing. The real characters – cops, gangsters, bar girls, rioters, movie directors, politicians all project the different shades of the city and you get to make some sense of the city’s convoluted design.
As I said earlier, it is a great piece of writing and Mehta is a fearless investigator who has pluck out these stories, which we’d heard but not known. The research involved in the book is exceptional, not only for being in-depth but also because it engages with the sources at a deeper level, sometimes not able to maintain the relations or distance that may’ve been required.
But there’s one essential subject that Mehta didn’t cover, in his otherwise expansive reporting, the simple, middle class man. The man who slugs it out day-after-day, the man who bears the assault of the city. These are the men / women who form the quantum of the city. The cops, gangsters, bar girls, rioters, movie directors, politicians, slum dwellers, are the fringes, some more extreme than others. They do not fully represent the city. I felt the common man could’ve featured somewhere there.
Also, the overall tone and view of the book is that of an outsider, more precisely, a westerner. It has been written for consumption in the west and not the motherland. For example, the dirty streets come up one too many times in Mehta’s description of his surroundings. I mean, yes this is India, the streets are dirty. Everywhere. So, at times the descriptions seem like ‘Slumdog Millionaire. And, you know, how much every Indian hates that movie.
2. 1984 by George Orwell – A Book With a Number in the Title
As I’ve said for earlier, I do not have the authority to comment on anything that George Orwell has written. So, I’ll only express my feelings after reading the book – Absolutely chilling and superbly powerful.
3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – A Book By An Author You’ve Never Read Before
William Faulkner on Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
The story appears to be an extremely simple story of an old Cuban fisherman, who catches an enormously large fish then loses it again. But it is so much more than that. Until I got one of the obvious hints about the allegorical nature of the book, it seemed too straightforward, but once you grasp what it’s actually about, it’s not so simple anymore. Anything more about the could be regarded as a spoiler so I suggest everyone should go on and read this slim volume.
4. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran – A Book That Takes Place In Your Hometown / A Poetry Book
I have a quite a shabby little hometown, which does not really form the surrounding of any books. So, I ditched the original prompt and replaced it with ‘A Poetry Book’ which didn’t find mention in the original prompt list. And, boy did I do a good job.
So, I picked up ‘The Prophet’, which is a prose poetry book and it is a book for the ages, quite literally. The book is divided into chapters dealing with love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death. Each chapter is a preaching to follow for life. It comprises the major cohorts of this thing called life and one could go back to reading it when on these different cohorts and take away something fresh, each time.
It is brimmed with lines and phrases to remember and to quote. For me, at this stage in life, the chapter on friendship seemed the most important and I loved this quote,
“For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live.”
I will surely revisit this spiritual guide in the future, many, many times.
5. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – A Book Based on True Story
A personal account of the Everest disaster, reads the subtitle of the Book. I’ve had this book since long. My brother had been prodding me to read it since when he was bit by the hiking and trekking bug and he himself went on to read and watch anything about hiking or climbing, mountaineering. So, when I heard the movie was about to be released, it worked as a catalyst, and I picked it up. If you’ve already seen the Jake Gylenhall starring Everest and not read the book, I feel a little sorry for you. ‘It’s total bull’ says Jon Krakauer, the author, about the movie. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, I suggest you pick up the book right now. It is a great piece of mountain literature.
For me, one of the best parts of a travel is the planning phase, that is when the enthusiasm heightens and it all culminates at the start of the trip. The book devotes almost some 50 odd pages to this phase, and the movie starts at this culmination point. On a standalone basis, it is a pretty good movie, especially if you’ve seen it in the theaters. But, at the cost of being cliché, I must say, the book is far far better. Somewhere in the book Krakauer remarks
“quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain.”
And, it is this pain that the book is able to describe and make the reader feel with all its effects and terrifying intensity.
6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – A Mystery or Thriller
“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”
The tale of a boy detective, Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome. It isn’t the usual Mystery / Thriller, which one may expect. I mean, there is a mystery to be solved – the neighbor’s dog is dead and a garden fork is sticking out of it, and this is what makes Christopher the amateur detective.
The writing is dashed with humor and from what I’ve read about the book it has championed the tricky and complex subject of autism. The book brings in great awareness about how the mind of the protagonist works as he interacts with his surroundings. His decision making is mostly based on proper logical deductions and when it’s not he still cites the reasons.
The book can most simply be explained as a mix of mystery, humor and family drama but that would be a terrible understatement.
7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – A Classic Romance
“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”
Love is a literal illness, a plague same as cholera. Florentino Ariza suffers from lovesickness as one would suffer from cholera, enduring both physical and emotional pains as he longs for Fermina Daza. But Florentino Ariza seems to revel in this pain, he enjoys the suffering.
Spanning half a century roughly, the novel is about love, in all its ages, from the juvenile exchanges of letters to saggy, smelling, old bodies. If this is how classic romances are, I may be picking up a few more!