Books, books and more books…

I’ve been on a reading spree since January this year. At the beginning of the year, I made a conscious effort to watch less TV (not that I watched any previously), chat a little less, tweet a little less, blog a little more, and read a lot more. Of all the aforementioned resolutions, managed to actually keep only the reading bit! I have till date read 12 books, with the 13th currently on my reading list. The thing about books is that they keep depression at bay, and end up being truly enjoyable experiences. Some books stay in your mind and heart long after you’ve finished reading them and others don’t even make a dent. My books this year were kind of a mixed bag. Some of them are so beautifully written that you truly feel the emotions through the book. Others are so pathetic that you wish the writer would just stop writing. Most others fall somewhere in-between. Since I am not too good at doing book reviews for each individual book, I thought I’d put down my thoughts on each of them in a blogpost.

Must-reads

The one book I would strongly recommend for anyone with even a passing interest in Hindu mythology is “The Pregnant King” by Devdutt Pattanaik. Beautifully written, the book explores complicated gender roles that have become the bane of our society today, but through a story from the Mahabharata. A king accidentally drinks a magic potion meant for his queens and becomes pregnant. The dilemma of nursing a child as a man, while still continuing to be king is beautifully explored. He is never fully a mother because he is a man and his aged mother could never become king because she is a woman. The blurring of gender roles and the uncomfortable questions it raises in a world obsessed with a male heir is as relevant today as it was in the times of the Mahabharata. And on that note, “The Immortals of Meluha” is also strongly recommended for reasons stated in my review.

I always knew Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was a good writer, but never got around to actually reading her. So, when I couldn’t find her much-acclaimed “Palace of Illusions”, I settled for “The Vine of Desire.” Wow! There is no other way to say this. The book is fantastic. It explores with a touching sensitivity, some taboo relationships, and the eternal struggle between passion and duty. The author’s women are strong characters, with minds of their own. They decide, with a rather delightful determination, what’s good for them, even if the process of arriving at the decision is painful and confusing.

How does an author describe a South Indian Brahmin household and their practices with so much perfection when he is in no way connected to that life? The genius of Ameen Merchant lies in making his narrative both gripping and convincing, even to someone who is familiar with the practices describes. “The Silent Raga” is Merchant’s debut novel that delights even the most discerning reader. The beauty of his prose, the sheer poetry of the narrative and the authenticity of the setting are too good to miss.

Lastly, here is a book that must probably have been reviewed a million times by now. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini is a masterpiece. The descriptions of the horrors of Taliban rule in Afghanistan are gut-wrenching. The travails of the protagonists hits you with a force that is sometimes too much to take. But you continue to read because the narrative is too gripping to ignore. If you ever get your hands on this book and you haven’t read it yet, please do! That’s a personal request.

Read if you have nothing better to do

Nothing much to say about any of these books. They provide good entertainment and sometimes even rise above the mediocre. Dan Brown is an author you can read and enjoy without giving much thought to trivialities like authenticity and realism. Over the past month, I have read two of them. “The Lost Symbol” and “Deception Point.” Both are very good. Both are perfect examples of escapist fiction. You will probably enjoy both if you don’t give much though to how possible and realistic it is. And Dan Brown is just….Dan Brown! So there! Take your pick.

“The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid has all the ingredients of a must-read book. But somehow, it falls short because of Hamid’s inability to convince the reader about the compulsions that led a Harvard-educated, secular, elite, beef-eating, wine-drinking Pakistani Muslim to becoming a fundamentalist. The girlfriend (if you can call her that), the job, the money, parents, Taliban…it’s all too confusing for us to relate to because we can never really determine what the trigger was. Definitely readable, but only if you can’t find a better book.

Advaita Kala is a chick-lit writer and that label should be enough to keep men away from her debut novel “Almost Single.” But being a single woman, aged 28 years, I could relate to the novel. It’s not great writing, nor does it have any pretensions of being classified as literature. In the same league, is Cecilia Ahern’s “P.S. I Love You.” Chick-lit, depressing, but still readable. You decide.

And finally, “Serious Men” by Manu Joseph. Was vigorously recommended by Praveen, Nikhil and other assorted people. I picked it up somewhat reluctantly. But, the book is definitely not bad. It is not something that I would classify as “unputdownable” but not something I would dismiss easily either.

Don’t touch with a ten-foot barge pole!

Do you think Chetan Bhagat’s book is eminently unreadable? Then Karan Bajaj is worse! “Keep off the grass” is mediocre in every possible way. At least Chetan Bhagat has an engaging writing style that keeps the plot moving and the reader interested. For all my intellectual snobbery, I still found Bhagat’s “One Night at a Call Centre” readable, and even interesting. Bajaj is just unreadable. The language is mediocre and so is the plot. At one point, you begin to wonder if you really should be wasting valuable time reading this tripe! I am not generally so critical of books. I try and give some credit to the author for the effort taken to write the book. Bajaj unfortunately deserves none!

So, here is my list for 2011. Take your pick, and if you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear your take!

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