Friday, October 22, 2010

My reading wish list

This is what I am dying to read:

The Master of Hestiviken tetralogy and/or the Kristin Lavransdatter Trilogy by Sigrid Undset - Have read one (or was it two?) of these books set in medieval Norway, when I was 15. Would dearly love to read both the entire series from the beginning. Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928.
Indiaplaza has a couple of books from the latter series.

The Oathsworn Series by Robert Low (read and reviewed the first one, The Whale Road on this blog here)

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – a story set in WWII England – need I say more? (Rs.233 on Indiaplaza)

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller – Just to see what all the hype is about.
(Rs.189 on Indiaplaza)

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant - A book set in Renaissance Italy. I’m not sure if its trash fiction aspiring to be highbrow or not, but it seems worth a read. (Rs.254 on Indiaplaza)

Lord Byron’s Novel – The Evening Land by John Crowley - I adore Byron, and I love books that employ narrative techniques that are slightly different.

Twilight by Katherine Mosby – No, no, not that one! This Twilight is pegged as one woman’s tale of awakening and is set, from what I can tell, in pre WWII Paris

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry – A story set in Ireland, one with buried secrets from the past - the sort of thing which is right up my alley  (Rs.526 on Indiaplaza)

The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell – This one traces the life of an orphan girl in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century England and apparently “exposes the lies, deceptions, hypocrisy, inequitable class system, and restrictive gender roles in nineteenth century British society” Whew! I just love period fiction, that is all. (Rs.524 on Indiaplaza)

Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland – A fictional biography of Louise de la Valliere, mistress of Le Roi Soleil or Louis IV
(Rs.1245 on Indiaplaza)

There does seem to be a common theme running through these books, doesn’t it? None of them are set in contemporary times!

Also looking forward to reading Stieg Larsson, Roddy Doyle's latest, and much more!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

Picked up this book to read over the Onam holidays. The 2009 Booker winner, this book is quite a departure from the work they usually award the prize to. For one thing, it is historical fiction. For another, it uses very few literary devices. The one that it does use is present tense, consistently. And it truly helps to define the tone of the book and its subject, Thomas Cromwell.

I don't know if it's a factor crucial to understanding and enjoying the book, but I am fortunate to love and know quite a bit about Tudor history. However Cromwell himself is a shadowy figure. As a teen, I read Jean Plaidy's account of Anne Boleyn's life and although subsequent reading has led me to realise that she was no saint or martyr as portrayed by that book, my views are still sufficiently coloured by it. Anne is shown to be quite scheming, and I think contemporary writing increasingly sees her as such.

Wolf Hall, of course, is sympathetic to Cromwell, who is perhaps among the most reviled people in history. Here, he is shown as more capable and clever than wily and machiavellian. A spin doctor. A wheeler dealer. A man who has lost a great deal, but lands on his feet. A man who instinctively understands how not to misstep.

Much as I enjoyed the characterisation, which made me adjust my views on Cromwell quite a bit, I was always a little mystified as to his motivations. While not quite admiring Anne Boleyn, he assists in obtaining the divorce. Mantel's Cromwell doesn't seem the type to look out for the main chance or feather his nest, so why undertake these tasks which he didn't really believe in?

There is a wealth of secondary characters in the book. The people at Austin Friars, particularly are engaging, especially the young men around Cromwell and their banter. Henry the Eight is less the tyrant of the tower and more the 'glorious Prince Hal'. But then again, he is yet to begin chopping off his wives' heads when the book ends, just before the rise of Jane Seymour. Anne is sharp and admirable, but not quite lovable (which is perhaps accurate).

Wolf Hall is vigorous, its energy quite worthy of its indefatigable subject. Crisp and spare in spite of its not-so-small size - some 600 odd pages - it goes by at a clipping pace.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The original

I am amazed that I haven’t yet waxed poetic about Georgette Heyer on this blog. It’s not snobbery, because I have no qualms admitting to anyone that she is one of my favourite authors, critically acclaimed or not.

My first Georgette Heyer was Lady of Quality, a book I read when I was about 12 or 13. My mother and sister were most disparaging, but I was fortunate that I had a great aunt who loved her books. To anyone who dismisses them as mere romance fiction, I would like to humbly say that they are a lot more. They are romances alright, but not particularly romantic. Quite realistic in fact, with characters, who even if they conformed to type, were still well-drawn. I have read loads of shoddy historical fiction and regency rip offs – Mary Balogh etc and even M & B’s own legacy of love series. Forget actual anachronisms, these books make their characters behave in ways that a Heyer fan would instantly recognise as anachronistic.

Heyer wrote both intense romances and the light-hearted ones. It’s hard to say which I enjoy more: the frothy yet meaningful romps or serious ones with the ever persistent vein of humour.

My favourites undoubtedly are Friday’s Child, False Colours, Cotillion, Devil’s Cub, Venetia, Lady of Quality… although I have enjoyed all and most many times over.

But what makes me bring up Heyer now, two decades after I first read her? I guess I always underestimated the pleasure she brought me. Or in what esteem I, a so called serious reader, hold her. I recently introduced her to a friend via Friday’s Child, but she hasn’t enjoyed the subsequent Heyers she picked up as much – although those were the admittedly less enjoyable ones like April Lady and An Infamous Army. I am deeply tempted to force her to read my favourite Heyers, and to say ‘but she is credited with inventing the historical romance genre’ as though it would validate her! I am surprised at myself, really.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sorry...cheating :)

Have nothing new to write or review, so am enclosing a few links to book reviews done sometime in 2004, on a website called mouthshut.

On favourite kiddie books:

Worth Winning - Dan Lewandowski

The World According to Garp - John Irving

Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre

White Mughals - William Dalrymple

Miss Smillas Feeling for Snow - Peter Hoeg

Howards End - EM Forster

In retrospect, some of the reviews are pretty decent.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Summer vacation

A lazy time. No school timetables to follow, no lunches to pack, no homework to supervise. It should follow that I spend these days reading up a storm.

Well, yes and no. My domestic help quit in early March, we made our bi-annual trip to the hometown(s), I had my parents over... and it has been a really busy time at work.

Now that I have a new servant, I do have a little time. But the way things are in my life this year, I haven't felt in the least compelled to read anything serious. Just something light and escapist, thank you very much. And so I have been reading Agatha Christies back to back. About 10 at a go. They still make for such fresh reading. I always check the copyright before I start one - most of them were written between the 20s and the 40s. I am both amused at some of the quaint notions and shocked by how 'modern' some of it is. The mysteries are always ripping good fun - some I had read before so vaguely remembered the ending to. Also, am not above turning to the last page :) (Sorry!)

Unfortunately the kind friend who has been lending them to me has nearly exhausted her collection. She does offer me more serious stuff, which I turn down. Since I have known her under a year, I'm sure she thinks I am one of those low-brow readers. Which I cannot remedy anytime soon. In fact I am going even more lowbrow this week. I have borrowed a stack of M & Bs. The first one quite promisingly, is set in Bordeaux. In return, I plan to introduce her to my preferred light reading: Georgette Heyer.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Into Harvard Business School

I remember my first job. Two months of ‘sales’ – ad space and subscriptions – for two small time trade publications that shall remain nameless. Going from company to company, making cold calls. Finally I faked a bad tummy to stop going to work and then resigned. I was 20.

When I got into copy, I knew I had found my place. It was a struggle to unlearn everything I had learnt about writing, to write to sell rather than to be self indulgent, to be coherent rather than veiled. But I knew with a certainty that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

Still, adapting my writing to the demands of the market didn’t come easy to me. I was, after all, weaned on a diet of Byron and Ibsen, not Drucker or Kotler. But over the years I figured out that it was all about identifying customers’ motivations and speaking to their needs or even creating needs.

The best copywriters have an instinctive understanding of people’s needs and motivations and address them. They don’t need an MBA to get into their customers’ psyche. However there have been times when I have acutely felt the disadvantages of not having a business school education. Especially with some clients who take exception to my rather simple, conversational style of writing copy. They, I know would love their brochures dense and heavy, laden with management-speak.

All this introspection is the result of the book I am reading at the moment: Philip Delves Broughton’s ‘What they teach you in Harvard Business School.’ The title itself is a reference to Mark McCormacks management tome, What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Phillip Delves Broughton was a journalist with 10 years of experience. At some point he felt like he had plateau-d and wanted to explore new opportunities, maybe even think about going into the media business for himself.

What they teach you in Harvard Business School is neither a management self help book, nor is it an out-and-out expose. I would say it is a journal or memoir of the author’s time at the one of the world’s most respected institutions. Many things in it resonated with me. Broughton is not from the world of management or finance; he is no ambitious young turk, he is English – and he uses his outsider’s perspective to great advantage. He is highly and genuinely critical of high-powered, soul-less ambition, meaningless jargon, fatuous networking and yet, manages to see the entire HBS experience with enough wide eyed wonder to convey the excitement of being in its rarified atmosphere. His descriptions of how the HBS system works, as well as interesting titbits on the classes, fellow students and the professors give me a vicarious thrill. The numerous case studies described in the book (again, through Broughton’s fresh eyes, unsullied by any sort of management experience) are absorbing. The descriptions of behind the scenes machinations, hyper competitive peers, and mammon worship are to be expected, but still manage to surprise. And the best thing is he manages to do so without the slightest whiff of a sour grape.

Broughton in some ways is very old-school – preferring calculator to spreadsheets. He talks of going to Yahoo and his experience there reminded me of my own reaction to a visit to a top IT firm. After being shown rec room after rec room, cafeterias, outdoor green zones etc, I remarked to my boss that the company clearly didn’t want their employees to have a life. I was dismayed rather than impressed, and that was how Broughton seems to have felt as well. I especially love his consistent bewilderment at the literature that comes out of HBS - from the alumni or the institution itself - indecipherable management gobbledygook.

As he grapples with excel and finance, and does poorly in his summer placement interviews, I can’t help but think that’s its okay to be not so good at some things. In this world where multi-tasking is celebrated, it’s important to remember that we each have our strengths, and it's best to play to them.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

To Aditya

You asked,
will you be my mother in my next life?
And I swore to myself
I would love you enough
for every life hence.