Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The BBC List

Everyone knows this list by the BBC says most people wouldve read only 6 of these. I have already done this over on Facebook, but actually, its rightful home should be a blog about books! So here goes.

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

27. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
28. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
29. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
30. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
31. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

32. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
33. Emma -Jane Austen
34. Persuasion – Jane Austen

35. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
36. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
37. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
38. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
39. Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
40. Animal Farm – George Orwell
41. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
42. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
43. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
44. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
45. Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

46. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
47. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
48. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
49. Atonement – Ian McEwan
50. Life of Pi – Yann Martel

51. Dune – Frank Herbert
52. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
53. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
54. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
55. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
56. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
57. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

58. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
59. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
60. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
61. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
62. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
63. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
64. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
65. On The Road – Jack Kerouac
66. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
67. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
68. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
69. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

70. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
71. Dracula – Bram Stoker
72. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

73. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
74. Ulysses – James Joyce
75. The Inferno – Dante
76. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
77. Germinal – Emile Zola
78. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
79. Possession – AS Byatt
80. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

81. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
82. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
83. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
84. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
85. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
86. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
87. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
88. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
89. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

90. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
91. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
92. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
93. Watership Down – Richard Adams
94. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
95. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
96. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
97. Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Score 47/100

Am currently reading the unabridged Les Miserables, but I have a long way to go to make a dent on this list. Not only that, I have some very lightweight books on the list, like Memoirs of a Geisha, and A Town Called Alice. Marquez, Steinbeck and Joyce are shameful omissions. I don't I will ever read think Steinbeck and Joyce - well maybe Joyce - I have no appetite for such things now. But Marquez, yes I will try. I've abandoned some on this list (like The Wind in The Willows) and some, like Moby Dick I have read only the abridged version. So not definitive at all.

Updated on April 16th 2012 - 50/100
Updated on November 5 2012 - 53/100
Updated on July 16 2012 - 55/100

Monday, July 25, 2011

Same Old Story

The script doesn't quite change. Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Cobain...Winehouse. Dead at 27.

In my misspent youth, my eyes would've filled at genius, hacked down at its prime.

Now, mostly, I shake my head at addiction, self indulgence: the sheer futile tragedy that talent seems to bring in its wake.

What price credibility? What price immortality?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Read and look good - Ankita's giveaway

My young friend, Ankita Chaturvedi, is organising a giveaway to celebrate six months of completion of her blog. Already her followers run to numbers I can only dream of. She's got some amazing brands as part of the giveaway - MAC, Bourjois and Avon. So go over there now and read all about it here

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought"

That, surely, must be the charm of Angela’s Ashes, which I finally read this past week. It made me think of national stereotypes, especially with regard to Ireland – the music, the poverty, the Catholicism, the alcoholism. Everything Irish that I’ve read in the past two decades have flirted with one, or in the case of Angela’s Ashes, all these themes. Frank McCourt says it best in the beginning “The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood. People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years." This perhaps is the only bit of commentary he provides in the book; the rest is just narrative where you read between the lines to understand what his feelings were.

I am not going to review Angela’s Ashes here, since the book is quite well known. Instead, let me set down a few thoughts I’ve had in the few days since I finished it… let me, as it were, live up to the title of this blog and drift through this, and a few other books.

My introduction to Irish literature was through Roddy Doyle. I’m struck by how similar his books are to McCourt’s. Similar in spirit if not content. Angela’s Ashes may be a memoir, but to me it feels fantastic. Conversely, Roddy Doyle’s books may be fiction, but they feel real to me. Such is the power of both authors’ writing. Maeve Binchy, another favourite Irish writer, is a gentler soul, with less searing tales, yet the sorrow, the poverty, the narrowness, exist in her stories too, especially the earlier tales set in a pre-boom Ireland.

But why with all this sadness and doom have the Irish never earned a reputation for dourness like their fellow Celts across the sea, the Scots? I suspect it is the music. The triumphant beats and haunting melodies of an Irish jig (best known thanks to the kitschy yet fabulous Corrs) stand in stark contrast to the mournful wail of the pipes.

Reading an Irish novel means having the words sing off the page. Even the fast paced dialogue in a typical Roddy Doyle novel is pure music, with its rhythmic cadences and its inverted phrasing – I can hear the soft burring r’s and the stretched out vowels in my head as I read. Angela’s Ashes has the same lyrical quality, with no obvious effort.. To be Irish is to be musical, I suppose.

A word on the alcoholism, supposedly the Irish Curse. Perhaps my first brush with alcoholism in literature is through Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, a very poignant tale of a woman at the receiving end of her husband’s abuse. In Angela’s Ashes, it shapes the destiny of the family. It denies them even the very basics of life. If Malachy McCourt Sr. were just able to stay sober and support his family, the tenor of this tale would be very different. Alcoholism they say, is a “family disease” because it brings everyone down. But this of course is nothing new – attend any AA meeting and you are bound to hear similar stories of degradation, and it is to McCourt’s credit that he brings such freshness and vigour to it… I think Angela’s Ashes must be required reading for every recovering alcoholic.

All in all, heart-wrenchingly good, to paraphrase Shelley rather badly.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Matisse Stories - AS Byatt

At the outset, apologies if the writing is bad – I haven’t written much in a while and am rusty.

It has been a while since I reviewed anything here. I have been reading though, and some of the books I read have been pretty good. I adored Nick Hornby. I enjoyed, but was less impressed by, Stieg Larsson. I thought briefly about reviewing the trilogy here, but figured there were enough opinions out there about it. To the OPEN reviewer who stated it was better than Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, I would like to say: NOT!

I’ve finally felt like setting down my thoughts on a book after reading AS Byatt’s The Matisse Stories. While I consider myself slightly knowledgeable about art, (I can at least tell a Monet from a Manet) beyond knowing that Henri Matisse was a 20th century painter, I knew nothing about him. I guess that helped because it helped me approach these stories with no preconceived notions whatsoever.

The Matisse Stories is a collection of 3 short stories, Medusa’s Ankles, Art Work and The Chinese Lobster. Matisse is a motif in all these stories. In the first, a salon owner hangs a Matisse painting in his shop, because it goes with his d├ęcor. In the second, a struggling artist venerates Matisse and celebrates colour just as the Frenchman does, and in the third an art professor is horrified by a feminist student’s misunderstanding and desecration of Matisse’s works.

This, of course is oversimplification on my part. I really don’t know what Byatt intended, but these very readable stories are also studies of people in various stages of quiet desperation, of what a wearying business life really is. In two of the stories (Medusa’s Ankles, The Chinese Lobster) aging is a subtext, while both Art Work and The Chinese Lobster deal with loss of brilliance, of promising futures unrealised. Matisse’s importance in the book increases with each subsequent story: he is just a presence in the first story, an inspiration in the second, and the reason in the third.

Medusa’s Ankles has a middle aged lady drawn to a salon because it features “Rosy Nude” – she becomes a regular there over the years, striking up a sort of comfortable relationship with the owner with his easy patter and hairdressing skills. He talks, she listens, until one day one of his remarks triggers an unexpected outburst from her.

Art Work, the second story, has particular meaning for me, and will for all of us who think of ourselves as creative. (I may be a commercial writer, but I do see advertising as a creative art!). Debbie, the protagonist, is the wife of a struggling artist whose ‘big opportunity’ seems increasingly unlikely to come to pass. Debbie good humouredly runs the home with help from the capable Mrs Brown, pays the bills and manages the show, setting aside her own dreams so that her husband, ostensibly the more creative, can have his space and freedom to work well. It is the kind of sacrifice a hundred women make, and there is no hint of the martyr in Debbie, because quite simply, she ‘loves Robin’. Robin, on the other hand is, while not unsympathetically drawn, not a particularly attractive character - rather querulous and indulged. He is undeniably talented but his career never takes off. Everyone admits he ‘has something’ but it is perhaps not enough. Robin’s work is the kind not everyone will ‘get’ but nor is it the kind of genius that can be understood only in retrospect, like Van Gogh’s. It reminded me that talent is no guarantee for success really. I know so many ambitious and deserving people who somehow never seem to make it, and turn bitter in the process. It also made me think of how men are so much more ill-equipped to deal with failure and “smallness”. I will be the first to admit that men have an ability to see the larger picture in a way women sometimes don’t. On the other hand, women are so much better at the art of living – of learning to make-do, to adjust, to juggle, to accept, to go with the flow, what have you… and Byatt has captured that beautifully here. I loved the story, even without the nice little twist at the end.

The third story, The Chinese Lantern is perhaps the easiest read of the three, motivations up front and quite crystal clear. Two academics meet at a Chinese Restaurant to discuss the fate of a student, and the meeting gives insights into the personality of both. I wonder how much of Byatt herself is there is in the female character, Gerda Himmelblau.

Readers of this blog (yes, the two of you) will know how much I adored AS Byatt’s Possession. The Game, while enjoyable, was just not in the same league. But The Matisse Stories is a nice little collection, a gift box of exotic truffles, each with a nice squishy flavoured filling. Easily devoured, but not so easily forgotten.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book Tag

Saw this tag on a make up blog (!) and just had to do it. Hope this is not booooring...

Favourite childhood book?
All the Enid Blytons, especially Five Findouters and the school series. Tintin. In fact my dad made up a song which went – “Shaila Tintin devotee”.

What are you reading right now?
Nothing. Just finished Immortals of Meluha. Waiting for my next read, don’t know where it will come from.

Bad book habit?
I fold down the corner of the page to mark my place. I know. Disgusting.

Do you have an e-reader?
No. I’d rather ruin my eyes the conventional way.

Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once?
One at a time. Though sometimes I keep a work related book at work.

Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No. At the outset I made it clear that I read for pleasure only, and that I didn’t want any kind of competitive pressure.

Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
Nothing. Generally not to enamoured of the sloppy “popular” Indian writing genre

Favourite book you’ve read this year?
Hmmm… nothing so far.

How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
I’m 34 now, so I am rather entrenched in my comfort zone. I like the books I read to be well written

What is your reading comfort zone?
I like well written books, don’t want to sound too pretentious, but slightly serious writing that makes you think. That said, I hate having to decode totally abstract writing. Love anything with a historic setting too… and biographies. Poetry a rare once in a while.

Can you read on the bus?
Never. The train yes.

Favourite place to read?
At home. Increasingly, with tea and munchies on hand, feet up on the table.

What is your policy on book lending?
I do lend to close friends. No one seems to read much these days anyway.

Do you ever dog-ear books?
yeah… Im trying to break the habit though.

Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No. But my great grand-dad did, he underlined words too. It feels kinda nice to see it now.

Not even with text books?
Yes. They were underlined with yellow marker and had doodles of orrefors-style vases, ships and girls (the only things I can draw) all over them. While studying Caesar and Cleopatra, I got thoroughly inspired and scrawled all over it, comparing Shaw’s Caesar to Shakespeare’s.

What is your favourite language to read in?
English. I’m too slow with other languages.

What makes you love a book?
Characterization and writing style

What will inspire you to recommend a book?
If I enjoy it I will.

Favourite genre?
Hmmmm… tough one….I like most kinds of fiction. I think it is easier to say what I don’t like: Science Fiction, Self Improvement etc

Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
hmmm… this isn’t an exact answer, but I rather regret leaving the existentialists and Joyce so late… and Marquez too. An uncle whom I respect very much told me to read Joyce in my 30s… now that I am there I haven’t the slightest desire to do so!

Favourite biography/autobiography?
Hmmmm. I liked the one I read recently “The Duchess”

Have you ever read a self-help book?
I think I have but don’t really enjoy it. I like my life-lessons disguised as fiction.

Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Not this year particularly. I read a lot, and sometimes you get jaded. You may enjoy a book, but inspiration is a different story. If I look back on the past decade, I would say without hesitation that Harry Potter brought magic back into my life!

Favourite reading snack?
Something crunchy. Used to be pickle once upon a time.

Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience
Maybe Stieg Larsson – but I cant say it ruined it.

How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I do read reviews – that is how I find most books – sometimes on Then again, I find that my tastes are more lowbrow than most critics so I am easily pleased.

How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
It shouldn’t be a personal attack.

If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Hmmm. Haven’t thought about it.

Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Can’t think of any. I have done a fair bit of serious reading, so I am ready to grapple with most things.

Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I wouldn’t see it as intimidation, but I’ve stayed away from Russian novels except for the odd Tolstoy or Doestovesky, cos there are far too many characters! And the Russian system of nomenclature can be pretty confusing!

Favourite Poet(s)?
Byron… loved all the romantic poets in my teens. Shakespeare’s sonnets. Some Whitman, Dylan Thomas and Auden. I wish I could say there was one poet other than Byron whose entire oeuvre I am familiar with, but there isn’t.

Favourite fictional character(s)?
Hmm Harry Potter, Jo March, Margaret Schlegel, Elizabeth Bennett, Scout Finch

Favourite fictional villain?

Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
I tend not to take books on vacation

The longest I’ve gone without reading
Probably when I had my son, two small babies to look after.

Name a book that you could/would not finish-
Very seldom leave a book half way. I think the last one was Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name Is Red”. Just couldn’t connect with it.

What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
TV. I’m that pedestrian 

Favourite film adaptation of a novel?
A very long engagement (starring Audrey Tatou) in French. It got the letter and the spirit of the book down.

Most disappointing film adaptation?
The Kiera Knightly P & P. Elizabeth Bennet is NOT a giggly miss. BBC’s 6 part mini series was fabulous.

The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I don’t buy too many books. But at one point, the local library survived only cos of me.

How often do you skim a book before reading it?
If it is an Agatha Christie, I am not above turning to the last page. Not otherwise though.

What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
This usually happens with non-fiction. Also I have less patience now that I am older. I can’t read those Hardies ever again!

Do you like to keep your books organized?
Yes, but I don’t own too many books.

Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
All the books I own are books I have already read and enjoyed and know for certain I will re-read. So they are treasured.

Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
I have a copy of Salman Rushie’s Shame at home. I haven’t felt the slightest need to read it.

Name a book that made you angry –
I don’t know if this counts, but we have an encyclopaedia set written in the 30s. pre-independence, British publication. The chapter on India made my blood boil. It was so pro-British and all “white man’s burden” like.

A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga. Rather hack-y and playing to stereotypes, but it had its moments too.

A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The last Jeffrey Archer collection of short stories “And thereby hangs a tale”. Archer is one of the few pulp fiction writers whose craft is decent, but his last few novels were trash. I think he redeems himself with this.

Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Romance novels, preferably in a period setting. Looove.

Books I love or “the ones I can read again and again and again and…..”
All my favourites. Jane Austens, especially P & P and Persuasion, Harry Potter series, Georgette Heyer, Sherlock Holmes Tintins, Asterix comics, To kill a mockingbird… there are books I have read 6-7 times 

Books I love to hate:
Indian lite fiction – way too light. Not too fond of chick-lit, they make better movies than books. Or new-agey books which tell you to “connect with your inner self”.

Books that left me underwhelmed:
Some of the booker winners maybe.

I encourage all you bibliophiles to do this tag. If you do, let me know in the comments.