Sunday, September 9, 2018

Currently reading 9-9-18

After finishing the ‘Ghostwritten’(though beautiful, I can't say I really understood it. I will re read it at some point of time. For now I will say, I was lost in last two chapters. Where a lot of technology comes, I don't usually understand everything.) , I read 2 small books of around 150 pages each.
One was a murder mystery by M.C. Beaton. ‘Agatha Raisin and the walkers of Dembley’ This was the first M.C. Beaton book I read, but I liked it. The mystery was good, the execution was also good. I like the characters too. Side characters more than main two. Agatha Raisin was too fierce for my liking and even after being so, she hasn't really solved the mystery though she definitely helped . Lacey was just okay, his character did not really stand out in this book. While like books with a good backstory on the detectives this looks primarily like Agatha’s life story. I am not sure whether I would like to read any more of her books.
The other was an epistolary novel.’The ladies of letters’. The first half of this novel was good. Loved the way these friends/enemies write letters to each other. Many hilarious situations in the book. But the second half was unrealistic , it  was like the authors were trying too hard to make it funny but it did not work for me.
Now I have started another book called Major Pettigrew's last stand. But not enjoying it. Too many cliched situations, too many stereotypic characters, prose uninspiring and boring. Let's see how it goes. I have become much better at DNFing books now.
After some 10 minutes...
Why it has to be always ungrateful relatives and insensitive offsprings ? After reading some good books, I don't wish to read this nonsense.I have really developed a hatred for this book after reading the first chapter. As I have decided that I have too many books and I don't have time to spend it on something which I don't like.

I thought I will read some books that I have recently bought and speed up my minimalism project by discarding some books. Fortunately or unfortunately , all the three books have to go.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

This is going to hurt by Adam Kay

As a rule , I don't like books about medicine. I never read them. No Robin Cook , no Atul Gawande. I was not going to read this book as well. I knew everybody was saying a lot of good things about this one on book tube. Still I didn't want to read it. But then this book was available at a low price on Amazon sale. And I bought it.

I was in a bit of a book slump yesterday. I couldn't think of a book to read. I tried many books of different genres. But nothing was clicking. This was my last try before I decided to give up for the day and went to bed. Luckily it clicked.

Adam Kay is now a comedian. But in his previous avatar, he was a doctor in NHS. This book is about his experience of working as a junior doctor in NHS.

As I started reading this book, I realised the similarities between lives of doctors across the world. The decision to be a doctor is taken at the age of 16(In India ,you start preparing for your entrance examination, sometimes much earlier than that), when you are hardly adult enough to make decisions about your own life. The decision is taken more often than not for wrong reasons, not realizing the long years of training, hard work or hardships involved. (I remember telling someone that I want  to become a cardiac surgeon, not realizing that first I have to become a MBBS doctor, then specialize and then super specialise in cardiac surgery.12 years minimum. Impossible to visualise at that age. Thankfully, by the time,I took up medicine, this dream had evaporated.) Most of us do not have a clear picture of what we would do after we finish our education.

The MBBS years are comparatively easy, they just involve a lot of hard work in form reading and memorizing. You don't make decisions about somebody's life.But when you decide to do a specialisation in a clinical branch, the real challenge starts. The long work hours, lack of sleep, pathetic salaries, even worse food & accommodation, facing wrath of patients, delivering difficult diagnoses and bad news…..Only tough minded people survive in this field. Our major problem is that this is a one way street, after spending 12 long years in acquiring this education, you have no energy to start all over again. You are stuck here for better or worse.

I finished the book inbonebday. It is written very well,  I laughed aloud at many places. But I hurried through last few pages. Hurried even through the last chapter of the narrative… didn’t want to experience his pain…

He has left medicine for good now. It is sad in a way, all these years of hard work came to nothing. His story reminded me of a friend of mine, who was also a gynaec and left that branch for good, after a similar episode (less severe in implications but as traumatising as this one).

Should I think of his as a weak minded person who could not digest his mistake or a strong minded person who dared to change his profession after putting in so much efforts ? If this ( loss of a baby and the fact that the patient would never be a mother after this) event would have happened after 10 years of practice, would his decision remain the same ? The sad thing was that he put up through years of hard work,low pay, zero social life for a profession he genuinely loved and gave it up after one heartbreaking incident.

I know that I have not suffered severely in my 19 years of practice. I have faced lot of frustrations though, chiefly about the money and corporate politics. There are days ,when I think , that it is enough ,and I should retire, at the (tender)age of 46. But I do not. I know I love my job and I do it well.

But who am I to judge him so ? I have not walked in his shoes , have not suffered his pain. It is easy for me to pass judgement on somebody . May be I would have done a similar thing too…

The important thing is that he is happy now and he has written a good book which I liked...

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Book hangovers and ghostly presences(in books)


Book hangover is a very common thing for me and  it has nothing to do with the contents of the book.

I have seen a lot of people describe their book hangovers.( in book tube videos) They generally have it when they finish a very good book or a very bad book . The book,the plot, the writing ,the characters - stay in their mind. They can not start another book , or if they start, they will not be able to do justice to the new book.

My case is slightly different. I have a book hangover after every book I finish. I can not start a new book , unless I have a good 6-7 hours of sleep in between, therby giving my brsin time to switch off and start again. So, the new book starts only on the next day. It is particularly bad when I finish a book on a Sunday morning. Then I have nothing to do the whole day. (A desirable side effect of this is that I start writing ,like today.)

When I think over it , I conclude this :  when I read a book , I get into the plot and adapt my reading pace and my attention for that book. In literary fiction , I read slowly, savouring every word,rereading a few lines,paragraphs,or pages if required. In detective fiction & fantasies I go fast , because plot is more important than the words. Hence I find it difficult to start another book of different genre because my reading style is a little slow to adapt. You may ask, why not start a book of the same genre. Availability may be a problem sometimes , but most of the time, the variety seeking mind  is the real culprit.

So, here I am. Stuck with hundreds of books but nothing to read on a fine Sunday morning. A book hangover or a haunting ?

Speaking of haunting , I have been reading a lot of books with ghostly presences in them. They are not out and out fantasies or horror stories. Some of them are literary fiction and some (murder ) mysteries.

This started with Sarah Waters’ ‘ The little stranger’ a few months back. Sarah Waters is a favourite in the book tube and blogging community. When I bought the book, I knew that I was getting into a real ghost story. I did not mind that the ghost was evil and tried destroying people. My problem was that there was no motive for its evil intentions. I need motive for every occurence. It could be revenge, greed,lust or even a psychopathic delusions. But this ghost had none. It was evil purely for the sake of it.

Same with the book’ Dark matter’ by Michelle Paver. I abandoned this beautifully written book because of the unreasonable and evil ghost. (The beautiful writing may bring me back to this one someday.) 

My chief problem with ghosts in these two books was that there were no rules for ghosts , there was no motive for their actions and hence there was no solution.( I know that this is my problem and there are people out there who love these kinds of books. ) I prefer ghosts in fantasies where all these problems are taken care of and I prefer to think that I can handle them(if needed). But my favourite ghosts are those which are helpful, have a purpose and  a sense of humor.

‘‘The hoarder’by Jess Kidd fits the bill perfectly. This is a story of a very old man, Cathal Flood who stays in this big house which is full of things , memories and ghosts. His latest caretaker Maud is a clairvoyant and she can also see and talk to saints. That made it a very interesting book. The ghost in the book had a motive and sense of purpose. Though it never had a narrative voice ,it had a good, solid backstory and the story reached a satisfactory conclusion. I really liked this book and how the ghost was cleverly used to move the story forward.

Elated by the way this book concluded, I tried reading her second book ‘Himself’. ( I think I am wrong chronologically but I am rating and ranting in order that I read them. Himself was her first book.) I was disppointed by the story but the ghosts were perfect. There were multiple ghosts and some of them helped the story move forward. Numerous peripheral presences created the atmosphere. They could have been used more efficiently, multiple ghosts probably competed for the available space.

Will I be reading any more ghost stories ? Not pure ghost stories of 'evil without reason' ghosts , but if the ghost has a character,a good back story and an arc , then why not ? Bring it on, I say...

Himself by Jess Kidd

Okay, I have finished the book ‘Himself ‘ and I am disappointed. I had very high expectations because the other book by Jess Kidd( The horder) was excellent. But I felt that, this book had lot of beating around the bush and pointless supernatural activity.

Let me begin at the beginning :  Mahoney is an orphan. At the age of 26 ,he recieves an envelope that has photograph of his mother and a cryptic note informing him about his name,his place of birth and a veiled directive to find out more about his mammie. He arrives in the village to find that he has once again started seeing dead people, as he used to,many years back,in orphanage.

With the help of old,eccentric but sharp Mrs.Cauley,he decides to unravel the mystery of his mother.

So,why didnt I like this book ? Well, firstly, I felt cheated. I felt that a lot of answers were not provided for eg the killer’s motive. Secondly, there was a false alarm regarding the climax,where I waited with pounding heart for something to happen and it didn’t. So all that heart attack tension was wasted.Thirdly, the ghosts were not utilised properly. Fourth, there were some unnecessary threads of adultery amongst other things. Also, I didn’t like the form of narrative,I would have liked the entire solution at the end, not the shadowy figures committing murders in the first chapter.( I know ,this one is my personal preference but still … when I am listing grievances, I can list all.) My biggest problem was ,I didn't have a sense of completion at the end,when you get all the answers and even if you don’t ,there are at least hints about whys and hows. Some characters were not developed at all.I agree,that they were shadowy characters and probably they were meant to be like that , but I still felt cheated. Another problem was unnecessary delays due to descriptions, in getting to the point where something is happening. This is acceptable in literary fiction but not in a mystery. A mystery can be literary and slow moving but then ,when it is time for palpitations ,it should stay true to its form.

So,on the whole, not a great book. I still gave it 3 stars for the central idea of the plot but it was a probably a mismatch in expectations and reality on my part.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Ghostwritten -2 continued…

29-08-18 :
So the book progresses. Currently I am on the 5th part...Mongolia. Although all narratives appear to be separate and distinct from each other, each one is linked to the next one by a small ,delicate link.

The stories are very strong ,and beautiful ,though I will not understand everything till I finish the entire book. And probably, if I read it once more, new layers will emerge. I am sure of this but I am not very strong on re-reading these days. Only comfort reads ,that too if there nothing new and comfortable is available. This one is pulling me towards it again, even before finishing… all that beautiful prose...

Writing is absolutely beautiful. I went out and bought Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ yesterday. (At the books by weight sale, I love that sale, great collection and really economical. You can get books for Rs.30-40 each.) This book has awakened the love for literary fiction genre in my mind.

As a rule, I do not like short stories. So why do I like this book, I ask myself. These are short novellas and there is no sharp beginning, middle or end to these stories or the characters . There are shared characters/links between the stories. The timeline is not linear. I am not really invested in characters because I feel ,I don’t know them well and I feel that works for this book. But the form is so intriguing that I am compelled to read on. Just by reading the chapter headings ,I know that last chapter will probably come back to first chapter. As the goodreads says, this book shows interconnectedness of all things and beings....

Will there be a happy ending ? Ahh..what is a happy ending after all ? It may not be the same for every character…

1-9-18 :

I have finished a few more sections and more than 50% of the book. I absolutely love how the stories are happenning in different parts of the world,across the time probably (the narrative doesn’t mention time) and there is some connection between them - a phone call , a minor character,  climax by a character from another chapter, or just a slight mention somewhere. Looking for a connections in between the stories would be another reason why I would read this book again.There was a section, in which the narrator was an art thief. The chapter read like a thriller with a totally heart pounding conclusion. Another even more surprising and unusual chapter with a ghost/soul/non corporal as a narrator, was my personal favourite amongst whatever I have read till now.
Beautiful and fascinating book ,but it became hard to read after a certain point. I needed a respite, a break,a lighter read. So, I have started another book as a breather.. a book called ‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd. Again, an unusual book ,where our charming and handsome protagonist comes to a remote,serene Irish village to discover more about himself. The fellow has ability to see and converse with the dead people. And it has a fantastically sharp lady called Mrs.Cauley. Let's see how and when I finish both these books...

This is second book by Jess Kidd that I am reading. I loved the first one - 'The hoarder'. Again ,an unusual book -part mystery, part ghost story...


More about different literary ghost stories later , I have read quite a few over last few days....

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ghostwritten

 These days, I am reading , finishing and enjoying many books ,that I have bought over last few years. I am also getting rid of books, that I don’t intend to read again. I can say that ,my reading is going rather well.....

I have read some very good books,but I find that, if I don’t write about them during my reading, the thoughts on the book simply evaporate , when I start the next book. Hence this series. Hopefully it will be a series.

Yesterday, I started ‘Ghostwritten ‘,by David Mitchell. I have heard a lot of good things about it , especially on book-tube. One of the book-tubers positively raved about it. But I have never liked the books that she loves. I find them too difficult to understand, too much literary and too less a story.

So,I don't expect to like this book very much. Or finish the book even.

David Mitchell is a genre defying author. His novels are supposedly beautiful and unique . It is recommended that you read David Mitchell books in the order that they are published. That is because his characters jump across his novels. Probably the space he provides for them in one book is not sufficient for them , they have to say a lot more than that was allowed in that particular book.

As a part of my research , I also listened to two videos on David Mitchell. One was an author spotlight video done by the booktuber mentioned in first paragraph . The other was interview of DM. Loved the way he spoke about his books.

I will say this- The first chapter of this book surprised me. It was easy to read and went really fast. Not at all what I expected. I still don't know where the book is going but that is expected.

This is a novel in 9 parts , each of the part is like a novella. The last chapter will bring all the narratives together.(supposedly)

The first story is narrated by a crackpot, a sort of Japanese jihadi , who is responsible for a terrorist attack in the underground tube. He runs away and hides while the terrorist organization has started crumbling. The first chapter ends without really ending. Though the chapter ended , the story continued , just beyond our vision. There was no conclusion.Just like our life.

The second story seems to be about a record seller, though I am not sure whether it’s a male or female. The reason I keep on going through the novel which isn’t making any sense , is the curiosity about how author is going to link all these together.

And yes , it is well written and not too literary for my taste ,( Literary meaning 40 pages full of descriptions of a man walking on the road.), There are things happening ,albeit very very slowly and there are dialogues , which always makes novels easy to read.

This makes me hope that I might like to read his other books one day,my library has a beautiful hardcover edition ‘Thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet’. It is not only beautiful but also a big,fat one and it appears to be my favourite genre of historical fiction.

But first , I have to finish this one. And like it.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Past and present

Can you really separate the two ? This moment, right now , is turning from present to past. This sentence that I am writing now , has been written and pushed into the past…

Past is the sum total of all the moments lived till now. It is memories,experiences and choices , it is your education,attitude and character. You can not totally ignore and forget it , you are creating it constantly….unless your memory is totally wiped out and then instead of feeling happy ,you will feel unanchored ,loose ,drifting…

Nothing is black or white , good or bad in this world. Past can be good too , if used judiciously. It can be limiting, constricting or can be motivating. That depends on you , your attitude. You need to accept it,learn from it and move ahead. Take only good from past, memories and lessons and start walking to your future.

Happy memories can give you comfort,solace,support. But do not dwell too much there, life to be lived is ahead of you. That failure in the past, can make you run away from a similar situation or can challenge you to try out a new method, to tackle the situation. A memory of how you could do it in the past, in spite of all hurdles, can motivate you or can lull you into a false sense of security.

Live in the now is the right way, agreed, but it is very difficult for us ordinary people. Move ahead, using past as a stepping stone.

Past failures need not restrict you, mistakes need not daunt you, repeated failures need not break you. You can learn to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Remember,when you reach the bottom, there is only one way, upwards.