Some of My Favourite Reads of 2020

When this year dawned there was no inkling of the enormity of what was going to hit us. There were news reports about a virus in China and initially my thoughts were that even if it were to somehow reach our shores it would be contained. But nothing prepared me for the disaster that lay ahead. As the year comes to a close, there is news of a mutation of the virus. We also have news reports of multiple vaccines that are ready and being given to people. In tandem there are news reports of side-effects of the vaccine. It will take some time before the general public gets access to the vaccine. First in line would be our healthcare workers followed by the elderly and high-risk people. I am assuming it will take till April or May before the general public starts getting vaccines and it remains to be seen if it will be fully safe for all. Till then mask, sanitizer, soap, and diligence are our only support.

When I visited the Chennai Book Fair in January 2020, I did not think that we may not have the fair next year. I picked up several books from the Zero Degree Publishing stall. Two stand-out books that I loved and will be my top-two reads for the year are:

“Willfully Evil” by Balakumaran translated by Pritham Chakravarthy.

“Out of the Blue” by Indra Soundar Rajan.

The first book shows one man’s descent into sin and evil as he seeks to fulfill his material and carnal desires. Set in ancient India, the book shows how the protagonist goes all out as he amasses knowledge, wealth, and magical skills, and yet cannot control his carnal desires and kills his wife. Then the story showcases how the woman’s spirit plots revenge. The story spans multiple eras (is a reincarnation saga) and is a cautionary tale for all those who think that their actions have no repercussions. Amma used to love reading Balakumaran’s books when her eyesight was normal and there used to be discussions between Amma, Patti, and Mama that I recollect from my days as a child in Calcutta. I really hope more translations of the master’s books are made available in English soon.

Indra Soundar Rajan is a familiar face to many. His stories have been made into successful TV programs and he also speaks on spirituality and Mahaperiyava of Kanchipuram in his popular program “Anushathin Anugraham”. This is a fascinating book that blends mysticism, legend, myth, religion, and spirituality and is based onthe fabled flute of Lord Krishna and the adventures surrounding the identity of several people seeking it and protecting it. A racy read and brilliantly translated, this is a must-read for the fans of fast-paced and well-researched stories.

“Namaha” by Abhishek Singh is a fascinating work of art as well as inspirational stories steeped deep in Hinduism and spirituality. This is a collector’s item. Lovers of art will not be disappointed.

“The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” by Ken Liu. I received this book as a gift from Karthik Raghavan a friend and someone whose taste in books is absolutely brilliant. Be it the classics or science fiction or comics – his taste is impeccable and have noted over the years that his recommendations never fall off the mark. A must-read for lovers of science fiction.

“Moustache” by S. Hareesh – Way before it won the JCB Prize – I had read this book. In fact this was my last purchase from Om Books in Chennai before the lockdown started. I had purchased this book along with some others in February of this year. It was a birthday present for myself. The book falls in the realms of magical realism and is set in Kerala. Not everyone will like this book as it meanders with descriptions of the idyllic surroundings and the characters. If you enjoy the writings of Marquez, I think you will plod through the book.

“Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories” by Vandana Singh.

Once the lockdown ended and malls started to open up, I ventured one day to a book shop after I had my health check-up with my doctor. I picked this book and enjoyed the intricately woven stories. The book has received several international accolades and is again a must-read for fans of science fiction.

I visited Moore Market and picked up some copies of “The Three Investigators”. These books have become rare now and are no longer being issued/published afresh. Don’t know if there are licensing issues and who holds the actual copyrights now. I really hope the books are published again and a new generation of readers get to enjoy the adventures of Jupiter Jones, Pete, and Bob. One of my aims in the upcoming year is to hunt for old copies of this series and buy them.

The Pushkin Vertigo series has been the discovery of the year for me as I read books by Frederic Dard, Friedrich Durrenmatt, and Soji Shimada. The books that I would love to recommend among the ones that I read are as follows:

This year will also be noted for books that I started and somehow could not complete. The Ponniyin Selvan English translation by Varalotti Rengasami is excellent but somehow I just could not progress with the books and am stuck with volume-1. Perhaps will give it a try again next year.

Have you read any of the books that I have mentioned above? Do share your favourite reads of the year.

Wishing you a bookish 2021 ahead with lots of books to read.

What Defines a Literary Classic? Thoughts on One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitudeย by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is considered as a seminal masterpiece and is unanimously accepted as the author’s greatest accomplishment. I will be honest, I have not read the book in all these years, despite being a student of Literature and spending generous amounts of money on all kinds of books, year-on-year, once I started earning regularly.

First, how the book found me. So brother Karthikeyan Santhanam landed in India to renew his visa. We decided to meet and Ampa Skywalk was equidistant and an ideal spot. The Annual Landmark Sale was to begin, I continue to hold the Landmark card and was shopping looking for spectacular books in the 70% off and 50% off sections. KS walked in and he held the book in hand asking ‘Have you read it?’ I nodded my head in the negative and next thing I know I have the book in hand as a New Year Gift. Thank you Karthi :).

Now back to the book! This is essentially a tale of a man, his wife, the man’s levels of insanity, the woman’s courage and faith, war, famine, gypsies, love, hatred, death, infidelity, incest, revolutions, science, progress, and evolution that’s spread across seven generations.

See this picture to understand the primary characters in the book.

The book is not exactly an easy-read, way too many characters, different names, lots of things happening, idle ramblings, purported metaphysical thoughts and love, lust, sex and anger in ample measure.

The magical realism aspect seems to be forced. The book was published in 1967 and perhaps would have been a testimony of the strange times then. Reading the book now, it seems to be a laborious task.

How does a book become a masterpiece? Sales-numbers? Quality of Prose/Poetry? Characters and Settings? Marketing? Or a heady mix of all the above? If you are suffering from insomnia, read this book, either you will get a headache and continue to make sense of the chaos unfolding or you will fall asleep.

Songs of the Mist by Shashidhar Sharma – A Video Review

Dear Readers,

This hopefully would be the first in line of many video reviews of books and movies that I will put up on the blog.

Without further ado, my video review of Shashidhar Sharma’s first book in the Monk Key Trilogy – “Songs of the Mist”.

Special thanks to Vinod Velayudhan of VV Photography.

We also shot a brief interview ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Buy the book –ย http://www.amazon.in/Songs-Mist-1-Monk-Key/dp/935206562X

Do share your valuable thoughts!

 

Pustaka Praandhan – Mad about books

There is this fear,
What will I carry,
Once I leave,
All these books,
All these movies,
These material possessions,
They have to be put to good use.

Time to start de-cluttering and give away stuff to deserving people who can’t afford good books. At the back of my head, every single time I buy a book is will I be able to finish this book at all. This year I had planned to cut down on my spending but with the shut down threat of ‘Giggles’and some good deals and vouchers received for writing have gone mad and bought book upon book.

Book Fair is in progress. Have to demonstrate extreme caution and restraint.

“Songs of the Mist” by Shashi

These are trying times wherein everyone is being questioned about roles, designations, rules and ‘conflict of interest’.ย  I had the chance to beta-read end edit a manuscript by fellow CBC-member and India’s leading spiritual blogger – Shashi – “Songs of the Mist”.

I was captivated by the manuscript. No two thoughts about it – it was good. The challenge was to structure and rephrase words in a way that would appeal to the younger generation for whom the book is primarily written. I am happy to say that to a fair extent amidst various contributors, we have done an extremely good job!

The contributors include Nandhitha Hariharan and Rajesh Venugopalan.

The book is a love story cum spiritual journey. Ashutosh, Ayan, Calliope, Anishka, and the elusive monk are the key characters.The tale goes back and forth and in time and the description of the Himalayas transports you to the snow-capped peaks. I do not wish to reveal a lot about the plot

The book incorporates the essence of the Song Divine – the Bhagvat Gita and is the first in the “Monk Key” series. It is one man’s search for his true identity and his quest to sort out for once and for all the purpose of his creation in the bigger scheme of things! All the people whom he meets in this journey, their conversations and their intertwined lives get featured in the book.

You can buy the book here –

I also attended a reading of the book last Friday at the Leela Palace in Chennai it was graced by Timeri Murari renowned novelist and playwright. There was a Carnatic Music performance and display of paintings as well. It was a wonderful event.

Lovely pics from the event can be seen here- shot by the legendary fine arts enthusiast Jothivel Moorthi – http://www.jovemac.in/songs-of-the-mist-book-reading/

 

 

April-23

It is the 23rd of April today; William Shakespeare’s birthday, Satyajit Ray’s death anniversary and in the past few years in India; gaining prominence as World Book Day. A lot has been said about Shakespeare and we will let it rest at that! Satyajit Ray well definitely a series of posts are lined up soon. An icon, a master magician with the camera, a poet, writer, musician and artist. For someone like me who spent his childhood in Calcutta, Ray and his creations were a part of life! I digress again, another day we will look at Ray Moshai in earnest.

Coming to the crux of this post – BOOKS – Yup, books that created a life-long love affair with books and characters; this post is going to be about books. The few friends that I have and the fewer friends that have visited my house know the state of my house. Shelves stacked with books, cartons full of books, bags full of books, you get the drift! With my mother constantly threatening me to drive me out if I don’t stop buying books, I seriously think I might have to rent a small office/godown space to stock my books. In a world of e-books and e-pub files and Amazon Kindles; I guess I am still an old fashioned romantic who has to hold a printed book in his hands! Sorry, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks ๐Ÿ™‚

Like most youngsters around the world Enid Blyton formed an inevitable part of growing up! Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Secret Seven, The Adventurous Four, Mystery Series were all devoured and one longed for picnics and adventures with sumptuous spreads of scones, buns, sandwiches, jams and ginger ale!

As one grew up the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Three Investigators garnered interest. How many of you remember the S.E.Paces series of abridged classics that would be a part of the English syllabus. They opened our eyes to classic tales of adventure and history. Gokulam and Chandamama played a big role as well. Tinkle was surprisingly something that did not captivate me much then. The few Indrajal comics that somehow I got and Target magazine were real fun as well. How many of you remember Gardhab Das the donkey-singer and Detective Tegrat?

Jaico abridged illustrated classics were safe and sound birthday gifts and I recollect receiving a few of them one year. By the time I was 12, I had moved to Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse and Shakespeare’s first full length play – ‘The Merchant of Venice’ part of Class Eight English lessons. At this juncture one has to mention ‘The Abridged Shakespeare Tales’ by Charles and Mary Lamb with some lovely line sketches that offered a clear insight into Shakespeare’s plays.

The first Sherlock Holmes story that I read was ‘The Red-Headed League’ a single tale hardbound cover in blue and a love for Sherlock Holmes and the science of detection commenced. One of my treasure possessions for a long time was a Jaico book – ‘The Hound of Baskervilles’. Years later I bought the ‘Complete Sherlock Holmes’ it was by a small-time Calcutta-based printing press and nothing fancy. But the book still remains safe and is very close to my heart. I think it was the first book that I bought on my own at a book fair in Chennai. The princely sum of Rs 200 after discount was paid for the book – 16 years ago.

Other authors whose books created an impact include:

  • Jules Verne – for two very treasured books – ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘The Journey to the Center of the Earth’.
  • Alexandre Dumas – ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ and ‘The Three Musketters’.
  • Anthony Hope – ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’
  • Satyajit Ray – ‘The Complete Feluda Stories’ – Penguin’s two volume set is again a special book!

But the one character who will always be special is —-???? – Guess???

It will always be Tintin ๐Ÿ™‚

tintin

Herge and Tintin taught me a lot about the world, values, human nature and loyalty and friendship than all my teachers combined!

‘The Blue Lotus’ was the first Tintin book I got. My sister’s friend had the entire collection and thanks to her, every vacation I would go to her house and read the comics again and again. The greed of these publishers Methuen/Egmont has grown to unimaginable heights as they charge a premium price for these beautiful comics. Thanks to the internet old scanned copies are available and Tintin and Snowy will always remain close to my heart. I always hoped someday like Tintin, I would be a reporter, travel the world and have adventures. Instead, I have become a cross between the bungling Thompson twins, the forgetful Professor Calculus and the angry Captain Haddock. The closest that I had to Snowy was my dear Brownie, who now lives on a farm, I visit her once in a while.

The years have been gentle and kind at least in letting me buy and read books, I do not have too many vices, I splurge on books and movies, I am thankful for a job that lets me indulge in these two interests. Over the years novelists like Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, Stieg Larrsson, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, U.R. Ananthamurthy, and the translated works of Sivasankari, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Jeyakanthan, O. Vijayan, Basheer have created a strange sense of longing in the heart.

Will there be someone with whom I can sit together and read a book, share a coffee and a hug and hold hands and listen to the birds chirp as the sun sets, letting the breeze kiss us gently as I slowly part the strands of her hair and smile. The sweetest love story that I have enjoyed is a 10-minute introduction of the beautiful movie ‘UP’. I hope I will find someone with whom I can share my books, my life, my movies, my music and my dreams!

Where art thou my Queen of Hearts? Where art thou???

2014 – Glimpses in Verse

Running around in hospitals,
Chasing pharmacies for medicines,
Hoping things would improve.
Things are mildly better.

Of a solo visit to Tiruvanamalai,
Spending time in a shelter for animals,
Moved by the love that the workers,
Shower on the creatures.

Spending time alone,
In Ramana Ashramam,
And awe-inspired by,
The massive temple.

Visiting Thirukadaiyur,
And being blessed by elders,
A friend who is a brother now,
Thanks for the opportunity Bragadeesh.

Meeting a financial expert,
Akin to a character from a book,
Anand sir and family,
Thanks for the beautiful trips.

From Karur and Namakal,
To Kumbakonam and Thirumayichur,
Lots of wonderful memories,
To cherish all along.

Of Radha ji and the Azure Book Club,
Lots of fascinating things,
All centered around books,
Thanks for a wonderful time.

Of all the books that were read,
A book by a wonderful thinker,
Avis sir’s – ‘Fall like a Rose Petal’
Is indeed a special book!

Of losing my phone,
In the mad rush of the train.
And unexpectedly winning a prize,
A phone for a writing competition!

Of work and colleagues,
Thanks to the Lord,
For all the patience,
That my employers and colleagues have!

Of friendships lost and gained,
Of realizing that somethings are,
Just not meant to be,
One learns to put the ‘fake smile’.

Of marriages all around,
Good times and happy memories.
Lovely feasts and lengthy rituals.
The clock keeps ticking!

As 2014 draws slowly to a close,
With a week more to go,
Here is wishing all my friends,
Real and virtual, known and unknown —
A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!

#BOOKADAYINDIA – My List

With lots of book-loving friends putting up posts on a daily basis about the books they love – #BOOKADAYINDIA.

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Here comes my blog-post, it is finally year-end; but no great change in the ‘quantum of work at work’ – life goes on as usual.

But we need to make some time right ๐Ÿ™‚ So without further ado —-

Ideal December Read – ‘A Christmas Carol’

Book Cover – ‘Swami and Friends’ – Life in a simple unhurried time!

A book you identify with – ‘Oliver Twist’.

Wisest book I have read – ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’

A book you keep going back to – ‘The Complete Sherlock Holmes’ – Never tire of reading the book.

Your perfect winter read – ‘Pride and Prejudice’

First book that I remember reading – Very, very tough question – ‘He-Man’ pocket comics perhaps!

The book that gives me the chills – ‘Dracula’

My favourite mythological tale – ‘Mahabharata’

The book that makes me want to write – ‘The Jungle Book’ by Rudyard Kipling

A book character that I want to marry – George/Georgina from the ‘Famous Five’ series ๐Ÿ™‚ – Wonder how she would be as an adult!!! Fascinated by Lisbeth Salander as well.

A book that I pretend to have read – ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.

I curl up to read – A good crime thriller – Love Jo Nesbo’s works in the past two years he has become a huge favourite.

My favourite book series – ‘The Famous Five’ by Enid Blyton.

My favourite Jane Austen character – Emma

A book that made you hungry – All Tarla Dalal cook-books ๐Ÿ™‚

Favourite Autobiography – ‘My Experiments with Truth’ by Mahatma Gandhi.

A book to read when homesick – David Copperfield

Favourite fairytale character – Betaal – from Vikram and Betaal.

Christmas Gift book – ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

A book that made me cry – ‘Marley and Me’.

Best book that I got as a gift – Twelfth Birthday I guess – ‘A book of Feluda stories’ by Satyajit Ray.

My favourite family read – ‘Winnie the Pooh’ tales.

Favourite Christmas book – This is an overload of Christmas themed entries here – ‘Horton Hears a Who’

Book on my shelf that I have not read – Well I have two racks full of books to read!!!!!

A book I can’t put down – ‘The Phantom’ by Jo Nesbo.

An author I discovered this year – Barry Eisler.

Best read of 2014 – ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn.

Favourite Rudyard Kipling Character – Bagheera and Baloo.

Most awaited book of 2015 – Probably the next book to be written by Jo Nesbo!

Fall Like a Rose Petal – Book Review

Title of the Book – Fall Like a Rose Petal : A Father’s Lessons on How to be Happy and Content While Living without Money
Author – AVIS Viswanathan
ISBN – 9789384030445
Genre – Self-Help/Motivation
Publisher – Westland
Pages – 322

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Description on the Amazon India website:<a
In early 2008, the author AVIS Viswanathan and Vaani his soul-mate, friend, wife and business partner were staring at a bankruptcy of their Firm. A series of business decisions had literally brought them to the brink of penury. This book is their story. It captures learnings from this excruciatingly painful, Life-changing, phase that they are still going through. It also explores the nature and continuum of Life. There is no beginning to the story. There is no end either. There are simply experiences. Of hopelessness. Of fear. Of insolvency. Of pennilessness. And also of faith, patience, love, companionship, abundance and soul. Of integrity and of leading a principled Life, despite temptations to take the easy way out of painful or messy situations. This book has been written to share how AVIS and his family have learned to be happy despite their circumstances. You too can benefit from their learning, and experience, and discover the right way of thinking, living, working and winning in Life for yourself!

About Avis:
AVIS Viswanathan (47) is a happiness curator, Life Coach, inspired speaker, author and organizational transformation consultant who leads change management, culture and leadership development mandates in the corporate sector globally.

I had the good fortune of attending the launch of this gem of a book and I finished reading the book the next day. On an average I finish reading at least two or three pieces of fiction (novels) a week. Non-fiction and self-help are genres that I read rarely. Books on spirituality and self-enquiry are a completely different box of chocolates and I do indulge myself in these treats once in a while.

This particular book – ‘Fall Like a Rose Petal’ – chronicles the incredible journey of a family; a husband, wife and their son and daughter. From being one of the top-notch entrepreneurs in a niche business area and finding success in every stream, to staring at abject penury and bankruptcy and being chased by 179 creditors. The book is an incredible true-life tale of survival, courage, faith and self-respect.

All good things come in small packages, the book has a minimalist yet powerful cover image of a single rose petal and the title of the book in black lettering on a white background. The book will definitely stand out in any store.

Sounds interesting right???? I am transferring you to my website now which has the full in-depth review. Do read the full review and please do buy the book!

THE ARCHERS REVENGE by Rajesh Kollu @ Destination Infinity

I first met Rajesh at an Indiblogger Meet @ ITC Grand Chola; calm, quiet, and clicking away to glory with his camera! Little did I know that this calm person was the famous Destination Infinity of the online world!

Rajesh has done his fair share of work and is now a full-time blogger and author and also does a bit of consulting work on renewable energy sources. He is an avid traveller and two of his books on the Top Places to visit in India have been pretty successful. Rajesh blogs on all things under the sun – from movies and music to ice creams and organic food. He has a simple, non-complex style that is not very easy to emulate by people like me who have an obsessive manic disorder of typing long sentences!

Rajesh released his latest book, a novel – ‘The Archers Revenge’ on Kindle! I got the file and converted it to e-pub and read it using a Firefox browser plug-in! Here goes my review of the book.

The cover designed by Agnisha Ghosh is smashing!

The Story in a Nutshell – A revenge saga, starting with an assassination attempt on a central minister! The would-be assassin discovers startling truths!

I am not going to put in too many spoilers; the book is a quick read; Rajesh covers many of his pet peeves and ideas – renewable energy, archery, bike rides, solitary living, a higher education degree in the UK, Tirupati, etc.

The novel starts with a bang to hold your attention as an elaborate assassination attempt plays out. The bid fails! The novel goes on to describe subsequent attempts and shows us why the killer Aryan wants to terminate the minister Guru. There is a massive twist at the end, which seems very artificial at the end; but the novel is a good attempt!

Final Word – Paced like a script of a Telugu pot-boiler I would love to see this novel get a filmi treatment with a bunch of new young stars as the protagonists. In Hindi, we could have Arjun Kapoor and Shraddha or Alia Bhatt in the lead roles. Plus for the politician – only one character actor – Nana Patekar!

Good job Rajesh!!!!

Get the book!