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The 2012 Reading List Part-II June 2, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Fantasy Fiction, Mumbo Jumbo.
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The last 5 months have been an adventurous journey across a palette of landscapes and colours. I have wandered the landscapes of ancient India while reading Amish Tripathy’s Shiva Trilogy, witnessed the horrors of death in the Hunger Games Arena and scouted the far corners of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ whacky Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And while this was a guided tour (Yes, I had made my list of to-read Books at the beginning of the year!), I did stray out of the plan in some places (reading random books here and there).

Nevertheless, going on with that spirit – here is my list for this quarter again.. Please don’t groan. I know this should have come more than a month ago, but like all appraisals and salary hikes; this one is running late too! 😉

The Song of Ice and Fire:

Starting with the one I am reading now. The Song of Ice and Fire is a series on on-going epic Fantasy novels by George R R Martin. There are 6 novels in the series; the last one has not been released yet.  The saga of epic proportions takes place in 2 fictional continents, spanning thousands of years. It has more than 100 major protagonists, and the books slowly interlink the lives of these characters, weaving a massive tale which has many elements of J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. That’s what got me interested in the series in the first place.

Two days ago, I was randomly flipping through “The Game of Thrones”.  I read the first page and then I tread on; it was so alluring that I just couldn’t stop after that, reading 150 pages in one sitting itself!  And the weird part is that the content was neither very cheerful or “feel good”.  It reeked of violence and death right from the start; eerie scenes of murder, prisoners getting beheaded, recollections of a violent past. Everything about the book spooked me, and yet I was so irresistibly drawn towards it; like the moth to a flame!

What amazed me most about the book (from what I have read till now) is how GRRM preys on the human psychology, arousing curiosity in the most macabre sort of way. I mean, I have a fairly low tolerance for violence in movies (I avoid the ones with bloodshed like the plague), and yet the pages repelled and intrigued me in equal measure. A writer has to be a real wizard for that!

Love in the times of Cholera:

 Having read raving reviews about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works, this book got added in my to-read list. And since one of my friends had a hard copy, I borrowed it and began right away. Almost halfway through the book, I made a huge mistake – I put it down to do something else. And when I came back, it was like the pages had banished me for my fickleness – I just couldn’t follow the story again! It’s not that the book was not interesting (I was hooked to the tale from the beginning) but the descriptions are so long winding that you actual get lost in them! Like a stream winding through copious Amazon forests with no idea how long it will take to get to the sea!

And so, I have a renewed resolve to start reading it again. Without any breaks, ofcourse. 🙂

Gone with the Wind:   

Okay. This might seem strange, but “Gone with the Wind” had been on my reading list since the last 7 years. And the queer thing is, a copy of it has been sitting on my bookshelf all these years too!. I had borrowed this book from a friend of mine, but couldn’t return it for some reason. Had been meaning to read it all this while but never got around to doing it. Perhaps for the forbidding size (it has 700+ pages in size 8 font) which is odd because lengthy books never deterred me before. Maybe it was because of the time this book was set in; some queer Victorian era which I could not relate to. Nevertheless, nothing is as powerful as a book whose time has come to be read. So “Gone with the Wind” it is!

The Book Thief:

I have heard rave reviews about this one from my friends, and that’s what inspires me to read it. Set in the war ravaged times in Nazi Germany, the story is narrated by Death as it travels around the world. And the main protagonist is this little girl he calls “the Book thief”.

History always fascinates me, and I was appalled when I read details of Nazi Fundamentalism and the Holocaust. Just reading the Wikipedia entries was so harrowing, and it painted my imagination with such morbid details. I know this book is not of the gruesome types (thankfully!), but am curious to know how the author Markus Zusak has captured the psyche of the common man trapped in a confrontation of such catastrophic proportions!

So this completes my reading list for this Quarter. It’s a small list, considering I have only 1 month more to go.Will try to post reviews when I can!.

See you around then.. Adios!

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5 Unforgettable Characters I have read about! May 6, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Classics, Mumbo Jumbo, Non Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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Yes, I love reading fiction!. And what makes it awesome are people I meet as I journey through these novels. Breathing life into stories are protagonists woven out of their authors’ imaginations, characters with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. They capture your attention, invite you to live their lives, and amaze you with the surprises they hold!

So this post is dedicated to the 5 most unforgettable characters I have read about.  I guess books you read in your childhood impress you much more, so this list is slightly favoured towards fiction I read long long ago. You would also have a list of favourite characters right ? Let’s see how much my list matches yours!!! 🙂

 

Catherine Earnshaw

Yeah, topping this list is Catherine Earnshaw from “Wuthering Heights” by Emile Bronte. I first read Wuthering Heights when I was thirteen (and I’ve read it over and over again!). It is an amazing story of unfulfilled love, an all-consuming romantic passion, alarming you with the violence of emotions and the scary dark shades of the characters. No wonder, the scenes of the novel struck in my mind forever. The desolate moors, the ghostly visage of Heathcliff and Catherine. If there was one book that made the most vivid impression on me in my childhood, then it was this one. And I can never forget the introduction to Catherine in the movie, where she wails on the window as a ghost, pleading to come in.  And as you read further, her character gets even more unforgettable. My memory of her is still fresh: her cruel yet loving nature, her tempestuous character with a ferocity and depth of passion which will singe you. And the haunting description of Catherine in rage- her hair flying over her shoulders, her eyes flashing.. She has some passion within her that drives the whole story forward, and even after her death, Catherine is an overpowering presence in the events that follow.

Lisbeth Salander

I have obsessed about Salander over and over again after having read The Millenium Trilogy. You can read that here.  What makes her awesome is the combination of brains and brawn with a nasty – “I’m-not-going-to-apologize-for-the-way-I’ve-led-my-life attitude.A self-confessed freak and weirdo, she needn’t  say much to alarm you. The simple – “Keep in mind that I’m crazy, won’t you?” would suffice. She is perhaps the few characters from modern fiction that has impressed me so much (most of my favourites are from age old classics!)

Severus Snape

Can you imagine how life would have been if there were no Harry Potter books to read? I can’t, and no list would be complete if it didn’t have the Potter element in it! So my unforgettable character from this series is Severus Snape. Don’t wince; I know he made your skin crawl – with his crooked nose; greasy hair and twirling black robe as he glides down the corridors at Hogwarts. But I loved his brilliant wit and sarcasm, with ingenious methods to punish students out of favour with him. Remember the first portion making class – “I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach”!!!. His face offs with Harry potter were le-gen-dary; “What would your head have been doing in Hogsmeade, Potter? Your head is not allowed in Hogsmeade. No part of your body has permission to be in Hogsmeade.”

Yet, beneath the meanness and tragedy, there was a certain grace about his character. The grace with which he went around making Potter’s life miserable ( while saving his life), taking sides with the Death Eaters, getting killed by Voldemort, and finally redeeming himself with his memory. Snape was indeed the most heroic and misunderstood character of J K Rowling’s master creation. His presence made the whole story volatile and interesting, and I have to give him full marks for that!

Howard Roark

Fountainhead was the first Ayn Rand book that I had read, sometime while pursuing graduation. And it sort of zapped me, in some magic spell. Howard Roark was like some weird perfect human being from another planet. Out of the world, he could as well have been an alien from Proxima Centauri!!. And the way Rand crafted her character made him an unforgettable hero in my memory. Not that I am a big fan of the one-sided capitalistic abracadabra that Rand propagated in all her books, yet she made a grand entry and left a gaping impression with Roark. The first scene of Fountainhead completely defines him. Standing at the edge of the cliff, confident in his skin – Howard Roark laughed. Like some sort of God mocking at the trivialities of humankind. Like an insubordinate spirit walking the earth. “High cheekbones over gaunt, hollow cheeks; gray eyes, cold and steady; a contemptuous mouth, shut tight, the mouth of an executioner or a saint.”!!  Howard Roark is the mouthpiece of Ayn Rand philosophies, which actually inspire a cult-like devotion because they are so powerful (Remember the long speech in the last chapter!). And like all impressionable minds awed by her dazzling philosophy, I was also swept away. It took me 3-4 years to real life to be pushed out of the haze of Rand’s Objectivist propaganda!

Hercule Poirot

Oh, how can I forget this one – the English TV series so vividly colours my imagination of him!  Hercule Poirot is the moustache obsessed Belgian detective with an egg shaped head and a sensitive stomach. I loved the way he tapped his forehead beckoning his grey cells  – “This affair must all be unravelled from within. These little grey cells. It is ‘up to them’ — as you say over here”.  And he has style. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the mystery didn’t  unravel itself by magic in the end. Poirot will throw clues here and there (  master of deception that he is)  keeping you guessing on an entirely different track. And with a flourish,  exclaim “I did not deceive you, mon ami. At most, I permitted you to deceive yourself.” !!

There was a time in my life when I lived off Agatha Christie Novels. There were around 30 in the school library, and I devoured every one of them, by hook or by crook. And it all seemed so real, so striking at that age; the drama and flourish with which he uncovered mysteries, removing his pince-nez glasses for impact. Well, Christie was a ruthless story teller ; she didn’t even  spare her star detective- Poirot was forced to become a murderer himself in “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case”, and was killed off by her  at the end of the novel.

Times have changed. We hardly have the patience to read these long winded Agatha Christie style stories now – I don’t have the patience to read one again myself. But they were wonderful companions at that age when we didn’t have many options, and the school library stocked loads of them!

Ending with a thought : “Imagination and fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life”. Maybe that’s why these characters keep coming back to me, and that’s what makes them unforgettable!

The 2012 Reading List Part-I January 8, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Classics, Fantasy Fiction, Mumbo Jumbo, Sci-Fi.
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2012 is in. It is a unique year; heralded by doomsday predictions and bucket-list resolutions.

Well, I am not the usual new-year-resolutions maker. But a one week vacation from office on New Years Eve gave me a lot of free time to dabble with. And, I managed to scribble my TO-DO list for this year.

The resolution topping the list was; Read… Read.. READ!

So, I’ve prepared my reading list for this Quarter ( In line with another resolution of mine! ). No specific preferences, but a mishmash of genres which I had been hoping to experiment with, but had never really got down to.

I have chosen the series form of books because it has always impressed me. IMO, this is one of the most challenging forms of writing. Being able to capture the attention of a reader through thousand and thousands of book pages, and a delicate web of entwined plots is a commendable (and tough) job!

A Disclaimer:

I haven’t read all these books yet, so don’t blame me if you don’t like them. But they have this quality of beckoning you, like some sort of literary seduction, making you want to read them. I am not sure how they will turn out to be, but here is my list.

So without wasting any more time, lets go..

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting the definitive “Reading List Q1 2012.”!!

The Millennium Trilogy:

There are some books that catch your imagination – simply by an intriguing name or the imagery of a character which flashes before your eyes. When I first heard of the name – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, my first reaction was – “What?”

The trilogy is a series of the books with the most riveting names -“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl who kicked a Hornet’s Nest” and “The Girl who played with Fire”. It is written by Stieg Larsson, a journalist who came from nowhere and attained iconic status in the crime fiction world with this series of books.

I have not read much of Crime fiction earlier. The most I had read were the Agatha Christie novels, and the occasional classics like “The God Father” . And of late, had been bit too preoccupied with Wizards and Vampires.

So this is my first detour into crime fiction in a long long time.

I have just orders a Box set of the trilogy from Flipkart, and the books seem to be pretty long (600+ pages each ). Yet, every review I have read has called these books a page turner, so it is No 1 on my reading list.

And the biggest motivation of course is the character of Lisbeth Salander. Weird, enigmatic, brilliant, dangerous security specialist; she simply cannot be missed!.

The Shiva Trilogy:

This is a series of books by an Indian author Amish Tripathi. The first 2 books – “The Immortals of Meluha” and “The Secret of the Nagas” are bestsellers. The third book of the series has not been released yet.

It is an unusual genre – Mythology, and I don’t remember having read any books of that genre yet.

OK, you may count Lord of the Rings as Mythology, but Indian mythology is unique – it is such a dense and spiritual subject. And taking a culturally sensitive subject like mythology and converting it to believable fiction is an awesome feat !.

I have spent most of my childhood reading books by great English authors. The characters in my mind, the novel settings.. Everything is foreign. The last great book that I read set in Indian settings was the “White tiger” by Arvind Adiga. So I am really looking forward to how the author has pulled it off.

Another thing that attracted me to this book is this haunting quote from “The Secret of the Nagas” – “The opposite of love is not hate, its apathy”.

Well..Age old thoughts spun into a tale relevant in the modern context. This is a must-read book!.

The Hitch hiker’s guide to the Galaxy Series:

The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy is a crazy book.

It tickles you out of your senses. Gives the absurdist, stupidest, most bizarre ideas in the most matter of fact way, expecting it to be funny and it actually is!!

This is the first in a series of 5 books by Douglas Adams. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” , “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, “Life, the Universe and Everything” ,”So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish “, “Mostly Harmless” and “And Another Thing…”. The last book was written by 2 other authors after Doulas Adams’ death.

The author’s line of thinking, the way the arguments are constructed, the anecdotes will make you ROFL, BWL, LMFAO.. ( OK, I am running out of expressions now! )

Wickedly funny and geeky, it is an absolute must read for any SF or Humor enthusiast. Douglas Adams actually has a cult status among Science Fiction enthusiasts – Just Google “Meaning of life 42”

Taking the most ordinary mundane daily happenings, and spinning it into the weirdest anecdotes, this book has intellectual gems thrown in the most the most unassuming way!..

Want a peek? Well, this is one of my favorite passages (out of the countless others) in the first book.

“People of Earth, your attention, please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.

There was a terribly ghastly silence.
There was a terribly ghastly noise.
There was a terribly ghastly silence.”

The Bourne Trilogy:

Oh, I know. Don’t give me that pitiful look. I know this series is ancient. I should have read it like 10 years ago! But then, it’s better late than never. And what best way to start a New Year than make up for all the good things you missed in the past!. So, the Bourne series makes it to my list.

There are 9 books in the series; out of which the first 3 are “The Bourne Identity”, “the Bourne Ultimatum” and the “The Bourne Supremacy” written by Robert Ludlum. The rest 6 have been written by some other author. Don’t know how long the series will be able to hold my attention, but at least the first 3 are a must!

There is something very touching about a man who is constantly trying to understand who he is. And, when he is painfully deducting his past by analyzing his instant reactions to situations and things. It is sort of scary yet tragic in a very poignant way.

The book is an absolute edge of the seat thriller. I have read the first one halfway through and it is quite promising. Am determined to make the rest this Quarter.

Let’s see!

The Vampire Diaries:

What is life without any romance?. So here is my last entry – a dash of romance to the reading list. And what is the best form of romance other than Vampire love stories – it’s the hot flavor of the day!

I have read the first 2 books of the series – The Awakening, and The Struggle, and there are 7 more to read. Since the novels are only 100+ pages each, it isn’t much of a challenge really..

The books are not much of a literary genius (is sort of Mills and Boons sometimes), but the plot somehow got me hooked. It has all the elements which will make you want to read it more – romance, suspense, drama.

Actually the motivation for me to read this book came from the Vampire Diaries TV series. The series is awesome, with impossibly handsome vampires and equally ravishing vampire-victims stuck in a world with witches and werewolves. Gosh!

I don’t know, but there is something very enticing about these Vampire love stories . Perhaps it is the idea of an impossible romance – a relationship so volatile that it cannot exist naturally.. Hunter loves the hunted.. Guy thirsting for the blood of the woman he loves. The conflict between extreme emotions.. Lion falling in love with the lamb.

But then, writers are crazy people – the readers even more!

So, here is my list for Q1 of 2012.

Hope I’ll be able to keep up my New Year resolution and post my reviews as I read along!

See you later, Alligator! 😛

The Stranger January 6, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Classics, Mumbo Jumbo.
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For quite some time now, I have been pondering over The Ultimate Question.

What is the meaning of my life? What do we achieve by rushing round in the humdrum and mundane-ness of our daily chores? What do we have to gain from this melodrama?…

Is it something to do with our surroundings? Is it significant because of our experiences? Does this life have meaning in itself, or is it valuable only when lived amongst people we love?

In short, you can call it momentary pangs of self existential dilemma!..

Of course, I’m not the first one to ask these questions. For centuries, men have pondered over the same. So, it is an eerie coincidence that at a moment when I was stung by these questions, this book by Albert Camus seems to have “accidentally” strolled into my life.

“The Stranger” is a personification of the self existential dilemma. It is a queer book. Starting abruptly, you are introduced to a character who seems to be totally apathetic to his surroundings. He has this uncomfortable air of careless indifference which makes you wonder – What’s wrong with this guy? Is he a sociopath?

Meursault is a man out of touch with things on an emotional plane – who considers everything around him with an objective mindset. He gets along well with people, but they hardly touch an emotional chord in him.  He either finds people interesting or boring, and  usually agrees with them to avoid confrontation.

And then a freak incident happens when he accidentally kills another man and is sent to jail. The case is brought in court, and Meursault’s indifferent attitude towards the murdered man horrifies the judge. He is served a death sentence.

The last few chapters deal with how he deals with this sentence, contemplating on what really matters to him. Why should he look forward to living his life? Is it a relation with his girlfriend? Is it about experiences with the world outside the walls of the prison?.. Is it the pleasure of seeing the sky and watching the stars?.. Moments of freedom?

What is it that makes his life worthwhile?!

The book is a French translation. Seems to be very simple but holds a lot of symbolism – the concept of death brought in to contrast with the value of life. Not much of a leisure read, it would pass off more as dense stuff for an advanced literature class.  The book does not tell you much, but makes you think a lot.

So… What exactly is  the purpose of our lives??

A plausible solution to this questions came from an unlikely source.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist had said:

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming!.

The Secret (2006) May 10, 2009

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Mumbo Jumbo, Non Fiction.
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TheSecretLogo[1]

I am usually wary of psychological mumbo jumbo – basically because it has a huge potential to influence you. Also because the way you think should be entirely according to you own calling, and not according to how X or Y advise you to. So, I was a little sceptical of this documentary style movie – “The Secret”, which claimed to hold the secret of all success, fulfilment and accomplishments.

The Universe has a secret which had been hidden from all mankind. Only the hugely successful and immortal geniuses could decode “The secret” and kept it under wraps across centuries and generations. This powerful secret was the cause of their successes, and it is so compelling that it has the potential to transform the life of anyone. This is how the movie begins. Based on a book of the same name by Rhonda Byrne, the movie has been filmed like a run through of the Discovery channel, with psychologists, nuclear physicists, doctors, healers, priests and scholars sharing their experiences and revealing the power of the Secret.

This all powerful secret is “The Law of Attraction”. The human mind is amazing, and it is so potent that we can do anything just by having the desire to do it. We attract whatever we desire and visualize. We create our own universe, with the power of our minds and our entire world rearranges itself according to our actions and aspirations.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” – Buddha

The idea is intensely appealing, and the thought that we can chart our fortune only by thinking about it is anybody’s dreams come true!  The whole movie is shot like an investigative report, in which we are given clues, examples, hints and situations which support or prove this theory. The arguments seem too preachy sometimes, but the basic message of positive thinking makes an impact.

It is a movie which can be watched with an open mind, so go for it when you are in the need for some aggressive positive thinking. I haven’t started trying it out yet, and will let you know when I discover whether this thing works  🙂 !!

A link to the movie’s website is here: http://www.thesecret.tv/