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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!

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 Hunger Games Trilogy April 29, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Fantasy Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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So now that I am on a book reading spree, the theme of this week was the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Frankly, I would have never stumbled on these books if it was not for the  recently released movie with the same name. And, when there is an option for watching the movie or reading the book, I usually go for the latter because the movie somehow never seems capable of capturing the depth of emotions that a book usually does!..

Set in the fictional world of Panem, the hunger games is a twisted tale of struggle, war, love and government control; spanning across 3 books “The Hunger Games”, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”. Panem is a post-apocalyptic war ravaged world where the districts are impoverished; food is scarce and the Capitol, a seat of power rules the 12 districts with a firm hand. Every year, the Capitol conducts the Hunger games as a show of its power and superiority. One boy and girl will be chosen in a reaping ceremony from every district, for a fight unto death in the Hunger Games Arena. There can only be one survivor0, and the rewards for his/ her victory will be shared by the whole district. The Games are the Capitol’s way of entertaining its residents, and showcasing it’s superiority over the districts. An unabashed parade to remind the districts how powerless they are if they ever revolt against the Capitol!.

The story revolves around Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the reaping ceremony of District 12. It is a chronicle of her anger, defiance, fears and apprehensions. A tale of how she incites a revolution in the repressed country of Panem. How she eventually brings it out of the shackles of mindless dictatorship. It has all the elements of teenage heroism which is characteristic of this genre.- a barefaced disregard for authority, a low self-esteem, a fierce loyalty towards loved ones, the self-sacrificing spirit. Katniss Everdeen is all that!

There is bit of a love triangle in the story, but that is overshadowed by much bigger themes. Though a bit too dark for this genre; nevertheless an interesting book. The story is sometimes too simplistic and naive for grown up readers, but makes up for it with its fast moving plot and the ability to capture the attention of readers throughout the 3 books of the series. It is an easy read, and a good way to wind up on your weekend.

I think I’ve read a bit too many of these dystopic world books. Need something cheerful for the next weekend. Any suggestions?