Year-End Books Roundup

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2016 has been a great year for me, books-wise. Do not get me started on the things that make me want to punch 2016 in the face. *Deep breath* I could not achieve my target count (not even remotely close to it) for this year but I read some amazing books. Long long ago, I started a page called “Vandy’s Book Nook” to post book reviews but I was too lazy to do it regularly. Now the page is too cobwebby  for me to dig up. So, I am going to cram all my reviews into this post. Alrighty, let’s get to business.

Books that I read this year:

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
  2. Library of Souls(Final part of the Miss Peregrine Trilogy) by Ransom Riggs
  3. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
  6. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  7. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  8. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
  9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War by Raghu Karnad
  12. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  13. A Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of thrones) by George R.R Martin
  14. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  15. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling
  16. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  17. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  18. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  19. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  20. The Lost World By Michael Crichton
  21. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
  22. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
  23. The Hobbit (Still reading) by J.R.R.Tolkein

The ones that I really liked:

Station Eleven: I knew nothing about this book except that it is a post-apocalyptic novel. I expected to see zombies and some action. Instead, what I read was profoundly meaningful.  This will be something I will definitely re-read time and again

Rebecca: I knew I would love this book. Period.

The Bell Jar: A semi-autobiographical novel on depression. I wanted to rip out the pages, hold it close to my heart, all at the same time. One book which deeply resonated with me since I was going through a tough phase in my life. There were times when I couldn’t go on because it was too hard. Yet, this book will stay very close to my heart.

The Giver:  What is more chilling than a horror story? Dystopian novels. My year isn’t complete without reading one. In books like 1984(which I totally love), doom is staring right in your face. But in The Giver, everything seems so rosy in the supposed-utopia until the truth slowly creeps in around the corner and horrifies you. I felt the ending was a bit abrupt but it was a wonderful journey reading this book.

The ones that disappointed:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: I knew it wouldn’t be the same when you are reading a script. The richness in detail which made the Harry Potter books so endearing clearly lacked in Cursed Child. Forced dialogues , hocus-pocus-unbelievable-plot-line, characters talking out-of-character and so many other reasons made it hugely disappointing for me. But 100 points to Slytherin house for having the adorable Scorpius Malfoy.

Lily and the Octopus: It was not an easy read. I couldn’t connect with the characters. But for the last part which made be bawl like a baby, this book was mostly disappointing.

The Lost Symbol and The Lost World don’t exactly belong in this category. I wasn’t really disappointed because I knew what to expect. I wanted something fast-paced like an average commercial movie

I hope to read a few more books by the end of this year and looking forward to reading books like ‘Lolita’ and ‘Tender is the Night’ next year. Do tell us how your year in books have been? Happy Reading !

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Commercial Street 101

Okay. I am just window shopping. No harm in that!

It wouldn’t hurt to put them in my wish list. (Oh no, I don’t expect any generous stranger to look at my list and actually buy it for me. *Eyeroll*. Thanks nonexistent-generous-stranger!)

I will just put them in my cart. I am not going to buy them. Just want to calculate the total.  *Looks at the cart total*. God no! I still have four weeks till month end.

*Checks for the price everyday*

It’s only 600! No way, it wouldn’t go any lower than this! I am buying it.

Voice of conscience: Have some self-restraint Pull yourself together and close the window. Besides, you can’t pull it off looking like a potato.

*3:00 AM*  Screw it, I am buying it.

Yes I love shopping.  I look forward to the weekend  for an entire week if it involves shopping.  I have had my share of insane impulse purchases at 3 AM and immediate regret the following morning. But still shopping soothes me. Having said that, I owe it to the shopaholic in me to write this blog post. I went to Bangalore’s Commercial street last week and I was like a dog without a leash. Being total noobs, my Friend and I had to rely solely on Google and a kind coffee-Anna to find our way through the streets.

Cha-Ching!

This is very important. Most shops in commercial street do not accept debit/credit cards. So, for the best shopping experience, take a lot of cash.

So, how do we get there?

Take a bus to Shivaji Nagar Bus stop and from there Commercial street is a mere 10 minutes’ walk.

Load up with fuel before you shop…

There are a lot of food options in Commercial street. We were a little over excited and reached there by 8:30 AM (I know!). The shops don’t open until 11 AM. So we had a traditional South Indian breakfast at Sri Saravana Bhavan in Ibrahim Sahib Street. Food was pretty decent but the filter coffee was AMAZING. You can take little coffee-breaks between shopping. After all, if you’re going to shop for 12 hours, you need fuel. We chatted a little with the coffeewala Anna, who recommended some good shops.

You have many other eateries throughout the area – Burger King, Woody’s, Coffee day and many more. Plus, there are many lime soda carts all over the place – perfect way to rejuvenate.

Ibrahim Saheb Street

Commercial street has mostly branded shops which you can see anywhere in the city. But the best place to shop cheap is Ibrahim St. It runs parallel to Commercial street.  You have a plethora of options to choose from. Be it ethnic wear or other outfits, you get the best bargain.  A keen eye for good clothes and some haggling skills helps a lot. You can get trendy clothes for mere 100-300 Rupees. There is a shop selling Allen Solly dresses for 70% off and it is a must-visit. Ananya’s bridal wear shop has great Kurti collection and the Phulkari-type jackets are a steal. You can get pretty decent western wear in Naughtees.

Antique shops

I find curiosity shops and antique places very fascinating and this was the first time I visited one. There are half a dozen such shops in commercial street. I would recommend Asiatic Arts and Crafts in commercial street. It is a dingy shop above the Kashmiri emporium with space enough to fit only 3 people at a time. But it has one of the best collection of telescopes, record players, gramophones, victorian watches, compasses and what not. I bought a small telescope for 150 rupees(that was all I could afford due to the cash crisis in India right now!!).

 

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Cosmetics

Throughout Commercial street and Ibrahim St, you can find Maybelline and Lakme cosmetics for half the rate. I am not sure about the authenticity of the products though. If you want to purchase cosmetics exclusively, there is the Mahaveer and  Hi-Street mall.  They don’t exactly cheap but you have a variety of products all in one place.

Some pointers

  • Apart from clothes and accessories, you can find a lot of footwear shops near Narayan Pillai St. Literally every other shop sell shoes for bloody cheap rates.
  • If you are done with shopping and have some time to kill, visit Lal Bagh which is just a 15 minute ride away from commercial street (sans the traffic, of course).
  • The Bangalore Cantonment station is also nearby. There are autos for 50 rupees from Shivaji Nagar bus stop.
  • More than commercial street, you get the best bargains in Ibrahim Sahib.

Annnd I rest my case. Happy shopping!

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Virtue in the Quality of Insincerity

I came across a reference to Rebecca’s iconic opening lines in Stephen King’s ‘Bag of Bones’, for the first time. Later, the same lines kept popping up in many book lists. Finally, I read (binge read) Rebecca a few months ago. I am not going to squee all over the place about how much I loved this book. That’s for another day.

Long after finishing Rebecca, there was a line from the book which resonated deeply with me – virtue in insincerity. This has been a topic of constant debate between me and my friends that I thought I should write a blog about it.

“…If she doesn’t like you she’ll tell you so, to your face”

I found this hardly comforting, and wondered if there was some virtue in the quality of insincerity.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Say, your friend ordered a brand new dress on sale and is pretty psyched about it. She asks you if you like it. You don’t . Well, what do you say? In such situations, does voicing your genuine opinion really matter? The next time she wears that dress, she will definitely know that there is one person in the room who thinks it is hideous. How about just saying ‘It’s nice’. You don’t have to go out of the way to adulate them. Just a simple white lie to make them happy. If not to make them happy, at least to avoid that awkward ‘Oh’. This is a lame example, but still it relates to the big picture – treading the thin line between frank and irritatingly frank. Consider this,

Person: “Hey, please don’t mistake me but your hair totally looks like soan papadi” *chuckles*

Me: Thank you so much for enlightening me about the state of my hair, in the most appalling way possible. By any chance, did you drop your brain-to-mouth filter ?

A common excuse for such levels of ‘honesty” is that, it is better to speak your mind than talking behind someone’s back. I beg to differ. Unless your opinion is really called for or helps in genuinely improving things, there is nothing wrong in a little insincerity .Of course, this could be misunderstood as an inability to accept criticism. Again, the thin line surfaces between constructive criticism and making offensive statements. My point is, insincerity does have its virtues sometimes. I am sure many will disagree (have disagreed in the past) but given a choice, I will always choose the satisfied look on someone’s face with a mere ‘Nice’.

frankness

P.S: The Soan Papadi conversation did happen. (I know!)

 

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The Castle

 

Mama says I have a wild imagination. Is that good? Maybe. But Mama always says it with an eye roll. She thinks I will make a damn good writer someday. I doubt that because I am awful at grammar. She makes me write a page every day. Anyway, we came back from our Scotland tour yesterday. Gam and I had an amazing time. I went horse riding for the first time in my life. Mine was a boy (I think) because our instructor kept saying ‘Atta boy’. I dunno don’t know if he meant me or the horse. Gam was very nervous though. After that, we set up tents near the beach. Mrs Cromley gave us delicious sandwiches. I swear Papa ate 5 big ones himself. You know, I couldn’t sleep at all because I was so bloody excited. Waves crashing and owls hooting made the night a little spooky. I was expecting something to happen having watched enough movies to know something crazy will happen during camp nights. Too bad it didn’t. On our third day, we went on a road trip to Aunty Mon’s village. It was a mistake if you ask me. Papa didn’t know one turn from the other. Half the time we ended up getting lost. Anyway, that evening I saw the most brilliant castle I had ever seen. There were three tall towers lit beautifully with orange lights. I almost startled Mama with my gasp. It would have been great to go near and have a look if my parents hadn’t chickened out like that. Papa was like ‘That ruin? Don’t be silly. That place looks like it’s going to crumble. Not a good place for kids’. Mama was not her usual eyerolling self though. She glanced at me with a worried look. I could not understand. What ruin? That place made Buckingham palace look poor. Papa steered out of that road quick as a cat. It was a huge disappointment for me. Oh and I swear to god I saw a man(or a superlong bat) floating near one of the towers. Mama would never believe me. She never believes me. Ok, they are calling me to bed. Pip pip !

Eddy. O

__________

In case you didn’t know, Hogwarts looks like an old ruin to muggle’s eyes.  (Only muggle’s eyes )*Winks*

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Remembering Alan Rickman

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I was in train to Chennai when I heard the news of Alan Rickman’s death and prayed so hard that it be a hoax. I cried silently in the almost empty compartment. The tears didn’t just mean the death of my favourite actor. Alan Rickman, in many ways, symbolized the best part of my childhood.

I started this blog six years ago because of a book which totally changed my life. Until then, I was a mediocre teenager with very average English skills and almost zero self-confidence. All that changed after I discovered Harry Potter, when I was fourteen. It introduced me into this magnificent world of books and since then it has been my best teacher. Today, I want to write about the man who was a significant part of that glorious childhood. To the best Snape we’ve ever had:

Severus Snape being my first favourite literary character, I was waiting keenly for his introduction scene in the movie. There he was, swooping into the classroom with his black cloak billowing majestically. He kept us all bewitched with those words ‘There will be no foolish wand waving or silly incantations in this class’. Oh, he was every inch the Snape that I had in mind. The baritone voice and that unique diction inspired me so much that I put in extra effort in my next English exam. My English Ma’am called me alone to the staff room and asked me if I really wrote the essay answer myself. I couldn’t help but smile at my inside joke. I remember the times when I spammed the entire D drive with Rickman wallpapers; enacting Snape scenes with my sister, complete with Alan’s tiny nod-like jerk (a mannerism we noticed in many of his movies); rewinding snape scenes and watching it repeatedly until the dialogues were by-heart; vowing to design my first website as a fanpage for Alan Rickman.

He was no less charming in his other movies. That disappointed look on Col.Brandon’s face when he sees Marianne with another guy (I kept thinking she was such a fool to ignore him). He made us root for the villains too. Who can ever forget his stylish Hans Gruber? I sure wished it was John Mcclane who fell off the thirty second floor. Even though Harry (Love Actually) was a jerk, Alan Rickman was too adorable to hate. Frankly, I can only remember more of the Sheriff than Robin Hood. The list is endless. Rickman was ridiculously charming in all the roles he played.

When I read Station Eleven recently, there was one thing that I didn’t quite understand. The death of a character’s favourite actor deeply affects him. I wondered how a person can be so sad about someone whom they have never met. Now I do. There are thousands of potterheads all over the world now, mourning the loss of their favourite Slytherin. Each of us remembers him for our own special reasons. To me he was my first hero, first crush and Severus Snape. I can’t imagine the grief for those people who’ve actually met him. If only he’d pull a miracle like Jamie. We truly, madly, deeply miss you, Alan.

 

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Autumn Leaves

He was dressed in his finest. The dark brown hair neatly parted to the side. One look at him and you can easily deduce that he is very meticulous with his appearance. He held the drink gracefully in his hand, smiling towards the band. The lines on his face suggested he was in his early forties. But the crow’s feet as he smiled sort of framed those glimmering eyes in a beautiful way. This was his night. He earned it. The food, jazz and the aura of this place. No one would ever guess the truth about him. That it was his only suit. That life meant two grueling shifts to make ends meet. He was supposed to do great things in life. Alas, somewhere life took a wrong turn and he ended up where he was. But he spent one night every month like the person he was supposed to be. The band was finishing the song.

.

.

“And soon I’ll heard old winter’s song..”

———-

Recently, I was listening to Stan Getz version of Autumn Leaves and instantly I imagined this lonely man sitting in restaurant . Someone who did and didn’t belong there. Then, a few more details about his life took shape. It was not a solid story but I just wrote down whatever came to my mind when I listened to that song. So has this happened to you? A vivid character coming to life from a song? If so, do write about it 🙂

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Cartoon Therapy

You are in that magical place where everything is perfect. A pink little face is poking out of the upstairs window. Well, look who it is! It’s Heidi. Oh and there is Grandpa fixing breakfast down below – toasted cheese and fresh milk. Before you think further, the cool mountain breeze gently whisks you away down the hill for there are many more people to meet. On the far side of the hill, there is a yellow blur bobbing up and down. On a closer look, it appears to be a daisy flower hopping merrily on a pogo stick. Immediately you look around for a blue octopus. Sure enough, he is lying down on a bright yellow mat spread out near the pool. Oswald’s looking funny in his dark sunglasses. Is it Summer already in the Big City? There are buildings shaped like ice creams cones and giant guitars. You breath in the vivid colours of the city, filling your heart with warmth. Wait, did you hear that? Someone’s shouting out for help. You are running fast towards the sound. A chubby little boy in sailor’s hat is running hysterically in every direction. Behind him Lulu is cackling wildly with a jar full of paint. Strangely, no one seems to notice you. But you know them. You grew up with them.

Go to youtube. Pick a cartoon. Sit back and relax. That’s the mantra. Oswald’s usually my favourite pick. Oswald’s city does not have humans. So, less drama. He checks both sides when crossing the street. Left. Right. Left. Every time! Though a little off-key sometimes, he sings with confidence. There is so much boundless kindness that it is the perfect antidote for all things negativity.  One time I made the mistake of choosing courage the cowardly dog. This episode was so disturbingly bizarre that I was left with only one thought – How did the hell did I watch this show as a kid? As much as cartoon therapy works, sometimes I can’t help my 23 year old self creeping into the thought process. Yesterday, I was watching this episode. Towards the end, when Oswald drips ice cream all over the floor, I got seriously impatient. Dude, who will clean up the mess?

Oswald_Nick_Jr_Character

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Serendipity

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I waited for a message in a bottle. Not even a soda bottle came my way. Buried treasure in my back garden. Nothing. Kind little notes from strangers. Nada. A brilliant idea in my dream. I didn’t even get a blog post idea in my dream ! One may call it side effects of watching ‘Amelie’ but I have waited patiently for such crazy things to happen ever since ‘UFO research’ became my first childhood ambition (More on that some other day). So today I was in for a surprise when I came across this magazine in the old book shop near Pycroft’s Road. It almost made up for the above things. Well, almost.

I was buying old Reader’s digests when I found this 2003 November edition of NatGeo on the top of the pile. My eyes wandered to the name on the top right corner. It had my sister’s name, V.Vasudha. Complete with initials!  The handwriting looked familiar. The d and h looked like hers. I turned the page to find her name again. This time more like her handwriting. This was good enough reason for me to buy this book. I pored over each and every aspect of the book with my sister. The chances of it being one of her books were very likely. For one thing, my sister was at her nerdiest self in the early 2000s. She used to buy these bulky ‘Tell me why’ books and NatGeos while I doodled on many of them. We are ninety percent sure it is our book but we still have some doubts on the handwriting. She felt the first page looked like my handwriting and the second one hers. I was just eight or nine when this edition came out. Both of our handwritings have evolved rapidly since then.

All said and done, I want this to be my little serendipity. What are the odds of coming across your own book after 15 years? This  always been one of my dearest fantasies. I will settle with it. But if you are a “Vasudha” belonging to the other half, well thank you 🙂 😉

So, have you ever had such serendipitous moments ? Do share in the comments ! We can never get enough of those.

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The Martian By Andy Weir

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The story of ‘The Martian’ was probably everyone’s fantasy at some point of time. What would you do if you get stranded in a desert with no sign of life for a million kilometers. Only the desert here is Mars. I would strongly recommend this novel to all space nerds out there.  Andy Weir’s debut novel instantly pulls you into the story right from page one

Mark Watney is a NASA astronaut who gets almost killed in a dust storm. Believing that he is dead, his crewmates evacuate Mars. If you think that is the worst possible thing that could happen to him, you are dead wrong. Mars throws every possible shit at him but Watney’s incredible will and survival instinct comes in handy.  Watney is not your usual whiny narrator. For a man who is doubtlessly doomed, he is surprisingly witty about it. His sardonic narrative combined with rich technical details makes Martian an engrossing read.

Spoilers ahead!  If you are wary of too much technical details, don’t fear. The book has a right mixture of suspense and humour to get you going. Watney’s conversation with NASA is bound to leave you in splits. Another thing which I really loved about the book is the characterization of Watney’s crewmates. Even with the limited screentime(?) that they have, they come out as distinct personalities and not mere caricatures. Yay to Commander Lewis! Now moving on to the things which I felt could have been handled better. I know there is no time for melodrama in such fast paced book but we never get to see Watney’s vulnerable side. He is almost always high on energy. This I felt is a tad unrealistic. Also, some of the characters down in NASA were a bit ‘Hollywood’ to me.

So in a nutshell, The Martain is a compelling read which you can very well finish in one sitting. I will definitely read it again to brush up the technical details. The movie adaptation is coming this October and I can’t wait to see it!

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ARTiculation

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Abstract shapes splashed with vivid hues and spread over sleek wooden frames. Do they exhibit some sort of geometric brilliance or have abstruse meanings visible only to artistic eyes? I can’t make head or tail of it but I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately. I have never understood Modern Art. All you artistic folks out there, what is Modern Art really? No sarcasm there. I am genuinely curious about it. Now while you roll your eyes or think of ways to explain modern art to me, I thought it might be fun to provide a noob’s perspective on Art.

There are three kinds of Art – Good, Bad and the Enigma.

yoko ono art

What’s that ? Anybody? That is one bad art ! No surprises there. That’s not one but three big piles of crap. Literally. Considering that it was done by Yoko Ono, it sort of puts things into perspective. Don’t even get me started on Ono’s green apple art. But if you think about it, may be it has a deeper meaning. I think this symbolizes destruction because it reminds me of the time some mobile operator guys dug up our roads for cable work and then the street pretty much looked like this.

Moving on to the second category – the good art. It’s very straightforward. The artwork should have something that actually resembles real world stuff – trees, people, birds and the usual. Like this :

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I saw this painting in the Bank almost an year ago. I was so struck by the beautiful simplicity of this picture and the mysterious way those two deers(?) are looking at something in unison. Without going into much detail or at the risk of sounding like Ananth Vaidyananathan, I am just going to put it simply – that is one lovely piece of art.

*Drum roll* And now let me introduce you to … the enigma. It’s bright; colorful; incredibly simple; and sort of looks like something I usually end doing in MS Paint.
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