30-Mar-2012

What have I been reading


All my good intentions to write about books I am reading disappeared with the New Year. Rather ironic considering a new year is when people start new habits, not stop them. Now I cannot remember too many of the books I read but here are a few I remember

Suits by Nina Godiwalla. The author is a second generation Indian (Parsi) in the U.S. who works as an analyst with Morgan Stanley. Starry-eyed and fresh out of her college, she is bowled over by Wall Street till she realizes how soul-sucking the experience can be. For someone who has worked in a similar atmosphere where people think their jobs make them the most important persons on earth and should be prioritized over a personal life, the book has several ‘ah-ha’ moments. Even otherwise, it is a good insight into what lies behind the glamour of sharp suits and an expensive lifestyle on Wall Street.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson - This book was borrowed from P who recommended it as a nice and entertaining read. Indeed it was. This is a charming tale about a stiff upper lipped British widower who gradually falls in love with his Pakistani neighbour while trying to get used to the man his son is growing into. The book gave an insight into the other side of the ‘Desi’ experience viz how provincial white locals see immigrants.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Last year end was also a time of thinking about stress and its effects on health. This meant that I was scouring the book shelves to find books on happiness, spirituality and all the other fluffy stuff that I had considered fluffy for a long time. In the end I settled for this book which was really secondary material considering it documented the author’s year long project at finding happiness and her view of the literature she had read on happiness and spirituality. (I was much too lazy to read primary stuff). However, unlike what I had expected out of a book that veered very dangerously into the Self-Help category, this seemed like a cheerful first person account of their own experiences, much like writing about discovering trekking or something similar. The book is divided into twelve months and in each month, the author focuses on a particular feature of her life to work on making it better. The part I liked the most was about learning to be content. When it comes down to the basics, almost all of us have highs and lows that veer around a median. Unfortunately as the years get on (or perhaps as one moves towards an early mid-life crisis?) the focus on the lows make things look bleak. This is where the insight about ‘It is not enough to have stuff’ but ‘it is also important to be able to appreciate the stuff you have’ begins to make sense. A good read if you are looking to connect with the general world in its search for happiness.

In between all these books, I am quite sure I did a bit of other reading too but now my memory falters. However, the Pench trip did provide some interesting reading.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - I had been wary of this author for some time from a previous experience of reading a rather depressing book (cannot recall this one). However quite a few people, including the Sis had recommended this book. The book tells the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view. Needless to say, it is coloured by contemporary feminist views and hence makes for interesting reading. The author also introduces a whole new angle (or is it not that new?) about Draupadi having a thing for Karna. This becomes a bit tedious after a while since it takes away from the main events themselves and Draupadi’s take on them. However that is a minor quibble. The book shows Draupadi’s rise from a willful and innocent young girl to a woman who plays politics well and eventually causes the Kurukshetra war. It also shows Draupadi’s view of other characters, primarily the female ones given that they are the ones she interacts most with. I quite liked her analysis of Kunti, which was quite contrary to the image of a pious mother and regal royal you normally have.

Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath – Another thriller. Two things made me happy about the book (a) I had picked it up on a whim and was happy to note that it was not of the factory-churned pot boiler type (b) the book is set in Iceland and it is always fascinating to read about a culture which you have never bothered about before. Infact, I felt a keen kinmanship with the Icelanders because they have a very Tamilian way of using surnames. You just keep your father’s name as your surname and add ‘son’ or ‘dottir’ as the case may be. Say someone is called Harald and his son is called Magnus, the son’s full name would be Magnus Haraldsson. If Magnus had been a Tam, his name would have been Magnus Harald. Cool, huh?

Nation by Terry Pratchet – Continuing with my on and off love affair with Terry Pratchet, I had picked up this book a while ago. Nation is standard Terry Pratchet – takes on a serious topic and tries to lighten it up. So there are a lot of questions about gods and science and colonialism and evil and so on in the story of Mau, a ‘darkie’ in an island in the Southern hemisphere and Daphne, a ‘ghost girl’ (as white-skinned people are called) who finds herself in the same island as Mau. After my increasing disillusionment with the Discworld series, it was nice to read this book.

Unfortunately my reading has suffered in the last month on account of being drained at the end of some heavy days at work. Not that any of the above books are really winning any prizes for intellectualism, but some nights I would go to bed too tired to read beyond two pages and it is a dampener trying to pick up from where you left after every two pages.

Fortunately this meant that I could rediscover Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series that was one of the books that Sis gifted me on my birthday. It is so strange to read this series as adult. The first few chapters had me shocked. As a child I must have been fascinated by a giant tree in the middle of the forest in which lived all sorts of interesting characters and on top of which all sorts of interesting lands appeared. As an adult, I was suspicious about the characters the kids were associating with, about the fact they were wandering into a forest by themselves, worried about their safety and wondered how in the world did Blyton-parents turn a blind eye to their children’s activities. And I don’t even have a kid! Luckily after the first few chapters, I discovered my inner child and began to enjoy all the adventures. The timing to read this book could not have been more appropriate. The Famous Five series has been in the news for completion of 70 years of existence this year and there a lot of articles on how politically inappropriate Enid Blyton’s books were, all of them true. However, everyone agreed that she is a master storyteller. And the Faraway Tree series reminded me of how right that is.


Work is saner now and I am quite looking forward to going back to normalcy when it comes to reading. The happy news is that I discovered a library next door to the grocery store. So I see myself making yet another concerted effort at borrowing books instead of buying them and overcrowding the house.


Resolutions, resolutions. Let us see how that goes





7 comments:

Priyanthi said...

Oh I loved the Faraway Tree stories when I was growing up - what a thoughtful gift. Also loved the Little House series, Landmark got me the whole series a couple of years ago. Some lovely memories......

Priyanthi said...

Oh I loved the Faraway Tree stories when I was growing up - what a thoughtful gift. Also loved the Little House series, Landmark got me the whole series a couple of years ago. Some lovely memories......

Bharathis said...

Thanks to Priyanthi Archu has Bhimsen by Prem Panickar and has forwarded it to me too. Panicker has lambasted Divakaruni for the Palace of Illusions. It is interesting to read the different perspectives of the story.

Anita said...

Priyanthi - I don't remember the Little House series, but sounds interesting

Bharathis - oh, that should be interesting. Will read it too!

Entropy said...

Small nit. In the paragraph about 'Suits', why after mentioning that she is Indian does the word 'Parsi' follow in brackets ??

Would your opinion of the book have been different if she was Christian / Hindu / Buddhist / Jewish etc ? From India, now in the U.S, how does her religion matter ?

Regards,
Zen

Anita said...

Entropy - Actually the author refers to her 'Persian-Indian' heritage quite frequently in the book and hence my inclusion of it.

Entropy said...

Quite an ass she seems to be. Anyway, please add a few words to clarify in your review or it seems weird that you've focused on her religion.

Zen