30-Dec-2013

Book Update: And the year ends with..


Yet again I seem to have mostly forgotten what I have been reading. This is not a commentary a quality of the books. It is more my memory which is becoming like a sieve with each passing day. The positive side of this is that I can finally reread books without remembering what comes ahead. I am not entirely sure if I have already read Alice Munro’s Runaway but it does not matter because I enjoyed the book thoroughly and if I am doing it the second time without recollection of the first, so much the better. Runaway is a collection of short stories, located yet again somewhere in Northern Canada in small towns. Munro’s characters grip you beautifully and keep you engaged with their little human foibles.  Short stories can sometimes be too short or too brief to capture the stories they tell. Not so with this collection. You read a piece, savour it and feel satisfied.


I discovered two authors this time around both of whom I enjoyed. This has been a stroke of good luck since finding a good author is a lot tougher than it looks. Incidentally both authors were brought to my attention in the Guardian’s Books section. 


I had noted down Alan Furst’s name dutifully in my reading list and found his Dark Star in the library. This is a spy novel set in Poland just before the Second World War. I am no fan of spy novels, yet this one kept me going. Unfortunately I could not finish it before the extended due date and my mood changed and I moved on to other books. Then I went looking for him again and found Spies of Warsaw. Same settings. Clearly Furst specialises in one thing and he is bloody good at it. Spies of Warsaw held my attention a lot better. It traces a French military attaché posted in Warsaw. The attaché though is just an excuse to lovingly dwell into details of what the spy network would have been like back then and you sit there enthralled. One point I especially enjoyed was the author’s casual comment on Allied countries who spy on each other. Everyone knows everyone does it but when you are caught out by your so-called friends, it is embarrassing. Reminded me of U.S. and Germany now! 


The other author Kate Atkinson was in the news for not having made it to the Booker list this year. The library stocked an older novel ‘When will there be good news’. Despite the melodramatic name, the novel itself is quite gripping. A little girl witnesses a horrific incident. Years later, a young teenage babysitter worries about her employer. A policewoman wonders about her marriage while getting obsessed with one of her cases. An ex-policeman is on a questionable journey but is totally sidetracked. All these paths meander, sometimes joining together, sometimes not. It has been a while since I have read a fast paced thriller and I do enjoy my share of them. I am now waiting to go back and find another book by her.


There was Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil. Inspired by a post on a friend’s facebook page, I looked for his Maps for Lost Lovers but the library only stocked this. Through its fictional setting, it describes the sad and long period of turmoil that Afghanistan has been going through. Another book that made me feel glad I have the life I have and was not born a woman in a fundamentalist setting. 


Apart from these notable books, I turned to an old favourite P.G. Wodehouse’s A Pelican at Blandings for comfort reading. What an author. What an author.


Also read a book by a ‘chick-lit’ author discovered by mom. Jane Green’s Other Woman chronicles the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationship. Like all these things there is a kernel of truth that gets stretched but not to the point where you throw your hands up. 


There was Maria Semple’s This One is Mine. The story revolves around two women. One of whom is married to a very well-off man, has a child, a good home, a good life and yet wants more. The other longs for all these symbols of stability and chases them. The protagonist sounded like an early and unpolished version of the one in Where do you go Bernadette. The latter book I loved. So this one was a slight disappointment. 


Now I recollect reading these books a while ago and forgetting to jot them down in the blog. Chicken, mules and two old fools by Victoria Twead. My mom had recommended it as light reading after spotting it on a blog some time ago. It indeed is, describing a couple who move countries, live in an idyllic location, renovate the house they are living in and make a killing selling it. Sounds like it is your dream come true? Yeah, I felt that way too.


I also read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Torday. The name sounds light and funny, the book is less so. It starts off wryly enough describing a mid-level fisheries scientist who is roped into the hopeless project of starting salmon fishing in Yemen and the story goes on to tell us if that is actually achieved. There is a slight heaviness to the tone, with funny episodes having an underlying bleakness. Don’t expect laugh out loud and you should be ok.


I am quite satisfied with how 2013 has ended in terms of books. A friend and I were discussing books and she was amazed that I found time to read despite holding a full time job and having a kid. She is quite an avid reader herself, so it was well thought out, serious compliment. I thought about it and told her that reading seems to be the only constant in my life just now what with the baby and changing countries and all. 


So here is hoping I get to read more good books next year. Happy new year all. 

11-Nov-2013

Birthday parties, here we come


Bobo was invited for two birthday parties last weekend.

I was quite kicked.

If someone asked me about my plans, I could finally complain ‘you know. Need to chaperone my son from one party to the next’.

I had heard this excuse for years and years all the while gritting my teeth. Somehow parents who said it thought they were superior creatures (though of course, they were just boring). It was nice to test out the chance for being superior.

In the end, I had to cut short a lunch we were having with my friends in order for Bobo to make it the party.

I did not feel superior when I excused myself. Just boring.

The party itself was good fun though. Bobo’s new found love for other kids means he is thrilled to be amongst them even if he just ignores them. The venue was also a play area, with plenty of toys all of which Bobo proceeded to test out one by one. He pushed cars into walls. He chewed the fake ice cream cones in the mini-kichenette. He went through mini-tunnels suited for human beings of 4 feet and below. I followed him, bent over and feeling like Goliath.

Tiring but nice! There is something about watching your progeny enjoy himself that makes you feel like a million dollars

Yesterday, I accompanied Bobo to another party. This one was in a plain and simple function room without childproofing or toys. D was not with me. That left me as the sole adult responsible for Bobo and I realised that it can be quite a strain.

Bobo likes to practice his walking at every opportunity and even as I kept a hawk-like eye on him, he ran to the nearest coffee table and shook it. A plate of chips on it sprayed the floor. I rushed over, noticed the birthday boy’s mother rushing over and I apologized while bending over to pick up the chips. The bboy’s mother held onto Bobo and cooed to him ‘oh, you are allowed to eat chips is it?”

“No. He is not” I stood up immediately knocking a couple of more chips. Not that I cared any more.

There was Bobo thoughtfully masticating a chip.

Ever since Bobo started solids we have been avoiding salt in his food. Baring things like idli and bread, we have taken the effort to cook small portions for him separately without salt. This is based on a new-fangled theory about sodium not being good for below one year olds.

It was an event in Bobo's history to say the least.
We moved on and his friend A made an appearance. A is a sweet and thin 2.5 year old girl who is quite fond of Bobo. She beamed at him, proceeded to lift him and give him a hug and then unable to carry dropped him on the floor. Bobo crashed down spectacularly face forward as I watched. Luckily with A being tiny herself, it was not a worrisome height to fall from. In a while, the parties involved had been calmed and ‘hi-fi’s given.

So far I had let my kid make a mess, not stopped him from getting hurt and not had a single conversation with an adult that I did not know or lasted more than two minutes.

I wanted some food and conversation.

Tucking Bobo firmly under my arm, I hand him a piece of a cheese sandwich and loaded my plate with some chocolate cake. The host then introduced me to one of the guests, a professor. I began to chat about the relative merits of professoring in the U.S. and Singapore while chomping away.

Ah. This was more like it.

Then a tiny hand came into my range of vision, dipped its hand into the cream on the cake in my plate and disappeared. I looked towards Bobo to note his face smeared with cream.

So, the whole avoid-salt exercise mentioned earlier? Included a no-sugar subcomponent too.

We were planning to introduce both salt and sugar once he turned one.

But apparently Bobo had decided to take matters into his own hands. Literally.

I guess what is a birthday party without cake and chips? With that, I ate more cake, wiped the remaining cake from Bobo’s hands and decided it was time to make a quick exit.



03-Nov-2013

So I have been reading..


The issue with postponing a books update is that one tends to lose track of what one has been reading. Just for the record, here is what I think I covered the last few weeks.

I had picked up Bad Mothers United by Kate Long before jumping into a flight when Bobo was five months old. As a new mom, I thought I had to show my affiliation to the Mom club by picking up mommy books (not to mention by then I had already concluded that I was not going to be part of the Good Mothers United). The book however lay in my shelf for a while before I got around to reading it. The title makes it sound like a flippant, breezy read. It turned out to contain a bit more depth than that. Continuing with what must have been the original novel in the series, it examines the relationship between Charlotte, a teenage mom who has gone to University and her mom, Karen who babysits Charlotte’s son, Will. The book captures the dynamics between the duo quite well. Karen is put off by Charlotte’s high and mighty manner of whizzing in during weekends, giving her lectures on bringing up Will and ruining the routine. Charlotte meanwhile suffers from guilt at having left her son behind and feels threatened by Karen’s role in Will’s life. All this stuck a chord with me, considering I am having the mom/mom-in-law babysit this year and do quite a bit of giving lectures on bringing up Bobo!

Then came Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole and the Prostate Years. Adrian is now middle aged and faces all the problems that come with the territory, including a rather serious one. It is difficult to find much humour in a situation like this but Townsend manages quite well. Personally though, I prefer the earlier books in the series. Or maybe I just prefer the earlier phases of life..

I picked up Lynne Truss’s Going Loco off the library shelf, given the author’s funny best seller. This was not a particularly good decision. I found the beginning quite tiresome. A fact I discovered in a hotel room in Seoul, with no other book options on hand. So I laboured through and it turned out to be OK. The book tells us about Belinda, a reasonably popular author is quite taken in by the idea of doppelgangers. Belinda is married to a Swedish scientist Stefan. When overwhelmed by her busy (and tedious?) life, she hires a cleaning lady. Things take an interesting turn as Belinda’s life begins to see doppelgangers. You can see why it was a quirky idea but like Belinda’s life things get a bit tedious. Having stuck through it, I finally did quite enjoy the last few chapters. But if I had another book on hand, I would have dropped this one quite fast.

Next was Meg Whitman’s The Interestings. The book has been well reviewed everywhere. It traces the lives of a bunch of kids who meet at camp in their teens.  The various characters fall in love, marry, face issues and do the usual things that human beings manage to do in a life span. Usually when someone deals with a bunch of characters and their lives, certain parts tend to be better written and more interesting than the other bits. In this book, everything is well written and well described. I began to live in the book, rather unwillingly since I did not particularly love all the characters. But by God, did I want to find out whatever happened to them ! Interesting.

In the middle of all this I abandoned Anuja Chauhan’s The battle for Bittora. Think it must have been a quick effort by the author, to follow up on the success of her previous novel, the delightful The Zoya Factor.  Can ignore.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was read on the recommendation seen on a friend’s FB page. A devout pastor lugs his family of one long-suffering wife and four girls from ages 5 to 15 to the Congo to take over a church in a really remote village. Congo gains its freedom and the tumultuous events that follow affect the family in a manner no one could have foreseen.  I read the descriptions of the family settling in and their lives before and just after the creation of a new nation, with rapt attention. The latter parts were nice too but not as good. I especially got a bit bored by the ramblings on the injustices meted out by white men on African nations. Yes, we know but it could have been said better in order not to break the narrative.  Still, a pretty good read. 

22-Oct-2013

A whole new person at ten months


Overnight Bobo has started exhibiting a ‘personality’.

It all began with some solid night-time screaming about a month ago at nine months. D is the one who wakes up whenever Bobo wakes up at night, me having thrown in the towel when I night weaned him. But this series was keeping us both up. After five sleepless nights of picking him up and walking around in the dark while urging him to pipe it down and ruling out all other possible causes (too much a/c, too little a/c, gassiness, thirst, hunger, ear pain), we were tired. I did a quick internet search and found out that he was undergoing ‘separation anxiety’.

Apparently, when babies realize that they are their own person and not an attachment of their mama, they freak out (understandably).

Luckily before I could fall into pieces from the lack of sleep, Bobo settled down.

Around the same time, he also took his first steps and his vocabulary improved from a mere ‘tha-tha’ to include other sounds.

It is now a month later. By the looks of it, Bobo is past the separation anxiety phase and seems to be rather enjoying the fact that he is his own little person.

How does this show?

Bobo has started moving all around the house with his cute duck-walk interspersed with rapid crawling when he needs to be in some place real fast (like before Mommy can shut her wardrobe door or Grandma can close the kitchen door or Daddy can disappear into the bathroom). He would like everyone to keep him posted on what they are up to, thank you very much.

Bobo likes to touch everything at his height to see which one elicits a ‘no’ from the adults. He has learnt that going near the pedestal fan is a big no-no and has decided to avoid it. He knows that going near the door-stopper is a big no-no but thinks anyone saying ‘no’ is just a big wuss. Considering we use the same tone of voice for both, I don’t know how he has decided one diktat is to be followed and the other to be ignored.

He has started playing peek-a-boo with great keenness. He likes to ‘hide’ behind curtains. i.e. ignoring the fact that his feet and chubby legs and sometimes his tummy and chest are still sticking out. He can’t see us, so naturally we can’t see him. Simple, isn’t it?

This thought clearly fascinates him endlessly. We spend a long time having Bobo sitting behind the curtains, Mummy going ‘bobo, bobo where are you?’ and then Bobo delightedly throwing open the curtains to laugh at Mummy.

Look ma, I am my own person.

A variation is when he goes around the tall, rectangular clothes stand with Mummy chasing him. He has learnt that he can evaluate through the railings and the drying clothes when Mummy’s huge form will come towards him and when he has to turn a corner. I was taken aback when I turned a corner and saw he had already darted out of view.

Golly, he certainly is no longer an attachment of me.

Bobo has taken a huge interest in playing and in playing with other kids.

Going outdoors, even if it means Mummy is not accompanying him?

You bet, yes.

Going on shopping trips just to spend time with Mummy?

No way in hell.

Eating idli four days in a row?

Ugh

Eating blueberries four meals in a row?

Yummy yummy!

His vocabulary is not yet quite there but with the sounds he can make when he is Really Annoyed or Really Angry, he can quite effectively convey that he is surprised we did not go to parenting school.

So we have a baby who seems to be developing a personality, complete with opinions.

Life is definitely getting more interesting!