Books roundup

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – My tattered copy of this book had been bought in my early working years when spanking new originals were too unaffordable. Second-hand or pirated was the mantra. Over the years, I would flip through a few pages and then give up, feeling not quite ready to tackle it.  I kept reading other works by Rushdie and also enjoying them tremendously. Finally, a question posed by hAAthi on whether the book was better than the movie, got me reading. 

The story revolves around Saleem Sinai who is born at the stroke of midnight when India is born. He grows up, his fate intertwined with major events in the subcontinent’s history. It ends with the emergency and marks the end of a generation of midnight’s children and their slightly na├»ve expectations from a new country.

The book was interesting but did not evoke the overwhelming response that I expected the Booker of Bookers to do. I noticed that one common theme about great fictional works that cover history is that the writing itself is so charming that it does not matter to me I don’t know much of the history and hence cannot always penetrate the layers. In this case, I expected to enjoy both the writing and the history. Sadly this was not the case. The writing was excellent in most places but also dragged a bit in the middle. I am embarrassed to say I did not quite catch all the references to Indian history.  So perhaps my slight disappointment was not so much on account of the book as it was in me?

A visit from the goon squad by Jennifer Egan. The book opens with the story of a secretary in the music industry business. The next chapter goes on to describe a segment of life of a character who had made a brief appearance in the previous chapter. And so on. Minor characters go on to play the protagonist in later chapters till some sort of coherent narrative emerges. I was quite content simply reading each chapter for itself and did not quite mind if they did not always link up. Well written and interesting

How to be a woman by Caitlin Moran. This was one of the books I carried with me to the delivery ward and was it bad timing! The first chapter on ‘getting my period’ put me off. I really did not want to be a woman at that point if it meant exhausting events like pregnancy and labour. Much later I picked it up and laughed through the book. Moran tells us quite simply what it is to be a feminist (that much maligned word) in this day and age and does so with a lot of honesty and humour. I agreed with her mostly (but not always). I was strangely also proud of the book because it was a voice that belonged to women of my generation and was reflective of a world that is far fairer to women though it still has a long way to go.
The uncommon reader by Alan Bennett.  One of the pleasures of reading is that there is always something to be read. Unlike practically everything else in life – work, sports, relationships – I am convinced that I can always find a book that can match my every mood and phase of life. This is also why I usually hold onto books I have not read (like Midnight’s Children) because it is not that the book is bad. It is just I am not quite ready to tackle it. And I will be at some point.
For a person with this point of view, reading about someone who discovers reading was charming. This someone being the Queen of England. A chance visit to a mobile library, a serendipitously interesting choice of a book sets the Queen on the path to becoming an avid reader. This rather startles her aides who have come to count on her predictability (She is after all more institution, than person, isn’t she?). She discovers books and matches them with her vast experience. She regrets not having discussed certain books with authors she had met but who were now deceased. She is definitely an uncommon reader, being able to relate to books and authors in a way the common man cannot and that makes this book a slightly uncommon point of view.
The Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck’s towering presence in literature had put me off from attempting this slim volume. I had started holding the view that the bright specks of literature invariably write depressing books. And I was happy to correct my view with this novella. Centred around the Cannery Row fish-processing district, the book gently weaves its way through various characters with a suitably gentle climax. Steinbeck has a way with words that makes you dumbstruck and jealous (i.e. if you are an aspiring writer of sorts) at the same time.  Describing a city stirring to life slowly at dawn, he says “Cats drip over fences..”. What an evocative phrase.
I am definitely going to try and read more literary giants now.
Sideways by Rex Pickett. I had watched the lovely movie version starring Paul Giamatti as Miles, the forty (plus or minus) wine aficionado going through a loser-phase what with his novel being rejected by practically every publication and him trying to get over his ex-wife. Miles and his friend Jack set off on a week-long wine tasting trip to Santa Barbara as a bachelor party of sorts for the to-be-married-at-the-end-of-the-week Jack. The book covers the events of the week with plot turns that make you go ‘Men. What are they thinking! Seriously”  
While the book is pretty neat, my memory of the movie seems to put the latter a notch higher. What I really cherish is the fact that I bought this book at a whopping 80% discount during the Landmark sale. If there is one thing I miss about Chennai it is the Landmark sale from where you could unearth all sorts of lovely books available for a song that most readers miss. If I could go back in time and relieve those happy afternoons, I really would. 

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Another book that I recollected was in my book shelf because of the movie release. I quickly read through the story of a young Pakistani who kissed goodbye the American dream, partly driven to it by an America that does not care much about the rest of the world, and partly by the love for a woman who he cannot attain. Ok-ish book. Being from a country where the middle-class values a good job and a good education above everything else, I would have liked to see stronger justifications for the protagonist's actions.
Colors by Andy Warhol. This is the pretentious children’s book I bought for the baby. It has colourful images of various animals and does actually catch the baby’s eye. In retrospect I wonder if showing pink cows to the baby is a good foundation for reality. After all, in Singapore he is not going to be seeing any cows like in India to give him a reality check. But what the heck. If he enjoys it in the here and now, that is good enough. Meanwhile, I will preen around as the parent whose child is enjoying the works of Andy Warhol….I did say ‘pretentious’ didn’t I?
Now that I am back at work, the reading has slowed down considerably with ten minutes every night, if at all. This means I can only read books that do not involve an intense plot line like say, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Any recos that will fit this pace?