13-Apr-2014

Boboread



We started reading to Bobo quite early. For nearly eight to nine months of his life, the only bedtime reading for him was Goodnight Moon. D and I had the words down pat and could recite it in an insipid manner as Bobo began to chew the cloth book, began to learn how to grab it and then eventually learnt how to turn the pages.

Then one fine day, he yawned and turned his attention to other things. So we had to begin the ritual of reading different books to him every night.

While Bobo was bored with Goodnight Moon, he was by no means a keen reader in the day time. He steadily chewed his supply of books. Then he began to stand on them and break their spines. They were one of his toys.

I let it be, figuring out that a love for books could only begin with a close association with them. Even if it meant being physically aggressive with them. (Though I am happy to report that once he passed that phase, he has never torn a page deliberately. His mom has given him sufficient warnings about getting a tight one if he attempted that).

The first book that fascinated Bobo sufficiently for him to actually look at the pages and turn them one by one was Hug. The book has absolutely lovely and colourful drawings that fill out the pages, with not a sign of blank space. It tells the story of a little gorilla (coincidentally also called ‘Bobo’), trying to find his mummy and get a hug. Unfortunately Mummy is nowhere to be seen and instead he comes across various mother-child pairs in the forest – elephants, giraffes, snakes, chameleons and so on – hugging each other.  As an increasingly despondent Bobo bursts into tears, Mummy bursts through the trees and hugs him. All is well that ends well. While the book moved me when I read it (Thank you, Mummy hormones), Bobo (the boy, not the gorilla) loved the pictures.

It was a proud moment for me, watching him sit down and ‘read’ a book.

We kept reading all his other books to him.

The next big step happened when reading the classic Moo ba la la, a book on various farmyard animals. It follows the usual patterns of children’s books – the cow says moo, the sheep says ba etc etc. Except there is a twist and in one page ‘three singing pigs say la la la’. When you turn the page, the universe returns to order with a ‘no no, you say. The pigs say oink’. Our little boy, in love with the word ‘no’, surprised us by saying ‘no no’ one day when we turned to the right page.

He was absorbing what we were reading out to him.

Bobo has rapidly learnt to point at things from his books and makes the link in other situations. One day, he pointed at my night shirt and said ‘cow’ (pronounced ‘kau’). Yes, there was my night shirt with a picture of a cow! (and saying ‘grumpy cow’ below it, but Bobo does not have to know that).

Bobo has recently started to slowly comprehend ‘stories’. His books are fairly simple and are oriented towards teaching him things. The plainer ones merely state the facts. Pictures of butterflies, bugs, spider etc would be labelled ‘butterfly’, ‘bug’, ‘spider’. The smarter ones try to build a story.

One of the best is The Hungry Caterpillar

A tiny and very hungry caterpillar pops out of an egg on a Sunday (lesson – day of the week) and eats a leaf. Then he proceeds to eat one apple (lesson – number, fruit) on Monday, two pears on Tuesday and so on till he has consumed five oranges on Friday but is still hungry. So then he goes berserk. On Saturday he has one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one piece of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage and one slice of watermelon.

As the concerned parent, you palpitate a bit about why this binge eating is happening (Have the authors been spying on me? Do they know that I deny Bobo all sugary and salty treats while tucking them in myself once he goes to sleep? What is going on here?

Luckily it turns out the caterpillar ends up with a stomach ache (lesson – no snacking. Whew). So he goes back to eating leaves, builds a cocoon and emerges a beautiful butterfly.

The first bedtime that Bobo began paying attention to what I was reading to him (instead of randomly turning the pages and sticking his finger at only familiar pictures), he listened fascinated. I must say, I was also doing a rather good job. I patted Bobo’s stomach to show the caterpillar was still hungry. I counted out each of the fruits. And I salivated when I began to read the list of Saturday snacks.

This, in retrospect, was not a good idea.

Bobo made me read the book again. And then again. By the third reading, I had become considerably low key, a bit worried that we may be up all night hearing the story of the hungry caterpillar. The repeated readings were making me a bit hungry too. 

We have since been reading this book many times during the day and in the night. 

It turns out Bobo’s favourite page is the one with all those snacks. We now seem to skip the fruits and just read about the snacks. I have been also trying to dramatise the caterpillar’s stomach ache by holding my stomach, doubling over and groaning. Bobo ignores me.

Well, the kid has to learn. And books are meant to teach. And if he wants to reread his favourite bits, who am I to stop him?

It is fun reading with Bobo. His book collection has grown tremendously. We made the initial purchases but friends and grandparents have generously contributed. His room has a book shelf now with two racks and he has a shelf in the TV stand to hold his books. He likes to pull out the books from his shelf and flip through the pages. I like to look out for recommendations and buy more.He does have a few duds. And he has a few gems which parents of other younger readers have picked out for us.

Last weekend, we also borrowed a book for him from the library for the first time.

So Bobo turns into a little reader.

I hope when he grows up, he will be a big reader too.


05-Apr-2014

Books update




After having discovered Kate Atkinson, I got on to the job of catching up with her body of work. The library only had Emotionally Weird, which is not a mystery novel at all (which is what I thought she wrote) and is advertised as a comic work. The story revolves around a mother-daughter pair exchanging stories about each other’s lives in a cold and remote island in Britain where a dilapidated family home is situated. The daughter’s story is all about her days in college and meanders slowly through student characters and small incidents. The mother’s story is kept very concise and like the daughter, you want to know more. In the end, you do. I would not necessarily call this a comic book but it is well written and if you are the kind who likes slice-of-life stories, then this one is apt

Next on my list was Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar. P had mentioned that she was reading this book and Nagarkar being a favourite author, I decided to give it a shot. The book is located in 17th century Mewar. The central theme of the crown prince being cuckolded is mostly an anchor to the story rather than being the main story itself.  Instead the book delves in depth on power play, intrigues, plots and politics. It also gives a good sense of history around that time. I have rarely seen Indian historical fiction combining history and fiction so effortlessly.  (Not that I have read too many of them. Are there any good ones by the way?). Not surprised to know that it is one of the author’s most famous works.

The last book was Robert Jordan’s first book from the Wheel of Time series, the Eye of the World. I have always wanted to read the series but never got around to it. I finally got started. Robert Jordan used to author Conan the Barbarian stories. That should give you an idea of the depth and entertainment value of the story. (I think I am judging too harshly and hastily). Unlike a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or even a Game of Thrones series, the book gives no indication of having thought through an entire parallel universe. Instead it almost feels like the author just kept writing on a whim, throwing in lofty sounding names from time to time. Just as the story reaches a point when you think there is going to be some mild philosophy or a character is going to be disposed off, the story bounces back into lighter territory. But then, I suspect that a series containing twelve parts will only slowly reveal its world. In the meantime, I enjoyed the pace, the characters and the gimmicks. The book suited me well because by the time I reach the end of the day, which is when I have time to read my book, my brain is too tired to process anything too thoughtful but also too annoyed to read something trashy. Looks like I have hit jackpot with this series.

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This book began as ‘January book updates’ but considering it is April, quite some time has passed. As usual I have already forgotten some of the stuff I read. 

I continued to search out Kate Atkinson’s books and ended up with the much acclaimed Life after Life. This book ponders different ways in which a person’s life can turn out. Or different ways in which a character’s life can be shaped by the author. The protoganist, Ursula Todd, dies as soon as she born in one version. In another version she signs out in childhood. In another version she has lead a full life. The story follows roughly the same trajectory and incidents. Atkinson is honest to her character’s personality and in no version does she do something that make her seem like an altogether different person. It is just the choices that Ursula makes or that fate throws to her that set the course of her life. It is a very well written book and left me with a slightly hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. How many choices have I made that have brought me where I am? What are the other possible universes in which I exist leading a slightly different life?

With the hollow feeling continuing in the pit of my stomach, it was a while before I laid my hands on another book. This was a pity because the other books I had borrowed from the library remained untouched and finally I had to return them with a hefty fine.

The next book was picked up during a trip home. I was visiting J who had reviewed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in her blog. I borrowed it from her and sat and read it cover to cover. The book was quite fast paced and the author generously throws in elements that are meant to make you go ‘wow, I did not see that coming’. Though I thought the author had been a bit manipulative to achieve that element of surprise. The book tells its tale from the point of view of the husband and his wife who has disappeared. What happened to the wife? Was she kidnapped? Done away with? Did she disappear on her own? Was their marriage what it seemed to be? A good holiday page turner

In the airport on the way back to Singapore, I picked up Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 train journeys. The book covers the 80 train journeys that the author undertook in India. The author is a Brit of Indian origin. Having lived briefly in India in her childhood, she does not have very pleasant memories but decides to rediscover her country. And what better way to do it than by traversing its length and breadth in the vast Indian railway network. She covers luxury trains, trains in the back of the beyond, toy trains, local trains and every kind of train that you will. The book could have easily veered off into the territory of shallow, wide-eyed NRI observations. Luckily the author avoids that trap and keeps the pop philosophy out for most part. Her observations make an effort to understand the general cultural context in which events occur. Besides, I love trains myself and while I would have loved to have these experiences first hand, I was glad to atleast read a well-written account.

When I finished this book, I suddenly got the feeling that perhaps I was living a bit too much in my books and a bit too less in the outside world. Mommy guilt stuck. While I did most of my reading after Bobo went to bed, I stayed up so late that I was not functional in the couple of hours I spent with Bobo in the mornings before heading off to work. (Warning – if you are planning to have a child, remember you can have totally random guilt trips). Anyway the long shot was that I decided to give myself a break.

In my next trip to the library, I borrowed what was definitely trash and a Doris Lessing. Both books seemed to be the kind that I would easily put away when I felt sleepy or when life intervened. Obviously for very different reasons.

My first choice (Wolves in Chic Clothing) proved me right. The book sticks purely to superficial territory when it comes to detailing the lives of rich, educated and intelligent Trust-fund heiresses. Surprisingly, it is also quite prudish. The protagonist is tempted to carry on an affair with her boss’s husband but their hot, two hour sessions are always confined to kissing. Target reader segment – Tweens? 

Next is the Doris Lessing, which I am hoping will be too heavy to be gripping. In a nice coincidence a friend brought her up at lunch yesterday and lavished high praise. So I am quite looking forward to get started