Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Books I read in January

I'm going to copy Aishwarya and keep a monthly tally of the books I read, with a few sentences on what I thought about them. 

One Point Two Billion, a book of short stories by Mahesh Rao: I attended the book launch, which featured an interview of the author by Jerry Pinto, and was immense fun. I brought both Rao's books home, planning to put them aside to read later, since I had other books I'd planned to read. But I couldn't help looking inside this, and was quickly drawn in. Each story has a very distinct point of view, and each was intriguing, some incandescent. It's rare that I don't dislike - or like less - at least one story in a collection. Each narrator/protagonist was sympathetic even though some of them did awful, and in one case, horrific things. Each one managed to surprise me. The writing is beautiful, with some radiant phrases that you learn to look out for, much like a treasure hunt.
Poison Kiss by Ana Mardoll: Ana is one of my favorite bloggers, and I finally got around to reading one of her books. I was not disappointed. This is a fantasy story - a modern fairy tale - with violence and survival, queer romances, friendships, and weird people. As a weird person myself, I much appreciated it.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce: I finally read this classic. It was much more fun and engrossing than I had expected, especially the first chapter. Child Stephen seems much nicer than teenage Stephen, who is a bit full of himself. And having to stay rooted in his point of view, especially as he doesn't really care to know anyone else, is boring. The long sermons especially, were more than a bit tiresome. Still, interesting technique that seems to have influenced so many writers since... I felt the five year old narrator in Room was a direct descendant of Stephen.

Before, and Then After by Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy: I have read Em's blog for about a decade now, and I read her very first book, You Are Here, when it first came out. But this collection of stories has some of her most mature, funny, wonderful writing. In this collection too, every story was engrossing: they are all about finding and/or losing love, in some form. I especially liked Cat of the Night and the Best Night of the Year.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: I had skimmed through this "classic" novella some twelve years ago and didn't remember much except being bored. This time I was less bored -- the language and narrative is expertly crafted -- and more shocked at the outright racism.

Red River, Blue Hills by Ankush Saikia: I was hoping for more for this thriller by an Assamese author. It both exceeded and fell short of my expectations in different ways. The protagonist was too much of a privileged rich boy (he's in his thirties, but behaves much like a teenager) for me to sympathise with, but on the other hand he is utterly incompetent and doesn't seem to achieve much and mostly skates by on luck and privilege, which seems like an accurate portrayal. Some of the characters seemed interesting, but we learn little of anyone else but the hero -- which is I guess standard fare for a thriller.

The Best of Archie Comics: I went to this amazing new bookstore -- the first bookstore I've been actually impressed by since I got my first Kindle -- and am looking forward to building a long intimate relationship. On my first visit, I rationed myself and only got two books: one was Jeet Thayil's latest collection of poetry, which I'm looking forward to savouring, and the other was this. It's been many many years since I bought Archies, and quite a few years since I read one, but this made for an enjoyable afternoon.

Room, screenplay: The Guy is interested in the making of movies and he's been prompting me to read and discover more. I'd been blown away by Emma Donoghue's novel when I read it two years ago, and the screenplay is just as difficult to read. I'd like to watch the movie sometime when I have the courage to put myself through this again (though I found the book much scarier, if only because I was discovering the story for the first time).

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley: I've read her Deerskin and found this book much on the same lines: young female hero who has somewhat magical powers and sets out on a quest to find her destiny. This was less tragic than Deerskin, and I really liked both the protagonist and the male love interest, and the story was interesting and distracted me nicely from my cramps (which was what I was looking for). What didn't sit well with me was having a lone white person in a country of brown people being discriminated against for her skin color and yet growing up to save the land because she is the best hero due to her birth/blood. While I appreciated the female hero, it didn't make a racist trope any less racist.

That's it for this month (as far as I can remember). I've started a couple of other books, but hopefully I'll tell you about them once I'm done. Have you read anything good recently?

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