2015 – The year of words?

That’s how I want it to be! When I took a moment to think of what I really really want to do this year, all I could come up with was two things – read and write. Well, obviously I’m not going to say ‘No’ to a yummy bowl of pasta; so I won’t be stupid enough to rule out food. But apart from that, I would love to spend my entire time reading books and writing or blogging.

Since the blog is already under progress, with a decent posting frequency and visitor count, I wanted to start reading more actively. So I’ve signed up for the ‘Goodreads 2015 reading challenge’, with a modest goal of 25 books this year. I would love to read about a 100, but practically speaking, it seems hard to get even half an hour a day to devote to reading. 😦

downloadBut hey, it is always easier to get the time to mark all the books read by my friends as “Want to read” in Goodreads, and spend at least some time each day wondering how on earth I am ever going to finish reading all those books in this lifetime! :O In case you’re wondering, my Goodreads account currently has around 300 books in it – 260 of them “to be read”! 😛

One step at a time, I tell myself. I don’t have a fixed list of books that I am planning to read this year, since I basically read anything that is printed, and everything under the sun. So when I got the opportunity to read some children’s books that I ought to have read when I was, well, a child.. I jumped at it. I bought ‘Swami and Friends’ by R.K. Narayan and ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl for my niece, without realising that she has already read them. So instead of returning the books and getting a refund, I ended up reading them myself. I must say, they made my new year a fantastic one – I didn’t realise just what I had missed in my childhood, until I actually read these.

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Not that I stopped there; I had read ‘The Alchemist’ a long time back; although I loved the message, I didn’t become a big fan of the writing style itself. And hence, I’ve never actively sought out and read a Paulo Coelho book since. However, with the New Year beckoning me to try new things, I braved a Paulo Coelho book once again, and started reading ‘The Winner Stand Alone’. Surprise of all surprises, I fell in love with it only a few pages into the book! Further proof that we should give people and things a chance.. and initial impressions are usually neither the best, nor accurate. 🙂

And along those lines, there is one more thing that I really want to give a shot this year – and that is writing fiction. I did try a couple of times, and came to the hopefully erroneous conclusion that I can’t write fiction to save my life! But the more fiction I read, the more I do want to write. Hence, I’m planning to start a fiction series on this blog soon – just waiting for inspiration to strike! 😛

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2015 is one of those years that got off to the best start for me – and I am pumped about trying a ton of new things this year. The older you get, the more you realise that you want to spend what little time you have, in doing what you love. Here is a toast to everyone who has resolved to try new things this year! Cheers! 😀

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Book review – The Fault in our Stars

It’s Sunday! And that means Book review day! 🙂 Once again, I’m going to review a book that I read because I succumbed to fad reading. As you can see.. I’ve succumbed to the fad reading trend a tad too often lately. But I strongly believe that you must read a book yourself to decide whether you like it or not, popular or otherwise. But before I actively discourage you any further from reading my book reviews, let’s get further into the post. This week, I am going to review ‘The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green.

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I’m not a fan of the cancer genre (as I call it), at all! If you ask me about one book that I like, where cancer played an important role, I would say ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal. I’m used to reading books and watching shows where two people are in love, and then cancer suddenly rears its ugly head. This is the first time I’ve come across a story where two people, teenagers at that, are already cancer-ridden, know that they’re never going to be “home-free” (they’d die sooner rather than later, and are technically going to be sick for the rest of their lives), meet at a support group, and fall in love anyway!

Hazel Lancaster is suffering from lung cancer; Augustus Waters is recuperating from Osteosarcoma. They share an acerbic wit and a sarcastic vein that bring them together. Hazel considers a book titled “An Imperial Affliction” her bible (curiously, a cancer-based book); however, the author deliberately left the book unfinished, and Hazel wants to meet him to find out how it ends, to get closure. Augustus has a wish left (from the ‘Make a wish foundation’), and he uses it to take her to Holland to meet the author.

And throughout all this, they fall in love, romance in a quaint, cancer-full way, lose their virginity to each other, and so on. Nevertheless, there is a twist – they keep expecting Hazel to get worse (because she is being medically managed on meds), whereas Augustus has already got the all-clear. As it turns out, it is Augustus who gets worse quickly and leaves Hazel with an Augustus-shaped hole in the world.

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It gives you an idea of how cancer affects people, and the people around. That is absolutely the only part of the book that evokes an emotional response. However, you can skip this if you watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or ‘House M.D’ and already have a reasonable knowledge about how cancer works, and how it destroys people. This book isn’t exactly morbid; but it does give you a pretty clear idea of what cancer-ridden people go through, and how that affects the loved ones around them.

Hazel and Augustus’ relationship is almost believable. However, you root for them because you want cancer-ridden people to get a happy ending; not because you believe they are perfect for each other. You like the simple things in life – like how they share a passion about an obscure book, but you find it impossible to imagine the bigger picture or a perfect happy ending to their relationship, because something is off – like jarring notes in a familiar song.

The biggest problem with this book is that you find it impossible to really like, and identify with the characters – and no, not because they have cancer and you don’t. They are teenagers, but they speak like much-older adults who have seen the best and worst of life. Despite a terminal disease that matures people faster than they would like to, these teenagers’ lines don’t show maturity per se – they just sound freakishly strange. Sample this:

“How did scrambled eggs get stuck with breakfast exclusivity? You can put bacon on a sandwich without anyone freaking out. But the moment your sandwich has an egg, boom, it’s a breakfast sandwich… I want to have scrambled eggs for dinner without this ridiculous construction that a scrambled egg-inclusive meal is breakfast even when it occurs at dinner time.” – Hazel.

Now who talks like that? Really?! This book tries to introduce a world where the children understand life more than adults do. It portrays the teenagers as people who talk like 35-year old adults who have a deep understanding of human nature, and treat adults like they’re the ones who are shallow and irresponsible and need to be ashamed of it. So yes, the author gives teenagers what they want to hear; you can almost understand why this book became so popular.

Well, truth be told, I didn’t cry at the end; I glazed over half the book. Like I said, I’m not a big fan of the cancer genre. But that’s just me. I do know a lot of people who got floored by the idea of two cancer-ridden teenagers finding love. So you know whether you would like this book or not! 🙂

With love,

Writer on the rocks.

Book review – Half-girlfriend

This is the start of my new book review feature, that I said I’d start here. I know I said I’ll start it on November 9, because I thought I won’t be in town this weekend. But it turns out that I am, and I just finished reading a book – so why not today?! Plus, it is helping me with additional posts for NaBloPoMo! 😀

So I recently gave in to the fad-reading trend (where you read a book just because it is popular, even though it didn’t really develop any curiosity in you.) One such book that I read was the recently released ‘Half Girlfriend’ by Indian author Chetan Bhagat.

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This book has been reviewed left right and centre in social media; hence, I know this review is a little late, but this is just my two cents! 🙂

Chetan Bhagat is a very popular author in India, primarily because of two reasons – his first book ‘Five point someone’ was very poignant.. and he writes in very simple English that any lay person can understand (even someone who isn’t an avid reader of books, or who isn’t very comfortable with the English language). I believe he has released around 6 books now, and I’ve read everything except ‘Revolution 2020’.

In my humble and mostly irrelevant opinion, his books aren’t masterpieces, or prize-worthy literature; however, nevertheless, some of them do resonate with you. ‘Five point someone’ for instance dealt with the very relevant issue of forcing youngsters to study Engineering or MBA just because that is the fad, without allowing them to pursue their passions. ‘2 states’ on the other hand dealt with youngsters who inter-marry with other girls/guys from other castes, and the resultant pressure that involves their families.

Whereas Half Girlfriend does none of those things. It is a simple story about a low-class boy falling in love with a high class girl – a girl who is confused, can’t decide whether she is in love with the boy or not, agrees to be his “Half Girlfriend”, thus further increasing the ambiguity in their relationship. Then she stupidly enters a marriage of convenience, realises it is a mistake, comes back to the low-class boy, but still can’t decide whether she is in love with him or not, fakes lung cancer etc etc..

Sounds weak. flimsy, filmy and convoluted? It is! Worse, the guy stays deeply in love with her during all those years. I’m not saying that is a bad thing per se, I just personally expect to see more practical characters. The final search that Madhav (the guy) does for Riya (the girl) in New York is long-drawn out and entirely unbelievable.

The best thing about this book is the way the guy channels his time and energy into developing a rural school. That at least, is invigorating! There isn’t even much to write about this book. If you’re really bored on a train or a plane-ride, you can read it and finish it by the time you reach your destination. One more good thing about this book is that it goes fast – you won’t be bored and put it down.

But if you don’t read it, you aren’t really missing anything!

Blogging 101 – Update, and a new feature! :)

Hola! So I’ve been successfully working on the Blogging 101 challenge this past week – and I’ve completed most of the exercises! Hurray! Just a couple more left.. and I fully intend finishing them this week. I love it when we can work at our own pace – I believe it makes us commit better to our goals. Okay, maybe not always.. sometimes it is difficult to commit to, and achieve a goal without a specific timeline. But thankfully, this time it worked for me! 🙂

So although I haven’t posted anything in a week, I’ve got so much done behind the scenes! I created a couple of pages – my blogroll and my new challenges page. Correspondingly, I’ve taken up a new book-reading event/challenge, since Blogging 101 is now officially over. I missed the start of Blogging 201, since I was still eons behind in 101; but somehow, strangely, I don’t regret it. I need to take up something different for a while, and then maybe I’ll get back and do the #201 challenge.

I publicized my blog, and also created a Blavatar, which I’m in love with! 😀 Last but not the least, I’m starting a new feature on my blog next week – The Book Review feature!

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I’m happiest when I’m reading a book. Although I’ve sporadically written book reviews, I’ve never been fully comfortable posting my opinion on a book for all the world to see. So this feature is designed to push me a little out of my comfort zone, but not so much that I’m stumped! 🙂 Also, I’ve recently renewed the habit, and I’ve been reading books very regularly during the past 3 months. I’ve also just taken up an African-book-reading challenge; so there should be no dearth of books to write reviews on. 😛

Details of the feature: One book review.

Date and time: Every other Sunday (because 15 days is approximately the time I take to finish a book.)

Feature starts on: November 9

Unless I lose access to my laptop or the internet (which unfortunately seems to happen surprisingly often), I will make this a regular feature – I swear I’ll post unswervingly, every Sunday! 🙂

Be sure to keep visiting this space and give me all the love,

Writer on the rocks.

Fact or fiction?

I swear, my computer is out to get me! Like I said earlier, first the Wi-fi conked off, and it took ages for the Airtel guys to fix it. And then when we finally got it working after 2 weeks, and I had barely posted an update that I’m continuing where I left off, my laptop’s touchpad went kaput! That took another week to fix, and so here I am, having fallen way behind in the Blogging 101 challenge. Never mind though, I’m still continuing exactly where I left off…

So this challenge is about making a daily prompt personal. I initially went to the Daily Prompts page with the idea of writing something based on today’s prompt – but then saw that it was about baseball, my knowledge of which is zilch. So I took a slight detour and went back to the prompt that was posted the same day that we were given this challenge. And I kinda hit the jackpot with this one, because it is about one of my favourite topics – Books! 😀 You can view the prompt here: The Great Divide

The question is, as you have already guessed from the title, whether I prefer reading fiction or non-fiction? For me, this is a no-brainer. I prefer fiction, hands down! The reason is simple; one of the reasons I read books is to lose myself into another world – to find an escape from reality. Non-fiction is way too close to reality!

Of course, there was a time in my childhood when I used to read anything and everything that was written or printed on paper. But as I grew up and read more and more, I started to gravitate towards the fictitious stories where a whole world of imagination and possibilities lay. The pure joy of losing myself into a different world, reading about descriptions of faraway lands, being able to imagine such things as magic wands and time turners, and most of all, that pang when I finish reading a book and am forced to come back to reality, the perpetual hunt for the next world that I can immerse myself in – is a heady and addictive combination.

It is also a combination that has made the single greatest ambition in my life – to get locked up in a library, and blissfully read book after book after book, without having to worry about such mundane things as eating and sleeping! 😀

I never made much of an effort to read non-fiction though; I just gave it up as a bad job after the first few tries! Even today, after having recently made myself start reading the kind of books that I usually don’t read – I still head straight for fiction – maybe from different ages, different authors and different styles, but fiction nevertheless. The “improving knowledge by reading fact” achievement remains blissfully locked! 😛

Until the next challenge,

Love,

Writer on the rocks.

Astonishing discoveries!

So like I said a couple of months back, I’ve been on a book-reading spree. Nothing fancy, nothing new. Just catching up on good old classics.

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Right from my childhood, I’ve abhorred Classics. I’ve always loved books which are fast-paced, cover multiple countries across the globe, use at least 3 different languages, and don’t let me put them down. Which explains why Sidney Sheldon is my favourite author!

All the same, I couldn’t just keep reading Sidney Sheldon forever. I used to have this mindless desire to read all the “famous” books – Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, Catcher in the rye.. you name it, I wanted to read it! And so I did read them all.

However, I hated the slow-paced writing style, the obscure words and sentences that made no sense to me whatsoever. Well, I read them when I was in middle school, when my vocabularly was far less developed, and my knowledge of people and the world was extremely limited. Bad idea. I ended up not understanding a word, and hating Classics without knowing what they were about! 😦

However, persistent as I am, I tried reading Emma 5 times.. but never got past the first 30 pages! As I grew up, that mind-block against Classics continued, until I slowly stopped reading them altogether. New authors were waiting to be discovered, new “famous” books waiting to be read and reviewed – The Shiva trilogy, Ashwin Sanghi’s books, Chetan Bhagat and the like.

Until suddenly one day, I downloaded the Kindle app on to my phone.. the Kindle Store offers Classics free of cost – and I wanted to try out the Kindle experience without spending any money *classic Indian mindset* 😛 I picked ‘Three men in a boat’, having heard that it is a very funny book, and if nothing else, I may have a few laughs after all…

Boy, was I wrong! I enjoyed reading the book immensely! 🙂 True, there were still parts that made my eyes glassy and vacant, but there were also many more parts that made me laugh, some that made profound sense that I wanted to incorporate as life lessons, and no lack of understanding whatsoever. Towards the end of the book, I realised that I may have just grown up enough after all!

And so I decided that I wanted to try my hand at one more, just to see how far I can push myself. So I re-read Pride and Prejudice, enjoying it a lot more this time around, and empathising a lot more with Elizabeth Bennett (the first time around, I thought she was a bit of an arrogant idiot :P). And then I re-read Little Women, was transported to a magical old-world American society and immersed in it joyfully.

And here comes the cherry on top – I bravely downloaded Emma. I started reading it, and with every page, my mind kept threatening to give up, because the story just wasn’t going anywhere. But I decided to power through the book, and somehow I did. And then came the best surprise – as I progressed, there came a point in the book after which I wasn’t able to put it down! 😀

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And then realisation hit me like a lightning bolt (excuse the cliche).. Jane Austen is never going to write like Sidney Sheldon, and she shouldn’t! She most definitely has an extremely boring style of writing:

1. The setting is very small – the entire story takes place in a single small village consisting of probably 5 families in total.

2. So it is just the people who carry the story forward. There are no interesting places/descriptions to entice you.

3. She writes in chronological order of events – like this: “Once upon a time there was a girl called Mary who lived with her father…”. There is nothing in this sentence that would make you want to read the next sentence. At least the first 100 pages of Austen’s books are usually like this.

4. Hers are novels of manners – describing the manners of upper-class English folk in the early 19th century Georgian era. Who can relate to that? Seriously?!

However, despite a good many flaws, the one strong point of Austen’s writing is the strength of the depiction of her characters. Only when I got really hooked to Emma, of all books, did I realise that what was making me religiously read the book inspite of the insipid writing style, was the characters.

I am not saying I like Emma Woodhouse, but the way her flaws were portrayed and her character depicted got me hooked to know how life was going to turn out for her after all. Ditto with Elizabeth Bennet.

I’m not going to presume to be arrogant enough to decode Jane Austen, but this was just my humble discovery of myself – what works for me in a book, and how I should never ever trash a book or an author based on reading a gist or a single page. Each book has a million wisdoms to impart, and at the very least, all I can do is endeavour to read them. 

Anyway, this post wasn’t meant to be about Jane Austen. It was supposed to be about me rediscovering Classics. So next on my list is Sense and Sensibility. And then PG Wodehouse. And then Atlas Shrugged. And then we’ll see.

But even I got a little tired of 19th century English, and had to take respite in a modern-day vampire fantasy novel full of fangs and thrills. Once again, #lessonlearnt – I, who usually don’t try new authors unless someone recommends them very strongly, tried reading Richelle Mead, and fell in love with her writing style in the very first chapter!

So yeah, life has been full of such surprises of late – just that they’re all happy surprises! 🙂 Even the fact that I’ve managed to write such a lengthy post is a huge surprise!

On that bookish note, toodles! 🙂

The Book reading challenge!

So after years of avid reading which descended into months of no reading, which then graduated to weeks of sporadic reading.. I’ve now decided to graduate further to full-blown avid reading once again.

I fondly remember times when I used to read anything and everything I laid eyes on.. much like Hermione Granger you might say. But those are old memories, and now all I can think of is bitter thoughts of how I am no longer able to read like that. Anyhoo, I decided it’s time to throw out the mopey face and make fresh reading memories again!

I signed up for a Goodreads account at last, and well.. I have an Amazon/Kindle account already. So I’ve now signed up for the 2014 book reading challenge in Goodreads. It allows you to set a number – how many books you would like to finish reading before the end of this year? I’ve set a goal of 12 books from July to December – you know, at the rate of 2 books a month. I can read more.. but well.. I’m more of a realistic-goal-setting-person! 😛

I intend reading a lot of Classics this year, so I may not be posting any reviews; but I will most certainly keep you updated as and when I finish a book.

Now wish me luck! 🙂