Last weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and lookingLast weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and looking like a book-lover's toy. Seriously, how do you resist a book like that? Even if I didn't like Murakami, I would probably walk out of the store with that book.
I love books (and food) that are interactive. It feels almost four-dimensional to me. There's the mental pleasure of being lost in the book and there's the physical pleasure of just wrapping that treasure open and wading in with excitement. The front of the book has two flaps that snap together, very much like your typical cereal box. And then you flip the pages to read.
As for the plot, The Strange Library was... well, strange. A boy goes to a library to borrow some books, instead he is sent to the mysterious basement where he had never set foot in. There he meets a strange man who have some twisted devilish motivation for running that place. The boy is trapped in his evil scheme and comes across a sheep-man and a mysterious girl who sort of help him.
There is more to the story but I don't want to go too much into it because this book is a nice little gem to read. There is some strangeness to the book, and it feels more like being lost in a nightmare. But it is nowhere near strange as some of his other books. It reminded me more of Neil Gaiman's Coraline than a Murakami book. If you have been unsure about reading Murakami, this is probably the good one to start with. It has a lot of his tell-tale narrative style and some of the strange stuff he is famous for, but it is not a full-fledged Murakami book, both in size and content, so you'll probably not feel too dazed.
That said, this is a short book, more a short story than a novel. His novels have felt more complete, if you know what I mean, despite any amount of fantastical themes. This is more like a fable, so if you do want to sample a full Murakami, I would try one of his novels, maybe Kafka on the Shore, which I enjoyed a lot....more
Letters in the Attic was another quick read I found on Scribd. Lizzy McMann is secretly happy that her father wants to leave her mother. She never likLetters in the Attic was another quick read I found on Scribd. Lizzy McMann is secretly happy that her father wants to leave her mother. She never liked him anyways and besides, he rarely acknowledged her, unless he wanted something. But her mother wasn't taking it too well. They eventually decide to move out of Phoenix to upstate New York, where her grandparents resided. Lizzy didnt even know she had grandparents so she was looking forward to meeting them.
The stay at New York turns out to be completely different from what she imagined it to be. Lizzy's grandmother has been very hostile and wouldn't even look at her. She also took every opportunity to ridicule her daughter. Lizzy also ends up learning certain secrets about her mother that makes her initially excited and later very angry. Along the way, she ends up learning that she likes girls and that fact scares her, especially since everyone she knows considers that a very bad thing.
Letters in the Attic was a sweet read but I think younger readers may appreciate it more than I did. I wasn't super thrilled by how the characters evolved through the book. The mother was someone who never learned from her mistakes, and most characters aren't fleshed out too well. It bugged me a lot how every chapter started in the present and then flits back to something that happened a few days or weeks ago. I don't mind flashbacks generally, but this style of narration just seemed too distracting and tiring. Besides, I am not a fan of characters who live too often in the past. Other than these odd hiccups, this was a nice book. All Lizzie wants is a dream home, with parents that would form the perfect family portrait. But more importantly, she wants her mother to be happy and often ends up taking care of her mother....more
I chose to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop almost on an impulse. I was browsing through Scribd and came across this title. I find it always diI chose to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop almost on an impulse. I was browsing through Scribd and came across this title. I find it always difficult to resist books with bookish titles - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, The Strange Library, The Bookshop, just to list some of them. In The Bookshop, Florence Green risks everything she has to open a bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough, which does not have any other bookstores. Despite many expecting her to fail, she actually succeeds and makes more money than she expected to, enough to hire an assistant and start a lending library. But her prosperity invites a lot of negative attention from the owners of nearby stores - none of them happy about the smaller number of people coming to their stores - all content to blame Florence for their woes. Florence also ends up crossing Mrs. Gamart, who, as soon as she becomes aware of Florence's plan to open a bookshop, wants to make it known that the building Florence wants to buy is better suited for an arts center. To top it all, the building is very old and has plenty of maintenance problems, including something that feels haunted.
I was pleasantly surprised by The Bookshop. It's a really tiny book - just 190-odd pages and reads very fast. It was also very interesting and not just because it has a bookshop at the crux of the story. The ending wasn't what I expected at all, and for a good while, it left me feeling sad overall, but it also hints heavily at all the brouhaha that happens when the playing field is not level, and you have some influential people dictating terms. This was my first brush with Penelope Fitzgerald and I would certainly like to read more of her books....more
I've been trying to review this book in my head for a week and I always get stuck with the summary. This is not an easy book to review, not because itI've been trying to review this book in my head for a week and I always get stuck with the summary. This is not an easy book to review, not because it is deep or mysterious or happens to have a spoiler you absolutely should not reveal, but just because this is a book more about the journey of two beautiful characters, and a journey cannot be summarized in any easy way.
I had wanted to read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, ever since I saw this gorgeous cover and spunky title. But like many other books I want to read, it found its place in the dusty never-trodden folds of Mt TBR. Until I found myself in a rut for most of December, and remembered Jenny's review of this book. I found it on Scribd and settled down with the book, hoping it would save me from a rut. It did more than that.
Aristotle, or Ari, as he likes to be called, is a somewhat-angry teen who is more like his quiet, soft-spoken, PTSD-suffering father than his cheerful happy mother. He wants to understand his father better, but his father isn't keen to talk much. Dante, on the other hand, is a know-it-all, who makes up rules for everything in life and expects things to go his way. When the two boys meet one day at a swimming pool, they hit it off immediately, and become best friends. But when Dante moves to Chicago for a year, Ari doesn't quite behave as if he misses him. He is mostly confused by how he feels.
If I didn't know anything about this book, I would have been even more wowed by how Benjamin Alire Sáenz tells the story of Aristotle and Dante. But, this was still a seriously awesome book. Aristotle and Dante are at the age when boys are exploring their sexuality. They think about dating and meet girls, and learn things along the way about themselves and their friendship. Dante, being the more open person, reveals his feelings easily. Ari, who is the narrator of the book, isn't much into understanding himself, even in his own thoughts. He doesn't believe that he could be a great person that other people love and respect.
But Ari made for the perfect narrator. His confusion is our confusion too. At times, I could see what his thoughts were hinting at, but since our narrator refuses to pursue those ideas, I doubted my theories. When I finished reading this book, I wanted to reread it - this time, armed with complete knowledge of the characters, so that I could look at their behavior better.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a satisfying coming-of-age story. By the end of the book, they learn one of the most important facts about themselves that they wouldn't have learned without each other, or at least not until much later. Moreover, I was super happy to come across two teens who obviously and openly loved their parents. I know real-life teens who adore their parents, but the teens in many books either hate their parents, think their parents are not important, or love their parents but don't ever share that opinion....more
I have a big fascination with Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder). It started with reading Sidney Sheldon's TellI have a big fascination with Multiple Personality Disorder (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder). It started with reading Sidney Sheldon's Tell Me Your Dreams, in which a woman has three alters and since this is Sidney Sheldon, there's a lot of sex and damaged woman issues. Then there was an Indian movie, Anniyan, that tackled this issue. The movie was a success but it was more entertaining and less informative about the illness. I've read that book and watched the movie multiple times just because that illness fascinated me. And so, when I saw Switching Time for sale in Audible, I purchased it after doing a quick review scan to make sure people were somewhat happy with the book and that it wasn't fake like Sybil's story is.
Switching Time is about a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder and told from her psychiatrist's perspective. Karen, the subject with the disorder, has 17 alters that were born to help her deal with severe trauma. She has been raped too many times by her father, her grandfather, her grandmother's brother, neighbors, friends of her father, and others. While this was happening, her own mother pretended she couldn't see what was happening in front of her, and years later, would deny that any such thing happened.
Karen's father and grandfather were members of a small cult and would brainwash Karen into believing that she was a devil and deserved to be tortured. As part of their rituals, she has had all kinds of pointy objects scar her skin and inserted into her. If not the rituals, then it is some night-time gathering at her parents' house, where her father invited his colleagues to rape Karen for a fee. Some men weren't too comfortable about this, but the fear of losing their jobs made them accept this "offer". I was honestly in shock. I know that there is a lot of abuse in this world but it's always been something I read about in the news, or vaguely mentioned in a book, or seen in a movie or the news. I have also read a few books where there is significant abuse, but nothing of the sort that's in Switching Time, where one person gets abused consistently over a significant period of time. Karen mentions growing up hearing everyone question her self-worth that it never occurred to her even as an adult that they could be wrong, that she deserves every bit of respect that every other person gets.
When Karen arrives at Dr. Richard Baer's office, she doesn't have even one iota of confidence or desire to fix her problems. She was depressed, docile, diffident, and not sure what to look forward to during her therapy sessions. It isn't until a few years later that her disorder is revealed.
It is fascinating what the mind is capable of to protect itself. Karen's mind would split itself when she was facing a particularly unbearable trauma. Some of her alters are males who were created when she was being raped. Since a male doesn't have a vagina, it cannot feel the rape, thus protecting Karen from the experience. They also do not share those terrible memories with Karen, so she really didn't "know" most of these incidents when Dr. Baer was treating her. Besides, each of these alters held a certain trait of Karen - there was an artist, a sweet little girl, a devout, and two alters who took care of all the alters and managed them. There was also one who had a propensity to steal, another one who over-ate to deal with issues, and then several alters who came out when Karen was hurt particularly bad and hence would forever carry those pains with them.
Yes, there is a lot of sad stuff in this book. But oddly enough, it was also optimistic. I knew that she will recover and I just wanted to cheer her on while she battled her inner demons. If reading about child abuse is something you can stomach, this is a book that should be on your list. Despite how much Karen has suffered, Switching Time is really about the awesomeness of the human mind and how it can also be fixed.
Be warned though that the writing in this book isn't particularly great. It reads more like a journal and could have benefited from a good editor to remove some of the repetitions and redundancies. It was easy on the ears though - it gave the impression of someone narrating their experiences realtime. Therefore the audiobook is certainly highly recommended. There's also a ton of fascinating stuff in this book so those made for some exciting listening. This is probably among my fastest listens - the audiobook is about 13 hours, but I took to listening to it whenever I had a few minutes to spare....more
I am Malala was never on my radar. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had not heard of Malala until this book began making the waves in blogospI am Malala was never on my radar. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had not heard of Malala until this book began making the waves in blogosphere. (Yes, I seem to be living under a rock. In my defense, I stopped reading the news about four years ago. I didn't have a desire to ruin my days after reading some particularly upsetting news.) The other reason was that I keep my memoir reading to a minimum, and I am never a fan of autobiographies that extoll the writer's great virtues. Luckily, Malala is one of the most matter-of-fact narrators I've come across. The only exclamations in her book are when she talks about having fun with her friends just like any regular schoolgirl should. There is no hint of arrogance or "I did a great thing therefore people worship me" attitude in it, and these made this book a seller.
If you, like me, had no idea who Malala is, this young Pakistani girl got shot by the Taliban in her own hometown because she was speaking out for education for girls. Talk about stuff that can get you killed in some places! Malala was 14 when this happened and the last 15-20% of the book follows this incident and her recovery afterwards. But it is the first 80% of the book that won me over. I cannot reiterate enough how much I loved Malala. She was just like any other girl I knew growing up. She had fun with her friends, she had opinions, and more than anything, she just wanted to be a regular every-girl who attended school without issues. Instead, the Taliban had different plans for her.
Her hometown in Swat was not a heavy Taliban area initially. There were boys and girls schools, and even some coed schools. But a certain Maulana Fazlullah was just beginning to slowly influence people with his religious and often misogynistic opinions. Over time, he began to condemn people who still let girls into school, while also publicly appreciating those girls and women who dropped off school. Malala continued attending.
Besides, her father was also an anti-Taliban activist. All he had ever wanted in life was to run a school where kids like Malala could attend. He encouraged Malala to be strong, though when the death threats started pouring in for him and Malala, he began to worry that he will regret his decision later. But Malala was becoming more renowned on her own accord. She was meeting government officials, writing a blog, and airing her opinions without fearing for her life. Her father was her role model and she had never seen him cower or hide in fear. So why should she?
Malala also gives a good history of her country, Pakistan, and its apparent friendliness with Afghanistan. I'm sure many people know that people in Pakistan also suffer from backwardness, thanks to an inefficient and ever-changing government and its physical and spiritual proximity to Afghanistan. But the latter gets in the news more, simply because the problems there are bigger in comparison to those in Pakistan. Malala is ready to criticize her country when something wrong is being done and also expresses embarrassment when negative attention falls on Pakistan, but her thoughts are nowhere near the disgusting or impractical ones that usually occupy the airwaves most of the time.
I purchased this book on Audible when I had to choose a book to complete a sale. Funnily, this is the book I listened to first, of the lot. The narrator, Archie Panjabi, did a great job narrating this story and made for a great voice in my car during the couple of weeks it took me to finish listening to this book. I am glad this book turned out to be informative (there is so much about Pakistan that I learned here - all interesting stuff too) and personable (Malala is certainly a charming person), but most importantly, this is a record of a little girl's triumphing over the Taliban, and that, in my opinion, is a great read anytime. On the other hand, books like these make me sad though, because for every well-known girl like Malala getting shot and saved, there must be countless other girls dying without a grave or newsprint to honor them....more
I have a confession to make. I have a morbid curiosity for what goes on behind some of the most popular technological companies out there. I love to fI have a confession to make. I have a morbid curiosity for what goes on behind some of the most popular technological companies out there. I love to find out how some of their products came into being, who decided who would become the CEO, and how these companies or people got funding to build and sell their products. I don't care much for established products of yesteryears such as Microsoft, Yahoo, or Apple. But dish me some of the sordid stories from Google, Facebook, or Twitter and I'll probably be all ears. I guess some of that interest comes from being a programmer myself but it's fascinating to learn how an everyday programmer, the likes of whom I see everyday at work, would build something that the world would just adopt heavily.
Still, none of that eagerness nor watching (and being shocked by) The Social Network prepared me for just how sordid a background Twitter has. Seriously, I'm surprised that such a discordant company led by people who barely got along managed to produce a product that is used by every Tom and his neighbor.
Hatching Twitter starts at the very beginning - with Blogger's creation. Evan "Ev" Williams developed what would become Blogger and it wasn't soon before it was bought by Google. After a brief stint at Google, he left the company and started a podcasting company called Odeo along with his neighbor Noah Glass. Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone joined shortly, along with several others who would be part of this group for a long time to come. Although they were officially building a podcast product (though that term was not yet in the mainstream), unofficially an idea to share status messages with other people in an SMS-like manner was taking hold among them. Jack Dorsey came up with the idea first, and soon they put together a very early version of Twitter. Then they sat waiting for people to sign up.
Except, it didn't get anywhere.
It isn't until months later that Twitter began to make a tiny name for itself at a time when startups were all the craze.
I found Hatching Twitter immensely fascinating. These founders are clearly very intelligent, but most of them were also very introverted or socially awkward. Twitter was a big part of who they wanted to be. As Noah often said, Twitter was where he could make lots of friends and not feel too alone, as he often did in real life. These guys bonded with each other easily, but some of them were quick to back-stab someone if it meant getting a leg up in the small Twitter corporate ladder. Jack and Ev abhorred confrontation and many a problem at Twitter could be blamed at their hesitation to address issues constructively.
Over time, Twitter's leadership changed hands quickly and people were getting fired. Jack Dorsey was made CEO first since Twitter was his idea after all. Noah Glass was fired from the company even though he was a big part of the company. When Jack wasn't fixing problems but trying to make new plans for Twitter, the board fired him and made Ev the CEO. The board would later do the same thing to Ev and make Dick Costolo the CEO. There were times I wanted to gouge my ears out - this company was filled with people who didn't know how to solve problems! Unfortunately, that's the story of many corporate companies.
If only the story ended there.
Just as in fiction, Jack comes back to get his revenge on Ev for firing him. He seemed to be playing some mental chess where he moved his pieces (the people influencing Twitter) around and managed to get back on top. At least, this is what the author says and after doing a fair bit of research since, this does seem to be true. Amidst all this betrayal and poor sportsmanship at Twitter, Noah's is certainly the saddest tale of all. He had a very effusive personality and was often a difficult personality to handle, but I got the feeling that he was also the only genuine person working at Twitter. Being fired from the one company he poured his soul into hit him too hard, so much that he has mostly disappeared from social media.
There were some interesting mentions that most of us users were a part of. Remember the #failwhale that used to grace the page of Twitter every so often? The #failwhale is also a big part of the book. I was amazed to learn that Twitter's failwhale woes hung around for years. I joined Twitter in early 2010 and even then it was the one page I ran into more times than any other. The #failwhale is also one prime reason for both Jack and Ev to get fired. Another interesting detail was that the Twitter founders didn't care for the hashtag. They considered it too technical and didn't think users would ever understand how to use them. Programmers do need to get down from their high horse and give people more credit....more
Kate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contaKate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contain frozen small creatures like shrimp, plankton, krill. These scientists work in a private research lab headed by Erastus Carthage, who has managed to successfully bring back to life such frozen creatures, though they managed to live only for a few minutes. During this particular expedition, however, they find a human body in one such berg. Nobody believes they will be able to animate such a large and complicated specimen, but science prevails and our frozen man is alive again, more than a 100 years after he was presumed dead.
But Carthage doesn't care much about the social or ethical aspects of bringing such a person back into this world. He wants to see if the man can be made to live longer than the projected time based on past experiments (21 days), and also whether he can use this project to get as much private funding as possible. The reporter, Dixon, is thrilled to be the only media person to have exclusive rights to the project. While these two people remain focused on furthering their career ambitions, Kate and the frozen guy begin to bond.
The Curiosity was a very interesting book with a fascinating premise, though not without a fault. It is narrated by four protagonists - Dr. Kate Philo, who is not only scientifically invested in the project but also personally; Dixon, our news reporter who callously basks in his exclusive rights to watch and report on the project; Dr. Erasthus Carthage, the self-absorbed arrogant conceited scientist who focuses only on what can make himself tick; and our frozen man, lost for 100 years at sea, and suddenly awakened in a lab that is futuristic to his time.
I've often been fascinated by how much our world has changed in the last decade but I probably did not delve too deep into that because watching the world through our frozen man's eyes was a treat. During his heyday, the idea of landing on the moon was not even an idea much less a laughable one. There hadn't been a world war yet, no computers, no food industry. And when this guy comes along and sees the world, he is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude by which it has changed. His chapters were, therefore, the most enjoyable ones for me.
While this past vs present comparison was very well done by the author, his character developments left much to be desired. All four characters struck me as highly one-dimensional shallow people. Dixon is too whiny and has zero respect for women. Carthage is egocentric and focused only on money and fame. Kate is too considerate and empathetic. Our frozen man is too just and gentlemanly. Nobody seems to have an other characteristic and that made the narrative very predictable and boring. Dixon annoyed me the most, though probably because of how many thoughts of his revolved around women (all sordid). Even Carthage's malevolence was a pleasure to read, in comparison.
There were a few things that were very unbelievable to me. For instance, the frozen guy's ancestry is never properly studied. The press of today will go crazy trying to scrounge as much as they can about this man, and there doesn't seem to be any of that in the book. When one reporter belches out that the whole thing is a scam, a lot other news agencies buy the story, when pretty much every evidence pointed the other way. Sure, people like to believe only what sounds reasonable to them. Not the press, though. I also did not enjoy any of the romance between Kate and our frozen guy. I did think that they were very companionable but when it was being taken further, it just left me very annoyed.
The Curiosity was also a very long read. I got the impression that the whole story could have been told just as well in half the book size. The book being too long, however, clearly established the amount of the time that passes between the beginning and the end, and also what that time did to the characters within the pages. I do think that if this book had been shorter, some of that sense of time and place would have been lost, but there were a lot of pages we could have done without. Kiernan, however, writes a beautiful hand and for that reason, I would love to read more of his works. I don't know if it was because at the same time, I was myself pondering the idea of writing more, but I enjoyed a lot of his literary devices and language expressions.
Poor character portrayals aside, this book is a complicated book, especially since it is a hotbed of ethics, morality, and decency. When Kiernan wrote about reanimation, I almost believed that such a technology existed. I was surprised to learn that it did not. Yet. He also raised several ethical questions - would the man even want to be alive again? How should he be cared for afterwards? The most fascinating question for me was about his freedom. The man was born in a free America and is now brought back alive in a free America. Yet, he has no rights, he is locked in a room in a lab, and he is not free to do or eat as he wishes. These were the intriguing aspects of this book, and which Kiernan investigated well. If only the characters had more depth, and the book a little less words and romance....more
If you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldIf you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldn't you just pay 28 bucks for the whole thing? If you were Ove, you would be so angered by the idea of paying the extra 3 bucks that you would buy an extra bouquet you don't want, for a total of 50 bucks, simply on principle.
A Man Called Ove is the story of an angry grumpy irritable yet very lovable man. He doesn't like people or technology. He will let you know immediately if you ignore or violate a rule, and you will not hear the end of it. All he wants to do is die, that's such a simple thing. Except someone always keeps interrupting his plans. Either they want his help or his opinion. Most of the time, these interruptions come in the guise of his new neighbors, the pregnant foreigner and her lanky husband who cannot reverse a trailer. Pretty soon, his former good friend's wife joins in because said former good friend now has Alzheimer's and the city is talking about taking him to a home. As if that is not enough, there is a cat that frequently hangs around near him and guilt trips him into helping it. Ove doesn't even like cats, so it's very infuriating to be bossed around by a cat. Still, he is persistent to die in his nice jacket. Tomorrow is the day he will manage to do it, for sure.
If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you will adore this book. If you didn't like it, you will still adore this book. Ove is such a gem of a character. The kind of person who can annoy you with his old man grumpiness but you will get charmed reading about. I don't even want to compare Ove to Harold Fry because the latter's book was quite somber while A Man Called Ove is the most delightful book I've read since Where'd You Go, Bernadette. So if you liked the Bernadette book, you'll love this one.
I am not even sure how to coherently phrase this review, because really I want you all to just get your hands on this book. So forgive me if I sound a little like a bumbling stammering person. I promise you, it's awe for this book that's causing it.
Ove is very eccentric. He hates Japanese cars. He also hates American cars and French cars. In fact, the only car he approves of is the Saab. He has never owned any other car. Whenever he sold his current car, it was always to buy another Saab. He moans that people don't even make cars like that. A good friend of his used to drive a Volvo. But when he bought a BMW one day, that was it. Ove did not talk to him again. According to Ove, there was no coming back from that. Every morning, he had a routine. Even if he was going to die that day, the routine never changed. He went around his neighborhood making sure that bikes were in the shed (if they were not, he put them there), cars were in the garages, dumpster bins were in order, and that everything was exactly the same everyday, just as it should be.
Ove was also a Mr. Fixit. He pretty much did everything by himself, including building his own home. He has zero respect for today's generation that does not know anything about bleeding radiators or driving a real car. But he is a person who values souvenirs. He is not a materialistic person but give him a squiggly drawing made by your child and he will pin it to his refrigerator. All his eccentricities are funny to read about, but Ove has a reason for each. Why he loves Saab, why he hates white collar people. He is a very righteous man who has had his share of hard times, but he has come back a stronger person because of it.
A Man Called Ove is probably my favorite book this year. It's funny, charming, heartfelt, and moving, not to mention a very nicely paced readable book. It has a very unmixable mix of characters who somehow come together really well. Each chapter title begins with "A Man Called Ove..." and it's fascinating how the author has managed to say so much about this man who initially appears as if he couldn't have any backstory. Most importantly, this book is like someone you can hang out with just to have a really good time....more