I read this today afternoon, and since it was quite an entertaining read, I decided to give it three stars.
I was quite shocked that GR was adding authI read this today afternoon, and since it was quite an entertaining read, I decided to give it three stars.
I was quite shocked that GR was adding authors against their wishes, and getting their books reviewed by trolls and carpet-bombed with one-star ratings. To me, this is the intellectual equivalent of kidnap and gang-rape. To be honest, however, I could not for the life of me a way to prevent GR from adding a book to their database. Maybe there is a legal recourse against having an author page - or maybe having a disclaimer sort of thing "this author is here against his/ her wishes": I don't know. Serious legal minds have to debate on this issue.
Most of the author's arguments against the review system, however, is self-defeating. Removing the like buttons, the rating system and the comment thread will take all fun out of reviewing. Most of us readers are here for chatting with like-minded people on books, and getting that "ego-boost" (as Zoe Desh says)from seeing others appreciating us. But we can really think about the dislike button - I suspect many of my reviews will see a flurry of activity if that is implemented!
There are, of course, some bizarre suggestions which cannot be implemented. I quote two below:
Anyone proven to have selected Read Book or DNF, when they didn't read the book should have all of their reviews removed. In many cases, especially troll attacks, it would be easy to prove from the author's sales figures, except for those books purchased at Amazon that are immediately returned, which is a good reason not to market your titles through Amazon. (This is the primary reason I no longer market my titles on Amazon.)
I cannot for the life of me think of a way to find out whether a book has been read by a particular reviewer from the author's sales figures. I suspect there is some higher mathematics involved here, possibly involving partial differential equations and Laplace transforms.
Since it is Goodreads policy to add every newly published book to their database and thus profit from them, they should attempt to contact authors and inform them their book is on Goodreads. Until an author claims their author page, Goodreads should not allow reviews or ratings. If an author informs Goodreads they don't want their book listed, remove it, or at least do not allow reviews and ratings.
Even though this is a laudable suggestion, since books are many a time added by reviewers themselves, GR would have to employ virtually an army to check out what has been added and contact the authors. And suppose the author is from a third-world country - where most people don't read, according to Ms. Desh - consider what a nightmare this would be. This will effectively kill the site.
My personal feeling is that when one publishes a book, one should be brave enough to let it go out into the world by itself and survive. If it dies at the first whiff of adverse opinion, maybe it was not worth saving at all.
Based on the excellent suggestions from the various erudite ladies and gentlemen on the comment thread, i hereby put forward a proposal to make the reviewing system on GR more honest.
1. Have the reviewer answer a set of questions on the book before writing the review. The questions shall be randomly chosen from a set prepared by the author him/ herself.
2. The reviewer has to attain a certain passing grade (say 70%) to be allowed to write a review.
3. In order to prevent countless multiple attempts, a maximum of three chances shall be provided. The second and third chance shall entail payment. If the reviewer misses out on the third chance, he/ she will not be allowed to review that book...ever.
4. In order to prevent multiple sock puppet accounts, henceforth all reviewers in GR will have to provide passport copies at the time of joining, and should be attested by three GR members of good standing.
5. If reviewer fails on answering the questions correctly for three books, his/ her account shall be suspended for a period of three months. If the offence is repeated, the account shall be frozen for a year. A third offence shall result in a life ban.
6. The above does not prevent the possibility of a troll reviewer reading a book and still providing a snarky review. To prevent this, an arbitration panel comprising of an equal number of reviewers and authors shall be set up. Each reviewer has to post a bond of 1000$ should his/ her review be challenged. If the challenge is held up, the money shall be forfeited and divided equally among the author and GR.
7. To ensure that the reviewer has sufficient capability for reviewing, he/ she shall have to pass an examination where three books of suitable complexity will be given for review (Finnegan's Wake and Trainspotting are examples which readily spring to mind). He/ she has to review the same and the review shall be analysed by an expert panel of judges, who will pronounce whether the reviewer is capable to review books on GR.
The Terrible Librarian
The hierarchy at Goodreads is as follows: above all is the Librarian, queen bees in the hive. Under no circumstances ever challenge a Librarian. Never! They maintain absolute, dictatorial control over each of your Book Description pages, once you have submitted them and a direct line to the Goodreads gestapos in the front office...
...When you load book information into the Goodreads Book Description database, you grant control over the content of that information to the Goodreads Librarians. Look carefully at the form, especially the Book Description portion. All information on that form, once filled in, belongs to Goodreads and is controlled by Goodreads' Librarians, not you. Once you enter information, it cannot be changed without Librarian approval. You may believe that information about your book is yours, but it's not. If you end up on the wrong side of a Librarian, they will make it hell for you to modify information on the Book Description page, especially if you try to minimize it...
...The simple fact is, you can't be a Librarian until you publish at least 50 reviews of your own and apply and get accepted by the Librarian guild. Most Librarians that I was aware of were not authors, so I wondered why they were given authority over author data in the Book Description pages. Would have thought that was a Goodreads staff function. Except there is almost no Goodreads staff. And this is the reasoning they give for having Librarians: "So we created a new status that we bestow on those interested in helping keep things nice and tidy, which has worked out well." Unfortunately, I would argue that it is unethical to give power to readers over what is in an authors Book Description pages, when those readers can review authors and call on their trolls to harass an author that gets uppity with them...
No, the above is not a horror story: this is the truth at GR, according to the author... and who am I to dispute the firsthand experience of such an erudite person? To avoid this site from transforming into a police state in the control of these terrible creatures and their trolls, I make the following modest suggestions:
1. The 50 reviews that librarians have to publish as a minimum should be examined by the aforementioned panel of authors and readers. Only if their absolute impartiality is established beyond all doubt, should they be allowed to become librarians.
2. Once a reader becomes a librarian, he/ she should not be allowed to review books. We do not allow referees to play matches, do we?
3. All librarians should be forced to set their profile data to private and all their friends should be removed. They should not be allowed to participate in any public forum or discussion. This will effectively prevent them from calling upon their pet trolls.
These are the suggestions which I can think of right off the top of my head. Hopefully Manny et al. will build on it....more
This book was promoted in a big way here in the Middle East a couple of years back, as though this was some kind of seminal work: maybe to capitaliseThis book was promoted in a big way here in the Middle East a couple of years back, as though this was some kind of seminal work: maybe to capitalise on the anti-Israel sentiment that runs across the region. I downloaded a free copy and started to read it, but gave up after a couple of chapters - it is such unadulterated drivel.
However, since we are all having a discussion on free speech, I am interested in what everyone thinks about Henry Ford's right to it - even though what he writes is hard-core antisemitism, totally unpalatable to the West.
My point here is that I feel most Muslims, even the moderate ones, may feel the same kind of anger when the prophet is caricatured, that the Westerner feels when Jews are insulted as a race. Should we still allow it? Is there a limit to free speech? ...more
I have seen that usually those of my friends who share my taste in books tend to rate the same book uniformly. Gone Girl was the exception. I found 1-I have seen that usually those of my friends who share my taste in books tend to rate the same book uniformly. Gone Girl was the exception. I found 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-starred reviews scattered in uniform distribution. So I decided that the book must be unusual.
It most certainly is. Good/ bad depends on perception - but this definitely is not your run-of-the-mill thriller.
I cannot review the book properly without spoilers. So if you have not read the book so far, read it (or decide that you are not ever going to read it!) then come back to this review.
The story is very well written. The narrative gimmick using two voices, and making them both unreliable, is a masterstroke. In the first part, we are (mostly) on Amy's side, and Nick comes off as a pampered dandy who takes male supremacy for granted. It is only towards the end of the section that we become aware of Amy's two-facedness: and the second part starts with a totally different Amy, a socio/ psychopath, and we learn that the narrative we have been following diligently is Amy's fake diary meant to fool the police into thinking that Nick killed her. We have been had.
I also liked the way the suspense was built-up. There is no big reveal at the end: the mystery is cleared up by the middle of the novel, and the author is more interested in getting the the reader to turn pages in anticipation of what will happen instead of what happened. This was rather like a Hitchcock movie, complete with the McGuffins.
The concept that we are forced to live in the social persona we ourselves create is fascinating. In Nick and Amy's case, they are forced to live a lie for the rest of their lives - a kind of life sentence.
Now, the negatives:
The characters are awful. I disliked Nick: I disliked Amy: I disliked her parents: I disliked his parents: I disliked Andy:I disliked most of the minor characters... (only Go seemed to be the kind of person I could like). So even if the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo had come down in force and wiped out all the characters in this book, I feel I would have been rooting for them. It is not good for the author when the reader gets pissed off with all her brainchildren.
Also, I feel the story got away from the teller at the end. It is not credible that Amy could get away with so many things, especially when her second story is filled with more holes than the roads in Kerala during the monsoon. Only one cop suspects her: others have all been duped by the media, and Nick seems to be effectively silenced by the threat that she can tear away his facade in front of the world. Is the media influence this strong in America? Aren't there at least some intelligent people who can see beyond?
Lastly, I could not understand how Amy managed to impregnate herself with Nick's stored-up semen. This seems to be the McGuffin to end all McGuffins. (hide spoiler)]
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I am usually not in favour of anything which purposefully harms religious sentiments. In India, we have so many religions so sometimes we have to walkI am usually not in favour of anything which purposefully harms religious sentiments. In India, we have so many religions so sometimes we have to walk on eggshells: and respect for all religions is taught from a very tender age. So when the purportedly anti-Islam cartoons were first published, I never paid much attention, except remarking privately it was in bad taste.
But now things are different. When the guns of intolerance are trained on artists, it is time for all of us who are interested in art and literature to take up arms - and by that I do not mean guns. The written word packs more power than a thousand guns - and when it is combined with laughter, the power increases hundredfold.
So let's join in solidarity with the slain cartoonists, and ridicule these extremists and their dictatorial version of religion to death.
The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and fatal assault that occurred on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood in South
The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and fatal assault that occurred on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood in South Delhi, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern, was beaten and gang raped in a private bus in which she was travelling with a male friend. There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. The woman died from her injuries thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore. The incident generated widespread national and international coverage and was widely condemned, both in India and abroad.
From BBC, describing the plight of a Yazidi girl captured by the ISIS:
...She was taken with other women to a sports hall. Then, after a couple of weeks, to a wedding hall. In one place, there were 200 women and girls. These were slave markets. IS fighters could come to take their pick.
"We didn't dare look at their faces. We were so afraid. One girl came back after she had been used as a sex slave and told us everything. After that, IS did not allow anyone else to return.
"They were shooting to scare us. They took whomever they wanted, by force. We were crying the whole time. We wanted to kill ourselves but we couldn't find a way."
One girl did manage to kill herself, Hannan tells me.
"She slashed her wrists. They didn't let us help her. They put us in a room and shut the door. She died. They said: 'It doesn't matter, we'll just dump the body somewhere.'"
It seems nothing much has changed (at least not for the better) since Susan Brownmiller wrote her book forty years ago.
In the beginning was the law - which stipulated woman as the exclusive property of man.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
In ancient Babylon, according to the laws of Hammurabi, the punishment for raping a virgin was death and the girl was considered blameless. But if a married woman was raped, both parties were considered guilty and thrown into the river. Among the Hebrews, in both the cases both parties were killed by stoning if the crime took place within the city walls, with the logic that the girl could have screamed if she wanted to (gags must have not been invented then). If outside the city walls, the virgin was pardoned because nobody could have heard her screams (the married woman was still executed): however, the rapist only had to pay fifty shekels as compensation - the price of her intact hymen - to her father. Because she was a valuable commodity.
Hence also, the commandment above. Ms. Brownmiller notes that there is no commandment against rape, only adultery. For the Hebrews, "rape" seems to be a crime which did not exist.
The author opines that the institution of marriage must have originated from the practice of capturing a woman for sexual use. Later on, as man became more "civilised", the capture was seen as theft so the custom of buying a bride started, which exists even today in many parts of the world (even bride-stealing exists among some communities).
In Medieval times, the capture of a high-born woman meant access to her wealth and estates. This is a staple of many a Gothic romance, but it is doubtful whether the original events were very romantic.
So throughout history until relatively recently, woman has been viewed as a mere commodity - which has justified the unlawful possession of her body.
From the "handbook" ISIS have reportedly published on the treatment of "female slaves":
Question 1: What is al-sabi?
"Al-Sabi is a woman from among ahl al-harb [the people of war] who has been captured by Muslims."
Question 2: What makes al-sabi permissible?
"What makes al-sabi permissible [i.e., what makes it permissible to take such a woman captive] is [her] unbelief. Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the imam distributes them [among us]."
Question 4: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive?
"It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: '[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or (the captives and slaves) that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6]'..."
Question 5: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female captive immediately after taking possession [of her]?
"If she is a virgin, he [her master] can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, is she isn't, her uterus must be purified [first]…"
Question 6: Is it permissible to sell a female captive?
"It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn't cause [the Muslim ummah] any harm or damage."
Question 9: If the female captive was impregnated by her owner, can he then sell her?
"He can't sell her if she becomes the mother of a child..."
Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?
"It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn't reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however if she is not fit for intercourse, then it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse."
Question 19: Is it permissible to beat a female slave?
"It is permissible to beat the female slave as a [form of] darb ta'deeb [disciplinary beating], [but] it is forbidden to [use] darb al-takseer [literally, breaking beating], [darb] al-tashaffi [beating for the purpose of achieving gratification], or [darb] al-ta'dheeb [torture beating]. Further, it is forbidden to hit the face."
Question 21: What is the earthly punishment of a female slave who runs away from her master?
"She [i.e. the female slave who runs away from her master] has no punishment according to the shari'a of Allah; however, she is [to be] reprimanded [in such a way that] deters others like her from escaping."
Ms. Brownmiller describes in great detail (the longest chapter in the book) how women have been considered traditional "spoils" of war: she details the atrocities during the first and second world wars, the Vietnam war, and Pakistan's war in Bangladesh. The incentive of female bodies to possess has always been an incentive to the soldier, walking on the edge of death. The female is seen just as an object to gratify male craving. The excerpts from the "handbook" above proves that little has changed.
This is my weapon, this is my gun This is for fighting, this is for fun
I remember reading William Golding's Lord of the Flies in my teens. It was in translation, but the story absolutely blew me away. A few years later, I made it a point to search out the original and read it, and was fascinated all over again.
Golding wrote his novel as a counterpoint to The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne which told the tale of three British boys marooned on an island and who uphold the values of comradeship, truth and valour. He wanted to prove that in an isolated society, mankind will slowly "devolve" to bestial levels, rather than remaining upright human beings. And Golding made his point rather forcefully.
The reason for my mentioning the novel here is, T. D. Ramakrishnan also sets out to prove something similar in Alpha. A group of 12 young people, led by the middle-aged professor of anthropology Prof. Utpalendu Chatterjee, leave behind civilisation to return totally to nature - on the island "Alpha" in the Indian Ocean, situated 759 kilometres south of Sri Lanka and with an area of only 17.75 square kilometres. Here, the experimenters who are themselves the subjects leave behind everything (including their clothes), literally burn their boat, and start a new life on the island. After twenty-five years, they are to be contacted by a person whom only the professor knows.
The professor believed that free from the constraints of society, they would establish a colony of new and superior human beings - but what Avinash, the person who comes to meet them after twenty-five years finds is a society of semi-intelligent beings totally sunk into a bestial lifestyle. Only three of the original inhabitants are alive and are rescued: and through them, interspersed with the biographical notes on each participant prepared by Professor Chatterjee at the beginning of the experiment, the story unfolds...
...Only, there is not much to unfold.
It is a repetitive tale of violence, rape and incest: how each of the participants lost their veneer of refinement and culture and became savages. The author seems to place very low stock on the innate goodness of human beings. While in Golding's tale, the descent into savagery is very convincingly done, here it is abrupt. It is as though they were waiting for a chance to rape and kill each other.
The women are repeatedly raped by the men, and the children are left to fend for themselves after they are weaned of breast milk: this is not true even of primitive man, as the famous anthropologist Desmond Morris has made clear. Pair bonding between male and female is biological, because the human child takes a long time to mature and family life is essential. So as human beings evolved, the family came into being naturally. It is difficult to believe that this group will lose it so fast, even though common sex is one of the "rules" of the experiment.
Another drawback of the book is that none of the characters are well-drawn: we don't care enough about them to feel anything when something happens to them. Ramakrishnan is a novelist of ideas, but when your characters become so one-dimensional, any novelist has to stop and think.
Two stars for a brave new idea in Malayalam literature....more
My reading for 2014 has been a mixed bag. I had decided to concentrate on reading more serious books, but can claim only partial success.
My list contaMy reading for 2014 has been a mixed bag. I had decided to concentrate on reading more serious books, but can claim only partial success.
My list contains a lot of political/ religious books (difficult to separate the two in today's world), many of them polemics. Understandably, all such books got single stars. Of all the hate-mongering idiots, I think Ann Coulter takes the cake. I also read a very good book on secularism by Paul Cliteur.
Another significant difference I can see from previous years is that I have read a lot of books in my native language Malayalam. I am very happy with this development, as I was in danger of totally losing touch with it.
I can also see a trend of more non-fiction books than fiction: most of them, apart from politics and religion, related to literary theory, mythology and fairy tales. So I think my intention of reading serious books is not a total failure after all.
Subhash Chandran writes well, but his prose is a bit difficult to wade through. He makes the reader work at each sentence, careful2.5 stars, actually.
Subhash Chandran writes well, but his prose is a bit difficult to wade through. He makes the reader work at each sentence, carefully sifting out the multiple layers of meaning he injects into each. I enjoyed his award winning novel,മനുഷ്യന് ഒരു ആമുഖം (A Preface to Man), even though written in this sort of prose-however, for a short story, l find it a little off-putting, as one just does not have the time to get into the style. And some of the stories are really short.
The stories are a mixed bag. The title story "The Time when Clocks Stop", narrating the tale of a thief, an orphaned child and a multitude of damaged clocks frozen at the exact minute of a huge earthquake is metaphorically the strongest - however, a couple of other stories, one describing the madness of a young mother and another, talking about a boring afternoon train journey sliding rapidly into horror (the story ends abruptly at the climax) - were having more impact in terms of sheer narrative power. An obsession with time and its cessation (death) runs as a common thread - as does the author's mildly annoying obsession with human excretion....more