A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. ~Oscar Wilde

Archive for the ‘reading moments’ Category

First book of 2016: Facepaint

It is the First of January, 2016, and I just stumbled upon the “First Book of the Year” community.

1stbook2016

I have never made the first book of a year into any kind of priority. Usually, I would not think it to be such a special thought in as much as it should not really matter to someone who reads all the time as to what time of the year it is. To me the year is a man made concept, for humanity’s own need to compartmentalise Time (with a capital T).

But, having just written in my list for 2016, “I have read and reviewed 30 books in 2016” I feel it may be necessary to undergo this ritual. Read the first book, review it. A journey of reading and reviewing 30 books starts by picking up the first book, after all.

To those who are planning to read 100+ books during the year, I commend you. There was a time when I did read a book or two in a week. Now is not that time. My very modest goal of 30 books this year is doubling what I managed to read in 2015. I am content to take my humble back seat in the community.

So my first book is one that I have just started to read over the last couple of days: “Facepaint: The Story of Makeup” by Lisa Eldridge. I am also reading: “The Modern Art Cookbook” by Mary Ann Caws, “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and “Light on Yoga Sutras” by BKS Iyengar. This last book may also be finished as the last book of this year, depending on how many pages I read at a time.

First book of the year

Out of these I think it is easiest for me to finish Eldridge’s book, so I have chosen it to be my first book. It is filled with the most beautiful pictures. Her writing style flows like a conversation, and, as an avid follower of her YouTube channel, it feels like she is reading the book to me.

Thank you Sheila of bookjourney.net for the idea, and Ti of bookchatter.net for pointing me to the community. Happy reading adventures, fellow bookworms…..

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Adults: Young and Not So Young

I have recently discovered BookTubers . This YouTuber family is by no means new, it is just that I have arrived late to the party.

Since I came upon BookTubers via my guilty secret (beauty YouTubers), and since a large percentage of beauty YouTubers are in the early twenties age range, all the BookTubers I initially discovered were also similarly aged. Amazingly, or not so amazingly, this group of YouTube enthusiasts seems to review and read Young Adult Fiction overwhelmingly often. Even though not exclusively, it seems to be that much of the Book Reviews, To Be Read videos, Book Hauls etc. I have watched since discovering this genre, has involved Young Adult Fiction, Graphic Novels, etc. I know that Graphic Novel aficionados would all scream in frustration and fall in a heap, because some Graphic Novels are NOT Young Adult Fiction. E.g. “The Arrival”, by Shaun Tan. Oh dear, I have done it again. “The Arrival” is not a Graphic Novel, it is a Picture Book. Both of which are different to Comics. Sigh.

I remember back to my “freshly twenty” age, and the number of girls around me reading “Mills and Boon” or other such similar romances. I was guilty of sneaking a romance or two into my TBR (to be read, in modern parlance), myself. Most of the time, even at that age, my reading was heavily censored by my parents, which meant I read more classics than romances. Many of my friends were also reading Camus, Sartre, etc and making the atmosphere dense with their (surely half baked?) discussions of such thinkers and their work. Maybe they got those authors. I did not, which does not entitle me to cynicism. I did read a book or a half by such philosophers with no understanding whatsoever, but for the most part, satisfied my parents’ wish of my being a “serious” reader with less demanding books. Many of my compatriots at that age, though, were reading much lighter, romantic novels, which today would definitely be classified as YA. So there has been no generational “dumbing down”. People are reading as before, it is just that in today’s world of room to Internet to fame after a fashion, it is easy to get a very skewed view of what is actually happening in the world.

It has also occurred to me that I originally viewed the term Young Adult differently to what it is probably meant to be. I thought Young Adult meant the more “advanced” book for those who are too young to be called adult. The “Twilight” saga having being called YA probably added to this delusion, for I could not imagine that any adult could seriously digest these books. Amazingly, more than a few adults have, and with love. But YA fiction is aimed at those who are young adults. Who would have thought? Right?

Before I turned away from BookTubers and their vlogs, to more “intelligent” pursuits, because it is a very long time since I have been a young adult, I realised, that, Ariel Bissett, BookTuber, crazy, funny, adorable, and twenty years old, has been chosen by the Man Booker Prize people to be a “Man Booker Prize Vlogger”. OMG, right? This is her (along with four other BookTubers) official task: “This year, the Man Booker Prize will be running its own vlog book club, featuring five popular, literary vloggers in the UK and Canada. The ‘Man Booker Vloggers’ will chat about all things Man Booker from long list stage onwards, posting videos discussing the books and authors in contention for this year’s prize”.

What is the Man Booker Prize, other than being a prestigious award that can make an author’s career jump from the doldrums into the firmament? It’s aim is “to increase the reading of quality fiction, and to attract the intelligent, general audience.” I looked through the list of recent years Man Booker Prize winners, and the closest I have come to reading any of them is having the “White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga on the family bookshelf for a couple of years. I have not read it, another family member has. So, it is time I step off my high horse about BookTubers, and embrace them all.

Cute, Mad Ariel 

Very Insightful Rincey Reads       DeathtoStock_Clementine2

Sanne, whose name is as commons in The Netherlands, as Sarah is in the UK.

Only some of my new discoveries.

Photo Credit: http://deathtothestockphoto.com

Out of the Desert

I don’t like to watch movies made from books that have moved me. The most recent one I can think of is “The life of Pi”. I know. Ang Lee is a revered director and the movie won four Academy Awards. But the movie could not hold a torch to the book. To me, reading the book was like an awakening. I felt it in my nerves and read through it’s pages up until the spine tingling finish with wide open interest and often, laughter swirling through me. I don’t know whether the laughter was intended by the author, but to me, it was an integral part of my joyous experience of the book. The movie left me feeling hollow, unexcited, heavily dissatisfied. Before anyone starts telling me that it would have been a different experience in the theatre, let me say this much. I know. Audio visually it would have been a thrilling experience, but the beauty of Pi’s life was not in its scenery. I have written about my impressions about the book, which you may want to read. I am reading a book right now, that is encased within spectacular views as well, and if it was made into a movie, there would be a similar danger of it being converted into a visual feast, with the story being lost in adaptation.

I don’t think a movie will be made from this book, though. Firstly it is written by Deepak Chopra. Too much controversy. The scientific world seems to hate him and his philosophy. There is a tendency to laugh at his rhinestone encrusted glasses. There must be a spiritual law somewhere, “Thou shalst not wear rhinestone encrusted glasses if thou wisheth to be taken seriously”. In my experience, those who like his books whisper it to people who they are sure would not laugh at them. Perhaps because other people lump the message together with the messenger.

Secondly, this book is “Muhammad – A Story of the Last Prophet”, and there is not much sympathy in the world for his declared, or self professed followers right now. The book is a fictional outpouring of the man that was Muhammad, and the words of God he spoke. There is an intermingling of history and story in the book, which to me is not important. How much of the history do we really know, anyway? Do we care? Again, is the message important, or is the messenger? There may be value in understanding the messenger, as that would put the message into context. It may also help decode the imagery of the era and person into words which can be understood by masses a couple of thousand years down the track. . But in the case of this book, as well as “Buddha – A Story of Enlightenment”, and “Jesus – A Story of Enlightenment”, Chopra has sought to create a man behind the myth, who is part history, part folk lore, part fiction. “Jesus” was an easy read, though soul seeking, and “Muhammad” is building up the same vibes in it. I look forward to finishing it.

If they do make a movie, (will they?) I would love to watch it, because I love the desert scenery. Only three chapters into the book, the evocative desert scenes are making me wish to see it in spectacular panoramic extreme screen and sound, and not just in a small sphere in my head. I would probably even be minded to forgive the director if they strayed from Muhammad and concentrated on showing the beautiful Arabic sands.

desert with camel riders

Photo credit :

Sylwia Bartyzel

Completely Gone, Girl!

I read Gone Girl because of a novel idea I had, and I was advised to read this book as research. Well. My idea for my own novel has flown out through the window, though not because there is any similarity of any kind whatsoever with the book by Gillian Flynn. That credit goes to my two years of sitting on the idea and pretending that it will turn itself into a novel.

It is quite sobering to think that a story like Gone Girl has caught the fancy of at least two million readers or more. The “female noir” (catch phrase of the day) novel has now been made into a movie, starring Ben Affleck, and other stalwarts of Hollywood.

I don’t know. I really don’t know. Is it a part of me that has never outgrown the “quite contrary” child and adolescent I was? The whole world likes this, so I must take a stance and refuse to. Is it an inability to understand subtleties, a failure to face the real problems that grip modern society? The novel left a bad taste in my mouth. I am pretty sure that was what the author intended. Nevertheless, I did not like the taste.

Gone Girl, purportedly, looks at the modern marriage, and peels off the layers of mirages that enshroud the relationship, making or breaking it depending on “who is next to you in bed”(quote, Gillian Flynn). Mostly break, in today’s world littered with relationships and love gone sour. It is very clever. Gillian Flynn worked harder at being clever, than at story telling. To me, the beautiful marriage with unforeseen undercurrents of melodrama, hysteria and betrayal, the oh so surprising plot twist number one, never quite rang true. By Plot Twist Number Two, I was on the lookout for more. Apparently, plot twists are a signature style of Gillian Flynn, if those who have read her previous books are to be believed. The marriage never seemed pure and blissful, and Amy’s narcissistic portrayal of her own life, did not ever quite ring true. The pure, sweet, romantic ex cut throat career woman from Manhattan never took shape in front of my eyes, and I kept switching back to the previous pages, wondering where the catch was.

I have my share of cynicism in my nature, possibly more than my share, as some will testify. I know that people never really, truly, completely know their spouses, and even less, sometimes, themselves. But does it really need a megalomaniac, psychopathic, narcissistic, manipulative character to bring to light the inner shadows that haunt so many relationships?

Apparently it does. Witness the popularity of the novel, and the speed with which Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon.

I have read a few books that I have been underwhelmed by, or have been negatively affected by at first reading, but have grown to like, admire, or even love as the story has sunk in through the days, weeks and months following. I seriously doubt Gone Girl is one of them. In fact, what I liked best about the book was its cover!

Gone girl

Why Pi?

Yann Martel with Life of Pi bookOnce in a while, an experience comes along, which can make or break a life pattern. An experience which can create a life so fraught with change that one does not know whether it is a life broken or a life built.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” is one such experience. The name conjures up the vision of an orange and black flash of a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger, a boy and a wide blue sea.  The prison of the vast sea, the freedom of the boat, the dangers of a life with no challenges, the safety of continually living on the edge of disaster are some of the themes that the story plays with.

Heaving and swaying on the Pacific Ocean, in a rudderless boat, in charge of staying alive and ensuring the ongoing life of a tiger, Piscine Molitor Patel forges his belief in God. He has grown up in a Hindu family, where, nevertheless, religion was not paramount. Pi nurtures within himself a belief in God with guidance from three religious wise men, of the Hindu, Islam and Christian faiths. In a country where these three religions have marched side by side for centuries, he imbibes a wisdom far beyond his adolescent years. He shows mature wisdom in his choices, even before he finds himself as the sole human survivor from a shipwreck when on his way with his family, and some of his family’s zoo to Canada.

In his Preface, Yann Martel promises us a story that would make us believe in God, and proceeds by numerous devices to prove his point. But the beauty of the storytelling is, that, if one stops trying to relate to the symbolism and the overt attempts at creating a parable, if one just slides into the being of Pi, one learns so much about oneself. Just like life, all is revealed when one just let’s go.

At seventeen years of age, Pi is tossed into a life most others would see as a nightmare, and he turns it into a dream, in face of  the unforgiving, harsh realities. He walks with God, and each day becomes a little bit more one of the Universe.

Does the book make one believe in God? I wouldn’t know. To me it is not a matter of choice to believe in God. One does not ask, “Do I believe I need oxygen to live?” One breathes in, one breathes out. One carries on.

The “Life of Pi” is a chance to get in touch with magic. The magic of belief in oneself. The magic of trust in oneself. The magic of love. The magic of beauty. The magic of the wide universe. The magic of trusting your enemy.

The “Life of Pi” is also an opportunity to learn to suspend disbelief. We are surrounded by self proclaimed realists who proudly announce that they only believe what they see. The “Life of Pi” offers us an opportunity to look beyond the touch and the feel of the physical world. To believe in belief.

The “Life of Pi” sets one’s mind free. Free to travel beyond the reaches of the mundane and the predictable. It allows the mind to grasp the possibility of true faith. Not a Faith that is bound by religion, or the persistent dictates of an institution. On the other hand, a faith that whispers in the breeze “ All is good. All is right. How could you have ever doubted?”

Hence, this is a challenging book. It can scare people into reacting and running the other way. Into hurling insults at it. But behind this reaction, it is easy to see that a few layers have fallen off the readers’ eyes, and they are dealing with it!

The book: wikifacts: SPOILER ALERT!Life of Pi book cover

The movie : By Ang Lee

The symbolism: SPOILER ALERT! 

Judging the reviewer

Who is a review for?books

Of late, there has been a lot of to-do about book reviews being offered for sale, and authors purchasing them. Reading through some of the news about that, I had wondered how pervasive this could possibly be. But I did not lose any sleep over it. My decision to read a book, or not, is seldom based on any review, professional, or friendly. (Thank God! Else I would have read those Grey books! Eew!). So I moved on.

I put my hand up recently to review a book and was asked by the author to put it up on amazon.com, but only if I was able to award it 3 points or above. The request felt absurd, but I was not expecting to dislike the book. When I realised I could not award it 3 stars, I started feeling uncomfortable. I felt that for what it was worth (or not), my opinion of the book should be on the site.

My advisory board said I should put  the review up on Amazon nonetheless.

“Any publicity is good”

“You cannot have a biased set of reviews. What kind of request is that? How can you only put up good reviews?”

Since I had not discussed this before reading the book, I decided to do the right thing by the author, and sent off an email saying that I was unable award the book 3 stars and would not be putting up my review on Amazon. But I did also forward my opinion that  it had been an unethical request.

The author accepted my decision, but asked me the question “Why would you offer to write a review if not to help?” Meaning, I presume, that a negative review will not help sell a book.

It set me thinking. Who is a review intended for? Having been always a reader,  I have always assumed that a review is intended to inform the buyer. Information and a recommendation to fork out the dollars or not. If I am part of a setup where only favourable reviews get seen by prospective buyers, then I feel that I am committing fraud.

There are studies that suggest that a book’s sales does not really depend on its reviews. But it seems to me, that they must have some value. How often do we ask those whose opinions we value: “Do you recommend it?” Very often we are swayed by the recommendation for or against. So had I, by not putting up my opinion on amazon, committed fraud, nevertheless? No one would know about it, but what does it say of my integrity?

Loveintegrity

NB: For the record, I was not offered, nor did I expect or ask for payment for the review.

“Who am I?” said Mr Dash to the Duke

The FoundlingTo Kill a Mockingbird

Looking For Alibrandi

Great Expectations

The Harry Potter series.

Little Women

The Book Thief

The Diary of a Young Girl

Jane Eyre

The Secret Garden

And….. The Foundling by Georgette Heyer. What do all these books have in common?

Georgette heyerThe untitled Queen and the creator of the Regency Romance genre has a very special place in my heart. However nonsensical her plots, her dexterous story telling always keeps me gripped. There is never a dull moment… well, maybe there is, on some rare occasions, but much can be forgiven the author who can create side characters like Felix Merriville ( Frederica) and main characters like Freddy Standen (Cotillion). In fact, one  never has to read her in a forgiving spirit, because one is laughing so much and exclaiming so much at some of her more extravagant pen sketches. Heyer is known for her style, and most importantly, for her impeccable research. Each Regency Romance and Georgian Romance is crafted in minute detail from furnishings to language to recreate a genuine feel for the times. Each character is lovingly fleshed out to make it real and palpable. The Foundling is a Regency Romance, even though the love story in it is secondary. I would rather call it a coming of age novel, set in the Regency period.

Twenty four year old Gilly, or, Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford, rolling in wealth, would rather be Plain Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular.  Hemmed in on all sides by well wishers and devoted retainers, Gilly is weary, longing for adventure. He yearns for the opportunity to know himself. When, out of the blue, such an opportunity presents itself, he shakes off his shackles, makes off into the unknown, and tumbles straight into one hair raising escapade after another.

I reread this book for the first time last weekend since the stars in my eye, girly romance, chick lit days. ( Not that we called it chick lit in those hoary days of yore). I remember not liking it. It was not lovey enough. The hero was not romantic or magnificent. He was shy, soft-spoken and self-effacing. The last not meaning that he was without self worth. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. Of course I expected it to be good reading. But I had either forgotten, or never noticed how funny it is. I had definitely missed how wise and multi-dimensional it is. I think I had kept looking for the romance. The beautiful, pert and sweet girl meets dashing, brave and witty boy. The scrapes the two get into, and out of. The everlasting declarations of love, and, the happily ever after feel.

This time around, remembering that the romance had been disappointing, I kept my reading slow. I determined even before I opened the first yellow page to savour the style and the wit, and not worry about the romance. Not being of that romantic teenager frame of mind anymore helped, of course.

I had belly laughs, and laughs that escaped me like a loud snort. I had to go back and read some paragraphs as I was laughing so much I missed details. I shed a few tears (I am an easy crier). But most of all, I fell in love with quiet, shy, Gilly. Gilly who knew his mind. Gilly who had a tender heart. Gilly who did not need to be loud, brash and overbearing to be manly. Gilly who was gentle and kind, and loving, and incredibly brave.

He does resort to stern speaking a few times in the novel, and has recourse to a couple of almost violent acts in self defence. But for a novel set in the early 1800s, with very few resources to save himself, he manages quite well. He learns his own power, he learns to value his blessings, and he learns that while he can fend for himself quite well as Plain Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular, being Duke of Sale has its advantages. He comes home a grown man, and takes his place with sweet dignity. A novel before its time, almost. A SNAG in the days of footpads, and rogues and desperate people.

The romance which is almost an afterthought in this novel also turned out to be very satisfying to my current taste. Or do I mean current wisdom?Cotillion

In fact, I think back to my teenage self, and wonder at how silly I was! In fact, from thinking of it as being one of the worst Georgette Heyer books I have read, I think this has taken up the favourite position. … Mmmmmm.. Cotillion still probably wins by a heartbeat. I will have to read both again, soon, and decide. If I cannot even then, at least I will have read two books full of laughter. Again.

So, Georgette Heyer not only writes the best Regency Romances, she also writes a killer coming of age story.

Do you ever read romances? What is your favourite romance? Would you recommend any? If you don’t read romance, what is your favourite genre? Any suggestions? I am forming a 2013 reading list.

Love Frederica

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