Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another List

Thanks to Atenah's meme, there's been a bit of a buzz about the books we love. The variety of views generated has been so diverse and interesting. Just goes to show how different books have touched us in so many ways. Or the same book in different ways.

Talking about favourite books got me thinking about those books that have disappointed me: I am not talking about sappy chic flick, especially the ones featuring Indian weddings ala Life Isn't all Ha Ha He He (Meera Syal) or Greek weddings or groom hunting culminating in wedding sort of book or Hollywood-script-disguised-as-book of fiction ie Da Vinci Code :you get the drift. (Aside. My social life has dwindled since I refused to proceed beyond chapter 1 of Dan Brown's bestseller. There are some people who will never admit me to their dinner parties anymore as a result. Even when I promise to bring along some lovingly made mushroom risotto. Such is life).

Coming back to the point. I am referring to those books that leave me wanting. The ones I could not wait to acquire, looked lovingly at its cover and gingerly traversed. The ones that all of a sudden, throw an about-turn. The ones that cause all aforesaid expectations to crash into smithereens. Failing in such an inexplicable way. At such a moment, the disappointment leaves a deep rend. No worst, it feels like walking in shoes without soles. You find yourself dragging along all the pebbles and sand that you don't want to.To give Dan Brown some credit, at least he doesn't have pretensions- he is just telling a story to be sold to Hollywood. Just like those chick flicks which sometimes, can be bearable at airport lounges/rail terminals.

But the books that I am referring to come under another guise.

I had expected so much more from them and in the wake of the disappointment, leave me with one of those 'what the hell' feelings. If I had an analogy, it would be all the men one considers 'partner' material but after a few dates, discard upon discovery that they are two dimensional cut-outs. Here's my lot.

1. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The problem with this book is that it seduces the book lover with such an enchanting premise. A cemetery of forgotten books. Dark mystery. But the tackiest twist and turns ever. I was looking for Delia Smith Tiramisu. I get Tesco sponge cake.

2. Brick Lane by Monica Ali. I think that this is one of the most overrated books. So, woman marries boring man. She has affair with young insurgent in crotch hugging jeans. Who cares? For this, she gets to be on the Granta list?

3. The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar I expected so much more before reading. It turned out to be exotica served on a platter of limp storyline. Don't bother.

4. Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence. Just a disguise for crude sex. Eukh.

5. In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif. I just don't get this book. Its supposed to be all about sexual liberation of middle eastern women and what not but the protagonist keeps on pining for a man who will emotionally and physically abuse her. Sprinkling a book with phrases like 'sexual imperialist' does not make it groundbreaking. Or maybe that’s the whole point? I'll be glad if someone can change my mind on this one.

Have I offended anybody with this list, particularly the legion of Da Vinci Code fans ? Let me know. I am always open to opinions/criticism/insights. But gently now. *hides face in self protection* Or does anybody want to share their 'books that disappoint' list? Maybe it includes Franny and Zooey. All's fair in bookish love and war.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

These are Some of My Favourite Books

I was tagged by the vivacious Atenah.

1) What is the total number of books you've owned?
I cannot remember. But one day, I am going to bring together all my books which are scattered in various houses and merge them in one large library. Nestled among all this is my crown jewel, the kohinoor in my book collection: a cloth bound, first edition of my most favourite book in the world which cost me an arm and a leg. I caress it on quiet evenings and look in wonder that this book belongs to me. One day, my favourite child will inherit it. It may not have the monetary value of other possessions but it is so rich in emotional value.

2) What is the last book you bought?
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka which I bought in Cardiff.

3) What is the last book you've read?
Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History. I have an obsession about this part of Malaysian history because it was just one crazy, mad time. I am curious about what people do when things get crazy and mad. But the book itself was disappointing though. I never got to know the real Chin Peng.

4) What are you currently reading?
World Poverty and Human Rights by Thomas Pogge. Riveting.

5) What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed?
(Why just 5 , why. That makes it all the more difficult. Some of these books may not be very high on literary merit but I am dwelling on the books that have a particular emotional appeal to me.)

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. Rhapsody here.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. The narrative complexity, the magic realism and most of all, the dextrous language which seeps into your pore and possess you. Brilliantly imagined and executed in such chaotic cacophony that it leaves me breathless and levitating at the same time. Yes, literary orgasm entirely possible here. If I had to be moored on an island and take just one book, this would be it. I will never feel alone with Saleem Sinai and Parvati the Witch snickering at the background

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. I first read this book as an abridged version on a long school holiday spent at my grandma's. One of the older cousins must have left it there and I remember being gripped by the story of Michael Henchard so much. Some years later, I picked up the original and cried my heart out with the forlornness of it all, learning that destiny is irrevocably weaved by character. I know if I read it today, I will still brood for a few days. Maybe not the best Hardy but it's another one of those books that grew with me.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. This is one of those epic folk-tale like stories that transports me into a realm of surreal magic. It beguiles you in a feminine way, spreds softly into your heart and never quite lets go.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith. For its fresh brazenness. A book with attitude, chronicling the displaced British Asian with such verve. I remember this book so intimately, I am overwhelmed sometimes. It's here that I learn the word raggastani (say it out loud, its got such a funky feel to it). For a first novel, it is phenomenal. That she wrote this at 21 is even more amazing. And like I mentioned before, when I went to Kilburn, I looked hard for dear old Samad Miah.

Possession by A.S.Byatt. I am cheating by adding a No.6 but this book means so much to me with its romance of the obsessive, bitchy world of academia. When I am down in library basements, I remember Roland Mitchell trawling dusty tomes at the British Library. I descend into this cloistered esoteric madness as I follow the adventure every time.

6) What book(s) would you wish to buy next?
Way too many (My 'to read' list keeps growing all the time) but this is a selection.
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta: I love books that romance and demonize cities.

The Delia Collection, Italian by Delia Smith. This is a great 5 minute stress buster. Short read with gorgeous pix which leave me happily salivating. Food porn.

7) What book(s) that caught your attention but never had a chance to read?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (yea, I am that outdated) cause it's supposed to be a sublime achievement or so I hear.

Two from last years Booker list: The Accidental by Ali Smith and The Sea by John Banville.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Salina by A.Samad Said (thanks to this person)

Some very esoteric ones which nobody cares about.

8) What book(s) that you've owned for so long but never read?
The Jungle is Neutral by F. Spencer Chapman. Story of a British spy who fought in the Malayan jungles during the Japanese invasion. I keep stopping at the part where he gets sloshed by the tropical rain for some strange reason.

Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Drives me to zzzz land. I carry it along when I walk around the department though so that everybody thinks that I am all clever and everything. Heh.

9) Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
I am not going to pass it to anybody in particular lest they feel obligated to do it but I would love to know what these 3 make out of it:

30in2005 who has such a voracious reading list .

Evening Star who reads with so much passion.

Mint Chutney because I just know that she will come up with a list that will be well thought out but dotty.

(I thought of Kak Teh but I can ask her that myself. She is but a tube line away)