Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday Miscellany

A few hours after I read the aphorism of Baltasar Gracian about doubling the sources of your joy and pleasure, Gracian popped up again n my life. When I read the aphorism at six in the morning, I got the idea of writing about it in the blog. When 'The Hindu' landed at the doorstep I eagerly picked it up and opened the Sunday magazine for book reviews and stuff like that. There was an essay titled 'The Craft of Difficult Writing' by Swaha Das and Hari Nair.
The essay was about why some writers deliberately chose to be difficult in their writing. One of the writers mentioned in the essay was Baltasar Gracian, for whom, the writers said, 'writing was both lucid and truant, giving and revieving pleasure in every page by playing games with the reader's mind.'
It was a well written essay and one of the rare pieces on writing that are published in the newspapers as I was saying in a previous post.
Later in the day, I was at Abids. I was reluctant to buy any more books this year. But when I saw a good copy of Peter Hoeg's ' Smilla's Sense of Snow' I couldn't resist. I got the book for only twenty rupees. I also saw Namita Gokhale's 'Paro', Peter Mayle's 'A Year in Provence', Scott Turow's 'One L' and a book by Lewis Grizzard. I have all these books except 'Paro' which I hope to pick up next Sunday.
Rest of the day I was on an odd assignment in an office where I spent my time reading Elmore Leonard's 'The Big Bounce' at a stretch. I am eagerly waiting for the next Sunday because it would be the first Sunday of the month and 'The Hindu' would carry 'Literary Review.' It is a long week's wait.

Best Finds of 2007- II

These are some of the books I picked up after I began the blog. I have written about finding these books in the posts under 'Book Junkie'.


-All Fishermen are Liars by Linda Greenlaw
-Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
-Long Quiet Highway: Waking up in America by Natalie Goldberg
-To The Ends of the Earth by Paul Theroux
-Ballad of Sad Café by Carson McCullers
-Dave Barry’s Guide to Guys by Dave Barry
-The Paris Review; Writers at Work
-The Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard
-Paris Trout by Pete Dexter
-Blind Willow, Sleepy Woman by Haruki Murakami


-Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming
-Bandits by Elmore Leonard
-Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
-Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
-Summing Up by Somerset Maugham
-Collectible Fountain Pens
-Just Desserts by Jerry Oppenheimer
-Black Betty by Walter Mosley
-City Primeval by Elmore Leonard


-Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway by Dave Barry
-A Call to Memphis by Peter Taylor
-Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
-Claudio Magris- Danube
-The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman
-Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux
-How to Write a Romance and Get Published by Kathryn Falk

-A Writer’s Handbook 2002
-Bandits by Elmore Leonard
-Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
-Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard
-God’s Pocket by Pete Dexter -Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard
-52’ Pickup by Elmore Leonard
-One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
-Ragman’s Son by Kirk Douglas
-The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw


-The Golden Leaf by Doris Lessing
-Sophie’s Choice by William Styron -
-A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen -
-The Idea of India by Sunil Khilnani
-The Big Bounce by Elmore Leonard
-Creative Writing by Cartier
-On the Road by Jack Kerouac
-At Home in the World by Joyce Maynard
-Our Private Lives edited by Daniel Halpern
-Book Finds by Ian C Ellis
-Best Writing on Writing

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Elmore Leonard disappoints with 'The Big Bounce'

I was feeling bored today and I took out Elmore Leonard's 'The Big Bounce' and read it at a stretch. I managed to finish the 325-page book in about four hours. I got the impression that it was one of Elmore Leonard's weakest books. There's no humor, no credible action and the story itself was vague.

It is about a small time burglar, Jack Ryan, hooking up with a young girl, Nancy, who lures him to robbery in her rich boy friend's house. The story is too stretched out and doesn't sound convincing. There is too much of introspection by Jack Ryan and there are scenes in it that seem unnecessary. I was terribly disappointed with this book.

It would have been okay if it didn't have any story but had some humor. There wasn't a line in it that was funny. Quite clearly, one of Elmore Leonard's duds. It felt like he wrote it half-heartedly. But he is a great writer and remains one of my favorite writers. I still have his 'Pronto' to be read.

Worldly Wisdom of Gracian

Daily compulsory reading for me includes reading the sayings of Epictetus or Baltasar Gracian which help me get along in life with less stress and with more ease Last year I had found Baltasar Gracian’s ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom” at a second hand book store and it is a real treasure. There are three hundred aphorisms in it about how to conduct oneself in life. It is useful advice that comes in handy in dealing with people.

The book, also called a “ Pocket Oracle” is a translation by Christopher Maurier. In the introduction it says that ‘it is a book of strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one’s way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection……Its ideal reader is someone whose daily occupation involves dealing with others….like all aphorisms these are meant to be read slowly, a few at a time.'

I read one aphorism a day and there are several I like very much. Today’s aphorism I read is something that is relevant for anyone. This is the one:

Double Your Store of Life’s Necessities: You will double life. Don’t depend on any single thing, or limit any one resource, no matter how rare and excellent. Double everything, especially the sources of benefit, favor, and taste. The moon is transcendently mutable, setting the limits of permanence, and more still are the things that depend on our frail human will. Store up supplies for frailty. It is a great rule for living to double your sources of happiness and profit. Just as nature doubled the most important and most exposed of our bodily limbs, so should art double the things we depend on.

Gracian makes a lot of sense in that aphorism. There are more that I will post in the future but for the time being we can mull over the above one.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Great Year

2007 has been a great year for me. It started with a change in posting from a stress-filled job to a relatively peaceful one. I bought nearly two hundred books this year and half of them were wonderful finds. The best find of the year was Julia Cameron’s ‘Right to Write’, a hard-cover edition I found almost by accident. The other significant find was Lynne Truss’s ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves.’ I’ve listed them in an earlier post and on the last day of the year I will post the second part of the list of best books I found this year.

Writing wise too it has been a wonderful year. I managed to write several chapters of my novel this year and though I had planned to complete it this year it doesn’t seem possible. I plan to complete it by end of January 2008. I also did the NaNo book which also I plan to finish soon. Then, I had several ideas for humorous essays that I am working on and most of them I plan to put on this blog. All of them are Hyderabad centric. Two of my articles were published in 'Wings & Aisles', the inflight magazine of Paramount Airways. Another article on fountain pens was published in a supplement (Quest) of 'The Hindu' in September this year.

Starting this blog was the biggest thing I did this year. I have no idea how many people are reading it but I am writing it nevertheless. Some friends who read it regularly say it is okay. Next year I plan to write better stuff and less frequently. More about this blog in the 100th post on the last day of 2007.

I also made several new friends this year and most of them through books. I’ve met a couple of them after having been in touch with them via e-mail. It was nice meeting them and finding that we share a lot in common. Of course, I’ve deepened my friendship with my old friends. I wonder how life would be without friends and I cannot imagine a life without all my friends.

Travel wise it has been a dull year. I have not been anywhere out of the state and my travels were confined within the state. Almost all the trips were official trips. Next year I plan to do more traveling and also take the family along. I am planning a trip to Goa and I hope it materializes.
The best thing was getting the Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen. Next year I plan to begin using the pen sometime in February. It was a good year for me and I hope 2008 is going to be even better.

A New Year's Resolution

In the same issue of ‘The Week’ I had talked about in my previous post, there is an article by Shobhaa De titled ’25 Ways to Be Happy in 2008’. She has listed out twenty five things to do that would keep us happy, and the list included things like crying your heart out when you feel like it, getting enough sleep, learning to lose and such advice. It was well written and worth a read. One item in the list that struck a chord in me was the one about listening to music.

I discovered that though I love to listen to good music I haven’t made music an integral part of my life. I listen whenever a song plays on the television but I don’t go out to buy music cassettes or CDs to listen to. I don’t even own a music system. I spend all my money on books.. Reading that list gave me an idea for a New Year Resolution I could do – listen more to good music.

Music has been what I’ve been missing all these years. I never made a conscious effort to listen to good music regularly though I enjoy listening to popular songs. When it comes to music I am an ignoramus. Not any more. It is going to change soon.

In the new year I plan to buy an iPod and load all my favorite songs on it. In fact sometime last month I began making a list of all the songs I liked. I will listen to these songs on the iPod. I will also ask my friends about the music they like listening to and if it is good I will load it on the iPod. I’ve observed that people who listen to music regularly are more relaxed. I will make a determined effort to listen to all the good music out there. I will listen to at least one good song every day from the new year on wards.

But first I have to buy an iPod. I’ve promised to give myself an iPod if I complete the book I am working on. It will take another month for me to finish writing it. Meanwhile I will check out the models and also the songs. Listening to music is one of the easiest thing to do since you do not have to put in any effort. You just sit back and relax. I will cut down on the books and spend more on music

Friday, December 28, 2007

Articles on Publishing

It isn't usual for mainstream magazines and newspapers in India to carry articles about book publishing and writing. Occasionally, The Hindu carries articles on writing and books which are usually reprints from 'Guardian'. 'The Hindu', in its literary supplement sometimes carries good articles on writing by Indian writers. One such article was by Navtej Sarna about a year back.

The latest issue of 'The Week', which seems to be celebrating its Silver Jubilee carried an article, or rather a double article, on how a book will sell. There are actually two issues, said to be a double-issue on account of the Silver Jubilee of the magazine.

In the article by Shira Boss titled 'Making of a Bestseller', the writer informs how Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel- Cipher- was sold to the readers. The article says that no one knows what makes a book a bestseller and concludes with a quote by an editor,' People think publishing is a business, but it's a casino.'

In the second article titled 'Killer Hunt' there are tips on how to pick up a good book while in a hurry. The advice is to read the first sentence and if that grips you then pick up the book. I agree with her advice since it is the first sentence that hooks the reader and writers have been known to agonise about the first sentence.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Surprise Find

When I stepped out for a walk on Monday evening I hadn't a clue that I'd be returning with three good books tucked under my arms. I set out with the intention of taking a short walk but the short walk got extended and I ended up at the bookstore adjacent to Sangeet theatre. I wanted to just look but I found three books I couldn't resist buying.
The first book I found was 'Our Private Lives' by Daniel Halpern. It is a collection of journals, notebooks and diaries of famous writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, Oliver Sacks and thirty eight other writers and poets. This is what the blurb at the back says- 'Witty, eloquent, sardonic or pleasantly mundane, these forty selections give us writerly sensibility at its purest, freshest and least constrained."
The second book was also on writing. It was "How to Enjoy Writing" by Janet and Isaac Asimov. I cannot resist buying books on writing and this book is described as 'A Book of Aid and Comfort', things I am looking for while I hammer away at my novel which doesn't seem to end soon.
The third book of the day was a second copy of Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way', which I had found at the Book Fair last week. I picked up this second copy to give away. I paid two hundred bucks for these three books. I hope not to pick up any more books this week because my tally of books is nearing 210 and my book shelves are packed. I don't have space to store any more books in my room.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

'The Hindu' Disappoints

After reading newspapers for over thirty years I have come to the conclusion that one’s esteem for one’s favorite newspaper tends to fluctuate and doesn’t remain constant. When the paper publishes a nice and interesting article your esteem for the paper rises and when it publishes something you hate, then it plummets.

I do read a couple of newspapers every day but ‘The Hindu’ is a must. It has become a habit over the years. But of late my fondness for the paper is wearing thin because of several factors. In my view the editors seem to believe that its readers do not count to much, contrary to what they write about how they care for their readers and so on. Last week this attitude became clearer and I no longer feel the same towards the paper.

Last Thursday, the front page of ‘The Hindu’ had no news of any kind on except for a full page ad for a real estate venture under the mast head. I thought it was only a cover and that the real paper would be inside. Of course, there was another front page with the regular headlines under the masthead. It was a clever move to make the reader believe that ‘The Hindu’ had not sold out its front page for a silly real estate firm. But a closer look reveals that the back page of the page containing the real estate ad is full of news and even the page numbering reveals that the page with the ad is the front page. I felt a bit upset but not entirely shocked. It was only expected because the papers seem to be giving in to the advertisers more often.

A week earlier, the same ad appeared in ‘The Deccan Chronicle’ on the front page. The front page, journalists say, is sacrosanct because it contains the mast head and no one would dream of putting a full page ad there. But it has begun to happen more frequently, and now one of the last bastions of good newspaper values has also shortchanged its readers by putting advertisers over readers. It was a sad day. I do not know if the management thought about how the readers would feel about the front page ad.

In an article titled ‘The Pleasure Principle’ in the December ’07 issue of ‘The Atlantic’ that I found on Sunday, Michael Hirschorn writes that ‘newspapers should try giving readers what they want not just what editors think they need.’ I guess the editors also decide what ads the readers should see and where when it comes to Indian newspapers. I expect more ridiculous things to happen in the Indian papers in the coming future.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday's Book Haul

It was an unusually hot day in Hyderabad yesterday. I was late in getting to Abids because I noticed the front tyre of my bike was flat just when I took it off its stand. I waited impatiently while the tyre was fixed, my mind on the Joyce Maynard book I had seen last Sunday. I prayed that no one would pick it up and my prayers were answered when I found that no one had got it before me.

Joyce Maynard’s ‘At Home in the World: A Memoir’ was the first book I picked up yesterday. I got this almost-new, hard cover, first edition copy for only twenty rupees and the book ran to almost 350 pages. Judging from the cover and from the random paragraphs I read it appeared a good book. The reviews I had seen on Amazon were also good.

Joyce Maynard was a young writer when she attracted the attention of the reclusive writer, JD Salinger, with her story about life as a young person in the 60’s, that was on the cover of New York Times magazine in 1972. She was eighteen years old when she moved in with Salinger (35 years senior to her) who later threw her out of his house which was a devastating experience for her. This book speaks about her family, her time with Salinger and his influence on her, and the pain that followed their separation, her development as a writer, her marriage, and so on. Maynard wrote this book twenty-five years after the experience with Salinger. The book published in 1998 promises to be a good book and I am feeling really pleased with this find.

I found another good book with the same fellow I picked up the earlier book from. It was Joe Queenan’s ‘Balsamic Dreams’. Somewhere Dave Barry had said that Joe Queenan was one of his favorite writers and I remembered it when I chanced upon this book. I got this hardcover first edition for twenty rupees only. The blurbs say it is a very funny book. Dave Barry is the funniest writer alive and if he says someone is funny then I am going to read that writer.

The other book, the third of the day, was Stack the Deck’s ‘Writing Program’, a basic book on writing. I like to read these kind of books on writing because there is usually at least one thing to be learnt there.
The last find was the December 2007, that is, the latest issue of ‘The Atlantic’. I guess I was the only guy in Hyderabad reading the absolutely latest issue of noted magazine, that is, apart from the guy who sold it off. I got it for ten bucks only but when I got home I noticed that a few pages were missing but there were several articles intact. One of the most interesting articles was on the content that newspaper editors are feeding the readers. More about it in the next post

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Five Rupee Books

In the previous post I had written about the books I bought for ten rupees in Hyderabad during my Sunday visits to Abids. There were some books I got for as low as five rupees. Now, five rupees will buy you just a cup of Irani tea and one chota samosa in any Irani in Hyderabad, but for the same amount I bought a few books that would probably stay with me for life. Here is the list of books I picked up for only five rupees at Abids.

1. Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (Rs 5)
2. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro (Rs.5)
3. A Rose for Winter by Laurie Lee (Rs.5)
4. The Still Storm by Francois Sagan (Rs.5)
5. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Rs 5)
6. God’s Pocket by Pete Dexter (Rs. 5)

‘Out of Africa’ by Isak Dinesen is more than five hundred pages long and Alice Munro’s ‘Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You’ has more than a dozen short stories. It is incredible that in Hyderabad one finds such good books for so little. This is one thing about Hyderabad I feel happy about

Friday, December 21, 2007

Good Books I got For Only Ten Rupees

In Hyderabad where I live, ten rupees won’t buy you a decent meal to fill your stomach but I am happy to say, for the same amount you can buy a good second hand book that will fill your mind for life. Here’s the list of books I got for only ten rupees at Abids.

1. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
2. Free/Style Writing by Chris Anderson
3. Elvis is Dead and I am Not Feeling So Good Myself by Lewis Grizzard
4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
5. Recovering by May Sarton
6. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
7. Healing Heart by Norman Cousins
8. The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
9. The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
10. Letters to Alice by Fay Weldon
11. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
12. Into the Great Solitude by Robert Perkins
13. Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle
14. If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler
15. Ballad of Sad Café by Carson McCullers
16. Paris Trout by Pete Dexter
17. The Shining by Stephen King
18. Martha Stewart: Just Desserts by Jerry Oppenheimer
19. Light Luggage by V.V. John
20. Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
21. Bandits by Elmore Leonard
22. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
23. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
24. Ragman’s Son by Kirk Douglas
26. Sophie's Choice by William Styron

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pen Mawashi and Shakespeare & Co

I watch a lot of television when I am all alone at home. On Sunday I was alone and so I plonked myself in front of the television and surfed the channels. I had a pleasant surprise when I came across two items related to two of my favorite pastimes- pens and books.

Pen Mawashi
On one channel I came across a segment about a pen spinning craze that is sweeping Japan. It is called ‘Pen Mawashi’. I watched amazed as guys spun pens on their fingers effortlessly. They were spinning the pens quite fast and not once did the pen fall from anyone’s fingers. It was amazing watching the guys spin the pens. There are people teaching it to others for a fee it seems. It is one thing that someone who loves pens cannot dream of doing. Of course, one cannot imagine spinning fountain pens. One can do it only with ball-point pens.

Shakespeare & Co in Paris.
I was watching my favorite channel- Travel & Living, and there was a program on Paris. In the program was Shakespeare & Co, which I had read somewhere, is a famous second hand book store. I learnt that the store is in Paris, the only second hand book-store and the biggest too, in Paris, selling second hand English books. It seemed quite big with stacks of books occupying all available space.

I was surprised when the lady at the counter informed that her father had put beds in the store for unpublished writers to sleep in. There was one lady from Ireland who was staying there when the episode was shot. The idea of spending a few days and nights in a bookstore surrounded by thousands of books sounds very interesting. If ever I go to Paris I am going to check this store out!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Sunday Find of Books

I was feeling a bit under the weather on Sunday so I skipped going to Abids in the morning. On Saturday evening I had been to the Book Fair with a friend and there I saw a book by Julia Cameron in a second-hand book stall. I was short of money to pay the steep price so I asked the guy to keep it aside for me. I had this book to check today so I decided to go to Abids first, and then drop in at the Book Fair in the afternoon. I slept all morning after breakfast and left for Abids after lunch.

At Abids, I got lucky again as I found yet another copy of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. I got it for twenty rupees. This is the third copy I have and am thinking of giving it to a friend who wanted to read it. Next, I found Russell Baker’s ‘The Good Times’. I have his other book- ‘Growing Up’, which is a memoir of his childhood and this book won the Pulitzer Prize. ‘The Good Times’ seems to be a sequel to ‘Growing Up’. I haven’t yet read ‘Growing Up’ but I plan to read these two books sometime in January next.

Next, I saw Joyce Maynard’s ‘At Home in the World’, a hardcover copy of her memoirs I could have got for twenty rupees. I didn’t pick the book up but later when I saw the reviews on Amazon I wished I had picked it up. I hope I find it next week. I hadn’t judged the value of the book properly. I hurried to the Book Fair after finding ‘The Good Times’ at Abids.

The Julia Cameron book turned out to be the one I was looking for- The Artist’s Way. I had read a lot about it and almost everyone seemed to be recommending it. I was thrilled to get another good book at the fag end of the year. I got it at a steep price though since the bookstore guy saw the gleam in my eyes when I looked at the title and wouldn’t lower the price.

I had found Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’, earlier in the year at a bookstore. It is a good book about getting inspired to write. With these three books I found on Sunday the score of books I found this year is now 204.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Best Finds of 2007- I

This year, so far, I have bought around two hundred books. This total includes some magazines as well. I have listed some of the best books I had picked up at Abids, at the second hand book stores in Hyderabad as well as some new books I bought in the regular book stores. I haven't read all the books I have picked up except those on writing and books by Dave Barry whose books I cannot resist reading immediately. Some of these books are second or third copies of books I already possess. This post is in two parts and this is Part I


-The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray
-On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner


-Dave Barry Talks Back by Dave Barry
-Magazine Writing- The Inside Angle by Art Spikol
-The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw


-Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
-Free/Style Writing by Chris Anderson
-The Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro
-La Brava by Elmore Leonard
-Elvis is Dead and I am Not Feeling So Good Myself by Lewis Grizzard
-The Men Within by Harimohan Paruvu

-Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

-Travels by Michael Crichton
-The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
-Random House Guide to Good Writing
-Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins
-On Writing by Stephen King
-Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro
-The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

-Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

-Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
-Dave Barry Does Japan by Dave Barry
-Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
-Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard
-Healing Heart by Norman Cousins

-Letters to Alice by Fay Weldon
-The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley
-Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard
-Gold Coast by Elmore Leonard
-The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
-Darkness Visible by William Styron
-Right to Write by Julia Cameron

-A Rose for Winter by Laurie Lee
-Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard
-The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
-Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
-The Goddess and Other Women by Joyce Carol Oates
-Dave Barry is Not Making This Up by Dave Barry
-The Art of Writing by Grenville Kleiser
-Acquired Tastes by Peter Mayle

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Some time in October or perhaps early November the number of posts I had written on the blog crossed the fifty mark. I was pleased as punch about it since I had wondered too often if I would be able to maintain the blog. When I started the blog I planned to do a post every alternate day and it turned out to be a comfortable schedule for me. I am somehow able to think of an idea for a post and also write it in two days. Considering the fact that I am not writing anything dead serious about writing or books or anything, I have been able to churn out some simple posts. I know what I am writing is not perfect but I am happy with it in a way. So I thought I would continue to write at the pace of one post every alternate day.

But sometime last month it got into my head that maybe I should attempt to write a hundred posts on the blog by the end of the year. In the past week I have been posting at the rate of one post a day on the blog. It is the fifteenth of December today and I have written 82 posts so far. I have to write eighteen more posts in a fortnight. It means I have to do two posts a day on some days. I am confident I can do it. I have written down all the topics I can write about on the blog in the next fortnight. I have a couple of big posts that I plan to split into two posts.

It isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible.

On Reading Peter Matthiessen's 'The Snow Leopard'

Yesterday evening I finished reading Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Snow Leopard’, for the third time. No matter how many times I read it I always find something new in this wonderful book. TSL is about Matthiessen’s journey in the snowbound mountains of the Himalayas in search of the elusive Snow Leopard. I feel it is one of the few travel/adventure books that have been very well written and widely appreciated.

It is as much a spiritual journey as a physical one through difficult but beautiful terrain in the company of Dr. George Schaller and their porters. Matthiessen wrote the book so well that when I read it I felt I was with him trekking on treacherous ledges and paths of the mountains with a heavy load on my back and taking in the sights he so beautifully describes. There is much about Buddhism in the book and also about human nature. His poignant descriptions about his wife’s death and the nature of the porters who come along with him are done in a language I haven’t read before.

Incredibly enough, I found this 300 + pages book at Abids a couple of years ago for only ten rupees and I find it is worth several times what I paid for it. It is a priceless treasure. When I read it I feel like leaving everything behind and going on a similar trek to find out more about myself. Living in a city surrounded by family and luxuries dulls the sensitivities and it puts you in a complacent mood. Such journeys tend to put things in their proper perspective.

Peter Matthiessen’s ‘Snow Leopard’ is one book no person who loves adventure and travel as much as life itself, can afford not to read.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Meisterstuck Magic

Ever since I got the Mont Blanc Meisterstuck sometime this month, my daily morning routine has changed. Every morning I take out the lovely fountain pen from its box and put it on the table before me. Then for a full thirty minutes I gaze at it lovingly wondering about its absolute perfection. It is so beautiful and exquisite in appearance, and so snug in its feel I don’t have the heart to fill ink in it and begin using the pen. I am afraid of spoiling its perfection by writing with it. I am torn between a fierce desire to begin writing with it and the desire to let it remain in its original condition.

Yet, when I take it in my hand I get the feeling that anything I write with it will come out well and maybe, win a prize or two! Jokes apart, I guess something inside has shifted within me and I can feel a new confidence about my writing. I am sure getting the Meisterstuck has something to do with it. I had read somewhere that when you get a gift of some article that you feel you don’t deserve, it brings you to the level of deserving it.
I will start using the pen in February next, maybe on my birthday.

At last after years of gawking at beautifulpens in catalogs I have finally got one to write with myself.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Year of (Buying) 200 Books

Yesterday I got lucky, real lucky, at the Book Fair. I found four good secondhand books and two of them were books I was looking for high and low. The first book was Sunil Khilnani’s ‘The Idea of India’ which I got for fifty rupees.The second book was a new book by Elmore Leonard- The Big Bounce, also for fifty rupees.

I found the third and the most important book of the day almost by accident. It was in a stall of a Mumbai based secondhand book seller- Vivek’s. I asked the guy if he had any books on fountain pens. He stood up and took out a huge tome from a rack in a corner. It was a coffee table book of nearly two hundred pages and quite big. My heart gave a start when I saw the title which was Cartier- Creative Writing by Francois Chaille. I wanted to buy it at any cost.

The sticker read Rs 375 but I got it for only Rs 325 which is far far less than what it is worth. The book has fabulous pictures of Cartier writing instruments and I think it is a real treasure. It is one of the best finds of the year. The book is published by Flammarion in 2000. I have another book "Collectible Fountain Pens' by the same publisher.

Anyway, I was truly happy with this delightful find. A little later while browsing in the same stall I found Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ which I have been looking out for ever since I had read somewhere that it is a cult classic. The book was a Penguin edition and I got it for a hundred and thirty rupees. This is another fabulous find.

I returned home happy with the haul and I realized that with these four books the tally of books that I have bought this year now stands at 200! It is some sort of a minor personal record for me. I have never bought so many books in a year. Last year I had bought around 180 books. I think it is high time I stop buying any more books and buy only the really good books.

Next year I will be really choosy about my books and I will try to concentrate on reading all the books I have bought so far, and also do a bit more writing. But I have been telling this to myself since several years but have never followed it. I forget my resolution not to buy any more books the moment I enter a book store.

Floored by Indian Airlines

Normally one hears only horror stories about the bad service by public sector companies in India and Indian Airlines is no exception. I have read a lot about the indifference of the Indian Airlines staffers towards the customers, and so was not prepared for a pleasant experience I had yesterday. I was on official work of escorting some top officials who had come to Hyderabad to attend a conference. One of the officers asked me if I could get their Indian Airlines tickets rescheduled to an earlier flight. I told them I’d try and set off to the Indian Airlines office in HACA Bhavan not sure if it could be done.

I was surprised when the Security Guard at the door talked good English and directed me to wait for a while until my turn came. A few minutes later it was my turn and I approached the counter where a nice lady was sitting. When I asked her if it was possible to get seats on an earlier flight she said, “Yes, why not?” She made it appear as if it was nothing great.

She took the tickets from me and got to work on the computer for a while as I waited not yet convinced that it would happen. A minute later she stuck some yellow stickers in the ticket and gave it back. I didn’t believe it was done so easily and so quickly and I had to ask her if it was done. She gave me a smile and said it was done and the tickets were rescheduled to an earlier flight.

I complimented her and thanked her that she had done it unbelievably fast. It was all over within a couple of minutes and I walked out floored with the service of Indian Airlines.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Sunday Haul of Books

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Hyderabad- warm, bright and sunny. Add to it, there was the full complement of booksellers at Abids and I spent half the day browsing among the never-ending heaps of books. I found three good books this Sunday. It looks like December is going to be another lucky month for me in terms of books. On Friday I had found two good books and this Sunday’s haul adds to my pile of books that is slowly reaching the two hundred mark.

The first book I found in a pile of books selling for ten rupees was William Styron’s ‘Sophie’s Choice’, a 626 page classic that looks like a door stopper. But it was a good copy and I was glad I found this classic though I have to find time to read it. I had found another of Styron's books sometime in May this year, the one he wrote about his depression- Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. I had found this book before I started this blog but I will write about it in the post I plan to do about the best books I had found this year.

The second book I found with same bookseller was Elmore Leonard’s 'La Brava' and this was a better copy than the one I had found last month. I got the book for twenty rupees and I plan to give the second copy to a friend who asked for a book since I was praising Elmore Leonard highly.

But the find of the day was a short, almost-new book- ‘A Short Guide to a Happy Life’ by Anna Quindlen. It isn’t actually a book length work but a long essay in fifty pages half of which are filled with pictures. But it is a lovely book and I picked up the two copies that were available. I got the books for twenty rupees. The books were in pristine condition and were brand new with absolutely no defacement. What’s more the copies were first editions!

I also picked up two magazines- the April 2007 issue of Conde Nast Traveler and the October 2007 issue of Man’s World. I was content with what I had found this Sunday and returned home a happy man.

Finding Two Good Books on Friday

It is surprising how some of our decisions taken on a whim sometimes turn out to be quite profitable in the end. One such decision I had taken on Friday afternoon netted me two good books I would have given my right arm for, literally.

I had walked down from my office to Bombay Bakery and Confectionary at Gunfoundry for my afternoon tea. After finishing the tea, I decided on a whim to pay a visit to the MR Bookstore, a few yards away. I almost jumped with joy when my eyes landed on a book whose title read: BOOK FINDS by Ian C. Ellis- How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books. It was something I had been unconsciously seeking out all these years. Though I have been collecting books for almost two decades I have never seriously thought about what I am collecting and how valuable (or useless) the books were. This book promises to be a treasure house of information with a lot of valuable tips and advice on book collecting.

I found the second book just when I was paying for Book Finds. The book was The Best Writing on Writing edited by Jack Heffron. It is a collection of essays, articles etc on writing published in various newspapers, magazines etc in the year 1993. It has twenty-seven writers writing about writing poetry, fiction, scriptwriting and such stuff about writing. Again, after books, writing was one subject I was crazy about and needless to say, I picked up this book too. Both the books were in excellent condition and I got them for a hundred and eighty rupees. Not a bad bargain.

I was terribly happy about finding these two books. I wish I could have pictures on this blog. I will try to put pictures on my blog next year.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Important Rules Hyderabadi Men Follow

Most Hyderabadi drivers believe they are doing the traffic cops a favour by following the traffic rules while on the road. Left to themselves they wouldn’t care to follow any rule- traffic or otherwise. Hyderabadis have some special rules for all occasions and regarding almost every thing. But it would take up several pages to list them all here.
However, listed below are some very important rules every Hyderabadi guy follows instinctively:

Rule No. 1 Whenever your bladder is full, empty it at the nearest wall/corner without bothering if you are only inches away from some heavy traffic on a main road in the poshest area of the city.

Rule No. 2 Discharge your saliva burden every fifteen seconds. Holding up saliva is bad for your health. Do it wherever you are.

Rule No. 3 Clean your nose lovingly wherever, whenever possible. Just ignore what others think. Its your nose you are cleaning not theirs, so why should they get offended???

These are some of the Golden rules most Hyderabadi guys follow to make life in the city pleasant for themselves. In subsequent posts I will try to list out some more rules that Hyderabadi men consider extremely important.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

22nd Hyderabad Book Fair Gets off to a Start

The 22nd Hyderabad Book Fair got off to a start yesterday evening at the Necklace Road without much fanfare. Being the inaugural day, there was no entry ticket which otherwise is Rs.5 per person. For some strange reason, that I’ve noticed over the years, not many of the book stalls are up by the time of the opening. With nearly half the stalls filled up yesterday, it was better than last year when only a couple of stalls were open on the inaugural day. Maybe because it is Hyderabad, the publishers too might be adopting the laidback style of doing things at a slow pace.

As usual, The Hindu group of publications had its stall open on the first day itself. Every year I always buy their Sportstar caps and this year too they were on sale. Another significant happening was that the top four second hand booksellers in Hyderabad had stalls at the fair which goes to say the appeal of the second hand book. It is a welcome change. There were the usual stalls of all the important publishing houses of the country. Every year more and more magazine publishers are putting up stalls in the fair. This year I guess it is the ‘Outlook’ group that has entered for the first time.

Half the stalls were yet to be set up and maybe today they would have been all filled up. I hadn’t been there today. Oddly, the organizers of the Book Fair were giving speeches in Shudh Hindi at the inaugural function though Telugu and English are spoken in Hyderabad more than that type of Hindi. Curiously, there were only one or two stalls of Hindi publishers.

More about the Book Fair events in subsequent posts. The book fair is a ten day event and will be on until the 17th of this month. I plan to visit on Sunday afternoon with the family

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Doris Lessing book at last- Finding The Golden Notebook

Feeling restless that I had not been to Abids on Sunday, yesterday I slipped out during the lunch hour and surfaced at a bookstore in Lakdikapul. At last I found a book by Doris Lessing. Ever since she won the Nobel Prize, I have been looking for her works and yesterday I was rewarded. I found a paperback edition of ‘The Golden Notebook’ and got it for seventy rupees. It is 666 pages long and is a doorstopper of a book.

I was surprised to note that it was a 1968 edition and there was an inscription by someone called ‘Nisha’. Later in the evening I went through Zerin Anklesaria’s article on Lessing in last month’s ‘Literary Review’. It was mentioned that ‘The Golden Notebook’ was her best-known book. So, the book I got was a classic and I was once again glad my instincts hadn’t failed me in the choice of the book. There were two other books of Lessing but they were parts of some series so I didn’t pick them up though they were shorter.

I also found a 1946 issue of Avon- Modern Short Story Monthly containing Somerset Maugham’s short stories. The book had the title of ‘The Trembling of a Leaf’, and inside there was a stamp of ‘Olympic Bookstore, Rangoon’. The book was almost sixty years old and was intact except that the pages have become faded. I got this book for sixty rupees.

I hope to finish reading ‘The Golden Notebook’ before the next year’s Nobel Prize winner is announced.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Nuts on Hyderabad Roads

Every day, invariably, I see at least one lunatic on the roads riding a bike in a most reckless manner. Only the make of the bike differs and in all other respects he is the same. He doesn’t wear a helmet and if he wears one, he wears it in that typical Hyderabadi style- with the straps hanging down. He is chewing something and doesn’t appear to notice that there are other vehicles on the road other than his bike which appears like it hasn’t been dusted for weeks.

This guy drives at a high speed, weaving between cars and bikes on the road, overtaking from the left, and generally proving he doesn’t have much of a brain inside his head. Sometimes he is wearing stylish goggles or has an earpiece hanging from his ear. He usually has a friend at the pillion with whom he is talking all the while. He doesn’t stop at the traffic signals, mocks the traffic cops who try to stop him and drives away with a foolish grin, happy that he had once again evaded the cops. That seems to be the only joy in his life.

I do not understand why these guys drive in this manner putting others on the road at risk of an accident. They come from all strata – I’ve seen guys with laptops hung across their shoulders, well-dressed middle-aged guys and also illiterate paan-chewing chaps ride in this manner. It sure brings out road rage but one can only pray that they don’t get under the wheels of a bus or get knocked down by another equally reckless driver.

A Gift of a Lifetime- Mont Blanc Meisterstuck

While reading Biswanath Ghosh’s ‘Sunday Spin’ column in The Sunday New Indian Express on Sunday morning, (and envying him for owning a Mont Blanc fountain pen,) little did I know that in a few hours from then I too would be owning one. That afternoon someone very close to me sent me a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck out of the blue leaving me dumbfounded at the generosity.

After the initial shock of receiving a gift of something I had been dreaming for long, I opened the box gingerly, and when I laid my eyes on the beautiful, black Meisterstuck I was overcome with emotion. How many writers are lucky to get a gift of a brand new, original Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen just because they happened to mention it in their blog?

At last, after years of dreaming about it, I had a Meisterstuck without having to pay for it! I had just one look at the lovely Meisterstuck and kept it back in my cupboard. It will take some time for me to get used to the idea that I am finally a proud owner of a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck fountain pen. Somewhere I had read that you only have to express your desires to the universe and the universe gives it to you. I expressed my wish in my blog and it came true thanks to a wonderful person.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Sunday Without a Trip to Abids

It turned out to be an odd Sunday. A really bad cold kept me indoors and I had to skip the visit to Abids. Next week too I may not be going because I will be at work on Sunday. But there were some compensations for it. In the morning I had to go to the airport to pick up my mother who was returning from Delhi after a three-month stay with my younger brother.

Earlier I had read all the Sunday papers- New Indian Express, Sunday Time of India, Deccan Chronicle and of course, The Hindu. I read in Bishwanath Ghosh’s ‘Sunday Spin’ column in ‘New Indian Express’ that he owns a Mont Blanc fountain pen. He writes well with a touch of humor and I always enjoy his columns. There was nothing to note in the other newspapers.

The airport in Hyderabad appears like a bus stand nowadays with people thronging the place all over. There seems to be an endless queue of planes landing and taking off from Hyderabad. The flight from Delhi was late and I passed the time watching the arrivals. I spotted only one celebrity- Allu Arjun and no one seemed to recognize him.

Then, mother’s plane finally arrived. To avoid the prepaid taxi rip off I phoned for a cab that arrived after ten minutes and we got home safely. It came to only a hundred ten rupees and I was pleased to have saved nearly two hundred rupees. It means I can buy about seven books sometime in Abids.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

This Month's "Literary Review' in The Hindu

On Sundays, like most of us, even the newspaper delivery guys seem to sleep late. I get the paper usually by seven in the morning but this Sunday even though it was eight in the morning there was no sign of the paper. It was the first Sunday of the month and I was anxious to lay my hands on The Hindu which carries ‘The Literary Supplement’. At last, a few minutes after eight I got the paper and eagerly opened the ‘Literary Review’ right away without even glancing at the main paper.

On the front page of this month’s “Literary Review’ was a feature on the most interesting books famous authors and others had read during 2007. Shashi Deshpande had picked Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ and I agreed with her choice though I have not read the book. I was at Akshara, Madhapur the other day and had flipped through this book and read the opening paragraph. I was so absorbed in the first page in which Didion arrestingly describes the death of her husband. It was a powerful beginning. I plan to buy this book soon.

I envy Pradeep Sebastian who writes the ‘Endpaper’ column in this supplement for he gets to travel all over the world to browse through bookstores. This month he writes about ‘Between The Covers’, an online book site for the serious book collector. He describes it as the best online rare bookstore- book website on the internet. At the end of the column he writes about a BTC’s tip on book collecting – ‘collect what you love, buy the very best condition you can afford, and if you’re on the fence about a book it’s better to purchase it than not, as you’ll always regret the ones that got away’. That gives me an idea for a post about the ones that got away this year, at Abids.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

'The Men Within' by Harimohan P

The book, ‘The Men Within’ by Harimohan P, my friend, has made it to the number 5 slot in the bestsellers list in the day before yesterday’s ‘Metro Plus’, supplement of ‘The Hindu’. I am glad about it since it is a good book. I was intrigued that such a good book has not been mentioned in any bestseller lists till now, but now that the book has made it to the list I feel happy for my friend who has put his heart in writing this moving book and it shows in the reviews of the book that range from over the board praise to some really high appreciation from some famous names.

‘The Men Within’ has been described as India’s first cricket fiction. Hari launched the book this March and there was a tremendous response to the book reading at ‘Akshara’ in Hyderabad. There were book readings in Mumbai and Bangalore too and he is planning to have readings in Pune, Chennai and Kolkata soon.

His website is on the net and gives more information about the author and the reviews of the book. There is an interesting page about how the book came to be written and published that aspiring writers will find very useful.

In the pipeline are more books by Hari. Watch this space.

Finding Linda Greenlaw's "Hungry Ocean"

The book I found yesterday evening ( read previous post) was Linda Greenlaw’s “Hungry Ocean” which I was looking for, ever since I read Sebastian Junger’s ‘Perfect Storm’ which I had bought in June this year. In his book, Junger described Linda Greenlaw as ‘the best swordfish captain’ and since then I was looking for her book.

But even before I had bought ‘Perfect Storm’, I came across a book at Abids that I felt compelled to buy even though I had never heard of the author. It was ‘Lobster Chronicles’ by Linda Greenlaw and somehow I felt it would be a good book so I picked it up. It is still there somewhere in the pile of books in my room waiting to be read. Then in June I picked up Junger’s ‘Perfect Storm’ again at Abids and read it that same month.
Afterwards, there was a sale by Best Book Centre in YWCA in August, and there I found another book by Linda Greenlaw- All Fishermen Are Liars. I bought this book too but it was ‘Hungry Ocean’ I was looking for. I wanted to begin with her first book and yesterday at last I found it.

It was a hardcover copy and in good condition. Actually there were two copies of it but the first one I picked up was a paperback and I found this hardcover copy later. I got it for only seventy rupees which was quite a bargain. But what I was pleased with was that it turned out to be a First Edition!

Now that I have three of Linda Greenlaw’s books I have to begin reading them soon, one by one. I have a fascination for reading adventure books more so if they are set in the sea. Linda Greenlaw is a courageous woman and I want to read all of her books.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A 25-Books Month

This month I picked up twenty five books, something which I haven’t done in the past. The year’s total book count stands at roughly 193 which means I have many books to read in the new year not counting the books from the previous years many of which still remain unread. But it is a different feeling to know that at hand are several good books to read whenever there is time.

I picked up two books today and one yesterday. A friend had asked for a book by Dave Barry and I picked up ‘Dave Barry Turns 40’ at the MR sale in Begumpet yesterday evening. Today I had been to Best Book Centre at Abids in the afternoon and found ‘Write with Style’ by Sue Young by Scholastic. It is a book meant for school kids but I picked it up because I cannot resist books on writing. I got it for forty rupees and the book is in good condition and virtually clean without any writing in it.

Later in the evening I got into some money unexpectedly and since I had not celebrated the completion of my NaNo novel, I thought I’d reward myself with a book. I went to the MR Books sale at Liberty and found a book I was looking for. I was thrilled to find it and I guess the book crowns the picks of this month. I will write about the book in tomorrow’s post!

Some of the best picks of the month have been the two books of Elmore Leonard- Mr. Paradise and 52 Pickup; God’s Pocket by Pete Dexter and Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Next month, the 22nd Hyderabad Book Fair begins and I am eagerly waiting for the 7th of December. I am also eagerly waiting for the Sunday because it is the first Sunday of the month and ‘The Hindu’ would be carrying ‘Literary Supplement’.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dave Barry is King of Humor

One writer who I think is the funniest writer alive is my favorite writer- Dave Barry. Last month I had found a new book of his, “Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway”. I couldn’t resist not reading the book which I had originally planned to read later. Yesterday evening I finished reading it and I found it absolutely hilarious. Each and every line in it evokes uncontrollable laughter. This book is about the US Government and is very, very funny. I am glad I found the book.

I had discovered Dave Barry about ten years back when Deccan Chronicle used to carry his columns every Monday. I was hooked to his writing from then. I found my first Dave Barry book at Gangarams which had a store near the Clock Tower in Secunderabad. The book was ‘Dave Barry Does Japan’ and I was rolling in laughter while reading it. Since then I have had an eye out for his books and I have almost all the books he has written. One of my friends also likes his writing and keep picking up extra copies for him and also for others.

Another humor writer I like is Bill Bryson who is also funny, but to me Dave Barry is king. His is the first on my list of favorite writers. One of my dreams is to meet Dave Barry and also Elmore Leonard. Another dream is to write like them but it is an impossible dream though I might, if I am lucky, get to meet the two someday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Irani Chai vs Barista/CCD Coffee

Being a true blue Hyderabadi who can’t walk straight unless at least a cup of Irani courses through my blood vessels, Iget my daily dose of Irani chai at a local Irani. I either go to ADarsh near MLA quarters for the morning's cup or to Bombay Bakery and Restaurant at Gunfoundry for the afternoon cup. So far I haven’t had an oppurtinity or an inclination to get my caffeine dose at joints like Barista and Café Coffee Day. But a couple of Sundays ago, I had to meet friends (new ones, I meet all my old ones in Irani’s only) who might not have seen the inside of an Irani in their lives.

Anyway, I found there wasn't much difference between my local Irani and these new joints. The waiters at the Irani wear uniforms and those at the coffee joints too wear them. (Okay, they wear caps at CCD/Barista.) There’s a variety of fare at the Irani (chota samosa, bada samosa, mirchi, dil pasand, dil kusha, egg puffs…) and in these coffee joints too there is a variety of stuff to eat, only with fancy names. Of course, here they don’t shout the order to the kitchen. They politely write it down and go away. Maybe, when they are in the kitchen they shout it. But I didn't hear any shouting at the Barista I was in.

Then, there’s the crowd. Here there is a difference. You won’t find many autowallahs drinking one by two chai at the coffee joints. (I’ve no idea if they serve one by two.) Also, you won’t find many people over thirty at Barista and CCD. The day I was at Barista at Jubilee Hills, I guess I was the only customer they had since a long time who was over forty. (They were staring at me the way we stare at people who are wheeled on a stretcher into emergency rooms in hospitals.) Every one is young and trendy. So trendy that even the girls smoked.
People actually bring their laptops here and the joints even provide facilities for browsing the net and recharging your laptop. Sometimes I take my notebook (the paper variety) to the Irani to scribble.

The only difference was the price. In the Irani a cup costs just four bucks whereas you have to pay ten times or more for a cup of the plainest coffee in Barista/CCD. Another difference is that Irani hotels in Hyderabad are ‘men-only’ places where as girls seem to outnumber guys in Barista/CCD.

However, it was an enjoyable afternoon that I had at Barista that Sunday with friends who were doing the NaNoWriMo. We had a long talk about writing, books and favorite authors.

Also, you don’t have to go searching for an Irani hotel in Hyderabad; every lane has one. Or else, Hyderabad wouldn’t be Hyderabad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Sunday Book Haul

Exactly three months later, the book sellers were allowed back in the Metro Estate this Sunday. Now the Abids book bazaar is back to its old avatar. After the bomb blasts in August 07 that took place in Hyderabad the lane was off limits to the book sellers. Three of the biggies have their places in that lane and this Sunday they were back with hundreds of books.

I had a good find this Sunday though I did not find anything new to be excited about. The first find was Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ that I picked up for just five rupees. IN another heap I found Kirk Douglas’ ‘The Ragman’s Son’. This is my second copy of this book and I couldn’t resist buying it as it was for only ten rupees.

I have read the first part of Kirk Douglas’ memoirs title 'Climbing the Mountain' and was very impressed by his writing. He is one of the limited number of actors who write well. The other actor-writers whose books I have are Dirk Bogarde, David Niven, Errol Flynn, and Sammy Davis Jr. Dirk Bogarde is my favorite though. He has also a book of the book reviews he had done and I don’t remember the title but it was very good.

Later I found a good hardcover edition of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Bandits’ that I got for only thirty rupees. Only a few weeks earlier I had picked up a paperback of this book. I have three copies of this book but haven’t come across a fan of his writing yet to swap it with

I picked up two magazines- September 07 issue of ‘Man’s World’ that had an article on fountain pens, and the other magazine was the October 07 issue of ‘Men’s Journal’. It was the latest issue so I picked it up. Both these magazines I got for only ten rupees each.

With the three books I bought this Sunday the total number of books I bought this year comes to 190. I guess I will easily cross 200. Last year I had bought around 175 books but have managed to read only a few of them. With a regular job, a few writing projects on hand plus this blog I am not finding much time to read all the books I am buying.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Accidental Lesson to the Kid

On Saturday we had been to Dholar-ri-Dhani on the outskirts. Though the resort was started more than a decade ago this was my first visit. There was nothing much to see or do there. That day the place was overrun with screaming schook kids trying out the camel rides, the swings and every thing that was free.
There was a stall where one could shoot at balloons with an air rifle and my ten year old son wanted to try it out. It was three shots for twenty rupees. I hadn't held a gun for long and I wanted to try it out first. I blew out all the three balloons. My son had this look of awe on his face when the guy told the other kids gathered that this was how real shooters did it. I was more amazed at my own marksmanship than my son. But that moment, I was a hero to my son. I realized it was a moment to teach him something.
I was in the NCC when I was in high school and knew a bit about rifle shooting. Then a friend had an air rifle which I borrowed and practiced for a couple of days. When my friend saw that I was getting better he took back the gun and that was the end of my shooting spree. I wasn't what you call a marksman or a sharpshooter but I was kind of okay, getting in a few bulleyes' now and then. It is all about concentration which is what I wanted to teach my son on Saturday.
I taught him how to hold the gun. ( It was too heavy for him). I showed him the sights and how to aim at the target. I showed him how to hold the breath when you squeeze the trigger. He listened and did it all perfectly. He blew out two balloons out of three shots. Not bad, I thought.
But then he wanted to do it again and again. At twenty rupees for three shots it was quite expensive. He tried two more rounds. He missed all shots in the second round but in the final round he got two shots at the ballons out of the three. Now he is hooked to shooting though there is no way I am going to buy him a gun.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Yesterday night I crossed the 50,000-words mark which officially makes me a winner in the National Novel Writing Month thing. However, I am yet to finish the story but I still have another week to do it. It was an incredible experience writing the novel that was lurking in my mind for the better part of a decade. At last I’ve got it down somewhere! Right now I feel a considerable lightness of the mental kind. It wasn’t fun writing it though. I had a hard time herding the multitude of ideas screaming to be let out. More difficult was the actual writing hammering out at least two thousand words a day. But it had its own moments of fun. At a few places, here and there I was surprised at some of the lines that came spontaneously.

I suggest that entering into such a contest should be mandatory for all writers. It reveals a lot about the self. You will know your limits and how far you can stretch them. Yesterday morning I had thought of writing 5000 words in a single day. My previous high was 4500 words in a day that I wrote sometime last week and I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t easy though but it wasn’t impossible. When I crossed the 5000 words mark I felt pleased with my own determination which is non-existent on most days. A little bit of my self-confidence has grown and I hope to do the rewriting, revising on the book in the coming days.

The surprising part was that I decided to write this novel though I was at work on my first book which I had begun two years back. I was working on it on and off but sometime during June of this year I decided that I must finish the book this year come what may. I will be turning forty five next Feb and I wanted to finish a book at any cost. With the NaNo book I now have two books under my belt. That feels great.

The books I have written may not get published and right now I am not even thinking of sending them to publishers. They need a lot of work and that would keep me busy for another year at least. This will be a great learning experience and I hope to learn many new things about writing, myself and life while rewriting and revising my books. In future posts I will write more about my books. For now, that is all I have to say

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

National Book Week and Hyderabad Book Fair


The National Book Week ( Nov 14-20) ended yesterday and quietly. Not many knew about it and even I too was not aware of it until three days ago. None of the newspapers carried much news about the event and only in the Deccan Chronicle was there some kind of a list of celebrities and others regarding the books they had read or were reading. This was carried daily and that was the only Book Week related news I had read. There used to be a book exhibition by National Book Trust during the week but this year they seem to have forgotten about it or maybe, haven’t publicized much about it.


But the good news is that the Hyderabad Book Fair is beginning from December 7th at People’s Plaza on Necklace Road. It is usually a ten-day event and last year too it was held at the same place but it began from December 1st.

I have been attending this event regularly since the past twenty -two years. I remember the earliest of the events was in the open place where the Big Bazar now stands at the RTC Crossroads. It moved to several places over the years, including the City Central Library at Ashoknagar, Exhibition Grounds at Nampally, Keshav Memorial School in Narayanguda and also was held at the Nizam College Grounds.

I don’t pick many books here since I prefer buying my books second hand. But of late there are a few second hand book stalls in the Fair. Best Book Centre and MR Books have their stalls every year along with a couple of Mumbai based sellers. I remember the famous Select of Bangalore had their stall one year when the Fair was held in the Nizam College Grounds.

One thing I never fail to buy at the Book Fair is the ‘Sportstar’ cap that ‘The Hindu’ sells in its stall at the Fair. I love the quality of the cap but never get around to wearing it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Elmore Leonard Again at Abids

In the previous post I had listed out all the Elmore Leonard books I don’t have. I don’t have about 16 of his books. The day before yesterday, at Abids, I found Elmore Leonard's 52 Pickup- and I got it for only twenty rupees. It was in good condition though the book was published in 1974! I was glad about the find though since I was slowly acquiring all the books written by Elmore Leonard. This month seemed especially lucky for I found three books by him so far- Mr.Paradise, 52 Pickup and second copies of Maximum Bob and Bandits

A little earlier, I had found another book on writing. It was ‘Teaching Your Children to Write’ by Cheri Fuller. I got this 200 + pages book for only fifty rupees. I bought it more to learn from it myself than to teach my son to write though the book might come in handy when he begins to show interest in writing. He reads a lot of books and does a bit of drawing but hasn’t, so far, shown much interest in writing.

One line I read in the introductory chapter said; A Good Writer is a Good Thinker, which says it all.

I saw in the heap of books selling for five and ten rupees several books by Phyllis A Whitney, Russel Baker’s ‘Growing up’ and also Kirk Douglas’ ‘Ragman’s Son’ both which I have. The last book I picked up yesterday was a second copy of Carson McCullers’ ‘Ballad of the Sad Café and other Stories’. I have this book I had found sometime last month. A friend had asked for it and I picked it up to give it away. I got the book for only ten rupees.

Sometimes I feel terribly sad that really good books are selling for so cheap a rate- five rupees and ten rupees! It wouldn't have imaginable a few years earlier that good books would be available for throway prices. Also, the way the sellers heap the books like they are vegetables pains me a little. These guys show little regard for books. That's one grouse I have against the Abids booksellers.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Finding another new Elmore Leonard book

One of the most exciting finds in recent times was the book I found yesterday at the MR sale at Begumpet. I found a new book by Elmore Leonard –Mr. Paradise. I was excited to see this new title which I had not seen in any list. I picked it up instantly. It was a hardcover copy and was in brand new condition with the jacket intact. I was excited with the find and was eager to go home and check it out in detail. But I lingered on and browsed the thousands of books in the sale.

I saw ‘Dave Barry Turns 50’, ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes, Joe Queenan’s ‘My Goodness; A Cynic's Shortlived Search for Sainthood', and also two other Elmore Leonard books- Killshot and Out of Sight which I have at home. I wanted to buy the Dave Barry book but I have one copy at home. I might pick up all these books sometime next week and give them to friends who might appreciate them.

After I got home I was pleasantly surprised to find that the William Morrow edition of ‘Mr.Paradise’ published in 2004 was a First Edition. I’ve read about how coveted First Editions are and here I was with one. I have to check out more about it on the net. There was a list of 39 books by Elmore Leonard and realized I don’t have these titles-

-When the Women Come Out to Dance
-The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
-Cat Chaser
-The Switch
-The Hunted
-Unknown Man No.89
-Fifty Two Pickup
-Forty Lashes Less One
-Valdez is Coming
-The Big Bounce

-The Bounty Hunters

On the flap it was mentioned that the first two books were collections of short stories of his. I had read only one short story of Elmore Leonard, Three Ten to Yuma, in the collection of classic western short stories that I found a few weeks ago.

On the back of the book, like most of his books, there’s a picture of Elmore Leonard wearing a dazzling white full sleeved shirt tucked into a pair of jeans. I was glad to notice I have one thing in common with the great writer. I too don’t wear a belt with my jeans

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Halfway Through My NaNo Novel

Today, I sailed past the halfway mark of the 50,000 words of my NaNo novel. I wrote 25,006 words so far. I am pleased no end with my progress because I have only another 25,000 words to hammer out in the next fifteen days though at the rate at which the book is moving my word count is likely to be around 60,000 words. Now that I’ve managed to cross 25,000 words I am confident I can do it.

It has been a crazy month so far with the mind focused on only the writing of the novel and the day’s word count. On some days I was able to write two thousand words (the limit I set myself for each day) and on a few days I was not able to write even five hundred words. One day I managed to write 4500 words though I had actually planned to write five thousand words that day. In the next fifteen days I plan to write five thousand words on some day.

But writing the NaNo novel has been a learning experience. It is certainly insane to attempt to write a novel in thirty days but I feel there are advantages to this method. First, you get the novel down from your mind to paper (or screen). Then next, you begin to think of actually finishing it. If you persist then you can finish the novel and I am determined to finish it come what may.

Writing the novel, I am feeling some of the lessons on writing I read about, begin to sink in. The basic rule is to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Then the other rules about having characters, dialogue, etc are also beginning to sink in. But what has permeated more deeply is the advice I read somewhere that a writer should think of his book in terms of scenes. Writing my NaNo novel I am trying to follow this advice and am actually thinking of the next scene and how many words it will take to write it. I hope to actually practice all the bits of advice that I’ve read so far.

What is helping me is that my novel is a satirical magic realism novel in which I am able to write literally anything that comes to my mind. Much of it is pure drivel and utter nonsense but I feel that once I finish it, it will begin to make sense (at least to me!). I cannot say I am having fun writing the book since it is making me edgy and impatient to finish it as soon as possible. But it is one wonderful learning experience that I hope to repeat every year from now onwards.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

This Sunday's Haul of Books

After the long festival season, this Sunday all the book sellers were back at Abids. However, the lane housing the Hollywood shoe shop and Meena Bazar extension continue to be off limits for the booksellers. This was the nerve center of the book bazaar with the three biggest booksellers having their spots in the lane. Without any booksellers in this lane, the Abids book bazaar doesn’t appear the same. I hope the shopkeepers would see reason and allow the booksellers to set up shop in the lane.

This Sunday too I found a couple of good books. The first find of the day was a hardcover copy of Elmore Leonard’s ‘Maximum Bob’ which I picked up from a heap of books selling for only twenty rupees each. It was a good find because the book was a hardcover copy with the jacket intact and it was also in good condition. I remember seeing this copy earlier but it was highly priced, hundred fifty bucks or so, a few months back. Sooner or later many of the books the booksellers sell them off at ridiculously low rates. I have another copy with me that I had picked up for fifty bucks or so sometime back. I picked up this second copy to give away.

The second find of the day was Pete Dexter’s ‘God’s Pocket’ which I got for the shocking rate of only five rupees. It was really a shame that such good books have no takers. I had picked up his other book ‘Paris Trout’ and incidentally Elmore Leonard in an interview I read in the ‘Writer’s Handbook 2002’ mentions that he liked Pete Dexter’s writing. I haven’t yet started “Paris Trout’ but I hope to finish it this year.

Another book I found was Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Not After Midnight’. Again this was a hardcover copy and it was a discard from the British Library. It wasn’t in such a good condition but since a friend asked to look for it I picked it up for seventy rupees which I felt was too high a price.

This week I found a book on writing. I am sucker for books on writing and buy up any book on writing with the expectation that I would find something that would help me write well. The book I found this Sunday was a sort of writing textbook aimed at college students. The title was ‘Writing Voyage’ by Thomas E Tyner. It seemed good and I picked up after I leafed through the pages and found an essay on writing by Anne Tyler in it. I bought it for fifty rupees. It was in good condition and was in the size that textbooks come in.

The last find was another Conde Nast Traveler magazine. This was an issue of March 2005. It was in pretty good condition and I got it for twenty rupees only. This seemed another addition to the growing collection of Conde Nast Traveler magazines that I was picking up regularly at Abids.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Armchair Travel with Conde Nast Traveler

My travels to exotic locations abroad mostly happen on days when I read travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveler. In the post about the book finds last Sunday, I had forgotten to mention that I had also found a magazine- the April 2006 issue of Conde Nast Traveler. I got this almost-new magazine for only twenty rupees.

The issue contains articles on the French Riviera and other lovely places I’ll never get to visit unless I suddenly become a bestselling author overnight earning millions of dollars with my NaNo book!

But seriously, I read about socially responsible hotels in this magazine. It is written that many hotels in poorer countries are soliciting donations from travelers which are being ploughed back into the local economy to help the poor. I found this idea quite good.

I always look if there is anything on India in these magazines but always end up disappointed. The magazines don’t cover Indian places as often as I hope, but I have on a few occasions read about Jaipur and other such places. The South isn’t so extensively covered. Maybe I have to wait for some more time or I might have missed out those issues that have covered them.

I was struck by an article in it about seven unusual buildings titled ‘Next Wonders’. There was Hotel Puerta America in Madrid designed by Zaha Hadid, De Young Museum in San Franscisco but the most spectacular one was the one with a heart-stopping view of the Aurland Fjord.
With this issue of Conde Nast Traveler I guess I now have more than a dozen of them on my table. I don't feel like parting with them ever.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

An Embarrassed Reader and Writer

While I eagerly await ‘The Literary Review’ of ‘The Hindu’ every first Sunday of the month, at the end of reading it leaves me sad and feeling empty. I feel sad that there are so many books and so many authors I haven’t yet read. The excellent articles on different authors and their writers makes me want to go out and buy their books. But how many books can one buy and how many can one read? Even if I manage to lay my hands on them where is the time to read them?

This month’s issue of ‘The Literary Review’ carried in-depth articles on Doris Lessing, Anne Enright, Joseph Conrad and Montaigne. The only thing that cheered me up was the knowledge that I had managed to buy a smaller version of Montaigne’s ‘Essays’ that was reviewed in this issue. It was the article on Joseph Conrad that brought on the gloom. I am embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet read any of his books. I haven’t also read many other classics that others manage to read in school and college. I am fifteen years into a job and I still haven’t read many classics. One New Year’s resolution I am planning to make is to read at least half a dozen classics in the next year and fill up this yawning gap in my reading.

Another reason why reading the articles on great writers and their books brings on the gloom is the knowledge that their talents are so superior that I feel it would require me to take several births to even imitate their style of writing. It is so very difficult to write well. On such occasions I am embarrassed to call myself a writer, it seems so presumptuous

Thursday, November 08, 2007


The Literary Review of The Hindu

It was a packed Sunday this week with lots of books and pen related stuff happening.
First it was the ‘Literary Review’ of ‘The Hindu’ that set the tone for the rest of the day. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, ‘The Hindu’ carried the supplement I look forward to very eagerly. This year’s Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing was profiled on the front page as also another prize winner, the Booker winner- Anne Enright. Shashi Deshpande wrote that men are prejudiced against women authors but I don’t agree with her. An author’s gender doesn’t influence my reading choices and I guess if a guy doesn’t want to read something written by a woman why crib about it? I think this is taking the ‘discrimination-against-women’ thing too far. There’s more to be said about it but not now. Also, there is so much in the ‘Literary Review’ of this month that it needs a separate post to write about it all.

The Abids Routine- Finding two books and a catalog

Then as usual, I went to Abids. The festive shopping forces the book sellers out of their regular hangouts. This week too there were enough booksellers for me to fish out a couple of books. I found extra copies of books I’ve already read but I bought the books because they were too cheap and I wanted to give them away to friends. I found both these books at one place where each book was for ten rupees only. Surprisingly, the books were almost brand new. The first book was Elmore Leonard’s ‘Bandits’ and the second books was Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’.

The Caran d'Ache Catalog

The last book I found was not exactly a book but a catalog. After finding Mont Blanc catalogs all along until now, today I found a pen catalog of a different brand- Caran d’Ache. It was a small black,slim book lost among a heap of catalogs for jewelry. I got it for twenty rupees. The catalog had stunning pictures of some really beautiful pens. Some of the names were ‘Collection Joallerie’, ‘Privee’, ‘Hexagonale’, ‘Leman’, ‘Varius’, ‘Madison’, ‘Ecridor’ and ‘Dunas’. Needless to say each and every pen featured in the catalog was too exquisite to be described in words.

Meeting a Fountain Pen Collector

Later in the afternoon I met a serious fountain pen collector- a distinguished gentleman who had been an advocate. He had the most beautiful collection of fountain pens I have ever seen. The pens were lovingly stored in two wooden boxes and I could experience how the people who write with such pens must feel owning such pens when I handled the beauties. He had several Parkers, Namiki, a Conway Stewart and several other pens. We both were smiling away delightedly enjoying that rapport that comes with sharing a passion- a passion for fountain pens.

I am seriously thinking of putting pictures of the books , fountain pens and their catalogs I find, on the blog. But I need a good camera which I don’t have. Too bad I can’t share my finds with others.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Another Book on Writing

Another Book on Writing- The Writer’s Handbook

Last Friday, I was going to meet some writer friends in the afternoon and I passed a bookstore on the way- MR at Abids. I saw a new magazine- Monocle- that I had not seen earlier anywhere. It appeared quite good and I decided to buy it later in the week. But as I was leaving the store, I decided to take a quick look at another rack. It is odd how the eye locks on some specific words that connect to the important things in our lives. I noticed the word ‘Writer’ and I picked up the book to take a closer look. It was ‘The Writer’s Handbook- 2002’ brought out by ‘The Writer’ magazine. I bought it without a second thought. I got the book for a hundred rupees only.

Though more than half of the book contains details of magazines, publishers etc in the US, it also contains sixty essays on writing by famous writers. Writers like Stephen King, Sue Grafton, John Updike, Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishigoro and my favorite writer, Elmore Leonard have given their advice in this book.

I have older editions of this book, the 1977 edition and also the 1991 one. All three are big tomes, thicker than bricks and running into more than a thousand pages. But is a book worth owning by those who want to write. At hundred rupees it was a terrific bargain. I felt extremely lucky finding this book.

Getting Started on My First Novel

My First Novel

Writing wise it was a good beginning to the month. I started on my first novel (actually it is the second but more about it in another post) writing it for the NaNoWriMo thing. I have written ten thousand words already and am amazed at the rising word count. When I first began writing it on the first of November I felt I may not be able to complete and would leave it like so many of my writing projects. But I am determined to finish the novel, however badly it is written. I will work on it later and bring it to a shape. But right now, it is tap, tap, tap.

It feels odd writing a novel this way focusing on the word count rather than on the story. The priority is on writing the day's qouta. I am typing it off in half the day finding time whenever possible. I am trying to write more than the day's quota so that I don't have to worry if I miss a day's writing. Right now it appears fun but I guess the second week on wards it is going to be tough. My novel is going in all directions and I am struggling to keep it moving in the way I had planned to write it ten years ago.

As on today I have written ten thousand words and by the end of the day I plan to write another thousand words. I plan to write a 75000- 90000 word novel by the end of the month. It appears difficult but it is not impossible.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Writing My NaNoWriMo Novel

I had registered for the National Novel Writing Month Organisation few days ago. I have to write a novel of fifty thousand words before November 30. It sounds daunting and makes me wonder if it is any way of writing a novel. But I had been planning and thinking of writing a book since ten years and never got down to writing one seriously. I think this is the perfect opportunity to get the novel down.

Ten years ago I had done a course in Creative Writing in English from the Indira Gandhi Open University but I had not submitted my proposed project- a novel. I attended the classes for several months, met a few friends there with whom I am in touch even today but did not find the time to complete the project. Doing the course did some wonders to my writing ambitions first of which was that my first article, which was actually an assignment, was published in a newspaper as a middle. Incidentally, my first article was on fountain pens.

The project I had proposed to do was a fantasy novel and I had made some chapter outlines and had a general idea of the story. In the next month I plan to write this story. If I complete the novel then it would be a major achievement in my life. When I was young I told a friend that one day I would write a book. I was ten or twelve then and had absolutely no idea of writing much less about writing a book. I also do not know why I made that statement. But that promise stayed in my mind all these years. Now that I have a general idea of how to write a book (which I learnt from reading books on writing) I hope I would be able to achieve that childhood dream.