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.