Friday, February 22, 2013

The Sunday Haul

One reason why I was desperate to visit Chennai was to get a couple of my fountain pens fitted with Sheaffer nibs at Gem & Co in Chennai. When the opportunity came up sometime in last year for a trip to Chennai I was excited and all raring to go. But due to some reason I was unable to go which increased my longing to go to Chennai at the next available opportunity. When I read about the Lit for Life fest at Chennai in the second week of this month I began planning in great detail which I never usually do- listing out things to do, people to meet, things to buy and so on. I had also booked the tickets and also applied for leave. It was just a matter of waiting for the day when I would board the train. Then disaster stuck, literally. The day before I was to leave, a severe hailstorm struck many parts of the state bringing heavy rains that killed eighteen people besides causing a lot of damage. Naturally, however much I desperately wanted to get Sheaffer nibs fitted on my fountain pens and also attend the Lit for Life festival at Chennai, I had to put aside such wishes for a while and stay back to do what little I could do to take stock of the situation. Maybe I will go next year.

Anyway, thanks to the untimely natural calamity, not only did I not go to Chennai; I had to go to the office on Sunday. Going to the office on a Sunday isn’t exactly unusual to me considering the nature of the work which our Department does so I went without a murmur. The only saving grace was that I got to go to Abids in the morning which is something I rarely miss. At Abids the first find was Susan Isaacs’ ‘Shining Through’ that I got for thirty rupees. I have a copy of this book and have already read this extremely funny book which I want to give to one of my friends. It was a good copy that I found so whoever gets it from me will not have reason to gripe.

The second find was a crime fiction title by a new author I haven’t read about before. Of late I am stumbling upon some very good books by new authors almost by accident. I found books by Sarah Dunant, Hary Dolan and Jake Arnott in this manner and on Sunday I spotted a new name on a book- Andrew Vachss. In a pile of crime fiction titles I found ‘Dead and Gone’ by Andrew Vachss and picked it up on a hunch that it looked like something that might be a good read. I got the book for fifty rupees and later when I browsed on the net I was pleasantly surprised that Vachss was a bestselling crime writer so naturally I am very interested in reading about his charecter- Burke.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Sunday Haul

After the super haul of six books last week preceded by another good haul the previous Sunday, my collection of books that I have to read has reached impossible proportions. I told myself (and also some of my friends) that I would not buy any more books until I have finished reading at least half of the books in my pile. But such decisions are hard to give effect to especially in cities like Hyderabad where there are several second hand book stores and where there’s a thriving second hand book market every Sunday where the likes of me throng come what may. This Sunday despite my avowals not to buy any books, I ended up buying two more.

One of the best finds at the Best Books sale the previous Sunday had been a collection of short stories by a writer I had not heard about earlier. I had bought Alistair MacLeod’s ‘Islands’ after I saw the haunting picture on the cover and my hunch about the book being a good find was right after the reviews on the net said the same. Somewhere in the book I had read about his other collection of short stories- The Lost Salt Gift of Blood- that too seemed to be a wonderful book. On Sunday within minutes of parking my bike I saw this book at a spot where I usually look at the titles quite closely. I wonder how I had missed seeing this title earlier. Maybe because it was small and slim, which is one reason why I got the book for only ten rupees. ‘Lost Salt Gift of Blood’ contains seven short stories- In the Fall, The Vastness of the Dark, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, The Return, The Golden Gift of Grey, The Boat, The Road to Rankin’s Point, and as a bonus it also has an afterword by Joyce Carol Oates, another master story teller.

The other find of Sunday was a book by Ashokamitran. A couple of years ago I had come across ‘A Most Truthful Picture’ by Ashokamitran at a second hand book store and I had let the book go because of the price. After a few weeks when I went again the book was missing and I regretted not buying the book then. So when I came across a nice, hardcover copy of ‘A Most Truthful Picture and Other Stories’ with twenty five stories in it I picked it up. It cost me only thirty rupees. I have read his other books- The Eighteenth Parallel and also ‘Mole’ and found them to be hugely entertaining. I am extremely glad I found these two books that I think will not take much time to finish reading.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

‘Who Let the Dork Out’ by Sidin Vadukut- A Review

If there’s any writer who has written book after funny book that makes one laugh aloud then it is Dave Barry for me. Until recently there was no Indian writer who wrote such books until Sidin Vadukut came along with his ‘Dork’ trilogy. From what humor books I’ve read some writers line funny lines, some writers create funny characters and some writers create funny situations. But so far I haven’t read any book with funny characters in funny situations uttering funny lines all through until I read the first Sidin Vadukut book. In his very first book itself Vadukut revealed his comic genius creating the Robin ‘Einstein’ Varghese character who is one of the goofiest characters I’ve read so far.

Like the first and the second ‘Dork’ titles the latest in the ‘Dork’ trilogy ‘Who Let the Dork Out’ is also outrageously funny beginning with the title. The jokes in it fly in it like bullets in a machine gun, one after the other, leaving you breathless with laughter. ‘Who Let the Dork Out’ is another caper of Eistein told to us in the dairy format. This is a real masterstroke the way Einstein makes his entries in the diary. The merest hint of something makes one break into loud laughter, like bringing up the name of Raveena Tandon, Anushka Sharma, Joy Alukkas and so on.

The first paragraph of the book begins with a bang, with a fantastic joke, and from then on the jokes take the reader on a hilarious journey into a crazy caper. The casual manner in which Einstein utters his lines or expresses his thoughts aloud is simply inimitable. In 'Who Let the Dork Out' Lederman's Einstein gets into the business of managing things for the 'Allied Victory Games 2010' on behalf of the Govt of India. There's the usual cast- Gauri, Sugandh, his bosses mixed with more new characters like Kedarji, Bala, Joyyonto, Jesal and of course, Colonel Kalbag to give the readers a heady dose of original funny stuff that'll split your sides if you don't pause in between chapters.

A single and casual mention of some famous names like Jhumpa Lahiri, Prince Charles, Subhas Chandra Bose and the way he takes potshots at all Bengalis and also Malayalis, his constant references to China is all very hilarious. It is all so original and funny you can read the book any number of times and laugh like you did the first time you read it. Sidin Vadukut's 'Who Let the Dork Out' is 252 pages of pure hilarity.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Super Haul

It was too good to be true and also hard to believe, at first. There was this book I had been waiting to find since the past few years and had lost all hopes of ever finding it since it was sort of rare. But there it was, right before my eyes, waiting to be picked up. I was at the sale of books by Best Books at YMCA in Secunderabad on Monday, the same day I had read about it in the papers. I unhesitatingly picked up WG Sebald’s ‘The Rings of Saturn’ which is one of the ten odd books listed as travel classics in Lonely Planet Travel Writing. Anyway, I put aside a book of short stories- ‘Island’ by Alastair MaCLeod that I had planned to buy and instead picked up ‘The Rings of Saturn.’ I had also found two titles by Raymond Chandler ‘The Big Sleep’ and ‘The Little Sister’ as well as another title that I was looking for- Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian.’ Also on the shelves were many other titles I wanted to buy but couldn’t due to budget problems. Adding to the excitement was the fact that I had also spotted Tom Wolfe’s ‘The New Journalism’ that Uma was looking for since god knows how long. I was eager to go back home and go through the find. But when I got home I realized my mistake.

When I opened ‘The Rings of Saturn’ I saw that the book began from page five which meant that the first four pages were missing! I was crestfallen and almost heartbroken about the discovery because I can never find another copy of the book. But luckily on Amazon I saw that what was missing was just two pages of the first chapter which I typed out. I plan to print these paragraphs out and paste in my copy so it could be complete in some way. When I checked the reviews of Alistair MacLeod’s ‘Islands’ I saw that it was a book not to be missed so I went back the next day and picked up the hardcover jacketed copy. While at it I also picked up James Cameron’s ‘An Indian Summer’ that I had failed to buy on an earlier occasion years ago. In all, in just two days I had bought six books not counting Jan Morris’ ‘Conundrum’ that I found at Abids on Sunday.

Earlier in the week on Sunday we had scoured the pavements at Abids but did not find anything worth finding until it was time for me to leave. At that moment I spotted ‘Conundrum’ by Jan Morris and bought it for fifty rupees. ‘Conundrum’ is an account of the gender change process that Jan Morris underwent. How James Morris became Jan Morris might be interesting to read. However I did not feel guilty that I had bought so many books. I would consider them as gifts for myself on my fiftieth birthday that falls on Wednesday. There’s nothing like good books to cheer one up on such a momentous occasion.

Last Sunday brought with it ‘The Literary Review’ in The Hindu with interviews of Mridula Koshy and also Benyamin. There was the announcement of Lit for Life that begins sometime next week in Chennai. The curtain raiser at Delhi had already begun and yesterday (Thursday) the titles on the short list for the Fiction Prize were revealed. There was a writer I had not known about till now- Easterine Kire but I think Anjum Hasan might win for ‘Difficult Pleasures’ or maybe Jeet Thayil for ‘Narcopolis.’ It could be someone else ultimately. Anyway I am seriously planning to go to Chennai to attend the Lit Fest provided everything goes right. Inside the Literary Review there was the detailed schedule for the two days. I read that Sidin Vadukut would be coming so would be Pradeep Sebastian, Jerry Pinto, Nilanjana S. Roy, Timeri N. Murari and others who it might be a delight to see in person.

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Sunday Haul

In the past few months my collection of books of short stories grew at a rapid pace. A couple of months ago I had found Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Human Element and Other Stories’ at a sale and later I found Daniyal Mueenuddin’s ‘In Other Rooms, Other Wonders’ at Chikkadpally sometime in September. It was followed by Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Kingdom’s End and Other Stories’ that I found at Abids in October. Then at the Book Fair in December I found Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Doctor Brodie’s Report’ and got it quite cheap, by the way.

The previous Sunday I had found John Updike’s ‘Problems and Other Stories’ at Chikkadpally and the same day I got ‘Collected Stories’ by Saul Bellow as a present. I have a shelf-full of short story collections like Marquez’s ‘Collected Stories,’ Ernest Hemingway’s ‘First Forty Nine Stories’ MT Vasudevan Nair’s ‘Catching an Elephant and Other Stories,’ Annie Proulx’s ‘Close Range,’ Saadat Hasan Manto’s ‘Black Margins,’ Alice Munro’s ‘The Moons of Jupiter’ and also ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’, Peter Taylor’s ‘The Old Forest and Other Stories,’ Haruki Murakami’s ‘’ David Leavitt’s ‘A Place I’ve Never Been,’ Penelope Lively’s ‘Beyond the Blue Mountains’ and ‘Pack of Cards,’ and many other titles that I cannot recollect right away.

Last Sunday I found another collection of short stories by an Australian writer. I haven’t read many books by Australian writers except ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ by Peter Carey a along time back and Helen Garner’s ‘Monkey Grip’ recently. The book I found last Sunday was Jessica Andersen’s ‘Stories from the Warm Zone and Sydney Stories’ that I found in a heap of books selling for thirty rupees only at Abids. One of the reasons I picked up the book was that it was a Penguin imprint. ‘Stories from the Warm Zone and Sydney Stories’ has eight stories ‘Under the House’, ‘The Appearance of Things,’ ‘Against the Wall, The Way to Budgerra Heights, The Aviator in ‘Stories from the Warm Zone’ and The Milk, The Late Sunlight and Outdoor Friends in ‘Sydney Stories.’

The second book in Sunday’s Haul was ‘Love, Chocolates & Medicine’ by Dr. Ravi Sekhar Krishna who gave it to me personally when we met on Saturday afternoon at Minerva. Dr. Ravi, a young doctor pursuing his post-graduation in General Surgery told me how he came to write his first book which was published by Zorba Publishers. He has already finished writing his second novel and is working on the third novel. Hardly half my age, the young writer has written almost three novels in a very short time and here I am still struggling with my first novel since the past eight years and clueless about how to finish it. Some guys have all the luck.

Yesterday, that is, Thursday I read a marvelous review of ‘A House by the Shore’ by Alison Johnson by Aparna Karthikeyan in her column ‘The Armchair Traveller’ in The Hindu Metro Plus. After reading the review I added the title to my ‘To Buy’ list that includes several other books. In fact I cut the review and have kept it in a folder. I hope one of these days she writes about Moritz Thomsen’s ‘The Saddest Pleasure’ that I have with me lying unread for some reason.