The Dream – A Short Story

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After a long dry spell of almost a year, I have published my third short story The Dream.

The Dream is the short story of a girl who wakes up every morning to realize she still hasn’t forgotten the devastating memory of seeing off the love of her life for the last time ever. Here is an excerpt:

She woke up to find herself crying hard. Tears filled her eyes and everything looked blurred. She tried to take a deep breath but choked on her sobs. Still lying down, she rubbed her hands over her eyes and large drops of tears fell onto the pillow, which she discovered was already very wet. She wondered how long she had been crying in her sleep.

You can download it for free in various ebook formats from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/508280.

If you would like to check out any of my other short stories, please have a look at my author’s page on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/shitijbagga

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The Reading List

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As a book lover, one of the things I have most longed for is a week long holiday from work and a list of excellent books to read without any interruptions and distractions. I had been craving for such a break for a long time and it only came about this week.

So, Christmas holidays are here and at the end of my last day at work, I dropped in to Stockholm’s biggest library, Stadsbibliotek, and spent about an hour searching for the list of books I was going to devour over the next couple of weeks. Or at least, I thought I would. But here was the problem: none of the books that I had on my Reading List A was to be found in the library. OK, so I had two reading lists prepared for this occasion – List A: books that I’ve been longing to read and now was the best time; and List B: books that can be listed as backup if List A was not possible. Here is a sample of what I was looking for:

List A:

  • The Idiot OR The Karamazov Brother – by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Honorable Schoolboy OR Smiley’s People – both by John Le Carre (Remember Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?)
  • War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

List B:

  • Missing – Karin Alvtegen
  • In Cold Blood – by Truman Capote
  • Any books by PG Wodehouse.

There was also a Plan C, of course. Plan C was that in case I found nothing from my first two lists at the library, I would pick 3-4 fiction novels that appealed to me the most from what was available. It was unlikely, but not impossible, that I might have to fall back on Plan C – after all it was Stockholm’s biggest library – but I was nevertheless going to be mentally prepared.

‘Mentally prepared for not being able to find a good book to read from a big library?’ you might ask and it may sound a bit weird to the unfamiliar, but imagine a guy (that’s me) who stands for hours in front of his personal library back home in India, stocked with 300 books (about 15 of them are yet to be read), and is still unable to decide what to read. Yes, some of us bookworms get weird in this aspect of our lives.

So, back to picking the books. I immediately move to Section D to look for Dostoyesvsky’s books and there are none of them available. Damn! Now to Section L for Le Carre and the two books on my list are also not there. I do see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I’ve already read that and, to my shame, not understood what happened in the story at all.

Nevermind! I move to T and even Tolstoy is out of stock. There goes List A into the dustbin. Out with List B. I move to Section A and look for Alvtegen and it is also missing. And there is nothing by Wodehouse that I haven’t already read so I am so frustrated now that I don’t even attempt to look for Capote.

It has been 15 minutes since I entered the library and I am already panicking. I can see my holidays going for a toss because now I don’t have any books to read. But I must persist and pick up something before I leave – that was plan C. I run over the list of authors I can think of. Jeffry Deaver – already read all of his books. I’ve heard of Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell.. oh Damn! Not those regular thriller fictions again.

It was a long battle in my mind but another 40 minutes have passed by and I have finally made up my decision. I have picked up The Nightmare by Lars Kepler, another thriller but at least the story is based in Stockholm so it will give me a peek into the city that I have recently moved to. And because my mind has stopped working completely, I also picked by The Sixth Man by David Baldacci and I have no idea why. Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I am already thinking about the unread books I already have back at my apartment which I know I probably can fall back upon now: A couple of them by Wodehouse and one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Fast forward by a couple of hours and I am back at my apartment, holidays have started and I am already lying on my couch with a cup of hot tea and about to finish the 20th page of The Nightmare. It is a good thriller, but I feel more and more disappointed. The problem is, I’ve read so many thrillers in my lifetime that they all seem to be the same to me. Something to start with, a lot of twists and turns and I already know how stories unfold. Depending on how much you have progressed in the book, you can figure out whether the events that are unfolding right now are leading to the unraveling of the suspense or only thickening of the cloud around it. It gives me no high.

That is when I start thinking about the books that have ever given me a high. When I had read my first book, A Matter of Honor by Jeffrey Archer, it gave me a high because that was the first time I realized how books can engage you. But over the last few years only a very few books have really shaken me from inside and I start remembering them. I thought about Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and how deep the flaws of the protagonist ran. I was amazed by how sick he felt after committing a murder and how it changed him and everything around him. There was no mystery in that novel in the conventional way. The real mystery was in guess how much sicker he can get and how his life was going to deteriorate because of what he has done. It touched you like nothing else ever did before.

Then I think about Love in the Time of Cholera. I don’t know how others feel about it because I never look up the reviews of a book I’ve read because my opinion and my feelings for it are enough and do not need to be spoilt. But was this book something special! The protagonist Florentino Ariza is a young man madly in love with Fermina Daza who has turned him down but he waits for over half a century to win her over again. The feelings depicted in the book are unmatched and I cannot think of any other romantic novel – though I hate to call it just a novel – that has even come anywhere close to it. This stuff is special. If you haven’t read it yet, read it today.

Anyway, as I reach page 40 or so in the novel that I was currently reading, my mind wanders to Sherlock Holmes. Ah, unarguably the best I have ever read and reread and then again some more. I don’t think I will ever tire of reading Holmes and will even be reading it when I turn 50 or 60.

And so is the case with the Jeeves and Wooster series of books (again I refrain from calling them novels in the traditional sense) by P.G. Wodehouse. Have I ever cherished a fictional character more than I’ve cherished Bertie Wooster? No, and I probably never will. Someone had sometime quoted that Wodehouse is ‘..the ultimate in comfort reading because nothing bad ever happens in P.G. Wodehouse land… For as long as I am immersed in a P.G. Wodehouse  book, it’s possible to keep the real world at bay and live in a far, far nicer, funnier one where happy endings are the order of the day.’ I possibly cannot say anything that explains it better that this quote.

And so, the list is long but there was one book that still has me stumped. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre is the book that I took a really long time to read and is perhaps the only book at the end of which I confessed to myself that I did not understand what the hell had happened and where the story had been going. Immediately after finishing the book, I could not even explain to my wife what I had read. What was so wrong about it? Or was it me who, despite all my experience in reading for the last 15 years, is still not good enough? The problem, as I can only remember it, was that the story kept swinging wildly from present to past and the author did not make it very obvious which scene was played when and how one got there. I think the ambiguity made me lose track of what I was reading but I kept going on and on, hoping that sometime later in the book it will become clearer. But that was a mistake on my part. It never did and the story ended with me hanging clueless about what happened.

I started surfing the internet in a bid to find a post that would finally explain to me, in detail, what happened in the story and if there was anyone else who did not get it when they read it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that many other readers of this book admitted the same disappointment as me and so did even people who had watched the movie. And it always came down to the same reason: the story kept swinging from present to past without warning.

But this book taught me a very valuable lesson. Not all books will be run-of-the-mill thrillers-or-suspense where the author does the bulk of the work in making things clear for the reader. No, By Gosh! as Bertie Wooster would have exclaimed. I realize that what I really wanted to read was something where the author doesn’t spoon feed me but challenges me to understand what he is saying. A book doesn’t have to reach out to you, sometimes, you need to reach inside it and find things out. That is what happened when I read the likes of Holmes, Wodehouse, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Albert Camus and others. What they write is only a part of it. What you get out of understanding them is the real joy of reading.

I hope you have found your favorite books to read this winter. Happy Holidays!

The Lord of the Rings – The Best fantasy ever?

LOTR

Isn’t The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien the best piece of fantasy writing ever? If the movies were not fascinating enough, the books are even better.

I read the Hobbit and loved it but ever since I have started reading the LOTR (which is actually a single novel and not a trilogy as people erroneously often call it), I have been mesmerised by the quality of the writing and the depth with which the characters, the locations and the histories have been modelled.

What has amazed me the most is the panache with which the author has composed the numerous and often very lengthy songs throughout the length of the story. For an author to be able to write such a long and fantastic story without losing the reader’s interest is a huge achievement in itself. But when you add to it the fact that he has deviced a seemingly different style of poetry to go along with story, you really start to understand what it is that makes LOTR the best piece of fiction writing ever.

Not to mention the numerous times the novel has run into problems due to printer’s errors, compositor’s mistakes including well-intentioned ‘corrections’ of the invented languages and delicately constructed nomenclatures by Tolkien. Despite suffering from such tragic setbacks, Tolkien kept working on rectifying the problems and the publishing of these books spanned over a decade. At the end, Tolkien has delivered the world’s most fascinating piece of fantasy writing ever to be published. And all this way back in the 1950s.

So, for me, there is absolutely no question about it. There is not and will not be any other book that even comes a close second.

Do you agree with me or do you think there are others better than LOTR?

Falling – A Short Story

As promised yesterday, I have completed and published my second short story, Falling, now available as a self-published eBook from Samshwords.com.Falling_ThumbnailFalling is the story of Roy, a man who feels he has a miserable existence and is in a continuous need to challenge his life in order to feel alive. Today, that need has brought him to the top floor of an 18-storey building where he finds out that the only way to rise above his misery is to first do the unthinkable – Fall.

This eBooks can now be downloaded for free in the following formats from Smashwords.com (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/286652):

Kindle (.mobi for Kindle devices and Kindle apps)
Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others)
PDF (good for reading on PC, or for home printing)
RTF (readable on most word processors)
LRF (Use only for older model Sony Readers that don’t support .epub)
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Taking Down Bob – My First Short Story eBook

Finally, I have managed to write my first short story, something of an achievement considering the fact that I’ve been toying with the idea for a couple of months now.

Bob is the hostel psycho, a brash fat giant who often loses himself in enthusiasm and whose idea of fun often meant suffering for others. Most of the hostel inmates are tired of Bob’s bullying and their inability to return the favor. Tonight, a weird shoe fight riot has broken through the hostel and Bob has already been dominating the entire proceedings by beating the crap out of most inmates with his heavy boots. Though scared of him, they ultimately hatch a plan of getting him alone and attacking him in a group. The story deals with how 18-year olds of this Bob dominated hostel work together to catch him in a spot through conspiracy, risk, teamwork and double-crossing.

Taking Down Bob is a story that is close to my heart as it reminds me of the great time I’ve had in our college hostel and, though it is a piece of fiction, it will certainly seem inspired from a series of events sometime in 2005, to those who spent their time in the same hostel as me.

The story has been published today as a multi-format ebook by Smashwords.

I hope you will read it. It’s completely free and available at:
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/243973

And if you like it, don’t forget to let me know by leaving a short review.

My profile page at smashwords is:
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/shitijbagga

Book Review – The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde

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Last night, I decided to read ’The Importance of Being Ernest’ by Oscar Wilde. It is a humorous short story described as a drama setting. The main protagonist is Jack Worthing, someone who needs to be well behaved due to him being the guardian of an 18 year old girl, but on the other hand, has a fun loving side to him, which he can only fulfil using an alternative identity of “Ernest” in another part in the country.

Being a comedy, the story is set in a world where some people follow a flawed logic, for instance, Jack’s friend Algy says to him, “..girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don’t think it right..” and on another occasion, Gwendolen, who is Jack’s darling says, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”

In such an illogical and humorous world, the alternative identity of ’Ernest’ cause great troubles for Jack and his friend Algy and they constantly try and work their ways out of it, when a clever twist of the plot towards the end unveils a decades old mystery.

Though the book is a pleasant read and may not appeal very much to an experienced reader, owing to the fact that the plot has been exploited hundreds of times in other writings and cinema, I still suggest one reads this simply to enjoy the writing of the literary genius of Oscar Wilde. This is a very easy to read book and the humorous dialogs by each character are really a treat and some of these even made me laugh out loud.

My Attempts to Read That First Novel

During my school days, I remember, a lot of other kids used to pass time reading some books while travelling in the school bus or while bunking classes. At that time, I was not introduced to reading as a hobby and so obviously I found it a little mysterious how some of them could actually read books which were over a 100 pages thick. Don’t take me wrong, I did do a lot of reading of my own, but it was always comics and never any serious reading like novels. And it is also not that I don’t consider reading comics as requiring an equal zeal, but reading novels was something different for me. Something unattainable.

Finally, when I was in class 10, one of my uncles visited us and when he went back, he incidentally forgot his Jeffrey Archer novel called “A Matter of Honor.” This was the first novel ever to lie around in my home in my memory and a few weeks passed and it kept calling to me. Many times, I would pick it up, check out its pages and cover and then put it down again, not sure what would happened if I opened it, until a day arrived when I could just not resist anymore.

I cannot forget this book ever because of the number of time I tried to read it and failed. I clearly remember the first time I started reading it, I went on for 5-6 pages before putting it down. Why? Because I just couldn’t understand anything. Few days later, I tried again and almost reached the end of the first chapter. Still nothing. So I quit again. I think I tried a few more times and the only thing I remember even now from that first chapter was the name Romanov and I guess some terms related to Russia. I guess it was just too much and the information was too new for me to understand. Finally, one time I decided to read on after reaching the end of Chapter 1 onto Chapter 2. I really compelled my self to continue reading even if it did not make sense and see what happens. And as I read more and more I started to understand what was happening and it turned out that I was actually enjoying it a lot. It grew upon me with such pace that I could not sleep at nights because I was so engaged in it and it took me a few days to finish my reading. (Come on guys, it was my first book).

I think that book changed my life because it encouraged me to read more and more. Starting with other books of Archer and then going on to read Sydney Sheldon and others, reading quickly became a habit that I haven’t been able to give up even 13 years after that first novel. Today, not a days passes without me reading at least a few pages from one of the hundreds of books that I own and keep in my bedroom.

Now that I think about it, I was very fortunate that my uncle forgot that book at my home. And I feel it was really good that I did not give up on that book despite failing to so many times in my attempts to understand what reading was all about.

Today, reading is my life’s greatest passion, a sort of obsession, and I am happy that I got into it and it will always be something that I can never give up.

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