The Reading List

santa-reading-520x345

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!

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My Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2013

It has been a month into 2013 already but this year, I have set a target of reading at least 26 books in the Goodreads Reading Challenge 2013 and of hopefully surpassing this number by a good amount. It is Week 6 and I am about to finish my 3rd book of 2013 already:

127 Hours

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Before this, I have already finished reading the following:

1. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (Read)
2. Annapurna by Maurice Herzog (Read)

I know it looks like I am reading mostly mountaineering/adventure/survival books starting of 2013 but I have developed a real liking for this genre.

But if you thought I was stuck with still the same genre, here are also 3 more half-read books that I am still going to continue reading in parallel with my other book depending on my interest level, so it is not that I read only 1 book in 2 weeks:
 
3. The Fry Chronicles by Stephen Fry
4. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
5. The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
 
And, the next few books in my Reading List are:
 
6. Alive: Sixteen Men, Seventy-two Days, and Insurmountable Odds–the Classic Adventure of Survival in the Andes by Piers Paul Read
7. No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 by Graham Bowley
 
So, that takes care of 8 of my target of 26+ books in 2013. Any other recommendations?
 

My last 3 reads of 2012

This week, I have been reading a quite a lot and the reason is that each of these books is supposed to be excellent. Let’s find out.

1. The Satanic Verses (by Salman Rushdie):

satanicverses

This book has been at the heart of a huge controversy ever since it was written by Salman Rushdie more than 2 decades back and that is the reason I felt so attracted towards reading it. Banned in India, I obtained a copy from abroad over 6 months back, but only got down to reading it this week. I have just crossed a hundred pages (the book is over 540 pages) and it is turning out to be a difficult and incredibly slow read. The reason for this difficulty is the toughness of language and also the way in which the author has been jumping the plot from present day to flashback and the sequences of events are also slightly difficult to follow, even for a seasoned reader like myself. Though, I will not talk about the plot here because I have myself not uncovered it yet, but I will certainly say that I am impressed by Rushdie’s writing skills. They way he has described his characters and their lives is excellent and the plot seems to be developing still.

2. Into the Wild (by Jon Krakauer):

intothewildI took a short break from Satanic Verses and started reading “Into the Wild”. This is a gem of a book and I was so incredibly hooked to it that I finished it within a couple of days. It recreates, with incredible emotion and detail, the sad but true story of a young man, Chris McCandless, who decided to give up everything he had and break all links with civilization to spend a few months alone in the Alaskan wild. A few months after he goes into the wild, his dead body is found and it turns out he has died of starvation. The news is made public and then different people respond to this in different ways. Some call him careless, reckless and immature to have undertaken such a journey without preparation, while others have a more humane view of the psychology of McCandless. the author recreates the entire adventure using the photographs McCandless has taken and notes he has maintained in his diary. The book is really excellent and a must-read for everyone. If you haven’t read this, you have missed something.

3. The Motorcycle Diaries (by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara):

motorcyclediariesA very popular book, it is the diary of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in which he recounts his exploration of South America along with his friend Alberto, on Alberto’s motorcycle named ‘La Poderosa’, the Mighty One: a 500cc Norton. Guevara describes the days they spend on the exploration and the kind of places they visited, the people they met and the troubles they got into throughout the journey. I have not know much about Guevara before reading this book, but I understand he has been an icon for many and this book is an incredible read that will appeal to all exploration and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. I am halfway through the book and I think it is a very pleasant read.

My Bookshelf

Just cleaned up and rearranged my Bookshelf. It has over 150 books in this area alone and some others are stacked away in some corner of my house that I don’t really remember.

Arranged these books categorically into Literature and Fiction, Science, Philosophy, Biographies, Management, Motivation, Software, etc.

My personal book collection is a matter of pride for me because of the range of subjects that I like to read and how immensely I value books.

How do you keep your book collection clean and safe? Please share your suggestions with me.

Books I Read Last Week – Part 1 (Aug 6-12, 2012)

Last week has been miserable in terms of the amount of reading I’ve done. It has also been the first (extended) week of my blogging here so I guess I am dividing time between blogging and reading. Further, I’ve been very busy at work and at home as well, due to which I couldn’t concentrate on reading much.

But this is what I read last week:

1. Joy in the Morning
by: P.G. Wodehouse
Literature and Fiction / Humor
Status: Half Read, Still Reading

As I am a big admirer of books by Wodehouse, it is quite difficult for me to not read one of his classics. This week, I’ve started reading Joy in the Morning, another classic novel from the Jeeves and Wooster series. Till now, Bertie Wooster has refused Boko and Nobby to cooperate in their second scheme to sacrifice him for making poor old Boko look good in Uncle Percy’s eyes. At the same time, young boy scout Edwin has burnt down an entire house as a result of his act of kindness. Sadly, I haven’t been able to finish this during the week but I plan to keep this as my target in the coming week.

This book also belongs to the series of the Books I Like to Read Before I Sleep which is another blogs posting of mine.

2. Billions and Billions – Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium
by: Carl Sagan
Science / Astronomy / Philosophy
Status: Half Read, Still Reading

Being a staunch admirer of everything that the great Carl Sagan has ever written, it is truly amazing to read his books like Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, The Demon Haunted World, etc. This week, I’ve started reading Billions and Billions chapter-by-chapter. My intention is not to read the entire book at once because most of the chapters are dealing with different topics so it is possible to read each chapter even after some gap of time. Till now, I’ve read Dr. Sagan’s musings on how, in human history, the significance of numbers has increased and Millions led to Billions led to Trillions. I especially enjoyed Sagan’s light-hearted commentary on observing how people all over the media were increasingly attributing the phrase “Bbillions and Bbillions” to him, despite him having never uttered it even once in his popular television series: Cosmos.
Overall, An excellent read.

What about next week?

I plan to finish Joy in the Morning and Read Billions… a little more. Would you like to recommend me a nice book?

Books I Like to Read before I Sleep – Part 1

It is absolutely essential for me to read a few pages of a nice book just before I go to sleep. This really has to be the last thing I do at the end of the day simply because it is such a calming influence on my mind. To be engaged with a light hearted stress busting book just before sleeping is an excellent idea and needless to say there would be many others echoing my thoughts on this.

This is the first part of a series of blogs that I will write and in each I will talk about a specific book or series of books that I love to read especially before I go to sleep. Daily!

P.G. Wodehouse: Any of the 14 Jeeves and Wooster Novels

In my opinion, there has not and will never be anyone to match the sense of humor and writing style of the great P.G. Wodehouse. I cannot list any one of his Jeeves and Wooster novels here because I think all of them are equally magnificent. It is splendid to read the mis-adventures of Bertie Wooster What Ho!-ing all over London trying to help his friends and relatives but invariably getting sucked into one hilarious problem after another himself until the genius Jeeves comes to the young master’s rescue. Accompanied by bigger idiots but extremely likeable Bingo Little, Tuppy and Gussey, not to forget the wrath of Aunts Dahlia and Agatha, this splendid writing is really hard to put down. Ever since I read the first novel by Wodehouse, I have started to collect all of his works and it truly is a great collection.

One of my fellow bookworm friends once said that she did not get into Wodehouse novels because she had the impression that it is something that school-going kids are supposed to read. But I vehemently disagree. The writings of Wodehouse are timeless, ageless and fit for reading by people of all ages, classes, shapes and sizes.

As Bertie Wooster once commented:
“We Woosters do not lightly forget. At least, we do – some things – appointments, and people’s birthdays, and letters to post, and all that – but not an absolutely bally insult like the above.”

As Stephen Fry, who has played the character of Jeeves on the television adaptation of these novels, has often said about the works of Wodehouse:

“You don’t analyze such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendor.”

My advice is to start with “The Inimitable Jeeves.” then “Carry On, Jeeves” and if you really get into the craze, continue with the rest of the series.

Do you agree with my analysis?

To read more about P.G. Wodehouse, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._G._Wodehouse

The complete list of Jeeves and Wooster Novels, visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._G._Wodehouse_bibliography#Jeeves

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