Monthly Archives: November 2013

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN:
Genre: Fantasy, Coming of Age, Young Adult
Pages:
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

It was a pity that I had not read, “The Graveyard Book” yet. I had it with me for years and never got around to reading it. Like I always keep saying and believing in it: The time was not right. I was not prepared or right enough to read that book. Books choose you when they want to; otherwise reading them will just be another futile attempt. I guess it would have been that way with “The Graveyard Book” had I read it that time.

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman has it all – the elements of fantasy, which most of his other books also do possess. For me though, the storytelling of this one was beyond his other books. Nobody Owens is at the centre of this book, when his entire family (parents and sister) are brutally murdered one night in their own home, by a man, simply known as Jack. Nobody is but an infant and somehow manages to escape and find refuge in a nearby graveyard, where the spirits roam at night, with not a care for the world. Mister and Mistress Owens (a spirit couple) decide to adopt the infant and that is how he gets his name – Nobody Owens, Bod for short. There is something known as the “Freedom of the Graveyard” which not only gives Bod access to the graveyard and all its ways and passages, but also protects him as long as he is in the graveyard.

Jack obviously will not be satiated till he kills Bod. He comes back after years to finish the unfinished job and that is where the crux of the story lies. Actually, I take that back. The crux of the story lies in the spirits in the graveyard, in the mysteries of the graveyard and how a living boy is actually adopted not just by two spirits but by the entire graveyard and Silas – his Godfather – who neither belongs to the living or to the dead. I found the descriptions in the book (which were also funny at most times) of great interest. Gaiman has a knack for details – as a reader, you will imagine each and every line written. This I guess comes from him being a graphic novel writer as well. He can just somehow visualize to the hilt and transfer the power to the reader.

The plot is extremely tight and the read is a fast one for sure. The book I guess has no age barrier – it can be read by anyone, of any age and that is where the beauty of the writing actually is. You will fall in love with Bod and the other characters. In fact, Liza Hempstock, the witch was my personal favourite. I am most happy that I read this as a part of my “The Novel Cure Reading Challenge” and will definitely reread it sometime later. “The Graveyard Book” is a book which will warm your heart and also make you instantly want more of it – a sequel for sure, I hope.

Next Read in the Challenge: The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie

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Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-0312427641
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know why I had not read this book in a long time. It was there next to me, all the time and I did not pick it up. I guess the time wasn’t right. Books have to choose you and only then can you read them. It doesn’t matter what kind of reader you are – common or uncommon, the book chooses you. And with this thought I now pen my thoughts on the magnificent little gem titled, “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett.

The ‘uncommon’ reader in question in the book is none other than Queen Elizabeth II, who takes a fascination to reading and books. She chances upon a mobile library at the back of her castle by chance and as all things go by chance, she starts devouring books and loves them for what they are. At the beginning of the book we see her making acquaintanceship with Norman Seakins, a young man who works in the royal kitchen. She moves him from there and makes him her personal reading guide. The Queen forgets her day-to-day duties and activities under the influence of the ‘book’ or many ‘books’. She is delayed in opening the Parliament and converses less with people (unless the conversation is steered toward reading) and this leads to dire consequences being taken by the Prime Minister and her private secretary.

Alan Bennett conjures a world of reading and writing and how is it accessible to everyone. He explores the effects of reading and writing on our lives through a warm and sometimes funny novella. I had to finish this book in one setting, considering it was a short read – around one hundred and twenty odd pages and yet every page brims with reading wisdom and anecdotes from The Queen. For instance, her tea session with authors is hilarious and also the times she ponders about how she did not get to meet certain writers she would have liked to and now cannot as they are dead.

For such a slim volume, Alan Bennett puts in a lot of ideas and themes – how reading can change you, how it can make others uncomfortable – especially the ones who don’t read and how it can lead to writing and explore oneself and other worlds. The idea that the Queen’s reading would make the rest of Britain read is a wonderful thought – another theme that comes across in the book.

“The Uncommon Reader” was a pleasant read for me. I loved the book a lot. In fact, it has to be one of the best reads for me this year. I will definitely reread it. For the beauty of books and reading and but obviously for the reader.

Book Review: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson Title: Notes from a Big Country
Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: Black Swan, Random House UK
ISBN: 9780552997867
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 416
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

After all that I have read by Bill Bryson, I have come to believe that the man can write just about anything and make it funny. He can. That is almost an undisputed fact now, where I am concerned. You read any of his books and you will believe in what I say. He is uproariously funny and you would have to actually stop yourself from laughing too hard, might you pull a muscle or two.

I was on a flight from Bangalore to Bombay when I started reading “Notes from a Big Country” and if not all, then at least half the people on the flight must have thought I belong to the loony bin, and only because I could not control my laughter. He is one writer who can make me laugh. I have always struggled with humour in books. I cannot get it. I don’t seem to laugh out loud. Even The Hitchhiker’s Galaxy did not do it for me. I did not get it. That’s all.

Bill Bryson on the other hand never fails to make me laugh, to the point of snorting. The power of well-crafted words is something else and Bryson knows what to do and how. He was assigned a weekly column when he returned to America after two decades to write about the country. The column featured in Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day magazine, and ended with seventy-eight pieces. “Notes from a Big Country” was the name of the column, compiled into a book.

He writes about everything in America – from why so many people are dumb to why America is home, what is right with it (minimally) and what is wrong with it(quite sarcastically). May be this is precisely why the reader is never bored – the book somehow just breezes through. For instance, the piece on Christmas, he says this: “Christmas tree stands are the work of the devil and they want you dead”. Another one on a child artiste in a movie: “Also, Jane has a ten-year-old daughter played by one of those syrupy, pig tailed, revoltingly precocious child actors of the fifties that you just ache to push out of a high window.” Gems such as these and more, will only want you to snuggle into this book and not get out of the laughter coma induced by a single gentleman.

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Book Review: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Food Rules - An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan Title: Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143116387
Genre: Health/Nutrition
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was always interested in reading Michael Pollan’s small book of food habits and what to eat and how called, “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual”. I somehow never got around to it. Perhaps I was scared that it would all be clear – what I eat is unhealthy and maybe I would be forced to think about what I eat, how much I eat and how I eat. I was certain that life would not be the same after reading this book and I was right to a very large extent. At the end of the book, I wanted to change the way I eat and I hope I do.

“Food Rules” is a book that pretty much tells you what you already know. It deals with the basics or rather it gets to the basics of food and our dietary habits. The book is divided into three parts and each part tells the reader a little more towards healthy living. At the same time, Pollan does not discourage eating something sinful or pampering oneself, once in a while; however we need to understand that it is just once a while and not every single day. I guess that is where the major difference actually lies.

The basic premise of the book (according to me) is that eat what your grandmother or your ancestors would recognize as food. The idea is to rid oneself of processed foods or anything that comes in a can or a bottle. Eat fresh and eat plants and vegetables is at the core of the book and rightly so. There are sixty four rules in the book and one might even ask: Do we need rules to eat? Does someone need to teach us what to eat and how to eat? The answer to these questions in today’s time and age is probably a big, fat, YES! Pollan stresses on chewing food, eating smaller portions, eating together and simple food wisdom which he has observed from various cultures and applied over the years.

“Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” is not a ground-breaking book. However, it does make you realize how you have been abusing your body and mind with what you eat. It makes you realize that supermarkets aren’t the answer to all your food needs and neither eating more means that you are well-fed. It looks at the basic aspects of eating – how much to eat, and when to eat. It breaks the myth of different foods and what the concept of healthy and fit really is. Pollan draws from traditions and simple food wisdom, which I said before, we are all aware of more or less but forget to apply it somewhere down the line. May be that is why we need a book like this to keep informing or rather reminding us from time to time, about what we should eat and how. A must read for people who want to know more about food and its implications and how it changes lives.

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Book Review: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell Title: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1846145810
Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Who are the underdogs? What makes them underdogs? Are they weak or is it just another perception of people who cannot understand some things and therefore, love to label them to their convenience? Perhaps the concept of the underdog has been grossly misunderstood. Perhaps it needs to be relooked given how some of them have fought battles and won against giants, with may be limited resources. Is it always the case though? Do underdogs win all the time? Did David win against Goliath by mere chance or did he have some clear advantages, which the giant did not? With this premise in mind, Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” is all about this principle, presented with facts and approaches it with a range of examples of the number of Davids and their struggle to get ahead.

I had read one book written by Gladwell before reading his latest work. I was hesitant – also because I had heard that the book was not that great. However, I took my chance and read it, finished it in a span of a day and a half and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book hooks you on from Page 1 and then there is no letting go. I think to a large extent the book connects with you, because we all feel that we have been or are underdogs at one point or the other. So you not only end up reading the book for what it is, but also silently cheering for the misfit to make it big.

The book is divided into three sections – the first one is about how advantages are sometimes disadvantages and vice-versa. Things are never what they seem and one always has to look for different alternatives to rise above. From a novice basketball coach to the number of children in one classroom in the schools of America and across the world to the most interesting theory of “Big Fish in a Small Pond and Small Fish in a Big Pond”, this section is my most favourite in the entire book. The second section is about weaknesses and how desirable they can be given how many people succeeded with them. Handicaps need not always be handicaps. The third and final section of the book is about the limits of power and how it does not always be everything, given any context or situation.

“David and Goliath” is not only an insightful read, but also at some level it does become a personal read, right from the first to the last section. You tend to relate to situations and anecdotes and I found myself nodding in affirmation to most of them. The book is a light read. The statistics do not flummox the reader, which is very good, given the nature of the book. “David & Goliath” is the kind of book that will make you contemplate situations around you and probably reassess them – mostly with respect to the so-called “misfits and underdogs”.

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