My 2018 in Books!

I know it is rather late for 2018 wrap ups but I wasn’t planning to do one in the first place. However, with every “top 2018 books I read” blog flooding my feed on almost all platforms, I decided to do mine too. Then, Goodreads summarized my last year reads in such a nice way that I just had to write this. =)

I pledged to read 40 books at the start of 2018 and managed to read 38. Here are the 5 books in no particular order that made my last year better and more bearable:

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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 I borrowed a copy of this book from a friend to whom it was presented as a gift by another friend aka the book dealer of our gang. Since both of my friends wouldn’t shut up about how beautiful and magical the story is, I was so annoyed that I had to read it.

From the beginning till end, the book was nothing but magical! It was like the writer had used all the synonyms of the word magic as ingredients to concoct an intoxicating potion. It is a story of two star-crossed magicians wrapped in a whirlwind of  enchanting occurrences and bewitching tricks. Each character in the book was alluring and had a part to play. The best part of the book, however, was the captivating prose that matched the story perfectly! My friend described it as appealing to your all your senses and I couldn’t agree more.

Check out these few excerpts from the book:

“Stories have changed, my dear boy,” the man in the grey suit says, his voice almost imperceptibly sad. “There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case. There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep overlapping and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there in no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey.”

“Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink.”

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.’ ‘But you built me dreams instead.”

The whole book is penned down in this gripping and poetic manner.

Recommended for readers looking for something unique and magical.

2. I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing by Maya Angelou

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It is my belief that when a person who is a poet at heart writes prose, a subtle beauty is caught in their words. This holds true for Maya Angelou just as much as it does for Sylvia Plath. This autobiographical account was one of the finest reads of my year. The narration is honest, straight forward, heart-breaking, and beautifully lyrical. You can feel the innocence of  childhood in the protagonist’s words and feel her pain as the story unfolds.

Angelou treats the reader with a few poems here and there, which are beautiful to say the least! See for yourself:

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

and a dash of sarcasm:

“I believe most plain girls are virtuous because of the scarcity of opportunity to be otherwise.”

and this!

“She comprehended the perversity of life, that in the struggle lies the joy.”

Recommended if you are looking for precious life lessons expressed in poetic prose.

3. Selected Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

Instead of reviewing this anthology, I’d rather tell you about the ‘strange occurrences’ that were caused by this copy in my life. I ordered this edition online:

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It is a compilation of Poe’s best works by Terry O’Brien.

Earlier in the year, I started reading it and fell instantly in love with the rich descriptions and a technique of storytelling I had never experienced before. Poe creates an atmosphere through his words that grows upon the reader. Unbelievable tales of horror start feeling real so much so that it starts affecting your senses. Now I am not a sissy and have absolutely no history of screaming after watching a horror movie or being scared out of my wits after reading a dark novel. But, 3 stories later ( precisely after reading “The Black Cat”), that I dreamt of a scary cat and woke up in the middle of night afraid and— I hate to admit— screaming!

Therefore, I put the book away for a bit thinking that I will return to it later. Unlike Joey Tribbiani, I only put it with my other books. Although, given what happened next, I should have put it in the freezer!

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A few days later, I tried my luck with it again and again I was in for a surprise! I was carrying it with me on a meetup with friends, when one of them asked me to lend it to her. I was reluctant but she made puppy dog eyes so I relented. We were at a McDonald’s outlet. The waiter handed us our leftover food as we were about to leave. Outside, there was a homeless kid asking for food but I didn’t take any notice of him.

We sat in our cab all jolly and at peace. Halfway through our journey, that friend shrieked! we asked her what happened?

She: Iqra! I gave my food to that homeless boy.

Me: Okay and ?

She: The book was in that paper bag too!

*drum roll* *sad music* *mic drop* *blast* *WTF*

Several sarcastic comment and some more WTF later, my poor friend compensated for my loss by buying me the same book. The darling that she is, she ordered the same edition! To be honest, I was still scared of that edition.

Thankfully, no more adventures came to pass except for my inability to locate the book at least twice. It was recovered later on both occasions and I finished reading it in September.

P.S: sorry about the long story but it is true.

Recommended only if you have a strong heart!

4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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I read it for the category ‘A debut novel’ for our reading BINGO. I liked how it was easy to read and yet had some very profound parts. I particularly liked it because the protagonist was relatable. An introvert with a very bad case of social anxiety, Eleanor says what she thinks. A lot of her thoughts felt like my own thoughts in certain situations. A few pages into the book and I could put myself in her shoes.

However, somewhere in the middle I guessed the mystery behind Eleanor’s troubles so it was a predictable read. But still the story-telling is nicely done. The sarcastic retributions of Eleanor for herself and others who run the risk of coming close to her creates a bitter-sweet feeling in the reader.

Eleanor Oliphant commenting on the plague of loneliness as if she is above all that crap:

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer – a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

Another truth bomb:

“When you’re struggling hard to manage your own emotions, it becomes unbearable to have to witness other people’s, to have to try and manage theirs too.”

Eleanor doesn’t approve of modern language shortcuts:

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

5. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

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I read Slaughterhouse-five earlier in 2017. It was great in parts but overall, it was okayish. However, I found Vonnegut intriguing! Same year, I read his short story, ‘The Drone King’ and loved it! This year, I decided to go for Cat’s Cradle and I must say, BEST BOOK DECISION OF THE YEAR!

In this brilliant piece of work, Vonnegut casually invents a new religion, ‘bokononism’ to explain the humanity’s eternal struggle with existential crisis, every man’s fear of surviving an apocalypse, and describing how life is nothing more than a chain of absurd events. Also, there is wit and irony!

The book is strewn with ‘calypsos’ that are worth collecting and recalling in times of difficulty.

Some of my favorite parts from the book:

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

“I’m not a drug salesman. I’m a writer.”
“What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?”

“Maturity…is knowing what your limitations are…Maturity is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.”

And THIS:

“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.
And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.” And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.”

P.S: I don’t own a physical copy of this book so if anyone wants to buy me a gift… =P

Recommended for nihilists looking for something unique and original!

A Few Others Reads of the Year:

The books I read for Halloween Bingo Card:

  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P.Lovecraft — Lovecraft is called the pioneer of horror genre not for naught! It was a very oh-my-god read for me.
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G.Wells — A classic sci-fi with detailed descriptions that helps reader live the book instead of merely reading it.
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradburdy — I was looking forward to read this one since a long time. It fell short of my expectations. My high expectations could be at fault here.
  • Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore — Loved every bit of it. I am a sucker for witty writing and the book had to offer a lot in this department.
  • Johannes Cabal, The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard — Another great read of the year. Witty dialogues, a not so innocent, extremely sarcastic protagonist, and appearances by an entertainment loving Satan make this an enjoyable read. Also, even Satan shouldn’t interfere with some scientific experiments!
  • The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury — An ideal Halloween read!

Mandatory Dose of my Favorite writers:

  • Oscar Wilde — The Sphinx without a Secret, The Model Millionaire
  • George Orwell — A Clergyman’s Daughter. An experimental work, it wasn’t as good as Orwell’s other books. However, the beauty of his prose cannot be denied even in the worst of his works.
  • Douglas Adams — So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Mostly Harmless. The last two from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Loved them. When once addicted to the ingeniousness of Adams, you can’t retreat. That said, the final installment was a bit of a disappointment though.

Still Others:

  • Frozen Assets by P.G.Wodehouse — Hilarious as always!
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll — Still crazy after all these years.
  • Roverandom by J.R.R.Tolkien — a cute fantastical tale of a dog called Roverandom. psst… there is a beautiful dragon too!
  • A Wizard of EarthSea by Ursula K.Le Guin — An average fantasy fiction
  • The Interpretation of Murder — A psychological thriller. Also, Freud and Jung are characters in the book!
  • Short Stories by O. Henry
  • Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski — a painful read that was only good in parts
  • A Place called Here by Cecilia Ahern — Magical realism done right!
  • The Bad Beginnings by Lemony Snicket — DELICIOUS!!!
  • Halloween Party by Agatha Christie — your average Christie mystery.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle — Young adult science fiction with an adorable story.
  • Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie — Another whodunnit by the Queen of mystery thrillers
  • The Master and Margaritta by Bulgakov — I came to like it in the end but it wasn’t as great as I was expecting it to be.
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio — A very emotional story about bullying. Didn’t like the ending since was kind of unrealistic.
  • Ivanov by Anton Chekhov — A play throwing some light on =nihilism.
  • Love and Levisham by H.G.Wells
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier — bought it as a gift for someone and read it before giving it away =P it was unputdownable and I loved reading it.
  • Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno — Another magical realism read! Loved it to bits. It started off as light and witty with some element of mystery but ended on a very strong note. Highly recommended!
  • Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger — Witty, adorable steampunk,  with pleasantly weird characters.
  •  The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett — A disc world novel and the last from the witches’ series, this one is somewhat different from Pratchett’s signature witty storytelling. This one has a bitter-sweet touch.

That’s all folks! Happy Reading!

Image Source:

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Fiction Friday-Remembering Camus!

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My son had brought me here. It was quite a long time ago. My joints didn’t know what arthritis was back then. Lately, the pain defined them. It was around this time of the year, though which year and on what date, are the details that had escaped me. The one thought that I could focus on was ‘I made him and he is throwing me to some nursing home.’ Initially, I used to miss his selfish form, the rascal I had birthed.

“You kept me inside you for like 9 months and you want me to feed, clothe, and shelter you indefinitely in exchange ?” That had been his reply to my motherly remonstrations. “Besides, it was your decision. You had your fun and decided to make a big deal out of it”, my son had always been a strange one, “Why would you cherish the unpleasant side effects of a drug, Ma? Bad move!”

It was several years ago, this and many such conversations were exchanged between us. He was not married. We had no one other than each other. He did not have any major financial troubles. I could never fathom why he turned me away. It could be mere indifference. He never visited me except once but it was too late then… To be honest, I cannot really recall his features clearly. Maybe its because of my bad memory or maybe he was right… you do get used to anything after awhile. I got used to this nursing house. I got used to death too. Mine! I will get used to his too. My Meursault, my stranger son!

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Fiction and other Realities

‘Fiction is inspired by reality’ That is what they say. Yet, I have observed that a few events happen a lot more in fiction than they do in real life or vice versa.

Take sweating for example. Imaginary characters sweat way more than you or I ever would. I understand being in a story is testing since you are always in one difficult situation or another but that amount of sweating isn’t normal. Not even for the fictitious world. A lot of sweat and you run the risk of making your story stink.

Then there is this fact that everything occurs ‘suddenly’ in fiction. I know there are some realistic books where the story takes forever to fold. There are books-classics actually where nothing happens-no story at all! However, the popular opinion usually classifies them as boring. The fiction that sells real fast is often active with numerous suddenly this and suddenly that. I sincerely appreciate the characters’ reluctance to drop dead with ‘sudden’ heart attacks. Some of them do die that way though.

Beautiful Women/Ugly Men. Another thing, all or at least a majority of women in literature are beautiful or at least pretty… no wonder they are not real. 😂 Don’t even get me started on the impossibly humongous boobs! I wonder if that is why cancer is so common in the fiction city. On the other hand, men are usually ugly… at least if they are to be faithful. Handsome men in fiction, that is if they exist at all, are rarely faithful except in Jane Austen novels and even then they have at least one major character flaw. That is kind of realistic though, men are full of flaws and never faithful… okay maybe a 0.000001%!

Let’s take a look at the young adults now. All of them fall in love, which is alright considering their age. My problem is why the triangle is their favorite shape? I want a love circle, you know the protagonist loves nobody but themselves. That would be realistic for sure.

Weather. It is either a dark stormy night or a pleasant clear morning. Why are there no rains during the day and whats up with the fiction moon? Why does it come out on two occasions only? Either when a werewolf is on the lose or when the lovebirds want to do some outdoor rom-rom stuff.

Writers. There are always so many of them. This one actually makes sense to me. A writer writing about writing has to be genuine.
There are various other instances I’d like to point out too but that would be genre specific so next time, maybe. *Yawns*

However, before I end this, here is the final one; deaths or their lack of in the fiction. The mortality rate in fiction is too damn high. Although sadly, we are catching up with that trend. Yet, there are so many novels where characters needed to die but the writers decided to save their precious. I wish God would be that indulgent too.

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All GIFs from GIPHY

 

 

The Miracle of Literature — A Painful Plath

The Cover of my Copy of “The Journals of Sylvia Plath”

Until I had not read Sylvia Plath’s work, I had no idea that poetic thoughts could be realistic too. I had first met her in the year 2014. I was staying at my cousin’s place and she happened to have a copy of “The Bell Jar” — Plath’s semi-autobiographical piece of fiction. When I say I met her, it is not just a figure of speech. Reading her work is akin to meeting her in person.

2014 had been a tough year for me. I was being introduced to the sound that shattering dreams make. Those who are familiar with it would know how horrifying it is. While those, who like me have grown accustomed to it, might even agree that once you get used to it, this sound actually grows on to you. You find it to be a fine composition. In fact, it’s my favorite genre of music now and I have Sylvia to thank for it too.

I found out that reading her books was like watching pain turn into a physical entity — something that you can touch, feel, and watch as it shrieks with pain. You sense the hair on your hand standing on end, one follicle after another, as you read one word after another. Thus, to say the least, “The Bell Jar” had had quite an effect on me. Yet, 3 years later, I was only left with just a minuscule portion of its original enormity — just a minute sensation and not the whole torture of being torn apart from limb to limb.

As a result, I, rather unwittingly opened the copy of “The Journals of Sylvia Plath” that my evil friends had presented to me as a gift.

The rest, as they say, was history and it was quite full of tortures too. I have not even read one fourth of this insanely enormous book. Yet, ever since I have started it, each night, I end up soaking my pillows with a storm of tears.

How an 18-year-old-girl, that also dead for quite a long time, can have this kind of effect on you is nothing if not a miracle of literature. I believe it to be the power of words that are so intricately merged with emotions that telling one apart from the other becomes quite impossible.

This article is, but my tiny effort, to pay homage to a tortured soul who helped me accept my sorrows and my pains as my own.

P.S: If you are not already a fan of hers, here is an excerpt from the book to make you thirst for more (why should I suffer alone):

“Why the hell are we conditioned into the smooth strawberry-and-cream Mother-Goose-world, Alice-in-Wonderland fable, only to be broken on the wheel as we grow older and become aware of ourselves as individuals with a dull responsibility in life?”

“to learn that while you dream and believe in Utopia, you will scratch & scrabble for your daily bread in your home town and be damn glad if there’s butter on it”

“to know that millions of others are unhappy and that life is a gentleman’s agreement to grin and paint your face gay so others will feel they are silly to be unhappy, and try to catch the contagion of joy, while inside so many are dying of bitterness and unfulfillment…”

An attempt to copy the cover of “The Journals of Sylvia Plath (Yes I draw like a child would draw)