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!

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My Entangled Thoughts

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I can’t speak for other people because their minds are not on the list of places I had checked into but my own thoughts, I have visited often. Thus, I know the questions that arrive in this desolate place I call my brain. They used to be simpler and consulting a parent, a friend or a teacher sufficed. Yet, they grew complex. I can’t say on which exact date the change happened. All I know is that now, I have queries with no answers.

The people I used to look up to are as much confused as I am. When they had no replies to my wandering abstractions, they silently accepted me as their own.

“Congratulations! You have crossed the threshold of black and white. Welcome to the Grey zone where everything is muddled up,” they informed me.

I cannot turn to them with my pleas no more.

I have learned to ignore my mind, my conscious, and its ramblings but it continues to gnaw and nag me. When the tossing and turning of these contemplations chew away a chunk of my brain, I go to Google. If natural intelligence is failing me, I try artificial intelligence. If nothing else, it kills time. Afterward, I am left with a hundred new types of hopelessness.

The familiar wave of despondency engulfs me. I smile. The exhaustion takes over my senses and I sleep. My brain, however, stays awake bringing me fresh thoughts from the realm of horror to ponder over in my dreams. Sometimes, the audacious bastard brings forth pleasant fantasies of a time to come or a few cherished moments from the times gone past. There is nothing wrong with the latter as long as you are asleep but the moment, the first surge of consciousness hits me, all the niceness melts into a sharp tinge of longing that slowly settles into my mounting melancholy.

The hustle of the day conquers my being and the cycle repeats.

Knitted cross-stitches,

Ah! Painful itches.

A spider’s web hanging,

Intricately from ceiling.

Intertwined earphones,

Decaying set of bones!

Inosculated boughs of a tree distraught.

How nasty are my entangled thoughts!

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“A Life of Pretense” 

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I laugh a lot. People take me for a jolly person. it is rather sad that 90% of my giggles are to please my fellows only. I do not restrict my insincere show of emotions to laughing. I have cried for others too. Some of my tears were genuine, others? not so much! If I ever disclosed which was which, I would risk my credibility as a human being.

Heck! I have even pretended faith. Not a long time ago, I had been into madrasas and Majalis. I had been a part of congregational prayers more often than I would like to admit; it was all action-no feeling. The one emotion, however, that I truly felt is agitation. When anxiety hit me, I was alive.

I have pretended to be alive for several years. One day, I decided I should be able to feign death. Thus, knowing it would end up in a failure, I ventured forward. I went to bed and slept. 16 hours later, I was disturbed and forced out of my bed. I couldn’t tell them I was dead for that would kill the purpose. I persuaded a doctor to admit me to a hospital, but they didn’t declare me dead either. I knew in my heart I was more dead than alive but it was easier to pose life than the demise.

Descartes said, “I think; therefore I am” so I stopped thinking, and that robbed me of my anxiety. Now, no part of me was alive, and they continued to believe in my existence!

My final thought, which is a proof I had lived once; why is the world so apt at calling your bluff of dying but not of living?

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The Demise of the Fittest

‘Super’ is what they called me
‘Magical’ was how I was described
when all failed, I was the one who survived.
I saw my fellows wither,
For they could not compete
against the changing times.
‘Unfavourable conditions,’
they cried
Then said the world ‘Goodbye!’

I endured it all,
season after season.
I grew stronger,
With every passing obstacle.
The harsh weather didn’t cut me through
And the head wind lifted me high!

It was the loneliness
that has stung the worst.
But since I had suffered a lot
and adapted according to my fate,
the nature gave me a mate.
We reproduced and multiplied!
Best of the genes, we passed on,
for my counterpart too was
a breed quite high!

Sooner than I’d liked it to be
The time to depart arrived
‘What was the point of toiling through
if at the end of it all,
I had to die?’
I philosophized.
The Reaper,however, yawned
Disnterested in my thoughts.
It had a job and I had to oblige.

My only solace after my demise:
‘I had done well in life’
There was a progeny
most likely to succeed
In the world I had left by
‘In my future generations,
I will live forever’
The consoling thought
made me smile .

In the Afterlife, I met my old colleagues
It bemused me to see them so satisfied.
I spent time watching over my kith and kin.
While those losers sat and enjoyed.
‘It is because they have no one,’
I smirked day and night.

Then it happened that shook me through.
The word for which I lived and died,
with a bang, it was destroyed.
What were my troubles for?
The extreme pains I had gotten by.
The world for which,
I had planned and strategised
Blew away
Like a puff of smoke in the skies.

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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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Good Night! Sleep Tight!

The advancing night was scary,

I dreaded sleep, not the nightmares really

Opening eyes to another hopeless day

Was the thought that terrified me!

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Image Source: Sadequain’s Original Work at Frere Hall, Karachi

 

 

 

Tea Strength, Birthdays, and other Depressions

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When I was a kid, my dear mother ensured I stayed away from tea. I guess, feeding milk to their children is an inherent trait in mammalian mothers, which does not go away even when the child’s suckling days are over. Like any other good mom, she force fed me a glass of milk. Being a thankless turd, what I had on my plate never satisfied me. I made faces. “It smells,” I used to complain.

Besides worrying about my health, my poor Mama cared for my happiness. Thus, she added flavor to my essential dose of lactose. Terms such as Ovaltine, Cocoa Milk, Milo, Chocolate and Vanilla Milk entered my vocabulary and the ingredients holding these names, my body. I surrendered to my dairy-laden fate but still coveted my mother’s chai.

Then I grew up a little, and she allowed me a few drops- the ones I got for dunking my rusks in her precious tea. These scarce droplets transformed into a Doodh Patti, which after passing through various dilutions turned into my first cup of a strong tea. I was 14.

It only got worse after that. With every passing birthday, the tea granules increased while the whitening agent decreased. The concentration was according to my energy requirements.

It continued that way until I hit the quarter-century plateau. After that all went downhill — three cups of strong tea a day reduced to two moderate ones. I was growing soft!

Tea, my magical potion, gave me strength. I needed the strength to fight off the obstacles that came in the way of my dreams but at 25, I found out I had none! When you lose your aspirations, the extra stimulation doesn’t do you much good. It only fuels your depression.

There was no point in consuming an exuberant amount of tea, only to lay awake at night, resting against a pillow made from the wool of anxiety, under the blanket of melancholy. As a kid, I watched a lot of Popeye-The Sailor Man. It made me wonder had Olive died, would he still eat his Spinach to defeat Brutus. I don’t think he would and I am Popeye with no Olive in my life. Brutus hit me and I couldn’t care less.

Today is May 8th, my birthday. A long time ago, this day used to awaken dancing butterflies in my stomach. Now, the butterflies are dying so silently that I don’t even feel the urge to mourn for them. I’d rather drink my diluted tea. It won’t stimulate; just sustain. Indifference has prevailed!

Blankness

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Staring at a blank paper,

I started my journey.

It was interfered at times,

With the hysterics of my words.

A few thoughts, unconcerned.

Then it was a blank screen

I stared at a while.

Key after key I pressed at times

To compose some random lines.

I am still staring though.

No words or thoughts had helped me, so.

A blank life stares back at me.

An eternal abyss, I have to see.

Free will, Shcmee will!

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All alone in a bathtub,
With no water calming my nerves.
Naked, I am lying curled up.
Foetal style, ready to return.
Pure and intact
To my mother’s womb.

I can see, smiling folks
Waiting for me to be born.
Kick in the air and cry a lot
Even if my lungs get torn.

Knowing, what they will do to me.
I must refuse to budge from here.
Tools, they will use in vain
To force me out of her.
Then I must hold my breath.
So, they only get my shreds!

A wasted journey has to end,
Before it ever begins.
Had I only been given that will,
Alas! I will be here still.

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