Short Book Review: The Extras by Kiran Nagarkar

The ExtrasSBR: Although I am a die-hard fan of the author, this book just doesn’t work. It is the sequel of brilliant and hilarious Ravan And Eddie. The former was absurd, funny and hard-hitting, as it traced the childhood of two boys residing in the same chawl in Mumbai but separated by their floors, religion and ‘family feud’! The Extras takes us into their adulthood, but fails to keep up the absurdity quotient and jarringly alternates between being bawdy plus funny and being overly reflective plus serious, the latter becoming more common as the book progresses. I like what the author has to say about the life, the movies, (the) God and everything else well enough. But he thrusts his thoughts in the mouths of characters and in the situations where they don’t fit. The tone of the book has become a confused mish-mash of the two earlier brilliant books by him – the first being the already mentioned prequel Ravan and Eddie and the second the expansive saga called God’s Little Soldier.

To read or not to read: Read Ravan and Eddie. This book can be skipped. Or for completely different works of genius from the same author, read Cuckold or God’s Little Soldier.

Invitation to Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party

BYOB Banner

On Nov 21 (Saturday)

Beat the chill with an afternoon of warm conversations!

Join us in BYOB Party with your favourite book and bring your friends along too!


Read a book and craving to chitchat about it with someone? Have a favorite book that you think everyone would love, if only they knew about it? Want to see what others are reading and have interesting conversations beyond weather, traffic and real estate?

Then come to the BYOB party and talk away! Try to avoid a bestseller and if you have a copy, bring it along and read us a passage. All languages are welcome.

There will be refreshments and swag courtesy Worth A Read.


So, what really happens in a BYOB Party?

Everyone brings a book and talks about it. Conversations follow and they are good. So are the refreshments!

You can take a look at what happened in some of our earlier parties here:

Do I have to be there for the entire duration of four hours?

We aren’t closing doors or locking you in. But the party is best enjoyed if you are there for the entire duration and listen to people talk about a variety of books. Trust us, you won’t know how time flew.

Do I have to bring anything?

Nothing really. But if you have a copy of the book you want to talk about, you might want to bring it in. Other attendees might want to have a look, or you might want to read a paragraph from it.

I am an author. Can I bring a book written by me?

A good writer should be a voracious reader. It would be preferable if you brought a book you really like written by someone else.

Who are the organizers?

Worth a Read

I have more questions. Who do I contact?

Shoot an e-mail to

Okay! I am ready to come. What do I do?

Just RSVP here and turn up on time!

Short Book Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J K Rowling)

Career of EvilSBR: When you have a detective with turbulent enough a past that he can think of four different people who would be up to sending him a severed leg, there can be no lack of adventure and thrill in the story. Career of Evil, third book in Cormoran Strike series by J. K. Rowling’s alternate avatar Robert Galbraith, keeps you engrossed as the genre is supposed to do. Her writing is charming as usual. What doesn’t work for me are the chapters narrated from the criminal’s point of view. They contribute to the story well, making you do your own detective work as you the book, but they don’t read like you are in the psychopath’s mind, but like the profiles they create in Criminal Minds. On the other hand, I like the romantic tension between Strike and Robin better than almost any romance novel I have read.
To read or not to read: If you are a mystery/crime genre reader, or a Rowling fan, do read it. If you are neither, this may not be the one book of the genre you need to read.

Short Book Review: Geek Heresy by Kentaro Toyama

Geek HeresySBR: I was hoping to make Geek Heresy one of my monthly recommendation, but decided against it because the second part annoyed me to the hilt. It was the typical padding material that non-fiction publishers seem compelled to put in a book to reach a certain word-count goal. The first half of the book is a must-read though. It denounces technology, and more generically what it calls packaged intervention, as the ultimate solution to widespread social, political or economic problems. Despite the hoopla around Arab spring, facebook or forced elections can’t establish democracies, not stable, functional ones anyway; computers in schools cannot educate children better; and microfinance cannot magically eliminate poverty. Democracy needs strong institutions and aware citizens; better education needs good teachers and adult supervision; and microfinance needs handholding and training the beneficiaries to enable them to make the best use of credit. It doesn’t mean technology and packaged interventions are not useful though. When exactly are they useful and how is convincingly argued about in the book. Technocrats and bureaucrats will do well to stop looking for silver bullets and easy scale in solutions to hard problems. Creating positive change will continue to require hard work. Technology can help, but it cannot be an alternative to human factors.
To read or not to read: You must read it if you work in the social sector – for-profit or otherwise. The first part is also a must-read for others, especially if you are a blind devotee of technology as the ultimate solution to everything.  If you aren’t a hopeless case, it might open your eyes. You should also read if you are a complete technology skeptic. Because you need to know where exactly technology can be of real help. Then start reading the second part. If you find the first few pages pointless, you can safely skip the rest. Else read on and finish the book.

Book Recommendation: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon? *

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

And that is the reason that what could have been termed Biafra’s War of Independence is called Nigerian Civil War or — in a grudging concession to the losers — Biafran War. For the purpose of history books you could write down a neat sequence of events to describe what happened in Nigeria is 1960s.

Independence from British -> (Considered primarily an Igbo) Military Coup -> Counter-coup and Igbo Massacre -> Secession of Biafra -> Secessionists Thwarted and Defeated -> Reintegration

But what did it mean to live through it? What did independence from British mean to a country which had no reason to be a country except that the colonizers carved it that way, where identities of people derived from their tribes and not from their nationality, where the preferential treatment of the former colonizers continued because of the political, social and economic reasons, and where there was an elite, rich local populace, as removed from the rest of the population as the earlier rulers and as inclined to influence a local government for its benefit as an outside one? Unless academic paper is more your style, you should pick up this book.

What happens when those neatly described and classified events turn your upside down in a matter of days, even hours? What happens if all you want to do is survive, but do not know what “neat” turn the history is going to take next, and hence can’t figure out who you should be loyal to? What if you are an idealist, won’t waver in your loyalty just for the sake of survival, but the object of your loyalty turns out to be an incompetent fool, a sloganeer rather than a leader, pumping people up with impossible to achieve dreams and running away in the time of real crisis, leaving them to deal with the mess of their fractures affinities? What happens when even as the richest of the rich, you find your safety and life in danger? Or when your neat, intellectual, middle-class life in a university campus comes crumbling down and the debaucheries of intellectual politics, puerile squabbles of local leaders and the issues of national or tribal identities do not remain the matters of evening conversation over drinks, but become the question of life and death, of eating from one meal to the next? When the death numbers are not a statistic, but a reality for your loved ones, your neighbors, your colleagues and your friends? And when the damning feelings starts creeping upon you that all the sacrifices, all the hardships will be for nothing? What happens when as a poor illiterate villager you are at the receiving end of all the worst outcomes of international politics, war for oil and strategic supremacy, without having any say in, without having even the slightest understanding of it all?

And in between all this, what happens to our regular, human issues and feelings? What forms do the emotions of love, jealousy and competition in relationships take? Do they fold themselves up, cower in a corner, humbled and subdued, when faced with the enormity of the external events? Do they rise up to the occasion to help you tide over those monumental changes? Or do they just stay there? Staring in your face, stubborn and unyielding even in the throes of calamity?

Half of a Yellow Sun is a book in the category comprising of the likes of Doctor Zhivago, which makes you live the history through its characters. And makes you question the ideas like nationalism, whose sanctity is taken for granted by many today. It is also a chilling reminder to an Indian that India could have been in that situation. That we have been lucky that despite the bumpy ride we had as a country after independence, it never came to that. It could have. It still might if identity politics – the way it has shaped up over decades – has its way.

Totally worth a read!

Book Description

Below is the book description from the publisher’s website.

Winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, this is a heartbreaking, exquisitely written literary masterpiece. Now a major film starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, due for release in 2014.

In 1960s Nigeria, Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, goes to work for Odenigbo, a radical university professor. Soon they are joined by Olanna, a young woman who has abandoned a life of privilege to live with her charismatic lover. Into their world comes Richard, an English writer, who has fallen for Olanna’s sharp-tongued sister Kainene. But when the shocking horror of civil war engulfs the nation, their loves and loyalties are severely tested, while their lives pull apart and collide once again in ways none of them could have imagined…

Purchase Links

  • It is a little funny that this quote is from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but it is aptly written; so I’d use it.

Short Book Review: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty

Lonesome DoveSBR: Lonesome Dove was recommended to me by a voracious western (genre) reader. “If you read only one western book, read this one,” he (and some major newspaper reviewer) said. I have not read any other western, but I am inclined to believe that they are right in their recommendation. Bar shootings, cattle herding and cowboy hats aside, the (often raw and crude) emotional journey of the characters makes you ache. McMurtry predates and rivals Geroge R R Martin in killing off characters. There is much hardship, death, pain, unfulfilled longings and adversities. But life goes on, bitter and sweet at the same time. As the wittiest and most talkative character aptly puts it “It’s a fine world, though rich in hardships at times.”
To read or not to read: If you read only one western book, read this one 🙂

Author Update: Seeing beauty in old structures

The Hindu talks about Meera’s untiring efforts to sensitise to their heritage.

In her eight years with INTACH, she has spearheaded several activities of public interest that have helped in sensitising people to the city’s disappearing heritage. One of her success stories is the Heritage Walks targeted at Bengalureans for familiarising them with aspects unique to the city’s cultural and historical fabric. “Over the years, this has helped build a group of people who gradually became our heritage ambassadors,” says Meera.

Read the complete article on The Hindu.

Short Book Review: The Folded Earth by Anuradha Rao

The Folded EarthSBR: The descriptions are charming in The Folded Earth and the emotions draw you in. But the secrets revealed towards the end are predictable and the climax doesn’t work for me. The creation of the villain in the story is forced. It’s narrative one-sided, but conclusive. The attempt at non-linear narrative once in a while is jarring and doesn’t make sense.
To read or not to read: The author’s first book An Atlas of Impossible Longing was praise more equivocally. I think I should have read that book first. That’s what I’d recommend doing. Then, if you really like the writer, you can read this one as well.

Short Book Review: Solo by Rana Dasgupta

SoloSBR: One one hand there are the books like Doctor Zhivago or Half of a Yellow Sun. While reading them, I almost lived the lives of the protagonists through some historical moments. For me those moments will never again be what history books or wikipedia articles dryly tell me they are. They are now defined by the individual, human experiences the books me experience.

On the other hand there is a book like The Orphan Master’s Son. While reading it I was constantly frustrated by the feeling that it is an outsider imagining the story and I am not hearing the genuine voice of the characters, much less live their lives.
The experience of reading the first part of Solo falls somewhere in between. It feels real enough, not artificial. But it gives only a bird’s eye view of the protagonist’s erratic life as well as Bulgaria’s chequered history. You don’t really feel the moments. It is not a shortcoming of the book though. Because the story is in the form of reminiscences of an almost centenarian man (who has lived in Bulgaria through the upheavals of 20th century). When you are recalling people and events from long back, you do tend to remember things as blocks of time, not individual moments. It happens to our own memory too. We often have an overall feeling about our stay at a certain place, or the years spent in a particular school, and an overall story to go with it, which started with situation A and ended with situation B with xyz feeling in between. That’s what those reminiscences read like. I think it is captured very well in the book.
The second part of the book is what makes it strange, as even Salman Rushdie’s blurb call it. It starts off like a different story, and then inexplicable parallels with the first story start surfacing. Ultimately the parallels are explained well enough. But the story of the second part doesn’t feel right after that explanation.
To read or not to read:  It might not leave you awed, but it is a good experimental read.

Short Book Review: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son
SBR: One would pick this book up simply because how often you get the opportunity to put real human faces on those mythical people living in North Korea? Unfortunately, the book ends up putting an American’s words into North Korean mouths. Irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with what those words imply, the sentiment isn’t authentic.
Admittedly, the author didn’t have it easy. I read an interview with the author, where he described how difficult it was for a foreigner to get access to a common man living in North Korea (we only hear those who fled). So, he tried his best. But didn’t succeed.
To read or not to read: Skip unless you are really running out of reading material. If you are curious about North Korea, look elsewhere, probably in non-fiction.