Short Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldSBR:  Despite it being a classic, and being credited with predicting so many things about future correctly, and being compared and contrasted with 1984, I did not like Brave New World. Because the futuristic world Huxley creates is very shallow and the story he narrates pretty flat. He takes some of the prevalent moral dogmas, turns them on their heads and creates this brave new world. But if you do turn the moral dogmas on their heads, the world cannot remain the same otherwise. For example, it is difficult to digest a society that treats promiscuity as the norm for both the genders but has the same gender equation as our current society. The author forgets to consider the effects of the changes he has brought in the society. The world is unconvincing, not for being futuristic, but for being devoid of any character. At no point does the story or the characters evoke any feeling (apart from boredom) in you.
To read or not to read: Read only if you need to complete your to-read classics list.  It isn’t a good read as a dystopian fiction.

Short Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Kiego Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect XSBR: I decided to read The Devotion of Suspect X because when I looked around to see what people were saying about my previous Higashino read, those who had liked that book, and even those who hadn’t, were recommending this one. I don’t know if it is about the order in which you read things, but I liked Salvation of a Saint better than this one. It could partly be because the quality of translation might not have done justice to The Devotion of Suspect X. What is interesting in this book, however, is that you know within the first few pages who committed the crime and how. Still the book manages to hold your attention.
To read or not to read: Yes if you like mysteries. Otherwise, there is no reason to start reading with this one.

Short Book Review: Devices and Desires by P. D. James

Devices and DesiresSBR: Devices and Desires by P. D. James is a different sort of a mystery fiction in the sense that most of the book is not focussed on the detective activities, but the affected characters and their lives. While I liked that, overall, the book didn’t work for me. The same things were being said about the characters again and again in the beginning and it made for a boring start. Even though the story did become interesting later on, the lack of enough detective work became a weak point at that stage. Only the reader gets to know the complete story, which by itself is an interesting plot device, but the way reader gets to know it is all forced and contrived. It was as if at one point of time the author realized that too much has been written and now the story needs to be wrapped up. So she quickly starts introducing conversations which would explain it all.
To read or not to read: Some of the Amazon reviewers who didn’t like this book still  liked the earlier ones in the Adam Dalgleish mystery series of which this is the eighth  book. So if you haven’t read the series it might be better to start with one of the early ones rather than this particular book.

Short Book Review: Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono

Six Thinking HatsSBR: Like many of the popular and best-selling business books, Six Thinking Hats has a meritorious idea, which can be useful. And like its other brethren, it can’t avoid the temptation of overselling that one idea. Six Thinking Hats can’t be the solution to all decision-making problems in organizations as the book touts it to be. The author almost takes it for granted that once the “argument” mode of meetings is replaced with “six thinking hats”, the organizational problems of ego-clashes, of people batting for their self-interest over organizational interest and of genuinely conflicting opinions will vanish.
Once you discount the overselling, this method of thinking or conducting meetings can indeed bring more structure to the process and hence hopefully help you have more productive meetings. But then it is probably one of the many ways available of structuring the thinking process. There is no reason to believe that it is better than others.
The book is not written very well. The ideas are scattered and the attempt to bring structure to them is forced.
To read or not to read: Don’t go out of the way to read it. You won’t miss much. But it is a thin one, and one of the most well-known business books. So if you find it lying somewhere and you have some free time in hands, it won’t bite.

Short Book Review: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Salvation of a SaintSBR: Salvation of a Saint is a murder mystery and it does a good job of it. The prose is readable and the story keeps your interest hooked. There are the standard ingredients of a main detective and a junior and a brilliant scientist. But the junior is not a buffoon, but rather sharp and outsmarts her boss often. Her being a woman is a plus in my book and she is much more qualified for her job than J K Rowling (oops! Robert Galbraith)’s Robin. The brilliant scientist doesn’t get things right in one go. So that is good too.
Any genre novel will have parts that would make a literary fiction reader intent upon reading humdrums of real life cringe. But there isn’t any fun in reading a mystery novel with the lens of literary fiction. So I would not do that either.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you like mystery.

Short Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's KeeperSBR: My Sister’s Keeper has a very interesting premise in the life a child conceived to be a genetic donor to her sibling. It doesn’t deal with it well. The conflicts are unbelievable, they undermine the real conflict one would face in situations like these, the medical issues misrepresented, the twists are too contrived and some of the most important characters do not make sense. The side dose of romance makes it worse. As an Amazon reviewer rightly pointed out, in real circumstances, it is more likely that a minor will have to go to the court to allow her to donate her organ, rather than to stop it from being done against her wishes because the parents want so!
It does manage to be a good tear-jerker once in a while. But it is not a good book dealing with a difficult issue.
To read or not to read: Yes, if a light tear-jerker reading is what you are looking for. Not for the subject it pretends to address.

Short Book Review: The First Firangis by Jonathan Gil Harris

The First FirangisSBR: Through the life stories of finragis who came to India before the British supremacy was established in the subcontinent, often to escape religious persecution, legal embroilments or economic misery, The First Firangis is one of those books that help us see the history of the regular people, not exclusively that of the rulers and the elites. However, the author’s attempt to define ‘biography’ as a story of bodily transformations, and using this as an excuse to fill up the chapters where the actual information is scarce with speculations about what happened to those firangi bodies, gets annoying after a while. The biological changes, and the philosophical question of whether a ‘body’ is something unchangeable and constant that defines a person is interesting. But I wish the author was not obsessed with making that the unifying arch in his stories of various firangis becoming Indians. They stand quite well on their own. Where the information was scarce, smaller chapters or combined chapters would have been fine.
To read or not to read: Anyone interested in the nuances of history should read this book. But the book seems to use the White Mughals by William Dalrymple (as an inspiration, but also) as a standard for what it is NOT about. So, you would appreciate it better if you read White Mughals before this.

Short Book Review: 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell

1984Animal FarmSBR: How do you review iconic books like these, and that too in short? All I will say is that the world of 1984 has not come to pass (thankfully!) for most part. I can’t speak for North Korea. But Animal Farm can be seen everywhere in our democratic society, where all are supposed to be equal. But some are more equal than the others. You don’t need a communist revolution to see the dark joke of Animal Farm in action.
To read or not to read: These are the kind of books you must read to be able to intelligently talk about reading and books. However if you are pressed for time and want to skip the longer read 1984, you should still read Animal Farm because it is relevant irrespective of the form of government we have. It is shorter and easier to read too!

Short Book Review: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

MyNameIsRedSBR: What do you say about a book which is very well written and incredibly boring to read? No. Not in the way some people find classics. My Name is Red really is well-written for a modern audience. The translator must have done a hell of a job for it not to feel awkward anywhere. It even has a fairly good mystery plot. But the beautiful chapters, written from a thousand different points of view, repeat the same things over and over again and by the time the story moves, you don’t care about the mystery anymore. Besides whatever you have to learn about the Persian vs. Turkish vs. European painting styles of the sixteenth century, you learn in the first few chapters and could do without learning over and over again. There is a daastaangoi  kind of experience with fantastical, mythical stories making their appearances, but that too gets too repetitive after a time.
To read or not to read: If you are someone who can experience the joy of reading something beautiful for the heck of it, please go ahead. But if repetition tires or bores you, you will be pulling your hair out within the first hour of reading. I wish I could categorically say, don’t read it. Unfortunately, I can’t.

Short Book Review: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

TheNameOfTheRoseSBR: Unlike my previous reads Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is a piece of historical fiction (specifically mystery) which does bring modern sensibilities into a story set in the 14th century. Especially is philosophical debates. But that has a charm of its own. A story like this can provoke you to examine your own unassailable beliefs and make to think if they really are that unassailable.
If you are looking purely for a mystery novel, you might be bored by the philosophy intervening. But I liked it because it felt like a good supplemental reading to the scholastic philosophy chapters I encountered in The History of Western Philosophy. The problem in this book was the frequent use of (untranslated) Latin phrases and sentences. This meant that I could not curl up in the bed to read the book. I often needed to consult this good man’s work and Google Translate.
To read or not to read: Read if you can enjoy the dossier on the religion of middle ages, monasticism and scholastic philosophy and are willing to work on your (ahem!) Latin.
  1. I realized while reading this book that the expression “It is Greek to me” might be from the time when people spoke Latin. We can, perhaps, shift to using”It is Latin to me”.
  2. I didn’t start reading the book after the news of the author’s death. He died while I was reading the book. An eerie feeling!