Reader Interview of Bindu (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in October 2019

We got to speak to Bindu who had been quite disappointed by Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book.

Tell us about your book journey. 

It was academics that led me to read so widely. I did my graduation, post-graduation, M.Phil and Ph.D. in English literature, so I read all the time, be it the classics or contemporary fiction. The ecosystem in which I studied involved books and more books and even batchmate’s book recommendations. It was like falling into a rabbit hole filled with books.

Fiction or non-fiction?

Since I ended up being an academic writer, I continue reading heavy doses of fiction and subject-wise non-fiction.

Do you read multiple books on the same subject?

No, my choices are more random and recommendations matter a lot to me. I work with subject experts so they keep me updated not just on books on a subject but meta-books as well. That’s how I came across an author like Robert Sapolsky, someone I wouldn’t have discovered if it wasn’t for suggestions from others.

Do you read vernacular books?

Not really. No one has recommended any book so strongly. I did read Tamil magazines and stories while in college but the English literature that I was exposed to seemed so far ahead at the time.

What kind of literature do you prefer?

Well, I have been exposed to a variety of subjects including European, American and World Literature. I particularly enjoy the magical realism of writers like Marquez and Rushdie.

Favorite books?

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

Do you read poetry?

Poetry is very cryptic and takes more effort though I must say that I was wonderstruck by Vikram Seth’s poetry in The Golden Gate while it was impossible to finish his magnum opus A Suitable Boy.

Audiobooks or eBooks?

Audiobooks, no doubt. The last book I read or listened to, rather, was Lincoln in the Bardo. It was amazing. There are around 183 characters in the story and what’s available on Audible is the performed version. The main character is narrated by the author himself. I love the audiobook experience as it is completely hands-free and I find an excuse to do the mundane just so that I can get at least an hour’s worth dedicated listening. I’m into the listening culture as I grew up listening to discourses.

How much do you read or listen on average?

I’d say 1-1 ½ hrs every day.

Thank you for sharing your bookish experiences, Bindu!

Short Book Review: First They Killed my Father by Loung Ung

SBR: First They Killed my Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers was another one of our Cambodia-trip picks. The description of life under Khmer Rouge and vivid and chilling. It feels almost insensitive to critique a book that details the personal experience of a horrifying genocide on its literary merit. But as a book reader, I can’t help it. The first-person account from the point of view of a little girl does not come across as authentic in the book. The thoughts are too complex and far-reaching (as if she could see a better future back then) under the circumstances. Those are definitely the author’s adult thoughts. And from some reviews I find online, the historical events, as well as her personal history, might have been changed slightly to fit into a narrative.

To read or not to read: Yes, even if only for its subject – life under Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Short Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

SBR: Q: Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?
A: Me!
Holy cow! Orlando is supposed to be the most accessible work of Virginia Woolf. I guess I can’t read her. I suppose it was the fabled stream of consciousness writing that fried my brains. It’s not like I didn’t understand anything in the book. But getting through it was a torture. And I am fully aware that I am saying this of a celebrated writer and a celebrated book.

To read or not to read: I don’t know. I can’t judge or review this book. Listen to someone more qualified.

Sea of Stories and Golden Gate Verse@BYOB Party in May, 2016 (Part 1)

There was a nice spread of books at the BYOB Party in May.

Haroun_and_the_Sea_of_Stories_(book_cover)Akshay talked about Rushdie’s magical realism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. To enjoy Rushdie’s writing a minimal understanding of political and social realities is a must.  He uses magical realism to present controversial ideas. “There was a wave of magical realism in India in the 80s and 90s,” Abhaya said. “Rushdie was for magical realism the way Chetan Bhagat was for the campus novel. He started a trend and he was by far the most successful.”

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is about a professional storyteller called Rashid who lives in the saddest of cities. There are a great many stories and diverse characters. For lovers of this genre, the book is a treat.


the golden gateVishal found Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate riveting. It’s a book written entirely in verse- 690 sonnets, in fact, with the rhyming scheme a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d-e-f-f-e-g-g. The story revolves around John, a Silicon Valley exec; Janet, an artist and musician; Ed, a character confused by religion; and Phil, a scientist. The story deals with love, homosexuality, antinuclear protests, and don’t forget personal ads- one of which Vishal read out.

Vishal gifted the book to a friend who was leaving to San Francisco. In fact, the book resonates more with those who  live in that part of the world. Jaya found the verses a little hard to digest and an idea popped up about whether a prose version of the book would make the book more appealing to those who could not read the entire book in verse.

Books in verse are not new. The epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayan, the Illiad and Odyssey and many others are all originally verse. Reading the poetry version is always better than reading the prosaic version, some readers opined. Metaphorical meanings will be lost otherwise. Another book by Vikram Seth that reflects  his expertise poetry is An Equal Music, not to mention the Table of contents in verse form in A Suitable Boy.

More books in Part 2.

Short Book Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange LibrarySBR: I. Don’t. Get. Haruki. Murakami. There is magical realism, but I don’t get it at all.
The most interesting part of The Strange Library are its illustrations which entwine with the text in interesting, quirky ways.  Good production quality enhances the appeal. So a print edition is preferable over a Kindle one (I had a hard cover print edition).
At the end of the day, however, I don’t get it.
To read or not to read: If you are a Murakami fan, go right ahead. If not, read at your own risk. The story is very short, though; so you don’t have to worry about the time spent. The production and illustration might be worth it for those visually inclined. Pick up the print edition.

Short Book Review: The Circle of Reason by Amitav Ghosh

 Circle Of ReasonSBR: I picked up The Circle of Reason without knowing that I was getting into magical realism. Magical realism, for the uninitiated in simple words, is a genre that combines fantastic and real worlds and goes on as if it is all normal. There won’t be an explanation of the “magical” parts.
In the book the real part is realistic enough. The friendship of college days that lasts even through the subsequent divergence in personalities, views and lifestyle decisions, the phrenology obsessed middle-aged teacher in a quaint Bengal village constituting mostly of refugees from East Bengal, the tragic culmination of paranoid politics and individual madness and a bird-watcher police officer thrown in the chase owing to some complicated turn of office politics make for a strong story. Then the magical elements become more prominent and although I follow the rest of the story, I don’t quite get the point. Since I haven’t read the seminal works of magical realism like One Hundred Years of Solitude by  Gabriel García Márquez or those by Salman Rushdie, I am not sure what to compare it with. Perhaps I will return to this book after I have read some of those.
To read or not to read: If, like me, you are not into the magical realism genre yet, you probably don’t want to start with this book and instead pick up something more widely talked about. If you have read some of those, it might be worthwhile giving this book a try. If you just want to read Amitav Ghosh as an author, I would suggest The Shadow Lines. I am not too fond of his Ibis trilogy, but that has a fan following. So that can also be a good starting point.