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The ‘romance’ of romantic novels…..

I was just 12 years old and I wondered into a book shop. The owner showed me all the books a young adult would like – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Anna of Green Gables. I picked them and one more – a vague book with green cover, called Shadow Princess. I picked it up because the back cover said that the heroine was a Ph.D student and even at that age I knew a doctorate was ‘the thing’ for me; so I was going to read up everything even remotely related to it. My ever encouraging dad paid for the books and we walked out.

However it was not till two years later that I got around to reading Shadow Princess….I do not quite remember what happened; but  I think I lost a couple of books traveling and then found them two years down the line. Anyway that’s not the point. The point is at the age of 14, I read the “Shadow Princess” and after reading the slim book, I decided that romance was a piece of nonsense! It took the protagonist (who by the way was supposed to be intelligent; what with a Ph.D in chemistry) 180 pages realise that she loved the male protagonist for no better reason that one point his father had dated her sister!!! Oh! Lord!!

That was my introduction to Mills & Boons……..

So many years down the line, my view has not changes. It has just expanded to include Silhouette romances and all flowery cover jacketed books with apparently, the key word is “apparently” intelligent heroines and the silent strong men. Give me a break!!!
I defy anyone to show me such a piece of work which does not adhere to the following premises – 
  1. The writing is always from the woman’s point of view considering most these things are written by women
  2. The obviously stunning girl whose looks are played down in the initial part of the book for the “wow” effect later with large black/blue/green eyes (they always have large eyes!) meets “the guy” at some gathering
  3. The girl is obviously someone who is supposed to have substance though she has done very little in the first 10 pages to show it and might be in some kind of trouble which only “the guy” can rescue her from.
  4. The Guy” is obviously extremely tall, extremely good looking, extremely intelligent, extremely rich, extremely popular among opposite sex, extremely in love, extremely rude…extremely annoying!!
  5. They get off to a rocky start because they have a past or because they are trying to deny their attraction for each other because of some weird twisted logic that will be revealed at the end of novel that will want to make you barf!
  6. We will now spend 80 -100 pages skimming through various ups and downs where the two fight, detest each other and end up making out (Have you ever made out with someone you truly detested?????)
  7. The novel ends with “the guy” doing some incorrigible act of daring and chivalry that will make the girl declare her undying (yawn!) love for him (now that was an ending I never so coming!!) with some trite vapid wannabe joke!

Oh!! Please!!

Long back, a friend’s brother told me at an impressionable age, when I voiced my disgust for such writings that we can thank Jane Austen for introducing us to such plots via, Pride and Prejudice.

Agreed…. P&P does follow this plot line….but Jane Austen actually originated it. Furthermore, she addressed some very serious concerns of that age – marrige as the only security for educated women; the case of entailment of estates; marriage between people of unequal status….I can go on!! Besides, her humour is subtle and sarcastic!!  I refuse to believe in today’s day and age, women marry for security and in a more and more democratic world where Princes are marrying commoners, one writes about an unequal marriage where a rich ‘the guy” marries our woman of apparent substance, albiet of lower social standing and there is an ado about it! If she has substance, she will cope!!

I know this will put many in a tizzy, but can’t we do a book, a romance novel, where the heroine is fat or taller that the hero. Also what if the hero is an average guy with a good job, but is not a power wheeler dealer. I am told such books would not sell….really? Is our reading population so insipid? Maybe there is a certain section of the population that will never read such books and thrive on traditional romances, but I am sure, if a romance is a good book that truly depicts the poetry and humour of our lives, people will read.

In the meanwhile, if you like many of my friends feel the need for an out of the world, so unreal romance, there is always Messer’s Mill & Boon!

More on History and Story

india calcutta bookstore
india calcutta bookstore (Photo credit: FriskoDude)

Continuing on my previous musings of historical novels, I must own that my very first introduction to the genre of historical novels began with M M Kaye’s The Shadow of the Moon- set in 1857 India, it chronicles the Sepoy Mutiny through the principle characters of Captain Alex Randall and Winter de Ballesteros.  It might not be her most famous book, especially when one compares it to her epic work – The Far Pavilions, the immortal love story of Captain Ashton and Princess Julie, in the backdrop of the third Anglo Afghan War, but maybe I read the former at an impressionable age, it remains a favourite! I know all the high brow’s are lifting thier eye brows at my taste, but I love MM Kaye…so there!

When it comes to historical novels,nothing  beats the genre of James Michener and lately Edward Rutherford. Of all Michener’s writings, The Source remains my all-time favourite and a comfort book. I am obsessed about Israel and a story about this land is told through the multiple layers of its history and the heirs of Ur (the first man), it’s bound to much used in my collection! Then there are what I consider flighty historical novels – Leon Uris and his Mila 18, Exodus and The Haj, all of which I have read and re-read and adore, but cannot be really considered serious body of history, many be excluding Exodus. They are great reads, but thier historcial depth leaves a lot to imagination! Then there is Michelle Moran; she has written exhaustively about Egyptian History – Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen and Cleopatra’s daughter, but I believe the one book that is far better than all of these is her last work – Madam Tussaud. It’s a rich complex tale of young a Marie Tussaud, an artist specializing in wax figurines and forced to make death masks in the background of the French Revolution. Again great stories but no sense of real history. Then there is Lord Jeffery Archer and his Cane and Able and Where the Crow Flies and Only Time will Tell. Great reads set usually during the period of 1890-1950s, documenting the rise and fall of iconic characters and their loves and lives. Read em, enjoy em and forget em! There is Philippa Gregory and her mammoth works on Tudor England, especially The Other Boleyn Girl and it’ sequels, The Queen’s Fools, The Virgin Lovers etc. Not particularly correct history, but then I could be completely mistaken!

In terms of serious classic historical novels, I think Umberto Eco and Hillary Mantel lead the brigade. I took forever to read The Name of the Rose, but once I finished it, I was in awe of the whole work. Not many people like the book and there is enough controversy around the same, but at the end of the day it’s a very good read. Wolf Hall is also a modern classic as Mantel explores the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in a brilliantly researched book, which keeps very close to history. There is Robar Harris and his Imperium, Lustrum and Pompeii and if you cannot guess, they are all based on Ancient Rome and I am not particularly fond of them and find these works tedious! There is John Masters and his series of novels based on Colonial India, The Nightrunners of Bengal, The Ravi Lancers and his most famous Bhowani Junction, though I think his best work is The Nightrunners. Alex Rutherford, the pseudonym for the husband and wife duo of Michael and Diana Preston who have written a very accurate and extremely captivating series on the first five Mughal Emperors of India. A S Byatt is another well-known literary figure requiring little introduction. Her Possessions captures the beauty of Victorian England and merging with lyrical poetry that traces the forbidden love affair of Randolph Henry Ashton and Christobel LaMotte.  I am even more enamoured of her “The Childern’s Book’ which traces the lives of Wellwoods and Cains through 1890’s to 1914, though there are times I do feel the story should “get a move on”. Colleen McCullough and her Master of Rome series is also an exhaustively researched work that traces the end of Roman Republic.

My unmatched picks are Conn Iggulden, and JG Fuller and Peter Carey. Iggulden has written extensively on rise and fall of Julius Cesar in his four part novels – The Empire series. But my personal favourite are his Conqueror series that traces the rise and fall of Chengiz Khan and Mongols during 15th century. Rich in details and customs, it not only presents Chengiz in wholly different light, without any apologies for his deeds. Valerio Massimo Manfredi is another of my favourites. I loved his The Alexander Trilogy, but my real prized possession is The Lost Army, based on the accounts of Xenophon and his Anabasis and the legion of 10,000 that was sent to support Artaxerxes II against his brother, Cyrus of Persia, it is tale that vividly captures the life and times of Ancient Greeks and one of the most remarkable adventures in human history. JG Fuller won his Pulitzer for The Seize of Krishnapur and I must own its one of finest accounts of the Indian mutiny without any unnecessary glorification to the cause of either side and a true account of men and women tested in most trying times. Oscar and Lucinda is Pater Carey’s best. He has written The True History of the Kelly Gang – epic tale of a family through the various stages of Australian history and can be aptly called the great Australian novel. But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing compares to Oscar and Lucinda, the obsessive compulsive gamblers on a boat to Australia and an incorrigible bet of transporting a glass Church from Sydney to Bellingen, come together to make a classic read!

To end with, I must confess, I have a huge thing for Salman Rushidie’s works, though many a times his writings take me on an intellectual trapeze act where my mind can no longer follow! I know enough has been written and cried about Midnight’s Children, so I’ll let it be and instead talk about The Enchantress of Venice that interplays and alternates between 16th century India and Akbar’s court and the 15th century Florence! It’s filled with images and scenes that bring it to life two magnificent eras of world history with all its caprices!

History and Story….

I love history and I love literature. What happens when you mix the two together – Historical novels!

To say I enjoy historical novels is a subtle understatement. I am practically fanatical about them…..A lot of people, mostly the same type about whom I referred in my previous blog, often are incredulous that I can spend so much time in reading about something that does not even denote modern times. I am often flooded with such inane questions like “History…but it’s boring!” or better yet “What’s the point of reading about things long dead?” Duh! Have you never heard that man learns from his past?????!!!!!

I live in the modern world; I am part of this reality! I do enjoy reading about novels set in this reality with all its gizmos of cell phones, internet and the works. But the past has a special charm…. It is the past, the time that has gone by, that really invigorates my mind’s eye. It’s wonderful to set yourself free and let your imagination run wild in a time of horse drawn chariots, courtly living and the Lords and Ladies and all the nine yards!  I enjoy the mannerisms, traditions, costumes and of course the sense of history so different from today’s world.

If you really want to go back in time to the very seed of historical fiction, there is Homer who wrote about the Trojan War in Iliad and the adventure of Odysseus in The Odyssey. There is of course the oral tradition of Mahabharata, though conventionally people consider Vyas the author of this epic that documents the besides many other things the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in 10th century BCE (the time period of the war is open for debate). A lot of scholars have argued that the first modern historical novel was created by Sir Walter Scott. I can believe that as I try to rack my brains and cannot come up with any such writings prior to Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and Waverly! I am not too fond of Waverly (I know! Even I cannot believe it at times that I do not like something that such a milestone!) I enjoyed Ivanhoe, but my favourite is Rob Roy. I love the Scottish history with all its swashbuckling and angry rebellions and revenge by the subaltern. It’s a classic tale and I am enamoured of it. After Sir Scott, the flood gates are opened. We have the very famous and now slightly trite Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notra Dame” set in Middle Ages immortalizing Quasimodo’s love for Esmeralda. The mammoth work and my personal favourite Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” detailing the life and times of the Russian aristocracy on the eve of Napoleon’s attack and its aftermath. (Yes! I did read the complete book and yes I did enjoy it and yes I have read it more than once and yes I am nerd and yes I am in love with Prince Andre!) Then there is James Fennimore Copper and his “The Last of the Mohicans”. I am not particularly fond of it, but it’s considered a masterpiece by many with its immortal love story of Uncas and Cora (Yes! I know Hawkeye is more important, but I like to think of Uncas and Cora’s love as ethereal!) set during the Seven Years war. Then there is good old Mr Dickens with his more famous “A tale of two cities” (I think his other novels are far far better than this one) following the lives of Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay and Sidney Carton during the French Revolution. He also wrote Barnby Rudge, which is my personal favourite about the simple-minded Barnaby and his implicated involvement in the Gordon Riots and the parallel tale of Joe Willet and Dolly Vardens and Edward Chester and Emma Haerdales. Alexander Dumas also produced copious volumes of historical fiction, the most famous being the D’Artagnan series – The Three Musketeers,  Twenty years after, The Man in the Ironmask! I am not particularly fond of any of them, though I do feel the plot of the Ironmask is more gripping and sensational. But then Dumas’s tales are sensational! (I mean he wrote The Count of Monte Cristo….nothing is more sensational after that!)

So much for the history of historical literature. In the next blog, which will be in continuation of this one, I will list some of my all-time favourite historical novels by modern-day authors.

Let us read, let us dance…..

I want to ask to that part of the population that is passionate about books and reading and that too in an obsessive compulsive manner like me, who needs to read at least 3 books a week if not more, have you been asked this question – How can you read the same book twice? or “How can you waste your time reading the same book again? And the best question of them all “Do you not get bored reading the same thing again? Don’t you want to do something better in life?”

I need to find out if it is just me who is always snowed with such questions, or others have been in my shoes and felt similarly flummoxed. I usually get this question from mostly from those who not read, but what really really confuses me is when people who claim to be a readers ask me this! I need to understand this phenomenon.

A lover of books will always go back to certain writings again and again. For instance, when I have a bad day at work or have an argument or something nasty happens in way of things, I resort to what I call my “comfort” books – Jane Austin and Terry Pratchett. On the other hand, if I am in a leisurely mood, eating something delicious (yes! I read when I eat! Yes I am aware it’s a bad habit and my mother has yelled her lungs off about it…but I enjoy it so I am sticking to it!) or generally contented with life, then its Saki, Evelyn Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Arthur Conan Doyle, J K Rowling , Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, A S Byatt and Gorge Orwell. On a long vacation, I tackle, Leo Tolstoy, John Galsworthy, John Steinbeck, Somerset Maugham, Henry James, Joesph Conrad, Thorton Wilder etc etc. The list is endless but this is not about the list. It’s about the fact that there are books we all (I am referring to the reading population) go back to time after time, because we have developed a special bond with them. The characters of these books are our friends, confidants and comrades who sooth us and entertain us. The locales give us a get away from all that is mundane and trite and allow us a break from our humdrum existence, revitalizing us for our foray back to the real world. These books are our partners in our life journey……that’s why they are classics. They are timeless; we can go back to them whenever we feel like. I do not know how many of you feel a sheer, reasonless joy when you pick up one of your favourite comfort books from the your shelves and run your hands over its much thumbed pages…I love this feeling, especially, when I have not read the book for a while. I love the anticipation of trying to reach a particular chapter that I especially enjoy, from a novel I have read so many times. Like when I re-read Pride and Prejudice, I actually wait to reach the part where Elizabeth Bennett along with Mr and Mrs Gardiner set off on a tour of Derbyshire. Or even the part when Wickham and Lydia return to the Bennett household after their elopement. I read through the entire book, just in anticipation that I am still to read my favourite parts!

There are books which I will never ever get back too. I am not going to name them, but there many so-not-worth it books out there in the market today; many of them make me feel at the end….er…why did I read this again? But that does not take away the fact that these cases are far and few in comparison with all the brilliant writing out there which can be read again and again! In the words of Oscar Wilde If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.

I am convinced that those people who ask me this question, and trust me I have been asked this question many times, see reading as a task. Naturally a task that needs to be completed cannot be a joy (in most cases) and more importantly, cannot be repeated. I am completely tolerant if you are not a reader…lot of people are not; many people do not and I am sure they have many other ways keeping themselves amused! But I do draw a line if you ask inane questions about it. I mean do I ever ask you “Hey Dude! You are Go carting/adventure sporting/head banging again?”  So please, you stay at your side of turf and let me stay on mine and we will have world peace!

Deliver us from another Vampire Tale

The other day I was browsing at a bookshop and a woman walked in. Without being prejudiced, I have to confess that one look at her and you know she is one of those anorexic-fake blonde-fake Gucci girls. What was surprising was that she was in a bookstore! I mean did she confuse herself with the Zara Boutique next door? But the mystery was soon resolved as she whipped out her designer phone (Lord! Save me from white phones with Swarovski diamonds or Crystal or whatever white bloody stone) and screeched into it “Hey can you tell me the name of the book you mentioned? You know the Vampire love story thing!!”

Now I know…..

I want to understand this madness or rather this obsession behind Vampire literature. Every week when I enter my favourite book shop, the owner though well versed in my taste will show me at least one new release with a Vampire as its protagonists. When I do online book buying, the top sellers are all Vampire tales and the bimbo at work who cannot articulate a single thought (too much stress on her brain…doubt she knows the word articulate!) has read the god dammed Twilight series!

Somebody please explain the reason behind all this insanity.

Bram Stoker wrote the Dracula in 1897 and it became an instant success and prevented Mr Stroker from dying of ignominy or worse as being only known as actor Henry Irvin’s PA. It’s a great tale told in first person’s accounts via letters, memos and dairy entries. Without descending into morbid obscenity or maudlin sentiments, the book manages to create a sense of paralyzing terror. I recommend it to all avid readers of terror/vampire genre. But that’s where the buck stops! Or atleast it extends very little after that!! I will extend it to I am Legend by Richard Matheson published in 1954 (Yes! This was a novel well before Will Smith and friends turned it into whatever they turned it into!). Set in futuristic Los Angeles ruled by vampires, the protagonist, himself a vampire tries to find a cure to reverse the phenomena of bloodsucking. One of the finest Gothic tale meets science fiction novels that I have read. The last of the Vampire book that I recommend is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova published in 2005. It’s a thriller, a marvellous travelogue covering the Eastern Europe, a historical fiction and most importantly a serious and  intellectual work of literature. The novel follows the life of the narrator’s father, her father’s mentor and her mother in the quest of Vlad Tepes. But this is seriously where the buck stops!!

I mean there are these unending publications of I do not know how many Vampire novels. There is Ann Rice and her Interviews with Vampires and Pandoras. To give her credit, she was one the pioneers in the twenty-first century Vampire genre, but that’s where the credit ends. They are so maudlin with zilch element of intellect or horror. Speaking of maudlin, who can forget the “Twilight” series! I mean if somebody gave me a penny for the times I barfed through the through 400+ pages of soppy writing and the never-ending saga of Bella Swan will be/will not be a vampire for Edward Cullen, I would be a millionaire! Thank Heavens! I stopped reading the darn thing after the first book. Yuck! Yuck and more super yuck! Then somebody decided to go ahead and get a Vampire to fall in love with a witch! Oh! Give me a break!! Deborah Harkness in her Discovery of Witches manages a very wanna-be The Historian feel with Oxford University and a protagonist with a Ph.D and a rare book, but that’s about it. It goes on and on about what happens when a Vampire marries a witch and the powers binding the witch and this and that and yawn!!! In these series, we have not spared Lord Byron either, just because he lived in the Orient and wrote The Giagour! It’s weird enough that his physician, John Polidori wrote The Vampyre in 1816 basing the principal character and vampire, Lord Ruthven on Lord Byron, but someone had go ahead and re-invent the whole wheel. If you want stereotyped history mixed with liberal dose of boring with zero horror quotient, please read Tom Holland’s The Vampyre: The Secret History of Lord Byron.

So my question remains – what is the big deal about Vampire literature? Most of them are just a pure waste of time, but more importantly why do readers and writers alike insist on romanticizing them. I mean, hello! The original inspiration for a vampire was Vlad III of Wallachia, who was known to impale his enemies alive and other such cruelties! Not nice and definitely not romantic!

Vampires are folklores and I can live with some solid horror tales about them. But beyond them…No! No! In the words of Brian Lumley, “But other vampire stories? Well, no, I really haven’t read too many, and I can’t say I’m crazy about romantic vampires anyway – to me the vampire is simply an evil monster.”

Satire be my song….List of 10 best satires from all times

In the words of Lord Byron, I believe and am strongly of the opinion that satires are perhaps the best social commentary of any time besides being from a literary perspective, one the best reads. I know Anthony Trollope had argued that a satirist should write only little otherwise people will believe that his/her words are a reflection of his own caustic nature, but I do not think satirists are inhuman. True, the do derive a lot pleasure from the various follies of mankind, which they pass on to others through their writing. But they never laugh at what is wise or good; if certain actions of mankind were not contemptible, well, we would need satirists.

In this post I would like to list my all-time favourite satires, some of which I believe had brought significant change in their own times. They are listed per the year of publication and are in no way reflective of any order of preference –

  1. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes (1605 and 1615): The adventures of Alonso Quijano and Sancho Panza as they set off for knightly adventures and castles and beautiful ladies exposes the fallacy of chivalric romance and knightly virtues.
  2. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, by Jonathan Swift (1726): The immortal classic, often handed down in illustrated and abridged version to  children is perhaps one of the best takes on the machinations of the “democratic Westphalia governments” and the corruption within mankind.
  3. An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews by Henry Fielding (1741): Hitting out at the moralizing Pamela by Samuel Richardson, Fielding unveils a heroine who has no morals and will do anything to entrap her master into marriage.
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759) :Tristram Shandy’s so called narration of his life where he does anything but narrate about his life. Sterne made several digs at the then popular “sermon writings” which were actually considered by many as only gentle and acceptable reading material; especially Robert Burton’s “The Anatomy of Melancholy” from which Sterne even satirized his chapter titles!
  5. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austin (1803): Gothic romances will never be the same again! At a time when every girl including Austin herself swore by the writings of Ann Radcliffe, Catherine Morland’s adventures within the Abbey expose the very ludicrousness of such genre of writing.
  6. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928): Waugh takes on the “roaring twenties “ and splits it wide open in this social satire as his protagonist is expelled from Oxford and takes up a teaching job , gets engaged and imprisoned, only to come back from where he started at Oxford
  7. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938): Fleet Street and dramatic journalism gets a whole new twist in Waugh’s novel as we follow William Boot through his travels and travails in Ishmaelia and the underlying theme that when media descends on a place, even if nothing is new worthy, something has to happen!
  8. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945): Communism and Stalin’s government is satirised in an Animal Farm run by a committee of Pigs with Napoleon their leader resembling the Soviet Dictator.
  9. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961): What can one say about this classic ……its lines are immortal “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.” World War II and the questions of heroism are unremittingly taken apart and re –examined in this masterpiece.
  10. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966): Though written in 1940, the complete unedited version was only published in 1973, more than 33 years after Bulgakov’s death. The book is unremitting take on the bureaucratic and red taped system of Soviet society under the Communist regime. In parallel it also works through an allegorical allusion of sensuality without feeling through the character of Nikolai Ivanovich

Please feel free to add any work that I have left out or you feel has far more impact than the ones listed.

All ado about pathos and tragedy

Books

Books (Photo credit: vasta)

I am fundamentally a very happy person. I was not always a happy person, but a wise man once advised me that to get ahead in life especially when things are down and out, one must consciously make an attempt to be happy. This might include wearing an outfit that you never wear but you know makes you look awesome; it might be watching movies that are absolutely inane but make you laugh; in my case it was reading books which bring joy! I have tried this recipe of reading joyful books or at least books with a happy ending for a number of years now and it has become a part of my DNA. Today I can be happy almost in all circumstances – keyword almost!

This post however is not about my philosophy of happiness but my ever-increasing marvel at the sheer number of highly intelligent and intellectual people who seem to prefer everything in the way of reading that has some tragedy, heartbreak and calamity as its theme and would end in ensuring the reader’s mind is absolutely beset with the misfortunes of life. A case to the point is my best friend and flatmate rolled into one. She is an extremely intelligent woman, who has a degree in English and Mass Communication, besides picking up a Ph.d along the way. She is extremely sensitive, intuitive and can be a lot of fun! However her idea of a darn good read is Brother Karamazov and In the First Circle. I mean Gulag, murder and Siberia are some of staring features of the book. Then there is my sister – another one of such ‘weirdo” species. She has a double master and is one of the most erudite individuals whom I have the good fortune to know with a quirky sense of humour that makes you laugh out loud. What is her favourite read? Madame Bovary! I mean you know by the second chapter of the book that this book will end in a tragedy and Madame Bovary is destined for death, but that does not prevent my sister from proclaiming this is one the best books ever.

Of course I do not mean to deride the extreme versatility of these great authors or the understanding or the philosophy that they tried to convey. These books are a must read for any enthusiast of literature and can truly be considered classics. Having said that these are not and I repeat not comfort books and I would not turn to them for relief when I am disturbed. They are not the pick me up kind of reads and they do not give you a warm fuzzy feeling of being at peace with the world and they definitely do not make you smile.

I understand that life is not all fun and games and we have serious issues to address. My contention is that when I am down and out, serious issues do not help, unless you do a take-off in the lines of Evelyn Waugh. Anybody who has read “Scoop” will agree with me that it is as sarcastic a portrayal of commercial journalism as there can be. However it is written in the most light-hearted manner that not only drives home a point but also makes you laugh along the way. Tried reading “The Case of Exploding Mangoes” by Mohammed Hanif? The book covers one of the darkest periods of Pakistani historyGeneral Zia‘s dictatorship and his assassination. But it has been written in subtle black humour while being completely honest to the horrors of an undemocratic tyrannical government. The book tackles serious issues, but it does not make me feel like Atlas; It does however make me aware and appreciate democracy. So while entertaining me, the book has given me substantial food for thought without making me weep buckets!!

There will be tales where some amount of tragedy cannot be avoided. Try “The Great Mysterious” – I am told it’s not Lorna Landvik’s best book, but I love it! I know I cried buckets when Jordan dies some 10 pages before then end, but the book still ended in hope with the protagonist bonding with her nephew and finding a new worth to her life! See what I mean ….

In the end, all I can say is I will root for Oscar Wildes and Sakis and Mohammad Hanifs of the world till kingdom comes. I do not understand the whole “beauty of pathos” thing. They do not make me sigh and teary eyes at all the unhappiness of the world…they make me never want to read them a second time! Wit on the other hand is truly the highest form of intelligence.

 

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