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Some Books and One Wish

Book reading 2As another year draws to an end, I wonder at my last post and think what would be the most appropriate ending for the year. Should I do a scorecard again, like I did in August? Should I carry on with my usual posts on books, friends and sundry? What would be the most befitting farewell to 2012 and then suddenly I knew – for someone who loves books, I would want to list some of my best reads of the year in no order of preference – it’s hard to really always scale things you love; especially if they are tied to a place. So without any further ado, here goes –

Book reading 1

Some are just darn good tales, while others are serious body of literature, while still others are morality tales of modern kind  – no matter what they are, I enjoyed them thoroughly and my life is so much more enriched, because I met these novels and their characters!

While I signoff for the year, here’s wishing all my readers a wonderful 2013 with all the joy and laughter! Thank you for tagging along with me through this year and for sharing your thoughts, experience or simply your likes! Thank you most importantly for taking the time out through this year to read through my random musings!

Cheers to 2013!

P.S. Here’s a special wish for all the follow book maniacs – wish you all a joyous and wondrous reading in the New Year! May we all get new books and brilliant new authors to savor! Happy Reading!

The Old and The New…..

I have come to my parents place for the holidays! Now when I say my parents place, that’s a loaded term; cause it’s not only my parent’s home, but in the grand tradition of dynasties, my uncles and aunts and even my cousins all live together in this rambling mansion, that was built more than a 100 years ago. Though time again, the various members of this extended family have flown from this house, including my father who left this house and city more than 40 years ago in search of better prospects, they all come back here! Whether it’s after their retirement, like my father or like my cousin who spent 15 years in Europe, only to come back here, so that he could raise his children in the way he was, in the very heart of the family!

BariI love this old house, its shaded nooks and the sunny parlors and wide staircases which for generations had served as gateway for a child with a secret game or a book to read in peace – something I did as a child and still do as an adult. The pistachio colored outer walls and cool deep green insides and the high pillared ionic columns or the inland courtyard, where I spent my childhood alternately playing with my favorite cousin or being teased by not so favorite ones!!!! I love getting up in the morning to the sound of the main street – this mansion overlooks one of the busiest thoroughfares of the city; my great grandfather who built this house had no conception of far from the madding crowd! Or to traipse down to the local bakery just two blocks down the line to smell of fresh bread and what I consider the world’s best plum cake! I love wafting through the books that were the “in reads” and when Fitzgerald was not a distant figure but a literary l’enfant terrible and a contemporary of the people who had bought these editions, including my grandfather! I love the old spacious kitchen, which is larger than my room in my apartment and the stone stoves, which stand next to the new electronic stove and the traditional food cooked and supervised by my aunts! I love the history and the sense of timelessness that go hand in hand with each other!

Yet despite all my sentimentality, I cannot imagine living here except for a brief spell of time. Unlike my cousin, I feel no compulsion to come back here eventually; nor like my father do I plan my retirement around this house, nor like my uncle claim that the very meaning of life and its travesty is embodied in this house!  I am not sure what I lack or what makes me so different from others? Was it because I was not born here or because I grew up away from large groups of people; I am not sure what keeps me and makes me shrink away from sending a lifetime here? Or is it just a highly developed sense of space that cowers me from large groups of people – but considering I am such a social animal, I somehow cannot seem to believe that theory either. But while l love this house and the identity of belonging this house and family, it’s important that I step away and make a separate identity of my own and create my own space that is not crowded by my past and holds the promise of a future that is not shaped by precedents.  At the same time, I do look forwards to returning to this warm shelter at the end of the exhausting year, to renew the ties that help me forge ahead for the next year. It is the balance between staying here and moving away that keeps me sane and independent and at the same time rooted to all that is beloved and part of my DNA. So here’s wishing a rip roaring success to the this legend of a house, – may it continue to provide nostalgia, safety and history for generations to come!

The Natural and The Practised….

I was at a social gathering last night and I started talking to someone about …you have guessed it – books! Now he began reading at an adult age and spoke about how he struggled initially with reading the simplest volumes and how by disciplining himself into reading a bit every day, he had finally developed an interest and a habit of books, so that it flew much more naturally now. He then made an observation, having heard about my obsessions with books from common friends, that how I must have never struggled with forcing myself to read or even knowing what to read when depending on my moods and preferences, while he himself went through this cathartic process of trying to inculcate this habit at a much older age!

This conversation kind of got me thinking – yes its true, not only for me, but I am sure about a lot of voracious readers, that we never struggled to read; nor did we have to switch our alarms on and force ourselves to read until it rang and more importantly, some authors/books, well we did not really “discover”, they were always in our ambit and unconsciously part of our inheritance!

I had mentioned this earlier, but it’s true that my earliest memories are of my father, reading out to me and somewhere down the line, his fingers stopped moving over the words and instead, I began to read for myself. I do not know when that happened, but I do know it happened at a very early age. When this gentleman last night made a statement that for the likes of me, we must have read our first books when we were 8-9 years old, it made me realize that actually, I must have read my first book, albeit a fairy tale with very simple words, at a much younger age….actually way before being 8!

So, how did all of this begin?

readingI am frankly not sure; the same gentleman said that when he has kids, he will like my father, start reading out to them from the very beginning so that they do not really have to struggle to appreciate such pleasure; he said like my father, he will ease them into books! I think he may have summed it up accurately – my father did ease me into books! I have always been surrounded by books and from an early age was always told that when all else failed, books would be there for my company. As an only child, to parents who worked full time, this was one of life truths.  Despite my adult bearings of gregariousness and being extremely social, as a child, I was quiet and an introvert and forever struggled to make friends – in those very lonely years of childhood and early young adulthood, my comfort, support and friends were the books that my parents stacked the house with. I remember looking forward to Saturdays, not because my parents will be at home, but because, without fail, my father would take me to this one book shop that he and later I had fraternized over the years and allow me to pick two books as a rewards for some task I did in the week.  Those two books would then sustain me through the long hours in a lonely rambling house, through the week, while my parents managed their professions. I am not sure if those books that were bought were bribes or gifts of guilt, but the point to be noted is that I was never given any other gifts like clothes or toys, but books. Was it because my parents, especially my father loved reading or was it because he knew that I loved reading? I am not sure – it could have been an amalgamation of both, but the key factor here is, I always looked upon the process of my becoming a reader as a natural progression; however until last night, I had not really thought about the factors and circumstances that enabled and encouraged this progression.

Does this make me a more dedicated or a more comfortable reader than the gentleman who developed this habit as an adult? I am not sure – his ability to read and appreciate something as a connoisseur is no less; he is quite aware of what constitutes a bad writing versus beauty of words or tenacity of plots. While he may have not read all the classics, which many of us have, but  because he kind of went through the ocean of literature, before settling down to a genre that he considers his own, his range of reading, albeit very modern, is also very vast and extremely interesting. Finally and more importantly, he now has a hunger for the time that he lost as a youth on books, and now reads so voraciously that he might put some of us “natural” readers to shame.

So does it really matter how or at what age you begin reading? Does it really matter if your father bought your first book or you bought one yourself, especially when it comes to appreciating good works? Does it matter if you timed yourself or read through the night? Is there really a something called a good reader like a good writer? And like a good writer, do you have to practice reading to appreciate it or does it always come naturally to you? And really does it matter if one had to practice reading to become a voracious reader, as long as he enjoys the habit and finds solace in it?

Poetry and Ballets in Russian Winters

So I picked this book while browsing randomly through Goodreads listopia and am I glad I got my hands on this one!

Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter is beautiful, historically rich, and lyrical with one of the most unusual characters in modern fiction – Nina!  The book begins with the auction of the jewels including some famous amber’s of the world-renowned ballerina Nina Revskaya. Now extremely ill and crippled, Nina is selling the jewels she had gathered all her life in an effort to close a chapter in her life that began in Stalinist Russia more than half a century ago. However, her past cannot be buried, as her life, love and its eventual betray reverberate in modern-day Boston, where she now resides and into the life of Grigori Solodin, a professor, who believes that the jewels that Nina is selling holds the key to his own past.

russian-winterNow for the great parts of the novel – Nina Revskaya is one of the best characters that I have come across in current friction. She is a beautiful and extremely successful ballerina, whose character portrayal comes more through her actions and interactions with others than what she says. Daphne Kalotay departs from cliché by not only making her central character very human – she falls in love, has close friendships and does have petty jealousies and is capable of overcoming those jealousies to do something kind. She is not better than an average human, and like all average humans, she is capable of making a gross error and then rectifying the same. What is wonderful and completely to the credit of the author is the fact that though the principal character is completely nonpolitical and distances herself as much as possible from the going ons of Stalinist Russia, the author still manages to convey a strong sense of the life and times in that nation, at the peak of its secret police’s power.  What is really wonderful is way, the author describes the simple daily rituals of the common man in a police state – whether it’s a watery dinner in a state-run restaurant, or the state poet buying a Russian make car or the simple pleasures of a writer’s community in the Ural mountains. The book is lyrical – it gives some of the most vivid and capturing description of white Moscow and the country’s rural beauty. The tale is interspersed with some lovely poetry on love and nature and I cannot stop myself from quoting the lines that moved me the most –

Black velvet night, pinned wide and high

By pinprick stars. Faces under moonlight.

Faint echoes float atop the river.

Our reckless splashes toss them here and there.

How very young we were, one floating year ago.

Wet tresses draped our ears.

And in the air, the hum of crickets chanting

Apologies we could not, did not, hear.

Gone, gone, the forest’s past perfection:

Patchwork shade, pine needle carpet,

Ocher-resin drops of sun. The air

Hums….Unseen, the nightingale, too late,

Thrums its stubborn sing-caught somewhere

Between the deep black water and the sky.

The story initially does test your attention, but from page 70+ or so, the pace picks up and you are hooked. It blends smoothly out of 1950’s Moscow and modern-day Boston, without jarring the reader. The end is unusual and after a long time, I have read something that goes beyond the obvious and ordinary.

There are some flaws in the tale as well – the character of Drew Brooke. The only thing I can say is why? I mean why did we have to create her at all; at least as a  principal character….Cynthia could have served the purpose of bridging and there would have been less confusion in the reader’s mind about why this poor little rich girl is the way she is!!! Even the story of her grandparents kind of hangs in the air and somehow I could not find closure to that tale. Then there are the obvious clichés – the brutal and lecherous Russian Secret Police, the blessings of capitalism versus socialism etc. Having said this, the cliché’s are minimal and she does have some of the principal make some original and interesting observations about Socialist Russia.

I would strongly recommend getting a copy if you want a good yarn which can also be called literature, without going round and round in surreal literary jargon! Compliments to Daphne Kalotay for writing such a wonderful book!

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