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Meeting Lucy!

Basis the review by Fleur about Margaret Kennedy’s Lucy Carmichael, I picked this one up.

I had many reasons NOT to pick this one up –
• It was set in a time period that is not my idea of historical piece; I mean its post 1950 and everyone knows that my idea of history ends in 1945!
• It is about a girl who is jilted on her wedding day and her triumphs …well that’s a pretty regular plotline – heroine faces a challenge and comes through in a winning haze
• It’s about a small industrial town in England – no grand castles, no Cornwall, no carriages and characters a la Catherine De Burgh

But then Fleur had written some great reviews and I have never gone wrong with her taste in books; besides she was very emphatic that of all the Margaret Kennedy’s she read, including her most famous, The Constant Nymph, this is her best work! Besides something about the character about Lucy Carmichael was enchanting; this is how Michelle, her friend describes her – “She taught me how to enjoy myself … Lucy forced me to believe that I might be happy. I don’t expect I’d have had the courage to marry you, to marry anybody, if it hadn’t been for Lucy.” That’s a very different way to introduce the heroine than saying lovely eyes, brown lush curls and yada yada yada!

So I went to Amazon Kindle and requested to read a sample – within 10mins I had bought the book! It is one of my best read ever and I am so glad to have read and own a copy!

The book is set in post-World War II England and a major part of the story is set in a small industrial town of England. Lucy Carmichael is about to be married to Patrick Reilly, a very famous travel author, whom Michelle (A very likable and practical character) does not particularly trust or like but is happy for her best friend’s sake! Lucy as predicted is left at the alter and to get away from the pain and trauma, applies and gets a job at drama school and makes a huge success of it. She gets along very well with most of her colleagues and tries to innovate the regular affairs and bring excitement to the proceedings. Just as she is making a success of herself and is looked up kindly by Lady Francis, the patron and High God of the Council of the Institute, the politics and personal ambitions of people lead to some unfortunate incidents and Lucy resigns. She then moves to another small town and gets a job re-organizing a community center and makes a great job of it until, something else comes her way!

It’s a wonderful book with some simple story telling with much warmth and humor. There are many wonderful characters including Lucy and her friend Michelle, Lady Francis who embodies nobles oblige as well as some intriguing characters like Inthane and Angera Heim. The story telling is marvelous and the sensitivity is handled very well – there is no mopping wailing heroine, though her pain is just as real and very powerful; there is a careful detailing of transition of human emotions – how Stephen, Lucy’s brother, whom she always treated with scorn and scolding tries to be the man to look after his elder sister and how their relationship evolves. Then there is friendship that subsists and transmutes and still subsists between Michelle and Lucy – as one’s life changes and from the other and “first in confidence” position is given away willingly. The way one fears for a friend and yet may not always sees things clearly and all the ups and downs of friendships. And among all this, there is a gentle portrayal of a 1950s society with all its wonderful aspects – Lady Francis could always be generous and gracious, but her children caught between the old world of aristocrats and the new emerging society of equality and laborers unite, struggle between and try to find a foothold where they can be comfortable in their own skin. The class war is depicted at some many levels, but always subtly in the background without making the reader lose focus on Lucy, but at the same time driving home some truths of the society.

It’s a wonderful book and a great read! Would not miss it for the world!

Horror! Horror! Shudder! Shudder! And More!

I don’t know why I get involved in all this sort of things and again I have Stefanie to thank for this! But now that I have decided that I will do, do it I will….

What am I talking about? I am talking about RIP 2013

The idea is to read any of 4 books belonging to any of the following genre between September –October 2013

  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Thriller
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Gothic
  • Horror
  • Supernatural

And though, Fall does seem really far away in this sweltering heat and humidity (remember I am a winter person!) one cannot deny the fun factor of the whole thing – a gothic tale when its dark and stormy and something eerie hangs in the air – here goes my list (like always I wanted to read it all and had incredible trouble in confining myself to 4!)

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe – My favorite author (Jane Austen naturally!!! Northanger Abbey draws its inspiration from this book!) was a devotee of Ms Radcliffe and it’s only fitting that when I attempt something Gothic, Udolpho should take the center stage. I have always meant to read this book and what better time than now to start the journey!
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë – What can I say about this book that has not already been said/written. While I never could relate to all the fury and madness of Heathcliff, I have not read this book in a decade and in a decade I have grown (besides horizontally and vertically!) tolerant and wiser (hopefully!). So this is a good time as any to revisit the book.
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – Another book which I read as a teen and for a change liked and wanted to revisit again as an adult. I have a sneaking suspicion, that behind all the dark mystery and scare, there is at the very heart of the book a simple morality tale. But this is from remeberances and I could be completely off; so time to re-read again!
  • The Hound of Baskervilles by Author Conan Doyle – There is no way on earth; I would have participated in a reading event of this genre and not read at least one work by the great master of Crime and mystery himself. I love ALL Sherlock Holmes and this one is an all-time best! I know it’s a cliché but how can one attempt without the most successful l fiction detectives by one’s side!

So that’s my reading plan – it’s not all creepy and crawly; can’t do much creepy and crawly especially since my flatmate will be travelling for two weeks starting September 07 and I have to come back to huge rambling apartment in the middle of relatively secluded valley! Anyway, I don’t think I will read any of these works until she is back!

Yes! I know I am faint hearted and no it does not win anybody Prince Charming (Don’t need one…got Mr Soulmate who can be very charming if he wants though its subject to “wants” and is no Prince!) But I will not read any of this until my roomie is back! So there and do not hold your breath until like the 4th week of September!

P.S. Somewhere among all of this I have to read Middlemarch as part of September October Classic Club Spin!

To Read or To Write….that is the Question!

I read on Stephanie’s blog (Thank you again for making me think!) about an essay in LA Review of Books by William Giraldi called The Writer as a Reader and it got me thinking on the concept of understanding the art that you create and how that art may have been conceptualized. Can you truly be a good author, when you may have never read a good book? Can you actually fathom writing a “Grapes of Wrath” or “To kill a Mockingbird’ or even a “Pride and Prejudice” when you have never read them or similar genres?

Giraldi contends that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick could not have been written if Melville had not read and understood the nuances of John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Captain Ahab could thank Milton’s Saturn for its inception! He also states that according to Melville’s biographer Andrew Delbanco, the author’s work reached a new level because of his close reading of other literature including Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Dryden’s translation of Vergil’s Aeneid .  Giraldi argues that Melville is an example of writer as a reader who “who kneels at the altar of literature not only for wisdom, sustenance, and emotional enlargement, but with the crucial intent of filching fire from the gods”.  Giraldi then compares this to what he considers the modern channels of communication and the vast availability of mediums to express one’s thoughts/works /writings that may have remotely nothing to do with literature and “the illogical leap from being able to sign their names and send an email to the belief that they can write novels, which is rather like deciding to swim the English Channel simply because you’re able to take a bath” He finally contends writing is an extremely difficult process and each word/sentence is a process of serious agonizing  of the mind and the soul. Therefore reading good literature is a difficult process as is writing something. “Sit down with Middlemarch and The Sound and the Fury instead of Jodi Picoult or Dan Brown and you’ll see you have quite the mountain path to hike before your own words are ready for the world.”

Now I am all for this school of thought – how in the world would you know if you are writing A Walk to Remember (Where is my barf bag????) or an Out of Africa when you have never read the latter? I have never read Dan Brown expect (Shudder! Shudder! Sigh! Yes! Even I make mistakes) The Da Vinci Code (And I so wished I never had) and then I read Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum” and my reaction was …Hang on! So much for originality and to top it off its bad writing as well (I mean Da Vinci not Pendulum). Eco’s book was not an easy read and at times you have to struggle to keep the lull from coming on, but there is no denying that book is an intellectual masterpiece that has one doing all kinds of mind gymnastics. On the other hand, I read Dan Brown over a long train journey (Yes! I am quaint and I do infinitely prefer trains over planes) and did not even bother with the end and dumped it at the rubbish can at the station.

Having said all this I know it’s fashionable to take a swipe at Dan Browns and Nicolas Sparks but I honestly do not find any intellectual nourishment or emotional sustenance from these books.  And yet they do sell millions while I am still struggling to get my one manuscript published despite all my reading of Tolstoy, Steinbeck and Dickens! Therefore they must be hitting some right note with the audience that I and countless like myself cannot seem to find. It is kind of difficult for me to agree with Giraldi only at this point that the mass reading phenomena does not actually have the capacity to understand a “Middlemarch” or “Things Fall Apart’. My apology for these readers is that they  may have in generality not been exposed to such works at a young age and then with the passage of time they lose or rather fear their capacity to understand such works! I have lost count of the several times when I have been told “How can you read such a difficult book?’ or “How can you read such a fat/difficult book?” and these questions have also come from readers, voracious readers definitely but may be not discerning readers!

Then there is the whole debate about originality. I know many critics argue back and forth on this subject, but I cannot dismiss that as a writer I cannot help but be influenced by those works that I idolize. Does that make my work less original? I don’t mean in plot lines alone but rather in terms of language, character and genre? My flatmate always says that my writings are squeaky clean and the plot lines even when describing the most terrible/horrid experience never really descend to squalor – an influence she attributes to all my close reading of Edwardian and Victorian literature. Similarly my sister is one of the most prolific poets that I had the good fortune to read (and I am not saying this because she is my sister, but because she is truly talented) She too remains unpublished and her works have a strong sense of her being an inheritor of a combination of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and John Keats. Does this make her work, which is not even prose less original? The great George Bernard Shaw did remark “What the world calls originality is only an unaccustomed method of tickling it” and “Keep away from books and from men who get their ideas from books and your own books will always be fresh”.

Thus the question remains – how much am I ready to be influenced and how far? Would I rather be ignorant and create a master piece – but then without knowing what a masterpiece is, how can I create one? And if I get to know what a masterpiece is then, my creation may not be an original masterpiece at all!

In any case, my case is done for and I am of the Giraldi school of thought, not by any other virtue than the fact that I have read so much that now I cannot but help in making the whole process of writing a cathartic experience, potentially sacrificing all hopes of financial and popular success at the altar of great literature. Nor do I regret it – somehow I cannot fathom creating a character of any worth without knowing Jay Gatsby or an Estelle Havisham or an Atticus Finch!

P.S. On a lighter note, the thing about writers who read is that in my case and I can say for my sister, we are so often caught up in our reading, that realization that we should also writing as much often comes in late and if it comes in the middle of extremely interesting plot – you know which of the two activities will be abandoned!

And one more spin….

So the Classic Club has initiated another Classic Spin. The rules of course never change; same ol, same ol!
• Pick 20 Classics of your choice
• On Monday, i.e. Aug 19th, the Club will pick a number
• You read the book that you have marked against the number through August and September

Now the big question, will I do it again? I know the last time I was absolutely bowled over by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation and was extremely grateful that the Spin had forced me to re-visit a book I was determined not to like since my first initiation with it at school. I loved the book as an adult and as everybody who visits the blog is aware, made me brave enough to venture forth to Bleak House. While all this is good, let’s not forget the lessons of the past and I had quite detested reading through Madam Bovary, my Classic Club Spin book for April and it reinforced all my first dislike for the book. The success rate is of course 50% and this one chance can heavily tilt the balance in favor of my future participation or non-participation in this activity!

Yes! I know! The nail baiting moment! The single instant in time on which the very direction of one’s life and destiny is to be decided!!! (Yes! I am aware that I am high on drama quotient!)

And the answer is – YES!!! (Yeah! I know! Big Surprise? What can we expect from an inveterate nerd???)
Let’s face it, the nerd bookish me loves books and a chance to offer a classic is like double chocolate icing on an ice cream cake! So how in the blazes could I let another such chance go? Besides, there is no denying that I am reading and redefining my opinions on books that I would not have otherwise touched!

This time I have decided to be a little more bold and adventurous and set forth in the brave new world! What that means in simple English is that this time to be free of all prejudices, I am listing books that I have never read and though I might have read other works of the author, the book listed below in themselves are complete uncharted waters!

So to the sound of rolling drums – here goes the Spin list
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (I know I had listed this one as to read in July, but I never got around to it!)
3. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
8. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
11. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
13. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
14. My Antonia by Willa Cather
15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
16. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
17. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
18. The Name of a Rose by Umberto Eco
19. A Room with a View by E.M Forster
20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Let’s wait now for what faith decides on August 19th!

And for the August path….

So I did the disappearing act again but I was travelling on business for 4 whole weeks and the project implementation kind of sucked all life force out of me, leaving me with no time for anything I hold remotely close to my heart – eating, travelling, writing; the only indulgence I had been reading and that too with limited timeframes. I keep promising myself that I will not let the Project Manager me take over the writer me and time and again I fail. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do and there is after all a mountain of bills to be paid! Nevertheless, not to be deterred by temporary setbacks, we march on boldly and I present to you my August reading list (Yes! I know, I never got back to all of you with my July plan, but there is still time and I will get back!)

Reading classics1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens – Great Expectations had me hooked! Since I SO LOVED the book as an adult, I decided to be brave and venture forth with what many scholars have termed as the most ambitious of Charles Dickens’s work. At 800+ pages, it’s definitely voluminous even by Mr. Dickens’s standards; but so far I am loving Esther, Ada, Robert, Caddy and Mr. Jardynce ; I am overawed with the sarcasm and the sensitive detailing without indulging into crass sentimentalism on the state of poverty and hope that the ending will hold as good!
2. The Blood Letter’s Daughter by Linda Lafferty – Based on the true historical account of Don Julius, the illegitimate son of Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, circa. 1600 and his mental illness, the book captures his dynamics with Marketa, the daughter of the local blood letter/barber, whose help is secured to treat the Prince. Rich in details, shedding light on one of the lesser discussed aspect of European history, I am completely hooked on to this book; will definitely post a review when done
3. Daughters by Consuelo Saah Baehr – I picked this up on a whim since it had some very strong parallels to Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang and since I loved it, I am hoping Daughters would be interesting too! (Yes! I know it’s unfair to have such expectations from two completely different genres of authors, but I am only taking of the subject!) I have not read the book as yet but the synopsis on Kindle which promoted me to buy the book states that it’s a family saga of three generations of Christian Palestinian women from 19th century to modern-day. I love everything Middle Eastern and here’s a historical fiction about woman in the Middle East; I mean how could I let this one go??

4. Embers by Sandor Marai – I have heard a lot of great reviews about Sandor Marai though have never read him. On recommendation of my sister, I picked this one up and so far, it’s very unusual and keeps you gripped. In a secluded Castle in Bavaria, a General prepares to entertain an old comrade, and the meeting will lead to some secrets being unfolded of betrayal and friendship and the memory of the long dead wife of the General.
5. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Tolerance by Kate Armstrong – Kate Armstrong is one my favorite writers and I loved her History of God and Holy Wars. I had picked this one up some time ago, but just did not find any time to complete the same. The author reviews how some of the most popular religions of the world, Hinduism, Daoism, Monotheism all evolved from violent times in an effort to create order among increased chaos. Hope to post a review soon.

That’s my list for this month! Considering half the month is past; but I am still looking forward to all these readings and I promise to come back with details

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