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Posts from the ‘Friendships’ Category

Losing & Finding During The Great War

Carl Sagan in his essay “The Path to Freedom” co-written with Ann Druyan, said that “Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” If there is book that stands for understanding the world and a democratic society, then it must be Vera Brittian’s Testament of Youth. This book which has been in my TBR list for many years now and was supposed to be my December Read for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge 2018; until Jillian came along with her Read Along and her enthusiasm and some amazing pre-challenge activities that tempted me to move this book up in the TBR Challenge pile and start on it on priority!

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Testament of Youth is a memoir of Vera Brittian’s life capturing the years, from 1900 to 1925. Ms. Brittian who would achieve great success with publication of this work, was a nurse, a writer,a lecturer, a pacifist and a feminist and in this book, we get a glimpse of of events and happenings that went into her making of all the above! The book opens with a brief overview of Ms. Brittain’s family history – a well to do, upper middle class family. Her father, a Paper Manufacturer, and her mother a home maker as were most women at that time. Two years after her birth, her brother Edward was born and he would remain her closest companion through the years! The first Chapter captures her growing years and her schooling at St. Monica’s where she was introduced to History, feminism and politics through an energetic teacher. Chapter 2 continues the narrative where Vera describes her “coming out” year and her dissatisfaction with the lot of young women in those days that limited their lives to home and hearth and her battle with her father to go to Oxford University, in an effort to escape such a future and see more of the world. It was during this stage of her life she would meet Roland Leighton, a senior and a close friend of her brother Edward and with whom she would eventually become engaged. Chapter 3 follows Vera’s first year at  Somerville College, Oxford,  studying English Literature as England is drawn into World War 1 and both Edward and Roland and her other close male friends join the army to support the British war effort. As the fighting gets more and more intense and the hope of a quick victory diminishes, Ms. Brittain decides to delay her degree and starts to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. The next few chapters deal with her VAD years, which takes her to Malta and France, her personal struggles and both her own and her peer’s griefs; those who belonged to that “war generation” as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their youth, idealism and what was supposed to a promising future and finally the deaths of their loved ones! The final chapter of the book, deals with the close of the War, the after effect on the survivors and Ms. Brittian’s evolution as a writer and lecturer, the friendships that helped her heal, her completion of her delayed degree and finally her ability to close the door on the traumatic years and moving on to finding happiness.

There are some very few books in this world, that effortlessly draw you in, force you think and then, challenge you to be a better person. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one such book and now Ms. Brittain’s Testament of Youth, joins that rank! Rarely does one come across writing that is strong and fierce and at the same time so poignantly heartbreaking; but Ms. Brittain achieves this feat and more. In some of the most powerful prose ever, the author takes us through some of the most transformative events of her life, from school years, to her college life to her engagement and the war and her final evolution as a Feminist and Writer; we are moved as readers, we are concerned at the well being of all involved in the narrative and when we close the book finally, we know we have an obligation to feel grateful, that our generation was spared of the searing pain and loss that our predecessors went through first 100 and then 80 years ago. In yet another marvelous first for me, this is the only memoir I have read, whose writing carries a “what-happens-next” feeling with the close of each chapter. Despite being relatively verbose, the pace of the books never slacks and the reader never feels bored with the events as they come through, one after the other! The characters are beautifully drawn and brought to life by Ms. Brittain and you cannot help but wish that you had known them in person. They are all realistic and wonderful, portrayed without any rancor, even the German POWs or the more difficult Matrons, and mankind is shown in some of its most minute lights, with all the kindness, joy, brilliance, anger and vulnerabilities! This book has often been described as a War Memoir, but I felt that it was too narrow a definition; for this book is so much more – it is a history of things we must never repeat so that lives are not needlessly lost, it is a history of epoch making events in Women’s Movement, it is a story of love and friendships and finally it is the story, that once again affirms that even in our deepest, darkest, most traumatic moments, we are not alone and what we are going through has already been experienced by someone else and from that experience also comes the final assurance, that things do pass and get better! To end, all I can say, is that this book makes us attempt to be more more humane and to read it, is critical in our evolution to be better! Read it!!! Read it now especially in this era of mindless chest thumping overt and agrressive nationalism that goes back in time to distinguish between Us and Them instead of an all encompassing understanding that we are all linked and my brother’s loss is my loss!

P.S. Adam I hope you will forgive the disruption in the order list of my TBR, but this one was just too good to pass up!

Friendships & War

It’s been more than 6 years that I have been blogging and if I had to describe the experience in one sentence, I would simply say, that Blogging made me find my tribe! I  found friends who read books and authors I never knew and friends who helped me read texts that I never thought I could and finally friends, I could talk too without judgement or prejudices, talking in the language only readers understand! Stemming from this unshakable faith in my tribe, I always listen very closely to recommendations that come my way and naturally, when Helen, over at She Reads Novels, introduced me to Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce a couple of weeks back, in her wonderful post, I knew this is was far too good to pass away!

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Set in 1941, the book chronicles, the life of Emmeline Lake as she quits her boring but stable job as a secretary, in a Law Firm, to embark on a journey as journalist and that she thinks will finally lead her to her ultimate goal of becoming a  Lady War Correspondent.  Only on the first day of her job, does she realize that she never asked for what role is she being  hired for, and finds her self as a junior staff of a Women’s Self Column called Dear Mrs. Bird. Emmy never one to give in to gloom for too long, grits her teeth and gets down to her job, ably supported by her colleagues, including Kathleen and the cyncial Mr. Collins. She soon finds, that Mrs. Bird, a formidable elderly woman, believes the current generation has lost all sense of proper conduct and has a list of subjects, “Unpleasantness” as she calls them, on which she refuses to give advise  – affairs, pregnancies out side of marriage, girls who have gone too far and other such “riff -raff”. However Emmy believes that these woman in the time of War as as is having a hard time and truly need help. She thus embarks on a project to help them. Of course, she has to keep it all quiet, not only from her office colleagues, but also more importantly from Bunty, her best friend and roommate who would never approve of meddling in other’s affairs, against the instructions of her Superiors, but Emmy is convinced she is on the right path, until fate dislodges all her best laid plans!

What can I say about the book? Whatever I say, will not suffice! In the character of Emmy and Bunty, Ms. Pearce has created a real life portrait of deep friendships among women, who are sisters not by birth, but by their soul. She captures the whole gamut of emotions that are at the core of such relationships – loyalty, support, love, sometimes even anger and finally humor, dollops and dollops of it! In Emmy, the author has created a heroine whose indomitable spirit and optimism conquers everything! Smart, loyal, funny and sometimes crazy, she is you or one your friends, with all the madcap zanniness, that goes with people like them! Bunty is what a Bunty should be – supportive, sensible, capable of drawing her claws when her loved ones are hurt and finally loyal! The ensemble cast is wonderfully drawn with my heart, literally going out for Mr. Collins, and ably supported by ‘Charles’, Bill and the formidable Mrs. Bird. Written in bright, optimistic and funny note, the book however manages to stay very realistic and captures the grim realities of London, during the German bombing. The plot is fast paced, and holds your attention so strongly, that you finish the book in one sitting! There are more than enough laugh out loud moments, and you should be careful if reading in public as me discovered when reading it in a cafe! Most importantly, for me what really made this novel stand out, was while there are many works set in this era, they all somehow end up focusing on the “romance” angle of the plot; this book in a stark departure from such angle, (it does have some romance) instead followed a narrative that showcased how woman helped woman, through self help columns, through long nights of vigil at the fire stations and as friends, when the chips are truly down!

I cannot say enough great things about this book; it is brilliant, funny, real and heart rending. all in one go! So just please read it, especially, if you are fortunate to have a Em or a Bunts in your life!

The End of April

Summer is here and while these are not the months to be rejoiced in my part of the world, I cannot help but feel, that Winter this year was, well, troublesome! In a sharp departure from the pleasantness that usually surrounds my Winters, this Winter was quite literally terrible and I am very very glad to see the end of it! I think this may be a first for me, where I am happy to see Winter go and almost, key word almost, overjoyed to welcome Summer!

April, unlike her predecessors was actually a very good reading month, and though I did not cover much ground during the Readathon, overall, the month was quiet enough to allow me some solid reading time! And not only that, seems like the most of the books I picked for April also turned to be a winner! So then, here’s to April’s recollection –

(P.S. I think, by now everyone is conversant that this snapshot is not my idea, but borrowed and is a combination from Helen’s monthly post of Commonplace Book post   and O’s ideas of  Wordless Wednesday )

From A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George
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He had never thought of himself as much of a praying man, but as he sat in the car in the growing darkness and the minutes passed, he knew what it was to pray. It was to will goodness out of evil, hope out of despair, life out of death. It was to will dreams into existence and spectres into reality. It was to will an end to anguish and a beginning to joy.

From Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

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Your of two mind Sergei. Please tell me, because criticism is constructive.It defines our purpose and leads to unanimity of efforts.”

From Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

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Why are you doing this?”Arkady asked. “It keeps the mind alive.”

From February – Selected Poems by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrew Kneller

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Oh, February, To get ink & Sob! 

To weep about it, spilling ink

From Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

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“Who is right?” asked Polina. Now that, Arkady thought, was question only asked by the very young

From Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

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A week after the newspaper advertisement, I was trying terrifically hard to remain calm!

From Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

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“Only a Woman, divine, could know all that a woman can suffer”

That’s it for my April reading! It was a good months, and here’s to May and more books!

Hour 24 Update – The 24hrs Madness:: Chapter 4

Finally, we are set! We have kickstarted the Readathon, hosted by the lovely folks over at Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon! I will try and keep updating as I usually do, every 4 odd hours on this blog. I am also moderating Hour 6 over at GoodReads, so super excited about that! To kick start the blogging part of this madness, I start with the standard opening meme –

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

India!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Oh! Man! All of them!! But maybe Dear Mrs. Bird a bit more than the others! Just a little tiny bit more!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Hmmm…..Cake? Also there is lovely dry snack recipe of roasted Foxnut that I recently tried and its yum!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Daughter, Sister, Friend, Reader, Writer, Traveler, Dreamer, Cook

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Stretch more; walk around more!

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Hour 5 Update

Not much reading done so far as Dad finally after a prolonged illness is well enough to go back home, but there are a 1000 things including his medicines to be sorted and neighborhood well wishers who are dropping by to wish him a safe journey and good health! While all of this is very kind, why does this have to happen on the Readathon night! Anyway, here goes some updates & news –

Time – 21:30 Local Time; 5 hrs since we started

Food – Pizza Dinner

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Bookish Notes –  100 pages into the book! Loving it! Plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column. The entire ensemble so far is great and the narrative both realistic and fun!

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Current Food & Future Read

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Hour 8 Update

Reading is slow as exhausted from an exhausted day! Have to get a nap soon!

Time – 00:30 Local Time; 8 hrs since we started

Food – Tea

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Persuasions by Jane Austen

Bookish Notes – Dear Mrs. Bird is one of those books you do not want to end and enjoy in slow pace because otherwise it will be all over! To do justice to one and be loyal to another have started an umpteenth re-read of Persuasion? Whats there not to like with Captain Wenthworth around?!?

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Hour 20 Update

Reading is down to a crawl with getting all logistics of Dad going back to his town and the start of a stomach bug for self! Such is life!

Time – 13:30 Local Time; 20 hrs since we started

Food – Apple Juice

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Persuasions by Jane Austen

Bookish Notes – Wonderful authors and wonderful books!

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Hour 23 Update

Finished only one book, but what a winner it was! Also started off on another book, that promises to be brilliant!

Time -17:10 Local Time; 8 hrs since we started

Food – Coffee

Reading – Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce & Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather

Bookish Notes – These brilliant women and their brilliant stories! Mesmerizing, enriching and truly remarkable!

The Fourth Attempt at the 24hrs Madness

Many moons ago (actually over 1.5 years ago; excuse the dramatics!) I was casually meandering over my fellow blogger’s post, when I stumbled upon Brona’s post on Dewey’s 24hrs Hours Readathon – a reading event, that happens twice a year, where a bunch of book crazies across the world come together and read for 24hrs. Its not literally 24 hrs, but as much as you can and of course, the idea is to bond with fellow bookish people, discuss books, food, running (anything that keeps you awake!) and have fun! I started on a whim back in the October event of 2016 and have ever since looked forward to the event with great anticipation and eagerness! This year is no different and on April 29th, I embark with all my fellow book crazies on this 24 hour madness!

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The big question is what books do I read? The organizers this time have come up with a very unique and intriguing  concept of a Scavenger Hunt and the idea is to match books to some of those categories; nothing is mandatory, but it is  a lot of fun to compare and discuss and talk when we participate in such group efforts , so here goes –

  1. Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather – This is part of my Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge’s April Read and also neatly fits in the category #25 Bust the TBR – (on the TBR shelf for more than a year)
  2. Shakespeare – The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson – I think it’s high time I read some biographies and I love Bryson’s writing, so I am really looking forward to this one. This also fulfills category # 10 – Learn something new (Read a non-fiction book, be that self-help, biography, autobiography, etc) of the Scavenger Hunt
  3. The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn – I cannot do a 24 hour reading event without 1 Historical Fiction; ok, make that 2! This one comes highly recommended by Helen, whom I have much faith in! This one goes towards category # 16  – Visit 50 countries of the Scavenger list! Set in Scotland!
  4. Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce – This is the second historical fiction for the reading list, and yet another recommendation by Helen. Goes towards category #6 – Unknown Books (Read books with less than 1,000 Goodreads ratings) of the Hunt
  5. Persuasion by Jane Austen – I live by every wise word of Ms. Austen and in this arduous attempt, will not be abandoned by her! (Yes! Dramatics again! The pre-madness effect!) This addresses Category #5 –  – Popular Books (Read books that have more than 100,000 Goodreads ratings)

Cautionary Warning – Just because I have made this list, does not mean, at the last minute I will NOT change my mind and add or delete some book from the list!! But for now, this is the plan to kick start with!!

Now for those who may be new to this sort of thing, I do not in anyway consider myself an old hand, but I did learn a thing or two, over the last couple of events,  which I am happy to share –

  1. Start with shorter books; they get the momentum going and keep you pumped up when you are at your reading best, which is usually the initial hours!
  2. Choose books which you are really looking forward to reading and have a set of options; if one does not work for you, switch gears and pick another up, so that the interest keeps flowing
  3. Stock up plenty of food and drinks; whatever works for you and you like. It is already very very hot in my part of the world, so I avoid caffeine and instead go for cooling  and nourishing drinks like Buttermilk, which I drink by the gallon!
  4. Interact with your fellow readers. For me, personally, one of the most enjoyble part of this event is when I get to in and chatter with all my fellow book readers. There are host of mini challenges and hourly events which help flow the conversation and exponentially increase the fun quotient! It’s like a virtual all night party!
  5. Have Fun!!!!!

I am also playing a host for an hour over at the Dewey’s GoodReads page! The organizers do such an awesome job, each time, every time and this is a small way for me to help out. I am still waiting for Gabby to confirm which slot, but I will be around for sure!

Well, that’s about it for now!! I am really really excited and cannot wait for Saturday to come around and finally get started! See you all, in 3 days!!!

New Year, New Plans

It is a brand new day in the new year and I kick start my 2018 blogging adventures with a new approach. As many of you know, at the very beginning of every month, I write the very first post of that month, detailing what books I am planning to read for the same month. However, this year, I have decided to change my game plan a bit. Again as many of you are aware, I have been superlatively busy for the last one year, and while the forecast this year does not look so bleak or bad, I am hesitant to say anything, knowing life springs quite a few unexpected and not always pleasant surprise as we go along! As a result, frequently I have not been able to stick to my reading plans. If I complete Book 1 then I am unable to move to Book 2 because work got crazy or something else needed attention and I finally read something completely outside the map! Thus, in change of approach and piggy backing on the posts that I see Helen does, I have instead decided to do a month end review of the books I read for the month. That way, I have pretty much a free will that can operate on the choice of the books I read instead of scrambling to keep pace. Furthermore, it allows me a more comprehensive review of the kinds of books I have actually read for the month versus what I had planned and allows me to make more informed choices when I do the next set of book picking!

This idea also works well as this year, I am not doing ANY Reading Challenges, except TBR Pile Challenge to help clear off books awaiting in my Kindle as well once on my bed side table, and writing desk and on the floor and …er….pretty much all around the house! I do want to read a bit more History and Ancient Literature, including Sanskrit, Greek and Roman Literature, and I will be a bit more aware of these genres when I make my choices, but, I cannot make promises so I do nothing, but say, I will try! Furthermore, I am quite sure, as the year trundles along, I will find books that others are planning to read, especially Cleo and hop on with them! Therefore, without having the particulars, I have perimeter in which I will play this year!

So that’s that! January is here and there is much to be done and accomplished and as we get back to our busy lives, I leave you with some humor, to get through the first days of the year with some fun –

 

The Year That Was….

Here we stand on the very threshold of 2017 and I must say, that while this year was good, but I am very glad to see the last of it! It brought several challenges with it, both personal and professional and while I am grateful to have survived and conquered it all, I must confess, I am glad to say, Off with the Old and On with the New!!

However, before we say a final goodbye to 2017, as goeth the tradition, I did want do a wrap up post on all the books I loved this year – books which enriched me and filled my soul and of course gave me a lot to think about. Therefore, here goes the final countdown , in no order whatsoever….

  • A Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell – This book moved me, moved my soul, Japan came alive under the lyrical writings of this author! Perhaps one of the best books, I have read, EVER!
  • Thud by Terry Pratchet –  A re-read but Sir Terry, may God Rest my soul, always captures every human action from bravery to stupidity to turn it into life lessons, only with dollops and dollops of laughter! Sir Terry, You are missed!
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden – Yet another re-read, but I cannot think of a more masterful, more evocative and more gripping narrative of the rise of the House of Mongols than the one recreated by Conn Iggulden, tracing the birth, death and the rise of new era of Mongols, under the leadership of Chengiz Khan! Moving away from myths and sifting through half truths, Mr. Iggulen shares a powerful and spell binding narrative of a tribe, who continue to resonate through History
  • Histories by Herodotus  – While I am miserably lagging behind in Reading the Histories, this is one book, I am glad I read, in the company of Ruth and Cleo! The first written History of the Western World is a epic narrative of facts, gossipy nuggets and wise words, that bring the world of 3rd Century BCE to life! This one book, I am so very glad I read!
  • Trespasses by Caroline Bridgewood – I read this little known novel when I was 16 and since then I have been searching for it! Nearly 2 decades later, I was able to own a copy and re-read this tale of cousins and a family in England, torn apart and then brought back together through the Second World War! Simple, funny and one of the few books that make me cry!
  • Shadow of The Moon by MM Kaye – What more can I say about the book that I have not said so far? My blog is filled with notes about this novel that tells the story of Winter De Balletros and Alex Randall set in 1857 India, during the Mutiny! I was honored to hold a Read Along in August and had the great pleasure of Cleo and Helen for company, which made this particular reading even more joyful and memorable!
  • Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull – Oh!! One of the very few “new books” I read this year and, boy, did this take my breathe away! Set in 18th century Europe. the story of woman scientist is so many things at one go – an adventure, a indictment of the society, a love story, a story of a women’s journey! This book defies genre and words, except, Vi, Va Ms. Mascull!
  • The Edwardians by Vita Sacville West – Another first time read, that blew me away. Edwardian society comes alive in all its glory as well inconsistencies in this brilliant novel by Ms. West.
  • Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – This was one book, that one very rarely comes come across – it blows away some of your existing belief systems and then sets up new foundation, that forces you to think and wonder, why the hell did you not see these things before! For me, this was the book, that everyone should read, whether they like it or dislike or whatever, simply because, history of mankind is presented in a whole new light, making us question how we interpret our past and its consequences for the future!
  • Ann of Green Gables (Series) by LM Montgomery – Who can help but not love Ann? In yet another re-read, she came in to cheer me up in some of my most exhausting work days and regaled me with the goings on of King Edward Island, her attempts at being a lady, her friends, her college and her life as a wife and mother! Simple and joyful!
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yet another re- read and yet another layer of brilliance that I discovered in this enduring tale of women’s right, society and love! Ms. Austen remains, masterful!
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window & Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, Rod Bradbury – This is my optimistic book of the year. The book that made me smile and hope that no matter what, never give up on your life and if you are lucky, you may get some companions to make it more joyful like a would-have-been-anything-but-now-hotdog-vendor, a crook, a drug lord, a detective inspector and an elephant! My ha-ha book of of the year!

  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – This 21 month Read Along, the brilliant idea of O, where we read the book in installments as originally published  over 2 years!! It was brilliant and one of the Read Along ever! Eternal thanks to O for hosting this!

  • A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee – I am usually wary of Indian Authors writing in English; most are not Amitava Ghosh or Arundhati Roy and the reading often writes contrived. However Mr. Mukherjee brings Calcutta of 1920’s to life in this old fashioned whodunnit with just the right mix of language, history and plot twist!
  • Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot – A last minute read again suggested by Cleo. While the story of Thomas Beckett is well known, the drama and language brings the whole incident to life with a very interesting ending.

That is that; a small snapshot of my reading Year! Many thanks to all of you who joined me in my reading adventures and had the patience to read through my blogs! Reading is so much more fun when shared with friends!

To end, I would just want to say in the words of great Lord Tennyson –

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be

 

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