Musings of a Bibliomaniac

Goodreads immigrant. Another victim of corporate tyranny. I blog at Musings of a Bibliomaniac along with my co-blogger Scarlet.

The Art of War - Thomas Cleary, Sun Tzu The rough equivalent of a classical self-help book.
After Dark - Haruki Murakami Good ol' Murakami.
Every time I read him, I feel my reasons for choosing a book as company over a real person, legitimized again.
What is reading, but, a singular form of one-sided communication? An author sends us an encoded message, crafted with precision and a deep empathy arising out of their understanding of the world and humanity at large. And we, in turn, decode it and instantly feel a pull on the invisible umbilical cord linking us to this person we have never met and, possibly, will never meet. Murakami makes me feel exactly this way. I will never meet him or get to make his acquaintance. But then, don't I know him already?

Few other writers speak to me the way he does. Every time I open a book by him, I feel at home. I let the surrealistic worlds of his creation engulf me in a warm embrace and sweep me away into an unknown abyss of turbulent feelings, darkness and melancholia.

I know I can latch onto his hand and take a walk inside the darkest recesses of my own mind, that I wasn't even aware existed. I know I can let him become my guide, my own personal magician with a wide range of tricks up his sleeve. I know I can nurture an unshakeable faith in the illusions he begets. Because as always, he will unveil the grand truth of the matter in the end and offer enlightenment of a unique kind.

After Dark reinforces this unadulterated, pristine devotion that I feel for this man. Through the bizarre events that a set of individuals go through all in one night, Murakami explores the seedy underbelly of a city and, perhaps, our existence. Love hotel managers, Chinese prostitutes and gangsters, a young college going girl struggling with a vague identity crisis, her beautiful, older sister who lies in a state of perpetual somnolence but doesn't die, an optimistic, young man who plays the trombone in a band, an ordinary office worker who turns violent under the helpful cover of the night - these are the wonderfully strange people he designates as our guides to his kaleidoscopic landscapes.
Like the master of imagery that he is, he creates one seductively beautiful vignette after another and pastes them together into a mesmerizing collage of the collective human consciousness.

He fishes out the soul of a city so bereft of life and substantial movement after the sun has set. He unleashes all the inglorious impulses and unholy emotions that bob up to the surface of our consciousness when the dazzling light of the day is no longer there to help keep them in check and lets us witness how his characters grapple with them. He analyzes and dissects our darkest nocturnal human tendencies with astounding sensitivity. He goes deeper yet and tries to reveal the paradox of dualism in any individual - the stark differences between our daytime selves and darker, nighttime selves and how effortlessly both can co-exist in harmony but are separated by an unbridgeable rift.

I am very much tempted to give this 5 stars but I have seen Murakami deal with more complex themes and create even more staggeringly raw and visceral images with the aid of his powerful writing.
Hence 4 stars it is for now.

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA

The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA - Antonio J. Mendez Didn't particularly like Argo. But....I'm intrigued.
Women in Bed: Nine Stories - Jessica Keener There is something morosely pleasant and tranquil about this collection of short stories, yet I cannot exactly put my finger on it. It could be in the writing which may not be very impressive or intact but flows wonderfully, nonetheless, and matches the general mood of the stories. Or it could be in the honest depiction of very true-to-life emotions and the noticeable absence of cliches. As standalones, none of the short stories (some of which are interlinked) may hold up to a closer scrutiny by a reviewer and may even bring to light certain glaring flaws. But as a whole, the collection works quite well as a commentary on the woes of the new-age woman.

I won't proceed to expound on the merits and demerits of the individual stories but the recurrent themes are that of alienation, isolation, love, family bonding, failed relationships, coping with loss, sexuality, independence and so on. A sense of incompletion is palpable in each one of the stories which merely symbolizes the quotidian tragedies of our mundane lives - the broken dreams and unfulfilled wishes that stir up some transient feelings of discontent every now and then but disappear somewhere in the vortex of routine-bound existence. Jessica Keener's women protagonists seem to be navigating the many challenges that life presents before them with courage yet an unobvious vulnerability and this is what makes the stories so easy to relate to.
One can also perceive a distinct Raymond Carver-ish feel in the stories, particularly in the dialogue which is sparse but tends to obfuscate more than it reveals.

All in all, definitely recommended. I look forward to reading more Jessica Keener in the future.

**I received an ARC from netgalley in exchange for an honest review**
House of Incest - Anaïs Nin, Val Telberg What do they say about pretty words strung together into passages pregnant with symbolism and implications, some of them beyond the grasp of a dilettante like me? How do they compartmentalize Anaïs Nin's writing?
'Erotica' they like to call it, perhaps, putting focus on the sexual imagery Nin invokes with the flair of her pen.

But I would rather not enclose Nin's genius inside the banal prison of a genre like erotica. Her words, like splotches of the most exotic water color, coalesce into an abstract painting of such acute beauty that one can only stare at the phantasmagorical picture that forms in front of the mind's eye, with a deep sense of wonderment.

Her words are magic. Her words instill life into the seemingly lifeless form of a road stretching ahead. Her words transform a taboo subject like incest into a fathomable, even an acceptable reality of our existence and temporarily divorce us from the social conventions, of the material world, as we know them. Her words whisk us away to a secluded, floating world where only surreal landscapes of Nin's imagination sprawl far and wide in all their majestic splendour. And the reader can only be a besotted traveller enjoying a one-of-a-kind sojourn - soaking up all the incomprehensible loveliness of Nin's prose in small bursts.

"I felt only the caress of moving - moving into the body of another - absorbed and lost within the flesh of another lulled by the rythm of water, the slow palpitation of the senses, the movement of silk..
Loving without knowingness, moving without effort, in the soft current of water and desire, breathing in an ecstasy of dissolution.
I awoke at dawn, thrown up on a rock, the skeleton of a ship choked in its own sails."

Her words accord a kind of literary immortality to so many hackneyed humane emotions and sentiments.

"But Jeanne, fear of madness, only the fear of madness will drive us out of the precincts of our solitude, out of the sacredness of our solitude. The fear of madness will burn down the walls of our secret house and send us out into the world seeking warm contact. Worlds self-made and self-nourished are so full of ghosts and monsters."

Her words are exquisite poetry.

I do understand why Rowena and Lynne kept recommending Anaïs Nin to me. I'll now begin the quest of procuring all her published writings.


Tampa - Alissa Nutting I am still struggling to understand what this book made me feel or whether it left any impression on me at all.

What I could sense in Nutting's writing, was an eagerness to cause the readers to recoil in horror and to make them experience the full impact of being inside a scheming, conniving, good-looking hebephile like Celeste Price's head.
And I might say, she does succeed in that venture to a certain extent.
But don't mistake this for another Lolita (although I am yet to finish reading it) from a female sexual predator's point of view. Alissa Nutting maybe good but her writing doesn't even come close to meriting a comparison with Nabokov's prose. And Celeste Price makes Humbert Humbert look like a fine gentleman deserving of a special award for decency instead of jail time.

She is neither deranged nor merely blessed with an uncommon sexual preference but a calculative, crafty and manipulative 'bitch' (I'm putting aside my obsession with being feministically correct for a while). She has achieved a state of harmony with her aberrations, doesn't suffer from feelings of contrition in any form and relentlessly pursues what she seeks. Not even a highly public trial and an exposure to the world as a sexual deviant of the most abominable type, cures her of her perversions. The narrative also tells us in a rather unsubtle manner, that given an opportunity she would not have hesitated to kill her victims in order to protect her secret.

She is undoubtedly one of the most well-sketched female antagonists in contemporary fiction.
But aside from the creation of this marvellously despicable character I don't spot any other achievement in Nutting's novel.
I was often disturbed by the detailing of various sexual acts between Celeste and Jack/Boyd, the unsuspecting victims, and found a few nagging questions bobbing up to the surface of my consciousness as I kept plowing along - "Um is this erotica masquerading as literary fiction?".

Does Nutting seek to titillate? Does she wish to indict the American judicial system for letting off Celeste easily just because her victims found her sexually attractive enough to want to sleep with her? Does she want to make the world more aware of such perverts lurking just around the corner and hence be more vigilant and keep our children safe? Does she want us to empathize with Celeste Price and see her as a personification of the uglier facets of our existence? Does she question our notions of morality?

I did not get any definitive answers to these questions. I am effectively stumped as to what the purpose of writing this book could have been and hence I am being generous by giving this 3 stars. I was glad when I reached the end and unable to decide whether I just wasted a few precious hours of my spare time or not.

P.S.:- People looking for better books in a similar vein, please do read [b:What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal |13258|What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal |Zoë Heller||18650]. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.

*I received an advance reader copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*
Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan To pigeonhole Sweet Tooth into a specific genre will be an act of folly. In the beginning it gives off the impression of a mere Cold war era spy thriller, then steps with casual ease into the territory of metafiction and in the end it changes tack and becomes a meditation on romance.
But even so it never appears indecisive or loses sight of what it sets out to do - which is to juxtapose several contrasting themes and give us a fast-paced yet compelling human drama unfolding against the bleak backdrop of a 70s Britain.

The heroine, Serena Frome, is the quintessential beautiful spy but not of the kind shown in James Bond movies. She is smart but average, loves reading fiction but is a dilettante. She is almost unsuspectingly recruited into MI5 by her lover, a much older man and a former MI5 operative, and is made part of a project codenamed 'Sweet Tooth', the purpose of which is to fund authors, journalists, academicians willing to publish writings echoing a largely anti-Soviet, pro-Capitalist rhetoric.
She is asked to bring under the ambit of 'Sweet Tooth', a rising new literary talent named Tom Haley and the first meeting of these two characters sets into motion an interconnected chain of events involving lies, charades, passion, jealousy, disillusionment, eventually culminating in a terrific climax which is undoubtedly the most memorable part of the narrative.

If one blocks out all the chatter about Cold war politics, Soviet persecution of academics, writers and journalists, Britain and MI5's almost sycophantic willingness to please America at all costs, what remains is an ode to the spirit of creative freedom. Because in course of the narrative, the 'Sweet Tooth' project derails and its key objectives of fuelling anti-Communist propaganda fail spectacularly when Tom ends up writing an award-winning novella denouncing a Capitalist world order.

Thus what McEwan seems to want to highlight here is the conflict between the political establishment of any country and its literary and academic circles. While essentially one side seeks to subtly influence and control everything, the other side possesses the power of remaining unaffected and even defiant, but at the peril of personal and professional ruin.
And the reader is left with a sense of the human quest for liberty, be it creative or political or religious or social, and how it cannot be subdued or kept under leash.

Tom Haley and Serena's affair forms the backbone of the story and adds an almost spiritual dimension to it - their mutual deceit merge with their feelings for one another, melding into a fiery yet unique kind of love which ultimately proves to be much stronger than the crude manipulations and deceptions practised by the world around them.
My Man Jeeves - P.G. Wodehouse The downside to acquainting yourself with Wodehouse, at a ripe old age, is that you don't glean anything else out of his writing other than the humor and that too appears to be strangely contrived in ways. And the repeated usage of words such as 'chappie', 'rummy' and 'chump' end up annoying you more than you thought was possible.
Another author I should have read as a teenager. *sigh*
Orlando - Virginia Woolf The most prudent way to review a Virginia Woolf book, perhaps, would be to write 'THIS IS STUPENDOUS. GENIUS. AMAZING. WHY HAVEN'T YOU READ THIS YET?' and leave it at that. Because not only does this relieve you of the responsibility of casting about for appropriate words to serenade Woolf but also because you know no review in the world does justice to the sheer magic that she is capable of creating with words.
But since I have a thing for self-flagellation(not really), I wish to undertake precisely this mammoth task of writing about Orlando.

After having closed the book and put it aside, the first predominant emotions are that of being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing nature of its inherent themes, then awestruck, then of being very close to tears.
One is compelled to sit quietly in a corner, still under the heady influence of Orlando's poetic prose, and brood over all the discrete human sentiments, actions and events that make up life as we know it, letting precious minutes trickle by.

Our hero-heroine, Orlando, seems not only to be a representation of the human spirit, a union of yin and yang in all its imperfect glory, but also a lasting testament to the perpetual flow of time. His-her pronouncements sound almost like a chorus of voices, echoing all the dichotomies that characterize our existence and the transience of our emotions.
Orlando begins the journey of life as a man of wealth and social standing in Elizabethan era England, comfortable in the skin of his vanity, amorous in his dalliances with women. And the book ends on 11th of October, 1928, in modern England where Orlando is a married woman, a mother, an accomplished writer and finally at peace with life's many ironies and caprices. I will refrain from going into all that takes place between these two distant points in time because for that one can always read the book.

It will suffice to say that Orlando swings back and forth between craving and shunning love, between pursuing his-her literary interests and trivializing the urge to write, between seeking the august company of men of letters like Pope, Addison and Swift and then belittling them. And even though hundreds of years pass by as Orlando goes through the many myriad experiences that life had in store for him-her, it seems like everything has remained essentially the same. The reader is struck by a sense of passivity in motion, of an enduring constancy even though the sights and sounds and scenarios, that Orlando flits through, keep varying.

Thus in a way Orlando is not different from Woolf's other works just because of the noticeable absence of a stream of consciousness(which, again, is not totally absent here) but because here, she attempts to grasp at an amorphous entity like time and enclose it within a few pages. And I am mightily pleased to say that she pulls off this feat with an elan, one associates only with her.
What makes Orlando really stand out among other VW works is the dual gender of its protagonist. Orlando keeps oscillating between his-her manly and womanly bearings and towards the very end, what nullifies the differences between the sexes is his-her humanity, his-her detachment from the material world and a crossover into the realm of the spiritual.

"The whole of her darkened and settled, as when some foil whose addition makes the round and solidity of a surface is added to it, and the shallow becomes deep and the near distant; and all is contained as water is contained by the sides of a well. So she was now darkened, stilled, and become, with the addition of this Orlando, what is called, rightly or wrongly, a single self, a real self."

The narrative does seem a bit disjointed at certain points, especially when Woolf foregoes conventions and goes into intricate detailing of events which seem of little importance in the greater scheme of things or inserts her witty observations on society's prejudices concerning women, chastity and more.

"Orlando, who was a passionate lover of animals, now noticed that her teeth were crooked and the two front turned inward, which, he said, is a sure sign of a perverse and cruel disposition in women, and so broke the engagement that very night for ever."

"I am she that men call Modesty. Virgin I am and ever shall be. Not for me the fruitful fields and the fertile vineyard. Increase is odious to me; and when the apples burgeon or the flocks breed, I run, I run, I let my mantle fall. My hair covers my eyes, I do not see. Spare, O spare!"

"Truth come not out from your horrid den. Hide deeper, fearful Truth. For you flaunt in the brutal gaze of the sun things that were better unknown and undone; you unveil the shameful; the dark you make clear, Hide! Hide! Hide!"

See what I mean? This is probably Woolf at her funniest and wittiest. So not a single sentence or passage can be devalued even though it may appear a little out of place or slow down the progress of the narrative.

In essence, Orlando is a summation of all the irrepressible instincts of both the man and woman - their quest for love and true wisdom, their search for meaning in chaos, their feelings of inferiority aroused by the vastness of the universe and their desire to find an eternity trapped within their brief lifetimes.

Proud and Prejudged: Being a Fabulous and Erotic Adventure of Clara Brooks

Proud and Prejudged: Being a Fabulous and Erotic Adventure of Clara Brooks - Clara Brooks I congratulate the author for now having successfully ruined my image of Fitzwilliam Darcy. So much so I don't think I'll be able to re-read the book without thinking about Clara Brooks' *cough* misadventures *cough*. Although my encounters with erotica as a genre have been limited and notoriously disappointing so far, this is very well-written and astonishingly funny.
Recommended for Darcy fangirls.
July's People - Nadine Gordimer The 5 stars you see flashing at you are not just any 5 stars. They are the end result of a whole day of deliberation.
I happen to be one of those people who are not stingy with their ratings. If a book manages to bestow equal importance on both the prose and the message contained within in such a way that neither overshadows the other and both meld into a single entity of an unforgettable work of literature/fiction capable of whisking the reader away to a special place, then it can take my 5 stars right away.

But July's People had me dawdling back and forth between a 4 and a 5 star rating for the longest period of time.

What happens to a middle-class family of white liberals in South Africa fleeing the horrors of a large scale violent agitation started by the blacks in the city? They find a safe haven in their black manservant July's village.
Away from the amenities of an upscale, urban neighborhood in Johannesburg, away from all known civilization, in the heart of the formidable great South African wilderness, among people whose lives are different from their own as chalk is from cheese, Bamford and Maureen Smales and their 3 children become witnesses to the spectacle of humanity, stripped of all its materialistic props.

They become mute spectators to their own struggle for survival in the harshest of conditions and are left with no other option but to fall into the same pattern of weed-gathering, mealie-meal consuming, wart-hog slaying daily activities of the native Africans. They are also forced to accept this drastic role reversal with July, who had so far been at the receiving end of their patronizing 'kindness' and occasional thoughtfulness.

When July becomes their savior and protector, they finally start to realize how it must have been for July all this time to have been reduced to the status of dependence on a white family, to be considered human but still never judged according to the same criteria used to evaluate a white man's worth.

Thus in the middle of the intractable African countryside, in the constant presence of buzzing mosquitoes and other poisonous bugs and in an environment redolent of decay and rotting animal corpses, all the hitherto insurmountable barriers between Maureen, the mistress, and July, the servant, are dismantled by the tide of circumstances. Maureen and July assume their true roles as mere humans in a symbiotic relationship where the nature of the dependence of one on the other may vary with a change in the scenario.
And herein lies the poignancy of this story which relies much on the Maureen-July equation to lend the plot its true substance.

"We can go to my home - July said it, standing in the living-room where he had never sat down, as he would say 'We can buy a little bit paraffin' when there was a stain to be removed from the floor. That he should have been the one to decide what they should do, that their helplessness, in their own house, should have made it clear to him that he must do this - the sheer unlikeliness was the logic of their position."

"How was she to have known, until she came here, that the special consideration she had shown for his dignity as a man, while he was by definition a servant, would become his humiliation itself, the one thing there was to say between them that had any meaning."

"Of course, 'July' was a name for whites to use; for fifteen years they had not been told what the chief's subject was really called."

"She was unsteady with something that was not anger but a struggle: her inability to enter into a relation of subservience with him that she had never had with Bam."

Oh I could go on quoting such brilliant lines, fraught with underlying implications of life-changing proportions.

Thus, July's People is not just a fantastic meditation on inter-racial tension but also an attempt at acknowledging the humanity of the ones considered less human.
Gordimer doesn't merely highlight the ambiguity of the South African socio-political situation against the backdrop of the Anti-Apartheid movement or this imperfect intermingling of two cultures so disparate and alien to each other. She also poses a few fundamental questions which go far beyond the limits of a topic like racial discrimination. How do we live together in harmony? How do we come to terms with the differences(social, economic or racial) we perceive in others?

As I write this, I am repeatedly struck by my own inadequacy as a reviewer and the fact that a few measly passages in a review cannot even come close to recording the experience of reading this book. I am fumbling around for the right words to present to the future reader, all the vivid images and the indescribably complex human emotions that Gordimer has stitched together with the gift of her skillful yet subtle story-telling in this narrative.

At times I forgot I was reading this in an air-conditioned room and found myself in Maureen's shoes - having to wash the unhygienic dirty rags she uses in the absence of sanitary napkins to soak up her menstrual blood or squatting down together with the women of July's family and plucking edible vegetables. I could almost imagine myself living the same nightmare as the Smales family in that stifling atmosphere rife with Equatorial heat and humidity and taut with the tension between July's black people and his white employers.

I am letting Ms Gordimer take over from me again-

"On this night alone - Saturday - were the people awake among their sleeping companions, their animals; in the darkness(Drawing away, up from it, in the mind, like an eagle putting distance between his talons and the earth) the firelight of their party was a pocket torch held under the blanket of the universe. Heat and dark began to dissolve and she had to go in. There were no gutters; the soft rain was soundless on the thatch."

"It was the first time there had been rain since they came; the worn thatch darkened and began helplessly to conduct water down its smooth stalks; it dripped and dribbled. Insects crawled and flew in. They were activated by the moisture, broke from the chrysalis of darkness that had kept them in the walls, in the roof. She knew that the lamp attracted them but she kept it on. The flying cockroaches that hit her face were creatures she was familiar with."

And so I give July's People all the 5 stars. Because Nadine Gordimer excels at what she sets out to do here - dissect the human predicament with precision and deep sympathy, remove layering upon layering of man-made fabrications and reveal the crux of a human relationship as simple and complicated as Maureen and July's.

And if one thinks about it, she has titled this book ingeniously as well. What does she mean by July's people? July's own kith and kin, the anonymous and indistinguishable (to the white people) blacks of his own village? Does she mean July's white people who are also an indispensable part of his existence? Or is she referring to both at the same time? I think she left it as an unanswered question, left it for us to decide who July's people are.

And one has to admit, that it is certainly a question worth pondering.
The End of the Affair - Graham Greene I'm trying very badly not to launch into a full fledged rant against this book as I type this out because rants are rarely, if ever, proper reviews. And I want to pose a rational argument explaining my dislike for this book.
As much as the sexist ramblings of the protagonist and the selfish, irrational actions of the main characters served to irritate me to a great extent, I still reigned in my impatience and held out hope for the narrative till the time I was done with the very last page. But sadly enough, the ending left me not only disappointed but positively fuming.
A man's disfigured cheek becomes healed and near scarless - no not through surgery or any kind of therapy but all thanks to a freaking miracle. Really now?

I always welcome flawed characters in literature because truly what real person is perfect? or even close to being perfect?
Characters are meant to act like morons, do things that defy logic and frustrate us and yet earn our empathy in the end simply by virtue of their being human. But forget empathy, I just did not feel an ounce of anything for the central characters here except some occasional annoyance for abruptly starting one-sided conversations with this entity called 'God'.

As is obvious from the title this is about an affair, a torrid one at that, which ends badly and its subsequent repercussions. But the author just had to drag the much hyped up subject of 'God' into this and translate his love/hate for a woman into his love/hate for 'God'. How his insatiable desire for a woman forced him to confront his own atheistic/agnostic values and come closer to acknowledging the importance of faith.

Which I didn't mind that much either, really.

But how do you look the other way when every other line of a passage has either the word 'God' or 'You' or 'Him' in it and the characters are engaging in interminable monologues with 'Him'? (Please pay attention to how I am deliberately overlooking the crucial debate on God's gender)

'God' is a subject that I am yet to face head on and make my peace with. But my attitude so far has been a little like Haruki Murakami's in Kafka on the Shore -

“If you think God’s there, He is. If you don’t, He isn’t. And if that’s what God’s like, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I can tolerate a healthy dose of reflections on religion and spirituality, IF it is served with a touch of rationale and has the capacity to appeal to even the staunch non-believer.

Like in a Life of Pi-ish way - nothing life-altering or too preachy but still understandable.

But I hate it when 'God' is shoved right in my face in the form of long, winding passages replete with repetitive rhetorical questions. It's like 'He' is a character in this without being one. A passive, ubiquitous presence which steals everybody's thunder without doing a damned thing.
Was this about the affair or about 'God' or Catholicism? or was it about the author's attempt at coming to terms with the tragedy of his affair by seeking a form of oneness with 'God' and something bigger than life itself?
It's like Greene carelessly threw away bits and pieces of the bigger picture but did not strive towards aiding the reader in stitching them all together. Which is why the book just stopped short of making a much powerful impact.

If I am to take this novel only as a piece of autobiographical writing and a tribute to Greene's affair with one Lady Catherine Walston, then maybe some of my criticism automatically becomes void. But since this is a work of fiction, I think my points of contention are quite valid.

Dear 'God', you do not impress me in the least when characters are citing 'You' as an excuse for their reluctance to behave like logical human beings.

The 2 stars have been awarded to those few points in the narrative where the humanity of the characters shines through and the reader can't help but feel for their individual dilemmas and suffering.


Oblivion - David Foster Wallace Caution:- Long review ahead.

I finally understand what the word 'tedium' means. Interestingly enough I have neither associated this particular term with books making use of the much revered and equally feared stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device nor with hefty tomes worth more than 1000 pages.

But getting through even 1 page of DFW's writing requires a Herculean effort on the reader's part. Wallace commands your undivided attention and let's say if you are demanding the luxury of a split second of thinking something unrelated in the middle of a page and then coming back to that same point in a page, resuming reading and achieving your former state of involvement with the story right away, you couldn't be asking for more.

Wallace's writing doesn't allow you breaks or breathers. His style is a modified form of stream of consciousness, one can say, where the endless stream of interior monologue combines with minutiae of character descriptions, frequent and abrupt digressions and everything else imaginable in excruciating detail. And once you lose the elusive thread connecting all the dots, you are doomed.

But even then, reading him is such a whole lot of fun. It's a challenging exercize where all your mental faculties are working at their full potential and strained to the extreme lest they miss out on that one crucial sentence amidst a sea of unnecessary details, that helps you understand what the story is about or what Wallace really wants you to know.

Mister Squishy

My first reactions to Mister Squishy bordered on impatient irritation:-

"Dude, stop showing off! I get that you are some kind of genius to be able to document everything with such painstaking precision."
"What in the world is this about anyway?"
"Lord please make this story end already."

That I happened to be reading this way past midnight, also fuelled my annoyance to a certain degree. But it's a good thing I plowed on stubbornly refusing to let Wallace get the better of me and put me to sleep.
And finally it all clicked together.
I began to see the point in plodding through a mind-boggling volume of corporate jargon and specifics of everything starting from variations in one particular character's sexual fantasies to the alignment of cakes kept on a tray in a conference room.

Mister Squishy is a less-than-flattering commentary on corporate America and accurately highlights the mind-numbing boredom that entails a white-collar, corporate job in the most indirect manner possible. It has an undercurrent of Wallace's typical dry humour running throughout which aids the reader in tiding over some of the ceaseless monotony of the detailing of the most trivial things.
I give this 3/5.

The Soul Is Not A Smithy

This is a pure gem of a short story. But then again you have to wait patiently to peel off all the layering of digressions to get to the core of the story. A young primary school student day-dreams in panels, each one of them described in vivid details, and remains oblivious to a major crisis unfolding before his very eyes in his Civics class. But in retrospect what seems to affect him the most is not the memory of this one terrifying incident (of his teacher's supposed demonic possession) but the tragedy of surviving the day-to-day ennui of adult life.
I am probably not explaining this well but this short story seemed more like an exercize in story-telling than anything else since its metafictive qualities are way too obvious to be ignored.


I have just one bone to pick with this though - Sanjay Rabindranath is not a correct Indian name. Rabindranath is a name and not a surname(as per my knowledge). And I'm a little disappointed with Wallace for creating another stereotypical Indian character, albeit an unimportant one. (Not EVERY Indian boy is a nerd with glasses who likes nothing better than studying. Humph!)

Incarnations of Burned Children

This story came as a pleasant shock. It displays Wallace's incredible range as a writer. It is lyrical, agonizing, has some of his most exquisite prose (sans the insane detailing and abhorrent barrage of tough sounding words) and deals with a theme like parenthood which is so not your typical Wallace subject.
This is hands down my favorite story of the lot and worth being read and re-read.


Another Pioneer

A wonderful parable rife with symbolism and allusions to human foibles, but half concealed behind a mountain of Latin phrases and incomprehensible words which put my Kindle dictionary to shame.
I am going to make a list of the words here just to give the prospective reader an idea -


.....and so on

(oh look even GR spellcheck thinks these words do not exist)


Good Old Neon

A semi (or wholly?) autobiographical story which reminded me of Wallace's suicide again and again. I loved the protagonist's voice (even though he is kind of a douche, really) and not even once did his ramblings bother me here, which goes to show how deftly Wallace handled the narration.
The ending left me spell-bound.



A brilliant short story revolving around the dynamics of human relationships which appear to be normal on the surface but reveal complexities just beneath it and inter-familial troubles. But again this contains a generous sprinkling of unheard of words which are precisely there to make you feel a little stupid. But I almost did not mind.
This one has a bit of a cliched ending.


The Suffering Channel

By far the longest short story of the lot and this could also qualify as a novella. From what I could glean from this, it appears to be DFW's attempt at parodying the inner workings of media houses and revealing that thin line separating 'actual' news from pure bullshit being relayed under the pseudonym of news. Also you can take the word 'shit' literally here.
(Don't get what I mean? Read the damn book.)


(I have left out reviewing one story here because that did not make much of an impression on me.)

After finishing this book, I am experiencing a mad urge to laugh loudly at the burst of pride I felt for my own vocabulary at one point of time.
Reading DFW is a tiresome experience but it is also immensely rewarding and I simply cannot wait to learn more from him now.

P.S.:- A big thank you to Garima for linking me to DFW's now stuff-of-legends Kenyon commencement address. A reading of that speech full of amazing new insights helped dispel some of the negative sentiments I seemed to have developed in the earlier stage of my acquaintance with Wallace's writing.
A Man Without a Country - Kurt Vonnegut People may find fault with Vonnegut for his know-it-all, been-there-done-that tone in this memoir. People may not even find anything new or insightful in here since every person well-versed with current affairs and the nitty-gritties of international politics has at least a second-hand knowledge of America's present day troubles. But what people are certainly bound to appreciate is Vonnegut's mordant wit and his fine sense of humour.
Jane Eyre - Susan Ostrov Weisser, Charlotte Brontë What do I write about you Jane? Words fall short when I try to.

Jane, you are so much a part of me as I am yours.
You are so much a part of women who lived in obscurity centuries before Brontë breathed life into you.
You are so much a part of women who are alive at present and so much a part of women yet to be born.
You are so much a collective chorus of voices than just a single one.
You are so much an inexorable force which builds up in intensity over the course of the narrative.
You are so much an embodiment of the feminine spirit and not just an ordinary looking, puny little girl of barely twenty with grand world views and ideals.

Jane, you are not only the essence of womanhood at its best but the finest specimen of humanity - so refined, so just, so fragile yet so iron-solid. So full of scorn yet so humble. So elegant even in utter distress.

Jane, you transcend the boundaries of an era so effortlessly and retain your relevance even today.
I don't give any guarantees that reading Jane Eyre (that is if you are still uninitiated) will cure you of misogyny. I do not believe in utopian concepts such as chauvinistic men suddenly giving up on their own delusional views on women and starting to treat them with respect deserving of a human, after reading a book. But it may come very close to achieving that purpose.
Then again, I do not expect a well-read man/woman (shocking but women can be misogynists as well) to be a misogynist in the first place.

Charlotte Brontë has accorded this immortal literary character with such a voice, such a dignity of bearing, such a sharpness of intellect, such a power of conviction - that absolutely no one can remain unaffected after reading this. Once you get to make the acquaintance of courageous, zealous, outspoken, energetic, intelligent, principled, respectable Jane, you are bound to remember her forever. Rather, Jane will ensure that you do not forget.

If you are a woman of integrity, you may see a part of yourself reflected in her sarcastic comebacks, in her sense of humor, in her feelings of rage, in her unapologetic frankness and in her cold refusal to bow down to the wishes of those more powerful than her in terms of wealth or social recognition.

Before the term 'feminism' had even come into being, Charlotte Brontë was busy creating an everlasting symbol of feminine power that will stand the test of time with incredible ease and continue to cast its influence on society and literature.

Sure Jane Eyre has a romance at its heart - a memorable one at that. Sure it also contains a Gothic mystery. But these are not its only highlights.

Jane Eyre is a feminist doctrine in the garb of a novel. Jane Eyre highlights the injustices of class divisions. Jane Eyre contains a subtle indictment of blind religious zealotry and upholds the value of man over God. Jane Eyre lays bare the perversities in self-important men of religion. Jane Eyre criticizes a prejudiced Victorian society and exposes the hollowness of the lives of its affluent but ignorant gentry.
And to think Charlotte Brontë wrote this in the middle of the 19th century.

The last time I had been this strongly affected by a classic was about 10 years ago, when I had read A Tale of Two Cities for the first time.
This is the kind of book whose greatness you cannot try and measure by awarding it a number of stars or even by reviewing it. This is not just one of the finest literary masterpieces ever to come into existence but forms a very important part of the reason why we read, why we prefer to shun the company of people and seek a few precious hours of togetherness with fiction or literature, instead.

Dear Ms Brontë, I am late to the party but I have arrived nonetheless. And I cannot thank you enough for bringing me, for bringing 'us' alive in your powerful words. The world and I owe you a debt we can never repay.
Oh thank you so very much!

P.S.:- This review is glaring in its obvious exclusion of Edward Fairfax Rochester, but that is not for any shortcoming on Mr Rochester's part. Rochester is without a doubt one of the most realistic and engaging literary romantic interests ever created. But I wanted this to be about Jane and only her. Because had Brontë's intention been to bestow equal importance on Jane and Rochester, she would have named this 'Jane and Edward' or something along those lines.
The Fault in Our Stars - John Green Okay John Green, you win. I lose.

I had made a solemn vow not to let myself be swayed easily by the mawkish sentimentality of a romantic tragedy again. I mean, you are using cancer-afflicted, dying kids as characters here and asking me to shed sympathetic tears, Mr Green. That is not fair. Absolutely not fair.

I like my tragedies with a touch of subtlety and a generous dosage of symbolism and metaphors, thank you very much.
But now I realize how wrong I was.
This book isn't all about a pair of star-crossed teenage lovers and their highly stereotypical battle with cancer or even about death.

It is rather about life and making peace with the unfairness of it. An attempt at reclaiming the dignity in an existence fraught with numerous indignities.
(I suffer from a sense of déjà vu because I realize that I have framed a very similar sounding sentence in my review of A Personal Matter quite recently)

In all likelihood I should be giving this 3 stars, but little snippets of John Green's wisdom and philosophical meanderings are forcing me to up the rating by 1 more star -

"I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to be noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us - not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals."

" occured to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again."

This book has already been read by more than half of Goodreads. Hence my review(which is not much of a review really) is directed at the ones who read only serious literature or intellectually stimulating books and scoff at YA fiction (for legitimate reasons no doubt). John Green's writing seems a little too pretentious and annoyingly self-indulgent at times. And well-read, amicable, articulate people who are near perfect in every way like his characters, are unlikely to be found in any corner of our disgusting planet.
But even so, he is a good writer. Just because a book is being read and liked by millions, doesn't mean it has to be another Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. And I only appeal to readers to give Green the benefit of the doubt.

Currently reading

Padgett Powell
The Pure Gold Baby
Margaret Drabble
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear
Progress: 28 %