Thursday, January 15, 2015

Moments of Reprieve


Collection of Stories by Primo Levi. I have been thinking about the Periodic Table on and off. This one is similar...sketches of people drawn from his life. He sketches himself for you as he portrays the world around him. Grounded, humble...a life that has gone through so much injustice but the prose does not complain about it, it just shares his life with you. I am glad that I read this book. In the mad rush of things, such thoughtful prose, drawing all sorts of insights and perspective from a life that has seen the peaks and troughs is a valuable, peace lending thing. 

In many ways, Primo Levi and Ernesto Guevara sound similar - their prose, thought process. One had the wanderlust, and the other a very open observant heart, but both have a humility, groundedness, an innocence, and belief in the goodness of people individually (even though as a group, people become fanatics and thoughtless), and hence, a prose which restores faith in humanity. Their books always a good idea when the world seems a dark place - the lightness of these spirits sure can lift one up.


After reading such accounts, I sometimes wonder if my generation or a previous one had to live in the world of wars where almost every house had somebody out on front fighting or if the world were changing significantly from day to day, month to month, such that there is nothing long term, I am not sure how we'll cope.  It is not about the war, it is about behavior in face of an ever changing landscape. Our world is so stable (for most of the people), and life's aspirations so mediocre (for most of the world) - that there is no higher purpose left except to settle and aspire to little luxuries and little victories. A couple of generations ago, it seems people had much more to deal with and many more difficulties to surmount. There is no major issue in most people's lives these days, and then smaller things expand to take that place instead. Such degradation of the quality of lives lived! Even though the world becomes more stable, it is important to retain the perspective of what is worth fighting for and what is just mindplay since mind has no better problems to deal with.
Easier said than done I guess.



PS: Picked this one up in the library. Fast read. I tried to look for more P. Levi books during my vacation but couldn't find any. This one hence as soon as we returned. Again for this one, this is time taken out from 2666. It is almost a month since I started reading 2666 ..it still continues. I have reached the last book. Hope to finish it in January. (Didn't like book 4 - it is very saddening, very wrong, and  unlike the first three - but am too deep in the book and quite curious to understand how it all ties up, so finish it I will)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014

Happy new year!
Time to close year 2014 on this blog.
I don't read as much these days. Below from my closed page. A quick recap of what I read in 2014.

  1. Periodic Table by Primo Levi (deadtree). Beautiful sketches of people! And you get to wonder so much more about Turin, chemistry, War, prejudices, with the author's very clean succinct writing...it draws you in. The curious in me got really intrigued by Chemistry and geography - and noticed what the author says about the land on my recent trip to Italy and the Swiss land. Keen to read more from him. He shares so much more on the world around him in those times...enjoyed it, and would rate it ****
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (January) - deadtree. The book gladdened my heart! The middle one third might seem like a drag, but the different culture, different landscape, makes it so much more interesting!) My recco to anyone who wants to learn a bit more about Japan in a fun way.
  3. Raised from the ground by Jose Saramago (April/ May) - deadtree (picked this up on vacation in Italy. Was trying to pick up something more local but ended up with Portugese. Liked it much better than the other Saramago I've read - Seeing or Blindness, one of them)
  4. Clifton Chronicles - 3 - Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer (May; quick read, airport buy; deadtree) - its more like I had to read it. A very quick unput-downable read - both of them)
  5. Clifton Chronicles - 4 - Be careful what you wish for by Jeffrey Archer (Kindle (finally!!). . And I have promised myself not to read any more page turners until I finish a couple of proper lit. (So Stieg Larsson 3 has to wait)
  6. An artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (May, deadtree). This was bought long long time ago, but finally got read in almost one go. I realise for whatever I might have said in the past, I am not an Ishiguro fan (this is my emotional self speaking). The book is another amazing piece - on Japan (and different times Japan than deZoet's - this one is around the wars, and just post war), and the changing mindsets. In its heart the book carries a sort of disappointment - in the autumn of your life if you realise that you have lived your life for a wrong cause, its not highly heartening. Read it for understanding the land and what shaped some of its people some more. But try to read something happy soon after. (I am reading Science by Asimov - have been learning all new sort of intriguing facts. Sometimes, a dose of wonder is good to kill disappointments; it brings back a lot of perspective)
  7. Circle by Dave Eggers (May, deadtree) Concept is intriguing, but there is a lot that I disagree with. But as K says, you can't disagree with people opinions or judgement, they are true for where they come from, they are not universal facts...but when people make such bad choices in the book as if they are helpless...when they clearly have a choice, and they do not stand for themselves or speak against the issues ...that's where I gave up on the book. Then it becomes just about the drift of the story, and like any other fast read/ not lit page turner - I don't think it claims to be serious lit anyway. Very interesting premise, but the writing is non remarkable. Read it for the premise and what it portrays. (Emotions post reading - unresolved. Didn't like the choices and the weakness in people, disagreed, but I was hooked)
  8. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (June, deadtree). We read the part 3 after reading the first two parts 3 years ago. So it was good that I watched the Part 1 movie recently. I had Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth in my head...and yes, Robin Wright as Erica Berger as I breezed through the book. Well, its the end, and it ends the thriller...it leaves you wanting to read some other thriller... but I guess its shortlived feeling. I'll watch the other two movies sometime. How to rate it - read it for the thrill. Rest its the same feeling I got last time...its very transactional text.
  9. Murder in the dark by Margaret Atwood (July) - deadtree. Short, poetic book. Seems like I might have read this earlier. This one is akin to a series of blog posts with interesting premise and thought flow and sketches. Playing in mind - "How does it feel to play God - even for five minutes"
  10. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (September, kindled on idevices)...quick notes: a bit of a let down like his other books...don't know why I expect more from him. As I begin his books, as in the last two as well, generally I like the premise and hope and wish that he would deal with them better. Its a good very fast read, but then I wasn't hoping for a page turner...Don't expect greatness, awesomeness...'read and forget' category, like so much of the fiction I read this year.
  11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (September, holidays)...really don't want to say much about this one. Goes in my 'read and forget'...I just didn't like the characters...the book asks for no empathy...its not even like Archer or Larsson kind of thrillers. Picked it up from Sydney airport before the holiday - was in the rank 1 box.  
  12. The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara (November) ****. Loved the book, pleasantly surprised by it. Che Guevara is adorable. I am not sure many people will begin with that. But first time ever in my life I actually gave thought to learning & practicing medicine (as a would have been!). And given that this is the same weekend as watching Interstellar, I am quite enamored by the whole 'explorer' spirit. 'Old men should be explorers, here and there does not matter'.  (Am really glad I finished any book after a long while. The book came as a gust of fresh air which I was seeking badly at some level - lifts me up a bit, and am thankful for that.) Will recommend to anyone keen to know more about Latin America, probably supplemented by one of the fiction accounts of those regions, and then just for feeding the youth within us. And before this book, I had never thought about Che. Now I want to buy a Tshirt with his image (and a beret ;).
  13. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (November, deadtree, ***). My first Pynchon! Not a long one, this one is a novella. It has been with me for a long while, and I have attempted many many times to read it (given the length, it was a very attractive target to kickstart reading), many times reaching almost a third....but finally, managed to read it. It reminded me of DFW...in the way subjects are touched and woven together...the thread through the books is that of mail delivery/ and I was intrigued to look at how messenger services were so central to the rise and fall of empires...in this age and time, one forgets! Good to imagine an older world.... Someday I might write about the book. Not today. Other things beckon.
  14. The Embassy of Cambodia by Zadie Smith (December, deadtree, ***) This is a longer short story than a book. Different to what I have read recently. I feel at times that I need to grow up to some of the books. May be read again later to see how they end. I end up feeling that I need to know more about those characters..and understand what happens next rather than let the story end where it ends. This took less than an hour...and is time snatched from 'On the Road' by Kerouac which I have been reading for a few weeks now. Somewhere midway.
  15. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Nov, Dec - deadtree ****) Just a couple of words: 'beat' and 'dig it'! Later - writing this after a few weeks of reading the book...as I travel through India right now, I get reminded on and off of the author's road trips...and the objective of finding oneself through the road trips. Nothing so dramatic here, but still, as they say, some books stay longer with you...this one is surely one of those.
  16. Guerrillas by VS Naipaul (Dec - deadtree ***) Picked the book at Lucknow airport before boarding a flight to Mumbai. Glad to get back to reading with this one. Sounds so much like Nadine Gordimer. May be, its the description, the struggles...but this one had so many dark undertones...so much of despair floating around in the book. Books like these though give one a lot of perspective, and at least some understanding of how the world lives, breathes, functions...the rest of the world, outside of the homogeneous world that we occupy. These are good to ground one...to remember that life can be so different,..its just by fluke that I am writing this and you are reading this. It could have been very very different. And then, a gratefulness that we have what we have, the resources, the thoughts, and the most important thing - freedom to think, say, write, read...it can be such a different life. The book is set on a Caribbean island, and runs through a few episodes over the course of a few months. Lots of immigrants, and struggle to control resources, and probably, some struggle for freedom...some politics...(it would be a different world if politics were devoid of personal ambitions)...I didn't understand the exact struggle completely...and may be some of that was the point of the book. 
Takeaway: I read quite a bit of non lit/ fast read/ page turners this year...so 16 is tainted. Need to read more but then need to do so many more things as well! For a moment I thought I'll be able to read 3 books a month...but it seems difficult. Still, lets strive for it. And then, to read from different countries...there is something about books and fiction which portray the daily life at a particular point in time in a particular country, it can lend you a lot of thought fodder..and a lot of perspective. And then there are some high RoI books and articles....sometimes people spend months and years writing those books and essays researching, thinking, and you can get so much out of them just by reading them. When the time which you can spend on reading is limited given the 100 different pursuits, the time is better spent on reading such high impact/ efficiency writings...the idea is to collect such books, authors and essays...explored separately in the other blog which I hope to bring live some day.

As always, here's hoping that we read more and better this year. Happy 2015!