Category Archives: Books

Review: The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was highly recommended by a lot of people who’s recommendations I trust. It was more to do with how impressive they thought the book was and how well the story was told. So, a shot at it I had to give.

It truly is a very well written book. The story however, is not really impressive. The book describes a holiday a butler takes to the countryside. Nothing charming about it, right? Well, Ishiguro pulls out all stops in his literary arsenal to charm you, and he succeeds. Simplistic as the story might be, the writing is far from being simple. Written in the first-person, it reads like a memoir of a butler. Ishiguro manages to wring out every bit of charm the butler Stevens can exude, even though he is a no-nonsense, professional, dignified and ‘proper’ English butler who prides himself for possessing these very qualities. It is a lot of fun to read about the idiosyncrasies of a butler and how the littlest of change bothers him. It is lovely to see the amount of pride he takes in his work and the lengths he will go to do it well. And it is charming to see the loyalty he displays towards all his masters and above all, his profession.

Beneath the stiff upper lip of Stevens, there are shades of hopeful love. Ishiguro does a marvelous job of conveying how hopeful the hope of lost love is, while at the same time how it seems to be – unimportant. There could a be a lot of subtle clues and life lessons here, which you can deduce yourself.

The book does drag along at times and you feel like skipping a few pages of Stevens describing a bush or a lake or a field. And you wouldn’t miss much if you do skip these pages. As I mentioned earlier, this book is not about the story. It is about how a story should be told. And I love nothing more than a story told well.

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Review: Think Like a Freak

Think Like a Freak
Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Think Like a Freak’ is a book you would quite naturally pick up if you have already read the brilliant Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and the not as brilliant SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. However, one would do well to note that the earlier two books were written by both Levitt and Dubner (only of whom is a qualified economist teaching at a University), this one is written by Levitt, the writer.

One cannot be blamed for comparing ‘Think Like a Freak’ with its predecessors, as the target market for the book are the people who have read the first two. The book promises you to teach you to think like the authors have all their lives, like freaks. There aren’t any economic theories in this book. This book in fact has very little to do with economics. It intends to encourage you to think ‘out of the box’.

The author has tracked down stories from around the world, using them as examples/case studies to outline how thinking like freaks can lead to success. The stories are interesting, however, the stories might sound repetitive if you follow Levitt’s weekly podcast Freakonomics Radio, like I do, and then delayed reading the book till he discussed the book and the stories on the podcast. The book is quite easy to read like its predecessors, which shows that Levitt, former journalist, is genuinely a good writer. One does however feel that the book isn’t substantial enough, being only 210 pages long. Somehow, once through, you end up feeling you still don’t have enough knowledge to start thinking like a freak.

I do feel that people who have read and understood books like the Freakonomics series or The Undercover Economist or other such books, are smart enough to understand how the authors have gone about applying economic theories to find fascinating correlations in seemingly random occurrences. I feel a new book which does not do a great job at delivering its promise is quite unnecessary.

I did like reading it, more because it kind of rounded off the Freakonomics series for me, but I think one can give this a miss if you have already read the other books.

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Review: More Than This

More Than This
More Than This by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is about three months after I had read the book. I had written a short review but realised I must elaborate.

This book introduced me to Patrick Ness and he shows all signs of being a remarkable author. When I read a book, what I look for isn’t just the story or the plot itself. I look for the way a story is told and the way it unfolds; the words the author uses to tell the story.

This being a young adult book, I didn’t expect it to have fancy words that you might see in bigger tomes. However, I did expect a certain level of profoundness and forceful reading between the lines, and it did mark its attendance.

Ness takes you in a fantasy world, bordering on noir-fantasy genre, confusing you and forcing you to figure out things with the characters themselves. They are as clueless as you are about the world they find themselves in. This isn’t a fun or romantic read, far from it. It is quite dark. And maybe at some level, depressing. There aren’t a lot of characters to speak of, but you do get attached to those that are present. Well fleshed out and adorable. Even though the story does have a protagonist, honestly, I felt more attached to the other characters. Maybe that was how Ness meant it to be.

I would recommend this book though. It is quite quick to read and finish. Give it a read if you don’t mind noir.

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Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time you tell someone the name of the last book you read or the one you are currently reading, the logical question asked would be ‘What is it about?’ I can assure you Jonas Jonasson’s ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ (which is quite a mouthful, and to be honest, we love it, don’t we?) will not raise that question.

It is a great book to go to for some stress free reading. Jonasson follows a tone of dark humour throughout and anyone who takes this book seriously is probably reading the wrong book anyway. Having said that, it does follow a parallel story-line which conveniently chronicles the history of the world over the last century along with one of the best characters I have had the pleasure of meeting in a book, Alan.

It might be unfair to compare this book to any other in a similar genre. The writing is simple and straightforward and assumes the reader to be knowledgeable enough to differentiate between facts and fiction. It does quite well at satarising most of the key events that have occurred in the recent history of our species.

The book has a good mix of characters going through a series of fortunate/unfortunate events depending on the perspective you look at it from. It is a story with an astounding number of coincidences that can only occur in a story.

It is a well written book and I would recommend one to read this just so you get to meet Alan.

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book about books. It is a book about words. It is a book about writing those words. A book about reading books. A book about the love for all of the above. About our first love. About friendship. About war and destruction. But at the end of it all, about love.

As Zafon says, ‘Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.’

The book I read before this one was a light hearted, dark humoured, hilariously fictional story about a 100 year old man and his journey. The Shadow of the Wind managed to rip my soul out of that merry world and slam it right onto the civil war ravaged streets of Barcelona. Do not expect a Barcelona of Gaudi and Naruda or of what you see in any movie. This is version of Barcelona is bordering on being Dickensian.

Having said that, Zafon takes you on a journey of a curious teenager, Daniel, who is just one of us; not brave enough, not old enough, completely in love and trying to fit in with grown ups.

It is a story summed up by Zafon himself when he says ‘Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.’

The book borders on quiet a few genres and leaves you wondering how you can eventually try and summarise it. But that might be it, not easy to summarise a book which has quotes such as ‘Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them’ and ‘We exist as long as somebody remembers us.’

At a point I was reading the book more to discover such words than to know where Daniel would end up next. The plot might be akin to certain ‘Bollywood’ movies of yore, but you can’t really argue with the way it unravels.

This one is bound to stay with you for days after you finish reading it.

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I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief. – Kafka

via Kafka on Books and What Reading Does for the Human Soul | Brain Pickings.

Kafka on Books and Reading

Writing advice from some of the best writers

I love writing. I hope someday I will write something that makes some difference. Till then all I can do is learn how to write better.

Graphic designer Chris Ritters collected writing advice given by some of the best writers and created mouth watering posters. Stick all of them up on your walls and hopefully you will never be short of some inspiration.

Beautiful quotes. Beautiful writers.

Write.

[Hat tip: Holy Kaw!]

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Harry Potter characters drawn by Rowling in 1999

I was a late bloomer as a Potter fan. But I did become one.

She does sketch well.

‪Harry Potter in 99 Seconds‬‏ – EPIC

If this is not Epic, I do not know what is.

Can not stop listening to it repeatedly!

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