Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Strange Library

- Haruki Murakami (Translated by Ted Goossen)

Strange library looks like a love child of coffee table book and a pop-up greeting card. The book is is just fifty odd pages with bizarre illustrations and large font text. That is where the associations end. With coffee table books and usual Murakami stories. Of course this book has a weird story, unique characters, surreal environment, suspended reality and all that. But there are no references to music, no puzzling women, clueless men or cats.

This story is about a teenage boy imprisoned in the bowels of a library by a wicked old man who orders the boy to memorize three fat books on Taxation of Ottoman empire or else face a terrible destiny. A man dressed in sheep ( you may know the sheep man from Wild Sheep Chase) takes care of the boy when he is in the prison and a young beautiful girl brings him food. Both of them are hapless prisoners themselves, their situation much more desolate than our hero.

Whatever happens next, did the boy trick the old man and escape? Did he succumb to the fate and stay in the library? You don't have to wait for long to know, the book would end in a few pages. This leaves very little room for character development, internal monologues and philosophies but the book doesn't fail to make an impact.

Libraries looked normal and boring till now, but I wonder what mysteries it has been hiding from me?

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Last Girlfriend on Earth and Other Love stories

The Last Girlfriend on Earth

and Other Love Stories by Simon Rich

I was tired of looking for that elusive book which had romance in it, but didn't make you gag at the same time. It must have some funny moments, must provoke some warm fuzzy feelings and must steer clear of stereotypes. 

Most of the books start out with good humor, but turn philosophical and dragging when the author gets a sudden conscience to make their characters grow.
I have not grown in twenty years, I don't think I will mature and become all philosophical in 300 pages. Neither would I find the 'perfect' love and have the world stop for me then and there. Life isn't like that.

Other books take a deep dive emotionally and gets way too serious until the author throws in some humor like bacon bits over an ice cream. Again - gagging.

The Last Girlfriend on Earth is about every aspect of love, the falling in love, the hesitant proposal, the long wait, the blissful dating, jealousy, insecurities, power struggle, falling apart and breakups.
All the stories are short and to the point, about human interactions when they are exposed to wacky circumstances of love. The best part of a well enjoyed book is to interpret it your own way, without having spelled it out for you, and many of the stories leave you with a lot of avenues to explore.

Each story begins with a novel approach, but this is not a serious book, most of the stories are presented as is, but almost every story tickles our funny bone and some tug our heart unexpectedly. 

I was surprised by the story openings, was surprised that this book approached love stories beyond cliches so much that I finished the book in a single stretch. If you are looking for a different experience on reading about romance, this book is a must read.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A walk in the woods

Book: A walk in the woods
Author : Bill Bryson

I picked up this book at a local flea market in the hope of knowing more about the Appalachian Trail (AT) , for my plans to travel to the AT valley at the peak of the fall season, the touristy time of the year had gone haywire, all thanks to a major blowout at work.

  Bill Bryson is a popular travel writer, but travelogue was not my thing, until I read one, reading about nature was not my thing, until I read one. When Bryson decided to hike the AT all the way from Springer Mountains in Georgia to Kathinad in Maine, he knew he was setting himself a harsh target. About Two thousand miles, in much more realistic terms: a five day car drive.

 Why would one attempt such a strenuous and daunting stretch, knowing very well that it is going to be a backbreaker? At least Bryson had a reason, to write a book about it, but what about Katz, his co-hiker, the guy who accompanied him; with his drinking problem, eating problem, and TV addiction; he didn't even reform himself at the end.

  Bryson is funny, entertaining, and informative, all characteristic of a well written short essay. To sustain that over 300 pages is sheer genius, in the trail hiking terms, a steep walk of perseverance. At times he was so funny that I had to roll on the floor or hit a soft bed to stop from laughing. Apart from the two major characters, the narrator and his partner, the irreverent Mary Ellen they meet in their first leg of the journey will have you in splits with her bewildering commentary and arbitrary knowledge.

 This is no philosophical book, but there is an inescapable feeling about the purpose of life, the question of what are we doing at this moment when the wilderness awaits with so much adventure and sunshine. Hikers wake up to difficulties every morning, so much like many of us in the corporate world, they walk, scamper uphill, saunter downhill, and swim across streams, until the sun vanish from the sky. And then they eat some minimal food, and slip away into sleep under the shining stars, mostly because they don't have enough food, and their tent is torn or lost half way into the hike.

  Bryson, at his evocative and humorous best paints a picture of what goes through the mind of a hiker, the craving for good food, for a proper bath, or for shelter above his head when he is in the middle of the woods staring at the stars. How he wants to give up everyday, but how not giving up makes him stronger the next day, only to think about giving up again. This is especially true for an ill-prepared hiker, which is what a normal person like me can aspire to. The book has piqued my interest in hiking, although hiking across the AT is out of question, there is a part of me which wants to do at least a day hike along the blaze of the AT.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Killing Jesus - Not really a book review

 This Christmas, I learned a lot about Jesus – the man, not the son of God, not the King of Jews. It was fascinating to traverse through the historical period of Jesus’s life – Roughly from 4 BC to 30 AD with ‘Killing Jesus’ – A history by Bill O’Reilly’ and Martin Dugard.

  First things first, I knew nothing about Jesus when I began reading the book, and I don’t assume I know everything about Jesus after reading the book. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and one book doesn’t make anyone an expert. I’m no expert, but definitely captivated by the man who has been living for over two thousand years in the hearts of millions of people all over the world. 

  I knew only one thing about Jesus, that he was killed, that he was crucified. Most of the events in the last few days of Jesus’s life happen at the Temple Mount, Jerusalem– the second Temple of Jews that was destroyed by the Romans a few decades after Jesus’s crucifixion. A part of the Temple Mount called Western wall still remains in the current Jerusalem. 

  Intricate political and economic oppressions have led to several rebellions in different parts of the world – the most recent one being the Egyptian pink revolution. The reason for Jesus’s rebellion against the oppressors of his time was no different from any other modern rebellion –it was one man’s crusade for his people against political and economic suppression. Thousands were crucified by Romans to keep people from rebelling against the all-powerful Roman Empire. Everyone wanted an alternative to the high priests of Judaism and the all-conquering Roman Empire. There were several rebels, there were several leaders, but he stood out with his messages- and his messages still stand out. 

  Jesus gave - an inspirational figure, a charismatic orator - them alternative to the atrocities of the period. He gave hope for a life after suffering in what he called the Kingdom of God- a novel message at that time. He asked them to suffer through difficulties, to endure and reach his Kingdom.  One can even assume he was instigating a rebellion and was literally talking about a kingdom ruled by him instead of philosophical life in heaven after life.

  Jesus was definitely charming - he became a champion of the masses not only because of his ideologies, but the efforts of the gospel writers who wanted a head figure to fuel the hope of a new world. Believer or non-believer, you cannot ignore Jesus, no matter what.  These facts might matter very little when it comes to matters of faith. For matters of faith, there is no reasoning. Isn’t that why it is called faith? Faith, after all, can be very liberating.