Getting back to reading

“We like lists because we don’t want to die”, says Umberto Eco.

Not sure if that’s the reason I am writing this post but then the apocalypticaly tagged 2012 is also hanging close, so who knows what the subconscious mind may be cooking.

Anyhow, coming back to the title of the post, I actually didn’t read the whole year, save for the last two or three months. Part reason was the miserable business of life and also i didn’t much look beyond the few good writers I had read some years ago. A small opening, reading one or two previously unread but only heard voices led to a resurgence of sorts and am pretty glad for that. So without much further ado I’ll just list(Yeah, Mr Eco must be grinning now) some of the good titles.

Solo – Rana Dasgupta

Coincidence is what comes to my mind as I think of this book now. Though i read it now, I had in fact brought a copy some two to three years ago, when it was yet to be the winner of prestigious commonwealth prize. Going back home as I stayed over at a dear friend’s place, a book on his shelf caught my attention with its title and I decided to read a few pages. It was The Case of Exploding Mangoes and after having read some I decided to trade the book for Solo, with the intention of taking it back while coming back from home, though it never happened. Incidentally The Case of Exploding Mangoes later that year won the Commonwealth First book prize and Solo won the Commonwealth Best book prize the next year.

Solo is a story narrated by a hundred year old blind Bulgarian, Ulrich, who reminisces over his past and often daydreams. Overtly ambitious in its scope it tries to capture the life of a common man, an everyman, torn through the upheavels of the last century, which forms the 1st part of the novel, named – First Moment : Life. The second part, named- Second Moment : Day Dreams, takes few characters, with certain similarities to the cast of the 1st part, through the much changed landscape in the later part of the century, though the fate of these characters remains overpowered by the sociocultural and political forces of historical magnitude. A brilliant read.

Tokyo Canceled – Rana Dasgupta

It was imminent that after having read Solo one would seek his other novel, which is a collection of short stories, narrated by passengers stranded on an airport after their flight got canceled.  Though the tone and character of these stories remains the same through out, for which the author was pointed out by numerous critics, but nevertheless the inventiveness and imagination behind them sails the book through many a miles. The stories are often surreal imbued with elements of magical realism. A highly recommended read.

The NewYork Trilogy –  Paul Auster

The books contains three stories City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. All three are one of the initial works of Auster and were published individually, though they have been clubbed now as the Trilogy. Told in the form of detective fiction they are essentially existential tales of certain individual in search of certain identities, which often merge with their own identities blurring the lines of reality. I had some time ago read the Travels in the Scriptorium by the same author but it didn’t enthuse me enough to explore him further. I guess now I’l read few more of his works.

The High Window – Raymond Chandler

This book was another highlight of the year.I had never much liked detective fiction before, but after reading about Murakami’s inherent indulgence in his works, I was tempted to see what was being offered there and that check proved to be a rewarding experience. Its now easy to see from where the stylistic influence in Murakami’s fiction comes from.

The protagonist, Marlowe is the perfect hardboiled detective. He’s a tough, clever, contemplative chap who’s always ready with a wisecrack up his sleeve. Effortless in holding his own in any tough situation. A literary influence on many a crime fiction writers after Chandler. Another of the best thing about Chandler’s writing style is how beautifully things, places, faces or people are described.  A delight to read. Quite a savoury experience.

Lady in the lake by Chandler is what am reading now.

Will you be quite, please? – Raymond Caver

The obsession to check the writing influences of Murakami made me read Raymond Caver too. Will you be quite, please? is a shot story collection. These are stories of common people, of their everyday mundane encounters, bordering on some quirky, eccentric upheaval, though mostly the tension is built but never released. The stories end usually with a tantalizing feel.

One Last Story and that’s it – Keret Etger

After having read Caver and Dasgupta’s short stories, reading some article about contemporary short story writers got me to check out Keret Etger and what a delightful experience it turned out to be. Etgar writes in a playful, mundane manner. The stories are often 2-3 pages long. All starting with everyday people or situations that are ready to take sinister tragic turns. There’s a tragicomic hint to every situation. At times things have their dreadful fated ends, though on others times events unfold to leave a smile on your face.

While Mortal’s Sleep – Kurt Vonnegut

While on that short story reading spree I also tried this. A great Humanist as Kurt was, these stories too mostly serve the purpose of telling a moral or driving home some point, though this implicit push robs the stories of their sheen. These stories are from his early times and were published posthumously this year.

Open – Biography of Andre Agassi

Whatever was seen over the years on and off the court was filled by this book with a heart wrenching as well as uplifting story of a great human. If Tennis is music to some, then he’s the Jim Morrison who’s survived through. These stories are once lived and then only told afterwards.

Also read some literary essays from Stranger Shores by J M Coetzee.

Read some in poetry too. Currently half through Rumi’s Selected Poems, Penguin edition. Also got hold of The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtormer and Charles Bukowski’s The pleasure of the Damned.

There were few currently half read, ready to be finished ones also. Orhan Pamuk’s The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist and Coetzee’s Elisabeth Costello top that list. Though there were few other’s too but i don’t see my self completing them except these two.

Currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84,  apart from few mentioned above.

Lets see what 2012 has in store.


My Turkish Library – Orhan Pamuk

I regret that I have not been able to shake off the enlightenment utilitarian idea that books exist to prepare us for life. Perhaps this is because a writer’s life in Turkey is proof that they are. But it also has something to do with the fact that in those days Turkey lacked the sort of large library where you could easily locate any book you wanted. In Borges’s imaginary library, every book takes on a mystical aspect, and the library itself offers intimations of a poetic and metaphysical infinity, echoing the complexity of the world outside; behind this dream are real libraries with more books than can ever be counted or read. Borges was the director of one such library in Buenos Aires. But when I was young there was no comparable library in Istanbul or all of Turkey. As for books in foreign languages, not a single public library had these. If I wanted to learn everything that there was to be learned, and become a wise person and so escape the constraints of the national literature—imposed by the literary cliques and literary diplomacy, and enforced by stifling prohibitions—I was going to have to build my own great library.


Pamuk on his Writing & Sufism

I am interested in Sufism as a literary source. As a discipline comprising positions and actions that train the soul, I cannot engage with it, but I look at the literature of Sufism as a literary treasure. As I sit at my table, the child of a republican family, i live like a man committed to Western Cartesian rationalism to the nth degree. Reason sits at the center of my existence. But at the same time, I try to open myself as much as I can to other books, other texts. I do not look at those texts as material. I take pleasure in reading them-they bring me joy. This joy lifts my spirit. Whatever it touches, it will have to reckon with the rationalism in me. Perhaps my books rise out of these two poles, attracting and repelling each other.

– From “Other Colors

Reading this year

It was a very good year in terms of amount of reading done, though the amount of reading dwindled in the second half. Below are few lines about the authors and the books.

Orhan Pamuk – Snow, My name is Red & Other Colors: Essays and a Story:
Unlike booker, with Nobel Prize one definitely gets to know a very good writer. So I took up Snow initially in the year, which was a compelling read. Pamuk in “Snow” weaves a beautiful setting whereby he shows struggles, confusions and conflicts of a nation at one place clutching its tradition, its past and on the other hand trying to move towards modernization, read westernization. After Snow I read “My name is Red” which again beautifully presents the divide between east and west. Here the central theme was the conflict between Traditions Islamic art style of miniaturists and the emerging western influences and styles. And over the top of it is a beautifully woven murder mystery and a unique and dense writing style. Then during the year end came “Other Colors: Essays and a Story”, which is a collection of some of his nonfiction work. He writes bout his own reading, his life, his literary influences and other writers (Dostoevsky, Bernhard, Borges, Nabokov etc) his city and also on the books he has written. Quite a delightful read.

Jean-Paul Sartre – The Age of Reason:
It’s Sartre’s first installment in the “Road to freedom” series. The book attempts to elaborate the existential aspect of Freedom in absolute sense. All the drama in the novel takes place in 4 days, revolving around the Life of Mathieu, a Philosophy professor, and few people around. An absolute gem of a book.

J M Coetzee – Life and Times of Michael K., Foe & Disgrace:
Some how Coetzee is slowly become my one of the most fav. authors. Read “Slow man” last year and it didn’t ring much inside my head but it did leave something, something bit obscure, something direct, bit more fundamental. And I have been coming back to this author since then and with each book my respect for his work is growing more and more. First read “Life and Times of Michael K.”, here’s a bit I posted about it. Then read “Foe” and then “Disgrace”. These are few of Coetzee’s lines about the theme that he explores in it:

“There was something ignoble in the spectacle that I despaired. One can punish the dog, for an offense like chewing a slipper. A dog will accept the justice of that: a beating for a chewing. But desire is another story. No animal will accept the justice of being punished for following its instincts.”
“What was ignoble was that the poor dog had begun to hate its own nature. It no longer needed to be beaten. It was ready to punish itself..”

Haruki Murakami – A Wild Sheep Chase, After Dark, “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”, “Dance, Dance, Dance” & The Wind-up Bird Chronicle:

Read a lot of Murakami this year, though the books were not quite of the standard of “Norvergian Wood” or “Hard Boiled Wonderland & the End of the world”. Nevertheless the satisfaction and pleasure of reading Murakami was all present.

Also read “Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words” by Jay Rubin, who has translated few of Murakami’s novels

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Brothers Karamazov & “Crime and Punishment”: Great Russian sensibilities and depth. Absorbing reads.
Milan Kundera – The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts & The Unbearable Lightness of Being
George Orwell – Animal Farm & 1984
My God Died Young – Sasthi Bratha
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje: Almost like a dream.
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino: Mesmerizing.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories – Truman Capote
Flaubert’s Parrot – Julian Barnes
No One Here Gets Out Alive, Jim Morrison’s Biography
Styles of Radical Will – Susan Sontag
The Moon Is Down – Steinbeck
Memories of My Melancholy Whores- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins: It’s good in the beginning but then he keeps moving around the obvious.
Anton Chekov’s Short Stories

Few Disappointments:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – You Know Who
The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus: Not exactly a disappointment, but I sort of expected a lot form it. May be I will read it again some day.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – R Prisig: Not as good as it looks, quite limited in scope.
The Sea, The Sea – Iris Murdoch: Too much muddled drama
Travels in the Scriptorium – Paul Auster: Donno why I picked it up.

January and me

Blogging can be really boring when you don’t take time out of it.
Isn’t that same for every other thing we just don’t care about or can’t find time to care about. Anyhow, its not that i don’t like blogging or anthing but just that somehow i couldn’t blog this whole of Jan. Even the soliatry two post that i had in Jan were drafts from some time back and i just published them. Jan had been quite busy, and i just wished that there would have been more than 24 hours every day or may be i should have been still in college, safe for this job which just swallows that big chunk of my life.
Anyhow i did read a few book and watched a lot of movies. Just that
blogging or writing anthing would have meant some less time for them.
Lemme just go through those books as i don’t think i would be writing
anything big on them.

1) Snow- Orhan Pamuk : A magnificent book about Islamic world, its differences and its angst. The story is set in Kars, a remote Turkish state. The main protagonist Ka arrives there as a Journalist writing about the suicide epidemic among scarf wearing girls that has engulfed the place, though his actual intent of being there is to find some happiness which has alluded him all his life. So much was his happiness that he ends up writing 19 poems in a span of few day, noting that he couldn’t write one in the past 3-4 years. The reasons for his happiness were his love Ipek and snow. As the story progresses Pamuk introduces few characters and through them he juggles between different views about God, atheism and faith. He then goes on to show the intolerance and fury of both Islamic fundamentalists and the representatives of the secularist Turkish state leading to a thrilling end. A really good book for the way he introduces and manages his characters and the views that he shows through them.

Here‘s a beautiful lecture which Pamuk gave about the desires, fears and sturggles of a writer.

2) Kafka on the Shore- Haruki Murakami : So finally i picked this one after it had bit dust on my table for some 2 months. I just feared that someday i will just end up reading all of Murakami’s books and what will be left would be a long wait, wait for him to write another one. Anyhow, coming to the book, it was just another step up the ladder by Murakami on the tower of bizzare. As Murakami seems hell bent on attacking the normal his imagination just soares high and high. The main theme as it looks was the look at the world as metaphors. As one of the character in the story says: ‘The world is a metaphor, Kafka Tamura’. The book just drowns you with metaphors, myths, concepts, theories, Japanese folk tales, and above all his imagination. Just sample this conversation b/w two characters :
“At any rate you and your story are throwing a stone at a target that’s very far away. Do you understand that?”
I nod.” i know. But metaphors can reduce the distance”
“We’re not metaphors.”
“I know,” I say. “But metaphors help eliminate what separates you and me.”
A faint smile comes to her as she looks up at me. “That’s the oddest pickup line I’ve ever heard.”
“There’re a lot of odd things going on—but I feel like I’m slowly getting closer to the truth.”
“Actually getting closer to a metaphorical truth? Or metaphorically getting closer to an actual truth? Or maybe they supplement each other?”

As with any of Murakami’s work you can’t say that you got it all. Same was here though a bit more than his any other novel but still the satisfaction of reading Murakami was just like the other times. Here’s an interview of Murakami about the novel.

Other two book that i read were Flaubert’s Parrot- Julian Barnes and A Man without a country- Kurt Vonnegut. Both were quite good in heir own ways. Also Halfway through in both The First man- Albert Camus and The Sea, the Sea – Iris murdoch.

Among the movies few notable watches were : Babel, Amores Perros(12 Grams was much better movie than these two), Rebecca, Rope, Eyes Wide Shut, China Town, Before Sunrise and 12 Angry men.