Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

So, this book has turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting, at least from what I was expecting from Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert became famous for her book Eat, Pray and Love, which also inspired a movie starring Julia Roberts. Having watched snippets of the movie, I never really felt like reading the book as the story did not seem to appeal to me. However, this book is quite different from Eat, Pray and Love and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert traverses a different genre altogether. Releasing tomorrow, the book is a delight for readers who are philosophizers at the same time, or just like ‘thinking’ about different things.

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Image Source: Bloomsbury Publishing

The protagonist in this book is Alma Whitaker.  Alma is an independent, intelligent woman. Born into a family whose fortunes were built because of botany, Alma’s curiosity is encouraged as a child. She is let loose in the family estate and her five year self goes about collecting botanical samples and studying whatever she can find. There is no topic on which Alma does not have an opinion. However, she is still not quite free as she rarely ventures out of her home. Later, she remains at home because of a sense of duty towards her father, after the death of her mother.

Alma is a brilliant character. There is no question to which Alma does not want an answer. She spends her time in the most productive manner (although missing out on some of the things that life has to offer) and she is mostly self sufficient. Her entire quest seems to be the pursuit of knowledge. It’s like how she says towards the end of the book “All I ever wanted was to know this world”.

When it comes to the book, it revolves around some theories. One of them is the theory of the German mystic Brohme as illustrated in his book ‘The Signature of all Things’. His theory states that God created everything in nature, leaving behind his trace on everything, to show mankind how it can be used. That is why plants resemble some parts of the human body and how they are beneficial for the human body is indicated by the same.

Another theory is the theory of Natural Selection (yeah, the Charles Darwin one) wherein there are strong creatures and there are weak creatures. The fittest survive and hence, everything has to adapt to stay alive.

The author pits the two theories together, both of them belonging to opposite schools of thought and serves a philosophical treatise on nature, mankind and the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, Alma is not satisfied with both explanations. The book neither attempts to answer a specific question nor take a stand. But what it does is offer possibilities, of how the logical and the illogical can both co-exist. Sometimes, there are just no explanations offered by nature and we are free to derive our own reason (or lack of it). But what is important is the pursuit of knowledge and the happiness that its pursuit can give to a person.

I am not sure whether this is a feminist novel although the main character Alma is one. I love how she is so self sufficient and yet so aware of her body (even though she needed to have let herself loose a little bit more). At the same time, Gilbert steers clear of some of the controversial aspects of Darwin’s theory. There are some feminist school of thoughts that do not quite like evolutionary psychology (since it stresses much on man and woman being essentially ‘different’ and hence, not equal, along with giving justifications for promiscuity and the ‘rape gene’). However,  it is fascinating how Alma refuses to accept things on face value and goes down to the depth of everything. She comes to conclusions based on science and logic and can’t help but try to account for things in nature that do not seem to have an explanation.  However, she admits that there are some things that can’t be explained. At the same time, she is very much humane in the way she is aware of her bodily needs and her need for love and affection.

The book is fiction and philosophy, both rolled into one. The writing style is interesting and retains a style typical of that period of time. However, it is also contemporary at the same time. Please read this book if all you expect from the book is that it makes you think.

About the book: The Signature of All Things | Elizabeth Gilbert | Bloomsbury Publishing | Fiction | 499 pages | Rs. 599

Note: I was provided with an advanced uncorrected proof of this book by the publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Book Review: Hitched – The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage by Nandini Krishnan

The question of marriage hovers threateningly over every woman in India, as much as she may want to avoid it. Every single person in our society thinks it is their duty to make sure every single girl gets married (either that or sympathize with the parents of an unmarried girl). With more girls stepping out of homes and giving equal priority to a career and family life, it gets increasingly difficult to find a suitable boy. Hitched : The Modern Woman and Arrange Marriage is a collection of stories about real life women (and some men) and how they have maneuvered the difficult lanes of arranged marriage. It is also something like a how-to with different women giving advice.

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The author, Nandini Krishnan (Image Source)

The author has spent a lot of time in talking to women from different backgrounds and religions and with different expectations of the kind of life partner they wanted (and luckily got). It also features stories of women who have not been very successful with arranged marriage which they ventured into for entirely wrong reasons. The author tries to put rest all the worries that a girl might have when contemplating arranged marriage.

What the book says seem very authentic and a reader would connect as it indirectly comes from the mouth of various couples that the author has interviewed. It’s also witty as it talks about funny first meetings and strangely behaving prospective grooms.

The book will make you laugh at some places and encourage you at another. It may seem at some point that women take marriage as something you can’t avoid and make your best with whatever you get. That is because of the wide spectrum in which the author has conducted her interviews, with only one thing in common- they are all modern women who are independent and don’t wish to compromise their happiness any longer for the sake of ever complaining parents-in-laws or the pressures of conforming to standards of society.

About the book: Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage | Nandini Krishnan | Random House India | Non Fiction | 253 pages | Rs. 299.

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Random House India, for review.

Book Review: Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

Revenge Wears Prada : The Devil Returns is the sequel to the very popular book ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, based on which a movie starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway was made. Revenge wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger tells the story of Andrea after she leaves Runway (and Miranda, the ‘devil’).

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Image Source

The sequel starts with Andy’s marriage to Max Harrison, a suave businessman belonging to one of those old rich families in New York. Andy has now started a wedding magazine with none other than Emily and they have become almost best friends. However, the freedom she enjoys in her work seems to come under a threat as somebody from the past comes back in to her life. Her wedding day starts with a dream involving Miranda Priestly and a note sent by her mother-in-law-to-be asking Max not to marry Andy.

This book is all about Andy, nowhere is it about Miranda Priestly. I mean, yes, she does come back, as the chief editor of Elias Clark who is interested in acquiring Andy and Emily’s business. But the story is more about the implications of this and its effect on Andy and her family rather than Miranda taking revenge.

There are bound to be comparisons with The Devil wears Prada, especially since the book has enjoyed so much popularity. And so, when you compare the two, Revenge wears Prada falls short.

The book is still funny, especially the titles of each chapter and Weisberger’s tone remains cheery and smart. But Andy keeps on thinking way too much about every little thing and running away from important issues. There was strangely not much of a connect between the two books as the characters seem so much different. I felt as if all the characters had essentially changed into somebody hard to recognize. After reading Devil Wears Prada, could you have imagined that Andy would start a wedding magazine, of all things?

The book is still entertaining, yes, but it is too much about Andy and less about Miranda. The brilliant character of Miranda Priestly that Lauren Weisberger created in Devil Wears Prada is almost wasted in the sequel.

About the book: Revenge Wears Prada | Lauren Weisberger | HarperCollins | Fiction | 320 pages | Rs. 299

Note: A copy of this book was provided by the publishers, Harper Collins.

Book Review: He loves me not by Vrushali Telang

He loves me not by Vrushali Telang is the story of Jimmy Cooper and Mehroo Nasarwanji, childhood friends (sweethearts doesn’t exactly seem to be the right word). I thought it was a chick lit and was looking forward to reading it as I was in the mood for one. However, it’s not really chick lit, it’s more of a contemporary novel, that everybody is writing (and reading) these days.

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Image Source

Honestly, the book doesn’t really start out very well. I don’t really know what irritates me about this novel, it’s like I expected that I would like this story but it fell short. Mehroo is a sad female who doesn’t quite have much self esteem or anything to go for her, really. She constantly obsesses about Jimmy deserving someone so much better. It is quite annoying especially when Jimmy is such a good for nothing guy. He is your typical guy next door who does not quite realize the value of  everything important in life.

The story is a coming of age novel of both the characters, Jimmy and Mehroo. But much of it centers on Jimmy. The author tried to connect with the target segment of ‘young’ people by writing about hip lifestyles and at the same being sarcastic about some of the aspects of it. I liked some of the jokes she made, especially the one about Fifty Shades of Grey and about faking sexy. But, she seemed to be in a hurry to finish the novel.

The story does justify Jimmy’s coming of age to some extent but when it comes to Mehroo, the book is sadly deficient. At the start she’s such a depressing person and suddenly she’s changed into this soul who’s so much at peace with everything around herself. I suppose, most of us have been Mehroo at some point or the other in life, but how you come out of it to be a stronger person is what was lacking in the book.

On the whole, it’s a fast read with some very witty dialogues, a sarcastic view on ‘wannabe’ behavior among the rich and the upper middle class and endearing parsi characters. It also illustrates the disconnect between parents and children and how we desperately try to fit in. However, the author failed to develop Mehroo as a worthy character.

About the book: He loves me not | Vrushali Telang | Ebury Press – Random House India | Fiction |  232 pages | Rs. 199

Note: A copy of the book was provided by Random House India.

Literary Events in September

I have always wanted to know about any literary event happening in the city and searched for one place where I would come to know about it. To my dismay, I have never found such a resource. Hence, I will try every month if I can collect news about any literary events or book launches or anything remotely ‘bookish’ that you, my dear readers, may want to know about. Here are some of the Literary Events in September, happening in India :

Literature Festivals

1. Bangalore Literature Festival | 27th-29th September 2013 | Crowne Plaza @ Velankani Park,  Electronics City, Bangalore (Official Website | Twitter | Facebook)

The festival promises to be interesting with a mix of young and old authors attending the event, like Ramachandra Guha, Ashwin Sanghi, William Dalrymple,  Aditya Mukherjee, Kishwar Desai, David Davidar, etc. Heavy weights like Shobhaa De, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Farhan Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi, will up the celebrity quotient. Check the full list of speakers here.

2. Pune International Literature Festival | 20th-22nd September, 2013 | MIT Campus, Kothrud, Pune (Official Website | Twitter | Facebook)

The entire schedule is up on their website and it looks quite interesting with lots of workshops, panel discussions, and even a blogger discussion.

There are also some book launches scheduled during the fest.

Fitness On The Go 

Flipkart|Amazon

 

Abhishek Sharma

20 September 2013

3:45-4:45 P.M.

Pune Lit Fest

It Started With A Friend Request

Flipkart|Amazon

Sudeep Nagarkar

21 September 2013

10:00-11:00 A.M.

Pune Lit Fest

Legacy

Flipkart|Amazon

Sudha Menon

21 September 2013

12:30-1:30 P.M.

Pune Lit Fest

He Loves Me Not

Flipkart|Amazon

Vrushali Telang

22 September 2013

11:15 A.M.-12:15 P.M.

Pune Lit Fest

Book Launch/Book Reading

1. Bankerupt by Subramanian Ravi (Penguin India) | Crossword Kemps Corner, Mumbai | 20th September, 2013 | 5 pm

Pre order a copy of the book on: Amazon

2. Scandal Point by Fahad Samar (Harpercollins India) | Park Hotel, New Delhi | 24th September, 2013

There’s a contest for an invitation to attend the book launch.

Buy a copy from: Flipkart | Amazon

3. The Dream Chasers by Vipul Mitra (Random House India | Crystal Hall of Hotel Sea Princess, Juhu, Mumbai | 26th September, 2013

Buy a copy from: Amazon

4. Ghanta College by Clyde D’souza (Random House India) | Kemp’s Corner, Mumbai | 28th September, 2013

Pre order from : Amazon

5. Mad Girl’s Love Song by Rukumini Bhaya Nair (Harpercollins India) | Oxford Bookstore, MG1 Mall, Bangalore | 20th September, 2013 – 6 pm (Book Reading)

Buy from: Flipkart | Amazon

6. Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers by Bhaichand Patel (Pan Macmillan) | Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi | 30th September, 2013 – 4 pm

Buy from: Flipkart | Amazon

7. Mom in the City by Kausalya Saptharishi (Random House India) | Multipurpose Hall, India International Centre, New Delhi | 30th September, 2013- 6.30 pm

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Buy from: Flipkart | Amazon

Giveaways/Events/Workshops

1. Online discussion with Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season  on Goodreads on 19th September, 2013 (Link)

2. The Missing Page – Book Treasure Hunt (organized by Oxford Book Store in association with Random House India) on 21st-22nd September, 2013 | 11 am – 5 pm

3. Treasure Hunt (Part of the Grand launch of ‘The Signature of all Things’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, organized by Bloomsbury Pub and The Telegraph) at Botanical Gardens, Shibpur, Calcutta on September 21st, 2013

4. Participate in the Book Buying Habits Survey and you stand a chance to win a set of 4 of upcoming books: The Lowland, The Dream Chasers, Ghanta College and Marriage Material.

5. Workshop on Writing (organized by Fablery) at Hall A, United School International (USI), USO House, USO Road, New Delhi. (Near Jawahar Lal Nehru University-JNU) on Sept 28th, 2013 (4 pm)

I hope to make this a regular feature, subject to time availability. If you like this, do leave a comment below. I would love some feedback!

Also, if you are an author, publishing house, PR agent, or know about any more events, do write in to me at booksandalotmore@gmail.com.

Note: Information about these events have been collected from various sources like publicists, publishing houses and the internet. I am not responsible if there is any change/cancellation of the event.

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is an interesting book. It caught my attention when I read somewhere about Shannon being the next J K Rowling. It also led me to interview her and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, in the middle of her graduation and the book release. The Bone Season also got a mention in another piece on this website, called August Book Releases. I was extremely delighted when Bloomsbury sent me the book! And now, I have finally finished reading it!

the bone season promo

The Bone Season is part of a seven book series with Paige Mahoney who is the main character. Paige is a dreamwalker and she has the ability to delve into the minds of other people. In the dystopian world that Shannon has created, all clairvoyants are outlawed and their abilities are termed as ‘unnatural’ which leads to persecution. However, Paige gets abducted after an accident one day and transported to another city where Rephaites, creatures from another world, reign supreme. It is also a place where, seemingly, clairvoyant abilities are prized, although for entirely different reasons. But still, Paige is not truly free and is assigned to a ‘Keeper’ called Warden.

I love it when authors use a lot of musical references to set the scene. Samantha Shannon has used a lot of interesting songs in the background to set the proper mood. These are the ones that Warden plays on his gramophone. You can find the playlist on her blog. This is one of my favorite songs. 

The relationship between Paige and Warden is interesting but I wonder how that’s going to turn out in the next book. I am still not sure about the intentions of certain characters in this book who profess to be ‘good’. Sometimes, things seem to be too easy for Paige (of course she’s a prodigy but yet). There are so many things that I would like to say about the plot and the characters but I would then be giving it all away, which would completely destroy the whole experience of reading The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.

Through this book, Shannon also explores the true meaning of freedom. Which is better? Living in a world where there’s always a risk of being hunted down? Or living in a world where you are essentially free to walk anywhere and yet, there are boundaries you cannot cross and self-respect goes for a toss when you are essentially a slave to the whimsies of another race of people. Another theme Shannon explores is the politics of ‘protection’, or the heavy price of ‘being protected’ by another race.

The Bone Season is neither Harry Potter nor is Samantha Shannon another J K Rowling. You can’t really compare J K Rowling with anybody. However, Samantha Shannon creates her own unique space with this book. The magic is in the world that she creates. It is fascinating yet an equally frightening dystopian world and Shannon brings out human fallacies very well.  

And thus, I wait anxiously for the second book in the series.

About the book: The Bone Season | Samantha Shannon | Bloomsbury Publishing | Fiction | 463 Pages | Rs. 499.

Note: A copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Book Review: The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury

The current status of our chaotic country seems to be an extremely fitting time for this book to be written. With our country riddled by dishonest, utterly inept politicians, a failing bureaucracy, a police willing to act only at particular instances, a media perpetually high on steroids, shrewd spiritual leaders (better to call them businessmen, no?) and people divided by stupid things like caste and religion, the book ‘The Competent Authority’ by Shovon Chowdhury is a commentary on the prevailing social and political conditions in India.

With 452 pages and a small sized font, at first this book seemed to pose a challenge to me. Lately, things have been hectic and I have found it hard to sustain the energy to write on this blog, after a long day and the commute in the metro. However this book is anything but boring.

The book The Competent Authority is a witty take on life in the year 2050 in a scenario when cities like Delhi and Mumbai do not exist (at least not in the same form we know them today) because of a war with China (they got nuked). Bengal has declared itself to be a Chinese protectorate and India is controlled by a bureaucrat known as the competent authority, with the PM only being a figurehead(Oh well, not that it is quite different in real life too). The competent authority is invisible to the public and is a megalomaniac with a desire to go down in history as the one who successfully spurred economic growth and reconstruction. Not satisfied by the ongoing reconstruction efforts which have managed to do little ‘re-construction’, the competent authority wishes to ‘re’-start the ‘re’-construction process completely. This, he aims to do so, at great cost, even if you disregard the whole madness of his scheme. Essentially, this is a story of how he is stopped from carrying out his mad plans.

There are many interesting characters who join him, especially Ali – an Al Queda member who isn’t much of a terrorist, Banani – a school teacher who is not as helpless as her husband seems to think, Pande – the epitome of the paunchy Indian policeman or Pintoo – a character without whom the book would be incomplete. Actually, the book would be incomplete even if one of the other characters were to be removed.

The writing is funny and simple, neither compromising on the laws of language (or the ‘literary’ quotient, if you may choose to call it so) nor becoming obtuse to the reader. At the start, one may get a little confused when so many characters are introduced at quite the same time. However, the author has listed all the characters in the book at the start, describing them in a short and funny way.The Author has made fun of everybody, whether it be spiritual leaders running a business in the name of faith, bureaucrats, Bengalis, communists, capitalists, dynasty politics, right wing fundamentalism and even Honey Singh (Yey!).

This is a satire but at the same time, the book becomes sensitive at certain places, giving time to the reader to meditate and take it all in, the whole meaning of life, hidden somewhere in between the different layers of sarcasm, speculation and irony. Extremely poignant are two scenes, one in which Gandhi talks about himself and what’s he done, to Chatterjee, who’s been sent into the past to save Gandhi. The other scene has one of the central characters losing his hand. The book also leaves you with a positive message, albeit a little cliched.

About the book: The Competent Authority | Shovon Chowdhury | Aleph Book Company | Fiction | 452 pages | Rs. 495.

Note: A review copy of the book was provided by the publishers, Aleph Book Company.