Books For Every Occasion

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”
~B.K.S. Iyengar

Recommending two books on the occasions of International Yoga Day and World Music Day.
The Goddess Pose” is a biography of Indra Devi – the woman who brought Yoga to the West in the early twentieth century, from where the practice rose to the global phenomenon it continues to be. 
In “Master on Masters“, veteran musician and sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan writes about the lives of some of the greatest icons of Indian classical music, having known many of the stalwarts personally – all eminent musicians of the twentieth century.

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Have you read either of these books? Are there any other non-technical books (memoirs, biographies, stories) on these subjects you would recommend?

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Birthday Bookathon 2019

Halfway through the ‘Birthday Bookathon’. As part of the yearly goals I set on my birthday each year, my reading goal for this year was world literature in translation – an ode to translators, without whom many of the books we read would not be accessible to us unless we knew every single language in the world. I have selected languages from each letter of the English alphabet, and the aim is to read one book (at least) from each of the languages corresponding to a letter. I began on the 14th of November (my birth date). Today we are at the half way mark, and these were the books finished in the past six months.

~Albanian – The Accident – Ismail Kadare
~Bangla – The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told – Arunava Sinha
~Cantonese – Never Grow Up – Zhu Mo
~Danish – The Last Good Man – A.J.Kazinski
~German – The Bird Is A Raven – Benjamin Lebert
~Hungarian – Iza’s Ballad – Magda Szabó
~Italian – Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello
~Japanese – The Travelling Cat Chronicles – Hiro Arikawa
~Persian – The Blind Owl – Sadegh Hedayat
~Russian – The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
~Swedish – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden – Jonas Jonasson
~Turkish – Istanbul Istanbul – Burhan Sönmez

This is the original blog-post I had written on my birthday when I started the reading list. Another fourteen more languages to go. 🙂 I am trying to keep one language for each alphabet, but I also have books from more languages, which will be read as I get the time.

Reader’s Delight – Learning A New Language

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Günter Grass, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll, Franz Kafka, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche – whether literature or philosophy, German writers have given us some of the finest works in novels, short stories, and non-fiction. Several literary gems have been made accessible to us through translators. The curiosity over what might be lost in translation, however, coupled with the quest to read what the original writer has written, in his/her own words, is something that drives me to learn new languages. The ocean of these literary giants is too vast to dive into so soon, so I’m momentarily dipping my toes into the smallest pond of German literature.

This site has not seen many write-ups lately, because I started German classes a few months ago.  I have daily lectures, along with working full-time, and haven’t had much time to write.

So, I just finished reading my first German book – EINE SPEZIELLE BAND by Sabine Werner. I will attempt to write a full review in German in a separate post. For the time being, this is a YA book featuring its protagonist Michael who hates school, doesn’t like the area he lives in, and doesn’t get along with the kids around him. His only happiness lies in music – listening to his favorite musicians and trying to recreate their music on his guitar. At a concert one day, a chance encounter with a random stranger and fellow music lover, leads him to being invited to join a band. And thus we set out on a musical journey with this group of youngsters who love hearing and making music.

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Sabine Werner narrates a simple story, accompanied with beautiful illustrations for each chapter. The book came along with an audio CD. I highly recommend audio accompaniments when learning a new language. Often, even voracious readers mispronounce words since they’ve only read them and never heard them. When starting a language from scratch, it is important to learn correct spellings and pronunciations. The audio uses different voices for the various characters, which is a good learning aid since people speak differently, even in the same language. There are questions pertaining to each chapter, so the reader can practice how much of the text has been understood at the end of every chapter. Interspersed between chapters, are a handful of pages sharing general information about Germany – something that relates to the chapter you just finished, as well as educates about the country’s culture.

A beautiful package of reading and hearing a delightful story. A must-read for music lovers, or those looking for a simple story on friendships and life surrounding music. It’s always a sense of achievement to learn something new. As a reader, studying a new language gives one access to a whole new ocean of literature in its true form. The giants of German literature are still a long way off, but baby steps with easier books will get me closer there some day.

P.S. If there are any German speaking bloggers who follow this blog, your suggestions and recommendations on German books to read will be highly appreciated.

 

Have Yourself A Literary Christmas…

Season’s greetings to my bibliophile family! Five days to go for Christmas. Woohoo!! Here are my ongoing reads for the festive season. From thrillers and mysteries, to humor and drama, in the form of novels, anthologies or novellas, literature sure has some variety to offer through Christmas. Has anyone read any of these? Feedback is always appreciated.

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The Light of Knowledge – Bookmarks for Diwali

Happy Diwali, everyone. To those who celebrate the festival of lights, I hope you have a great holiday season with the festivities. I made these sparkly bookmarks today, to go with the Diwali theme. Bookworms look for any occasion to celebrate books. And don’t books add light to our lives?  😀

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Murder In The City – Book Review

Title – Murder In The City

Author – Supratim Sarkar (Translated by Swati Sengupta)

Genre – Non-fiction, anthology

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As part of my birthday reading goals, this book was picked as a representative from the state of West Bengal in India. Murder In The City is a collection of police case files, sourced from the archives and narrated in the form of stories. A Bengali friend revealed the concept of these “stories” originated as a series of articles written in the Bangla language by Supratim Sarkar, a police officer himself. Translator Swati Sengupta published them as a book in English this year.

~ “Imagine a policeman killing his own brother, and burying the body in a house where he continued to live!”

~ “Everything that a school-going child was likely to have was in place – exercise copies inside a school bag, tiffin box, water bottle. The school boy was there too, his uniformed, lifeless body inside the trunk.”

~ “They opened the packets one after the other. They contained two arms, palms, fingers, wrists, all chopped into pieces.”

A man injected with the Pasteurella Pestis bacteria to be killed off from the plague, a pregnant woman’s body chopped into pieces and wrapped into packets strewn across public spaces (a separate packet for the foetus too), a seemingly docile housewife plotting the murder of a neighbor she suspects of having an affair with her husband, a man killed by his brother and the corpse buried within the wall of a house the accused continues to live in, a child kidnapped and killed by novice abductors who can’t seem to make him unconscious, an off-duty policeman standing up for a woman being molested finds himself attacked and killed by a gang of fellow off-duty policemen, and many more gruesome tales. These are not spoilers. Murder In The City is a compendium of twelve case files of the Kolkata Police, taking the reader across decades and centuries – from as early as the 1930s to the present day. Those who were alive when the murders happened might recall these cases from the news reports of the time. Sarkar frequently mentions how old the victims might have been today were they still alive, or what they might have accomplished in the professional sphere had their lives not been cut short. The Kolkata Police is known as one of the oldest and most illustrious police forces in India. Sarkar has dug deep into their archives and recounted astonishing cases, of which twelve tales have been presented in this book. The writings which were initially in Bengali were widely read and shared among populations who could read the language. The translation here is equally gripping and fascinating. Police officer Sarkar’s writing skills are commendable. Some snippets of his figures of speech:

~ “An ordinary afternoon was quickly taking strides towards evening time, as if it were rushed off its feet.”

~ “His sharp voice cut through the stillness of the night. It could have broken a sheet of glass into shards.”

~ “Those biting cold nights were tough players that refused to let go of the crease.”

Some of the cases selected for the anthology include the first two times “photographic superimposition” was ever used in India to identify a body, cases of murder solved even though the bodies were never found, cases of individual bioterrorism, murder mysteries solved during the early days when DNA testing or mobile phones and CCTV cameras didn’t exist. Murder In The City reinforces the old adage of fact being stranger than fiction, where one shudders to think that these are all true stories. I took a while to finish the book and had to pause after every tale to reflect on the happenings – the level of evilness in the perpetrators, of victims who were tortured and killed, of the tenacity of the police to bring justice, and the author being a policeman himself narrating the efforts of his former colleagues. The book highlights what the police go through in their jobs, the details of investigations, the steps involved in solving crimes, how clues are tracked, evidence is collected – with frequent comparisons drawn to fictional detectives who paint a glamorous picture of case solving, but the reality being far more hard-hitting and not so alluring.

A brilliantly written and translated account of some of the grisliest and most baffling police cases, every story is a spine-tingling experience. A word of caution for readers who cannot stomach gory descriptions – Sarkar has gone all out in explaining the details of each case. Read this book for a real-life account of murder mysteries, and the first-hand information from the forces who solve them. I usually pick my favorite of the lot from anthologies, but it’s hard to do so in this case because “favorite” would translate to most gory or sinister – the levels people can stoop to dispose off another human being makes for brilliant reading but a shocking experience. And if the hallmark of good literature is how it moves the reader, then each of these tales stand out in their own gruesome and sinister way.

My rating – 5/5

Favorite Books Of The Year So Far

I was asked to write an article on my top ten books for the first half of the year. Readers love sharing the books we have read with brio, and are constantly on the look out for new recommendations. Here are some of the books that kickstarted 2018 for me – a compilation of my top ten books (in no particular order)  from the myriad ones I read in the first half of the year.

1) The Mirror of Wonders by Syed Rafiq Hussain

An anthology of stories peopled by animals, “The Mirror of Wonders” is a compilation of eight stories originally written in the Urdu language. The stories are set in the Terairegion of the Himalayan foothills, where Hussain was a hunter before he got into writing. Each of the stories is told from the vantage point of animals; humans move in an out and around and between it all. Hussain has beautifully showcased the ignominy of human behavior in these satirical tales. The translator has done a fabulous job, deftly bringing these stories to a larger reader audience with his nuanced translation. My rating: 5/5

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2) My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece by Anabel Pitcher

The story of a child who loses his sister in a bomb attack, and the aftermath of his crumbling family and difficult school life. This is the author’s debut novel and an absolute delightful read. Issues of racism, alcoholism, prejudices, parental abandonment, childhood grief, bullying are all delicately handled, and leave the reader with much to ponder upon after the completing the book. Laugh-out-loud in certain places, and heartbreaking in others, a much recommended read, this one. My rating : 5/5

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3) Memory by Philipe Grimbert

Originally written in French, “Memory” is Grimbert’s autobiographical account of his family history amidst the Nazi occupation of France. The author’s parents jumped to their deaths from a balcony of their apartment building. Twenty years later, Grimbert wrote this novel about the memories and secrets that dominated their lives and drove them to the final leap. The author’s search to draw out the cold truths results in this hauntingly brilliant narrative. Every sentence has a lot of soul and depth to it and stays with you long after finishing the book. My rating: 5/5

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4) The Girl With The Green Tinted Hair by Gavin Whyte

A simplistic tale that revolves around the four seasons, but holds a lot more meaning than just changing weather. There are only two characters at any given point in the book – unnamed and referred to as “boy” and “girl”. This little gem of a book philosophizes on situations we encounter on a regular basis – people we meet everyday, things we see and hear frequently but do not pay much attention to, something seemingly mundane that we take for granted. The story teaches us to appreciate the present and live in the moment. Every moment is fleeting, and all good things come to an end to make way for better things. A very impactful read. My rating: 4/5

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5) Second Thoughts by Navtej Sarna

I love books about books! You get introduced to new titles and authors, or new books by authors you’ve already read before, as well as recollect books read years ago, or those you meant to read but forgot about and now that they’re in front of you, you can’t help picking them up. In “Second Thoughts”, Navtej Sarna introduces us to “literary pilgrims” – people who plan trips around places mentioned in books, travel to places where authors lived, visit local bookstores while on holiday, and meet authors. If you find yourself doing any of the aforementioned, this book is a must read for you. My rating: 5/5

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6) The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The month of April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month, and I had picked this up as one of my endeavors to learn and educate about autism – a subject I had worked on for my thesis. Originally in Japanese, the book is on autism, written by a person with autism, translated by the parents of a child with autism. The book follows a conversational pattern, with Naoki presenting answers as descriptions to commonly asked questions and dilemmas faced by non-autistic people who do not know how to interact with a person with autism. This is a highly recommended book for those who work with people with autism, or have a loved one on the spectrum, and most importantly for non-autistics to do away with any misconceptions regarding the condition. My rating: 4/5

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7) Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

A tragicomedy play originally written in Kannada and translated into English by the same writer, which is a delight for readers. Said to be a retelling of Thomas Mann’s “The Transposed Heads”, the narrative presents the differentiation between body and soul, and questions the philosophy that holds the head superior to the body. It is about human identity in a world of tangled relationships. An excellent play that raises the question of what completes a being. My rating: 5/5

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8) Son Of The Thundercloud by Easterine Kire

Easterine Kire is one of the most prominent voices of Naga literature, and uses her lyrical storytelling skills to weave this novel based on the magic and wisdom of Naga legends. What we get in turn, is a beautiful fable with a moral. A wonderfully written ode to storytellers, a pilgrimage into the myths and legends of a land, an intricately woven and magnificently presented fable that leaves a long lasting impression on the reader’s mind. My rating: 5/5

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9) Bump, Bike and Baby by Moire O’SUllivan

I had picked this one as an ode to Mother’s Day, and the book is a treat to all mums who are athletes and fitness enthusiasts, and do not want childbirth to bring an end to their sporting endeavors. Moire O’Sullivan is a mountain biker, runner and kayaking enthusiast from Ireland, and the book highlights her experiences from the births of both her children – how she trained pre-conception, during pregnancy, and post delivery – and the races she undertook during those years. My rating: 5/5

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10) Skating Through by Jennifer Cosgrove

A heartwarming tale which is essentially a coming out story, “Skating Through” delves into the topics of homosexuality and sports. Though creating a story revolving around serious themes, it isn’t filled with angst throughout and has it’s share of lighthearted moments. A great read for anyone looking for books that cover the LGBTQ community – great concept, story and characterization. My rating: 4/5

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So these were some of the books that stood out for me in the first six months of the year – a mix of fiction, non-fiction, anthologies, novels, memoirs and plays. What have been some of your favorite books so far this year?

Dare To Read?

So, there’s this Seven Day Book Challenge that has been doing the rounds lately. I have no idea where it started from or by whom, but people have been challenging fellow readers around the world to click and share pictures of seven of their favorite books. You need to be challenged by a friend, and in turn challenge another bibliophile to continue the game of tag. (The terms ‘nomination’ and ‘invitation’ have also been thrown around.) The criteria involves taking a photograph of only the book cover – no blurbs, quotes, excerpts, reviews, narratives of how you came across the book, who gave it to you, where you picked it up from, or any sort of explanation related to why that particular book is one among your favorites. All one needs to share is a picture of the book cover.

Now as avid readers, we always have a lot to say about our books. We would read anyways, even without being challenged. And for someone who reads about seven books in two months, identifying seven books from those read over a lifetime is quite a task. I personally don’t follow any of these “challenges” that do the rounds on social media – It means having to take out time to perform the activity, and log in daily to share updates of the same; something I don’t usually have the time for. Even when it comes to “Reading Challenges” which set themes for books to be read, I prefer setting my own reading goals. Books are always handy, though, and bookworms love showing them off – new books bought, visits to bookstores, thrift scores from second-hand shops, gifts from friends – we love sharing and seeing what others are reading which can be discussed at length if read, or added to the list if not.

Here’s what I came up with for the Seven Day Book Challenge. I read just about anything – across genres and languages – and I’m usually intuitively good at picking great reads, so most of what I read is highly recommended. I could come up with these “seven day” lists everyday! For those of you who haven’t come across this book challenge yet, the pupper above challenges you – Which seven books would you list, if you had to recommend a book for each day of the week? Here’s my list, or rather pictures since that was the requirement of the challenge.

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