The Strange Library – Book Review

Title – The Strange Library

Author – Haruki Murakami

Original language – Japanese

English translator – Ted Goossen

Illustrator – Chip Kidd

Genre – Fantasy fiction

the-strange-library2-w

“Ever since I was little, my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

Like most of us who have grown up on books, our unnamed narrator decides to visit the town library to issue some tomes. But strange things happen at the strange library. In spite of reaching almost near closing hours, the librarian insists that he read the books there itself, since those particular books are for reference only and cannot be issued. The narrator follows the librarian to the “reading room” – a long-winding walk through a labyrinth of corridors in the basement, where he is promptly locked up and told he can’t leave until he finishes reading all the books the librarian has given him.

The only other presences in the reading room are a talking sheep and a mysterious girl who bring him three meals a day. On questioning his fellow captives, the duo reveal nobody ever leaves the reading room. Once they finish reading the books he has given them, the librarian cuts off their heads and eats their brain, thereby consuming all their knowledge.

A quirky story with dark undertones, that takes you into the surreal world Murakami is known for. Past and present merge, as do reality and fantasy. Perfectly quipped by the mysterious girl who turns transparent at night, “Just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all“, Murakami gets the reader to think about how real reality really is, and which world is fantasy when the two collide.

As the narrator laments, “All I did was go to the library to borrow some books“, it is not just the characters sucked into the nightmarish library, but the reader who is also drawn into the peculiar world of Haruki Murakami. The book is printed in typewriter font, giving it an old world charm. Chip Kidd’s illustrations are vivid and brilliantly carry the story along, with bright colors contrasting the dark theme. This one is sure to have book lovers thinking strangely about libraries and suspiciously about librarians by the end of the book.

My rating – 3/5 for the story, 5/5 for the illustrations

Advertisements

For A Rainy Afternoon – Book Review

Title – For A Rainy Afternoon

Author – R J Scott

Genre – LGBTQ fiction, novella

64538050_10158612336759937_4545009962576773120_n

“I was never happier than with my nose in a book, tea next to me, and maybe a couple of chocolate chip cookies on a plate. Add in rain against the window and I was in heaven.”

Robbie works at the post office in an idyllic English village. The post office houses a café and a reading area, where people meet to discuss and exchange books, while sipping tea and relishing cakes. An elderly lady, Maggie, who loved books and reading and baking, and had bought the building that houses the post office and café, passes away, bequeathing the entire property to Robbie, while the rest of her estate has been willed to Jason, an American writer. As far as the villagers know, Maggie never had any family and lived her whole life alone in the village.

At the center of the story is a collection of limited edition books by Monroe Kitchener that Maggie has addressed to Robbie. Over repeated attempts to recreate Maggie’s famed applesauce cake, Robbie tries to figure out why Maggie left her property to him. What connection does she have with Monroe Kitchener? And who is the American now living in her cottage? Are all these questions somehow inextricably linked to Maggie’s past that the villagers know nothing of? As the secret ingredients to the applesauce cake slowly reveal themselves, an ephemeral story from Maggie’s past also starts unravelling from over seven decades ago.

A pleasant story to read on a rainy day, with tea and baked treats – just like Maggie would have enjoyed it. The writing however doesn’t match up to the story and is a bit of a letdown with its lack of structure. The characters aren’t well sketched out, and with the exception of Maggie, we know nothing about anyone else. Too much print space is spent on Robbie and Jason, but without any real character development. The mystery of Maggie’s past, the story behind the books and their author Monroe Kitchener are all rushed through. All-in-all, an excellent story line that lacked in presentation. Recommended as a one-time read, but a better writer could have made this book a lot more memorable.

My rating – 2.5/5

Animals, Inc. – Book Review

Title – Animals, Inc.

Authors – Kenneth Tucker and Vandana Allman

Genre – Fiction, Business/Management

book

“When was the last time you took a course to make yourself more marketable, and found yourself wondering just what in the world you were doing?” Animals, Inc. is the business world’s take on the allegorical novella, Animal Farm. While Geroge Orwell’s classic was a political satire, Animals, Inc. brings to life major management lessons through a parable.

The story begins on a farm, with every animal carrying on their respective duties under the able guidance of Farmer Goode. Goode has gotten old now and plans to sell off the farm, and move into a retirement home. The animals are given a choice – they can either run the farm themselves, or be sold off to pet owners and petting zoos. A unanimous decision is taken to save their home and care for it themselves. Here’s when our motley crew takes charge – Mo the Pig, Lawrence the Owl, Jesse the Horse, Lily the Lamb, Spike the Cat, and a host of other farm animals from cows, hens, pigeons, mice, even the scarecrow, lend to the proceedings in their efforts to run a successful business as barnyard animals.

The animals read business books, conduct surveys, evaluate competencies, identify strengths and weaknesses, set up training classes, put up motivational posters, and work hard to overcome their natural shortcomings with any new project. But what happens if a horse is prevented from physical labour to operate a computer instead, a shy sheep is made sales representative, a scarecrow is transferred to the production department to lay eggs, cats are made managers of field mice, or a pig declares himself the most important member of the organization? The situations and expected results seem uncannily familiar to the human reader.

The story is simple but the parable is powerful, as the moral provides vital business lessons. Readers from the corporate world will identify with the scenarios faced by the animals in running their enterprise. For those unfamiliar with the business/management field, many terms are presented and explained through the story. Ultimately it comes down to what works best for us to reach our highest potential, and how can every individual employee contribute to the organization as a whole. The insights are not very deep and the book can be seen as more of a primer into business jargon. It is the way the story is presented which makes Animals, Inc. a delightful read. Readers with an interest in word play, witticisms, paronomasia, will love the copious quibbles that abound the book. The authors are at their hilarious best in crafting an entire book by playing around with the English language.

~ “Biggs sat down at his computer and reached for the mouse – and the mouse ran away.”

~ “Mo received more complaints about the Complaint Department than any other department on the farm.”

~ “I know you. You’re Sandra Bullock. No, Sheryl Crow. No, no…Miss Piggy, is that you?”

~ “I’d sure like to find the stool pigeon who told them all this.” (While referring to pigeon spies.)

~ “Lily was poor at sales because she was too sheepish – which is the primary occupational hazard faced by most sheep.”

~ “With whoops and cheers the hens egged each other on.”

~ “Jesse registered for a motivational course, which he wasn’t motivated enough to attend.”

Gallup Organization came out with this book for readers in the business world to discover the keys to effective management, re-energized morale and heightened performance. Among the author duo, Kenneth Tucker is a seminar leader and management consultant with Gallup, who helps develop strategies for improving performance. Vandana Allman is the global practice leader for hiring at Gallup, and consults companies on how to build successful organizations by improving their hiring strategies. Both writers draw on real-life examples, data-driven research, and years of experience in the business field to present this vivid story.

~ “I tried everything. And then one day I realized that the best thing I could be was me.”

~ “It doesn’t matter if a job is big or small. You can be a hero in any role.”

~ “The best self-help books relied on common sense – the sort of things you already knew but didn’t know you knew.”

~ “Just because you’re a bird doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good flyer, or a good singer.”

~ “It isn’t failure that matters, it’s how you deal with failure.”

All in all, a good one-time read if it is a story your’re looking for. But if you’re someone like me who loves word play, this book is a gem. I haven’t come across many books that have employed such fun writing in the entire length of the story. The cover is lovely too – the hand shadow animals are such fun.

Rating – 3/5

Weekend Reading Plans

These are the books that will keep my weekend occupied – a novel, a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction book. The first two are English translations of Czech and Assamese language works. Has anyone read these? Feedback is always appreciated. What are your bookish plans for the weekend?

weekend