Thursday, December 03, 2009

Book Review: August - November 2009

So it’s been a long time since a book review went up on this site. And before I post anything else I feel the urgent need to write a book review from the last four months. So here it goes.

The books going up for review this time are:

  1. Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite - Paul Arden
  2. God Explained In A Taxi Ride - Paul Arden
  3. The Catcher In The Rye - J. D. Salinger
  4. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time - Mark Haddon
  5. The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite
Paul Arden

I liked ‘It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be’ so much that I decided to buy the other two books from Paul Arden as well. This particular book is just a notch lower than ‘It’s Not How Good…’ but equally stimulating. It asks you to break the mould of routine thinking and dare to be different as a pre-requisite to success. I tend to agree with him on most points there and recommend this book to anyone who wants his mind to be shaken out of the regular thought process.

God Explained In A Taxi Ride
Paul Arden

Disappointing. Period.

The Catcher In The Rye
J. D. Salinger

So I read the iconic The Catcher In The Rye only now. And I wonder why. I should take hype and recommendations much more urgently I think because I loved this book. I agree with Tigerstone in that it is a good but sad read. It is a very well-written book in the first person narrative with a style that almost disarms you. And the funny thing is, the way it is narrated it makes the reader agree with the narrator Holden Caulfield at most points until the reader discovers that he seems to have the same opinion about most everything and everyone. And that I think is when the reader wants to go back to the start and evaluate it all over again more objectively. But that is the power and beauty of the book; Holden seems to be right and evokes empathy without the reader realizing it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

My absolutely favourite bit from the book (Eve, this is what I was talking about at lunch the other day):

…The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in the line last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or you’d have a substitute taking the class instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with the gasoline rainbows in them. I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

Such and many other metaphorical bits from the book make it such an engaging and reflective read on the whole. Highly recommended (like the world needed my recommendation to pick up this cult book :D )

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
Mark Haddon

This book, again written in the first person much like The Catcher In The Rye, is the account of the life of a young boy. There isn’t much to the story if you look at it from the perspective of the story leading you somewhere. The story starts at the boy trying to solve the mystery of a death of a neighbour’s dog. The dog has been found dead in the garden. And the neighbour suspects the boy. To acquit himself of the charges (and also because he thinks dogs are better than human beings because they are easy to understand) the boy starts to investigate the murder despite his father advising him against it.

The story runs with this background but many facts and events unfold that tell us more about the narrator bit-by-bit. And the story ends on a different note than expected, far away from and after the murder-mystery is solved.

This book is disturbing. At various levels. But that also depends on whether you know as much about the group of people that the narrator of this story belongs to. The boy, from what I could gather from his narrative and my work with autistic children, is autistic. And every time I read another narration in the book I could picture one child or another that I had worked with who had had exhibited that characteristic – groaning constantly, rocking back and forth all the time, screaming at the instance of someone touching them, high attention deficit, not making eye-contact and yet extremely brilliant children. All of it came back to me. And it sent chills down my spine to read this book with that knowledge. It also threw light on an aspect I had always suspected to be terribly difficult – having a special child at home. The story brings to fore enough complexities of the lives of a couple that has a special child…the amount of patience required, the frustration that comes over ever so often, the different ways in which one must communicate with the child and an occasional fallout due to not being able to deal with that life. It is a terribly sad story in those terms.

I have to say one thing though – kudos to Mark Haddon for doing such a splendid job of portraying a special child and his thoughts. No wonder he got the Teenage Fiction award. I am absolutely in awe of his attention to detail and the brilliant job he has done at sketching various characters and detailing the story. But in my serious opinion, this is not a children’s book at all if that award title is misleading in any way.

I finished this book in Hampi on an evening when I was slightly under the weather and I couldn’t even sleep properly that night because every time I woke up I found myself picturing one of those children groaning or rocking. All the same, for the way it is written and the splendid portrayal of an autistic child, this is a must read. Hats off.

The Art of Travel
Alain de Botton

This book is who I am. And that is just one of the reasons why I love this book. It is well written. It flows easily between the realms of travel, philosophy and life. And it makes you reflect on your own travels and why you had undertaken them, what you took out of them. And it has a very warm feel to it. Every essay leaves you smiling at how the author has tied the entire content up to throw a brilliant insight your way.

So The Art Of Travel is a collection of essays by Alain de Botton on various aspects of and reasons for travel e.g. On Curiosity, On Anticipation, On The City And The Country, On Eye-Opening Art. Every essay starts with listing out the place the author travelled to and wishes to focus upon and the guide for this journey. This guide, now, could be another author who has written about that aspect, a painter whose work inspired the author to travel to this place, a traveller or explorer et al. And the rest of the essay is sheer joy.

Sample this bit from On Travelling To Places (one of my favourite bits from the book):

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversation than moving planes, ships or trains. There is almost a quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times require large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think when thinking is all it is supposed to do; the task can be as paralysing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand. Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks – charged with listening to music, for example, or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness, and which runs scared of memories, longings and introspective or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal.

The book is liberally sprinkled with such insights and is an absolute pleasure to read if you concur with the author in some ways. I am very very thankful to Ram for introducing me to this author and this book…my wanderings are definitely enriched, you must know : )

So that's a wrap for the book review. Hope some of the recommendations help. Happy reading people : )

3 Thinkers Pondered:

Eveline said...

I just love books. Of all kinds. But I just haven't read one in a really looooong time. I have a sick amount of unread books on my bedside stand so huge I had to move it for fear that it would collapse and crush me to death in my sleep.

Catcher in the Rye remains one of my most treasured reads. I dare anyone to read this book and not be amazed. It is scary and sad and wonderfully written.

Loved that line, Anupama. Really compelling.
Try 'Posession'.. a bit heavy. But it's so hallucinatory and dreamlike, you can't help but be fully immersed in the fever-dream A.S Byatt creates. The only author i've liked who combines poetry and prose.

Smita said...

Nice reviews!!

Lemme have a dekho at The Catcher In The Rye & The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

mentalie said...

the catcher in the rye and the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime are two of my favourite books of all time!