A.R Sara

A breezy & intense eternal teen with a zest for the here and the now

Month: June, 2017

Skimming through

Once I begin reading, at some point in the book I get so absorbed that reading becomes synonymous with breathing. It occurs naturally without a conscious effort. Unless a string of words pack in a meaningful punch of such intensity that I come up gasping for air and temporarily the words from the book tangle with the physical world.

I’m currently half way through a novel and a thought struck.
I am reading it with multiple interruptions in between, as can be expected in this current phase of life. Reason I am even able to take a step back and let my thoughts wander in this direction.
I begin to wonder if I am just skimming through or reading every line. I realize that while some lines I wrap my mind around, other parts I just skim through. But the same can’t be said for all books, isn’t it? Some books just compel you to dwell on every line for a slow ride and some may suck you in and toss you out in a jiffy, while the rest may alternate between the two states.

With this on my mind, I strike a conversation with my son.
“Do you skim through or read every line?”
He reluctantly lowers the Alex Rider novel, he has been reading.
“Depends on the book and the mood, mom,” he answers patiently.
I wait.
After a pause he adds “I skimmed through Percy Jackson novels,” he admits.
“Wimpy kid, I can’t miss a word,” he smiles. “A book like Wonder is in the same category. Every line I read. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, falls somewhere in between. But depends…”

After a pause he adds, “Some books I skim through and then go back and read line by line.”

I wait for a beat as I process what he has said.

“Which category do my books fall in?” I ask slowly, unable to hold back the question that rages on my mind now.

“Mom…” he stalls.

I realize I am holding my breath.
Is that a grimace on my son’s face, I wonder.
“Your books don’t fall into the genre I generally read.” He shrugs lightly.
Is that supposed to be a trick answer?
“Mom, would you stop doing that with your eyebrows! You look funny,” he says with a grin, shaking his head. Before I could respond he returns his attention to the book and raises it to cover most of his face.
As I’m contemplating on how to win my son over with my next book, I hear hurried footsteps.
“Every word, every line I read, mom!” Pipes up my younger one as she storms in with a book of mine in her hands.

“Every word, every line I have heard, mom! When do you publish a book without first reading it out aloud to us?!” quips my son from behind his novel.
I sigh with bittersweet relief.

So what are you currently reading and are you skimming through, reading every line or a bit of both?

Book Review – Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

I am mostly a selfish reader and prefer to keep my thoughts about a book that I read, to myself, unless of course something about it compels me to share. Books that urge me to express, are seldom and hard to come by, though this urge is not a measure of my fondness for any book.
This is one such reading experience, that just demands to be shared.
This books lifts the veil off a little known dark phase in American history, around 1930s. The country has dabbled in Eugenics. This book presents a startling and sordid revelation about Native Americans being subjected to forced sterilization during this unsettling period.
Going by brief googling, the country has more than dabbled…there was a full-fledged American Eugenics Movement that has peaked in the 1920s and 30s. Something Hitler drew inspiration from, the book claims. As per further google lookup, the movement just crumbled and was discarded in the face of WW2 Nazi horrors and this part of American history was either carefully swept under the carpet or just slid into obscurity.
Can only imagine the amount of painstaking research that must have gone into gathering the historical details and I applaud the author’s courage and talent for presenting this controversial topic in a complex, layered and engaging story line with a powerful and moving narrative.
The disturbing facets of this slice of history (including the then prevalent racism) set in the backdrop of the present day advancements in genetics, have been tightly interwoven into an elaborate drama spanning four generations, with a supernatural angle. Sufficient doses of mystery, ghostly phenomenon, romance that transcends the barrier of time, familial love, loss, desolation, perseverance and redemption made it a gripping read. It packs in an emotional punch, with its intricate portrayal of relationships. It probes into and raises some uncomfortable questions around destiny, science and controversial topic of eugenics, genetic engineering and where does one draw the line when it comes to genetic screening and who has the right to decide on the worth of a life.
A multitude of characters, beautifully sketched out, carry the plot line to exquisite completion without loose ends, giving it a compelling and believable edge, in spite of the paranormal occurrences.
The friendship between a girl who is afraid of ghosts and dark places and a boy with a medical condition that makes any sun exposure lethal, is particularly an endearing one.
This is my first book of Jodi Picoult and I found it riveting. I deliberately stayed away from her books in the past, believing that they revolve around themes of depression, loss and grief involving kids, which can leave one with a lasting sense of unease and sadness. I happened to pick up this book on a whim after reading the blurb. Glad I did. This one did touch upon those themes, I tend to generally shy away from, but brought it all to a heartwarming upbeat conclusion filled with love and hope. But not without leaving some lingering hard hitting questions to ponder over.
Reading a good book leaves a delicate flavour in my thoughts, not unlike retaining a flavour of chocolate after it has been consumed. A feeling that can’t be expressed and has to be experienced to be truly understood. So have just attempted to offer a glimpse of the same here, considering I am not much of a reviewer. Including a picture of the front cover, like I would a chocolate wrapper.

Book Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

This was an opportunity to discover, read and reflect on a fascinating book.
I read through the entire book over a period of four weeks. I managed to cover more than one chapter on certain days, while my reading speed ranged between few lines to a few pages on others. Entirely possible I might have missed reading or remembering certain key areas in the book as I compiled my thoughts on it below.
*******

The author must be gifted and talented to pull off such an ambitious and epic feat and that too with such finesse, logical continuity and adroitness.
To summarize 200,000 years of human history in a compact, concise and meaningful manner, all in about 466 pages, stringing together four key stages that transformed humans, the environment and led to the current state we sapiens find ourselves in today…is an amazing and incredible effort. A current state characterized by technological advancements, sophisticated socio-economic order and rise of collective consciousness, yet sapiens remain a discontent species partitioned by more criteria than ever…race, religion, sex, caste, language, region,”culturism”… and edging towards ecological disaster or technological paradise.

He has picked certain key events and ideologies that shaped and changed the course of history quite dramatically and unexpectedly and not always in favour of the well being of the sapiens and other earth dwellers.
Found some of the analogies cited, a little far fetched and over enthusiastic.
I felt it emphasized primarily the oppressive aspects of sapiens and that it could have striven for a more balanced view. But that didn’t diminish the overall essence of the book.
The author’s attempt to inspire empathy by drawing parallels between slavery and the modern animal industry is sure to strike a chord with many, in my view.

Overall it presents a provocative birds eye view of history not characterized just by wars, conquests and biological drivers but by the underlying socio-economic, agricultural, political, industrial and technological transformations.

The author has skillfully and coherently highlighted various key drivers of rapid human progression from an ape-like simple creature of the homo genus to an intellectual, opportunistic and complex being of the homo-sapien species with capacity to think, communicate, grow its own food, manipulate, cooperate, store/merge knowledge and apply it to further it’s own interests, multiply and ensure its own existence with a marked indifference, apathy towards the other earth dwellers and the environment. A species that believes it has achieved dominance over all other species to rise to the top of the food chain and seeks to gain control over the processes that determine its mortality to achieve an immortal status. But then continues to be restless, ruthless and discontent thanks to a deep-rooted unease and vulnerability. A sub-consciously insecure species that is driven and propelled by its insecurity, individual vulnerability, awareness of its ignorance among other factors rather than a pursuit of happiness.

Can’t think of any other book in this genre that attempts to cover human evolution history in a well rounded empathetic manner from multiple angles and render it with such logical clarity and with a heart and soul.

Book Review – Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami

Alert!! Long winding post written in one sitting, squinting and typing with one finger on the tiny smartphone keys, while travelling, with minimal editing. Kindly excuse. Some spoilers in store too.
Read on if you dare…
Finally finished reading Kafka on the shore. I took my time with it. Reread several lines which considerably slowed my progress. But it was worth it. It enveloped me in its other-worldliness. A welcome diversion too, from the overwhelming grief of losing a dear aunt and friend recently. The book absolutely commands one’s attention with its mesmerizing tone, silky smooth flow of language and mind bending riddles that overlap and intertwine.
While I can claim to have read it fully…it still continues to linger in my mind enticing me to unravel the riddles so finely intervowen.
Ceaseless questions about the book continue to churn. It is like an abstract painting or a sculpture that realigns and changes shape and form depending on the time of the day you observe it and which direction you view it from.
It is a multi-layered reading experience which stimulates you with mystery, adventure, magic realism and a generous dose of shock value, all wrapped in a dreamlike surreal landscape.
If you peel away the layers, at the bottom lies a seemingly coming of age story of a 15 year old boy who runs away after facing parental abuse. Unspeakable mental abuse by his father by way of imposing a shocking prophecy with incestuous implications on an impressionable young child’s psyche and abandonment and rejection trauma brought on by his absconding mother who left with his sister, leaving him behind. Something that continues to haunt Kafka, triggering and directing his decisions and actions, rendering him mature, way beyond his years, trapped by inner demons and his destiny shaped and bound by a seemingly self-fulfilling prophecy.
Parallelly run two other stories.
Story of an endearing old man with a pure heart and a clean slate of mind. Nakata. Someone who is open to magical possibilities and receptive to ideas, however outrageous, with a strong moral compass and sense of justice. Courageous and compassionate inspite of his perceived shortcomings. A man with the heart and mind of a child, shaped by a life changing childhood incident shrouded in unearthly mystery. A piece of him locked away in an alternate reality. Later in the story he is joined by another man, Hoshino, who is almost on a similar wavelength. One who admires and follows Nakata and has the potential of carrying on Nakata’s legacy so to speak.
Nakata’s character of living in the present moment and being alert and conscientous about his actions is juxtaposed against that of a woman’s: Miss.Saeki who lives in the past, her current existence characterized by frozen feelings and her actions in auto-pilot mode and her present experiences swiftly captured in a journal, then promptly purged from her memory. The girl-woman who triggered the mayhem and uncanny happenings by discovering and tinkering with the “stone” in the first place enabling her to lock away a piece of “love-struck version” herself in an alternate reality. Timelines probably don’t matter once the portal is open and time can flow in any direction and events occur in parallel.
As the plots diverge and collide, we run into several characters from talking cats, to international brand icons for liquor and food personified as evil and neutral beings that create turning points in the stories.
There was an underlying theme of feminity and feminism under fire. I could be wrong ofcourse. I draw this interpretation from his portrayal of the women characters, and the scope, depth and intent of their roles, apart from the below.
– Kafka’s mother who abandons him and walks away with his sister, unless ofcourse she and Kafka’s sister were murdered by Kafka’s father.
– The sadistic and gruesome killing of cats by Johnny Walker, cats symbolizing the feminine.
– A teacher who flies into a rage driven by shame about her feminine waste being discovered by a student. Then hits the student, causing him to faint and conceals this bit of information.
– An erudite and suave Oshima who is implied as being a woman physically, yet with a masculine psyche, who dresses as a man and prefers relationship with men. Creation of a situation by the author to delve into the shallow nature of two women with a misplaced sense of women’s rights and feminism, who are cleverly upstaged by brilliant Oshima who leaves no stone unturned in belittling the two. What is the relevance of this incident?
– Miss.Saeki who languishes for her lost love. Opens the portal causing some kind of time shift, alternate realities leading to havoc. It takes Nakata to step in and save the day with Hoshino’s help.
– the young girl version of Miss.Saeki drops in every day in the cottage in the woods to cook for the boy she loves…in an eternal cycle.
Some more questions to add to the questionaire that might be already whirling in your mind.
– Maybe the Oedipus prophecy and theme is a red herring, as in it is a false or misinterpreted prophecy intended to divert and confuse.
Take this away and try interpreting the story, can we?
– Was Hoshino’s meeting with philosophy spouting 19year old girl arranged by Col.Sanders, signify a meet between different versions of Nakata and Saeki respectively?
– The two soldiers mention to Kafka that most kids don’t make it beyond a certain point on their journey to the “Neverland” in the woods. Rather than Kafka, Nakata and Oshino’s elder brother, by ‘most kids’ are they referring to the other school kids who returned before reaching the destination?
– Is Sakura a figment of Kafka’s imagination? His description of her face is rather unusual. Also refer his first meet with her. She sits on a seat next to him. (Continue to the next page.) She looks at him or converses with him from across the table. Noticed a discrepancy here. (Maybe he made her up.) The police could not trace his call to her. Her phone is conveniently prepaid, which cannot be tracked.
– The two women questioning the absence of separate restrooms for women in the library…could they be Kafka’s long lost estranged mother and sister? Little far-fetched maybe but unable to discard this compelling question.
– Does Oshima’s fetish for sharpened pencils directly correspond to his keeping his intellect sharp, clear-cut and incisive while his identity might be ambiguous, something he keeps bringing up?
– Does the crow (rather than being Kafka’s subconscious) signify his mother’s spirit and Johnny Walker his father’s?
– Saeki’s prophetic “one hit wonder” song versus Kafka’s dad’s prophecy, both potent and connect, twist, turn and drive the plotlines or is it just Kafka’s over enthusiastic interpretations of them?
– The silvery slimy eel-like being that emerges out of Nakata on two occasions. What is it?

Need to stop typing now. Abruptly. Time to pick up the next book to read.

Handmaid’s Tale Vs Palace of Illusions

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood had been on my “To Be Read” list for a while. So when the opportunity presented itself to pick up a book in the feminist dystopian genre, I didn’t hesitate to pick up this novel.

***Spoiler Alert***

Let me start with the part of the story that impacted me the most. The ending.
I liked the abrupt ending where the protagonist’s fate is left open to interpretation. It felt ambiguous yet tantalizingly hopeful as the odds seemed stacked in favour of an outcome that would include her escaping and joining a rebel group, maybe even reuniting with her (what’s left of her) family, moving on to a different continent towards a humane life.
The epilogue/historical notes seemed to indicate Offred’s phase was the initial one in the Gilead era rather than the peak or the ending…The dramatic part of me would have preferred it… if it was indicated as an end phase implying that Offred maybe escaped and added spark to the rebellion, that ended that the Gilead’s totalitarian regime.
Made me wonder how Gilead fell.
The historical notes from a bigger picture offered a vision of a better, brighter future that is inclusive in its ethnic and gender diversity. That gave me a sense of closure. The future members’ impersonal and objective view of Offred’s heart-wrenching tale and slicing and dicing of the events in her story, researching for clues about the workings of that historical totalitarian society, lent the epilogue/historical notes credibility.
******
I happened to read Palace of illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, just prior to reading Handmaids tale.
Can’t help but draw comparisons between the two. At an abstract level.
The portrayal of the events in both felt chillingly real on account of the rich, raw, poignant and powerful narratives. In the Handmaids tale it made the despair and horror of her situation extremely intense and stand out, when juxtaposed against her reminisces of her ordinary, normal and relatable interactions especially with her mother.
Underlying common thread depicts the oppression of women and their volatile status in society. Her status, her life can change in a heartbeat. Her rights can be swept away in the blink of an eye…Handmaid’s tale’s portrayal about especially the technical ease of turning off her financial freedom is frighteningly realistic.
*****
Coming to think of it, the current rights, freedom enjoyed by women are rather recent and can’t be taken for granted, isn’t it?

 

On a reading journey

A reading group that I recently joined has set me off on a path of discovering new books and reflecting on them. I owe a heartfelt thanks to my reading friends for creating an opportunity for this reading experience.
I have been making a conscious attempt to set aside some sacred time to read and contemplate. Juggling time with family priorities and my writing but felt compelled to share at least a glimpse or two of my thoughts on the books that managed to linger on.
I hope I am able to do so coherently as I continue on this wonderful journey.
I’ll be saving them all under the Book Review and analysis category.

All books are not made equal, though they are all meant to be read and experienced within.
Reading is a personal journey and your relationship with each book is sacred. Some books may evoke feelings and emotions that are indescribable and just cannot be articulated. While some might hover in the layer that separates the conscious from the sub-conscious, some just go on to become a part of you. Whereas some cajole you to share your thoughts with the world, some may prefer to rest, tucked away in an elusive corner in your mind. It is between the book, you and the phase of life you read it in, whether and what you decide to share.
Disclaimer: This thread is not applicable to kids, young adults, who have to write a book summary, review, literary analysis and the like for academic purposes. You may not refer to the statements made above, to get away from such assignments.

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