Friday, March 30, 2012

Do you read one book at a time?

I just realized, that I've gone an entire two months without taking part in a single meme!

Follow Friday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read. This week's question is:

Do you read one book at a time or do you switch back and forth between two or more?

I used to read one book at a time earlier. But now, I am usually reading two or three books at time. Especially when one of the books is huge and I know is going to take a lot of time to finish. Right now, for instance, I am reading Anna Karenina, which is huge, and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
I also read different books from multiple genres, so I don't get bored. You know, if I am not in the mood to read a science fiction book at a certain point of time, I switch to a mystery, and back again!

What about you? Do you prefer reading just one book at a time?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Time to change.

We spend our entire lives concerned only about those things near and dear to us. Not everyone can become a social worker, and not everyone should. I don't want to preach social values, I'm hardly the kind of person who has the right to do that. There are so many aspects of our society that we know need to be changed or refined; be it education, health, religion. We all know it, but we do nothing about it; simply because it doesn't affect us. And I don't think there is anything wrong with that, either.

I hardly gave animal rights a thought, till someone called a dog-catcher to capture the very lovable strays in our area. Though I never really fancied our education system, I didn't feel like changing it, until I suffered from the mental pressure it put on me. I never thought about changing the despicable traffic in our country, till I lost my father to a car accident.

A while after my father's accident, I was with my mother at a bank, where she had to take care of some documents. When she checked the box that said "widow" on a form that she was filling out, I couldn't stop the sudden tears that came rushing to my eyes. With the word 'widow' come to mind old history lessons about reform by Jotiba Phule and what's-his-name and phrases like 'abolition of sati' pop up in my memory. I would never have imagined the word to be so real, so relevant in my life. The first time my mother asked a woman, who was visiting, to apply the haldi-kunku on her forehead herself (because a widow is supposedly not allowed to do that) I realized much of what we label 'discrimination' is self inflicted. Thinking back to those days, when my mother instinctively felt 'odd' to go to a function dressed in bright, fancy clothes, I realized that if there's one thing we need to change in this society, it's the way we think.

Not everyone, as I said, can sacrifice their personal interests and become a social worker. It is not fair to expect that from each and everyone. But you can change society even by changing your perspectives on the smallest of things. The next time you tease a fat girl or call someone 'gay'; stop and think about it, their personal life is none of your business. Religion is not a duty; it's a choice - you can pray to God as much as you want, but you shouldn't judge me for choosing not to do it. The best way to change the education system, is to stop studying only for the exams, stop mugging up "questions and answers" and focus on understanding the concepts - you have all the necessary resources and more; books, television, internet. What people might say, shouldn't stop you from doing what you want. Walking into a temple at that time of the month should seem no different from sneezing in a temple. Becoming a widow shouldn't stop you from wearing a mangalsutra; it's your mangalsutra and it's your goddamn neck.

People are always going to be there waiting; crouched, hungry wolves ready to pounce on you, and seize away your rights. It's up to you to stop them. I'm not saying this is going to stop all the child marriages and sati practices still prevalent in the remote parts of the country. What I am saying is, it will still certainly make a difference. The change doesn't have to colossal, no one is asking you to become the next Mother Teresa. What I am saying is, every time someone smiles and tells my mother "Are you kidding? You know that stuff doesn't matter to us, you're the one who should apply the haldi-kunku."; it makes a difference.

(The Time To Change contest on Indiblogger made me publish a non-book-related post on this bookish blog.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Do you lend your books?

I am unnaturally possessive about all the things I own as it is, and more so about my growing book collection. Which is why I am increasingly reluctant to lend my books to other people.

My mom used to tell me that sharing my books with other people ought to make me happier than keeping them forever enclosed in a bookcase. Reading is what books are meant for, after all. Which is true, but you can imagine my reaction, when a brand new book that I really love is returned to me with dog-eared pages; or fingerprints and coffee stains on the cover; or a very battered spine. It's just very irritating, how carelessly people handle books. I am finally beginning to understand, why my sister never let me anywhere near her books, back when I was a very clumsy kid. Not to mention, there are those people who just simply forget to return your books.

The only thing stopping me from making this huge bookshelf in our living room, which I have wanted for years, is the fact that everyone who comes over will ask for books they could borrow. I am hesitant when it comes to lending books, but you really can't say "no" if a person asks, can you! I have always wondered, how rude it would sound if I told the person to not dog-ear or write in it and not use anything but a bookmark as the bookmark; never tried it, though.

Do you lend your books without any of these concerns? And... do you borrow books from other people?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll

Does it ever really happen that we are given a real second chance?
Another turn to bat, a few magical feet more to skid before we hit the wall
and ruin everything?

No, in real life that didn't happen.

Summary: Cullen James is a young woman who lives in New York with her family. In her dreams, though, she lives in the magical land of Rondua, where she journeys with a boy called Pepsi and a bunch of talking animals, on a quest to find the Bones of the Moon. The dreamland, seemingly amazing, soon appears to be taking over Cullen's life, as reality and fantasy begin to dangerously interweave.

My thoughts: Between reading Anna Karenina and a book of essays by Oscar Wilde, I started missing good ol' fantasy fiction; which is why I decided to read this book and I am so glad I did. The only other book that I've read by Jonathan Carroll is The Land of Laughs, and while it was really great, this one is just something else.

The book is wonderful, and just the right amount of touching. It's unusual, dreamy (literally) and just fantastic. The plot is set at a fast, exciting pace. The characters seem real and somehow, so does the wacky world they live in. The vivid descriptions make the fiction come to life.

I loved the book and I'd definitely recommend it! (If that isn't enough motivation to read the book, note the fact that both Stephen King and Neil Gaiman recommend it.)

The review is a part of the What's in a Name Challenge hosted at Beth Fish Reads (something you'd see in the sky)

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Untimely Love by Tendai Huchu

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.

About the book: An Untimely Love is a thriller-romance novel published in 2010, written by Zimbabwean author Tendai Huchu. It's basically a combination of suspense, mystery, romance and a dash of terror! You can buy it here.

Summary: An Untimely Love is the story of a suicide bomber, Khalid Patel, who, like the title suggests, falls in love at just the wrong time. The terrorist is caught between fulfilling his mission and saving his new marriage.

"Love can find us in the most unusual of circumstances. This is what happens to Khalid Patel, a terrorist, when he falls in love with Smokey, a feisty and independent young woman who was to be Britain's first female suicide bomber. On what is meant to be his day of martyrdom, his violent worldview is thrown into turmoil. We share his thoughts as Death and Duty become irrevocably and movingly entwined with Love and Life."

My thoughts: Suicide isn't as easy as it seems. The basic thing that I realized while reading the story, is that the love wasn't all that untimely. The man was about to kill himself; the survival instinct kicked in, and his untimely marriage was like the last desperate attempt to cling on to life. It is pretty justified, that he fell in love with a fellow "martyr"; someone going through the exact same things that he was; someone worth staying alive for. I don't usually like romance novels, but this one I did like; it's very believable.

I think it was a great idea to write the story from the point of view of a terrorist; a bad guy. Through the first half of the novel, I kept thinking that the main character was a big hypocrite; but I guess it's not always that simple. I mean, we too sometimes do things that we have no justification for; that we hate ourselves for doing. Sometimes we just have to get over our mistakes and move on, change ourselves. Sometimes, we realize that we are just pawns in some huge scheme; that we're in way over our heads. If it could happen to us, it's easily possible, that it's happening to many of the so-called "bad guys" out there; just that their mistakes and schemes are a lot bigger. The world isn't divided into good guys and terrorists. The story made me realize that things just aren't that black and white. To sum up this blabber, I have to say the story made me think; a lot. I like books that do that.

I also liked the way the writer has focused only on the key characters. The story is centered around a bunch of characters, and it doesn't stray from them. I would have liked to see the characters develop a bit more, though; I would have liked a better character arc. I also would have appreciated a bit more background info, and a deeper look into the workings of such terrorist groups!

The book is a quick read. What is lacks in prose, it makes up for in the quick pace and the strong plot. I like twist endings, and this one didn't disappoint me at all! The book is like nothing I have read before. All in all, it's an enjoyable read!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How do you rate books?

While reviewing books, I have always had a problem with coming up with a good rating system, that I can follow irrespective of the genre, type, size and author of the book. I mostly just follow the Goodreads system.

It goes like this:
1 star: Didn't like it
2 stars: It was okay
3 stars: Liked it
4 stars: Really liked it
5 stars: It's amazing

I don't find it sufficient though. For one, it is very relative. I may give a 5-star rating to 11.22.63 by Stephen King as well as The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; not that the books are in any way comparable or equal. I thought they were both amazing in their own ways; what I don't get is how to convey this "in its own way" through a rating!

Consider the example of a review copy; where I know it's the author's first attempt at getting published. I have certain expectations from the book and when the book fulfills those expectations almost entirely, I give it a 4-star rating; because I do really like it. That doesn't mean it is even close to being as good as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which I also really liked (and hence gave a 4-star rating!)

Secondly, I think five stars are too few to judge a book by. So I either use half-ratings i.e. 2 1/2, 3 1/2 etc. Or I use ten stars. Either way, the first problem persists.

I have seen people rate individual elements of a books separately. For instance, theme, plot and characters, each with its own separate rating. This is, I think, the most justifiable method; but I don't know how it exactly works. Which different elements would you rate separately and how do you decide the whole rating of the book?

I don't tend to put much weight in the rating a book holds. Until now I haven't come across a widely applicable rating system. Unless you have one. What do you base your ratings on?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How To Write a Good Book Review

Let me make it clear that just because the title reads "how to..." doesn't mean I consider myself some sort of an expert on writing book reviews. In reality, I am not even close to mastering it. I am writing this post merely to express what I consider to be a good book review and to state a couple of things (literally) that I try to keep in mind while writing book reviews; not to mention, get your views on the topic!

1. Avoid Spoilers! It took me a long time to learn how to summarize books without accidentally including spoilers. Personally, finding out the suspense or a plot twist doesn't really affect my reading experience much. But I know people who are entirely capable of holding life-long grudges because you accidentally told them who dies at the end of Harry Potter.

There is one thing related to this that irritates me very much, and that is a spoiler alert! Something written in the background colour, which can't be read unless it is highlighted; or in some cases, the words SPOILER ALERT written in bold block letters (followed by a thousand exclamation points) and then the whole plot and twists and everything that should have been withheld spilled out. Such a review just seems very amateur-ish (not that reviewing books is my profession.) Also, anything that comes with a spoiler-alert is probably unnecessary. A good summary, for me, is one that can make a person want to read the book and at the same time, keep much of the plot a mystery.

2. Be impartial; that's the first rule of writing a review, at least for me. If you don't like something, don't be afraid to say it. I understand that every writer puts a lot of effort in his book; but you can't let that affect your review!
That being said, I don't like reviews that are too harsh, especially in a vague way. You can't just say "That book is horrible" or "You shouldn't read it!" or "It shouldn't have been published" or simply "It sucks" and expect that to suffice. There has to be a reason behind your not liking something, and it is your job as a reviewer to discover that reason and along with that, a reasonable way to express it.
While we're on the topic of being impartial, "It's awesome" isn't a sufficient reason to recommend a book either (something that I am still working on!)

What about you? What are your expectations from a book reviewer, what sort of reviews do you like and what do you consider to be a good book review??

P.S. - Apparently, today is World Book Day. Not that I need to reserve just a day to celebrate my love for books; nevertheless wish you a Happy Book Day and happy reading!