Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Happy 2nd Blogiversary to Me!


So, readers, today, Tabula Rasa turns 2 and I wanted to (finally) host my first book giveaway (which would have been fun, considering I've got a job now, so it would have literally been MY giveaway.) But as it turns out, I completely forgot about the Blogiversary (Did I mention, YAY!!) until today morning - so no giveaway right now.

I have to say, two years seems like a very long time. I still remember, with much fondness, my first few posts. I had a lot of thoughts; well, I have always had a lot of thoughts. But, I had sort of an awkward, jumbled-up way of expressing them. See for yourself. What started out as just any other blog, soon became dominated by bookish posts, even as my life became considerably dominated by books.

I have had some amazing, shocking, exciting, almost life-altering experiences ever since I started Tabula Rasa: receiving my first ever review copy through another Book site, receiving my first ever review copy directly from the author, getting my first blog awardthis (which I suppose, speaks for itself!), having someone whose blog I love say that they like mine (it came as a shock), having an official Stephen King page (apparently) tweet my review, getting my posts/blog selected on sites such Blogadda and Blogjunta (don't have any links), and even writing book reviews for an online magazine (of sorts) for a while.

I was happily surprised to see an increasing number of followers and readers, apart from family and friends. I saw my writing becoming much more confident, I found my voice; in fact, I was even able to write some non-awkward, non-joking posts such as this or this, about things that matter. Not to mention, only a minute ago, I realized I am now finally not annoyed by casual dismissal; which I always find worse than outright criticism. Seems like one hell of a journey, doesn't it?

Last year, I found a bookish template that just "feels right" for my blog.
I also wrote an About Me page that contains more about me, than the line "Life is like a box of Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans, you never know what you'll get next." ever did (which I should have copyrighted, by the way, as soon as I thought of it, to avoid the Ross Geller-Got Milk? situation, that it eventually led to.) I have drafts of Blogroll and Reviews Pages, waiting to be edited and published; which I will do sometime next week.

And now, I am looking forward to celebrating the day with a good book and a nice cup of coffee, like any regular anti-social blogger.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke Volume I


So. I've been buried in this book, ever since I got it from the library. And, what an experience that was! I was attending the fiction writing workshop at a library, and after nibbling on a few sandwiches, I spent the rest of the lunch break looking at the books. How can you sit and eat when you're surrounded my countless magical shelves of old, rich smelling books?
I noticed this huge book and read the title: Jonathan Strange and.... I literally squealed. I wanted this book for ages. A man sitting next to me reading started, and looked up, wide-eyed, as if he thought I was a freak. I plastered a very awkward smile on my face, snatched the book, and sort of ran away. I was carrying a very tiny bag with me, so for the rest of the workshop, I had to keep the book on the table, for everyone to see, smile and question about.

Getting back to the book; it is, as you can see, enormous. I couldn't write an entire review with all the elements I want to talk about, even if I wanted to. So, I've decided to write about each Volume separately and I finished reading Volume I, yesterday. Let me start with appearance. I love the simple black-and-white cover, that lets on so little about the book. My copy looks sort of old (even though the book was released in 2004) and worn and very beautiful; it's a paperback and I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to read such a huge hardback. The illustrations (by Portia Rosenberg) look like pictures right out of a book of magic.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a book about two English magicians, set in the 19th Century England (with an alternative history; one where magic existed) around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The writing has a very formal Victorian-ish air to it, but the language is never too heavy to get through. The archaic spellings and that touch of deadpan humour adds a sort of style to the book. Not to mention, the often foot-long footnotes make the world Clarke has created even more real and quite enchanting.

Volume I introduces us to Mr. Norrell, who is seemingly the only practical magician left today (practical magic died out centuries ago.) Mr. Norrell is quite unlike the image, that gets conjured up in your mind when you think of a magician. He is a tiny man, who easily goes unnoticed. He doesn't like big crowds and lives at the outskirts of a city of York, alone in a big house with an enormous library. When asked to perform magic by all the theoretical magicians of York, to prove that he can, he does it; but on one condition. Once he proves that he can perform practical magic, every theoretical magician must give up his profession. That says a lot about Mr. Norrell. He is proud, wants to keep all the glory to himself and wants to bask in the limelight; but is too anti-social to know how to make people respect him. Our story really begins, when Mr. Norrell, on having made every magician in his town quit magic, leaves to London, intending to revive practical magic in England.

Right from the very start, Clarke builds up the story beautifully; while on the one hand we read about Mr. Norrell's antics in the city of York and later in London; on the other, we are slowly introduced to the legendary Raven King, a powerful magician who ruled the human and Faerie kingdoms; without whom, arguably, there would be no magic at all. We are also briefly introduced to the other key character of the novel, Mr. Strange. We know that he goes on to become Mr. Norrell's pupil, but how he gets there and why is quite a mystery; considering how possessive Mr. Norrell is about magic! The book is very Harry Potter-esque, in a way, because I feel the same kind of awe, when reading it, that I felt all those years ago. The descriptions of the magic performed in the book made me almost shiver with excitement. Not to mention, the frequent realization that something BIG is about to happen.

Neil Gaiman calls it the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years, and I think I already know why. I can't seem to be able to put it down...

P.S. - For those of you, who want to get a taste of Clarke's writing, before taking on a 1000 page book - here's a beautiful little short story by her, that you ought to try! Just follow the link.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley



If you are looking for a very nice and detailed sort of review of the book, this is not it; but I could redirect you to a good one here.


The first dystopia I read was Orwell's1984, when I was in high school. I re-read it years later now, and I still can't seem to get over its charm and genius. I have re-read the Appendix, which explains the principles of Newspeak more times than I could count! Another dystopian novel (actually, novella) I remember reading was Ayn Rand's Anthem. It was a good book. Only last year, I read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and was awed by the whole concept. Yet, when someone posed the question: "Do you like dystopian fiction?", I immediately thought to myself, "Not really". I was so wrong. I decided to take part in the Dystopia 2012 Challenge at Bookish Ardour. And I am so glad I did, because for whatever reason, I would never have picked this book up otherwise. It is the sort of book that everyone should read.

The book Brave New World is written by Aldous Huxley in 1932. "Community, Identity, Stability" is the motto of the World Controllers. In what seems to be a utopia or an ideal society, happy, perfect people are  created using a combination of developed technology and sleep-learning and such. Like in 1984 there is, however, someone who doesn't quite fit in this society.
It is difficult, at times, to connect to the (sort of shallow) characters, but the story draws you in nevertheless. It is very intriguing that, what seems like a utopia, is actually a dystopia. And I wonder, what exactly would be a utopia?  The frightening vision of the future, made me really think about the nature of morality. The book is at times quite ridiculous, and at times hauntingly real.

It seems, Brave New World was inspired by a novel by H.G. Wells called The Sleeper Awakes, which I now can't wait to read. If you haven't read Brave New World, do yourself a favour and go read it! Now!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bout of Books Read-a-thon Wrap-up!


Bout of Books was a week-long readathon, hosted here.

Total hours spent reading: 16

Total number of pages I read: 881

Number of books I finished: 4

Books I finished:
1. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
3. Salome by Oscar Wilde
4. Watership Down by Richard Adams

My thoughts: To tell you the truth, I expected more. Which I would have been able to manage, if I hadn't attended that writing workshop. Then again, the workshop, which I will write about later, was worth it.
I loved this read-a-thon, because, it didn't mean I had to gather up all my snacks and tell everyone I know I won't be doing much else except reading for a certain amount of time and not to disturb me. It just meant taking more time out of every day to read than I normally would have. Four books, is a lot, considering how busy I have been this week. I discovered some great new blogs, as well. :)

How was your week?

Fiction Writing workshop

We started with writing a sentence and wrapped up with a little story. They told us to set a goal - "what do you want from this workshop?", he said. In fact, he told us to write it down and make sure, later, that we reach our goals. When you write a blog, and soon learn, that people other than your sisters actually read and like it, it's a good feeling. Isn't it? It felt a thousand times better, when the guy said that mine was the perfect character sketch.
Being a writer, he told us, is about letting go of your inhibitions; not worrying, what others would think. It sounded a bit too dramatic for me. A writer is essentially someone who writes. Yet, I've never written an embarrassing story about myself with quite as many details as I did that day. And when everyone started laughing, I knew they weren't laughing at me, they were laughing at the funny story.
I couldn't possibly write everything he said; and I wasn't one of those people, either, who literally jotted down every single thing that came out of his mouth, their eyes squinting and mouths twisted in concentration. What I can tell is, that this blog might just see a little more of what I label the 'random', non-bookish posts! There. I said it, I want to write a book, someday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bout of Books Read-a-thon Updates


Bout of Books Read-a-thon is a week-long readathon hosted here; it is a great idea for those of us who find it nearly impossible to stay up for 24 hours at a time, or spend an entire weekend continuously reading.


I will post my daily updates here, along with links to the reviews; if any!

Updates:

5/14

Hours I spent reading: 3
Total number of pages I read: 250
Number of Books I finished: 1
Books I finished: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
Books I started but didn't finish: None
Total number of books I have read till now: 1
My Thoughts:
I didn't read as much as I would have liked to on the first day. But I do still have a lot of wonderful books waiting to be read, and I will finish reading them!

5/15

Hours I spent reading: 4
Total number of pages I read: 231
Number of Books I finished:
Books I finished: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Books I started but didn't finish: Watership Down by Richard Adams
Total number of books I have read till now: 2
My thoughts:
I have wanted to read The Picture of Dorian Gray for so long now. Ever since I read my first Oscar Wilde play. It was a beautifully haunting read, to describe which I will need a separate post... Watership Down is a huge book and I can't wait to read my way through it. I'm excited and looking forward to the wonderfully bookish days ahead of me!

5/16

Hours I spent reading: Definitely more than 3. See, I forgot to count after the first 3 hours!
Total number of pages I read: 300
Number of Books I finished: None, or 1/2. Because I did finish reading half of Watership Down.
Books I finished: 
Books I started but didn't finish: Watership Down by Richard Adams
Total number of books I have read till now: 2
My thoughts:
Watership Down is turning out to be one of the best books I have ever read. I wonder why people find it hard to get into the book; I thought the writing was fabulously involving; but maybe that's just me. I might read another of Oscar Wilde's books today, as well.


5/17

Hours I spent reading: Barely 2 hours
Total number of pages I read: 100
Number of Books I finished: 1
Books I finished: Salome, a short play by Oscar Wilde
Books I started but didn't finish: I continued reading Watership Down by Richard Adams
Total number of books I have read till now: 3
My thoughts:
I hope to read another play by Oscar Wilde tomorrow. I am taking part in a two-day creative writing workshop this weekend, so now's the time I have left to read! I hope I finish Watership Down too :)

5/18 and 5/19 - Unfortunately, no reading done at all! :(

5/20 

Hours I spent reading: 2 hours
Total number of pages I read: 200
Number of Books I finished: 1
Books I finished: Watership Down by Richard Adams
Books I started but didn't finish: None!
Total number of books I have read till now: 4
My thoughts: Watership Down - what can I say? Best. Book. Ever!

Happy Reading!

Bout of Books Read-a-thon Minichallenges

Bout of Books is a week-long read-a-thon hosted here. This is the place where I am going to be adding all my mini-challenges, because I don't want to clutter my updates post.

Day 2 of the read-a-thon.
Minichallenge hosted @ Nyx Book Reviews.
Name of the Challenge: Bookish Confessions.
Question:
Part II:  
Answer all of these "this or that" questions.
My answer:
Physical book or eBook?
Paperback or Hardcover?
Reality or Make-believe?
Adult or Young-Adult?
Dog ears or Bookmarks?
Breaking the spine or Barely open the book?
Tea or Coffee?
Reading in bed or On the couch?
Series or Standalone?
Original or TV Adaptation?
Defy motion sickness or Audiobooks?
Author crushes or Who-was-that-guy-again?
Interview or Guest post?


Monday, May 14, 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

I received this book in exchange for an honest review through Blogadda.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a Japanese crime thriller first published in 2005. It is the third and the most acclaimed book in Keigo Higashino's Galileo series. The first two chapters tell us, the readers, of the murder that is committed by single mother Yasuko Hanaoka and the cover-up designed by her strange and mysterious neighbour, a genius mathematician called Tetsuya Ishigami. The murder has the police completely puzzled. And it is upto detective Kunasagi, assisted by physicist Manabu Yuwaka (Galileo) to figure out just what happened.


(What I liked) Usually, twist endings in crime novels leave me thinking; "What!! Did that just happen?". They almost always make me wonder if the writer just got tired of coming up with a decent ending. It's safe to say, that there are very few unexpected turns of events that I actually like. But this one was one of those few. As a reader, you are an observer of a story, which is carefully veiled. The veil is lifted slightly every so often, but never quite so much that you know exactly what is happening. The author does a great job of maintaining the suspense, of not letting on too much, without making you impatient. Every page gives a little more information, and every page creates a new question.

This was also one of the few psychological thrillers I have read, where the hero isn't suffering from an actual mental disorder. And yet, it was also the most thrilling, in that respect. I know people who don't like mysteries/crime novels because you don't get anything valuable out of them. I disagree, because the biggest reason I read is to just get lost in a new kind of world. But this book had a lot more to offer than just that. It was highly unrealistic in many places, but at the same time, it said something about human nature that is uncannily real. I couldn't tell you that without disclosing the best parts of the book, so let me just leave it at this; the book has the most apt title! Plot-wise, I think The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino was really quite fabulous.

That being said, I did not exactly love the book.

(What I did not like) Firstly, let me just say, I might have enjoyed this book a tad bit more, if I could have read the original. It was obvious in many places, that this was a translation. The sentence construction was awkward. Another thing I did not like was that it seemed too much like an unrealistic and cheesy detective movie. Crime fiction is so vast a genre, and has seen so many bests over the years, that it must be hard to write something that would count as different. The scenes were repetitive and it seemed to me, as if I was viewing a combination of all the crime dramas there on TV these days.
Which brings me to the next thing; the book read like a movie script at times; and that, according to me, is the worst thing when it comes to a thriller.
It was also kind of weird, how the writer kept explaining every thing over and over again, from the different perspectives of all the different characters. It was almost as if he assumed the readers were too stupid to figure things out on their own.
The characters had the potential to be much better than they actually were; much more developed. But somehow I kept thinking that the author was juggling a lot more characters and viewpoints than he should have been.

It's not the worst book I've read, but it's certainly not the best. I would recommend people to read this book, for all the good parts. But I would like to remind you, 2 million people might even be wrong; Twilight taught us that!

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Bout of Books Read-a-thon


As I said in my previous post, I have a shelf-full of books to read and no time. I have decided to find time and to make sure that I do, I am taking part in this awesome week-long read-a-thon hosted @ Bout of Books.

Bout of Books Read-a-ThonHere are my goals for this readathon:

The books I plan to read:

1. Finish reading The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino; a review copy.

2. Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal by R. A. Scotti; a fabulous non-fiction about the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.

3. The Master Works of Oscar Wilde; a compilation of Wilde's best plays, poems and novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray)

4. Watership Down by Richard Adams; I got it in large print, so that it will be easier to read it!

5. A Short History of the World by H. G. Wells; another non-fiction that seems great!

Other goals:

1. To read for at least 3 hours every day.
2. To post systematic updates in one updates post, unlike the last time!
3. Visit at least 3 new blogs every day!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

So many books, so little time



"Sitting in any library, surrounded by high shelves of books, I sense the profoundly rich history of scholarship as something real, and it’s both humbling and inspiring. This manifestation of reality is true of other artifacts as well. We can read about the Holocaust or where Emily Dickinson wrote her “letter to the world” or where Jim Morrison is buried. We can view online photos of all these places. Still, each year, thousands of people visit Auschwitz, The Homestead, and Père Lachaise. I suppose our desire to be near books rises from a similar impulse; they root us in something larger than ourselves, something real. For this reason, I am sure that hardbound books will survive, even long after e-books have become popular."

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Allison Hoover Bartlett) 

I wanted to write a post about all these different wonderful libraries that I have joined recently; and the fact that I am finally thoroughly enjoying the library experience; when I remembered this quote. I couldn't have said it better. For once now, there is actually a delightful stack of books piled up on my shelf; the kind of old, rich smelling books, that make reading ebooks seem excruciatingly boring; and I can't quite find the time to read. You know, life always interrupts at the worst possible moments. I do hope you're having a more bookish time than I... Happy Reading!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do you read biographies?



I never imagined I would like reading biographies. That is why I never really tried. Today, I finished reading a biography of Galileo called Galileo Antichrist : A Biography by Michael White. It's a wonderful book; which gives you a glimpse not only into the scientist's life, but also into the society of his time. Along with telling us about his scientific achievements, the book also paints a vivid picture of his character, of the kind of person he was; using letters he wrote and the kind of lectures he gave. It's a book I'd definitely recommend reading.

Like I said, I haven't read many biographies. A while back, I read the biography of an Indian dancer, titled Balasaraswati by Douglas M Knight when I got it for review. I also liked it for the very same reasons. What's ironic, is that I always hated astronomy, ever since I was a kid and I never particularly grasped the beauty of Indian classical dance. If I had sat down to read books about planets or the different styles of dance, I would have fallen asleep within seconds. Yet, I was terribly fascinated by these biographies. I wonder why that is...

Of course, reading about people as amazing, as great in their respective fields is always inspirational; there's so much to learn. But that's just one of the reasons. I guess, the thing I loved about reading a biography, was the feeling of actually living history; being present in those times; knowing that once upon a time this actually happened, that it's not just fiction.

I don't have much experience with memoirs/autobiographies, either. I have only read those by Mahatma Gandhi and well, Stephen King (odd combination.) What about you? Do you like reading biographies and would you recommend any?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Books I'd Like To Watch!


Top Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today's Top Ten topic is, "Top Ten Books I'd Like to See Made into Movies":

And I mean good movies; which follow every single scene from the book (without any unnecessary modifications and alterations) and which give due credit to the author. I won't be able to survive another disaster like Kubrick's The Shining or the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie.

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

2. 11.22.63 by Stephen King

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

4. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

5. The Tiffany Aching Series (Discworld series) by Terry Pratchett

6. Weaveworld by Clive Barker (not done reading it yet, but I'm sure; if done well, it would make an amazing movie!)

7. The Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton (I owe it to my 7-year-old self, to include this book!)

8. Good Omens (The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (because every list has to include this book!)

9. Bones of the Moon by Jonathan Carroll

10. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft