Thursday, December 18, 2014

Might just qualify as a proper post

Quite sometime since I published anything here. Not that many are waiting. Also, no update really because nothing much's really happened to update here. I'm still going to work, I'm still scribbling ideas, I'm still confused and irritated and happy and depressed. Been reading some interesting articles, books. Discovered some really good music ( All the Little Lights, Jag Changa, Loma Vista ). Anyway, I was going through J Somers' blog the other day ( after reading his article on Hofstadter ) and I came across a post that had a list of all the books he'd read since college with little write-ups describing his feelings towards them. I liked the idea. So I thought I'd do a little post similar to it detailing if not all, atleast the 25 or so books I've started reading in the last few months. Mind you, I haven't finished most of them, probably because I have an Attention Deficit Disorder, but also because there's this high when picking up a new book that slowly dissolves as you make progress through it and it requires discipline and perseverance to stick through till the end. Two qualities, I'd like to add, I'm not really known for. Anyway, here's the list.


1. Disgrace- Coetzee is such a powerful writer. His writing has been described as sparse, obtusely political, humanitarian, prosaic. It also is extremely vigorous. It is, if I could call it that, pure literature. Its to-the-point, angry and polemical. Having read his The Life and Times of Michael K too, I couldn't help but find similarities with Milan Kundera, whose The Unbearable Lightness of Being I found quite unsettling.

2. A Matter of Rats- A fast read, thankfully. I really liked Amitava Kumar's pieces online and so I bought the book. It's probably aimed to be a primer of the Dark Indian Heartland for the uninitiated, but for those of us here, it's not much.

3. The Wes Anderson Collection- I should probably dedicate a large post to Wes Anderson for his quirky humour, his genius for evoking nostalgia and the extraordinary usage of film form. I am a fan of his work and I read the book with fetish as soon as Bujji mama brought it. The book's a great advocate for the print medium, for the lush illustrations are astonishing, but I didn't really enjoy reading the interviews all that much. Sometimes, it's better not to look behind the curtains; Especially if you love the show too much.

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd- I have always wanted to read Agatha Christie. This book's held up not because its not good but because I'm neck deep in other commitments already.

5. The Last Mughal- It's funny; As much as I love Dalrymple's Nine Lives, I've had a tough time negotiating his other books. I couldn't get past the first half of City of Djinns because I found it too dreary and now I can't get past the first couple of chapters of this book. Dalrymple is an invigorating speaker ( I was enthralled by his performance in The Hindu Lit for Life 2014 talk ) but I guess his historical ventures aren't really working for me yet.

6. Shallows- I loved reading Carr's The Atlantic essay, Is Google making us stupid? I connected with it deeply because it was within the latitudes of my acceptance. And so I started reading Shallows but my interest soon drifted away when I realised it was only a more elaborate explanation of what he'd said in his seminal essay. I like it that he's elaborating on his argument. It's just that I don't need much of it because I was able to grasp the idea intuitively. Reading the book would help me understand better, I know, but I have more interesting books waiting in the queue right now.

7. The Pig that wants to be Eaten- This book's on my phone and I pull up one of its tiny chapters when I'm bored at work. It's the perfect book to be read in byte sized doses because it poses a philosophical problem, and argues for and against it in the space of a couple of pages. Takes less time to read but leaves you with a lot of thinking to do.

8. The King of Torts- I like reading Grisham. They're more of escapist fantasies than books that force you to pay attention but don't let that hide the skill it takes to pull one of them off. The story of a poor lawyer, who makes a lot of money, then loses it all only to finally get what he most wants. Vintage Grisham territory, yes, but still not a bad read. The man does something right that most of us don't. Evidence- he still reigns the bestseller lists while his umpteen clones struggle to break even.

9. The Romantics- I don't even know why I read Pankaj Mishra. His essay are a drag, his reviews swagger around tut-tutting and he gives off too much the air of an intellectual to be taken seriously. And yet I was enamored by his interview and how closely he resembled the editor/writer that I once wanted to be. The Romantics has been lazing around in my bag for sometime now and I hope to finish it soon.

10. Does he know a mother's heart- I heard of this book when it was out. I basically bought it because Amma adores Arun Shourie and I thought I'd find it interesting because it deals with topics very close to my heart. I finished the autobiographical part but the intellectual arguments required more time and mental space than bedtime reading and so I should probably read it in the mornings.

11. Red Earth and Pouring Rain- Ambitious. Vast. Meandering. Just quarter way into the book and with my undisciplined reading, I couldn't get on with the story because everytime I opened the book, I had to re-read atleast the previous ten pages to get a hold on the proceedings. Everytime. I think it was written with an intention to emulate the storytelling patters of Indian grandmothers but it demands attention. Chandra's writing is lyrical, his imagination wild and his control absolute. I want to sit down with it over a weekend and read it from start to finish.

12. The Complete Yes Minister- For years now, I've been seeing the monstrously thick book, with its fading yellow cover, in the book rack. I'd been hearing from Amma that Manju mama and Moni mama loved it, I'd read that it was classic British humor and I wanted to really understand the British comic touch. The book was funny, wryly so, but I had to abandon it soon because the pages were coming loose at the turn of every page. I didn't want to ruin the book. It'll stay on the shelf until I devise a way to read it without ruining it.

13. Accidental Empires- During my Steve Jobs mania phase, I discovered Cringely's fantastic documentary on the original geeks. I loved it and I'd been searching for the book it was based on since then. Recently, I found it on a torrent and because I know almost the entire story, I read a part of the book whenever I want to relive those memories.

14. The Annotated Godfather- The opening shot of The Godfather, with Bonasera and the slow zoom out, is one of the greatest milestones in Cinema history. The economy with which Coppola sets up the entire scene, and subsequently the movie, is a directorial masterclass. For a few years now, I've wanted to watch the film while reading the screenplay. Then I discovered this book. A great read for the fan. I haven't finished it, but what's the hurry? You don't want to rush through an exquisite seven-course meal. You savour every bite.

15. Philosophical Investigations- I don't even remember how I discovered Wittgenstein. But that image in Wikipedia, with that look in his eyes amidst the disheveled surroundings, refuses to go away from my head. This is like my Godel, Escher, Bach Part 2. I keep saying I'm reading it but the energy required to finish it is something I can't summon just yet.

16. Mrinal Sen: Sixty years in Search of Cinema- I've never seen a Mrinal Sen film. I took it from Vikranth because he said he was a filmmaker I should watch. Didn't get past the introduction.

17. Logicomix- A book pretty similar to Feynman: The Graphic Novel in both writing and artwork. Like Feynman tried to explain Feynman's work through the prism of his personality and interests, this book tries to do something similar for Logic as a Science and Bertrand Russell's part in it. Not really satisfactory.

18. Collected Stories: Gabriel Garcia Marquez- I picked this book up a long time after I'd read the master. I don't know if I've outgrown the Gabo phase, or if these stories are some of his weakest or if I didn't give them enough time, but I had to struggle to get through the first couple of stories.

19. India in Slow Motion- I was expecting so much from the book because of Tully's reputation that the experience of reading it had to be a bad one. I know he's a journalist and his pieces are constrained by time and space but I did not expect writing this ordinary, insights this commonplace. Agreed all of us are not the most poetic of writers but a little enthusiasm on the writer's part would've probably helped. Tully is a diligent reporter but one of the best writers about this exotic land, I'm afraid he's not.

20. The Algorithm Design Manual- This book is an easier read than CLRS because Skiena is more practical in his approach but it gets incrementally tougher as one proceeds though the book. It helps that his tutorials are really interesting. I still have a lot of syllabus to get through.

21. Cracking the Coding interview- The book provides some interesting perspectives of how candidates are selected after technical interviews but let's face it, despite the inside help, the questions are unbelievably tough.

22. Gone Girl- I am yet to watch the film but I had great fun reading the book. It's not often that you find books that both earn your respect for their intellect and also satiate your need to be told a story in the best possible way. Flynn does a fantastic job of holding her own despite repeated attempts to guess where she's taking the story. I was stumped chapter after chapter for her masterly control of the narration and was dazed after the twist in the middle. It made me realize that a writer's primary job is to outwit the reader. Every single time.

23. Curious: I like Ian Leslie's short pieces and Curious is a good read, albeit the fact that it gets repetitive after a certain point. Leslie has a central point and he stacks it up with evidence to prove that he's right but he reveals almost nothing new after the first few pages. The entire book is used to consolidate his initial points and just that.

24. Against Interpretation and Other Essays- I'd been hearing about Sontag's seminal essay whenever the discussion spurned towards art criticism. I read Against Interpretation with stunned disbelief not just because she was making such brilliant statements and convincing me how true they were, but also because this is one of the rare events when the reputation holds up. The essay truly is a classic. Will get to the rest of the pieces in the book.

25. Action Philosophers- Great idea, to introduce the major ideas of famous philosophers in comic book format. I'm turning into an admirer of graphic novels for their power and subtlety in the hands of masters. I finished the first two books in the series.

26. The C Programming Language- I will complete K&R. I definitely will. Such great ideas, such beautiful writing.

27. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls- I'd been searching for this book since I saw it in Subhakar's bag all those years ago in Vidyaranya. Its been what, almost five years now. I recently got the ebook and started it enthusiastically. I know the story of the movie brats in broad strokes but this book fills in the details. It's just that I need to have watched these movies to really understand their significance so I'm putting it off until I find the time to read it while educating myself on the films as well.

28. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman- I think I'm developing a taste for Murakami. I was left cold by his Second bakery attack, was too apathetic to get past the beginning of Kafka on the Shore, got to about half of What I talk about when I talk about Running until he started repeating himself to the point of irritating the reader ( Geoff Dyer takes on the book in his own inimitable style ) but re-discovered him in The Newyorker recently and loved his Scheherzade, and Yesterday. And so I started off with this book and I must confess I'm beginning to like his writing. They're weird, yes, but they manage to grip the reader's attention and tell something about the human nature along the way.

29. Fooled by Randomness- A book full of ideas and other books and life philosophies and quiet musings. Loved listening to it.

I also recently read this wonderful story about a struggling writer and identified a lot with it. Moreover, reading some wonderful longform essays on The Blizzard and The Cricket Monthly.

So, that's the exhaustive list. And despite so many of these books waiting to be read, I'm going to bed now reading Budugu. 15 December was Bapu's birthday and I wanted to revisit the wonderful memories BapuRamaneeyam gave me by going through the wonderful book.

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