Category Archives: Bibliomania

Book Reviews

if you are already overloaded

you should definitely do this:

Nanowrimo

I’ve done it every year since 2004, and have never completed the 50 000 word target. And so I stopped telling people I was doing it, but I figure, what the heck, one can at least talk, no?

Try. If you blog, you probably can, esp. if you have secretly always dreamed of writing (and haven’t done it yet).

Watch…

Watch…
This is space. It’s sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can’t have a final frontier, because there’ld be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it’s pretty penultimate…)
…Great A’Tuin, star turtle, swims onward through the void.
On its back, four giant elephants. On their shoulders, rimmed with water, glittering under its tiny orbiting sunlet, spinning majestically around the mountains at its frozen Hub, lies the Discworld, world and mirror of worlds.

Welcome to Discworld. That is my favourite opening paragraph out of Terry Pratchett’s masterpiece(s). No, it’s not a preview or a review. It’s a shameless plug for one of my favourite series. I guess now is when I warn you that you are entering fan territory.

For the uninitiated, DiscWorld is a series of 35 (at last count online count, 23 according the last book I possess) novels by Terry Pratchett.
They are all placed on this world that is shaped like a disc – unsurprisingly called Discworld. It has a tiny sun orbiting it, its single polar icecap is called the Hub and the sea is incessantly throwing itself off the Rim of the World. But greater wonder awaits those who look over and below the Rim of the World (which I think only Rincewind, an inept wizard and his company have seen. Rincewind, by the way, is an absolutely unbelievably inept wizard who misses dying by a hair’s width several times – and literally).
Now, as I was telling you, this world rests on the shoulder of four giant elephants (which I always imagined were white) and which in turn stand upon the broad back of a Giant Turtle (sex unknown) which is swimming through space with its beady eye fixed on the destination – a point only it knows. The Gods, definitely, do not have a clue, being too busy playing (ahem, gambling) to know things like that.

As you can imagine, magical things happen on this world, although most stories are about ordinary people (read wizards, witches, trolls, dwarfs, zombies, werewolves, vampires) doing ordinary things on an extraordinary world…
It started out as a parody of the fantasy that surged in the 1980s (The Colour of Magic was published in 1983, I think, and since then Pratchett’s life has been made.) So, you safely expect satire. There are “themes” running in the series, but if you pick up any random book, you ought to be able to make sense of it. For instance, my favourite are the stories that revolve around Death or Magic. Death is the skeleton with the scythe and the black robes – riding a white horse called Binky because a horse made of skeletons is quite uncomfortable…

Carpe Jugulum is a latin phrase that means seize the throat. It’s about a bunch of ‘modernised’ vampyres who decide to take over the world as they have grown “smart”. Expect different humour here, and the strangest thing I have noticed is that while Terry Pratchett has one of the highest number of laughs per page his jokes are rarely repeated.

If you liked the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll love this. If you ahve a taste fro Wodehouse, you’ll probably enjoy it too. Like fantasy, can enjoy.

If you are about to begin now, go for “Mort”. Mort is the assistant that Death hires.
Equal Rites
Pyramids
The Colour of Magic
Small Gods
are also highly recommended. Look for a witch or Death in blurb, becuase frankly, those are the best.

For old fans – have you seen the annotated pratchett file? The jokes fans spotted have been compiled and explained. 😀

Bibliomaniac

I think it been too long since I felt the weight of a book in my hands, even though it was only this morning that I finished one. I knew there was something missing while reading eBooks.

~*~*~*~

The pages of the book were yellow, several had dog ears. There were marks from pens blue, black, red and green, ticks, crosses, and other little scribbled words and notes that made it obvious that for someone, somewhere, this was a textbook. There were parenthesis and numbered lines, points for an essay question no doubt. There were double lines marking the end of section, and I remember my photocopies of notes that bear the same mark denoting ‘end of syllabus’. The point from which you skip the rest of the chapter, and look for the next topic to study.

I hate marks on my book. I even dislike the ridge that is formed along the spine of the paperback when you hold it too wide open. I don’t like the pages to be tattered, though I do not mind when the pages have yellowed with age. I scream every time I see someone nonchalantly put down an open book on its face. Or when they lick a finger to flip a page…

Its dark chocolate hardbound cover is held together by sticky tape, the spine carries the library accession number in white, pasted with transparent cellophane tape. This book awes me when I open it. I do not know what made me pull it out, because there was nothing written on it, nothign to mark it special – perhaps there was nothing all that special about it… My fingers lightly skidded over the spine and then pulled it out, one among shelves and shelves of books, and just like that, I’m transported.

It not only opens the portal of my imagination to the world it speaks of, it frees me to think of those who came before me – I see countless people pouring over it, some studying lines from places, others memorising a special bit they come across. Some chewing nervously on the end of the pen they twirl as they read. (Not a single one with a pencil however, why don’t people use pencils anymore?)

I like the smell of new money, new paper and new books. I also like the beaten and weathered – but not termite eaten – pages and the aroma that takes you to a different world. It’s like living in three realities: that of your physical being, the story that the book carries, and the romance of the book itself. What romance? The one that unfolds when you find a pressed white grass-flower, and you wonder what the book saw. Did a lover wait for another under a tree, nervously pulling up grass? Was it the only gift, and meant to be preserved? Was it just carelessly trapped by an impatient reader too eager to abandon the book for the outdoors?

Or did someone leave a message?

Hamlet. What’s new about him?

Oh yes, Hamlet. What’s new about him?

I always had difficulty in relating to Shakespeare’s most famous character. One of my friends, however, seems to identify with him quite well. So here I was, discussing the man’s characters, and being on the critical side, for I must admit – I never liked him much. He might have been a man of action, but I considered the way that he broke down to grief a weakness. I disapproved. After airing this opinion a time or two, I paused. By what authority? What did I know about him – Hamlet, I mean, not my friend – anyway? Why was I making judgements based on a person I had read about over two years ago, when I am no longer the person that I was then? The way my friend looked at it made me think that my view was shallow, because he certainly saw depth in the man.

I did not have the knowledge fresh at the top of my head, and what I remembered of Hamlet was a little more than what every man knows – Father killed by his brother to marry his mother and take the Throne of Denmark. His sweetheart death by his hand – an accident. His two friends – Fortinbras and Laertes, who suffer a similar fate but react differently.

So I picked up my fat brown bound volume of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’, opened Othello by habit, flipped back to Hamlet and began to read.

Rediscovering all the small things that one forgets with time is a beautiful feeling, seeing lines and thinking, “Wow, I remember this, and it’s beautiful!” is rewarding. It is impossible to approach a book like Hamlet without preconceived notions of everything that happens and everyone in it. I cannot say that I succeeded in casting aside those prejudices, because I did not. For instance, I was surprised in the very first act – one assumes that Hamlet always was melancholy, but the way everyone keeps harping on “Hamlet is changed” – it is obvious that the man was once very cheerful, though we do not see this side of him in the play. I still found it beautiful, and that I understood a great deal more than I did before. The intelligence that read it before was the same, perhaps the immaturity made me appreciate it less.

It is a work of passion, and… frankly, I was reminded on Túrin Turambar. Turin is a character out of Tolkien’s world (the ‘Lay of the Children of Hurin’ in BOLT3 and ‘The Silmarillion’) – ‘I am Agarwaen the son of Úmarth (which is the Bloodstained, son of Ill-fate), a hunter in the woods’ says Túrin in the Silmarillion, and perhaps a comparison of these two is in the offing. I know I want to do it.

A few days back, as I was walking down the English section of my library, I found ‘Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes – Slaves of Passion’ by Lily B. Campbell. Curious me picked it up, checked it out and went back to the hostel. I skipped the parts where she analyses Lear, Macbeth and Othello (not reading the Othello section first took a lot of self control) and finished the book as far as Hamlet was concerned. ( I have since finished all those sections as well – fascinating analysis)

She mentioned ‘Shakespearean Tragedy’ – A C Bradley, and I went out again, got my hands on that, came back and read it.

Bradley and Campbell present the ‘tragic hero’ in different ways. While Campbell prefers to try to think of Shakespeare’s characters as he would have thought of them by studying the Elizabethan philosophy, Bradley seems to forget the fact that these were plays, not books. Several devices that Shakespeare used – for instance when Iago talks to the audience – Bradley interprets as Iago trying to convince the audience. Perhaps. I think that Iago is merely informing the audience of what is happening, what he feels and what he plots, because there is no other way of doing it. The author cannot write narratives in a play like he can in a novel. Anyone who has tried a play with too much narration knows that the audience gets restless. I’ve seen some who nod off.

The point to the whole exercise was that given these two totally different interpretations of Hamlet, I accept Campbell’s. Occam’s Razor does have its uses after all.

I am no student of literature.
So yes, Hamlet. What’s new about him?
I still like Othello better than Hamlet, but now, I think I see more to Hamlet than I did before. 🙂 Just goes to show that even what is “done” is a tresure trove of more information… if you just look