Sunday, March 30, 2008

Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods by Goscinny and Uderzo

Title: Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods

Author: Goscinny and Uderzo

ISBN: 0340192690

Publishers: Hodder Daurgaud/1975
Pages: 47

Caeser wants to conquer the tiny Gaulish village. He plans of building an estate in the jungles near that village in order to absorb the villagers into Roman culture. He hires the architect, Squaronthehypotenus for the same.
Squaronthehypotenus along with slaves arrives there and starts cutting the jungle. They uproot the trees. However, with the help of Getafix, the druid's magic, Asterix and Obelix plant acorn seeds which grow instantly!
The slaves are befooled.

Asterix and Obelix incite the slaves to rebel but instead of rebelling they demand better working conditions, wages and freedom at the end of it. Squaronthehypotenus agrees and they help build the first of the mansions which are sold to Romans. These Romans go into the village for shopping where the villagers open up all kinds of shops to cater to their demands. This results in breaking up of their comraderie.

Asterix and Obelix can't accept that and take it upon themselves to do something about it. They scare one of the residents to leave and then get their bard, Cacofonix to move into the vacant apartment. As soon as he starts singing, all the Romans live and the bard too is thrown out. The Roman soldiers are forced to move in. But, the Gauls feel insulted that Caconofix has been thrown out. That gives them a reason to fight and as is expected, the Roman soldiers lose and forced to go away. In no time the building is all gone and Oak trees are up again!

Back to the village, it is business as usual at Unhygienix, Fulliatomatix. Back to normal. Asterix comics are a great satire. They reflect the political system in those prevailing times!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Shop your closet by Melanie Charlton Fascitelli

Title: Shop your Closet
Author: Melanie Charlton Fascitelli
ISBN: 9780061343810
Publisher: Collins----An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
Pages: 147

The copy I received is an uncorrected proof for reviewing purposes from Collins. This one is for reviewing purposes. The real cover is shown here.

This is a very useful book which tells us how to optimise our closet space. Most of us are pack rats. First thing we should do is, to let go of clothes which we have not used for two years. We should slot those into throw, give away and keep piles. Only those kinds of clothes should be be bought which last longer because of the eternal feel. Fashion should not be rigidly followed. We should know how to co-ordinate our clothes and accessories.

The tips are very practical and useful. Different types of clothes and shoes need different types of storage space. We are given on tips for those too. And before storing we should clean each and every piece of items. That will make those last longer and prevent from insects and pests too. Then there is one chapter devoted to storage of medicines, CDs, other knick knacks.

I especially liked what to pack while going for a holiday. It also tells us how to create closet space when our significant other moves in. And how not to go nuts thinking about that!

I liked the advice. I am a pack rat. Now I am going to reduce my wardrobe and keep only those that I need. As I am moving house, I found this vey useful.

Asterix in Spain by Goscinny and Uderzo

Title: Asterix in Spain
Author: Goscinny and Uderzo
ISBN: 0340183268
Publisher: Hodder Dargaud/1971
Pages: 48
Genre: Comic books/Graphic Novels

This is another re-read after 20 years! I am now going through my collection of Asterix, randomly.

Romans capture Pepe, the son of the Hispania chief. He is quite a handful. While taking to hide him someplace, they lose him and he is found by Asterix and Obelix. They take him to their village where Pepe is to live with Obelix as his sacred guest. Now Pepe is a holy terror and Obelix can't stand him. However, he has to look after the boy. Meanwhile, there is a fight with the fishmonger, Unhygienix because of Pepe.

Aserix has a brainwave and sends Pepe to the bard, Cacofonix's place. Pepe abnd the bard hit it off and Cacofonix sings for him all night. The Gauls can't take it any more and decide to deliver the boy to his father. Asterix and Obelix venture out in Unhygienix's boat. As usual they meet the Pirate's ship and rob them of all the food. Obelix, that is!

On their way, they meet caravans, all going to the druids' procession. One of the Romans sees Pepe and want him back. To cut a long story short, Pepe is delivered to his father after much trouble. And our heroes return to Gaulish Village for more merry making, fights and squables.

The books are worth reading, re-reading because of the pun, wit and great graphics. I am on a binge!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Asterix and the Great Crossing by Goscinny and Uderzo

Title: Asterix and the Great Crossing
Author: Goscinny and Uderzo
ISBN: 0340247142
Publisher: Knight books/1979
Pages: 48
Genre: Graphic Novel

I have been an Asterix fan since very long, I think, from my school days. I have read most of the series although I do not recall much of it. Those were known as comic books and now are renamed as graphic novels.I picked this out randomly from my collection.

As usual this starts in the tiny village of the Gauls. Hygienix, the fish monger is selling bad fishes. Vitalstatistix, the chief of the tribe protests. Then there is a free for all fight. The druid needs fresh fish. So Asterix and his friend, Obelix volunteer to go and then they get lost in the sea. They meet pirates who offer them food.

Their boat is destroyed and with the help of a branch they land up in a village which consists of another tribe, maybe Iberians or Cretans. The people are so taken in by the two that the chief offers his daughter for marriage with Obelix. Therefore, they run away in the dead of night in a leaky Boat! Again they are caught by people who they think, are Romans. Just before they are to be sacrificed, one of the slaves is a Gaul and tells thm about the plan. So they run away, again in boat and are welcomed by their village, minus the fish! Back to their old ways of eating, fighting and merry-making until the next encounter with Romans!

Reading Asterix series is a pleasure. There is satire, wit and humour. The visuals are all very good and the characters are so lovable. Asterix, Obelix and their dog, Dogmatix are inseparable. Not to be missed at any cost. Not only this but any of the series!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Title: Siddhartha
Author: Hermann Hesse
ISBN: 8187981830
Publisher: Indialog/2005
Pages: 167
rating: 4/5

Hermann Hesse wrote it in 1923, and it still is continues to be good read for those who are searching themselves. It is an allegorical story filled with both Eastern and Western philosophy. Siddhartha, a brahmin boy leaves home along with his friend Govinda to fill the thirst in his mind. He goes to leave with the samanas, wandering ascetics, begging for food and spending his days in meditation. Even that does not help him attaining what he truly seeks. Liberation from everything. Nirvana. Then he meets Gotama. This meeting with the Buddha has an unexpected effect on him. He realizes that teachers cannot teach him what he is seeking and that is upto him find his own way to salvation.

Siddhartha's life is shown to be a parallel of Gotama, the Buddha's life. Awakening of the mind and ultimate knowledge is what they both seek. Gotama had done it much before him and Siddhartha has to embark on it all by himself. Siddhartha’s life is interesting as he does not take the easy route. Moving through myriads of experiences he finally attains enlightenment.

Govinda is a shadow of Siddhartha in the beginning but comes out on his own. This too teaches us that it is on us to seek, find and know. In the quest of peace and truth, each of us is alone. We all have to make that journey all by ourselves. No amount of teaching will do it for us.

This is a fairly easy book to read and understand. The philosophy is explained in a simplistic manner. This book has survived eigth decades...And no, this is not a story about Gautama Buddha. It is the story about Siddhartha. Well, I felt better after reading it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Collected Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Title: Collected Stories
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
ISBN: 0-14-015756-5
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd/1996
Pages: 292
rating: 2.5/5

Marquez is one author, I love to read. However, I need a lot of time in between his books. I picked this after a very long time. It is a collection of twenty six short stories (originally published in three volumes, Leaf Storm and Other Stories, No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, and Innocent Erendira and Other Stories). A few I had read before in another of his book, Innocent Erendira. These are given in chronological order of their publication.

Marquez won the Nobel Prize in 1982. I do not think, he needs any introduction. However, what most of us get, is to read his translated works as he wrote in Spanish. That is a disadvantage, I think.

This book has three parts and shows us the growth of Marquez as a writer. I found the initial stories not too good. I just could not relate to those. At some instances, I had to re-read and that did not help me a bit. I found it confusing, confounded and disappointed. The Third Resignation is about a seven year old boy who falls into a coma and grows to adulthood in a coffin mother’s house. The Other Side Of Death has shades of a Allan Poe nightmare.

There Are No Thieves In This Town
is about man who steals three billiard balls from a pool hall and finally is foolish about the whole thing. One Of These Days is about a corrupt mayor. Dialogue With The Mirror is incomprehensible. Eyes Of A Blue Dog is a story in a dream which speaks of a doomed relationship between two people who know each other only in dream, and not in the real world.

In The Sea of Lost Time, the island is pervaded with the fragrance of roses in the sea. The smell triggers changes on the island and thats about it, as colonial misdeeds still continue. The Monologue Of Isabel Watching It Rain In Macondo is about a town wholly destroyed by incessant rain. In The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World children playing by the sea see a corpse approaching them. The women go ga-ga over him and men are jealous of him. He is named Esteban and a whole myth is built around him, Then, after a proper funeral, he is thrown back into the sea.

Eva Is Inside Her Cat, Eva is a spirit who can take over any living thing. She is an unbalanced being and the story can be interpreted as consequences of oppression to the mind, or soul. Only part that redeems the book is the novella Innocent Erendira, which I had read before. The novella is a very poignant rendering about Erendira, who is only fourteen when we first meet her and is punished by her grand mother in a very diabolical manner when she accidentally burns her grand mother’s house. The way Erendira has to repay is heart rending. She runs away numerous times only to be brought back..

I know I will continue reading Marquez. However, this book left me wanting more. I can't even mention how a few stories were not worth reading. I just left those halfway through. Here I found, Marquez has got repetitive in his symbolism and in a few instances, the stories do not make any kind of sense. For light readers, it is strictly a no-no!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

Title: Ladder of Years
Author: Anne Tyler
ISBN: 0449910571
Publishers:Fawcett Columbine/1996
Pages: 326

This is my first book by Anne Tyler and I am going to pick up more books by her. I started it today morning and finished it a while back. It has been rightfully called a page turner.

Forty-year old Delia Grinstead has everything going for her. She is married to a well known Doctor, Sam Grinstead and she has a daughter, Susie in final year college, and two sons, Ramsay in first year college and Carroll, still in school. Socially they are very well known and do not lack anything as Sam has a good practise. She has been the perfect wife and mother but no one appreciates her. She does not feel wanted anymore.

For no apparent reason, Delia disappears during a family vacation which consists of her husband, three children, her two sisters and two twin nieces. She is supposedly wearing a bathing suit and has five hundred dollars tucked in her beach tote bag. She has walked away from her family on an impulse. She only wants a few hours for herself.

On reaching Bay Borough, she gets down from the car she had taken a ride in and somehow ends up looking for a place to live. After getting a room, she goes out to shop for clothes as she has nothing to wear, not even underwear. She even manages to land a job with a lawyer whose secretary had left without warning and he needs one immediately.

Delia is traced by her family but she is not willing to get back. Her family just leaves her as she is and that cuts into her deeply. She assumes they do not care.

Delia slowly comes out on her own. She deliberately does not think of her family. She makes good friends at Bay Burrough. She even changes her job looking after a twelve year boy Noah. It seems like the perfect family she never had.

Then one day she gets a letter from daughter Susie inviting her for her wedding. And she goes back, she finds all her family is there and they do not ask her any questions. They do not communicate. However, they behave as if she was never gone. "Mom," Carroll says, "could we just eat?" The big question is, is she home for good? Was she on a time trip?

Although I liked the book still I felt how could she just walk away and did not even think much of her family. She even starts to like the various people she meets. Her family's reaction too is very odd. They are baffled and hurt but none of them ask her to come back. Maybe they felt that it was her choice if she wants to be back or not.

The almost dissociated and passive feelings make the novel worth reading. It is a comedy, tragedy and very touching. Anne Tyler knows how to weave words.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Circle of Three by Patricia Gaffney

Circle of Three is one of the three novels in one FAT volume. I say fat becos, this in itself is 421 pages. I started it on Friday and managed to finish it a while back. It took me a while as I had to evaluate answersheets in the midst of it all, i.e, blogging, writing poetry, reading. You get the gist?

Circle of Three is about Carrie Van Allen, her mother, Dana Danziger and her teenage daughter, Ruth. It begins with the death of Carrie's husband, Stephen. It is very sudden and Carrie has to come into terms with it. She realises that love between them had died long time and she is filled with guilt. She goes into a limbo for a while but comes out of it for her daughter, Ruth. Her mother, Dana loves both Carrie and Ruth and is well meaning interfering woman.

Carrie gets a job but she is an artist in her own right who has never tapped it fully. Her childhood friend, Jess Deeping offers her one where she has to cut out and paint animals for a religious group called arkists which is a building a replica of Noah's Ark. She takes it on and is happy doing it. She tries to rebuild her bonds with Ruth, who although not very close to her father, misses him terribly.

Carrie and Ruth have a misunderstanding and Ruth runs away from home. And that helps in rebuilding bonds between Dana and Carrie. The interactions bettween the three women is amazing and slowly their affection shows through, despite arguments.

Every chapter is written from the perspective of all the three generation of women, moving in a smooth manner. It does not repeat at any place.However, it could have been a bit shorter. I liked it in my own fashion. Good for one time read.

Now to get back to poetry writing and after that more evaluation work! How I hate that! More reading for what is left of the Sunday is out of question!

Booking through Editing

How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:

__________ would have been a much better book if ______________________.

I write a lot of poetry on my other blog, rooted. I did start a novel and gave it up after 6700+ words. I think, I do not have the temperament to write a novel. I can't develop the characters well. Well, thats what I think. So I do not think I am competent enough to answer this.

Getting back to the question, there are many books, I have started and never could finish.
Ulysses by James Joyce being foremost. I could not go beyond page 4, so I can't comment on the rest of it. However, if only it was written in an easy manner! Catch 22 by Joseph Keller, is no doubt a great book. Nonetheless, the tomfoolery gets too much at times. How much can you take? Another author, I have not been able to read fully is Jane Austen. Somehow, she puts me off. But I do like the Bronte sisters.

J K Rowling made a mess of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The ending was totally unacceptable. Tell me, who wants to see a grown up Harry with children to boot? I did not!

This is loaded qustion and is going to open a can of worms. I think I will leave it as such. Reading is so subjective. Why bother to finish a book, if one does not like it? Instead of trying to change anything it, simply throw it away! A bit drastic maybe...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Last Single Woman in America by Cindy Guidry

Title: The Last Single Woman in America
Author: Cindy Guidry
ISBN-13: 978-0525950523
Publisher: Dutton Adults/Jan 2008
Pages: 290/Hardcover

As I mentioned in my previous post, I got this book via Dewey's post. This is a collection of essays, which are written in dry humour. Cindy Guidry has written about the most serious things with a wit that is wry and makes us love the book instantly. She is outrageously funny, has the ability to laugh at herself and draws vivid pictures of people and places she comes in contact with, idiosyncrasies and all.

Cindy Guidry is a former film executive living in Los Angeles. In the space of forty days, she loses her job and a potential husband. Infact the three men she has been going out with one after the other, all have been impregnating women behind her back!

She finds herself happily single despite advice from her mother, so-called well-wishing friends and a neighbour, Tomas who is always around to ask himself in for dinner. She discovers that men are the new women who don't have time for women as they are too busy preening themselves like women. Narccissitic males? Cindy explores the internet, finds happiness in her CD collection and gets a love letter in the form of poetry from an Indian gas station attendant when she least expected.

Although Cindy has written this with lots of humour, however it touches many grounds that we singles feel. It questions why is it so?. Are we choosy? Do we have high standards? Should we lower it? Is being married and having kids should be the ultimate goal? Why aren't there potential partners for singles? Why is a woman who is over forty and single is considered to be left on the shelf, while a forty plus man is still looking?

These essays ask a lot of questions, answer a few on the way and her characters are funny, outrageous and very interesting. She has put life into her writing. Her wicked sense of humour has made this book very readable for single women (and single men too!) all over the world. There is pain, tenderness, power and so much truth in what she writes. As a writer, I suppose she has arrived.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
ISBN: 978-0-676-97812-4
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, a divison of Randon House
Pages: 433/Hardcover
Rating: 5/5

I have had this book since September 2007. I just never got around reading it. And after finishing it today, I ask myself why didn't I read it sooner?

Half of a Yellow Sun is a very well written book. It captures the reader's mind as soon as he/she starts reading it.

The story starts with 13 years old boy Ugwu, from the nearby village, being employed as a houseboy for University professor Odenigbo, who is filled with revolutionary zeal. Ugwu calls him master and is fascinated by the numerous books in master's house. He is not treated as a servant at all. Rather his master sends him to the primary school for the children of the University dons. Ollana comes to live with Odenigbo as his mistress, giving up a life of luxury with her parents, in Lagos. Meanwhile Richard, an Englishman, falls hard for Kainene, Ollana's twin sister who refuses to belong to anyone. Their lives cross, merge and intertwine. Fragility of their relationship is tested by the all-consuming violence.

Ollana and Odenigbo share a beautiful relationship. Richard loves Kainene but she remains aloof. Ugwu, meanwhile is very faithful to his master, Ollana and Baby, their daughter. The smaller charaters too leave a mark on the reader.

This novel is haunting in the sense that it is set in 1960s when Biafra struggled for independence from Nigeria. The violence that follows because of it is very chilling and shattering. There are ethnic wars between class and race. The descriptions are stark and the reactions are horrific. The ultimate question is who should take moral responsibility for all this bloodshed. Why allegiances has to be asked again and again?

When Ugwu is conscripted and said to be dead, Ollana breaks down. It is so poignant to see her shouting at Odenigbo in her angst. For Master, Ollana and Baby, Ugwu is much more than a houseboy. He is family.

In the midst of ongoing war, we see Kainene and Ollana working for the betterment of the refugees in their own way. There are disappointments but there are promises kept too. We may see death, rape, pillage but we see belief and hope in humanity too.

For someone so young, Adichie has good insight. She sure knows what she is writing. Very beautiful prose, it keeps us totally involved. She brings Modern Africa alive for us. That is reason enough to read her. She is a worthy successor of Chinua Achebe. I truly recommend it for all.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton

Title: Hearts and Minds
Author: Rosy Thornton
ISBN: 978-0-7553-3388-2
Publisher:Headline review/2007
Pages: 341

I had read the review of this book on BookPlease's blog. I had left a comment there that I will read it if I get hold of it. The author, Rosy Thornton read my comment and she sent me an email offering me the book which I gladly accepted. After I started reading it, I had to finish it at one go.

It is book set in a college and being a teacher, that subject interested me.
St Radegund's College, Cambridge is an all women's college. Rycarte James, a former BBC executive is appointed as it new head of house, breaking one hundred sixty years of traditions. Since day one, he faces oppostion from the feminist group, teaching faculty as well as students. He does not know how to react and respond. Even his secretary is not with him. Ony the Senior Tutor, Dr Martha Pearce, apparently seems to be with him as she is concerned about the college's well being.

The college is in dire straits needing urgent funding and when an old friend of Rycarte James offers a large donation under the condition that his daughter be given admission, all forces seem to work against it. No one is willing to compromise on the principles of the college, even though funds might help rebuilding the library and might help in getting students financial help. Meanwhile, rents are increased and we see the students rebelling against it.

In the midst of it all, some students want to seduce the Dean so that they get into one group or the other.

Dr. Ros Clarke, a don, is hell bent that Rycarte James should not last the term. She even secretly leaks confidential reports to get him out at any cost. Dr Martha Pearce, although, wanting to help, has personal problems, in the form of a daughter, Lucia who has dropped out from school and husband, Douglas, both of whom appear to be laid back in their approach.

Finally, Rycarte James emerges out of his cocoon and mobilises forces for the betterment of the college. He makes everyone see his point of view about funds and donations from his friend, Luigi. Once he gets going, there is no stopping him.

College politics along with student unrest makes it an interesting read. The book moves forward well with wit and deep acumen. Thornton's prose is very readable and she can get into the nuances of she is writing. It is a book to savour. Anyone who is in the teaching field will like this book. As I did.

Thanks Rosy, for sending me this book.

Booking through Hero

What is your favourite Male lead character? And why?

After last week's BTT question, this was expected! Here I write about those male characters who left a mark in my mind. They may or may not be favourite ones!

The first name that comes into my mind is Howard Roark of Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Roark is fiercely independent person who believes in the merit of his revolutionary designs and has the courage to stand by those in the face of an antagonistic society. He is not the product of his upbringing, his economic class, his family, his religious training, or his social background. He is a product of the choices he has made. Roark is an perfect example of this. One can't question Roark's integrity. Integrity requires a man to be a thinker and he is a brilliant thinker and he acts on his thinking. Roark is a selfish man, in the positive sense. He is true to his values, to his convictions, to his thinking, to his mind, to his self. To be true to his self, a man must first have a self. He must think independently, he must judge, he must form values and he must act in pursuit of those values. He must never sacrifice them. This is selfishness of the highest order. Howard Roark, is both a moral man and a practical man. He is fully committed to the artistic integrity of every one of his designs, and he takes a labourer’s job in a granite quarry rather than compromise on the smallest detail of his building. When I read first read Fountainhead in College, I wished to be like Howard Roark.

Next comes Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. He is not a hero exactly but an anti-hero kind of person. An orphan brought to live at Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw, Heathcliff intensely falls in love with Catherine, his daughter. After Mr. Earnshaw dies, his son, Hindley abuses Heathcliff and treats him as a servant. Although Cathy loves Heathcliff, she marries Edgar Linton, giving in to societal norms. Heathcliff’s humiliation and misery prompt him to spend his life seeking revenge on Hindley, Edgar Linton, and their respective children (Hareton and young Catherine). A powerful, fierce, and often cruel man, Heathcliff acquires a fortune and uses his extraordinary powers of will to acquire both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, the estate of Edgar Linton. Despite the negative aspect, Heathcliff leaves a powerful mark on the reader. He dreams of uniting with Cathy even after death. We sympathise with him and his lot. One thing which comes out strongly is that Heathcliff has no surname.

John Steinbeck's male characters too leave lasting impacts in the mind.

*UPDATE after all the adverse comments on Heathcliff:

Heathcliff is dark and brooding. Obssessive too. However, he does no harm to Cathy even after she marries Edgar.
Wuthering Heights is not only about Heathcliff. One can't really judge the book by Heathcliff. However, without him, the book disintegrates. How much more a man can take if he loses all at every step? I would say Hindlay, Cathy's brother is much worse person than Heathcliff. Heathcliff was what his circumstances made him out to be, Hindlay had no such excuse. And how do we know what would have happened if Cathy had married Heathcliff? I do not think he would have smothered her. Cathy is partly to be blamed for his behaviour. She rejects him because of his lowly social position even though she loves him. For Cathy social position is more important than love, which Edgar can provide, and not Heathcliff.