Ten books I wish I could read for the first time again

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Technically speaking, any book I love and rave about should fall into that category. Unfortunately, not many books have retaining power. I find that I forget what many books are about a year or more after I raved about it. Good thing I try to review most of those books, otherwise, I'll probably be looking dazedly at the titles.

Even if I did remember what a book was about, that doesn't mean I still love the idea of that book. I have often changed my ratings of books based on what I currently feel about it. That's a fodder for a whole different post, but I feel better about doing it, because I actually prefer reviewing a book after a good amount of time has passed since I read it.

Coming back to this post's topic, I found myself perusing my read list for books I would love to read again, for the first time; and experience all that initial excitement, cleverness, wow factor, character love, and many other things that made the book make me smile even months, years after. Do you have books like that?

So without further ado, below is my list of 10 books I wish I could read all over again, simply for the amazing feel of being in the book, with notes from my review.

10. 13 rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro: Reading this book is like solving a puzzle, like playing treasure hunt. This is a mystery, but not a mystery by any traditional definition of this genre. Instead, it almost feels like the reader is solving the puzzle.

9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer: Some of my best passages in the book were all about reading. Any book lover will want to print out those quotes and paste them up on their work spaces or reading corners. Most of the characters spoke passionately about the books they read, much akin to what happens in book clubs (and blogs).

8. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell: The whole story is really not such a big deal. It's all predictable, and nothing shocking happens. But it's so heartwarming that I enjoyed every bit of it. It gives the same feeling as watching movies like When Harry Met Sally or You've Got Mail or many other romantic comedies does. Attachments made my list (as opposed to Eleanor and Park or Fangirl) because this is the book that got me to the Rowell club.

7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: [This book] has fantasy at its best. There are all sorts of inexplicable things happening - worms lodged in the feet? three people who seem to have been around since time immemorial, literally? a pond that may as well be an ocean? memories that can be easily wiped or modified? The best part is that you can read this book without questioning even one of those fantastical elements. You can ask ten questions for every strange thing mentioned, but the odds are that you won't think to ask - as a reader, I felt the same willingness to accept anything that children are bestowed with.

6. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: [This book] felt like a whiff of lively breeze. Reading this book made me remember the joy of reading magical books like Harry Potter and The Night Circus. While not as long or as atmospheric, Haroun and the Sea of Stories deserves its own place on that shelf of fascinating fantasy books.

5. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown: Along with their father, they quote Shakespeare so often that it becomes their way to express their feelings almost always. Their father is a Shakespearean professor who has inculcated in the three sisters an immense and intense love for reading. Oh, believe me when I say that you'll love these three sisters simply because they do not go anywhere without a book in hand, and will pull out one whenever they have a free minute to spare.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: [This book] celebrates geekdom like very few other books. Even now, two days later, I'm itching for a similar read. That's not to say that this book was perfect, because it did bug me at some level, but the thrill I derived from reading it far outweighs any niggles.

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I started reading it on the train at 7 am in the morning, when I was going to New York, planning to read a couple of pages and then nap a bit. But instead, I bought a cup of coffee and spent the next couple of days reading the book at all possible opportunities.

2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: This post I wrote almost three years ago says it all.

1. Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: Now here's a book I would love to read twice. I may not even mind reading any other similar books out there. When I read the synopsis of this book, it sounded very much like light women fiction to me - which I read only occasionally, usually when I am in need of a light read. In the end, this book became my favorite book from last year.

And finally, the book that inspired this post. The book that I think will squeeze itself into this list very soon.

The Sunday Salon: Gone hiking

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Sunday 

Happy Easter, to those who celebrate it! I hope you have a memorable day!

I woke up this morning to a bright beautiful day. Much as I am a very winter girl, it does feel very good to step out of the freezing cold (again!) and dreary week that we just had. Our plants seemed to have thrived the cold blast, but I wouldn't want another one like that any time soon.

We are thiscloseto finishing up our Spring cleaning. Man, this chore can be such a pain in the *&%$! Being very OCD doesn't help either, because I end up spending a lot more time cleaning something than my husband does. He is usually in and out of a room very quick, while I'm still scrubbing that forgotten baseboard or that almost invisible mark on the bathroom mirror.

Last night, my brother arrived from Detroit and will be staying with us for a while. He is much happier to be in a warmer place with the option of stepping out any time he wants. Because he is epileptic, he has to be dependent on other people's goodwill or public transport to be able to go places, so he has been waiting to come home for quite a while.

On the reading front, I have been listening to Child of Dandelions, with under two hours left. I expect to be able to finish it this week and hopefully review it too. It is actually a YA book (Helen, you may like it) - I went in expecting it to be an adult book. But it's still good and did not leave me cringing. Much.  I also started reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, and boy, did I love it right from the first page? It's the most magical book to happen to me since Where'd You Go, Benadette? early last year.

Not my photo, but via Jim Lukach

In another half hour, we are planning to go hike the Sharp Top in the Peaks of Otter nearby. We had done this hike once before and it was strenuous. Very steep throughout but a whole lot of fun. The views are just spectacular. There is one spot where you can see the entire valley and it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, so much so that we just sat there for a long time. I'm really looking forward to doing it again. Other than that, we don't have any major plans for the day, except watch Game of Thrones tonight. Last episode was - omg, epic! I just did not see that coming and even a week later, I'm still dazed by it. I am actually glad that I did not read the books because I may not have had that kind of reaction otherwise, but I am now very eager to read those books now.

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Secret Daughter
At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you were born into.

When Kavita was pregnant for the third time, she wanted to know the sex of the baby as soon as possible. After two births - the first girl was taken to be killed by her husband and the second she gave up for adoption without letting her husband know - she was emotionally shattered. The last thing she wanted to do was give birth a third time and look into the eyes of another girl and lose yet another part of her for a girl she was not allowed to keep by the narrow-minded people of her remote Indian village. "Luckily" for her, this one is a boy and she finally allowed herself to rejoice. When this child was born, she named him Vijay, which means victory, and spent the rest of her life making sure he had a good life and opportunities. But there was never a day when she did not think of that daughter she gave for adoption and wondered whether she was still alive, and if yes, where she was.

When Somer and her husband, Krishnan, are told that Somer cannot become pregnant, they decide to adopt a child. That decision did not come easily. Somer was distraught by the thought that her body has failed her and was slowly slipping away from the confident woman Krishnan had fallen in love with. When they go to India to adopt a girl, Asha, they are transformed and in love with the child. Motherhood doesn't come easily to Somer, which according to her is yet another reason her body failed her. Worse, Somer hasn't had a good time in India. She felt very foreign and isolated in her husband's home - not knowing the native language nor recognizing the happy exuberant man her husband had transformed into in his native house.

In alternating narratives, Secret Daughter tells the story of two mothers and the daughter they share. Kavita's husband, having regretted killing their first born, wanted to do something right by his wife. He moves them all to Mumbai and tries to earn a respectable keep there. However, it is Vijay who brings them fortune when he gets older. Except, they are not very sure where all the money is coming from. Somer continues to feel isolated in her own home. Her husband and daughter share a common skin color, whereas she was sometimes mistaken to be the maid. It humiliated and irritated her.

I listened to Secret Daughter after hearing plenty of good things about the book. Unfortunately, it did not wow me in any way. The story was definitely intriguing. There are a lot of themes at play here. The most prominent was about the marriage between an Indian and an American that seemed very romantic initially but started collapsing soon mainly because of the cultural differences. As Somer recounts later, her husband had embraced the American way of life so often and so well that she had begun to take it for granted. She was very unwilling to embrace any of his Indianness and disliked it immensely when their daughter, Asha, showed any interest in her heritage. Asha had known for a long time that she was adopted and when she plans her trip to India, it results in all kinds of trouble between her parents. Kavita and her husband, Jasu, are also wrestling with their own demons. After giving up two daughters and choosing to keep a son, they don't feel justified by their choices. Their son isn't the darling they wanted him to be, what if they still had their daughter?

Despite the promising plot, Secret Daughter had a few failings that weighed more in my mind. Somer is one of the main protagonists of this book. Unfortunately, I connected very little with her. In addition to being very annoying and uncompromising, her character was also very flat. I don't know if listening to the book as opposed to reading it had anything to do with it, but I thought some of the other characters, like Kavita and Asha's grandmother, were fleshed out much better. The story also seemed to jump too fast between the girl's adoption and her adult years. I get that a lot of the story happens later, but without any of the middle years to hold the story together, the ending did not move me in any way.

The other or rather the main issue I had with the book had to do with the narrator. Soneela Nankani's narration just did not work for me. Sure, she was fluent, didn't do much drama and narrated well and clearly, but I had the same issue that I did when I listened to Life of Pi. The narrator didn't do the Indian accents well or pronounce the Indian words correctly. I sat through the first few mispronunciations without complaining but there's only so much of sam-baar (actual, saam-bar) and ba-yaa (actual buy-yaa) that I could listen to. I don't mind a few mispronunciations in audiobooks, but when there's so much of a language in a book, I'd rather go for an authentic experience.

This audiobook is from my personal library.
Armchair reading in India

The Sunday Salon: Finally reading something

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sunday 

Good morning, readers! How has your week been so far? It has been a wonderful week out here - warmish and colorful. Perfect for doing some work around the house. I had been doing some decluttering for the past couple of weeks and now have things in pretty good order. There is still a lot of spring cleaning itself to do but everything seems to have a home now so that should make it easier to get things done. Today, we're planning to do some cleaning around the house, make raised beds for our vegetable garden, mow the lawn, and later curl up watching a nice movie.

Yesterday, the husband and I went to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and loved it. I thought it was a little slow at the beginning but that didn't dampen my enjoyment. I think this guy is probably my favorite superhero character to date, but I think that always after watching one of these movies. I never used to enjoy reading or watching superhero comics - they used to be too unrealistic for my tastes - but I may not have watched too many of them before because I really enjoy them a lot now.

I finished two books last week - Célestine Vaite's Frangipani (which I reviewed as well) and Shilpi Somaya Gowda's Secret Daughter, which I struggled with quite a bit. I'm hoping to review the latter some time this week, once I get my thoughts in order, but let me just emphasize for now that narrators can make or break a book. I also started listening to Child of Dandelions by Shenaaz Nanji - a very intriguing book about the expulsion of Indians and Pakistanis from Uganda in 1972. Child of Dandelions is fiction, but the author herself lived through the expulsion and her protagonist, Sabine, shares a lot of her confusion at being disowned by her birth country. So far, I'm liking it and it's short too - just 5 hours.

I've also been thinking about starting The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. I have the library book on my Kindle and am excited about losing myself in it. This seems to be THE book to read now and if I do read it, it will be the first book this year I'm choosing to read outside my Armchair Traveler project. I had given myself permission to read books outside the project but nothing has really jumped at me so much like this book.

How's your Sunday going?

Frangipani by Célestine Vaite

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"My daughter has been here since eleven o'clock, she's here to have her birth activated, and she hasn't eaten anything since this morning."

"It's not our fault everybody decided to give birth today!" the nurse snaps. "They all went to the same party, or what?"

I loved Frangipani. It took me weeks to finish it because I haven't exactly been in a reading mood. But books I read during such phases usually end up getting tossed because they don't hold my attention long enough. But Frangipani was always a delight to come back to. It felt very authentic and Tahitian, with adorable characters, and a very easy-going narrative style.

Frangipani is mostly told from Materena Mahi's perspective. When the book begins, Materena is moaning her partner, Pito's, negligence with money. They already have a little baby boy and Materena just found out that she was pregnant with a second baby. She wants Pito to let her collect his pay but that is out of the question because then he will be made the laughing stock by his friends. He will not see the end of questions like "Who's the man and who's the woman between you and your woman? Who's the noodle? Who wears the pants? Who wears the dress?" if he lets Materena collect his pay. But she does anyway and then doesn't see him at all for a long time, he having decided to leave her.

They reunite weeks later under very humorous circumstances but Materena goes on to take a job as a professional cleaner (very different from just a cleaner, as she reminds us often) to get some extra money. However, her hands are soon going to be tied down once her daughter, Leilani, is born. (She knew it was a girl because she did the needle trick). Much of Frangipani focuses on this mother-daughter relationship and I like to say that the author, Célestine Vaite, got it right. As a child, Leilani worships her mother, but as she steps into her teen years, there is much animosity directed at her mother. Through the years, their relationship evolves, but the sentiments expressed may as well be universal.

There is a lot of Tahitian delight sprinkled through the book. Did you know that Tahiti is not a country but one among many islands part of French Polynesia, and part of France? The people there speak French and Tahitian. Materena says that a woman and a man should not marry until they have been together for a long long time and have had kids together. She also happens to have a very large family, including immediate family and all the many cousins she has. They all live very close to each other so any time she has to go to the Chinese store to buy something, she is sure to meet quite a few of her relatives on the way. As you read the book, you get the feeling that you are meeting almost everyone in Tahiti and they all know each other. It takes only about 2 hours to drive around the island; of course, with traffic that can be more. The "public bus" in Tahiti is called a truck and that's what most of the people there use for transport.

The Tahitian "bus", called Le Truck.
Photo credit via Christopher brown

Frangipani is actually book one in a three-book series, all focusing on Materena. I cannot wait to read books two and three now. The narrative style of Frangipani is a little unique - it read more like a chronological series of essays than a continuous narration of a story. It worked well for this book because of its very quirky narration and humorous tone. The author has definitely drawn the picture of her hometown very well - it is hard not to picture the characters or their circumstances in your head. It has scored all the points in my book - storytelling, story, characters, voice, and culture authenticity.

This book is from my personal library.
Armchair reading in Tahiti