The Sunday Salon: Not a great day so far...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Sunday

Today I'm home alone with the dog, the husband having left this morning to drop my family off at New York so that they can catch their return flight to India. Rue has been holed up on our couch all morning and is now in our bed, sulking. My dad used to take her for a walk every day and my mom used to give her the kind of snacks all dogs drool over. No wonder she loves them. She's going to be brooding and avoiding food for a few days, until she realizes that she is not going to see them any time soon. It bugs me that there is no way to tell something to these adorable critters, especially when they are so obviously upset.

A Very Sad Dog

Me? I'm not doing too well either, but not for the same reasons as Rue's. My brother is also returning back to India and let's just say that I haven't taken that well at all. Some of you may remember that a few years ago, he was hospitalized after getting seizures out of the blue. After two months of recovery and therapy, he was all ready to go back to school when he found that he isn't as sharp as he used to be. Even basic daily rituals would send him into one of his dangerous angry moods. His career has suffered heavily and since nothing has been working out here, we all agreed, with a lot of reluctance, that it is best for him to go back and start afresh. This post is basically a rewrite as my first stab has turned out to be a heavily depressed piece of writing. It was a therapeutic post however and it did its job - so now it can catch dust in the deep interwebs of bloglandia.

As my day so far hasn't been great, I have been filling it with classic comedies and TV shows. Nothing better than TV therapy to get your spirits up, eh?

I've been quite tired this past week. The idea of my warm cozy bed was what would get me through the day and then by 8 or 9 pm, I was either already in bed or seriously considering going to sleep. So there's been nothing creative going on this week - no reading, no knitting. I did get to about page 70 of The Book Thief and hope to make more progress with it today, but we'll see. The sad dog isn't helping my cause much either. Yesterday was a load of fun however. We went for a brunch, then spent the afternoon bowling, had caramel-flavored pretzels in the evening, did some shopping, and made some guacamole for dinner.

Since I barely slept last night and have been up since 5.30 am, I feel like a train wreck already. I can't believe it's not even lunch time yet. It's been a loooong time since I have been by myself at home and I am not enjoying it much, even though I am usually an introvert and like me some solitude. I have some grand plans for the rest of the day, which all include crossing some items off my to-do list. We'll see how many of those will actually get done today.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dark Places
I’m not someone who can be depended on five days a week. Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday? I don’t even get out of bed five days in a row -- I often don’t remember to eat five days in a row. Reporting to a workplace, where I would need to stay for eight hours—eight big hours outside my home -- was unfeasible.

Ever since I read Gone Girl, I have been looking forward to reading more of Gillian Flynn's books. Not that Gone Girl was the perfect read, but it was certainly a hard-to-put-down book with so many twists and turns that I had to see more of what Flynn could deliver. In Dark Places, Libby Day lost almost her entire family in one night - two sisters and her mother murdered by her brother. For the next twenty-four years, Libby lived on donations from people who wanted to help her and some money earned through the sales of a self-help book. But now, that money pond has dried up and Libby needs to find a way to survive. She doesn't want a job because she cannot be depended upon to do anything that involves routine or responsibility. Right when she is close to giving up, she receives a letter from someone named Lyle who has a monetary offer for her, in exchange for some help.

Lyle is part of a group of people who are like groupies for famous murders. They analyze and cross-analyze clues, visit the persons who were arrested for the crimes, and in the case of serial killers that are still at large, they try to locate where the perpetrator's next crime would be. Lyle and some of the group members have long believed that Libby's brother, Ben, wasn't the murderer that night, but Libby isn't having any of that. When the murder was happening outside her bedroom, she heard Ben's voice, or thought she did. Moreover, she doesn't want to revisit the events of that night - they have destroyed enough of her life. But Lyle has promised Libby some cash for anything Libby would do to help them solve the mysteries of that night. And Libby complies - she needs the money. But she ends up getting more than she asked for.

Dark Places has a very gruesome murder at its core. The events of that night are revisited quite a few times from multiple perspectives and they aren't pretty at all. There are plenty of twists and turns in this book too, not as much as in Gone Girl, but that shouldn't be a matter for comparison. However, the twists in this book felt pretty lame and predictable. Libby's investigation in the present and the actual events of that dreadful day are told in alternating sections from multiple perspectives. The murders happened during the 80s, at the height of the devil worship era. There is a lot of devil talk and and beliefs floating around in the flashback sections of the book. In addition, there is one ghastly devil worship scene, which I thought was even more disturbing than the actual murders. (It's a sad fact that I saw a similar scene in a movie recently. Once you read/see stuff like that, you pretty much want to swear off all meat for the rest of your life.)

Dark Places was a fast-paced book, which is usually a good thing for thrillers, but unfortunately, this book suffered because of it. For one thing, I struggled to understand why, after years of deliberately staying away from the events of that night, Libby would give in so easily and take in all the new knowledge without any hesitation. It just seemed too convenient.

The ending of this book was a big disappointment however. After all the buildup, and the possibility of something having gone very very wrong that night, it was quite angering to read what actually happened. Gillian Flynn certainly has a tendency to come up with very What? That's what happened after all this drama? endings. I won't spoil it for you, and besides, a lot of people on Goodreads have enjoyed the book, so maybe you will too. To me, however, the ending wasn't just unbelievable, it was also too convenient and too coincidental. It seemed like a bad enactment of Murphy's law. Everything that could go wrong went wrong that day, and some of the characters who were part of that day, came out of it dumber.

Honestly, I was very disappointed with this book. It made for a nice quick read and it is easily something I could read while on a plane, at the beach, or when I'm looking for something very light. But I expected something more clever and stimulating, and unfortunately, didn't get that.

This book is from my personal library.

The Sunday Salon: On watching Interstellar

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Sunday

Yesterday, we went to watch Interstellar. The husband is a big science fiction fan. Me? Not so much. I don't feel drawn to them, but inexplicably, I have enjoyed almost every science fiction movie I have watched. Go figure. So I knew that even if I didn't know anything about this movie (Fact: I actually didn't), I would be able to enjoy it. You know, it's like reading one of those books without worrying about the blurb because you are so sure you will enjoy the book because the cover is fantastic or the title is very unique.

Before going for Interstellar, I should have however checked who the director was. Christopher Nolan isn't exactly know for making straightforward movies. He is going to bend your head in a few directions, jolt your seats haphazardly a few times, and smirk at your nowhere-close-to-the-truth theories with a rebounder. Plus, if you miss the dialogue anywhere, you have just missed something crucial. For someone like me, who was born with hearing damage, following the dialogue is a big challenge. After every dialogue- or voiceover-laden movie I watch, I have to tag someone along after the movie and pound him/her with questions. It's really difficult to do this when everyone is awestruck at the brilliance of the movie and I am still asking the Whats and the Whens. But you don't get to 30 years with hearing troubles and embarrassments without learning how to be a little cunning with your questions, so that you get your answers without anyone wondering "But, didn't you just watch that whole movie with me?".

Luckily the husband knows to dedicate the few hours after any movie for my Q&A sessions. Normally, by the end of a movie, I do have a grasp of the nuts and bolts of the story while missing out on some of its salient aspects. With Interstellar, I pretty much missed out on everything, until the end, by when I figured out what the missions were about and why it was such a big deal. This is a movie I needed subtitles for. The movie starts off in a dry storm plagued-, crops routinely blighted- future society where technology and science are given no importance and people struggle to put food on the table. Cooper, a pilot turned farmer, somehow stumbles upon the coordinates of a secret NASA facility that has been sending space explorers to find planets that would support subsistence, and is just sending its fourth and last mission out. Cooper joins Amelia Brand on this fourth mission, and we finally leave Earth, about 45 minutes into the movie, and get into space. For the next two hours, they cruise through wormholes and planets that have higher gravitational force than earth thereby slowing time down heavily, and even black holes. While Cooper stays young and handsome and tries to find answers in space, his daughter, Murph, is trying to solve complex chalkboard-spanning equations so that these people can come come back to earth. Interstellar is clearly a very ambitious movie, based on several as-yet unproven scientific theories about time as a separate dimension, gravity affecting aging, and wormholes speeding travel between two different solar systems. For a good part of the movie, there is an unexplained "they" who set up these phenomena so that earth people can travel across systems, and by the end, almost three hours later, we learn who "they" are, it's either the most clever piece of the movie or the most WTH piece, depending on your outlook. I thought it was pretty cool actually, though my 1+1=2 brain is struggling to comprehend it fully.

I did put together most of the puzzles by the end. But like Memento and Inception, I would have enjoyed the movie more if I could follow it scene by scene, rather than in the drive back home. (That shouldn't be a problem for most people however.) And yet, by the time I understood the movie, I loved it. It has made me want to rewatch it once it comes on DVD so that I can actually follow the dialogue. Next time I go to a movie, I need to see if I can get one of those closed caption devices that looks like a 3D glass. I am not a fan of devices I need to wear on my ears or eyes, but I love watching movies with subtitles - I just have to remember not to laugh too early when something funny shows up as captions before I actually see it on screen.

The Sunday Salon: My favorite day of the year

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Sunday

Not Christmas, not Thanksgiving, not any of the other holidays, but it's the Fall Back day. The clocks in most of the US have gone back an hour today, so that means there's an extra hour in the day to be used up any way one wants to. Ever since I came to the US years ago, I have always looked forward to this one day. I never made big plans for that hour; I just had the feeling one gets when you unexpectedly come into some good fortune. Being an introvert, my favorite way of spending it was by reading, or doing stuff online; and some years, especially during my university years, I used it up by catching up on lost sleep.

It takes a good long while before my body clock syncs up with the actual time, so I probably will end up sleeping earlier and starting each day sooner. I'm so lazy that whenever I make resolutions to wake up earlier each day, I generally plan to start the resolution on Fall Back day. It isn't soon before the rest of the universe conspires to upset my plan, but hey, at least I can't say that I didn't try.

For the record, my absolute worst day is the Spring Forward day. It feels almost vicious to have a day with just 23 hours. When has anyone ever felt that even 24 hours was enough for a day? Eight months ago, I rued about this clock jumping tradition in the US, and from the comments, it doesn't look like anyone likes the concept either. I doubt the lawmakers like it even! It's one of the most disrupting practices ever. Even though I generally like Fall Back day, I don't like how dark it is by the time I get home in the evening. Looking forward to a bunch of sweater-clad, dark, gloomy evenings - yay! #sarcarsm

This Friday, as soon as I left work, we had a big issue crop up - I spent all of Friday evening and Saturday morning working to resolve it, so I'm now scavenging the remains of what feels like a much shorter weekend. I will have to clock in couple more hours today, but I'm trying to postpone that as much as possible. Guess where my extra Fall Back hour is going. Hmph.

Last week, I started reading The Martian and The Blind Assassin. I had already listened to half of The Martian, five months back, but never quite finished it. I loved the half I listened to, so now I'm looking forward to reading it. Also, Trish mentioned last week that there were lots of exclamations! I picked up The Blind Assassin to feed my long-time desire to read an Atwood book but always feeling intimidated by the idea of it. I'm only a few chapters in, but what a delight it is so far!

In the car, I'm listening to Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, which is annoying me as much as it is delighting me - a sign of a really good discussion book. I think I have about 3 more hours of listening time left, but at this point, I'm a little tired of how repetitive her essays sound and how if she had fewer well-chosen essays, I won't feel as if I am hearing the same thing being said. I can also not help feeling that this book is going to be read/listened to by an exclusively women audience, just because of how angry she sounds, and how she generalizes men as failures often. I believe the best way to solve gender bias problems is to get the men involved, but no one likes to be put in a corner and berated at. She certainly brings up a lot of good examples for the listener to ponder over.

For the rest of today, I don't have any major plans, except some work and some shopping. I'm still knitting stuff on and off and looking forward to wearing all these handknits and dressing up my folks in them too. What do you have planned for your Sunday?

A spooky book for a spooky season

Thursday, October 30, 2014

One of the traditions I have never had is to read something spooky or scary for Halloween. The idea has always enamored me, and why not? Reading ghostly books during Halloween, Christmas books in December, and romance books around the Valentine's day season simply enhances the holiday experience. Sure, there's nothing spooky about Halloween in the real world, but if the make-believe worlds in books and movies and TV shows are to be believed, then ghouls and ghosts are just waiting for a reason to rise from the dead and send the still-alive people running for their lives.

(Original photo here)

It's not that I haven't ever wanted to read horror fiction. It's just that I have had very little success with this genre. When I was a kid, my family used to watch all kinds of horror movies and TV shows, and I would watch with them. They would cover my eyes every time something nasty (or sexy) would happen on screen. Of course, that only made the genre scarier than it should be. So most of my memories of these horror-laden years include bodies buried in walls (to this day, I have an urge to go knocking on walls to make sure there are no spots that sound different and hence could have a body hidden behind), dogs ripping apart people's bodies by clawing through their stomachs (and splattered stomach goo matter for added effect), invisible men who can regain their bodies only by eating human flesh, entire families murdered and drained of blood by their vampire-in-residence landlord, and several other ghastly details that I won't regale with you yet. Even though today's horror movies and TV shows are just as spooky, they appear almost laughable to me, compared to my memory of the horror of whatever I watched during the 80s and 90s.

Considering how jumpy I can be when I am around this genre, I have mostly strayed away from horror books as well. Still, a few years back, I chanced upon David Morrell's Creepers, which wasn't a particularly good piece of literature but boy, was it creepy. That book kept me up at nights and made me highly sensitive to unexplained sounds. It took a while for the effects of that book to wash away. Since then, I haven't read a genuine horror fiction (The Walking Dead and other dystopia don't count).

So that brings me here. I do want to read something horror. Sure, it may keep me up at night, and sure, I may not read another book from this genre for a few years. But if I can read a book that's very good, even if it is very scary, and if I can say at the end that the book was well written and well-constructed, that would be worth it. I have a strong desire to read Stephen King, as he is considered the king of horror novels. When I checked the popular horror fiction list at Goodreads, 14 of the top 15 were books by him. His books can be very long though. Two other books I have been considering reading are Horrorstör and We have Always Lived in the Castle. But I'm also curious to know what other horror books have been particularly good - something YOU would recommend, something genuine and believable, something that has possibly kept you up, and made you feel as if you were experiencing it. I know I am asking for trouble here by looking for a book that's going to make me feel all the horrors that my 12-year old self watched. But, I realize that it's time my adult self revisited this genre and experienced it from a (hopefully) grown-up perspective.

What is the scariest book you ever read?