The Sunday Salon: The joy of choosing what to read

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Sunday

Good morning Saloners! It's been a few weeks since I've done any kind of blogging, though I did have a strong desire to post my I am Malala review this past week. I am slowly beginning to recover from my one-hobby-only obsession phase (knitting this time) and doing other things too. My husband loves to say that when I get involved with a hobby, I am fully involved in it - there is nothing else I can direct my attention to. I always take that as a compliment, though I know he is trying to tell me that I need to focus on my other responsibilities (I pretend I don't know that's what he is actually trying to tell me). Still, it's good to be over that phase and just try to be more disciplined with my hobbies. Knitting during Fall-Winter only is what is getting me re-obsessed during these months.

Anyways, it is nice to start thinking of books. I decided that the books I had borrowed from the library had to go back right away and that I need to ignore my read-now shelf (ARCs, e-galleys, planned books). I also decided to stop all my currently-reading books that have remained... currently-reading... and just pick the first book that catches my fancy from my shelves. I have some ideas on what books I want to read - mostly books or authors I have been hoping to read but never got to, such as Oryx and Crake, Cloud Atlas, and A Fine Balance. I have also been thinking of re-reading the Harry Potter books, mainly thanks to playing HP trivia in my phone's Quizup app, but it's been years since I last read those books and they always feel to me as the perfect Fall season books to read. I actually have visions of sitting in a stone tower with a nice warm fire in the hearth and a cup of hot chocolate beside me and reading the books. Yes, I'm borrowing this scene heavily the HP books themselves.

Luckily, I am listening to audiobooks every day and that makes me feel that I am still reading. I am almost finishing up Switching Time - a fascinating account of a psychiatrist's treatment of a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder. This woman had 17 alters, all born to help her deal with child abuse, rapes, and harassment by religious cult members. It's horrifying listening to all the ways she has been tortured - it made me wonder whether it is all invented, but a person doesn't create 17 alters out of pure fun. The book could have benefited from some better editing but it makes for great listening. I will be talking more about this in my review, but I have been itching to mention this book here for a while because of how much it has intrigued me.

I don't have any major plans for today. We woke up feeling the season's shill. Our thermostat is still set to the AC mode but it isn't running since it's too cold most of the time. I'm happy to welcome the cold (hey, I'm knitting, aren't I?) but I feel that it has been a really short summer. I'm expecting this week to be very busy at work, and next weekend we are driving to New Jersey to meet some friends and drop the husband's father closer to the NY airport. For the rest of the day, I'm hoping to catch up on my Feedly, do some knitting, and start reading something. How's your day/week going?

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I am Malala
My mother always told me, "hide your face -- people are looking at you." I would reply, "it does not matter; I am also looking at them."

I am Malala was never on my radar. Part of it had to do with the fact that I had not heard of Malala until this book began making the waves in blogosphere. (Yes, I seem to be living under a rock. In my defense, I stopped reading the news about four years ago. I didn't have a desire to ruin my days after reading some particularly upsetting news.) The other reason was that I keep my memoir reading to a minimum, and I am never a fan of autobiographies that extoll the writer's great virtues. Luckily, Malala is one of the most matter-of-fact narrators I've come across. The only exclamations in her book are when she talks about having fun with her friends just like any regular schoolgirl should. There is no hint of arrogance or "I did a great thing therefore people worship me" attitude in it, and these made this book a seller.

If you, like me, had no idea who Malala is, this young Pakistani girl got shot by the Taliban in her own hometown because she was speaking out for education for girls. Talk about stuff that can get you killed in some places! Malala was 14 when this happened and the last 15-20% of the book follows this incident and her recovery afterwards. But it is the first 80% of the book that won me over. I cannot reiterate enough how much I loved Malala. She was just like any other girl I knew growing up. She had fun with her friends, she had opinions, and more than anything, she just wanted to be a regular every-girl who attended school without issues. Instead, the Taliban had different plans for her.

Her hometown in Swat was not a heavy Taliban area initially. There were boys and girls schools, and even some coed schools. But a certain Maulana Fazlullah was just beginning to slowly influence people with his religious and often misogynistic opinions. Over time, he began to condemn people who still let girls into school, while also publicly appreciating those girls and women who dropped off school. Malala continued attending.

Besides, her father was also an anti-Taliban activist. All he had ever wanted in life was to run a school where kids like Malala could attend. He encouraged Malala to be strong, though when the death threats started pouring in for him and Malala, he began to worry that he will regret his decision later. But Malala was becoming more renowned on her own accord. She was meeting government officials, writing a blog, and airing her opinions without fearing for her life. Her father was her role model and she had never seen him cower or hide in fear. So why should she?

Malala also gives a good history of her country, Pakistan, and its apparent friendliness with Afghanistan. I'm sure many people know that people in Pakistan also suffer from backwardness, thanks to an inefficient and ever-changing government and its physical and spiritual proximity to Afghanistan. But the latter gets in the news more, simply because the problems there are bigger in comparison to those in Pakistan. Malala is ready to criticize her country when something wrong is being done and also expresses embarrassment when negative attention falls on Pakistan, but her thoughts are nowhere near the disgusting or impractical ones that usually occupy the airwaves most of the time.

I purchased this book on Audible when I had to choose a book to complete a sale. Funnily, this is the book I listened to first, of the lot. The narrator, Archie Panjabi, did a great job narrating this story and made for a great voice in my car during the couple of weeks it took me to finish listening to this book. I am glad this book turned out to be informative (there is so much about Pakistan that I learned here - all interesting stuff too) and personable (Malala is certainly a charming person), but most importantly, this is a record of a little girl's triumphing over the Taliban, and that, in my opinion, is a great read anytime. On the other hand, books like these make me sad though, because for every well-known girl like Malala getting shot and saved, there must be countless other girls dying without a grave or newsprint to honor them.

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

The Sunday Salon: What I've been Doing

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Sunday

I didn't mean to disappear from the Interwebs, especially since I've been back from my mountain cabin vacation for about a couple of weeks. The vacation has been a glorious time away from the daily stresses and routines, and a big reminder to do such vacations more often. Not necessarily by shelling a lot of money to secure a fabulous cabin at the top of the Blue Ridge, but at least by doing less work and more fun stuff once in a while.

Since I got back, it's been a busy couple of days at work, and I got swept into knitting a sweater over the weekend, so I have been largely absent from the internet and unplugged most of the time. When I'm bit by any hobby bug, I like to let it pass because it's very difficult to put it down and look around at other things. Besides, with the occasional cold days showing up here, I've been itching to make something that I can wear this season, something more challenging, like a sweater. It's amazing how hard it is to come back to the blog, the longer I stay away.

Luckily, I've been reading some. I finished listening to Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton and enjoyed it. Listening to it was like watching a soap opera that I could not peel myself away from. Twitter has such a shameful background that it's surprising to see a service coming from such sordid depths become one of the most used ever. Of course, Facebook is right up there with it, with all its scandalous history.

I also finished listening to I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I wasn't initially inclined to read I am Malala. I keep my memoir reading to a very minimum, but I am glad I picked this book. It was charming, informational, and very engrossing, so this book turned out to be a fast listen. I am Malala is also the first book I have read/listened to that was set in Pakistan. And I thought this was just the perfect book to read if someone wanted to learn more about this country. Malala may be just seventeen years old, but she knows more about her country than most people know about theirs.

I'm finishing up The Hundred Foot Journey today. I've been reading this book for a long time despite it being a very entertaining book. (Blame the knitting for this.) My glorious plan was to read the book then go watch the movie. I don't think the movie is even running at the theaters anymore. Oh well. I also have been reading three knitting books (see, I told you I have been reading, just not books I would be reviewing) - why three at the same time, I have no idea, but it's helping me combine two of my hobbies without making me miss one or the other. Rrrright.

This Friday, there was a street festival downtown that was a lot of fun to be at. We don't go often to downtown so this was a nice excuse to get down there. I have a low-key Sunday planned, or rather nothing planned for today. Some pending work for my office, some knitting, some reading, and some Feedly catch-up are all that I am intending to do today.

The Sunday Salon: Fog in the mountains

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Sunday

Good morning from the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina! The family and I just arrived at a cabin we rented here, late afternoon yesterday. So far, it's everything we hoped for. We played a lot of pool and ping-pong, trekked along the property and discovered a cute little treehouse, spent hours gazing at the mountains, roasted marshmallows, and had a campfire dinner as well. This morning, we woke up to a thick blanket of fog covering the mountains, and that's what I'm staring at when I'm not typing up this post. This kind of vacation is so much better than visiting places where you are on your feet most days!

(Photos from my cellphone. I'll share better photos after we get back home and copy the photos from the camera.)

We don't have any major plans for this vacation other than having some fun time indoors and checking out a couple of state parks in the vicinity. I will be unplugged as well (except for typing this post), and may do some reading and some knitting, a lot of playing, and a lot of lounging. Even the dog's having fun exploring the house and we have to remember not to leave the basement door open because once she bolts, there is no finding her in these woods, especially when there are so many tiny distractions around her. Jack Russells and their energy!

On a light note, we found a couple of doors that were ominously locked. My brother was quick to remind us about the movie, The Cabin in the Woods, so we now happily ignore the doors.

This past week, I barely read a word. I'm halfway through The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is turning out to be a quick read, but I haven't gotten back to it since the last few days. I've been trying to finish a shrug that I started knitting months ago but put down when I didn't expect to wear it until winter. I'm almost done with it. I'm also hoping to finish the book during this vacation.

Copyright © 2009-2014. Reading on a Rainy Day. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Athira from Reading on a Rainy Day. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Man Called Ove
She couldn't tell him that things would change before he knew it, because when you were a teenager your life really only stretches in your imagination about two weeks ahead, and they both knew that it wasn't going to get better by then. Or, probably, any time soon after that.

Jojo Moyes is one of those authors I would never have read or tried to read. When I first attempted Me Before You, I closed it after the first chapter, because it smacked of a fluff novel with a rich good looking guy with a vapid girlfriend and who knows which predictable direction this novel would take. Months later, I found myself without an audiobook to listen to, and Me Before You was what I chose. I very rarely go back to a book I abandoned. But, Me Before You worked. It more than worked. It rocked.

One Plus One fared similarly. I wouldn't go as far as to say that it was as good as Me Before You. One Plus One was more predictable. But it was also funny, witty, and filled with misfits.

One similarity between these two books is that her male protagonists start off as men you hate at first glance. They are too self-important, too rich, too brainless, and too shallow. Over time, they reveal a side of theirs that was, for whatever reason, hidden in the first few chapters. Also, it took a poor working-too-hard woman to save them from their egos.

Apart from that common formula, the two books differed in every other possible way. In One Plus One, Jess Thomas works as a cleaner by day and a barmaid by night, trying to make ends meet and put two kids through school. Her husband, who doesn't contribute a dime, had moved away whining that he needs to fix his health and look for a job. Ed Nicholls is a rich-guy-done-bad-thing who is staying low after he took part in insider trading. His house is one of those that Jess cleans, and as is the wont with novels (and movies) like this one, the two start off on the wrong foot. Jess's husband's son, Nicky, is constantly bullied by some boys at school and in his neighborhood. Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math genius who just got the opportunity to study at a rich but great school on a scholarship, if her family can cough up five grand to cover up their share of the costs.

The problem? There is no five grand in their house, or money bag, or piggy bank, waiting to be used. So Jess decides to drive her brood and their dog all the way to Scotland where a Math Olympiad was being held in a few days, in her husband's ragged old Rolls Royce, hopeful that Tanzie will win the prize that will send her to the school of her dreams. But then, the car breaks down, a cop writes her a ticket, and Ed chances by. He volunteers to take them to Scotland. Besides, he needs to visit his dying father anyways.

What follows is a few days of fun, irritation, temper flares, and plenty of outbursts. It's amazing how much can be written about a car journey, even if it spanned a few days. I was half-wishing for a similarly eventful car-ride, but the only long ones I've had have usually been full of dramas. What I liked about One Plus One was how much I ended up caring for some of the characters. Misfit or not, there was something about each character that made you want to sit next to them. Sure, the story is very predictable, and sure, it reminded me a little about Maid in Manhattan (which I didn't like at all), but at the end of the day, Moyes's characters had a lot of personality and presence that made you read the book just to stay with them. I didn't want the book to end and move on. I didn't want anything bad to happen to them, which was what I was anticipating after reading Me Before You.

One Plus One is what I wish Sophie Kinsella's novels were more like. Light women's fiction with a rich-guy-meets-poor-gal script, but where the girl has brains and can hold her own kingdom.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher, Pamela Dorman Books, via NetGalley.
Armchair reading in United Kingdom