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

The Sunday Salon: How will we fare in a dystopian world?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Sunday

Yesterday morning, I finished reading Blindness by José Saramago and since then, I've been wondering what it would be like if an apocalyptic event truly happened. Maybe it's a plague as it is in Blindness, or an uprising that collapses the capital (The Hunger Games), or an invasion by extra-terrestrial beings (Mars Attacks!), or a pending asteroid strike (The Last Policeman), or maybe it's the weather finally punishing us for our don't-care attitude around it, or a Third World War begins and never ends. Whichever it is, which of these dystopian worlds we are too familiar with, will get it right?

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Some of these dystopian books, like The Hunger Games, are pure fun. Others are horrific to read; fun isn't a word used in the same line as the book. That's what reading Blindness was like. Some - The Walking Dead - toe the thin line between the two. There is enough seriousness in this show that we are horrified by a lot of what we see, but there is also a levity around it (zombies? Ha, no way!) that makes the show a lot of fun to watch. Still, any book or show that even half-seriously addresses the issue of a disorganized world pokes at the same themes - rise in criminal activity, every man for himself, deaths everywhere, lack of morals and ethics.

Blindness was horrific to read because
  1. The people supposed to keep the order were too afraid of the people they had quarantined. There is a lot of shooting and innocent deaths, as a result. Some leave you agape - you get the "I was just talking to this guy minutes ago" feeling.
  2. A number of criminals kept 200 people in fear and demanded that they send women to them every day for them to "have fun with". Women are sent. Nobody is able to do anything else except talk in circles. That "fun" leaves you feeling sick and nauseated.
  3. Dogs, not having owners anymore, have started hunting for their own food. Sometimes, that food is a human.
  4. How do you do anything at all when you are blind? You can't even be sure if a certain can contains food or poison.
    1. You can't even take care of your personal hygiene anymore or cook anything at all.
    2. You won't even know if you are about to fall off the edge of a bridge or walk into a carpet of hot coals.
    3. You won't be able to tell if you are walking straight or going in circles.
    4. Nobody returns back to the place they left in the morning to hunt for food. They don't even know how to find a place they cannot see.
  5. Every man for himself. Which means, murders are far too common. People just drop dead like hot potatoes.

It may be a sign of how much dystopian lit is all around us, but there is a part of me that feels that we may live in a dystopian world someday. There are many countries that are already being subject to varying degrees of dystopia - war-ravaged places that are always being abused by people who don't know how to handle power, countries that are completely or partially cut-off from the rest of the world, and countries where the people are always rebelling against the government. If we did get into one such world, will whatever we learned from all these amazing dystopian reads, movies, and TV shows be put to use? Or will we prove them all right - that deep within, all humans are capable of evil, it is just an organized world that keeps us all human?

Whenever I think that, I realize that we did just fine centuries ago, when there was no government to rule the masses. But we also didn't have masses then, we only had pockets of people scattered all across the world. Today, we are too many people and not enough resources. How will we fare in a dystopian world?

While I'm still thinking about Blindness, I'm also reading The Fever, which is appearing to be woefully inadequate in comparison. I'm not even comparing the two books; heck, they are not even in the same domain. But that's what beautiful literature does to you - everything after it pales in comparison. I also have a grand plan to finish about 12 books between now and the end of September (mostly review books that I let accumulate over the past few months).

When was the last time I read a book without distractions? Umm...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Yesterday at work, I was trying to multi-task. Or rather, not really multi-task, but use the time between writing my code and waiting for it to run, to browse through my phone. I usually use these small intervals at work to check Facebook. My weakness is my local pet shelter because they post such cute cuddly photos of the pets they have, but that is neither here nor there. I had once tried to read a book during such a break, but I struggled with putting the book down and read too hurriedly. However, I had recently uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone, seeing as how it is such a useless distraction. So then, I started browsing through my feeds in Feedly, which is usually my second stop after Facebook, and that was when I saw this article at Salon by Michael Harris in which he journaled his struggle with reading War and Peace.

That's not a journey I can relate to since I have never felt the urge to read this humongous title, but I have tried to read big books in the past only to drop them after a few pages. The article is, however, more than about one person's struggles with a historically difficult book. Michael talks about how he used to be able to read for hours when he was a kid, but nowadays, he was not able to last five minutes without checking his phone. He was always looking for distractions - videos, Twitter, Facebook, emails, and he was plagued by a feeling of missing something if he didn't check his phone in the last five minutes.

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Michael could have been writing about me, for all I know. It's frightening really, how much time I spend staring at this tiny piece of plastic, at dinners, at work, during commute, and even where surrounded by people. If my phone was a little away from me and I heard it ding, I would spend half my brain trying to tell myself that the notification could wait. And then, I would go check it right away. Even a delightful book could not keep me away from my phone's notifications, if I heard the telltale dings. I often wonder how long it would take me to read the Harry Potter books today, with all these digital distractions around me.

I remember reading each Harry Potter book in less than two days, and feeling very sad that the book was over. I doubt I could do that now. I remember those days of sitting up all night to finish a book - something I have not done in years. I remember racing through a book in less than a day and then sitting back and basking in the awesomeness of what I just read. I remember not putting my book down unless it was to get some food or use the bathroom. Even baths have been known to being ignored when an awesome book was in town, not that I should confess to this. I remember walking everywhere with a book and telling anyone I see that they should read it. I also remember not starting another book too soon after the last one, therefore having plenty of time after finishing a book to digest and absorb it well.

The Hierarchy of Digital Distractions
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I miss those days. I wish I could read like that even now. Sure, I am an adult now and life IS busier. There are also all these extra responsibilities - dinner to cook, lunch to plan, groceries to buy, chores to complete, and then there are the fun responsibilities like blogging or catching up on Feedly. And even if I didn't have those responsibilities, I am usually beat by the end of a workday to want to do anything that requires my brain to go into overdrive. Usually, that means watching stupid TV, but it helps. So reading is now something I do after I am done with all the above. Some days, especially on days I write a blog post, I count myself lucky if I can even read a couple of pages.

I am glad that I uninstalled the Facebook app from my phone. I haven't been on the site since, so that ploy is certainly working. Even though I check my notifications right away, I don't keep turning it on to see if there is anything new. I have somewhat learned to ignore my phone dings after I go to bed. I say somewhat, because some days are better than others. I have also somewhat learned to wait until I am done with my current task or chapter, before checking my phone. But I still browse a lot. I am reading some article or the other all the time, and while I do enjoy that a lot, I want to be able to go back to my carefree reading days of my childhood, when I started reading a book knowing that I will be able to finish it quickly if the book is interesting enough. I would have read (and finished) books like War and Peace in those days - size did not bother me at all then. Today, I avoid chunksters because I know I will get distracted soon by something else and eventually that big book will sit by forgotten.

But more importantly, I want to be able to lose myself in the book I am reading. I want to look up from my book and feel that hours have passed (and dinner taken care of magically, of course). I want to keep my distractions to a minimum and not go looking for other visual eye candy, when the best treat is right in front of me and just waiting for its pages to be ruffled.