Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

I completed the manuscript of “I’ll do it my way” on May 22, 2010. After that, I’ve spent the last week re-rejuvenating my spirit.

Snatches from the films I watched and the books that I read…

Capote: Let’s start with the worst film of the lot – Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman won 2006 Academy Award for Best Actor and justifiably so. He does do a great job of bringing the character of Capote on the screen. Yet, it’s an incredibly badly made film, with the director hinging the entire film around Hoffman’s performance. The end result is a film with no dramatic moments that moves at a snail’s pace and leaves you with a huge headache. I had to watch Friends after this film just to get the smile back on my face.

On Golden Pond: A film about growing old that leaves you feeling very young. It’s a performance of a lifetime from Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in a script with a lot of soul, sensitively directed. The film in fact did win Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay.

But I leave this film carrying out these lines with me… “Sometimes you have to look hard at a person, and remember that he’s doing the best he can. He’s just trying to find his way… Just like you.”

Cinderella Man: Another film with a lot of heart that did not perhaps get  its due. But for me this remains another special film from Ron Howard and Russell Crowe, the combination that gave us A Beautiful Mind. But if A Beautiful Mind draws us in with complexity, this film vanquishes us with its simplicity 🙂

The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini is quite clearly a story teller, and not a bad writer either. Well written and edited. I couldn’t put The Kite Runner down once I’d picked it up. It’s a book where the pace of Robin Cook and Stephen King dissolves into the mystique of the east.

In the midst of his prose, the writer also creates scattered moments of soul inspiring beauty. Like when Sohrab says, “”Father used to say it’s wrong to hurt even bad people. Because they don’t know better, and because bad people sometimes become good.”

A tremendous achievement. I can’t believe I waited this long to read The Kite Runner. But I guess it’s better late than never 🙂

Beowulf

Posted: April 18, 2010 in Books
Tags: ,

“Each of us will come to the end of this life
On earth; he who can earn it should fight
For the glory of his name; fame after death
Is the noblest of goals”

As a student of English Literature, one is often taught that the history of this genre begins with the epic poem Beowulf, believed to be written by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet between the 8th and early 11th century.

I finally completed reading the poem this evening this evening, and was left with some thoughts…

1.  Beowulf is clearly one of those pieces that was meant to be recited and not read. The sense of rhythm and movement in the lines is amazing.

2. Stunning visual imagery.

3. It is literature. But it is also a historical document that speaks of the customs, traditions and legends of another age. But as with all epic poetry, the boundaries between myth and fact are often blurred.

4. The poem has an inherent respect for the circle of life.

5. It is an analysis of the meaning of heroism and life itself.

6. It is also a reflection on growing old and passing through to the other world. I would go to the extent of saying that this is one of the most poignant and moving accounts that I have read about the loss of youth.

In the final analysis, definitely worth a read – both as literature and the beginning of literature.

Amongst my goals for the time when I take a break from work is the wish to complete the books that still remain unread.

So the 60 books that I would like to read in this time are…

1.Beowulf
2.The Odyssey
3.The Illiad
4.The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
5.Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
6.Don Juan – Lord George Gordon Byron
7.Dracula – Bram Stoker
8.Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
9.Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
10.The Karamazov Brothers – Fyodor Dostoevsky
11.Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
12.War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
13.Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
14.Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
15.Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
16.The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
17.Moby Dick – Herman Melville
18.The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
19.The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
20.Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
21.Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
22.A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
23.A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
24.Narcissus and Goldmund – Herman Hesse
25.Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
26.Animal Farm – George Orwell
27.Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
28.A Room with a View – E M Forster
29.Howard’s End – E M Forster
30.Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
31.To Sir With Love – E R Braithwaite
32.Artemis Fowl – Eoin Colfer
33.The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
34.East of Eden – John Steinbeck
35.Of Mice And Men – John Steinbeck
36.A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
37.The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
38.Cry, The Beloved Country – Alan Paton
39.Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller
40.The Godfather – Mario Puzo
41.Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
42.The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
43.A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
44.My Feudal Lord – Tehmina Durrani
45.The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh
46.The Brick Lane – Monica Ali
47.My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk
48.Love in the time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
49.Grass is Singing – Dorris Lessing
50.Song of Solomon -Toni Morrison
51.Beloved – Toni Morrison
52.Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
53.Every Second Counts – Lance Armstrong
54.The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
55.Motorcycle Diaries
56.Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
57.Life of Pi – Yann Martel
58.Books by Terry Pratchet
59.Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
60.The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

Let’s see how it goes 🙂

I re-watched To Sir With Love the other day, and followed this up with reading the book for the first time.

The interesting thing is that I came away from both the film and the book with an overwhelming sense of it being very British. But I don’t remember even noticing this element of the film when I was younger.

So now having both watched and read To Sir With Love, I would say that this is one of those rare instances where a film is as good as the book, helped in no small measure by a powerful performance from Sidney Poitier. Yet, there also remain marked distinctions between the two, resulting in a subtle shift of primary focus and meaning.

Random thoughts on the differences between the book and the film that stood out…

  1. The focus of the book is on the true meaning of education and the unique goals of a school established in a dodgy part of East London. But Sidney Poitier overshadows all of this in the movie. In fact, he becomes the film.
  2. Perhaps because E R Braithwaite has more time to do this in the book, all the characters are more well-rounded. The build up is also more logical here. In retrospect, I would say that in spite of some big gaps in sequence, Poitier saves the film.
  3. The pain of colour prejudice is also more real in the book. Here, one of the finest analysis of colour prejudice in Europe versus North America is crucial to Braithwaite’s narrative. This is only incidental to the film.
  4. Subsequently, everything is heightened in the book – whether it is the coarseness of the students or the depth of the teacher’s struggle.
  5. The book is also a love story – of love between two true spiritual and intellectual equals – and how race challenges it. This is another facet of the book that gets completely eliminated in the film.
  6. Finally, the movie is the teacher’s journey. But the book is actually the class’ journey over colour prejudice into adulthood.

So it is true that there are moments when the film does not sufficiently mirror the depth of the book. Yet, inspite of this, Poitier still elevates the film to another level, and both manage to remain classics in their own right.

Brick Lane

Posted: February 13, 2010 in Books
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I finally completed Brick Lane by Monica Ali after almost a year of attempting to read it. The book that has its action situated in a real neighbourhood called Brick Lane in London first captured international headlines when the residents of the area protested against the attempts to make the book into a film. Most of them were Bangladeshi immigrants, who were against the portrayal of their community in the book, and did not want this characterisation to gain further notoriety with a film.

The hullabaloo surrounding Brick Lane notwithstanding, I found the book a very average read. While Monica Ali arouses interest with her slightly exotic locale and writing style, she does not fare as well in her attempt at being a story teller. The book begins at a medium pace, petters down to a snail’s pace, and is finally saved only by a riveting conclusion. This should explain why it took me a year to complete the book, and I finally managed only because I persisted with dogged determination.

The other huge failing of the book is Ali’s inability to inhabit the world of any of her characters or even experience a degree of warmth towards them. As a result, you never feel with her protagonist Nazneen, who remains till the end a curious exotic spectacle, even for someone who has been raised in the Indian sub-continent.

Compare this with the creative creation of another great South Asian character Gandhi, in a film by the same name. The character goes beyond ‘spectacle’ value to reverberate with universality across races and even generations. Herein lies its greatness, and it is this quality of a timeless classic that one never feels with “Brick Lane”.

While it be argued that Nazneen does not have the greatness of Gandhi to begin with, my reference is more to the empathy for characters, which is ably demonstrated in a lesser known book like Andaleeb Wajid’s Kite Strings.

Yet, the book’s saving grace is Ali’s refusal to accept predictable resolutions in response to the crisis situations that arise in her book. In this, she creates a work that marks many departures from the norm in the context of diaspora narratives.

I’d go with a rating of 3 stars for this book. It’s also still worth a read for those wondering what the controversy around Brick Lane was all about.

I’m into reading management books right now. Not because any of them are the gospel truth on how you should manage yourself or others. But, I do believe that when you are leading people, it’s important to always expose yourself to different ideas on leadership.

Here are some of the ideas that interested me from The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz…

  1. If you want to live big, you’ve got to think big.
  2. So, if you think you are second class, that’s how you are going to be treated. Believe and treat yourself as if you are important.
  3. Differences in attitude and thought management also determine success. Interest and enthusiasm are critical. Stickability is 95% of ability.
  4. Action cures fear.
  5. An approach to meetings – two important people sitting together to discuss something of mutual importance and benefit.
  6. Stretch your vision. See what can be, not what is.
  7. Ignore the trivial things. Focus on the big issues. Fight the battles that count.
  8. More responsibility is also an opportunity. Don’t blindly say ‘no’.
  9. Big people monopolise the listening. Small people monopolise the talking.
  10. Think right towards people. You will find yourself doing the right thing automatically.
  11. A person is not pulled up to a higher level, but lifted up. So, it’s important to be the kind of person who it is easy to lift.
  12. Salvage something from every setback. Find the lesson and apply it.
  13. Blend persistence with experimentation. Stay with your goal, but try new approaches.
  14. Set goals.
  15. Principles of leadership:
  • Trade minds with the people I want to influence.
  • What is the human way to do this?
  • Think progress, believe in progress, push for progress. This means to think improvement and higher standards.
  • Take time out to confer with yourself.

To do’s…

  1. If there’s something that you feel inadequate about, change it. In other words, develop the qualities that you believe are required for success.
  2. Seek out leaders or people who are a success in their field. There is much to be learned from them. Do not shy away.
  3. Compete with the best.
  4. Speak up.
  5. Jot down my ideas in the course of the week. Every Monday pick up four that I will implement.
  6. Ask myself daily. How can I do things better?
  7. Associate with people who do different things from what I do.
  8. Take the initiative to make friends.
  9. In my interaction with colleagues – recognise that no one is perfect; know that everyone has the right to be different; do not play reformer.
  10. Act on my ideas now.
  11. Volunteer.
  12. Write out my 30-day goals.
  13. Draw out my 10-year plan
  14. Invest in education and idea starters.
  15. Think progressively towards my work, my family, myself and my community.

I know some of these are simple truths. But, it’s important for you to remind yourself of this again and again because sometimes we slip on the simple things, the obvious things.

Most Indians of my generation who think in English would have vivid memories of the wonder years when we first discovered Super heroes in comics. Remember your first brush with Phantom, Spiderman and Superman? I am not completely sure why, but I do remember that Spiderman was my favourite. It could have something to do with the fact that he always seemed so lonely, and caught in some deep struggle within himself.

Later, when the animated teleserial Spiderman was screened on Indian television, it was the highlight of my life every Sunday afternoon.

So, all of that made it especially disappointing to see Spiderman 3. The only good thing about the film was the creation of Sandman. But, a poor script killed all of that. In the final analysis, Spiderman 3 remained another cliched badly told Hollywood love story. I felt particularly sad for the many kids in the audience.

This also made me think of some of the films that I had watched and enjoyed as a child…

Movies that were made before my time, but that I discovered when I was a child:
1. Sound of Music
2. Mary Poppins
3. Ten Commandments – not exactly a children’s film, but it was a great spectacle. So, I never forget it.
4. Benhur – ditto for this one
5. Pollyanna
6. Wizard of Oz

Great movies for kids, made when I was a child:
1. Annie
2. Care bears
3. The Goonies
4. Masoom
5. Chota Chetan
6. Sleeping Beauty
7. Jungle Book
8. Superman
9. Supergirl
10. Young Sherlock Holmes
11. Free Willy

Truly, to enchant a child’s imagination is an art, which only the Masters of their craft master along the way. And when I was a child, all these films did that for me.

Today, as an adult, I know that I was fortunate then, and I salute the great story tellers of my growing years.