2010 – The year that went by

Books in 2010

  1. Best Book of 2010: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Unfortunately, most of the books I read this year were just average. Water for Elephants was also a good read.
  2. Worst  Book of 2010: Zero Percentile by Neeraj Chhiba. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks comes a close second.
    Birdsong just didn’t work for me.
  3. Most Disappointing Book of 2010: Roots by Alex Haley. It was highly recommended to me by many people. The book didn’t live up to the recommendation and the praise.
  4. Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2010: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This has to be the most charming book I read this year.
  5. Book You Recommended the Most to People in 2010: The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I recommended it to anybody who cared to listen.
  6. Best Series You Discovered in 2010: The Millennium Series, David Lodge Trilogy. David Lodge was recommended to me by my friend and I really like his writing style.
  7. Favourite New Authors Discovered in 2010: Stieg Larsson, Maraget Atwood

  8. Most Hilarious Read of 2010: Changing Places by David Lodge
  9. Most Thrilling Unputdownable Read of 2010: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  10. Books You Most Anticipated in 2010: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I had been hearing about this book all the time and had to read it to see for myself.
  11. Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2010: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  12. Most Memorable Character of 2010: Lisbeth Salander from The Millennium Series, Aibileen Clark and Minny Jackson from The Help
  13. Most Beautifully Written Book of 2010: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  14. Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2010: The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  15. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2010 to Read: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Seriously! This book is for kids. I don’t know why I hadn’t read it all this while.

Book-Blogging in 2010

  1. New Favourite Book Blog Discovered in 2010: Bibliojunkie, Book Nook

  2. Favourite Review You Wrote in 2010: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  3. Best Discussion Had on Your Blog: None
  4. Most Thought Provoking Review or Discussion Read on Another Blog: None
  5. Best Event That You Participated In: None
  6. Best Moment of Book Blogging in 2010: I can’t name one single moment, but I always enjoyed writing reviews on my blog.

  7. Best Bookish Discovery: All the new blogs I discovered.
Posted in 2010. 6 Comments »

Just for fun

Answer the following questions using only books read in 2010.  Do not repeat your answers.

  1. If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Secret Garden
  2. Your favorite form of transportation:  Water for Elephants
  3. Your best friend is:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Anne of Green Gables
  4. You and your friends are:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  5. What’s the weather like: A New Earth
  6. Favorite time of day: The Wind in the Willows
  7. If your life was a:  The Interpretation of Murder
  8. What is life to you:  Nice Work
  9. Your fear: The Blind Assassin
  10. What is the best advice you have to give: It’s not about the bike
  11. Thought for the Day: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  12. How I would like to die: The Calcutta Chromosome
  13. My soul’s present condition: Outliers

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

When the title of the book is so intriguing, you expect a lot from the book itself. Once you get over the intrigue factor of the title, you find that the book is about a book club formed in the town of Guernsey which is the only British land occupied by the Germans during World War 2. The name of the book club is ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’. (My fingers ache!) There is an interesting story behind why the club was named that way and I think you should read the book for that.

The book starts with Juliet Ashton celebrating the success of her latest book and searching for a topic for her next book. She gets an unexpected letter from Dawsey Adams from Guernsey who has a copy of her old and abandoned book “The Selected Essays of Elia” by Charles Lamb. Dawsey contacts her wishing to know where he can find more books from the same author. Dawsey happens to be a member of the book club and thus starts Juliet’s interaction with the other members of the book club. Juliet finds the club and its survival during the Occupation very engaging and decides to explore further if it can be turned into a book. We see Juliet landing in Guernsey and meeting other people on the island to collect their version of the Occupation.

The entire book is written in the form of letters. We see letters being exchanged between all the characters and this gives a different structure to the book. There is no single omnipotent narrator and each character takes turn to narrate the story and though this is some form of omnipotence, it introduces its own set of complexities. There are many places where a character would not include certain things in the letter, but since this is intended for a reader, the author had to include it. There is a letter from Juliet to Sidney about a gift that he sent.

Dear Sidney,
What an inspired present you sent Kit – red satin tap shoes covered with sequins

It’s obvious the author included this because there is no other way the reader would have known what gift Sidney sent, but if Juliet was actually writing this letter, she would not have included this detail. Since the main essence of the book is the idea of letters being sent by a group of people in an unknown island to a writer, I can understand why the author chose her entire book to be in the form of letters. But tactless inclusion of details like above (the author could have included the detail in a smarter way) makes you click your tongue and distracts you from the story.

I personally found the structure unappealing. To keep track of who sent the letter to whom and when was a big problem for me. I have read similar structured  books before (We Need to Talk about Kevin), but this book is particularly taxing because of the short letters and too many characters. After a point of time, I wanted to scream ‘Forget the letters, just get on with the story’.

Characters – there is no dearth in this book. There are characters in all forms – gender, race, nationality, quirks, nature, age. One character that stood out for me was Elizabeth McKenna. The irony is she doesn’t appear in the book but is only mentioned by the other characters and this adds a bit of mystery to her. Isola also springs to my mind as an interesting character. The protagonists though leave a lot to be desired.

Mary Ann Shaffer started writing this book and had to rope in her niece Annie Barrows to complete it because Mary was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t live to celebrate the success of her book.

It’s a charming little book, as the English would call it, but I didn’t find anything extraordinary in it. Yes, there are some good things in the book, but I don’t think you would miss anything by not reading it. I wouldn’t stop someone from picking it up, but why waste time on this when you have better books to read, eh?

PS: Oscar Wilde appears as a character in this book, but I cannot reveal more without marking this review as a spoiler. Go read the book.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

This book is part of the BBC’s Big Read – Top 100 books.

When this book was mentioned multiple times on this blog (which I read regularly, though I am a lurker), I knew I had to read this book. I have been catching up with left out children’s books this year, so this fit in perfectly. Anne of Green Gables is about Anne, an orphan, who is adopted by a brother-sister duo. The book shows how Anne wins the heart of her foster parents and her neighbors with her vivacious nature, her wild imagination and her constant blabber.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert are siblings who reside in Green Gables and decide to adopt a boy who can help Matthew with his farm work. Owing to some misunderstanding, they end up adopting Anne. Marilla is hesitant to adopt a girl – who is a bigger responsibility and who can’t be of any help in the farm, but decides to keep her anyway because she can’t see the girl sad.

Anne is proud of her imagination and uses it whenever she can. She imagines that she is a very pretty girl with royal dresses and beautiful hair whereas in reality she is far from it. Whenever she is in a fix or an unwelcome situation, she imagines herself to be in a wonderful situation and get through. When all her other friends in school wear puffed sleeves dress and she is the only one with plain sleeves, Anne imagines that her sleeves are puffed too. What a way to solve your problems. I was so inspired by Anne’s strategy that I used it myself a couple of times and it works really well.

The book shows us how Marilla brings up the talkative, imaginative child into a responsible and caring girl. We see how Anne saves her “bosom friend” Diana’s sister’s life, how she serves cake with liniment to a guest, how she goes to Queen’s to train to be a teacher. As the book progresses, we can clearly see Anne maturing with age. The talkative kid blossoms into an admirable girl.

Though I was inspired by the above mentioned blog to read this book, I don’t share her opinions. I did find Anne very likeable, but she is not a character I would call memorable. Same goes with her foster parents – Marilla and Matthew. Could it be because I am reading this at a wrong age? It’s a children’s book and I, for sure, am not a kid. I might have liked Anne more if I had ‘met’ her at a young age. Who knows?

I recommend this book to kids – there are lots of ‘moral’ education in there. How one should say prayers before going to bed, how kids get into trouble for not listening to elders, how values are more important than vanity and so on. To someone my age, I would say you are not losing anything by not reading this book. If you want to try a children’s book, then The Secret Garden is a much better one.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

It’s hard to miss this book. It comes up in discussions often and on lists like All Time 100 Best Novels From 1923-2005. It’s a shame that I hadn’t read this book all these years and I decided to take things into hand and finally get down to reading it.

The book is set in a mental asylum in Oregon which is run by a tyrannical nurse “Big Nurse” Miss. Ratched who manages the asylum and the patients according to her whims and fancies. She tacitly threatens the inmates – “The Acutes”, first level of insanes – with shock therapy and lobotomy which will make them “The Chronics”, who are in a vegetative state. The patients are naturally tormented by her but lack the courage to stand up and speak against her. A new patient, MacMurphy, makes an entry into the asylum faking insanity to escape a jail sentence. He gets into tiffs with the nurse and upsets the routine and questions her actions. This leads to a constant power struggle between McMurphy and the nurse.

The helpless condition of the inmates and the way the staff take advantage of their helplessness tugs at your heart. While most of this might be true about mental asylums, you still hope that these things exist only in the fictional world. Refusing medication and administering medication to induce sleep so that the staff can get away with their amorous activities and stealing, giving electric shocks for breaking a rule, not caring for hygiene and letting the inmates rot their in their own pee – this book is not for the faint of heart.  McMurphy tries to bring in laughter to the asylum and constantly reminds the inmates to stand for their rights and makes them wonder whether they are really insane. He places a bet with the inmates that he can lift a heavy shower control panel and when he fails to do so, he says, “Atleast I tried”, which inspires the inmates. Several incidents like this make the inmates slowly take charge of their own lives and resist the unquestionable control of the nurse. It makes me wonder how many times I have let someone run over me and stood watching helplessly. I wish I could say ‘Atleast I tried’.

McMurphy and the nurse’s character are strong and opposing. While McMurphy makes you feel warm and energetic, the mention of Big Nurse makes you cower. The narrator Chief is another inmate in the asylum who pretends to be deaf and dumb and is hence privy to many dark secrets of the asylum. The other characters in the book – the stuttering Billy Bibbit, the strong Harding, the germaphobic George, the doctor, the black orderlies add variety. The language is smooth and easy. The story and the narration keeps your interest perked up. What takes the cake is the ending. While it’s not hard to predict what was coming, you can’t help getting emotional when you read the climax.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest borrows its title from a nursery rhyme.

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

Cuckoo here refers to a mentally disturbed person and cuckoo’s nest is the asylum. McMurphy can be seen as the one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest because he went against the rules and disturbed the nest. Chief, the narrator, can also be the one because he frees himself from the clutches of the asylum.

The book was made into a film which went on to win many awards. Jack Nicholson won the best actor award for playing the role of McMurphy and Lousie Fletcher won the best actress award for playing Nurse Ratched. The film also won awards for Best Picture and Best Director. More details on wiki. I don’t have the courage to watch the movie. If you have, let me know how you find it. If you also read the book, then which one do you prefer – the book or the movie?

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson

This is the final book in the millennium trilogy and continues the story that was left behind in the previous book. We see the same main characters – Lisbeth Salander, who was left with a bullet in her head in the last book and Mikhael Blomkvist, who is still to patch things up with his buddy Lisbeth. There are other familiar characters too – Berger, Mikhael’s buddy and the editor-in-chief of Millennium magazine, Armansky, head of Milton Security and a few others.

The story starts with Lisbeth getting hospitalized. Zalachenko, Lisbeth’s father, who was attacked by Lisbeth in the last book, is also hospitalized. The cops and the prosecutor are building a case against Lisbeth, who is accused of three murders, while Lisbeth herself is blissfully unconscious in the hospital. Mikhael is building up his own story to prove Lisbeth’s innocence and bring those people to justice who denied Lisbeth’s her rights as a child. While Zalachenko is recovering his health, the Section, a group of people who were responsible for protecting the political refugee Zalachenko are in a fix because their secret might be revealed. They hatch a plan to silence Zalachenko, Mikhael and anybody else who might know this story and commit Lisbeth to psychiatry ward claiming she is incompetent and insane. It is up to Mikhael, his lawyer sister and Lisbeth herself to prove Lisbeth’s innocence.

The story is interesting no doubt, but there is very little happening in this book. The first book had a very interesting plot and the second book established Lisbeth’s character and weaved a very interesting story around her. The third book should have been a fitting finale to a great series, but it falls short. The author has tried to put in a lot of suspense and on-the-edge situations, but it fails to stir your adrenaline. After a point of time, the story becomes predictable and the book becomes boring.

There is a new element in this book – the court scene. When Lisbeth is brought to trial, we see Mikhael’s sister defending Lisbeth and taking on her enemies in the courtroom. I know Grisham’s court scenes are really popular and thrilling, but Larsson’s scene doesn’t match up.

The third book is good as a thriller, but when you compare it with earlier two books in the trilogy, it is disappointing. Also, if you want to read this book, ensure that you have read the earlier two books, otherwise you will be left with no clue about what’s happening. There is a very strong connection between the books and you will miss out on appreciating the story if you read these books out of sequence.

I enjoyed reading the Millennium trilogy and wish there were more such books coming from the author. Stieg Larsson wrote these books as a hobby, after he got back from work. These three books were published posthumously. Larsson died of a heart attack before he could finish the fourth book whose unfinished manuscript is with his publishing partner. It’s said that Larsson planned to write 10 books as part of the Millennium series. The third book actually concludes things and ties up loose ends, so I am curious how Larsson would have continued the story in the fourth book. Wish he was alive to see the popularity of his books and also to write more such books.

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

The book revolves around four friends pursuing their graduation at Princeton University. Thomas, is the narrator of this book, whose father was fascinated with the Renaissance book Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and the secret it possesses. Paul is writing his thesis on this book and is bent on solving the puzzle revolving around it. Thomas is pulled into this as he struggles to maintain a balance between his personal life and his obsession with the book.

This book gives us a glimpse into the Renaissance period and the authors, architects and artists from that period. The book, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, is written cleverly by an author who wants to remain anonymous. He has hidden a message in the book which will be revealed only after solving many puzzles. Paul and Thomas set out to do exactly that and this journey is interesting. The reader is presented with the puzzle and how it eventually gets solved. An intelligent and interested reader can go ahead and try to solve these himself. This is the best part of the book – read the puzzle and read ahead eagerly to see what is the solution to it.

We get to see Thomas’ dilemma of whether to work on the book at the cost of losing his girlfriend. He is drawn into solving puzzles to satisfy his intellectual quest, but he wants to maintain a healthy relationship with his girlfriend. This gets a bit tedious at times. The reader is all excited with the puzzles and the solutions and the author introduces these emotional scenes and honestly, it was a bit cheesy for me.

There are some good characters in the book. Paul is a very interesting character. Someone who lost his parents early in life and his passion for the book and his extreme intelligence comes across as a well etched character. Thomas, in contrast, pales a bit. Taft is another interesting character. Charlie adds a bit of variety to the book.

If you have read and enjoyed ‘The Da Vinci Code’, then you should give this book a try. It is far more intriguing. If you enjoyed reading ‘The Name of the Rose’, then you will not be disappointed with this one.

I read this book long back. I started this post soon after and completely forgot about it for months.  Hence, the review looks unfinished, but I don’t remember enough of the book to finish it, so am publishing it as is.