Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve

Title: Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve
Writer : Ben Blatt
Published: 2017
Genre: Non-Fiction
My Rating: 4 on 5

If you love statistics and you love books, this book is a must-read for you. Blatt digs into numerous books – some classics, some contemporary, some bestsellers and some fan-fiction and churns numbers to answer many interesting questions.

Blatt starts with an anecdote in which two scholars use statistics to determine the authors of essays published anonymously. While these scholars had painstakingly manually mined the data in those years, Blatt achieves the same by writing a program to mine the data. He confirms what was claimed by scholars years earlier. Using this as a base, he expands his program to mine books to answer some interesting questions.

We have all heard about using adverbs sparingly, but did Ernest Hemingway really follow his own advice? Blatt mines Hemingway’s books and confirms that Hemingway did stick to his own advice. Blatt also realizes that men write a lot about men and little about women, but women authors do not discriminate. How many authors use cliches and how often? Is the writing style different for British and American authors? Which author uses the most exclamation points and in which book? And of course, the question which the book title answers – what is the author’s favorite word? These are some of the questions which Blatt answers in this book.

Some questions/answers are more interesting than others, but the whole book keeps you engaged. Given the nature of the chapter, you can read these chapters in any order. Blatt details out his data sample (what books are considered and what are not), justifies his choice and explains the technique he used. He makes it very clear what data he is after and how he achieved the results. His idea of mining fan fiction works for some of the question is genius.

The book is not set out to teach you writing techniques or make you a bestseller author overnight. This book answers some of the questions any book reader would have wondered one time or the other. I wish the book was longer and hope the author is planning on a second book already. I wonder what questions he is going to answer next!

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The End of the Wasp Season

Title: The End of the Wasp Season
Writers : Denise Mina
Published: 2011
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 2.5 on 5

A wealthy, abusive father/husband commits suicide by hanging himself. A woman who works as a bargirl/escort is brutally murdered by bashing her head beyond recognition. Cops find a truckload of cash stashed under a table in the kitchen. Alex Morrow, our detective, walks in to find the murderer and save the world.

This thriller stands apart from the rest of the books in its genres for the fact that readers already know who the murderer is. We only need to wait for Alex to put all the pieces together and solve the puzzle for us. To be honest, the whole suspense of whodunnit is spoilt. Once I know who the murderer is, I really don’t care why he/she did it.

Brownie points to the author for creating a smart, female detective character who happens to be solving cases while heavily pregnant with kids. This is where it ends for me, though. The plot, characters and the final ‘cracking the mystery’ was very meh! It is very hard to digest when the whole case gets solved because some random guy who is not connected to the case spills some beans to yet another random guy who happens to contact Alex.

I didn’t know this was a second book in a series when I read it. I did feel there was some backstory about Alex which I was missing, but this was no deterrent in following the case.

A not-so-intriguing plot, not-so-believable characters and the biggest letdown of all – knowing the murderer before the cops know it – all this makes this book a very disappointing read.

Uttarakaanda

Title: Uttarakaanda (Kannada)
Writers : S L Bhyrappa
Published: 2017
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

Reading has been going good this year so far. I have read quite a couple of books (and well ahead of my yearly goals), but not all of them were review worthy so did not get a mention on this blog. I am also consciously trying more local writing and this book was part of that attempt.

S L Bhyrappa is no stranger to Kannada people. He has many popular books under his belt and he is best known for his fluid writing and the subject he chooses which make you ponder. Compared to his other books, Uttarakaanda is touching a more common topic but is no less thought provoking.

Uttarakaanda is the story of Ramayana from the perspective of Sita. Bhyrappa has kept the story as is – no manipulations, no deviations (except for the part of Ahalya) but still manages to make you look at the often-told story in a completely different light. The book is written in Sita’s POV in first person narrative. It begins at the time Rama throws out Sita from his kingdom and abandons her at Valmiki’s ashram. It then goes back and forth into past and present – meandering between Sita’s birth (or discovery), her childhood and her eventual marriage and her exile period.

While Sita is narrating her story, one cannot miss the importance Bhyrappa has given to highlight her relationship with the people around her. Owing to her unknown origins, she did not have a rosy childhood. While her father treated her like his own, she did not get the same treatment from her mother. She develops a very close bonding with her sister and cousins and eventually is respected and admired by the people in the entire kingdom. After her wedding, her narrative focus continues to be on her bitter-sweet relationship with her husband. While she is happy and proud that she gets to be the wife such a well respected man, she also finds Rama aloof and unemotional. She expects him to emote and express but finds him still and stagnant, no matter the situation.

The story continues through their exile and her eventual kidnapping by Ravana and the rest and then culminates in Sita’s death. All through the journey, Sita’s pain and suffering is so eloquently expressed that one feels angry and sad on Sita’s behalf. Her undoubted dedication to her husband but being doubted by the same person and finally being thrown away – Sita’s love turns into hatred for Rama. Her moment of triumph comes when Rama asks her to come back during his yagna but she flatly refuses. We will never know what Rama went through, but Sita is in a state of moral victory.

Sita ends up being in Lanka, in the midst of hundreds of enemies and a lustful king for many years. She continues to stand her ground, keep up her fight and never lets her resolve waiver and this is what is considered as the greatest victory of Sita. Any other woman in her place might have weakened and accepted death as a welcome alternative. I was hoping to see this as the main focus of the book, but it isn’t as elaborate as I had hoped it would be.

There is no surprise either in the story or the characters. But to see the same saga being retold from Sita’s eyes and to read it in Bhyrappa’s words make this book a very engaging read. If you are looking for answers for some age old questions, you will not find them here. If anything, it will only increase your list of questions.

 

The Chimp Paradox

Title: The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness
Writers : Steve Peters
Published: 2012
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
My Rating: 4 on 5

With so many self-help books on the market (on the library shelf, in this particular incident),  I was wary of picking up this one which claimed to help me achieve ‘success, confidence and happiness’ all at once. I flipped through the pages right there in the library as I was curious to know how the author plans to do this. As I started reading the first chapter, I was hooked. And the book naturally came home with me.

Steve Peters is a well-known psychiatrist who is said to have helped many sportspeople in managing their minds which helped them win Olympic medals. Peters starts off with explaining that our mind is made up of two parts – Human (the logical part) and Chimp (the emotional, irrational part). He uses some real-life incidents to explain how we react and behave depending on whether Human or Chimp is in control. He also creates a ‘Computer’ which contains basic autopilots on how you will behave depending on your past experiences. Peters also introduces Gremlins and Goblins which are some undesired behaviors/autopilots which the Chimp has installed in the Computer. He also introduces some moons of confidence and whatnot, which to be honest was a bit too much for me.

There is nothing new in what Peters puts forth – we all know there is a rational and irrational part in us and we behave differently depending on which part is pulling the strings. But the way Peters creates two images – Human and Chimp – and explains when each one of these are in control is eye-opening. He suggests some exercises at the end of the chapters which really help. He goes on to explain the differences between Goblins and Gremlins and how we need the moon of confidence and happiness to balance the solar system. This is where I lost interest and I just flipped the pages to get it over with.

I have always had a problem with anger and I have tried quite a few things to manage it. With the help of exercises in the book, I realized my Chimp is much more in control than my Human (no surprises there) and I learnt how to handle my Chimp. I can feel the anger rising up in me but immediately my Human comes into picture and the Chimp goes to a corner and gets busy eating a banana. I have started feeling calmer and less angry ever since I started practicing this. I have taught a trick or two to my 8-year old son too and I see it working with him as well.

This book does not offer any groundbreaking theory or solution – there is nothing new which we don’t know already. But the book works because it has laid out commonly known facts in simple terms and it offers practical solutions to handle situations. I have been going ga-ga over this book and ‘Human’, ‘Chimp’ and ‘Banana’ have become part of our common lingo at my family these days.

 

 

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