I got book tagged thankx to Silverine. The tag was a long time back but the lady is a determined one! I received my ultimatum a few days (er weeks!) back and hence here I go! This gives me an opportunity to write about stuff that i always wanted to. In fact when i started blogging, i thought most of the posts will be book reviews. Never got around to doing much of that. So here goes my life in books!
The Journey Begins
When did i begin reading? I am not sure..but it certainly was quite early and my first (outside of class room) reading was probably Malayala Manorama, the tabloid favored by people of my region (central travancore), people of my community (Christians) and people of my heritage (anti-communists!).
Now why did i start reading Malayala Manorama? The reason is not too difficult to follow. When i was a kid (before i moved to boarding school) my morning study schedule was (set and strictly made to follow by my parents) went like this. Get up at 6 AM, study till 8 AM. No interruption was allowed during this time. Then one day, i imagine my father offered me and my bro the chance to read news paper during the morning study time. And boy! did we jump at the chance!. so the routine was set..wake up..sit in front of the school books eagerly awaiting the tring tring of abu chettan the newspaper man. Abu chettan ofcourse leaves the newspaper at the gate about 50 meters away from our house. Being the youngest i was given the privilege of going and collecting the newspaper before it got drenched in the rain (memory says it was always raining..but that cant be true). I was more than happy to do this..the run to the gate..waving hi to abu chettan and then walk back in slow motion to the house..trying to read the news at least in the front page. Well as soon i reach home i had to hand over the newspaper to pappa as priority was determined by seniority. Papa goes first, elder bro next and me last (thankfully mom was always too busy in the morning to read paper!). And of course in our family, never ever we allow paper to be separated into sheets and be read concurrently. I still hate people who ask me sheets out of the newspaper while i am reading!. dad takes about 30 minutes to finish the newspaper while bro is faster and I get the paper at around 7 AM. Thus begins my marathon reading, I used to read everything twice over, from advertisements to obituaries until I can see the clock chiming 8!
The next step in my metamorphism into a bookworm came during the holidays. Dear mom, always worried about my dark complexion (!!) was horrified to see me playing full day in the nearby paddy fields. It must have been her idea (to keep me inside the house during daytime) that prompted dad to bring books from his company library during holidays. Soon I began to delve into books during the holidays. I read everything, right from the M magazines to painkili novels to detective stories, anything would do for me.
On To the Wonderland of English
I moved to a boarding school at the age of 10. Till then my reading was solely in Malayalam as I wasn’t familiar with English. In the next two years, I mastered a fair bit of English and one day i gingerly picked up a tarzan book to read. I picked up tarzan because I was a big fan of tarzan and had read all tarzan books in Malayalam. Hence I assumed it would be easier for me to read the same in English. I guess Tarzan is not written in the simplest language and probably was not a good first choice for a kid. Still I plowed through the book and found out I understood most of it. Well then I re-read the entire Tarzan series in English and I was on my way into the wide world of English literature.
Unfortunately by the time I started reading in English I was about 13-14 and thus missed a whole load of children’s books. I never read any of those hardy boys/nancy drews/enid blytons or entire series of comics. While I did try to go back to those classics later in my life, I found out that it did not recreate the childhood magic which it does to people who read those books in the right age. Well one cant be expected to have everything!
Engineering college is a great place to read for leisure, especially if it is one of those old govt engineering colleges. Mass bunks were the norm, strikes were as regular as classes (if not more frequent) and I read and read everything other than engineering books, in class (whenever I attended them), in the lab and once even during an internal exam (didn’t knew the answers to the question paper anyway!). This is also the time when I started to build up my library..mostly second hand books as the monthly allowance did not allow much discretionary spending after the obligatory hostel bills, thattukada bills and kallushaap bills were paid off. Coupla years after my engineering I started working and finally I was on the way to my lifelong ambition of building up a huge library!
The Libraries I Have Been To
Toshiba Ananad, Athani
My first library. This was the employee society library of the company that dad used to work in. After a few summers of dad bringing me books from this library, he started to bring the books that I have already read. Tired of my cribbing, he took me to the library and left me there while he went off to work. I spent countless days being the only member who was browsing books there (others were employees playing cards/caroms or engaging in union talk!). It was a wonderful little library. The company closed about 8 years back and the library is sadly all but destroyed by now.
Sainik School Trivandrum
For a school of about 600 students, my school probably had one of the best libraries in kerala. Enriched by contributions from generous alumni and teachers, this was a treasure trove for all of us. Add the knowledgeable and affable Librarian Mr: Simon Peter and it is no wonder that most of the ex students of the school have fond memories of the library. He is universally loved for his love and knowledge of books. Unfortunately I did not have a good relationship with him in the beginning. I was banned from the library for two years (I believe 8th and 9th stds) after he twice found me bunking classes to sit and read in the library. But the collection there was totally awesome and later on Good ole peter sir was sympathetic and allowed me to even borrow multiple books at the same time.
Alwaye Municipal Library
Post school, through out my engineering days this was the library to go into whenever I was at home. For a Municpal library this was extremely well maintained and had a quaint stacking system. The members cannot go over and choose books but had to go thru a list of books and give our choices to the attendants who will then recover the same if they were available. This system sadly doesn’t allow for lucky accidents (when u just stumble on an author who then becomes ur fav) and with typical govt service attitude kinda attendants becomes a major pain.
Thrissur Public Library
The Cultural capital of Kerala can surely be proud of the library it owns. Huge collection, extremely friendly and knowledgeable librarians, frequent conferences with literary people easily make this place the best library I have ever been to. This is also the place where I lucked out on a complete collection of Bernard Shaw’s plays. Having read the entire book, I thought about not returning the book and paying the fine (the book was out of print) but then somehow I returned the book.
Total Number of Books I Own: Should be close to 400 and increasing at the rate of about 3 per month. I beg borrow and steal books and behave like an absolute asshole when someone wants to borrow a book from me. That sure helps me in increasing the pace of my book collection drive
Last Book Bought: The Piano Teacher
Last Book Read: A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe. One of my current favorite authors, the book is about a larger than life real estate tycoon in Atlanta. Set in the 1990’s, this is not as good as some of his other works but quite interesting
Books That Mean That Extra To me
I cannot put them in any order. Even the thought fills me with dread. So i am doing a random listing. The list is bound to favor my recent readings not by choice but by my considerably short memory. I have also removed some of the books which have come up in other similar posts for the sake of brevity (not that I have succeded in the effort!)
He is the god!!!!, I accidentally came across four of his plays in a pavement shop and has fallen in luv with his writing ever since. For biting social sarcasm you will never find his match. His social satires can make you laugh n think at the same time. Having read all the plays written by him, my favs are Devil’s Disciple, Man and Superman, Major Barbara, Mrs: Warren’s Profession. All these books are available free on internet at Project Guttenberg
Last Temptation of Jesus Christ
Yep, this is the book that’s still on the Index maintained by Vatican. This book is a fictional attempt to strip the cloak of myth away from Jesus Christ. Nikos Kazantzakis never said this book is the ultimate truth about Christ, but this book portrays Christ as a human being prone to temptations and worries just like any of us. This should be in the reading list of any Christian and for that matter any compassionate human being. Ultimately, this book for all its failings (and there are many historical fallacies) manage to portray Jesus as an individual whom we can respect as one of our own (and not just as the mythical son of god). I am sure MT Vasudevan was inspired by this when he wrote Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha. The reversal of roles by Chadiyan Chanthu and Judas are strikingly similar.
The man who knew infinity
I rarely read biographies, because they usually are biased (for or against the character). But this is one of the best biographies I have ever read. The biography tracks the famed Indian mathematician, Ramanujam’s life, struggle, success and ultimately tragic death. A must read for ever Indian and anyone who is even remotely interested in mathematics. To me the book was even more interesting as I read this book while in Chennai and almost all the landmarks during the life of Ramanujam are still present there. Too bad that such a great book about one of the finest Indian mathematicians had to be written by an American. Mebbe one day we will see this book made into a movie jez like “A beautiful Mind”.
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
This is the story of the wild days of America in the 60’s. Even the most conservative magazines such as wall street journal and Economist later hailed this book as the classic story of those times. This is the story of the Author hooking up with the celebrated novelist Ken Kesey as Kesey and his group of wild, LSD driven hippies travel around US of A in a painted bus. Quite a heavy reading this book is, almost as if the author himself was under the influence of LSD when he wrote it. But as an authentic account of that era, no other book matches this one. For people like us, who never experienced those innocent, free outpouring of hope and emotions, this is our guide to the swinging sixties.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
It is very rare when the hero of a classic book writes a classic of his own. The demonic hero of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Ken Kesey, wrote this classic novel. McMurphy is the classic loner Hero and Chief Broom is the deeply troubled narrator in this book where the slow but inevitable movement towards tragedy is so overwhelming that it is a relief when the end happens. Chief Broom’s narration about how degrading life can made to be in an asylum can move you (it definitely moved me) into tears. Made in to an eponymous film starring Jack Nicholson (perfect portrayal of Mac), the book also was butchered into a Malayalam movie called Thalavattam by priyadarshan.
Loneliness of the long distance runner
Considered to be the all time classic longish short story on the mind of runners. This is strictly not a book on running, not even a book on runners (for this you should try “Once a Runner” a fav of mine), rather this book is all about the psyche of the rebel. Many of my fav books have had heroes who are loners and rebels. Occasionally I fancy myself as the torch bearer of those great souls. These are souls whom you can admire even when you don’t want to emulate them. The book is actually a collection of short stories but the best and the longest one has the same title as the book. This story is about a teenager in a juvenile correction home, who rebels against the system (portrayed by the chief warden) even when he knows that obedience will ease his life while dis-obedience will make his life a hell! The way he rebels is intriguing but his thoughts while committing the act of rebellion is pure classic. Somehow I was reminded of Catcher in the rye while reading this book and trust me Holden Caulfield pales in comparison to the teenage long distance runner
Against the gods
No this is no story of an atheist. This book is about the story of “Risk” as it developed over ages. “Risk” as in financial transactions or esoteric mathematics. I enjoyed this book because Bernstein (whose other memorable books include Power of Gold and Capital ideas) yet again managed to take a complicated academic subject and managed to make the book knowledgeable and interesting to all readers of all ilk.
I wanted to include one Malayalam book among my favorites here. I have read lotsa mal authors. My all time fav is Mukundan (who I believe deserve a nobel prize, neither Rushdie nor marquez has handled magical realism as well as he did) but other favs include MT, Malayattoor, OV Vijayan and Thakazhi. But for my all time fav book in Malayalam I will have to commit sacrilege and chose the above mentioned book by Mukundan and pass over OV Vijayan. Kazhakinte Ithihasangal might be the book that heralded the new literature in Malayalam but by the time I read this book (just over a few months ago) I had heard so much about the book that it almost disappointed me (my expectations were sky high). On the other hand, Daivathinte Vikruthikal was such an amazing story. Mukundan is one author who has managed to uniquely portray Mayyazhi as it was during the French colonial period and as it is now (as part of India). But more importantly, he was there to record the transition. The result is two classic books Mayyazhipuzhayude Theerangalil and Daivathinte Vikruthikal, the latter being my fav!
Ah well there are lotsa other books, hopefully I will get to write about them later. This was one of the most difficult posts for me to write. But having written, I am glad I finally did it. Thank u Silverine :)