22 Apr 2012

Survival Kit for the Confused Reader

Today I am not reading a book but the Sunday Times  - it is Sunday after all and there is something about lazing indoors with a newspaper and a cup of coffee when it is raining outside. In the "Culture" section I came across a really interesting article about books; an author named Sandra Newman has written a book called "The Western Lit Survival Kit: How to Read the Classics without Fears". 

What is this, you now ask?

Basically, it is guide to all of the greats and goods of Western literature from a women who has read them all. Not only does she give you an idea of storyline and context but she also grades the books out of ten! Yes. Grades. Them. Proust, Austen, Dante. They all get a (fair) trial and are awarded points based on level of humour, importance and accessibility and some of them get a fair bit of criticism thrown in - Kipling, apparently, is irritating. 

From the interview in the Times, Sandra Newman sounds like a breath of fresh air. She tells it how it is, even when it comes to her collaboration with editors who apparently weren't that keen on a book about literatur: They stubbornly wouldn’t believe that anybody was interested in literature. They thought we should do a book comparing literature to celebrities, or television... 
Book bloggers of the world unite and prove them wrong. This sounds like a fascinating book and it will go straight on my TBR. Actually, if wasn't Sunday and it wasn't raining, I'd be heading straight for the book shop now!

21 Apr 2012

Review: "Untold Story" by Monica Ali

There is something about book based on real persons... By using figures that are essentially real, they inhabit a strange land inbetween fiction and non-fiction and I have always found this grey-zone really interesting. One of the books that I found does this really well is "Life Mask" by Emma Donoghue about the actress Eliza Farren and the sculptress Anne Damer - it had me heading straight for the National Portrait Gallery to see sculptures.

"Untold Story" by Monica Ali is pure fiction but it is based on Princess Diana. The Diana. Princess of Wales. And to be honest, I had no idea to how to handle this. Is it wrong, is it right? Is it disrespectful or is  she making use of the artistic right of an author?
In "Untold Story", Ali speculates what would have happened if Diana if she had survived the car crash in Paris and had instead staged her own death to flee to a small town in America to live a normal life. Lydia is the name that Princess Diana takes on as she lives what is a typical life, working at a dog shelter and spending time with her girlfriends who think that she has fled from a powerful husband. It is American surburbia at its finest that has replaced the role of Kensington Palace.

As the story evolves we get the story from Lydia herself and from her former secretary who is the only person she has trusted with her secret. It is the story of a women so fed up with the difficulties of life in the spotlight that she is willing to give up everything, including her children, to start over. It is a choice that comes at a price, a high price and when a British paparazzi surfaces in this oh-so-normal American backwater (incidentally also called Kensington), it could all have been for nothing.

It is an interesting read - the story itself somehow does not come across as dramatic. It is very well-written but the beautiful literary style is very much at odds with the content. Because as much as I enjoyed reading Ali's well-crafted sentences and stylistically superior prose, I did not enjoy the use of Diana's name. The story could have been told just as well had it been based on a fictional character and I have to admit that I found the book an invasion of privacy. This feeling of partaking of something not quite right ruined the reading experience for me and the insensitivity in using the Diana icon overshadows what could have been a good read.

15 Apr 2012

Youth In Revolt and a day in bed

I've been gone for a while, lost in a world of work and social engagements leaving very little room for books. I've missed blogging though so will be coming back, just have so much going on at the moment. Today was a hungover, partied-too-much day so spent it in bed watching movie and catching up on the news papers that I have been neglecting.

One of the movies was "Youth In Revolt" - having read the book and loved it (review on its way), I had to see the movie. It stars one of my favourite actors, Michael Cera, who does teenager troubles better than most actors. It was hilarious, really really fun but do read the book before you watch the film, it is the only way to do it with this one. As the book is quite long, the film only showed some of the scrapes that our anti-hero gets himself into but it was well edited and managed to convey the tone and spirit of the book really well!

Here is the official trailer - see you soon for the book review:

3 Apr 2012

Quotes from a teenage revolution

I am in one of those moods where I can't stick to one book, it is almost physically impossible for me to keep attention on one book. However, last night I started reading "Youth in Revolt" by C. D. Payne and I having a really good time! It is absolutely hilarious, the story is full of twists and surprises and the dialogue is vivacious and fun!

So though I am still only half-way through the book, I will share a few quotes with you to give you a taste of the it and hopefully make you smile:

On moms and hairdressers (page 8): 
Mom gave me $20 this morning to get my hair cut. She likes me to get it professionally styled in a salon where they play loud music rock music. That way I can come out looking like a successful real estate agent, junior division. 

On having to cook a family dinner (page 170):
"This tastes like shit!" slurred Dad. 
"It's Thai food, Dad," I explained. "It's supposed to be spicy."
"Thai food!" he bellowed. "Who ever heard of Thai meat loaf!"
"It's a synthesis of Thai and American cuisines," I elaborated. 
"You're doing this deliberately! You're taking expensive groceries and deliberately sabotaging them. To get out of doing your work!"
Obviously the alcohol had not entirely impaired Dad's analytical faculties. 

Wondering what parents' worst nightmare is (page 260):
"That you will marry an American?" suggested Apurva. 
"That you will never leave home?" proposed Francois. 
"No," replied Vijay, "it is that you will ruin your life and bring disgrace and financial hardship upon the family." 
Wow, if that's true I may qualify as my parents' worst nightmare come true.