The 35 books I read in 2016

 

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(This is a hurriedly put together post that I just wanted to somehow get in before the year was over, so apologies for grammar, spelling and other errors if any!)

2016 has been an extremely rewarding year reading-wise for me.

I hadn’t done any significant reading for about 4 years and I had begun to worry that the once treasured habit had faded away. But I guess the habit of reading is something like knowing how to ride a bike or swim.

I read a few books at the end of 2015 and then, to get back into the swing of things, I decided to set myself a reading challenge for 2016 – to read 15 books that I already owned (or from my parents’ vast collection) at the end of 2015 but had never read.

I am happy to report that not only did I complete my challenge with 16 books, but I also ended up reading a further 19 books, bringing my grand total for the year up to 35! I did surprise myself, as I had thought I would struggle to complete even 10.

Below is the entire list of books I read, with links to the ones I have reviewed.

BOOKS READ IN 2016:

  1. My Sainted Aunts by Bulbul Sharma
  2. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
  3. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
  4. The Mousewife by Rumer Godden
  5. Words of Freedom (Bhagat Singh)
  6. Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  8. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
  9. Hindu Gods – Priya Hemenway
  10. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  11. The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins
  12. Golden Rules by Wayne Dosick
  13. The Railway Children by E. Nesbit
  14. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  15. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  16. The Kalahari Typing School for Men (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #4) by Alexander McCall Smith
  17. The Full Cupboard of Life (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #5) by Alexander McCall Smith
  18. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
  19. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  20. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  21. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  22. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  23. Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell
  24. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  25. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  26. Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
  27. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  28. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
  29. Shopaholic & Baby by Sophie Kinsella
  30. The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett
  31. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Gabraith
  32. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  34. Nemesis (Miss Marple #12) by Agatha Christie
  35. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #6) by Alexander McCall Smith

And now a few trivia-style snippets:

A book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did: The Bridges of Madison County and The Call of the Wild

A book I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would: The Girl on The Train

A book that made me want to travel to a new country: Burial Rites

A genre I discovered wasn’t for me: Magical realism

Most rewarding genre: non-fiction, including Women of the Raj, Golden Rules and The Power of Habit.

Favourite series: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Favourite topic: The Raj, including Women of the Raj and Kingfishers Catch Fire and self-management, including Golden Rules, The Power of Habit and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (currently reading)

Favourite new genre (for me): – Crime/Detective/ Mystery, including Nemesis and The Cuckoo’s Calling

Most difficult book to get through: The Sound and The Fury

Books I admired for research, layout, writing, style and editing: Women of the Raj and Burial Rites

Favourite Classics: Villette and The Secret Garden

Christmas Read for 2016: Little Women

All round favourite read: How Green Was My Valley

That’s it for now. I shall return in the new year with the pending reviews.

Here’s to more reading in 2017! Happy New Year everyone!

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Book Review – The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

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I haven’t, as I usually do, given this book a rating, because while I have finished reading it, I am not yet done with it! This is the most difficult book I have read and I intend to return to it again. What follows then is not so much a review as an exploration of my first impressions on reading the book for the first time. In fact, I think this is a book that must be discussed, not reviewed. And so, this ‘review’ might not even make sense to someone who hasn’t read the book!

The story, which is split into four parts revolves around the Compson family and is set in Mississippi. Three parts are set in 1928 and one is set in 1910. The main characters are the father – Jason Compson III, the mother – Caroline Bascomb Compson , their four children – Quentin, Caddy (Candace), Jason and Benjy – and Dilsey, the maid who, along with her children, looks after the family. It attempts to describe the circumstances that lead to the falling apart of the Compson family, by explaining events through the thoughts of three of the main characters.

The first part is told in the first person by Benjy, the youngest of the four Compson children. He has a mental disability and is 33-years old at the time of narration. This is an extremely disjointed section as Benjy’s thoughts flit back and forth between the present time and the time when he was a child.

While reading this section, I thought I understood parts, but more often than not, I realised that what I thought to be true a few pages earlier, might not in fact be the case! I nearly gave up a few times, but then when I realised that the first section was only 60 pages long, I decided to plod on.

Then an odd thing happened. The confusion I felt while reading the first section, seemed to disappear when I had completed it and the fragmented thoughts, on reflection, seemed to make sense, in retrospect, as a whole. I felt like I was immersed completely in Benjy’s head. And I’m guessing that that was one of the main reasons for Mr. Faulkner writing the book this way – to put us into the minds of each of the characters, without any distractions in the form of third party narratives. Continue reading

Book Review – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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(My Rating: 5/5)

This is only the second children’s book I have read since I reviewed The Railway Children by E. Nesbit some months ago, and I loved it for SO many reasons, that I am sure I will forget at least a few while writing this review!

At the beginning of the story, which was first published in 1911, we are introduced to Mary Lennox, a little English girl who has lived in India for all of her life, but now, under tragic circumstances, she is sent to live with her brooding, elusive uncle in England, in a large mansion on the Yorkshire moors.

Mary, who is a spoilt, fussy, difficult child soon realises that her new house and occupants seem to be hiding many secrets. She slowly begins to uncover some of these and undergoes a transformation in the process. She gradually discovers the joys of childhood that she knew nothing about before. Due to her interaction with some very kind and caring individuals – mainly the house help – she begins to grow healthy, less churlish and even considerate of others. From this point on there are more wonderful secrets she uncovers and more wonderful people that come into her life and she ultimately plays a vital role in restoring a damaged relationship.

I read this book during a time I was going through something very sad, as well as emotionally and physically draining. A story that inspired hope, spoke about the goodness of people transforming one’s life and about the possibility and joy of turning a seemingly hopeless situation into something beautiful, through determination, care and love, was just the sort of of story I needed to read. It reminded me, in the midst of my sorrow for something I had lost, to stop and notice the beauty that already exists, right now, in my life. Once again a book came into my life at just the right moment, and in a way, helped save me. Continue reading

Book Review – Villette by Charlotte Brontë

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(My Rating: 4/5)

This 657 page book is, I believe, the longest book I have ever read, and dear reader, I am afraid my review is going to be a rather long one as well. I found it a difficult book to review and thus you may find the following post a bit all over the place.

Getting into it, I was a bit apprehensive, since I hadn’t read a classic in a while. I thought I might end up labouring through it, but surprisingly it moved along at a nice pace. Perhaps the fact that Brontë’s writing is just so lovely had something to do with it. (I also found myself wanting to begin every bit of communication – including every blog post, email and text message – with “Dear Reader”.) Mercifully the phase has passed now that I have finished the book.

Villette is about Lucy Snowe, a young lady who finds herself in unfortunate circumstances and decides to do something to improve her life. She leaves England and heads for imaginary Villette (which according to what I have read up was meant to mean Brussels).

There she finds a job as an English teacher at a school and the rest of the novel revolves around her life in Villette over the next couple of years. Continue reading

On authors’ lives influencing their works

I enjoy reading about writers’ lives, especially when I come across a book I really like, for I feel that the circumstances they found themselves in must have contributed greatly to what and how they wrote.

There is no denying that a good imagination, a talent for story telling and writing, intelligence and having a way with words are all key elements for writing a great book. But what about circumstances?

Had Jack London not spent a year in the Yukon, would he ever have been able to write The Call of The Wild (read my review) in the manner he did? Had Hannah Kent not visited Iceland as a student, would the idea to write Burial Rites (read my review) ever have come to her? Did Sylvia Plath’s depression not find expression in some of her greatest works? What about Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Anne Frank?

Sometimes in fact, I feel a book is made even more enjoyable by learning about the author’s life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some books don’t make sense or lose their meaning, when we don’t know anything about the author’s life. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, for example, which I read a long time ago, is, by itself, a great book. But when you learn about Jean Dominique Bauby and the circumstances under which he wrote the book, it becomes a truly remarkable achievement.

So, whenever I come across a good book, it is always interesting to me to know what made these writers who they were – what motivated them, from what perspective they looked at the world, what experiences helped them become better writers – I guess the list could be pretty long!

However, I usually don’t like to read about their lives before I’ve read their book/s. I like to enjoy a book unbiased. I like to enjoy it for what it is and once I have finished, only then do I like to understand what made the writer ‘tick’.

What about you? Do you enjoy reading about a writer’s life before you embark on his/her books? Or after? Or do you just like to enjoy a good story and leave it at that?

Reading Challenge 2016: Book 12 – The Call of the Wild by Jack London

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(My Rating 5 / 5)

What a potent little book this is! With around twenty five percent of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette left to read, I needed a break from it and picked up The Call of the Wild from the windowsill in what used to be my bedroom at my parents’ home, where it has been sitting for many, many years!

Buck, a tame and rather large dog, of St. Bernard and shepherd dog lineage is dog-napped from his comfortable dwellings at a large home in the Santa Clara Valley and sold as a sled dog.

Thrust from a mundane and lazy life into a brutal world, the story revolves around how Buck fights to survive in a situation that is alien to him. He also finds himself irresistibly drawn to the wilderness – the life from which his ancestors descended.

London brilliantly brings out what it means to survive and how primitive instincts rise to the surface when faced with extreme situations.

Jack London obviously loves dogs and understands their nature very well, but while the book is about a dog and primitive, basic, animal survival instincts, I felt there is much in these revelations that can be applied to human beings as well. Continue reading

Book Review – Disgrace by J.M.Coetzee

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(My Rating: 4/5)

Winner of the 1999 Booker Prize, Disgrace revolves around certain incidents that take place in the life of middle-aged David Lurie, a South African professor of English.

After Lurie’s sexual relationship with a student comes to light, he is brought before an enquiry committee at the university he teaches at and as a result he is ultimately forced to resign from his position, since he refuses to apologise or show any real remorse for what he has done.

After resigning he moves to the country to stay with his lesbian daughter on a farm she runs. While there, both become victims of a violent attack and Lurie is unable to do anything to protect his daughter. The incident alters both their lives not only individually, but also strains their relationship as each comes to terms with and deals with what has happened in their own manner.

The story does not end here, but I am not going to write a synopsis of what happens next – I don’t really like to write a full summary when I write a review. I feel it spoils it for those who haven’t yet read the book. So I’ll now move on to what I thought and felt about the book. Continue reading