Favourite books about books

19 Apr

If you have been reading my blog for long enough, you will know how much I love books. You will also know how much I love reading books about books. There is something about such books – discovering kindred spirits with similar feelings about books in the authors always cheers me up. The love of books is one of the most sincere loves in the world, and such writing is always straight-from-the-heart and passionate, making its reading a highly pleasurable experience.

I am here to list out some of my most favourite books about books. These books have rekindled the love of books in me, given me great joy, and helped me relate to other book lovers. I hope this list will help you find some interesting reads.

Here we go:

1. 84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road is a real-life story about the USA-based author corresponding with a bookstore in London, Marks & Co., regarding some books, which turns into a full-fledged friendship with the store owner and its staff over time. Wit, love for books and genuine compassion drips from every letter by Helene to the bookstore, and vice versa. The back-and-forth letters instill in Helene a curiosity to visit London at least once in her life, and to see her beloved Marks & Co. on the famous Charing Cross Road, the same desire that reverberated in me throughout my reading of the book.

I read this book a few years back, and the feelings I had when I read it still stay with me. It is such a delightful read that I haven’t stopped recommending it to people ever since. One of my favourite books of all times, a real gem.

My copy of 84, Charing Cross Road also had its sequel – The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street – in which Helene, much later in her life, gets a chance to visit London, finally. I will not kill the suspense for those of you who haven’t read the book, but will say that The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street is an equally enticing read.

2. Q’s Legacy – Helene Hanff

Q’s Legacy is the third book in the Charing Cross Road series, after The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street. Another beautiful read, it is all about books as well.

Q’s Legacy is, again, non-fiction, Helene’s dedication to her mentor, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Cambridge Professor, popularly known as Q. Helene writes about how, as a poor college drop-out, she discovered Q’s books in a library quite by chance, and made him her mentor. She pored over Q’s books, discovered more and more books in the process, and read them all. She taught herself the art of writing through Q’s books and the ones that he had recommended, for which she says she will be eternally indebted to him.

It is a very inspiring read, with Helene’s determination to learn and her love for books and writing shining through every sentence.

3. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Benett

The Uncommon Reader, as the name suggests, is the story of a reader who is not very common, who is no one else but Her Highness, Queen Elizabeth. One fine day, the Queen discovers a travelling library by chance, discovering, in the process, loads of books and her latent love of reading. She realises that she simply adores reading, and that there is a lot that she needs to read yet. She finds company in Norman, a young, lowly boy who works in the palace kitchen.

This short novella goes on to describe how the Queen’s life changes as a result of her developing the reading habit, how her thoughts and perceptions about things gradually change. And, because this particular reader is not common, a lot of people have a lot of opinions on her reading. I won’t say any more, but will let you discover the joy of this beautiful book on your own.

4. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society – Marie Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society is the story of a book club that was formed in the Channel Islands during the Second World War. The book is written in a series of letters, from one book club member to the other, because it was the time of the Occupation and their activities had to be kept a close secret. The book does have a lot of similarities with 84, Charing Cross Road, but there are a lot of differences as well.

It is a beautifully written book, full of passion, love, books, warmth, wit and humour. It is a sheer joy to read, and no one I have recommended it so far has been disappointed by it.

This book was originally started by Mary Ann Shaffer,  who fell ill just as the manuscript went into publication. She was too sick to make the changes that the publisher requested of her, and so, the task of editing the manuscript and seeing it through publication was taken up by Annie Barrows, Mary’s niece. This is the only book ever published in the name of Mary Ann Shaffer. Touching, right?

5. Matilda – Roald Dahl

One of my regrets in life is that I discovered Roald Dahl pretty late in life, actually only a couple of years ago. I wish I could have read the delight that is Roald Dahl’s Matilda as a child, but I am glad I did at least now. I loved the book to bits.

Matilda is a highly intelligent and talented child, born to monster parents who do not know her worth. Matilda discovers books at her neighbourhood library as a child, and she begins to devour them at an alarming speed. Reading changes her life or, rather, she learns how to change her life. Matilda finds a friend in Miss Honey, her school teacher, who needs some life-changing herself. Together, Matilda and Miss Honey become a great team.

With a cast of mostly unsavoury characters, which have been hilariously depicted, Matilda makes for a fun and inspiring read.

What are your favourite books about books? I would love to know!

More randomness

18 Apr

~  The sister-in-law and her kids and the brothers-in-law are expected to come to our house for dinner tomorrow. The menu is ready, and the raw materials have been assembled. I am looking forward to the cooking and the camaraderie!

~  I have started reading Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta‘s Bong Mom’s Cookbook, because I didn’t seem to be making any progress with The Twentieth Wife. I am almost about to finish it, actually. So far, it has been a nice, light read.  and I am glad I picked it up. The book inspires me to try my hand at some of the Bengali recipes in it, too.

~ I am on a foodie memoir-reading spree, it seems. All I seem to be interested in reading these days is warm, personal and nostalgic food-based memoirs. Any suggestions in this regard are welcome!

~ Bangalore has grown a tad cooler over the last few days, with sporadic rains and cloudy skies. It is still hot and sweaty, but I think the weather is better than it was last month or so. I am craving for the old Bangalore weather that I so used to love!

~ I ordered a couple of books from Amazon last week, in separate installments. I am amazed at their efficiency and quality of deliveries. Lovely!

~  Considering that my cellphone had become little more than a useless dabba, we got myself a new Nokia phone yesterday. It is a touchscreen (my first!), and has internet, et al. The technologically challenged me has been breathless trying to understand how to use the phone to just type messages and make calls. I have no clue about how to use the various features of the phone, but I have been experimenting and learning. I am all excited to learn how to use Whatsapp. :) It takes 21 days to form a habit, they say. Hmm, well, let’s see.

~  I have, finally, purged my bookshelf. I have separated the books that I want to give away, sell as second-hand, and keep with myself. It has been a liberating experience so far, once you get past the initial I-don’t-want-to-do-it stuff. My bookshelf looks much better now, and I am happy to have finally reduced some clutter in my life.

~ I have been reading up on Bangalore for some articles for work, and have been enlightened. There was so much about the city that I didn’t know, there is so much about it that I still don’t know, so much that I need to see and explore. I am looking forward to it.

~ I made lauki ke kofte the other day, and they turned out delicious! Recipe coming up on blog soon. Don’t expect the authentic version of the kofte, do expect my own home-grown version. :)

~  Have you ever walked on a path strewn with eucalyptus leaves after a shower of rain? You should totally try it out whenever you get a chance, I say. The leaves smell heavenly when they get wet!

~ I have still not watched Queen. I so want to! Have you?

~ I watched part of the Govinda-Sanjay Dutt-starrer Haseena Maan Jaayegi a few days ago. Brainless, yes, but it felt good to watch something like that after a long, long, long time.

Of practical skills learnt and never used

14 Apr

As a little girl, when I learnt from my grandmother how to mend tears in clothes and buttons on shirts, over the course of a few boring summer vacation afternoons, I was just passing time. I never mended tears or sewed buttons after that – these tasks always seemed to get done magically at home, courtesy Amma and Patti. The chance to do so never cropped up even after marriage.

When the OH told me he was missing buttons on a few of his shirts yesterday morning, I was wondering what to do about them. I had completely forgotten that I knew how to stitch them on. I didn’t even have needles and threads at home! Yes, I am a bad, bad homemaker, I know.

Boredom prompted me to pick up the shirts yesterday evening, to at least try to sew the buttons on. I decided to use a sewing kit we had picked up during a hotel stay some time.

The ease with which I stitched the buttons on actually amazed me. Threading the needle, knotting the end, doing the criss-cross stitches over the buttons, and knotting the end of the thread again once the task was done – all these once-upon-a-time actions came naturally to me once again. Even Amma and the OH were surprised to see my handiwork.

You never know when practical skills come in handy. Sometimes, even 15 years later.

Some things learnt are never really lost. This life lesson struck me hard yesterday.

You

11 Apr

The little empty spaces in me

The ones I did not even know existed

You fill them by being yourself

And do not even know

Randomness

10 Apr

~ Just when I was cribbing about Bangalore having become an arid and dusty desert, nature suddenly decided to shower us with rain yesterday, without any sort of warning. The old Bangalore is sort of back now, and I am busy admiring the beauty of the city all over again, since this morning. :)

~ Like this girl, I also got swayed by the advertisement for Maybelline’s Baby Lips and bought one. That, and a Maybelline Color Show nailpolish. I am utterly disappointed with both products. The lip balm does not keep my lips moisturised for even an hour, and the nail polish started chipping just one day after applying it!

~ There has been talk of the Airlines Hotel, that famous landmark of Old Bangalore, shutting shop soon, thanks to a High Court directive. I have always wanted to visit the hotel, eat its famous dosas and drink its famous filter coffee in its beautiful open-air dining area, but never did so. I kept putting it off. Sometime later, I kept saying, ever since I moved to Bangalore. And now it looks like I might never have the chance to visit again. Gah!

~ I am craving for all the delicacies that the Gujaratis make using mangoes, this time of the year. :( Sigh! There are so many things I remember about summers in Ahmedabad and mangoes, I should do a post on that!

~ Back home in Ahmedabad, we used to get a new clay pot for storing water every summer. After shifting to Bangalore, I stopped following this custom, but kept missing matke ka paani throughout the summers. This summer, though, my craving for the sweet-smelling cool water from a clay pot is something else altogether. This post by Visha has taken that craving to yet another level. The OH and I have been in discussions about buying a matka soon, but nothing has materialised so far. :(

~ It is so nice to see people in high positions in their careers not throwing their weight around, and behaving with utmost humility. Such a refreshing change!

~ I wrote a letter after ages. My hand ached like anything with every few lines that I wrote, and I realised that my handwriting has become ultra-horrible, but it was such a cathartic process, writing that letter. I should do more of that, I feel. There is something about letters that no e-mail can match.

~ I have been spring-cleaning the house with a vengeance of late. Have cleared out so much stuff, I am proud of myself. :) I must say it is a therapeutic experience, but only if done when you want to do it. :P

~ I have been reading 97 Orchard: An Edible History Of Five Immigrant Families In One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. The synopsis sounded oh-so-interesting when I picked up the book, but it has not been such a great read this far. :(

~ I have also been reading Indu Sundaresan’s The Twentieth Wife, and am totally in love with it. I love how the entire Mughal era, Akbar’s court, Salim’s youth and the young Mehrunnisa comes alive in front of me as I read the book. Beautifully written!

And we tasted our first-ever mulberries…

8 Apr

… because the OH brought some for us from Delhi, when he returned from a work-related visit yesterday. :)

One more fruit added to our ‘new fruits tasted’ list. They are quite sweet and juicy, some with a hint of sourness, a delight to eat. :)

Just read

5 Apr

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School – Melissa Senate

This book disappointed me A LOT. I picked it up because the title was delicious, and the premise sounded interesting. Sadly, it did not turn out to be my kind of book.

Holly is a 30-something girl, who is extremely confused and does not know which way to go – neither in her life nor in her career. She is very close to her grandmother, Camilla, who runs cooking classes for Italian food on Blue Crab Island, Maine. As much as Camilla’s cooking classes are famous, she is well-known for telling fortunes. Many people on the island have met their true loves because of Camilla, and it is not for nothing that she is known as ‘Love Goddess’. After a disastrous turn in her career and love life, Holly heads to her grandmother’s home in Maine to heal her soul, and barely spends a few days with her when Camilla dies. Holly is devastated by Camilla’s death, but realises that she feels like she has, finally, reached where she is meant to be. She takes up Camilla’s cooking classes after her – without knowing anything about cooking. It is at this point that the story started going downhill for me.

Camilla, who has foretold the fortunes of hundreds, has only one thing to say to Holly about the man who will go on to become her true love – that he will like sa cordula – lamb intestines stewed with vegetables in a butter sauce. There were little touches like this that had the potential to take the story to greater heights but, sadly, it ended up being just chick-lit. Holly sounds stupid at times, though there are moments in the book when she redeems herself. Like in a movie, unbelievable things happen and everything comes together for the good in the end. Just like that!

Blue Crab Island does sound beautiful, and the book made me crave to visit the small seaside town of Maine some day. The descriptions of the food are also gorgeous, I must say. Droolworthy. If you want to pick up this book, these are the only two good reasons to do so. Or if you happen to like very predictable chick-lit.

Mostly Madly Mayil – Nivedita Subramanian and Sowmya Rajendran

I LOVED Mayil Will Not Be Quiet and, hence, was thrilled when the sequel to it – Mostly Madly Mayil – came out. I finally managed to get my hands on it last week, and I LOVED it! My only grouse with it is that it ended all too soon. :)

In Mostly Madly Mayil, Mayil turns 14 from 13, and continues to write in her diary as awesomely as she used to earlier. She is as spirited as ever, a thoughtful and intelligent child. It is a pleasure to read her diary, where she writes oh-so-sensitively about tough-to-understand-and-accept things like sexual harrassment and NGOs not actually working for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society. Mayil is a rebellious and curious teen, and so, there have to be references to Facebook and Harry Potter and problems at school – all written about beautifully. I love it when Mayil tries to challenge the way things have always been done in her home, and in the world, and there is a lot of that in this book. The language in the book is that of a real teen – it does not get on your nerves, though.

Like Mayil Will Not Be Quiet, this book too took me right to my childhood. It brought back many fond memories of my school days and time spent just being silly with friends.

The illustrations in the book are lovely! They are perfect for the story, and add just the right touch of whimsy to the book.

All in all, a wonderful book. Highly recommended.

Is there more of Mayil to come? I really hope there is.

 

Because we couldn’t wait a few more days…

4 Apr

… for Sri Rama Navami, we made loads of delectable panakam at home today. Also, because Bangalore seems to have turned into a dusty and arid desert these days, and we needed to feel the icy cool of the liquid in our throats.

Here’s how we made it:

Ingredients (enough for 2-3 people):

3-4 glasses of water

Juice of 2 lemons

About 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

Powdered jaggery, to taste

Cardamom powder, to taste

Method:

1. Take all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix everything together thoroughly.

2. Taste and make changes accordingly.

3. Let it sit for a couple of hours before you drink it, so that all the flavours get incorporated in the water nicely. You can even refrigerate it, if you like.

4. Slurp it up!

How do you make panakam at your place?

The Kindle and me

3 Apr

As excited as I was to receive a Kindle as a gift from the OH last year, I was skeptical too. I have always loved paper books, and I felt like I would be doing them a wrong turn by embracing the Kindle. I felt like I was giving in to something compact and modern, as against something tried and tested since ages. I felt guilty. At the same time, I also felt super excited at the possibilities the Kindle would open up to me. I could buy the e-book versions of all those paper books that had earlier been too expensive for me to buy. I could read anything I wanted to, at any time – most e-books were quite affordable. I could carry my library around with me wherever I went. So on and so forth.

I am here to say that a few months of using the Kindle has changed me. I am here to note down my experiences with the Kindle so far, for those of you who have drooled over one but have been skeptical of buying one.

I am in love with my Kindle, let us get that clear from the start. For three months straight after getting the Kindle, I did not read one single paper book. There were so many inexpensive e-books that I could buy that I was lured away. There was a whole wealth of books that I could read on the Kindle, books that I might have had to wait for years to read, if I were reading paper books. I explored new genres, new authors, and loved every bit of doing that. The fact that it is extremely easy and comfortable to read on a Kindle helped too. No eye strain. I could read even in the night, without turning the light on and disturbing others.

The Kindle has reduced my book clutter. All the e-books I have read so far take up very little space on the Kindle, but they would have taken up a whole load of space in my house. My bookshelf, which is already groaning with a huge number of unread paper books, would not have taken these extra books, had I bought them. I saved money on buying books – my book budgeting improved.

The Kindle has improved my reading speed, I don’t know how. Even if I read on the Kindle for the same amount of time that I used to spend on paper books, I felt like I get more accomplished. Books get over more quickly on the Kindle. A little bit of research on the internet showed me that I am not the only one to think that my reading speed has increased after getting a Kindle. And, for people like me, who think in terms of ‘So much to read, so little time’, that is a wonderful thing.

With the Kindle, I have been able to choose the right kind of book at the right time. When in Goa, I was in no mood to read a holiday romance, which is what I would have normally carried with me earlier. I wanted to read a warm food-based memoir that I, fortunately, had on the Kindle, and was able to read it. No point in plodding along with a book you have chosen for a holiday, if you aren’t really feeling like reading it, right? Also, I began to carry my Kindle on my morning walks (quite easy to do, as opposed to carrying a book), and that way, I got about half an hour’s uninterrupted reading time while I cooled my heels after exercising. All good!

Over the months of using the Kindle, I also began to feel less and less guilty about not reading paper books instead. I later lost that feeling of guilt altogether. I was lucky to have read this paragraph in the user manual that came with the Kindle, an excerpt from a letter to the user by Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon.com:

Our top design objective was for Kindle to disappear in your hands – to get out of the way – so you can enjoy your reading experience. We hope you’ll quickly forget you’re reading on an advanced wireless device and instead be transported into that realm of pure imagination readers love, where the outside world dissolves, leaving only the author’s stories, words and ideas.

That is the mindset I began to approach reading on the Kindle with, and it helped me a great deal. Slowly, the imaginary wall in my head fell, and all that I held in my hands when I read on the Kindle was an author’s creation. I forgot that I was reading on an electronic device, and began to heed only the words of the author. The paper books vs. e-books debate began to fade for me – as long as you are reading something, it is good. What difference does it really make if you read it on paper or in e-book form?

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading paper books again, because I wanted to give the Kindle a break and get the feel of holding a book in my hands again. I was, again, skeptical of whether I would enjoy the process after months of the Kindle, but I did! It was just like before. Paper books give me just as much joy as before, I am happy to say. Now, I have begun to realise, there are books which are meant to be read on the Kindle, while some are best suited to be read in the paper version. For instance, The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan or Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti, or Frances Mayes’s Under The Tuscan Sun are books that I would prefer to hold, in the paper form, in my hands, turn the pages back over and over again, sigh over one favourite passage or the other. Not that that cannot be done on the Kindle; just that I would like to do it for these books in paper.

There is a lot more that I still need to explore, as far reading on the Kindle is concerned, but I have loved the experience so far, and am waiting for more!

Do you own a Kindle? How has your experience been with it so far?

The honge mara is in bloom…

2 Apr

… all over Bangalore!

Though popular by the name of ‘Honge Mara’ in Kannada, this tree is also known as the Indian Beech Tree. Its scientific name is ‘Millettia Pinnata‘. The various parts of the tree are used for different purposes,  including the making of soaps and oils. The tree provides dense shade, and one can experience quite a bit of coolness if one stands underneath it.

What attracts me to this tree, apart from its pretty flowers, is the smell of these flowers. It is heady and heavenly!

If you are in Bangalore at the moment, don’t miss stopping by one of these trees and taking a minute or two to smell the flowers! :)

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