Saturday, December 29, 2012


Closing 2012 on this blog. After August, I don't think I've read anything. Its been a whirlwind from September, with visa, moving and settling down in M. This is the first week since then that I feel like catching up on blogs, books and columns and get that feeling of lying down on the lounge in the balcony, staring at the ocean, wind in my hair and hopefully, my finger holding the book spine at somewhere in the middle...I like the vision more than the reading itself. But like writing, one never knows, till one actually starts reading. Its been too cold and windy summer to try it yet - soon.

Anyway, the point of this post was to close this year, taking new resolutions for new year. Not sure what I want to read next - but would be good to begin at one of the favorites. And not to keep a too ambitious target. But keen to read lots of long form, more of weekend newspapers, and some fiction. Should we say, 12 books? I know it sounds low, but am being realistic here, given that this is going to be a work year, things are going to be busy...and I have other resolutions as well, to revive running, to learn to ride the scooter....lets start easy, and then we can always drive up the targets if we are over achieving :)

BTW, I haven't bought any new book here - haven't seen as many bookstores yet. And one of these holidays, I should make it a point to go to the bookstores here - wherever they are.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Gatsby vs Babbitt

Gatsby vs Babbitt

I read the Great Gatsby long time back. And this is the first book that I have ever re-read. I just finished reading it again. Babbitt - I began this book a long time back, but could not proceed beyond a few pages then. I picked it up again this month, and finished it just before the re-reading of Gatsby.

Both are set in America of 1920s, the First World War or the Great War was over, American economy was booming, the decade which preceded the great depression.The difference being that Babbitt is set in the American town, a general American concept of a town, it could be any town, in the book, it is Zenith. Whereas, Gatsby is pointedly New York, and specifically "West Egg"and very much a book happening mostly at the tip of "West Egg". So though, the period is same, the sensibilities are as different as current cosmopolitan cities and provincial towns. Also, they both deal with different age groups. Babbitt is middle aged, has a daughter who is the age at which she can get married, son going to college, a well established business, and his worries in life for half the length of the book are average middle class worries about money, status, position, reputation, and then as the book unfolds, gradually he starts facing the deeper questions of life, which being an 'average' person in an 'average' city, and all the ennui of the average invokes. The book peaks a few pages before end, when he faces these questions, and hastily wraps itself into a happy ending, as if, whoever thought that those questions can ever find answers. But here we have Gatsby, and the narrator, Nick, both almost 30, much younger, and sequences of seemingly comic, mindless, arbit-random bullshit conversations when they are in the moment, contrasted with the deep thinking narrator, Nick, who with his wit and some mind blowing sentences wins you over and you feel as sad about the life that that Gatsby lives as the narrator himself. This one is a book about the un-average, it picks the most random circumstance in people's lives and multiplies it with ten and makes it happen in the book. It is a book about the peaks and the troughs, it is the differential, where Babbitt was the average. Babbitt touches such a life briefly in the book, but it becomes a detour for him. Babbitt was about the hundreds of dreams, and all about the means. Gatsby is about the end, a simple, single end, a single dream, however silly it may sound, and the means become inconsequential. And it is about the silly, random things which like the flutter of a butterfly's wings, wreaks havoc upon a faraway country, and in this case, somebody's life. And this is just comparing the stories. 

In terms of how both books are written, they are both a showcase of what average and the un-average look like and both flow in lucid language, a straight narrative and with so many sentences that you want to highlight for later reading. I enjoyed reading them both, and I guess by reading them together, I get a much fuller picture of what each of them portrays.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Infinite Jest

I write here after a long time. I have added a page which records the books I’ve been reading. The reading logged is not as much as I would have wished, initially due to work and of late, I have been trying to limit the amount of time devoted to reading .

Background on the opportune time for reading IJ: I have tried quite a few times since I bought IJ to open it up and read - always devoting broadly a month of my time. But with work, at times I would get into the book but realize that it is too involved and intense and I would then drop out and forget the context just because of being away for long. The most I had reached like this, after trying a few times was some 200 pages. And we are talking in years here. The book is 1000 pages long with some 100 pages of footnotes. Enter, sabbatical break. Still, I was tentative in my commitment. Then, one inspired day in March, I decided to read this book thinking that if I can’t read this now, when I have much more control over my time, it is unlikely that I’ll read it in the near future. And hence, on the same day, I decided my major targets for April (which in non-sabbatical state would be difficult to pursue). And these were – run 100 miles and read IJ.
On my targets - I am hopeful of closing the month with the run (And I have not been a runner before Feb 2012). On IJ, I linger at 700. But I have reached that much loved stage in those few good books that one reads where you want the book to continue for long, may be forever. You wish that you could read about the people on and on. You savor every page and despite the target achievement question mark, you will the book to slow down just to be with the author and the ideas longer. This happened recently with Murakami’s ‘What I think…running’ book, which is a quick read – if read in one go, may be a two hour affair but I allowed myself to read only 10-20 pages daily so that it could last longer. So effectively, I am having a lot of fun reading IJ.

The book rewards you with lots and lots of thoughts daily. From a peep into the materialist, entertainment addicted future, to the pursuit of excellence(in a sport), to the soul-help dashed out in ladle-full, to some really insightful essays on topics which just make you wonder at the author’s depth, complexity and width of thinking. From the concept of wheelchair assassins to the hideous and deformed, to 12-steps, and an alternative reality for the entertainment industry, to all the probing into the happiness pursuit – is it the want or the have? Or should one take targets and live by them or just move between different paths, and view one’s life as a set of lines moving from one point to another (that is not stop at the target point). It asks some of the basic questions of life and makes you think about them. It is as much about the 1000 pages as it is about the amount of your waking hours you keep thinking about the characters, their choices and all the food for thought dished out in the book. It is enriching, enlightening, and as Virginia Woolf says, like a good book, makes you ask as many questions yourself, explodes a huge number of thoughts in your mind. I am very glad that I am reading the book, and yes, looking forward to completing it, and looking forward to reading it again sometime soon, and looking forward to reading all the ideas and thoughts that IJ readers have spread across the internet.

Another note – on record keeping and target setting; Instead of targeting 52 books or 30 books or x number of books a year, I now plan to devote a limited amount of time to books. Otherwise, it becomes an all-consuming pursuit esp when I am in second half of books and I then ignore many things, and as a result, once I finish them, I stay away from books for a while, and also, I ignore non fiction, long form, essays which I wish I could read more of, which normally get second preference because of a faulty metric of counting only the number of books. Humbling reminder that the plan stage and set-the-target stage is by far the most crucial stage, after that, its about execution and following your own commands. So the idea is to read better.