Sunday, November 9, 2014

The motorcycle diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara

I picked the book up in the library during one of my jaunts with A to find his stuff...all the beast quests that he is reading these days! I end up picking essays, some random book here and there, and all the time, very ambitiously hoping that may be this time, I'll read and finish a book.

This one is a fairly quick read, Che Guevara's notes on one of his first trips across Latin America. He was 23/ 24, still studying to become a doctor, when one day, with his friend Alberto, decided to take a trip across the continent on Alberto's bike. The book spans over a few months of their journey, written from Che's notes for the period, is not too long, and is very engaging, very youthful! The young explorers. They begin in Argentina, from their home, on to Chile, the mines there, the lakes, then on to Peru, where they see the Inca homeland, Colombia (Marquez's land), and then Venezuela. While talking about his journey, he sketches the land, the life, the way things go in those countries, and  while doing so, he sketches himself for the reader, and the reader is engaged with the fresh, honest account and since it is Che, tries to read and may be reads more than necessary between the lines. Either ways, the freshness, optimism, and the life in the pages is inspiring and uplifting.

Ernesto/ Che is adorable, charming, and the boyish beginning turns gradually more thoughtful, and the fun of exploration, the joy of faring onward, seeps through the pages and takes hold of you. Most importantly, the faith that all will be fine.

Loved the book, pleasantly surprised by it. I don't read much non fiction,...they need some kind of mental readiness and enthusiasm which I reserve only for fiction. But after this one, I am keen to read more of him. It takes a certain kind of spirit, a wanderlust, an explorer in one to go on like that! And I respect that settle is not ideal, to fare onward is what life is all about.

One of the places, he mentions about how when people (as they grow to middle classes), the small victories they collect go to their head...the things at stake stack up higher...and people becoming more cautious, more chained, less spontaneous, more settled. Not an ideal state at all. And if you think about it, an anti-thesis of an explorer...who moves forward as if there is nothing to lose.

This was the same weekend that we watched Interstellar.., I am quite enamored by the whole 'explorer' spirit. '
Old men ought to be explorers, here and there does not matter'.

Its just fitting that the music currently playing in the background as I write this is Metallica's 'wherever I may roam'

...and the earth becomes my throne
I adapt to the unknown
Under wandering stars I've grown
By myself but not alone
I ask no one

...and my ties are severed clean
The less I have the more I gain
Off the beaten path I reign
Rover wanderer
Nomad vagabond

Call me what you will

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Discovering Joseph Brodsky

One needs to find inspiration. To do new things, to take leaps of faith, to get onto uncharted plains. And one finds them unexpectedly. Here and there, life becoming a trail of new discoveries and new inspiration, your leaps of faith become the shining guiding lampposts of your life as you look back and think of the vector path of your own life.

Unrelated thoughts, but they surface together right now...intertwining themselves. As Eliot wrote, there is a time for an evening under the starlight, and then there is time for an evening under the lamplight (the evening with the photograph album).

How is this all related to the title of this post?

On my recent vacation, I bumped into the essays by Joseph Brodsky ('On Grief and Reason'). And then I looked him up further. He won the Nobel for literature in the eighties. He was a poet.

And like observed earlier, poets writing prose are a world apart from prose writers writing prose. They operate at a different level, the intensity, tempo and the effluvium of their world is different. All the rest of the writers reduced to mere mortals in front of these Gods of written word. Few words, but then they don't need more to exactly say what they need to.

The prose speaks directly, urgently to you. Cuts through the clutter. 'Precision' is the word. 'Precision' is his advice as well, as he speaks to a graduating class...his advice to make sure that one knows the words for one's feelings. His observation that life grows and people grow, and so should the terms in which we express ourselves...the same old words are outgrown. You need more precise words to exactly know and understand your mind, your moods, your thoughts, their changes...precision.

I had come across the essay sometime back...during the commencement speech season. There is some other advice as well (be no victim...if I were to summarize it, I'll borrow from Shakespeare..."the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings")
The referred essay/ speech by Brodsky (full text here)

I am yet to read his poems. I read a couple, but poems need so much growing up to. They need patience, they come to you when they come to you. They are not like fiction that you sit down to read and then you get captured, glued to a page turner ignoring everything else. Poems come to you. You read them once, you read them again. You soak yourself in them...sometime they are like songs on loop...which come with a season, like a fever, like rain, like a wave...and then they pass. But when they are there, the poem, the song is the only thing echoing in your mind.

These days, months or should I say, years, it is Eliot for me. It is his Four Quartets currently which provide the background hum ho of my existence. A few years back it was EE Cummings. Frost is always there, some of his poems which are relatable, accessible. I discovered Wislawa Szymborska as well. But Eliot it is currently. And it is growing by the day. Until probably I understand or remember all of the Four Quartets.

Brodsky makes a case for poets and poems, and you nod. There are few better writers of prose than some of the poets that walked this Earth.

I am still working my way through the essays...they lie on the same side of my bookshelf where Borges' non fictions, DFW's essays, Kundera's non fictions, and my current issue of essays/ non fiction writing by Woolf, Susan Sontag, Atwood get stacked. It's inspiring to go through these words, the inner workings of these minds, how they looked at this world. Its always a pleasure and to me, a privilege to dip into a few pages, re-read and glean newer meanings out of these texts. They end up uplifting, inspiring, guiding the path, and at times infusing much needed courage in the reader to go ahead and get going with things, with choices, without bothering about any other thought save that of better realizing the self. There is probably no better place in this post to say, you only live once.

In the larger scheme of things, there is probably nothing that matters. And since it is nothing that matters, we need some other criterion for making our life's choices. Poetry perhaps provides those measure, to consider, to choose and prioritize our inspires, it sets us on some path...a push here and a shove there to the vector that life charts, as we zoom through the varied intensity planes of the world around us.

I don't know, but how can one not love this:

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning

(Four Quartets)

So here goes my rambling post. I feel better having written this. The inspiration from Brodsky was to try to capture in words the hovering cloud of thoughts around my head. I have tried to pull them here...some of them, like a thread through the eye of a needle.

I'll post this today, edit this some other time.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


I picked up a page turner recently. Some way into it, I didn't really 'feel' it. But I kept on, not sure what to look for on the kindle. It was from an airport book store. One of the top rated books. I, in my holiday mood, 'I want to be surprised' mood. Keen to pick up something new..(I was already feeling proud of myself for not making the cab turn back on our way to airport upon realizing that I left my specs behind. Brave, new, adventurous me says, lens should do for now. Let's depend less on stuff! I am holding up fine...probably a first in years or decades, shall I say) So book purchase. Just three shelves devoted to all the fiction they have. More than two of them were thrillers, novels, fiction of the 'read and forget' types...quite surprised to see that half of the book store was just 20 boxes of top 20.

How does one then 'stumble on' something awesome?

Anyway. I finished the book earlier this week.

But meanwhile, in Hobart, in the general square, after a late afternoon lunch, on a warm, sunny day (its the same afternoon of the airport book store), I walk into this small bookstore (small, as in good enough for neighborhood, but small for city centre). And this neat little store just wins me over. It contains a universe within. The variety, the color, the diversity of books on offer. I wanted three books in the first minute (contrast this with one in ten minutes at the airport bookstore). It was just awesome. it was as much meant to educate, inspire, with all the great ones lined up book after book, such that even if you disturb one book, you didn't know how to put it back...treasure trove.

It was a small lunch break at Hobart...I'll be there soon. Hopefully, I'll buy more, and more than that, be inspired more.

Book stores influence how people read. You offer thrillers, quick reads only, they read those only. You expose them to the subtleties, the intensities, the depth of thought, the pleasure that only the great ones can provide....they read that, and then want more of that. In a small space, this book store had poetry, short stories, science, all the Nobel winners, all the visiting authors, a variety of titles from the literary ones, and not just the top two of each...sometimes not even the top two, but the rest, even books from Barthelme's list. I don't know how one does that in online book store. I have all the top 100 lists, the barthelme list, the DFW list running in my mind, but online is not a stacked little universe of wonderful titles tightly packed. I want to discover, and be surprised and 'stumble on' as well, and not just get what I want...but probably get what I don't know I want. And when I see a book store with so much in it, I find myself in my little heaven.

Such bookstores are like faith keepers...they are like churches and temples, one can't let them go. Even if they don't make money. They make people.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Such a lovely title!

I bought this book at Dubai airport - early January. Limited selection, but the cover and the title, and given that this is from David Mitchell (I could not put down Cloud Atlas once I started it), and I had a long economy flight ahead of me, made me buy this. And I am very glad I did.
So this is a stumbling book, rather than a planned purchase.

This book raised several thoughts & ideas - one to do with historical fiction, and how insatiable our desire to know about the times past, the times that shaped the current world is. And as insatiable the desire is, the answers are impossible. There is simply no way of knowing how things were or what people thought about the world around them, or what stories and lives different from ours lived on this planet.

The more the world grows smaller, the similar we are becoming. But this book talks about 1799, about Japan, and about foreigners (Dutch) trading with Japan, trying to pry out the real Japan from the obscurity veils. And the peek inside is like Alice's party in Wonderland

The book pulled me in, and created this beautiful reality in a world two centuries ago which seems impossible to live in from today's stand point (but not as unique from the times I was born in)

The world still was unexplored, unclaimed by the Europeans and the English, and the people had much of their own original cultures and society with all their good and bad. And then there is this intersection, and the amount of learning, the bridges that those few individual must have crossed are big ones. It would be like coming across a new society on moon for us.

The first third of book was amazing, then a bit of a drag, and somehow the people I was rooting for, in the book seemed to go low in significance, and somehow, it felt as if there is no victory of good over bad (I have been fed on stories of good over bad since younger days - all with the mythology, even though everyday see circumstances to the opposite. But it is still gives hope), and the book puts the people in such hopeless places, it becomes unbearable for a little while before picking up again the fun in the last one third.

I was left asking for more in Cloud Atlas. the premise was amazing, but as amazing the premise was, I was seeking justice to what happens. It should have had some more things happen. which didn't
And so goes with this tries to touch the grandness, and then it becomes the commonplace.

The title is drawn from one of the lovelier names of Japan - the land of thousand autumns.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


This blog is becoming more of an annual feature. I should record more thoughts and convert more drafts to posts. Probably that could be one of the new year resolutions.

Anyway, time to take stock.Read fewer books - and most of them were library issues. The  good thing about living here in S, and earlier in M was the proximity to libraries. What happens then is I spend a lot of time browsing for the kid and myself. And keep making resolutions to read more. Issue a few books and read some of them. Even this is better to discover new authors, to stumble upon oft heard names and just to browse. So here is the list of books I read.
  1. Goodbye to Berlin (Novel/ SS) by Christopher Isherwood (June) - deadtree
  2. Too Much Happiness (SS) by Alice Munro (Jun) - deadtree
  3. Mr Norris Changes Trains (Novel) by Christopher Isherwood (Jul) - deadtree
  4. Life and Times of Michael K (Novel) by J M Coetzee (Jul) - deadtree ***** wonderful read
  5. Of Mice and Men (N) by John Steinbeck (Jul) - deadtree
  6. Arne - a sketch of Norwegian Country Life by Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson (Nov) - deadtree. ***** (Lovely book, lyrical, poetic, uncomplicated, minimalist. )
  7. Dear Life, Short stories by Alice Munro (Dec) - deadtree ***** Lovely read.
I am also reading the Hunger Angel by Herta Muller, and essays by Kundera and Atwood, but I never finish essay books, reading them like a fruit - the juicy, fleshy parts first and then finishing off the fruit is more of a chore, and most often I don't.

The Hunger Angel - Liking it. In some ways, it has a haunting feel of something I have already read. Probably the land of green plums followed similar themes. This used to happen a lot in Marquez fiction - the deja vu feeling.

For 2014, I wish to do something different. Amongst others, I wish to read some of the following:
- War and Peace
- Shakespeare- one play
- Wallace - a collection
- Ulysses?
- Science fiction
- Nabokov
- some European (Swedish +
- a book from China
- Biography of Wallace

Its good to have a wishlist, a board to look at when feeling lost. Hope to follow some of what I write here, and hope to write more often.

Here's to a great 2014, and reading more.