Saturday, July 29, 2006

In my absence...

Not surprisingly I don't have the discipline to keep this blog updated. The very subject of this blog shows that I much prefer reading other's writings than creating my own. However, I've now decided that an online book club would be a fantastic idea (not entirely sure how to organise the postings though) so if you've read any of the books I have, I'd love to see them through your minds eye. And if you've read any really good books lately, tell me all about them, I'm always on the prowl for a good read.

Considering I haven't posted in quite a while, here's a quick update.

Some books I've read since my last post:

  • Watching the English by Kate Fox (non-fiction) - an English social anthropologist's view on what makes the English, English. Utterly hilarious and very accurate (based on my limited interaction with said nation).
  • The Killing Joke by Anthony Horowitz (fiction) - one of those books you buy at a book sale because the blurb looks vaguely interesting. Basically this guy is running away from an evil agency that creates all jokes because he is onto them. Not as bad as I just made it sound (ok, it was really bizarre) but it had some funny moments and there was a sweet love story in the middle of it all.
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (fiction) - a classic I had to read and was glad having done so. Thought provoking, one of those books which each person will draw their own meaning from.
  • Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar (non-fiction) - Very interesting. A muslim seeks the truth in the different practices of Islam. May offend some but its written with honesty and humour.
  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (non-fiction) - If you liked the Tipping Point, you'll like this book. The authors are economists who use the laws of their profession to find correlations and possible causes (correlation does not after all indicate causation) between disparate phenomena. Fascinating stuff, though I do sometimes think the conclusions they reach are a bit of stretch of the imagination.
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (fiction) - I think I enjoyed this even more than the Da Vinci Code. Similar theme but exceptionally enjoyable.
  • Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (fiction) - A different theme this time on cryptography but his style is as gripping as ever.
  • Deception Point by Dan Brown (fiction) - So you're probably noticing a trend here. I bought the box set at the airport on my return flight back home. I decided to be well prepared after being caught with nothing to read on my first flight when the plane was delayed for two hours. Yet another thrilling adventure.
  • Pandora by Jilly Cooper (fiction) - Classy and funny and very very naughty.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (fiction) - I loved this book. It absolutely transported me to a Japan long gone. Saw the movie too, which I'd recommend only after reading the book as it misses the nuances explained there.
  • The Pact by Jodi Picoult (fiction) - I discovered this author a few months ago and now I'm hooked. Her books are completely different from each other but each of them deals with really difficult human situations that are extremely thought provoking. This one was about a two very close families, where the kids were best friends growing up and eventually started dating. Now one of the two is dead, supposedly due to a botched suicide pact that the two had made. As the story unfolds, the impact on the different relationships becomes apparent.
  • My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult (fiction) - This one's about parents who decide to have a daughter for the purposes of donating cells to their other dying daughter to save her. Now she's grown up and decided to sue her parents for rights to her body. Thought provoking but on the whole I found it a little too dark and depressing.
  • Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult (fiction) - I did say I was hooked! A son gets sexually molested and the story of how far a mother will go to protect/avenge him. Loved the twist at the end. Really good.
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling (fiction) - Entertaining as always. Because I still consider these kids books (despite the fact that they are getting darker as they progress), I thought it a little odd that Harry didn't set the best example in this book. Then again considering all the media that kids get bombarded with these days, it probably doesn't make much of a difference.
  • The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (fiction) - Another one of those books that describes a place so well that you find yourself immersed in it, this time its the south of America. Gets a bit intense at times but really draws you in.
  • He's just not that into you by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (non-fiction) - A guys wake-up call to us females of what they do when they're not interested. Hilarious and eye-opening. A must-read for all those women who keep making excuses for their guys.

I can't remember what else I've read, only to be expected considering my last post was almost a year ago. But those above are the most recent / most well remembered books since then (or just those I can spot lying around in my room at the moment). Should I remember any more, I will add them to the next post, which will hopefully still be sometime this year :)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Postcards from South Africa by Rayda Jacobs

Genre: Fiction

Rating: ****

Written by a South African Malay, these short stories pick on the small triumphs and tribulations that are often unique to a South African. The stories that are semi-autobiographical are those most evocative for me of the Cape-Malay life. The atmosphere, family life and little sayings are brilliantly described. Scattered throughout the book are the stories of Sabah, a semi-autobiographical character of Rayda Jacobs. These stories describe snapshots in her life as she grows up in Apartheid South Africa, eventually emigrates and then returns in a post-Apartheid era. I must admit that I did not find this book as enjoyable as her other work “Confessions of a Gambler” but maybe that is because I could identify more with that story being muslim myself and knowing the culture.

These stories would undoubted shed more light on non South Africans as it gives a very personal account of what it was like to grow up in those times. I did not think so, but a friend who also read the book did not like it for its pessimism. She felt that the author focussed on all the negative aspects of South Africa. But I like the view shown, it is different, and it is real. It is a noble cause to try always to be positive but is it not as noble to educate outsiders of what we really feel?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Breaking Open the Head by Daniel Pinchbeck

Status: In progress

Its been a while since I've updated this blog which is not all that surprising considering my tendency to get bored with things very quickly, but now that its actually listed on someone else's blog (and hence might actually be read) I've decided I'd better update it a bit! I've also decided to start writing about the books that I'm currently still reading.

Anyways, to get to the actual book we're talking about here. Its one of those books I picked up on a book sale because it looked mildly interesting and I was not disappointed. Its about a guy who is seeking spiritual meaning in life by experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. He calls it a "Chemical Adventure". He travels the world in search of a drug that will give him deeper meaning and its fascinating to learn of the history behind many of these drugs. The title is from the practices of the Bwiti tribe of Gabon. After feeding an initiate the iboga root (which causes hallucinations for hours), they knock them on the head with a stick to "break open their head" and increase the visions.

Thus far I've learnt about the history of the magic mushroom as well. The aspect about this book that can get a bit much is the language. The author is clearly an intellectual and often writes in the flowery language that some intelligentsia are prone to. It can get a bit tedious. Overall, though, its an interesting read and I'm probably enjoying it more for the fact that its different from what I would usually read.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Genre: Non Fiction
Rating: *****

Quite a revelation. I loved this book. Fascinating to the last page and very educational. Explains the concept of social epidemics brilliantly. One of those books that you actually might be able to apply in reality and you will find yourself mentioning interesting facts from it in conversations. What I did find interesting though is that he has a theory on what caused the drop in crime in New York but another book (Freakonomics) offers a different theory. His ideas are still valid though, just makes you remember that there are usually more factors than what are presented. Its also a little disturbing to find how susceptible humans are to suggestion. Hopefully, by becoming aware of our susceptibility to certain situations, we may lessen the effect. I'm also currently reading another of his books, "Blink", extremely entertaining thus far. Even more focussed on the human mind, the process behind snap judgements and even more disturbing stories of how susceptible the human mind is to suggestion.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini

Genre: Fiction
Rating: ****

I actually listened to the audio version of this book read by the author. I decided to buy it based on the excellent ratings it got on the site and the summary looked quite interesting. The book is very well written and tends to open your mind to certain subjects. The story is about a boy growing up in Afghanistan, born in a time when it was still peaceful. The unrest first begins when he is still a boy. I could relate to many of the practices of the Afghans, but found many of their other customs a little strange. It is interesting how people meld culture and religion, a lot of the time in such a way, that people forget which is religion and which is tradition. What left me a little unsure about the book, was its absolute anti-Taliban stand, while being pro-American. The book is thankfully not anti-Muslim but there are many characteristics of the Taliban that he describes that I find a little hard to believe. I know of some extreme practices, but I always thought of them as misguided people who truly believed that what they were doing is right rather than hypocrites that enforced Shariah law in public and completely went against it privately. After skimming his biography now, I see that he grew up in Kabul but he moved to the states just like the main characters in the novel. I wonder if all his information on the Taliban came from the US media, which would explain his perception of the Taliban. Not once does he seem to sympathise with them at all. And sometimes, I wonder that even if he did, perhaps he did not express it for fear of alienating his countrymen in the US. All in all, I think is a book worth reading, as long as the reader remembers not to take all the information at face value, and to remember to check other sources to get a better rounded picture of the story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke

Genre: Fiction
Rating: ***

I finished this book about a month ago. A tale about magicians and reviving magic in England. It was quite an enjoyable read despite getting a bit tedious at times (especially the first part on Mr. Norrell). The book for some reason, reminded me of a cross between Harry Potter and Jane Austen. I think because the content is about magic but the language and style is quite old-fashioned. Once I'd finished it, I have to say I didn't feel absolutely satisfied. I wasn't sure if I liked the book or not, it had some really good moments and some really long-winded sections. Perhaps the book would have been a lot better if it had been shorter and faster-paced. However, I absolutely adored the dynamics between Strange and his wife, they seem to me the ideal couple :)