Journey through 2016…

Last year was a huge mix of ups and downs, both at work and home, but the year did have many firsts associated with it. Chief among them was joining the Bring Your Own Book club that started with the fabulous session on Japanese literature, followed by the second Noida session on books to movies adaptations. This Saturday, they will organise a ‘foodie’s meet’ and needless to add, if you know even a slice of me at all, I have got to be there.
So last year, I did not want to actively be a part of any reading challenges. Although, I was keeping a track of the Brunch Book Challenge, I wanted to read more quality books than just strike a random number. And barring a couple of books, I know I did myself proud. I took my time with the books, underlined and made tiny notes, and all in all, it was a fruitful year books-wise.
Here’s a list of the books I read last year and if you’ve read any of them, I’d love to know what you think about it.

1. Perfume by Patrick Suskind

2. 1984 by George Orwell

3. The Exorcist by William Blatty

4. Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
A book that touched me deeply. I’ve put up a separate post entirely on this. To read, click here.

5. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Read more about my take on the book here.

6. The Calling by Priya Kumar

7. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Brilliant book! I’m a huge fan of gothic fiction and this one kept me on tenterhooks.

8. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

9. Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

10. Hiroshima by John Hersey
A note on this book deserves a post all on its own, and this will be up shortly in January. Keep an eye out for this folks!

11. Gideon’s Spies by Gordon Thomas
Another book that waits patiently in the wings to be talked about on my blog, but Gideon’s Spies is a must-read for those who are interested in Israel-Palestine issues and in the world of spies.

12. Zodiac Station by Tom Harper

13. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

14. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

16. The Target by David Baldacci

17. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
There are times in life you know there are great authors and great books, but you never get around to reading them. This was one of them for me and I kicked myself for not having picked this up earlier. Want to know what went through my head while reading this? Click here.

18. God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
As I’ve been brought up in a relatively conservative Catholic household, excessive questions about God was not entertained. As I still move around the world with a head filled with questions, this book helped remove much of the fogginess that had clouded my thinking. You can read more about my take on the book here.

19. Short Stories by Anton Chekhov

20. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

A book that left me stunned. You can read all about it here.

21. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

22. The Host by Stephenie Meyer

23. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
I was lucky enough to meet the author on my first event as an intern. Even though I read the book almost eight years later, it stirred in me a strong desire to live and work in Mumbai, a feeling that had long burnt bright. And lo behold, by the close of last year, I did find myself along the ‘Queen’s necklace’, traipsing around Cafe Mondegar and soaking in the aura of Mumbai. Just my luck, eh?

24. The Age of Reason by Jean Paul Sartre
I had always wanted to read Sartre, primarily to see if the fuss around him was just a mirage. I was not disappointed. Although it was my first and only Sartre till date, his writing is very incisive and lays bare the machinations of the human heart. Read more about my take on the book here.

25. If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing with the pits! by Erma Bombeck26. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

27. The Martian by Andy Weir
A book that thoroughly entertained me and left me recommending it to strangers. I’ve blogged about this and you can read it here.

28. Same Soul, Many Bodies by Dr. Brian Weiss

29. Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Of the top of my head, pick up Middlesex, The Age of Reason, God is Not Great, Sophie’s World, The Thirteenth Tale, Shadow of the Wind, Perfume, In Cold Blood, Gideon’s Spies and Hiroshima at the earliest.

While I’ve enjoyed last year by keeping my nose firmly #BetweenPages, well mostly, this year too I hope to add another string of firsts and nourish my soul by reading extensively.  I’m also available on Instagram and my handle is @samantha_rjsdr. Cheers!

Pixie Dust

It’s been over a year that I’ve been a part of BlogChatter, an online community of bloggers. Of course I can never thank my good friends M enough for introducing me to this, and here I am. Part of the third season of their BlogBuddy programme.

Initially I was under the impression that bloggers led solitary, one dimensional, digital lives, probably type-type-typing away into the wee hours of the night, baggy-eyed and anti-social. But this group turned my thinking around. They sold me on their philosophy of ‘Blog Together, Blog Better’. What started off as a weekly Twitter chat has turned into a living, breathing being, self-sustaining and an endless source of support, a safe space for idea generation and camaraderie.

This season, I’m part of team #InkMagic. Our motley team of bloggers – Ramya Rao (@Ramya_rao_p), Jaibala Rao (@JaibalaRao), Amrita Misra (@misra_amrita), Shalini Sharma (@TirelessReader), Dr Bushra (@dewcool2), Utpal Kant Mishra (@A_Utpal) and me (@samantha_rjsdr) – believe in the cohesive power of writing with a sprinkle of pixie dust. Of what use is life without a touch of magic? And so with my fellow blogbuddies, we intend to grow stronger with BlogChatter.

Pic credit: Ramya Rao
Pic credit: Ramya Rao

I am a BlogBuddy with Blogchatter.

Windowgraphs

There’s an unexplained, indescribable joy in peeking into someone’s home, twisting your head one way and squinting if the need arises. It’s fascinating to see strangers in their four walls, wordlessly watching the television or moving from one room to another.

Don’t mark me as a ‘peeping tom’. I don’t stand and stare, for too long. But the strange comfort in looking at cubicles of people’s lives, zipping past hundreds of apartments and balconies, while in the metro or walking, gives me unbridled excitement. At the end of the day, tired and exhausted, my brain is often left muddled to be reading a book in transit. More often than not, the swelling crowd in the metro makes it impossible to even hold a handrail, forget lifting a book to read. So as days turned to months, I took to looking out of the window, especially while passing from Akshardham to Mayur Vihar Extension, and the view presented, a glorious number of parallel worlds, open to my interpretation.

Small flats, large houses, huge television sets, modest furnishings, utensils lined up on shelves, laundry being folded, pets, servants at work… these split second frames of living rooms are swept up in my brain, and there they lie stewing in a vortex of possibilities.

As a child I loved looking at homes. Not just looking, looking, but looking closely. I’d always notice the extra beautification of one’s balcony to the over grown shrubbery in another’s garden, choc-a-block homes lined in a neat row or marvellous bungalows. Even now, this has become quite a hobby.
Sketch
In winter last year, I spent a good twenty minutes every morning walking to work from Maharani Bagh main bus stop (where my charter bus would drop me) to my office complex on Mathura Road, near New Friends Colony in Delhi. It would not just be a great way to hit my target of steps in a day, but I’d love to walk through the posh enclave of Maharani Bagh. I would pass a rather chic boutique hotel, a park filled with dogs and joggers, a couple of dishevelled looking homes and few more in need of repair. And yet as I’d move inwards, I would gape at towering bungalows with opulent architecture and massive gates, that wouldn’t let a spot of the interiors be betrayed. But come nightfall, and lights would filter through the gaps, rewarding one with sliver of vision of the beauty that lay beyond. Fancy garages, beautiful linen curtains, fancy swings and polished woodwork, hanging gardens and tinted windows, intricately carved pillars and tiled roofs, appreciating the beauty of homes is such a luxurious pastime.

The Lovely Bones – Death is not the end

There was a time when I was scared stiff of reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. I always imagined myself as the sister in the story who ignored the changes in her brother and in the end, was invisible to her. It pained me to see family members brush his existence away, the way sometimes I imagined myself doing. There’s nothing like living with guilt every single day. Even if you know it was something you cannot help but do it anyway; even if you know that given a chance you would apologise every single day and try to make up for it, take it back and wish it all away – but never did I imagine Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones affecting me the way The Metamorphosis did.

Yes, the story is about a murdered child, but what I didn’t realise to the fullest, was the narrator. The dead child or rather the freshly minted spirit of a fourteen-year-old girl. She peers down from heaven, watching and observing her family and friends, often living life through them and with them. As I progressed through the story, it dawned on me how even my brother may be up somewhere, looking down upon us, observing us, crying with us and even celebrating the little nuggets of happiness that escape through. I believe that sometimes, if not all, he sits with our father when he’s home alone during the day, my father who nursed him closely during his illness, and who now doesn’t even have the strength to support himself and walk easily.

I imagine him flitting around our mother, whom he loves the most. Swooshing in during her trip in the school bus, zooming around in her class and being that invisible source of strength and energy she needs to get through at an age past retirement, yet working full time, both at school and home.

It makes me think that he smiles at me from the picture that I’ve tacked up on my office board, silently cheering me on at work, whispering words of advice and pushing me to become a better self.

What is the mark of a great book if it does not push you to think? Is it better if it slowly creeps up on you and you suddenly find yourself in a rush of emotions and thoughts. You wonder how the dead are living through the people who touched them, both in a good and bad way, and you wonder how the living are often dead, moving aimlessly from one day to the next with little to no consequence, wondering when death will come knocking.

I had seen the movie years back in college, but it didn’t strike me the way the book did these last few days. Of course, my life has turned around in the past few years, but then again, I suppose a book has a way of reaching out to its readers in a more forceful way than movies can. The spirit of the girl from the beyond the dead is the narrator and she reaches out to the reader. Her voice, is soothing, or so I imagine, and before I knew it, I got swept into her story. With every happiness, my heart whooped with joy and with every failure and wrongdoing, I realised I was just as helpless as the dear narrator. I matched the rhythm and pace of the story, hoping for Susie to get justice, but some things don’t always happen the way you wish it to be. But karma is a bitch, and I strongly believe that ‘what goes around, comes around’. While time may be a healer, fate never forgets anyone’s address.

Among the many characters, I emphathised with Jack Salmon the most. He always spoke to his eldest child Susie, and the only one who kept after the killer. He loses his wife in the process, but preserving the memory of his daughter takes precedence. Ruth, Susie’s friend and Lindsey, Susie’s younger sister, are two other characters who have left me stunned. Their growth in the story and how they become stronger and better able to care for themselves and others, left me overwhelmed.

As always, I shall be leaving you with a poignant quote from the book, one that ties the story and the title together, one that touches my soul at a vulnerable spot and one that must mean something to everyone, as death often impacts people in different ways.

“These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections—sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent—that happened after I was gone. And I began to see things in a way that let me hold the world without me in it. The events my death brought were merely the bones of a body that would become whole at some unpredictable time in the future. The price of what I came to see as this miraculous body had been my life.”

The Shadow of the Wind – What a journey!

Some books are just so great they manage to sweep you off your feet. Despite chronicling the lives of its many characters and treading on for pages, it feels as if one had only been reading for a short time. When Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hit the stands, readers worldwide were gushing over it. But it left me with a bit of disappointment.

But not this one. Oh, definitely not this one.

I chanced upon The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon at the recent Delhi Book Fair, and having posted my pile of treasure on a number of social media platforms I had quite a few followers praise this particular one. Although the book jacket blurb did lure me in, but ‘The Number One Bestseller’ on the cover can sometimes turn out to be quite misleading.

So when I couldn’t handle my mounting curiosity, I began. And then I never rested till I was done, quite spent having read it with increasing speed. Since the first page, I was utterly and completely taken up by the many characters, its twisted plot and subplots and the gothic city of Barcelona, that’s almost a character in itself.

It all starts in 1945 Barcelona, when a young Daniel Sempere is introduced to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ by his father. Imagine a vast, towering building, its facade etched with gothic designs, set in the middle of the city yet hidden from prying eyes, with a gargoyle for a door knocker and a labyrinthine library of ‘obscure and forgotten titles’ – a resting place for books and their souls. Having been allowed to choose one book from millions, Daniel fishes out ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Julian Carax, and so begins his journey that twists and contorts with every dribble of secret unearthed of its dead author, how his life hangs in peril when he embarks in search of the truth of Carax’s life and death, and all those connected with him.

The book also reflects the pain of a city ravaged by war, of its denizens that turn into the living dead, of those in authority who take control of the city, terrorising the already afflicted and the defenceless. It’s been such a pleasure reading this book.

Since I prefer to read with a pencil in hand, marking the quotes and phrases that leave me thinking, here are the top three. Read them carefully, ponder over them silently and introspect, they’re worthy of separate blog posts in themselves. Here they are:

“Books are mirrors. You only see in them what you already have inside you.”

“Never trust anyone, Daniel, especially the people you admire. Those are the ones who will make you suffer the worst blows.”

“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits.
You have to go for it.”

While I’m incapable of saying ‘no’ to those who seek to borrow my books or I skirt the issue altogether, this is one book I shall never part with. Much like Daniel Sempere who was entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the soul of The Shadow of the Wind, so shall I. But I urge you to get yourself a copy immediately, and while I re-read the book with guilty pleasure, I look forward to the other books in the trilogy.

I am taking my Alexa rank to the next level with Blogchatter.