Sunday Special

It was over two years ago when my good friend M. introduced me to an online book club – The Sunday Book Club or #TSBC. Quite a long name if you ask me, but I was intrigued about how they could sustain a book club based on a weekly Twitter chat. Do people even take part? But I couldn’t have been more wrong. People from all over India take part in the chat held every Sunday
at 3 pm.

Like every good thing in the world with a strong fan following, TSBC was started by a group of three: Sudhagee, Raghav Modi and Neo. Over the years, the founders actively handling the account may have shuffled, but currently Sudhagee and Raghav Modi are the active founders.

Do you know what it means to show up online, every week of every year, on a holiday, since its inception to host the Twitter chat? Sometimes, I wonder how they do it. Heck, even if I’m home I’ve never been able to show up at the chat session with such discipline. Sunday afternoon feasts and the sweet haze of slumber would often take over. But I try.

The chat sessions are based on themes, announced mid week to allow participants to read up. Every Sunday since September 30, 2012, TSBC has not repeated a single theme. From author-based chats such Amitav Ghosh to diverse topics like book covers and even bookstagrams, TSBC ensures the world of books is thoroughly explored.

And not just this, they even pepper the week with mini engagement sessions such as Mondays would have the TSBCBookList, where one member would share a collection of 15 random books and others would have say which ones they’ve read. Wednesdays are all about current reads with the hashtag #TSBCWedReads. Thursdays are for #TSBC1Book1Author where fabulous recommendations pour in and Fridays are picture heavy with themed pictures being shared.

Sometimes, the founders even tie up with their favourite publishers and have book giveaways for certain book challenges. I too won a book for acing a challenge on English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Oh so proud of myself.

And at times, we even get to meet the faces behind the Twitter handles at meet-ups in Delhi NCR and Mumbai. It’s so much fun to meet a group of book lovers and chat endlessly. Such sessions also have book exchanges and Raghav Modi almost always comes bearing extra goodies. You can read my experience at the first ever Delhi meet here.

But above all, being a part of the TSBC community is a heartwarming experience, where people are ever ready to share recommendations, empathise with the phrase – ‘there is no such thing as too many books’, understand the pain of being broke thanks to overspending on books and engaging in discussions on favourite authors and titles.

To this community that turns four this year, thank you.

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The Calling: Read with an open mind

Some of us go through life without the slightest inkling of our purpose here on earth, while others just get through one day at a time. In pursuit of a career, ambition, better pay and better life, one often forgets the necessity to feed one’s soul to nourish our inner selves.

The Calling by Priya Kumar aims to get people to stop for a moment and think, think deeply about one’s actions and its corresponding consequences. Ultimately our lives are our own for making or breaking. We may not be able to change our neighbours, our families or friends, but by changing ourselves we may slowly affect others and our environment.

The book introduces us to Arjun, a media hot shot, whose life is increasingly spiralling out of control. His wife has filed for divorce and is demanding half of everything they own, his relationship with his two little girls is being threatened, pressure at work is building up and to top it all, he survives a near fatal accident en route Shimla. And of course, then he gets to meet a sadhu who send him on an errand to Hemkund Sahib and his real education begins.

One aspect that jumps out is the insatiable need to be connected to our smartphones. The fourth word in the book is a BlackBerry which is not just the cause for Arjun’s terrifying accident, but at every step he is frantically searching for network connection, to link him back to his old world. There’s never a true escape for those who always have one eye on their phones. Even when Arjun is instructed by another (or maybe the same) sadhu regarding certain tasks, he’s always waiting for that network bar to pop up on his phone.

The Calling is peppered with some good quotable quotes that could be tagged up on the pin board for posterity. Since I’ve been in the corporate industry since the past five years, the quotes in the book have resonated with me at some level or the other.

“Don’t continue selling your life and your soul to the highest bidder. For when you do, with that you sell your family, your dreams and your purpose.”

For me, I do not know what is the purpose of my life and reading The Calling hasn’t exactly removed the mist around my confusion, but it has at least helped straighten out my priorities and put a lot of my thinking into perspective. Sometimes, we get so absorbed in our daily routines, we don’t realise how we are slowly falling into a rut and this eventually deadens our senses. Our social lives diminish and personal lives come to a screeching halt.

While self help and philosophy may not be my go-to genre, it’s good to read such books from time to time with an open mind and heart. You never know what may strike you as profound and what gets retained in the subconscious.

What really struck me were the three tests Arjun was made to go through, along with his guide Chandu, by the sadhu. Every level has a deeper meaning attached to it, which to be honest, did not occur to me. Thus, don’t go through life mechanically, but live it to the fullest and always in search of your true calling.

About the author: Priya Kumar wears a number of hats, chief among them being motivational speaker, corporate trainer, author and columnist. She also organises fire walks, i.e., getting people to walk over burning coals, and instilling the phrase ‘Impossible is Nothing.’ And I’m having a strange feeling that she may have conducted a similar walk at my college, almost 5-8 years ago! Imagine that!?

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, however opinions expressed are my own.  

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In a time warp

When you find a good book, like a really, really good book, time seems to stop; it seems irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether its morning or night, dreaded Mondays or happening Fridays, you just want to do one thing- read uninterrupted.

And when you’re immersed in a good book, enjoying the twisted, convoluted plots, every page is a delight. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Terming it as a ‘must-read’ would be an insult as the phrase is readily handed out to titles left, right and centre these days. This book is like a gem you stumble upon in the most unexpected of places. A regular book fair, slumped under a dusty pile of second hand books, lying forgotten.

Set in a small English village, involving a literary genius, a haunted house, twins that have an eerie aura about them and the upsetting travails of the Angelfield family. This is set against a backdrop of misty moors and cold, dark winter. Sometimes, while incredibly absorbed in the book, I’d wish I was reading it in some tiny cottage in the Himalayas during winter and armed with hot chocolate; which is exactly why I’m planning on re-reading The Shining this winter.

The main protagonists, Adeline and Emmeline, the identical twins, are mysterious. Neither do the family members nor the village folk are able to dissect their connected thinking process. Brought up in a broken, dysfunctional family, products of an incestuous relationship, these girls run riot through homes, stealing food and creating quite a ruckus. The renowned author in the story, Vida Winter, reaches out to an amateur biographer, Margaret Lea, so she can spill the secrets of the family that sit heavily on her chest. Winter’s dialogues are as remarkable as her appearances, gaudy and beguiling. In a letter to the biographer, she writes:

“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succour, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”

Apart from Winter and her fame, the backstory of her childhood, of the birth of her mother, existence of the twins, their separation, the story also delves on Lea and her family, with quite a story of their own. With her own twin dead and cut off from her at birth, Lea’s mother has been living quite a half life since then. Brought up in her father’s bookshop, Lea surrounds herself with books and her career too revolves around them. With Lea, I meet for the first time, a fictional bibliophile whose love for books exudes through her words. And I couldn’t have been happier.

“As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. I clean them, do minor repairs, keep them in good order. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines or pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head. Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so. For it must be very lonely being dead.”

This book falls in the genre of Gothic Fiction and similar books such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James have frequently been referred to in the book. These books deal in ghosts and murky family stories of the past, hidden secrets, large manors that are mostly situated in the middle of nowhere, if not the misty moors. These books, such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, have skyrocketed on my to-read list because now I’m craving for so much more.

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Heading East

My life inextricably is woven around food and books. Sometimes, one leads to the other.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to dine at Guppy by Ai. Slowly and surely, I was won over by their clean yet complex flavours. You may have been brought up on sushi, but I distinctly remember the first time I had authentic sushi, the first time I took that hallowed sip of sake and the first time I was thrilled to see the bundle of enoki mushrooms floating in my clear soup.

This gastronomic experience drove me towards their culture, their books and in short, their world. I had even dropped by The Japan Foundation one Saturday afternoon and watched, transfixed, at short Japanese films. The web got more complex and I delved deeper. And then, I stumbled upon Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto. Needless to add, the title roped me in, but boy, what a treat.

I was spellbound by the way the author wove words, one sentence into another, which at first seems simple, but the end result is so fascinating that it seems otherworldly. Her innate sense to tap the reader’s hidden emotions and stirrings was uncanny. A book connected with love and loss, of udon noodles and exquisite dumplings, about being alone in the world with no relative or parent or sibling to depend upon, to face death in the family and to find solace; the story hit me where it hurts the most.

So when I stumbled upon BYOB Delhi (Bring Your Own Book) chapter’s session on Japanese Literature, my heart whooped with joy. Every participant was asked to email a picture of the book they would be talking about in the session. Even though I had read other books by Japanese authors, I picked Kitchen.

Needless to add, a major part of the session was dominated by readers yapping endlessly about Haruki Murakami. Had I read Kafka on the Shore two months earlier, I too would’ve tossed my two bits in the discussion. But listening to other readers share passionately about books left me in a trance. Sometimes, work leaves us in transparent cubicles where we lead our lives silently, without any real physical interaction with strangers. And to be sitting in a room of book lovers, divine!

I left the session with weak knees, vowing to myself to pick up more books by Japanese authors, to understand their temperament, their difficult history, their delicious cuisine and ever changing coordinates of society.

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In search of happiness

There are only two days in the entire year that I look forward to eagerly, like a thirsty man in search of water, like a person in search for an oasis, for life itself. Clearly it’s not by birthday, or even Christmas or Easter, officially designated as ‘eat-till-you-roll’ kind of days. The two days I look forward to are World Book Fair and Delhi Book Fair, both held at Pragati Maidan.

As a kid, I’d always heard about the famed Kolkata Book Fair but was never able to visit it. Maybe my parents feared I’d end up asking for the moon. No, scratch that. Maybe they feared me throwing a tantrum in public, screaming for the moon. Childhood was all about borrowing from friends or from libraries. It was only when I tasted independence during college that I started to buy books, because I could.

And so, when I came back to Delhi after four years in Pune, I landed up at the Delhi Book Fair with my friends. And I haven’t stopped ever since. The joy of visiting a book fair is incomprehensible. My excitement levels go through the roof. I ensure I withdraw a decent amount of money from the bank in advance, and manage to beg for a little more from dad (cherry on top).

Going to the book fair is not an easy task, especially if it’s at Pragati Maidan. It’s a sprawling campus and a day here, fighting the crowd, arms ladled with bags, and sheer exhaustion and thirst, one needs a breakfast of champions to get through the day.

But this day has been such a blessing. I’ve managed to pick up old books, second hand books and even new books of various genres. From replenishing my section on holy books to stumbling over authors of repute, the day is filled with surprises and possibilities.

My most recent expedition was just last Sunday, when I headed again to the hallowed halls of Pragati Maidan for the Delhi Book Fair. And what a loot I came back with? Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, a book by Hunter S. Thompson, a book on the concubine that changed China, finally my own copy of The Shining, a book by Ben Okri, stumbled upon The Thirteenth Tale, that VS Naipaul book I always had my eyes on, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, another Orhan Pamuk for less than Rs 200, oh and so much more. There is a satisfaction of a divine kind that I feel when racing through the titles on display, avoiding the innumerable Jeffrey Archers and John Grishams, the multitude of Cecilia Ahern and yes, Mills and Boon.

My latest loot!
My latest loot!

And when I come back home, tired with sore palms and screaming arms, and I discover that the books I just picked up on a whim are really by celebrated authors and on many must-read lists, my heart fills with pride and my eyes go watery. There can be happiness on earth.

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

Currently, I have a dismal India rank of 5,715,655 and I intend to see this decrease. Over the course of this month, I shall be blogging at least twice a week and my special hashtag for this endeavour is #BetweenPages, for both my theme, related to books and reading, and for sharing the blog posts of my compadres.