"I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string." – L. M. Montgomery
The more I blog, the more I blog. The longer the gap between 2 posts, the less likely it is for the forthcoming post to be out too easily.
In the meanwhile, I came across this genius personal book rating system by a reviewer on Amazon, which categorised books based on what they did for the reader. I improvised and created this for myself:
People read books for many reasons. I categorize books I’ve read as the following:
A – Books that entertained me and I learnt something from
BL – Books from which I learned something
BE – Books that entertain me
C – Books that wasted my time because they did too little of BL or BE for the time invested
I am not changing my star rating system yet, but I really really liked this non-star categorisation system!
Something else about book ratings that appealed to me:
“I divide all literary works into two categories: Those I like and those I don’t like. No other criterion exists for me.” – Anton Chekov (in a letter to a fellow Russian writer in 1890)
Both of these made me think about WHY have I been rating the Agatha Raisin books and Mma Ramotswe books as 4/5 and not 5/5? I do love them both dearly and really, they are are therapy to me. It feels very studpidly uppity to give them 4 stars. I want to give them 5 stars. Because I love them. So I will! The only reason why I had withheld that fifth star earlier was because I didn’t feel they were “deep” enough, but after having read a few of them, I cannot say that any more. These books are teaming with wit and honest observation about daily life and the characters we meet in our own lives, and I honestly cannot fault them.
So, the legend effective henceforth:
Love – 5 stars, Like – 4 stars, Meh – 3 stars
I won’t really have books with 2 or 1 stars because I am good at abandoning books that I don’t like within the first 100 pages.
1. My Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – 4/5
I liked it, but did not love it. I expected a bit more in terms of humour perhaps. However, it was still a very pleasant read and I will be getting more by GH.
2. What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon – 5/5
FINALLY a thoroughly beloved 5 star book! I loved it sooo much and highly recommend it to everyone. The writing was so lyrical, great for lovers of poetry. It was full of love & magic – I loved it. It was also super gripping once it got going (say 50 pages in), and was entirely unputdownable. Finally a book which has lived up to the glorious reviews its received! My first Amy Harmon and I’m eyeing From Sand and Ash next 😃 Or May be her 2020 release – Where the Lost Wander. Either way, I’m super glad to have discovered this author and can’t wait to read more by her! Once I’m through my current TBR pile….grrr.
3. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – 3.5/5
A new to me series with a strong female lead. I was actually very excited about this book (and series) because of the fantastic reviews it’s got. I have to say that I found it very readable and a solid good book, but not GREAT. It was also quite a bit depressing. I was interested in the story, but not hooked. There wasn’t any wit or humour really. It deals with the trauma of people who lived through the First World War in Britain, with a small mystery. Not longing to pick up the next instalment, although readers say the next book has a lot more mystery.
4. Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by Agatha Raisin – 4/5
Standard Agatha Raisin fare but I prefer the ones set in Carsley because of the village life charm that oozes from the Carsely ones.
5. Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death – 5/5
Formulaic but Still comforting & enjoyable
6. Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham – 5/5
Formulaic but Still comforting & enjoyable
Started listening to Little Women audiobook, but really, can’t stop with comparisons with Anne. There is no comparison. Anne is at an entirely different level. So I stopped.
I’m effectively changing my 100 page rule to 50 page rule. If a book doesn’t grab my interest in the first 50 pages, I’m going to let it go because quite frankly, such books end up wasting my time. I wasted almost 2 weeks in January trying to read The Hobbit and then Americanah.
The Hobbit was just boring. The party keep getting caught and escaping… same thing over and over. Sure there are many things in there whichrelate to the human condition, but nothing that is very unique and cannot be felt through other books.
The other book I abandoned (quite early on) was Americanah. I found it a bit fluffy and it had a hypocritical unlikeable lead. The worst kind. Sigh. I had to drop it as I was getting “the rage” towards her.
It got me thinking about unlikeable characters though. Agatha Raisin is also an unlikeable character, but I love those books! Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary was also an unlikeable character – but I liked the book, and did not get “the rage”! Whereas, Lenu in the Neopolitan novels was an unlikeable character, but I got “the rage”. I think the main differences are: (a) when the author takes note of the character and makes inputs (like Flaubert), then as a reader I can side with the author and feel content. OR (b) the unlikeable character isn’t hypocritical and is aware of their terrible behaviour (like in Agatha Raisin), and/or (c) the author through the plotline honors “karma”, hah, that is, the unlikeable character meets the kind of fate that they “deserve”, like with Agatha Raisin (a character like her deserves an equally unlikeable male lead in James Lacey!) and Emma.
But Americanah’s lead character seemed to be very sanctimonious, and the treatment of other characters seemed to be very insulting really. They were flat, and were mostly inserted as embellishments to the story of the lead, and not whole characters by themselves (albeit supporting). The author treated Obinze’s wife with such hostility (for no good reason at the least in the beginning!), that it really irritated me.
I definitely prefer books with likeable and relatable characters, but Agatha Raisin has shown me that I can also thoroughly enjoy books with some unlikeable characters (where the author is AWARE that they’re unlikeable, and the treatment is accordingly appropriate!).
What I’m a bit annoyed with now is that I’m stuck with copies of these books that I can’t even return because it’s beyond Amazon’s 30 day return period! SO. Once I’m done with my TBR, I shall buy books and start reading them immediately, so I can return them if I need to abandon them (like I did with Station Eleven – it was sent right back to Amazon).
p.s.: The formatting is all wrong in this post, and I really can’t be bothered to fix it. 🙂
I’ve updated my rating system since the last time I posted. Here’s my new legend:
5 – Loved it, close to my heart, adore it, highly recommend
4 – Liked it, enjoyable/ gained something from it, recommend
3 – Meh, read at your own risk
2 – Did not like it (likely a book I wanted to abandon, but persevered to finish it and still did not find it worth it)
1 – To be avoided
7. Agatha Raisin & The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton – 4/5
8. Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet – 4/5
9. Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener – 4/5
10. Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley – 4/5
I’ve been on an Agatha Raisin trip these past few days. These books are pure, delightful, escapist pleasure. I started with the first book, and it was quite impossible to not proceed with the next, and the next and the next.
Agatha is an unlikeable lead whom you warm up to. She has her redeeming qualities. She has some good qualities like she’s honest and doesn’t have double standards, she can see through fakeness and isn’t fake herself. Loved it, it gave me the lovely warm and fuzzy feeling I get from Anne books. I think I might’ve become a bit addicted to the “cosy mystery” genre! The character that I’m not too fond of (because I’ve grown fond of Agatha) is James Lacey.
11. Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5
Now that I’m well into the Mma Ramotswe series, I wanted to try other series by AMS.
This is similar to Ladies Detective Agency but also quite different. Writing style is completely different – I prefer the writing in SPC. Plot line & resolution similar & simplistic. What makes it really enjoyable & unique are the philosophical musings. I love thinking about philosophical questions like Isabel, and it felt like we might have been having a conversation. A very unique book & I look forward to more! I would classify more as a philosophy lit rather than mystery. Also, it’s not funny / humourous, but more on the reflective side. One quote which really stood out to me, on account of having met many such characters: “With John Liamor it was not essential to believe in anything; all that was required was the ability to mock.”
12. The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan – 3/5
Christmas fluff. Characters are a bit flat & stereotypical. There are inconsistencies & continuity errors. This definitely needed more editing. I would’ve enjoyed this more as a movie i.e. with gorgeous visuals. Did not have much depth. I was actually disappointed and also bored while reading it. I expected more!
13. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 4/5
A classic. Although, had it been published in 2019 it wouldn’t have had the success it did. It might’ve been classed as too utopian and simplistic. But, I love it for its message. Yes, people don’t really change as quickly as Mr. Scrooge did, but it’s nice to get a reminder every now and then to appreciate and enjoy the lovely people & things around us.
I also started reading but abandoned Unmarriagable by Soniah Kamal (kindle) about a 100 pages in. It reminded me of the movie Mona Lisa Smile because of the setting. The names were very annoying (Mr. Bingley becomes Mr. Bingla??!). May be if you’re not South Asian, you would not be bothered by the names; but I was, because these names sounded wholly unrealistic. Also felt very pseudo-liberal. Girls smoking is considered “liberal and free minded”? How archaic can it get? Probably made worse by the fact that I was listening to Pride & Prejudice (the audiobook), and there is simply no comparison.
I’m wondering, should I also rate the books I did not finish? Because well, I did read them for a while and abandoned for a reason? And this is something I check on Amazon reviews – why did people abandon a book, if they did. Shall think about it.
It did not help that this book has been hyped quite a bit, and I read many a “Don’t overthink this. Just buy this book NOW.” kind of reviews, which meant I had a certain level of expectation from it.
For me, a 3 means “It’s okay, I liked it”. A 4 is “I loved it and I recommend it.” A 5 means “I loved it and would recommend it to errrrrbody”.
I cannot honestly say I liked this book. I simply did not.
First of all, although the story “moves” it was not gripping at all. I am not one who needs major twists and turns to keep things interesting (my favourite books are the Anne books and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix where nothing much really happens plot wise, but it’s all the other wonderful-ness that the author spins around mundane everyday things of life).
But this book just didn’t grab my attention. I kept struggling. I even chucked my 100 page rule (I will abandon a book if it does not interest me even 100 pages into it – life is too short to read things you don’t like). I persevered. But it only got slightly interesting in the last 80 pages or so. I thought that since the author had excellent source material to work with, she might have been able to add more flair and thought to it, but I found that severely lacking. It was a re-telling, yes, and the author was successful in demonstrating a different perspective, but it hasn’t been executed with depth.
The writing felt disjointed at many places. I struggled to gauge why it’s such a bestseller.
This has happened to me in the past with hyped books and it has happened with this book.
5. Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5
6. Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith – 4/5
These are the second and third books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – and I admit I’m a bit addicted to them.
The best thing about these books is the interesting observations on the human condition with a sense of (dry but gentle) humour. Nothing too disturbing or shocking happens (there are some dark themes which are explored, but they have been explored with a mature, optimistic hand).
I love the notes on moral dilemmas and the liberty that the author takes with philosophising (and also knowing when to drop it and get on with the plot).
Again, the sub-plots were not anything out of the world, they were very predictable in fact. However, it’s such a pleasure to read these books, and lose yourself in this world.
I have already ordered the next two books in this series and have also got my hands on the first book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by the same author.
I tried to start The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford (I have a giant omnibus with all of her major works), but couldn’t get into it. Now thinking of starting Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal which is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan – sounds fun and interesting.
I am also listening to an audiobook version of Pride and Prejudice and find it to be perfectly acceptable background noise while working. Audiobook versions of books I’ve already read would only work for this purpose though, because I don’t pay 100% attention while working (obviously). Since I’d already read it, I knew not to panic when I found Jane going from dancing with Mr. Bingley at one moment to being sick and bed-ridden, while Eliza is “taking turns about the room” with Bingley’s sister a couple of hours later.
Separately, I’m also not counting audiobooks in my “books READ” list. Although they are simply different ways of consuming the same content, they are fundamentally different when it comes to experience. Reading is an active pursuit, i.e. your brain needs to be fully engaged. You can’t really “zone out” and “keep reading” at the same time. Your brain is actively creating images for you. When I’m reading, I can vividly “see” what’s happening in the story. I have a full set developed in my head, and I really see the characters going through their stories, and feel with them. It’s an active form of engagement. Listening to audiobooks is akin to watching television. A lot of the imagining is done for you. Audiobook narrators often bring in a lot of “character” with them. It’s a passive form of engagement.
Should I keep a count and rating of all books read?
May be I will start now for 2019, and keep updating this list as I go.
I thought about actually using my Goodreads account, but that felt too “social” and also may be a bit competitive. It would sure feel great to have a visual representation of all the books read in a particular year – what with the lovely pictures they assemble of all the book covers. It’s also a good resource for digging out reviews and making a decision on whether I want to read something or not (though I’ve realised my opinions are most aligned with British readers, so I read reviews over at amazon.co.uk before making book purchase decisions).
The cons of Goodreads, apart from the social aspect is that I don’t know how long Goodreads will last as a platform. My blog is here to stay and it’s much easier to access, search and find what I thought about something if it’s documented here.
And honestly I can’t be bothered to write my thoughts down on multiple platforms. Mainly because I’m doing this for my own record (of my thoughts) and not as a way to keep any kind of score.
Also, have you noticed how Kindle books are pretty much the same price as paperbacks – and sometimes more expensive than paperbacks – these days? I read it’s due to the Agency model, where the publisher determines the price of e-books. With paperbacks, the publisher sells them to the retailer at wholesale prices, and then the retailer determines the final price. Due to this, the retailer is able to offer steep discounts on paperbacks, whereas Kindle books remain at their usual pricing (which is not cut throat, as publishers do not wish to push kindle books over paperbacks).
Now, my dilemma is whether to purchase kindle books or paperbacks for books that I’m not likely to re-read (which is 99% of books). I was all for kindle books for such reads because they were much cheaper (and that also offsets the cost of the Kindle device). But, when prices are the same (or similar, within Rs.100 of each other), I instinctively feel like purchasing the paperback, because I can keep the book in my shelf, share it, and generally the book becomes a collectible. Separately, I quite like the tactical aspect of holding a paperback, it’s smell, and the ability to flip through it quickly.
Paperbacks also means more space for books, but also that your books are safe from an event where the kindle become obsolete.
For now, let’s start with the book that I just finished (numbering and will continue to number in future posts).
1. Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe – 3.5/5
It’s marketed as a comedy, but for the most part, I don’t understand why.
What kind of a person would consider the plight of three little children stuck with their toxic narcissistic mother, desperately trying to find ways to make her happy and get a “new man at the helm” (after their parents’ divorce), because British society of the 1970s tended to ostracise divorcee (women) FUNNY? The book is written from the perspective of young Lizzie Vogel (Nina Stibbe is said to have channeled her own childhood in this autobiographical novel).
I sincerely have more to say about the people who have reviewed this book and said they laughed out loud multiple times, than I do about the book.
My explanation for this misrepresentation is that Nina’s first book (Love, Nina) was actually very funny and humorous, and Nina was hailed as a comic writer. Her publisher might have wanted to continue pitching her work as being in the humour category, and hence put together a bunch of quotes from other eminent authors saying things like this book is “comedy gold”.
This book deals with a heartbreaking subject in a light and airy way. Light and airy not in an insulting way, but because it’s written from the perspective of a child who did not really fully understand why things were the way they were, what she deserves as a child, and how she’s been robbed of that. I loved that Nina maintained her voice and did not “enter” as an adult in the narrative.
While reading this book, I felt very fortunate to have had a fairly normal upbringing. It also threw light on the utterly unfair and bigoted treatment of divorcees (women only) in 1970’s rural England.
What warms your heart up in the book is the resourcefulness and solution oriented-ness of the children. And of course the story itself is warm and uplifting.
I liked that this book dealt with a serious and depressing subject in a way that was not gloomy or bleak. It was full of optimism, something that only a child’s perspective can lend.
This is why I like Nina Stibbe’s work. She deals with everyday things with a light hand, but without losing its depth, but also not be preying on the vulnerabilities of the reader with the intention of producing a tear jerker (which sadly many bestselling books are).
I finished this book in about 4 days (I only read in the evenings after work) which means it was quite addictive once it got going. I’d recommend it to others but please don’t expect a to laugh out loud too much (and if you do, don’t tell me), the way your would in Love, Nina. Overall, it’s a lovely book which eventually warms your soul in a comforting way, and leaving you wanting to laugh a little and cry at the same time.
Next in this line of books is Paradise Lodge, but I think I’ll read some other things before that (considering how many unread books are lying in my shelves!).
I’m on a bit of a blogging roll here, and I want to keep up with the momentum (while it lasts).
I’ve been meaning to document a few of my recent leisure reads but each time I’d get to the appropriate “books read” part of a round up blog post, I was already too tired of writing, and would promise a future installment.
Also, these are books that have made some impression on me, and I want to remember them, so it makes sense to blog about them. I normally abandon books if they don’t grasp my interest by page 100.
I so badly wanted to fall in raving, mad love with The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield. It sounded like something I would be thoroughly entertained by. I highly enjoy reading books set in this Edwardian-Victorian era. Also, I stumbled upon this book while looking up books that people who liked Nina Stibbe’s Love Nina: Despatches From Family Life would like. And I LOVED Love Nina. Had to read it in a single sitting with breaks for meals and sleep.
The subject matter of Provincial Lady is intriguing, and I feel it is enlightening in many aspects, but in terms of comic value, it simply has not delivered yet (which it has promised!! otherwise I would not expect it as a matter of right). The husband seems to be too mean a character to be found funny, and the provincial lady herself seems quite petty. Also, there is some dialogue in French with no English translation footnotes, which are hard to keep track of. I am halfway through the first book. I really want to like it, if not love it; and I’ll certainly persevere. BUT, persevere is really not a world I want to use while talking about leisure reads. They are supposed to be delightful escapes (hopefully dotted with insightful thoughts and HUMOUR, lots of humour).
Provincial Lady is now my 10 minute filler read for whenever I don’t have enough time to dive in, but want to be lightly entertained for a bit.
Now, coming to the two L. M. Montgomery books. I carried these two to Maldives with me, and my my, it was the perfect reading experience. Away on a secluded island, surrounded by heart-achingly beautiful nature, it was the perfect place to experience Maud’s descriptive deep dives. I loved Jane of Lantern Hill. It was a super quick, entertaining, engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable read which uplifts and soothes your soul. You feel for the poor lead character, starved of emotional connection, an underestimated and neglected soul. As with all of Maud’s work, it paints glorious pictures of her beloved Prince Edward Island, and takes her heroine through many adventures which you wish you had as a kid. It made me want to rewind my childhood and go live on a farm somewhere. It also made me want to always have a lovely table cloth and fresh cut flowers on my dining table. You’ll want to too, when you read the book!
Chronicles of Avonlea is a collection of short stories by L. M. Montgomery. Many of the stories feature Anne as a side character. Not as unputdownable as Maud’s novels, but still highly entertaining. They are all pretty much about similar themes, but with their own little subtle nuances. I’ve never been one to read short stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed this compilation. It also felt special to read this particular copy as it was printed before I was even born (bought it second (or whatever) hand on Amazon).
I keep reading educational, interesting non-fiction and spiritual material almost always. One non-fiction book which I recently read (on my Kindle, and hence no picture) and found valuable was Deep Work by Cal Newport. If you’re finding it hard to focus, it’s a good book to get ideas on techniques for getting that focus back into your work life. The method of working prescribed by Cal is my natural way of doing things. But, it’s always interesting to read another person’s take on “how to do life” (and work!!). The most interesting parts of the book were about case studies and anecdotes about how other people use this sort of principle to order their work life. Loved it and it was a good stimulus to think about my own routines and habits (current and over the years)
A couple of hours ago I had finished reading Liz Rosenberg’s biography of the beloved L.M. Montgomery, titled “House of Dreams: The Life of L. M. Montgomery“. I finished it in pretty much a single sitting. Monday saw me deep dive into all things Prince Edward Island. Tuesday, I read (and re-read) numerous articles on Maud, and ordered this book on Amazon. Wednesday the book arrives. It’s Thursday afternoon now.
The last line in the book is a poignant sentence from her once private (now widely published and read (with her consent)) journals:
“Perfect happiness I have never had – never will have… yet there have been, after all, many wonderful and exquisite hours in my life.”
Through out the biography, I kept wondering what it was that made Maud the way she was. The way she lived in two extremes – in her own mind. Why couldn’t she focus more on the splendid things in her life? Why did she find herself fixating on things that were beyond her control? Why did she never grow out of the anxiety caused by the pressure of living under a constant doom of “what will people think?” which was ingrained in her early childhood? Why did she not have much emotional growth personally?
Maud had faced early loss and abandonment in her life. She felt socially and emotionally stunted in her early years (until the age of 15 or so). However, she still had all of the material comforts any child of that time could have needed. She also went on to have a lovely sprint as a student, and then a teacher. She kept meeting with stiff resistance from her patriarchal grandfather, but she had some silent support from her grandmother. A lot of her decisions have baffled me, though. And I was also surprised to find so much focus on things she lacked – even when she did not really lack much. Through out each stage of her life, she had at least one close confidante and supporter, and often more. She was surrounded by friends and cousins. She had an active social life. She was fairly rewarded for her early short story writing career. She received instant success with her novels. When her grandmother died, she was a financially independent woman – something which was rare and unheard of in rural Canada of that time. She had many, MANY good things going for her.
It is also possible that just like her heroines, she romanticised pain and suffering. That could be one potential explanation for her fixation on melancholy. She also romanticised the idea of loss. Even though she promised to be a “messenger of optimism and sunshine” (which most certainly has been) to her audience, it seems she was not able to converse to her own self in that same vein. She also found the most depressing things to manically obsesses about – like the two World Wars. Of course, through all of this, she managed to escape into her literary worlds and spun tales of effortless joy and hope for her audience. But, dear Maud, why didn’t you create such worlds in your own daily life? Why didn’t you use your imagination create a sense of loveliness in your own actual life?
This biography has left me with more questions than answers. I must read her actual journals, and try to see if I can make any sense of it. Of course, I am fully prepared to not receive answers to my questions even then.
Just as I thought it was a good time to take a break from Maud (now that this book had come to an end), I watched a bit of Masterchef Australia over lunch. Then, I indulged in 10 minutes of Instagram scrolling, where I came across this news headline:
“Saravana Bhawan founder Rajagopal, facing life term for murder, dies.” – 18th July 2019
Really? I know nothing about this person. But, I imagined the founder of a wildly successful food chain to have some peace in his life. And peaceful people don’t kill other people.
It seems like the Universe is sending a definite messages across.
Fame & fortune and happiness & peace are two different things. They are not mutually exclusive, but the former does not guarantee the latter.
Ramiz Baba Challenge 5 (IPL 2019) (“RBC“) concluded on 12th May, with a much anticipated Motabhai (Mumbai Indians) victory over Dhoni’s team (Chennai Super Kings). We watched it with friends, and even after having gone Mumbai 90% as my prediction for the night, I ended up rooting for CSK as I thought a CSK win might still benefit me (on account of the predictions those around me on Leaderboard, who had even higher %% than 90%). Ultimately, despite an MI win, I pretty much stayed where I was due to MATHS. I ended up earning as many points with a 90 as others did with 95 or even 100 as I’d played fewer games (taken more leaves), and that meant more movement with a smaller match score (it’s complicated, but not that much) (those who have played this will understand).
RBC took up a lot of my mindspace from end of March to early May. It not only provided tons of entertainment, but I also ended up learning a thing or two about T20 cricket, the various IPL teams, local players, international players, etc. I can’t say I would’ve learnt any of this had it not been for my involvement in RBC (and TRUST ME, RBC sucks you in). It was actually really nice to have something specific planned for every single evening (i.e. watching and obsessing over the match). It filled up a lot of time that I didn’t realise earlier needed filling. Being a part of RBC also made me feel like a part of a friendly & engaged community. It was SUCH a fun experience and I was REALLY sad when it ended. Luckily, we have the ICC Cricket World Cup coming up end of this month so here’s to RBC Season 6!!
Almost forgot to mention, but I ended up Rank 9 out of 67 total players (not all played actively) (but that’s not to say that they did not play WELL; in fact many players who did not play actively at all but only played their defaults ended up well above many who did in fact play very enthusiastically and made active choices for each match). I was overall happy with finishing 9th (as a first time who did not know anything much about cricket or IPL or current players), but it’s of course a lie to say that I didn’t care about the rank 😛
I was perhaps most happy about finishing above the husband (“Y“) (who finished at 10). Hoping this will shut him up about sports&maths and my lack of knowledge about the same for a bit (hasn’t happened so far, the shutting up ie :D)
Yes, much of the last few weeks was all about the RBC, and seriously, even 5 long posts about it will not cover the happy influence it has had on me.
Summer is well and truly here, and I have discovered my favourite summer drinks to be: home made aam panna, jal jeera (Catch jaljeera powder works just fine), fresh chaas from home made dahi, mango milk share made with just alphonso mangoes and milk (sheer bliss).
Y has received a much anticipated promotion at work, which has led to many celebratory outings and meals!
We have FINALLY replaced our sink-y sofas with new, firm sofas! One is a lovely L shaped sofa which is basically a three seater and a chaise lounge (my new spot) put together. The other is a chesterfield-esque arm chair from Gulmohar Lane, which honestly was such a HUGE disappointment. They basically sent a defective piece, and then made it impossible for me to return it (I might write in detail about this later, as I was really excited about this piece, but sadly, it was a major disappointment). Suffice to say I will never be ordering from Gulmohar Lane again, and I don’t recommend it as they do not understand their customer’s basic needs at all. It’s a pity really, because they do have some lovely designs.
A huge cyclone hit my home state and particularly my hometown of Bhubaneswar early in May – Cyclone Fani. It was much worse than anticipated by the people, but was properly accounted for by the government. I couldn’t get in touch with my family for about 2 whole days after the cyclone made landfall because of the extensive damage done to the electricity & telecom infrastructure. It was rather nerve wrecking. I did manage to piece together vital information from my friend T who kept me posted as soon as she got network, Instagram posts from people there (some who had small moments of access managed to post online), and other people I know from there who happened to have a bit of network now and then. It’s been about two weeks now, and they have regular electricity back (came back only after about 8-10 days!!!) (but they managed in the interim as their apartment complex had a diesel generator which operated every other hour or so), but network is still patchy and unreliable at best. We have still not been able to video chat, although regular phone calls are working alright and whatsapp is also working fine.
Y and I have FINALLY booked our summer vacation (a short 5 day trip to the Maldives in June). Yeayyyyy!!! A week is all that Y could manage in leave at this point, and I’m not grumpy about it at all. This is a pretty last minute trip, and planning any thing longer than 5-6 days this close is NOT my scene (I love planning every little detail months in advance, yes). After an all-consuming three days of endless research, obsessive review reading, photo to photo comparison across TripAdvisor Instagram Facebook (user generated content is the most authentic!), we have finally decided on Vilamendhoo Island Resort & Spa. I will keep you posted on how it fares.
I also realised I BADLY need out of town breaks (preferably nature breaks) every couple of months or at least once in three months. It’s a must to refill the tank, and refuel creative energies. When one is constant creating all kinds of work, and content-y things (for work), it can be quite draining, and a break is quite necessary to sustain momentum. By the time we go for this Maldives vacation, it will have been 7 full months since my last break).
May 2019 was also the month of the last few Game of Thrones episodes. Like most other people who have read, watched and loved the series, I too was disappointed by the gaping holes in the writing this season. I could finally like the second half of the last episode (after hating on an entire season), because I could accept those endings as things GRRM must have come up with and communicated with the writers. BUT the writers used those ends, but did not link from where the source material left off with the endings in a proper way AT ALL. The only good thing about this terrible writing is that I did not really feel sad about GOT ending. I was quite indifferent today when I watched the last last episode!
I have ordered a new Katie Daisy Planner for 2019-2020 from bookdepository.com. It was supposed to have shipped on May 15th, but it hasn’t still shipped and now I’m in a conundrum about whether to cancel it, and order on Amazon.com (and pay higher shipping), or just wait for BD to get its act together.
I also ordered some lovely stationery from a chinese shop on Etsy, but that also hasn’t yet arrived (some not so great luck with international stationery shipping of late).
But, on the bright side, I have snagged a few second hand books from Amazon which arrived in great condition: Emma Block’s book on watercolors looks lovely on my shelves (and it does not feel like a second hand copy at all in that it is in perfect/ unused condition), Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (which is just such a delight, please look it up), Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Chronicles of Avonlea. I’m still deciding which book(s) to carry with me for the holiday, and I’m really drawn towards LMM because of all the endless nature scenes in her work which I find most refreshing. Also, I’m making a conscious choice of turning into a hoarder rather than ordering kindle books (where possible), because I find it most cumbersome to “flip through” a kindle book while re-reading. I might donate some of my not-favourites later for space reasons, but until then I will keep adding. I also love the tactile feel of holding a real paperback (can’t say I love the feeling of holding a big, heavy hardback), and writing my name on the first page (I ALWAYS write my name, and the month I read/ started reading it in), dog-earing the pages as my own bookmark, marking and underlining non-fiction and other such simple pleasures which only a paperback affords.
Potential new neighbours might take a long time to move in, because they are getting extensive renovation work done (pretty much gutted the whole house). Let’s see.
BlogOwner (“BO“) is making her way through Nancy Mitford’s 8 novels, first of which is Highland Fling, which BO has just finished reading.
Published in 1931, Highland Fling is her (Nancy Mitford’s) debut novel, and unfortunately it does somewhat feel that way – a first “attempt” of sorts. Normally she (BO) abandons a book if it doesn’t engage her within the first 100 pages (her 100 Page Rule) (because, sorry, but decisions on sunk cost are not being made here). However, this book turned out to be educational in some ways, so she carried along.
BO had been reading up about the Mitford sisters for a while, and wanted to dig into some of Nancy Mitford’s beloved works like The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. However, it was quite hard to find well priced paperbacks in the Indian market. Nancy is not one of those ubiquitous English authors here, so well, one had to look. Finally, she stumbled into an omnibus publication!!! All 8 Nancy Mitford novels, published in one paperback volume, for under Rs. 1000? Yes, please.
As expected, of course, the volume is quite unwieldy, and does not make for a good travel companion (which is a shame, because these books are perfect for entertaining, holiday reading). Also, the type is pretty small, with very tight line spacing. One can safely assume 1 page of the omnibus would translate into 1.8 – 2 pages of a modern paperback. However, all of this was expected from a volume which comes with eight, EIGHT novels in one value-for-money volume.
Having laid her paws on this little (only metaphorically) volume, BO decided to read them in order of publication.
First up, was Highland Fling. Most of the humour felt a little forced, and too cutting – you will understand when you read it. The story doesn’t quite go anywhere (which is usually not a problem for BO when the narrative is strong). You keep waiting for something to happen, but nothing much really does.
The characters are strong and well developed, and it gives a little glimpse into the world of the aristocratic society of pre-Second-World-War Britain. There are interesting observations to be made, and BO found it rather educational (as she is not a British lady from that era, or any era). Fans of Downton Abbey will appreciate it, although of course, that was set in the Edwardian era, it is interesting to note the difference in sentiments between generations.
There were some “darker” themes explored with regard to war, particularly the views of the two generations in the book towards it. BO has been reading some other books set in that time frame (Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery – which had to do with the First World War), so it was particularly engaging for her. It’s also quite fascinating in context of the events of the past couple of months here in India – where much discussion about war has taken place.
Coming back to Highland Fling, BO wouldn’t really recommend it to others, EXCEPT if they exhibit a particular interest in that period in Britain, or they are a completist.
Here’s hoping Christmas Pudding (the next in line) is better 🙂
Happy to report that Blogowner (“BO“) finished this little gem a couple of weeks back – Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe – and can’t wait to get into more of Nina’s writing. It’s a collection of letters that Nina wrote to her sister back in the 1980s when she was nannying for Mary Kay Wilmers of London Review of Books fame.
It’s interesting to note how she came about to publish these letters. Turns out she read out one of these at a party to honour Mary Kay, and MK being the literary type, there were many publisher types present. One of them reached out to Nina about the possibility of publishing the letters, to which MK said no the first time around. After a couple of years, she (Nina) was asked again, and this time MK agreed. So. Thank you MK!!
BO loves reading things about the mundane things in people’s lives, nuances in relationships, things that one often only reports to confidantes they speak to on a daily basis – particularly (read: only) when they are narrated with a sense of humour. Nina’s letters to her sister are very much of this nature. Nothing much really happens, except all the little things that pepper their daily lives with much humour every now and then.
The main topics that Nina talks about are – the family that she lives with, relationships with her neighbours and things they do together, some cooking adventures, her reading, lots of observations on people who visit the family, and so on. Basically daily life type things. Note that many of her neighbours are famous British literary & film types (such as Alan Bennett). Nothing earth shattering. Nothing shocking. Just pure entertainment.
BO is quite inspired by Nina’s healthy social life with her neighbours, seeing that BO has been making attempts to get to know her own neighbours (in a totally non-creepy way).
While midway through this book, BO went ahead and ordered Nina’s first work of fiction (Man at The Helm), although it’s supposed to be quite autobiographical. She also discovered several other authors while spiralling in this British-funny-writing rabbit hole. Turns out, she really loves the British, except the colonisation bit.
Love, Nina is supposed to be all non-fiction, with very little tweaking, but these letters have so many hilarious bits that BO was quite envious of Nina leading such a life full of funny episodes.
In one of her letters she says:
“There’s always a lot of autobiography in fiction and fiction in autobiography. It has to be that way otherwise they’d be unreadable (except by the author).” (page 238)
BO quite agrees with this assessment. Also something that should be taken note of while reading this Blog (autobiographical).
This book is a little treasure trove of funny anecdotes, and stories – with lots of interesting (very real) characters. She (BO) didn’t want these letters to stop.
Does Nina Stibbe write a blog?
p.s..: Please leave behind recommendations for books written by authors with a sense of humour. Much obliged.
p.p.s.: Apparently there is a BBC Miniseries based on Love, Nina. (note to self: Get hold of it.)
What is an often left unsaid, strange & tricky side of “adulting”?
MAKING NEW FRIENDS.
There, I said it. I don’t care if it makes me sound like a creepy little person who wants to make fraandship, but it’s really friendship (heck, I’d even take acquaintance-ship at this point) that I’m after.
When you’re a kid or a teenager, you go to school, college, etc. You are forced to meet people over and over. You’re kind of forced to have a seat partners, and designated seating areas, group projects & assignments, extra curricular activities – all fertile territory for healthy friend-making. At the least you land up with a nice little network of acquaintances that you can casually refer to as “my friend”. For example in a conversation about snacks, you are well within your right to refer to an acquaintance as a friend like so:
“Oh, yeah, a friend of mine is from Pune – he gets the best bhakarwadi ever!“
If you work in an office, yes, you have great opportunity there to meet a bunch of people with a similar background as yours. You might even manage to make a few friends, but lets be honest, they are mostly strictly “work friends”, and we all know what that means. You have a close set of people you like to bitch about your boss with, and the rest are polite conversation worthy at best. If you’re lucky, you might meet a kindred spirit or two, and if you are very lucky, they are not the “competitive types” as such (and I’m assuming, dear sweet reader that you are also not of that annoying variety), and you can genuinely be great friends – well in any case if you are both weirdly competitive and are still kindred spirits, it could still work. The verdict isn’t out on that one yet.
BUT. What happens when you work from home? Or you move jobs and there aren’t too many people in your office who are in a similar age group as yours? What then?
As you probably know, BlogOwner has been a full time work from home professional for more than 4 years now. FOUR YEARS of not having new people be introduced to her daily life and routine. It takes a toll, people. It does.
The “turn” perhaps happened in May of 2015 (about 6 months after going full independent with her job) when BO felt an urgent need to “make some friends”.
Since then, she has attended group fitness classes (too much of a pain to get to and get back from because she doesn’t drive), joining two different gyms etc. Although, she did meet a kindred spirit at her Crush Fitness class – it really was the funniest story. Both of them looked at each other in the first class and thought the other must be a teenager still in college (and obviously way younger and naive-er than themselves who was a working professional and also married). At the next class, they happened to walk out of the class together and they got chatting. The conversation went something like this (remember, this is something that happened 4 years back):
Her: So what do you do/ study?
Me: *airily with a hint of elderly superiority* Erm, I am a lawyer turned photographer. What about you? You’re in college?
Her: *looking shocked and amused* I am a journalist! I work, and I’m married.
Me: *looking even more surprised* Me too! I got married last year! Oh my God I totally thought you were in college.
Her: I thought the same about you!!
Me, not sure if I actually said this, but I thought it for sure: We should congratulate each other on looking so young!
After this little initial chat, we had gone on to chat about various things including my career transformation (which was and still is a topic of a lot of interest to working people, and me obviously, because I love talking about it :P), her dreams of starting her own fashion boutique (she wanted to be a journalist turned fashion designer, sweet readers, how talented is this lady!). Talking about hopes and dreams is something that I instantly connect with people over, though it seems like the last thing you’d want to talk to a practical stranger about. Well, I guess this is how you “make friends” as an adult!
Any way, the sad thing is that I stopped going to that class because it was seriously annoying having to Uber a cab in sweaty clothes outside the little alley in which the Gym was (thank you very much, Delhi).
Then, I actually did happen to make an adult friend (as I call her – which I’ve been told sounds super shady, but you know what I mean!! If it’s unclear, it means a new friend I made as an adult – there!) totally organically through one of my photography assignments. K and I just hit it off from our very first conversation, and we bonded over our deep seated, mutual love and respect for Anne of Green Gable and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I rarely ever meet people who are the kind of Anne fans that I am, and K and I bonded over how Gilbert spoilt boys for her, and Diana spoilt friends for me. Ever since our first chat, all our conversations have been stream of consciousness type of flows where the words simply tumble out without too much overthinking about what the other person might think of them.
We met a few times, and then did not for a year or two. sidenote: I guess when you get old (-er than teenage years), a year or two is not that long a time, you know?
Then we ended up meeting a lot in 2018 as we were both in a similar place of needing to make new adult friends (yes we talked about it – it’s normal!! If you don’t know what this feels like, you are quite blessed I must enviously admit), as she too worked from home and was an independent professional.
Then, she moved to Mumbai – I am so happy for this so many reasons. (a) I LOVE that K got a lovely new job that she wanted and moved to (b) The best city ever. She’s really cool, and into the arts but not in a pretentious or snobbish way, but in an intelligent, respectful and wise way – which makes it wonderful to bond with her about all things culture. So I’m happy she gets to express this side of hers in a city that is so accepting and loving.
BUT coming back to BO’s situation at hand – adult friends. One in proximity. Gone. To another city. Sure we text, but we all know it’s not the exact same thing. When you meet someone frequently you can tell them about silly and stupid things about your life like you ate a new kind of chips and you loved it (or hated it, or whatever) – which seems a bit too stupid and silly to say over text. Though I know there may be friends that you do share that kind of things with over text, but for me, it’s just not the same. At least Facetime.
Fast forward to 2019. BO has now felt the need to know her actual neighbours better. It felt rather absurd, in a belated shocked kind of way, that she did not really know any one her own age in this colony of over 500 inhabitants (rough estimate).
Enter the local Zumba class.
BO loves all things dance and fitness. So it really seemed like the perfect thing to do in the evenings. 6:30 – 7:30 pm? Why, that’s when I anyway do my workout! Perfect timing. Where is it you say? Hardly 100 metres from my place? Sign. me. up.
And sign up she did.
She has been going for about a week now and it has been refreshing to see new faces, and also to see the same new faces over and over. One lovely lady even distributed chocolates for her birthday! How sweet, and community minded is that? BO really felt like she was back in school – in the best possible way (don’t lie, free birthday chocolates were your favourite thing about school too :P)
On a slightly different topic, I am very excited about this book:
I had to read her book once I read her “advice” from this remarkable little book called “Life Lessons From Remarkable Women” by Stylist Magazine. I actually first heard about this on Tea & Tattle – a delightful podcast by Miranda Mills which I listen to while painting. Highly recommended.
The title of Nina’s essay is “Why 99% of Advice Can Be Ignored“. It really spoke to me, and I am one of those people who will listen pliantly to every person’s sage advice, nodding right along, but will go on to do exactly what she wants. Every time I have done this, it has served me very well. So I take it Nina is a bit of a kindred spirit in doling out the same “advice” (the irony is not lost on me). I hope I love her book!
As you see this is a Wednesday morning, and instead of doing my regularly scheduled work programming for Wednesdays (social media, social media, social media), I have been blogging! Back to work for now! Hoping to keep up my blogging, but on weekends, or after hours!! Wish me luck!