Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

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It took me sometime to pick up the much touted book  “To Kill a Mocking Bird”.  It would have been a miss had I not picked it up.  Written by Harper Lee, the book turned out to be a thought provoking and a delightful read.  In an emphatic fashion the author describes a story of a lawyer, his values, his family and in the process highlights the ironies of the human race.

  1. The Story and the Scope-  Set up during the period of racism in USA, To Kill a Mocking Bird is a story of a righteous white lawyer, Atticus, who fights a case of a rape accused black. The society knows that the black is innocent but the society along with Atticus also knows that the black will be, in fact, he has to be punished in a white dominated society. The upright  Atticus thinks of the case as a lifetime opportunity for him to live his belief, and he lives it, with full weight,   knowing the fact that he and his family will be mocked by his own society for doing so.  The story is a sharp attack on the hypocrisy of human beings and on the social order which permits inequality. The story also highlights the goodness residing inside humans. In its scope, other than racism, the book beautifully captures the innocence and the curiosity of the children and their tussle to prove that they are grown up.
  2. The Flow of Plot – The story is narrated by Scout, daughter of Atticus. The first part of the book is more about Scout, her brother Jem and their childhood plays. Gradually, without making it conspicuous, the story shifts to Atticus and his case. And suddenly the gentle but gripping story turns to a page turner. Once you realize the shift, you would also realize that there are some unresolved and unconnected pieces in the plot but in the end all the pieces nicely falls in the place. Overall, the flow is superb.
  3. The Characters –  I have read the book sometime back  but I still remember the characters and their qualities, so lastingly they have been portrayed by the author. The adorable character of Atticus lives life beyond the story and the book. Brave, super courteous and upright in nature, Atticus is a paragon of human virtue.  His daughter Scout is a fierce girl who has been raised without mother and  his son Jem always itches to prove that he is grown up, a desire which is so wanted by the kids.  The childhood play of the kids revolve around Boo Radley – a neighbor who has never been seen in public- and the kids desire to meet him.
  4. The Language-  The language and the text is coherent and fluid.  Author has impactfully presented the moral conundrums of humans, the ironies of the society and the psyche of the growing children.   One phrase which stands out in my mind is Frog sticking without light,  a phrase which perhaps has come in to usage after being used by the author in the book, even if it had existed before.  The truth about the moral issues are described in plain but effective manner.

Few pearls from the book:

  •   Atticus finch on why he would fight for a black, knowing the end result: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. 
  • Describing the feelings about thing which is your second habit : “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” 
  • “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
  • “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
  • A daughter’s pride described: “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
  • “Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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Book Review: The Book Thief

” I am haunted by humans”.        images

The ending of the The Book Thief is as true and impacting as it can be.

The Book Thief is a true masterpiece of a work by Markus Zusak, a work in which Death has a story to tell. And what a touching story he has and how beautifully he narrates it.   No, don’t infer that the book is about death and horror.  It is much more than that, it has a beautiful story, woven around a girl and an equally good narration in the backdrop of Hitler’s Germany.

The Story and the Scope: Set in the reign of Hitler, in a town of Germany, the story is about a girl, Leisel, her family and friend. The story is about the harsh realities, about the parental love, about the friendship, about the selflessness and selfishness, about the rich and the poor, about the war and yes it is about the death too.  Full marks to the author for brilliantly depicting the relationships, especially for the adorable depiction of Leisel’s cordial relationship with her father, I almost felt like it is the depiction of the my relationship with my daughter.  The condition of the Jews and the treatment met to them under the Hitler’s regime is also profoundly presented.

The Presentation and Organization: Wow!! Delightful!! Unique!! The presentation is simply superlative. With death as the narrator, the tone of the story changes multiple shades – with death being incisive at times, humorous at some places and sarcastic at some other times. Very peculiar to this book, the author presents the by-product thoughts (if that is the term I can use for all the secondary thoughts which flow in mind while focus is on primary thoughts) in the form of intervention notes, right in the middle of the page and these notes actually add lot of value to the story.  The book is organized into 10 chapters with several  small sub chapters under each.  Such kind of organization tempts reader in to reading those extra few chapters which usually would be postponed to the next seating.

The Flow of plot: On this front too, Zusak is brilliant. No amount of organized approach would help if the plot does not evolve smoothly.  At no point in time, author has lost the grip on the plot.  The flashbacks and the flash-forwards (Oh, this is another unique attribute, the author has flash-forwarded the story on few occasions and reveled the secrets when least expected, and then he merrily returns the story to its present) never looks out of story and are well timed.

The Characters: As a reader, I found it very easy to connect with the characters as most of them are real. Apart from the narrator and Leisel, there are several interesting characters.  There is Leisel’s friend Rudy, who thinks himself to be Jesse Owen, has habit of poking nose in others affairs and ending up in trouble. Leisel’s mother is temperamental, practical and has habit of using slang as every other word. Leisel’s father is a simple man who plays an amateur accordion and for Leisel there is no one who can play the accordion better than him.  There is Jewish fist fighter, Max, who gets shelter in the house of Leisel and with whom Leisel develops and indescribable attachment.  Of course,  through Max, the author despises everything for which Hitler stands for, and he is quite successful in evoking hatred towards Hitler.

The Language: The language used is such that the tones adopted by the narrator hits like an arrow.   The author is at his best when he writes about Hitler and when he describes the Death’s point of view about his job.  The realities of day to day life are also crisply described.

This is how narrator flash-forwards the story:  “Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

Some crisp statements:

“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

“Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness. “
“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

“A small fact:
You are going to die….does this worry you?”

“I guess humans like to watch a little destruction. Sand castles, houses of cards, that’s where they begin. Their great skills is their capacity to escalate.

And Death’s statement on his job:
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race-that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”

She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”

“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.”

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Books for beginners (Non Fiction): https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/suggested-read-for-beginners-ii-non-fiction/

Books for beginners (Fiction): https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/suggested-book-reads-for-a-beginner-fiction/

Book Review: Lord of the Flies

Lord of the flies is regarded as one of the best English novel, and for most part of the book I wondered why!!  Written by Nobel Prize winner, William Golding, the book presents a story which explores the two competing attitudes inside the human beings.  The book fails in many aspects, foremost aspect being the coherence.  There are good things too, but they are few and far.

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  1. The Plot: A group of school boys lands in an uninhabited island due to a plane crash. The boys, in their own childlike manner they try to establish rules to govern themselves but then the lack of resources leads to the awakening of that villainous and barbaric spirit which resides inside the humans and the result is savagery!!  The plot may seem interesting, but its flow and its development are dull.  Far too often the writer has described the events or symbols which do not gel with the plot.
  1. The Theme: The main theme of the novel is civilization vs. savagery.  The formation of a group, ego clashes between the two leaders and the deterioration of the group are the real world happenings which author has attempted to capture, but the attempt does not have much impact.  The renegading of children from civilized to unruly group, though irrational, is real – as in real world too, the renegades do renegade blindly rather than rationally.
  1. The Characters: All the characters in the book are kids.  Ralph and Jack are the two main characters and for me neither is interesting.  Good characters need to communicate with the readers so as to have a lasting impression and none of the characters of this book are able to arouse any emotion. The only exception, perhaps, being Piggy, a fat but logical child, who is the center of the fun and joke of the others and whose glasses play an important role in the book.
  1. The Language: The descriptions of the savaged boys killing a Pig as the hunt and then their killing of an apparent ghost are excellent. But apart from that there is nothing much. The author is verbose at many places and the narration can be skipped.  Overall, the reading is boring.

The book has its theme as the only good part, but the story, its development and the characters are not impacting.

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Books To Read For Beginners

Fiction: https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/suggested-book-reads-for-a-beginner-fiction/

Non- Fiction: https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/suggested-read-for-beginners-ii-non-fiction/

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Suggested Book Reads for a Beginner -II (Non Fiction)

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The second list of the Suggested Book Reads for a beginners focuses on non- fiction category. I must confess that the list by now way is exhaustive, as it is impossible to make a complete list. So, here is the list (in no particular order):

1. Built To Last by Jim Collins ( Business and Management): The book’s focus is on the fundamental differences between a great and an average company. Several examples from the real world are included to drive the differences.

2. Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch (Business and Management): The legendary Jack Welch talks about his career as the leader of GE. Simple language and simplified but valuable lessons.

3. Autobiography of Lee Iacocca (Business and Management): Lee Iacocca takes through his inspirational journey in Ford and Daimler Chrysler.

4. Made In America by Sam Walton (Business and Management): The autobiography of Sam Walton, the man who created the mammoth Wal-Mart.

5.  Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson (Business and Management):  Two Mice and Two humans, describes the commonly occurring challenges and issues in the workplace.

6. It happened Only in India by Kishor Biyani (Business and Management): Autobiography of the man behind Big Bazaar. The book is a simple read and it pertains to the Indian entrepreneur.

7. The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das (Philosophy/Social): In a very unique fashion, Gurcharan Das – former CEO of P&G, analyses each character of Mahabharata in detail. He then draws the learnings from them and applies those learnings to answer the questions on moral and ethical dilemma existing in the contemporary world.

8. The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant (Philosophy): A concise overview on the great philosophers and their philosophy.

9. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda (Spirituality): A simple story which gives insight on the Indian way of spirituality and self realization. By the way, Steve Jobs was so mightily impressed with this book that he read it several times, and he gifted the copies of this book to friends and family. It is also considered to be his last gift to them.

10. Krishna: The Man and his Philosophy by Osho (Spirituality):  I am a Krishna Fan, and no better person to explain Krishna than Osho. In his book he has drawn comparisons between Krishna and other greats – Buddha and Mahavira.

11. It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong (Sports- Autobiography): Inspirational. I must say it is a bible of inspiration. Lance Armstrong talks about his fight with cancer and how he then went on to become the world champion in the most grueling sporting event of cycling.

12. Out of the Comfort Zone by Steve Waugh (Sports- Autobiography): The gritty Steve Waugh talks about his journey to greatness with several interesting anecdotes.

13. Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki (Finance): Through the life style of two people ‘rich dad’ and ‘poor dad’ Kiyosaki teaches the basic investing decisions and he management of the personal finances. The book is simple to understand.

14. Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt (Economics): With very little technicalities the authors try to explore the hidden side of the common occurrences through the periscope of economics.

15.  Law for the Layman by M.J. Anthony (Legal): Overview of the laws to make a commoner aware about his rights and laws (India) affecting day to day life. One highly informative book.

16. Seven Habits of Highly Effective people by Stephen Covey (Self Help): One of the most recommended book of this genre. The chapters on Win-Win and First things First are my favorite.

17. The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma (Self Help):  A simple read. Read it long back but still remember the 21 day formula of doing a particular act to make it a habit and I still share it with others.

18. Glimpses of the World History by Jawaharlal Nehru (History): Collection of letters which Nehru sent from the prison to his daughter. In the letters he has, in a very simple manner, described the entire world history. The book is voluminous but the chapters are not very long and the language is simple.

19. Indian Unbound by Gurcharan Das (India/Economics): Gurcharan Das discusses the India’s economic journey post independence. It gives good insight on the Hindu Growth Rate period.

20.Stay Hungry Stay Foolish by Rashmi Bansal (Entrepreneurship): A collection of the entrepreneurial journey of 25 IIM A pass outs. The book becomes monotonous after the first 5-6 chapters but it is insightful till then.

 

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Suggested Book Reads for a Beginner (Fiction):

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All most all the people realize importance of book reading as a habit and at least once in their life they have tried to build on this habit but only few people are able to do so successfully. There may be many reasons which may make the try unsuccessful, and the wrong choice of the book is among one of the prominent reasons. By wrong choice I mean a book whose subject matter or language is too complex for a beginner.

Here is my list of beginner books; of course many would find this list incomplete, which it is. There is a possibility that I have missed quite an obvious book or author name in my list. But then we are talking about a hobby with a limitless scope, so in all likelihood I would not have read the author or the book which someone else may think of as an obvious read.

I suggest that for a beginner, fiction books are the one to start with. Generally, a beginner is interested in a storyline. There should be a hook to keep the beginner under arrest, and the storyline could just be that hook. For the fiction category rather than the books I suggest the authors whom one can read.

The list is no particular order –

  1. Chetan Bhagat or Sidney Sheldon: They have played such an important role of introducing many people into the realm of book reading. Their books are spicy and the language is simple.
  2. Robin Cook: Robin cook writes medical thrillers.
  3. John Grisham: John Grisham writes legal thrillers.
  4. Agatha Christie: Best known for her crime detective novels.
  5. Dan Brown: Personally, one of my favorites when it comes to thrillers. He creates a maze with the theme of symbols and codes and takes the reader through mind boggling treasure hunts. The Da Vinci Code and Angel and Demons are two of the best books.
  6. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Talk about detective novels and it is impossible to miss the legendary Sherlock Holmes. Sir Doyle’s writing style is true Englishman like with an absolute fondness for the purity of language.
  7. Short Story Books of Rudyard Kipling and of R.K. Narayan: Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling and Malgudi Days by RK Narayan are the two of the best short story books for the beginners. The immortal characters of Mowgli and Swami find their irreplaceable place in the pantheons of fictional world through these two books respectively.
  8. Paulo Coelho: Personally, I do not like Paulo Coelho books, but there are few landmarks which one has to visit as a ritual. The Alchemist is by far the most popular book of the author.
  9. Mario Puzo: Perhaps no other author and his books would have inspired so many Hollywood and Bollywood filmmakers as Mario Puzo. Best known for the book The Godfather, the author has written several books on Mafia.
  10. P.G. Wodehouse: When it comes to humour, P.G. Wodehouse is incomparable. Besides the humour, the biggest attraction of the P.G. Wodehouse books is their slim size. Pick up the ones with Jeeves as the main character.
  11. J.K. Rowling: The writer of the best seller series, Harry Potter. This is one writer, I have missed reading altogether. I regret the miss and I am about to make up for it. I think her popularity is a good enough reason to pay the ritualistic visit to at least one of her books.

 

https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/book-review-the-winning-way/

https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/book-review-crime-and-punishment/

https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/book-review-the-calcutta-chromosome/

https://enlightenedsid.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/one-hundred-years-of-solitude/

Book Review: The Winning Way

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After a long time I picked up a self-help book and I must say that The Winning Way by Anita  and Harsha Bhogle did not disappoint me.  The book is compilation of all the experiences which the authors have gathered by conducting training sessions on Winning for the corporate. What sets this book apart from the other books of the genre is the parallel drawn between the winning formula in the sports world and the corporate world.

Content: The content of the book, as the name suggests, focuses on the necessary ingredient to Win – be it in sports or business or life in general.   The book features lots of regular areas – Goal Settings, Importance of attitude over ability, Team Building, Change and Leadership. But for me the most refreshing features are chapters on The Burden of Winning – which talks about the downside of winning- and Learning while Losing.

Rating: 3.5/5

Presentation: The presentation of the content and the analogies drawn between the sports and the corporate world is refreshing.  The authors have used interesting anecdotes and examples to drive their arguments. Each chapter begins with a quote from a famous personality and the quote nicely sets the tone for the chapter. The chapter then discusses one topic in detail and covers various aspects on that topic. At the end of each chapter a summary of all important points is listed.

Rating 3.5/5

 Language: Harsha Bhogle as a cricket commentator is witty with his remarks and that wittiness is reflected in the book too. The language used is simple and lucid but quite compelling.  Unlike the other self help books, the tone used is not didactic in nature, which again is a welcome change.

Rating 4/5

Overall, I suggest The Winning Way can be read by anyone,  as it is easy to understand and relevant to people of any age.

Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Crime-and-Punishment

When I was suggested to read the book ‘Crime and Punishment’, I was bit hesitant to do so, because of its stale title. But it only took a reading of few pages to shed my hesitation. I need just one reason to love a book and Crime and Punishment has offered me quite a few.   

Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this book is definitely among one of the more impactful novels I have read. The book presents a deep insight on the negative shade of the human character and on the moral struggle between their right side and the wrong side.

The Theme:  “What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?” 

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.” 

The two quotes from the book summarizes the theme.  The primary theme of the book is crime, suffering and redemption but the author has unfolded the theme in a thought provoking manner with the aid of eloquent arguments.  As far as the book is concerned, the narration and the arguments – and not the story -makes it a classic.

Raskolnikov, an intelligent destitute youth, who believes in the philosophy that it is right to do wrong against some people for the greater good, dreams himself equivalent to Napoleon and commits a murder, what follows next is his struggle with his self.  The moral struggle of Raskolnikov is so beautifully depicted that it arouses the feelings of empathy, pity, hatred, all at once towards him.

Rating 4/5

The Characters and the Scope:  The book is filthy rich in terms of characters.  Besides the protagonist there are other powerful characters, each very impressionable. There is a beautiful and chaste sister of Raskolnikov who believes in sacrificing self for the well being of others. There is Pyotr Luzhin, a pervert wealthy man who wants to marry a poor girl so that she remains indebted to him. There is a prostitute, Sonya in whom Raskolnikov finds some salvage for his crime. There is a lecher Svidrigailov with his interesting theory on flattery and lechery.  There is Razumikhin who symbolises a true friend and then there is an intelligent investigator who lays a moral trap in which Raskolnikov finds himself entangled.

Dostoyevsky has penned each character with a ferocious intensity.  I especially liked the description of the traits of Pyotr Luzhin as and when he entered the story.  One can almost hear the noise of the author grinding his teeth in anger while penning this character.

The only negative about the characters is their mouth filling multi -syllable names.

Rating 5/5

The Flow of the Plot:  The plot is set up in the semi lunatic town of St. Petersburg, the town with an air of warm gloominess.  The author has at many places used the description of the town and its weather to set the shade of the darkness in the plot. The plot flows quite smoothly and characters come, play their part, create an impact and vanish without making their absence conspicuous.

Rating 4/5

The Language: The book is originally written in Russian and there are many translations available but I suggest the translation by David McDuff.  I had chance of reading few pages by another translator and I realised how important a role the translator plays.

The Language used is rich and lucid. At places the author/translator has used legal phrases and native words all of which are explained in the notes section of the book.  The language used while describing the characters is vivid.  Dialogues between the characters are always meaningful and as a reader I was able to feel the tension whenever Raskolnikov talked to any other character.

Rating 4/5

Overall, Crime and Punishment is a rich book – in terms of philosophy, characters, language and arguments.  I suggest that it should be part one’s library.

Here are some  more quotes:

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” 

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better then to go right in someone else’s.” 

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, 
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” 

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

“There is nothing in the world more difficult than candor, and nothing easier than flattery. If there is a hundredth of a fraction of a false note to candor, it immediately produces dissonance, and as a result, exposure. But in flattery, even if everything is false down to the last note, it is still pleasant, and people will listen not without pleasure; with coarse pleasure, perhaps, but pleasure nevertheless. ”

“In my opinion, if, as the result of certain combinations, Kepler‘s or Newton‘s discoveries could become known to people in no other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people who were hindering the discovery, or standing as an obstacle in its path, then Newton would have the right, and it would even be his duty… to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to mankind. It by no means follows from this, incidentally, that Newton should have the right to kill anyone he pleases, whomever happens along, or to steal from the market every day.”

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