Monday, October 11, 2010

Good news for all our millions of fans out there! We knew there had to be at least one more LitSnob out in the world somewhere and we've finally found her!

Will Write For Food (we'll call her WWF for short, shall we?) has a regular job by day; but at night, and at times when her boss isn't looking, her hidden talents as author and critic spring forth. Her Critiques have hitherto ranged from those on public toilets to men's attire:

There once was a girl who would shriek in horror
To folks who'd wear low-waisted pants and moon her-
"Oh, good heavens, my dear,
I've seen more of your rear
Than you ever will! Look into belts, why dontcher?!"

Books have so far been strangely ignored, but this is all going to change now. And she's more prolific than the rest of us put together. Which should be good news for you, Dear Reader.

WWF usually, err, writes for food, but she accepted no payment for her first post because she wrote the tribute simply out of her love for Anne, which is a close second to her love of cats - or was it the other way around? Her taste in food is nearly as diverse as her tastes in literature and she writes nearly as often as she feasts so expect a lot of activity on this here Sacred Space.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“Elderly couple apply to orphan asylum for a boy. By mistake a girl is sent to them.”

This one line summed up Lucy Maud Montgomery’s notes for the book that was to become one of her most beloved works, and an instant classic of children's fiction. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of its publication last year, Anne of Green Gables (and its seven sequels) continue to delight readers of all ages even today.

Described by Mark Twain as “the dearest and most moving and delightful child since the immortal Alice”, eleven-year-old Anne finds the home she's always yearned for with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the elderly brother and sister who live in the titular Green Gables. This little redhead pairs a temper as fiery as her hair with the proverbial heart of gold, and the Cuthberts soon discover that they have their hands full as Anne 'spelt with an e' gets into scrape after well-meaning scrape.
As the series progresses, we follow Anne as she lands her first job as a country schoolmarm, goes on to earn her B.A., and negotiates the perils involved in matters of the heart. The last three books in the series gradually shift focus from Anne onto her children, with the very last set in the time of the first World War.

Resist the temptation, Gentle Reader, having read this far, to write off the books as Ye Olde Chick-Lit for teenagers, because nothing could be farther from the truth.

For one, the books have aged remarkably well, considering that they were written at a time when the motor car was only just being thought of. A century later, human nature remains startlingly unchanged; men and women live and love and hate and die just the same as they used to in the Good Old Days. (Which seems to paint a rather depressing picture for the future of our species, but I digress.) Anne’s world is peopled with a host of unforgettable characters, and village busybodies and besotted swains alike spring to life in vivid technicolor under Montgomery’s skillful pen.

The author pairs this unerring gift for characterization with some of the best prose seen this side of “serious” fiction. It is particularly after the first three books- when the main characters have all been established, and she is free to focus on the stories- that Montgomery really comes into her own. With her keen sense of observation and wry humor, she paints a picture of early 19th century society that is- to quote one of the characters- “simply killing”. A village is but a microcosm of society, and the books provide us fascinating insight into the prevailing attitudes on 'isms' as diverse as racism, women’s suffrage, pacifism and feminism. Score another for the so-called chick lit book!

Random Quotes:
“I read it to Marilla and she said it was stuff and nonsense. Then I read it to Matthew and he said it was fine. That is the kind of critic I like.”

“Mrs Lynde looked upon all people who had the misfortune to be born or brought up elsewhere than in Prince Edward Island with a decided can-any-good-thing-come-out-of-Nazareth air. They MIGHT be good people, of course; but you were on the safe side in doubting it. She had a special prejudice against "Yankees." Her husband had been cheated out of ten dollars by an employer for whom he had once worked in Boston and neither angels nor principalities nor powers could have convinced her that the whole United States was not responsible for it.”

"On her first day back from college, people told Anne she hadn't changed much, in a tone which hinted they were surprised and a little disappointed she hadn't."

“Two worthy ladies descended upon Anne one violet dusk and proceeded to do what in them lay to prick the rainbow bubble of her satisfaction. If Anne thought she was getting any particular prize in her young man, or if she imagined that he was still as infatuated with her as he might have been in his salad days, it was surely their duty to put the matter before her in another light. Yet these two were not enemies of Anne; on the contrary, they were really quite fond of her, and would have defended her as their own young had anyone else attacked her. Human nature is not obliged to be consistent.”

"It does not do to laugh at the pangs of youth. They are very terrible because youth has not yet learned that ‘this, too, will pass away.’ "

"Rilla was fond of italics, as most girls of fifteen are."

A keeper. Get the entire set, in hardcover if possible, because you are definitely going to wear them out. The Anne of Green Gables series will make a fantastic gift for a young child or teenager; or for a gal pal- most of the women I know cite this as one of the defining books of their girlhood. This writer, for one, knows most of the books off by heart J

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the Opera is the sort of traditional ghost story that people never tire of - like the ubiquitous lady in white. Countless movies have been made starring this graceful wraith in a flowing white sari and long black hair, but if yet another such movie comes out, and is well made, people would still watch it. Of course, the Phantom was the first of these stories, written way back in 1910 by a colourful man of the world, Gaston Leroux.
Leroux's style is so earnest that you want to take pity on it and believe what he says. The plot is well constructed and he manages to extricate himself honorably from each of the twists he weaves. You will agree that there are few things more infuriating than a suspense thriller where the author conveniently leaves loose ends untied.
What makes this incredible story interesting is the grand scale of Leroux's writing. Modesty is abandoned, mediocrity goes out the window and simplicity only describes his heroine. Leroux paints a gigantic, intricate, grand picture and still manages to make sure that the details are taken care of. His description of the opera house and the music is sweeping; it's the perfect stage for his unbelievable story. The opera ghost is fleshed out beautifully, leaving just enough to the imagination to conjure up a terrible, sad creature. In fact, the excellent characterization is one of the strengths of this story.
Verdict: It is only fitting that it should be set in an opera house: it is as magnificent, as rich and as exclusive as an opera. And yet, this book is not a must-read. It is not a masterpiece, but it is one of those stories that one must know, and litsnobs, of course, would rather read it than watch it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Carlyle's House and Other Sketches - Virginia Woolf

This little book is a collection of seven sketches by Woolf from a long forgotten diary that she kept in 1909. This diary escaped publication after Virginia's death by a curious series of events, but the publishers, Hesperus Press Limited pride themselves in discovering lesser known works of famous authors; in their own words they are "committed to bringing near what is far - far both in space and time. Works written by the greatest authors, and unjustly neglected or simply little known in the English-speaking world, are made accessible through new translations and a fresh editorial approach."

True to their words, the book is a smartly edited work, with a foreword by Doris Lessing, no less. It contains elaborate notes on every sketch with exact dates and references, most of which may be unnecessary for the lay reader. The introduction makes for interesting reading, providing an insight into how the diary came to be printed and the commentary for the sketches gives a background and does of a good job of completing the picture that the sketches paint, many of which are too short to make sense without some history.

The sketches themselves are typically Woolf and give an interesting peek into the mind of a budding author. Virgina Woolf was far from an established author at the time that this journal was maintained and she kept this as an aid to her future novels, almost as an observation book, from which she drew in her later works. It was quite a surprise, personally, that Woolf worked at her writing, as one does at any other activity; practising, nurturing, researching and honing her skills. Her novels belie this input, appearing to me as works of brilliance, as if she just wrote it all out one fine day.

Out of the 100 pages that the book spans, the sketches themselves occupy only 15 pages, the rest being dedicated to notes and introductions. Woolf's acute powers of observation and uncanny knack of expression are in full evidence even here, as she describes people she meets and places she visits with remarkable clarity. 'A Modern Salon' was my favourite sketch, describing an aristocratic lady and her parties for the artistic community. 'Jews' is regarded as an anti-Semitic blotch on Woolf's nature, and it is an acerbic and rather nasty account of a Jewish lady. 'Cambridge' was rather dull and boring; the other sketches make for light and interesting reading. The commentary to 'Divorce Courts', in particular, was a good read.

Verdict: This one is for fans of Virginia Woolf and if you have not read her works before, this is not the best one to start with. The book is very well packaged and would come in particularly handy, I imagine, for students of literature. The blue cover, with a partially fogged window, adds class.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is the story of Amir and Hassan and the unique relationship they share. Initially it is a deep friendship born out of being fed by the same mother as babies and eventually turns into brotherhood.

The book is a beautiful and poignant story set in the Afghanistan of fifty years ago, starting from before the Russians invaded Afghanistan up to modern day Afghanistan. Amir and Hassan's story is reminiscent of ancient mythological stories of everlasting friendship. But one day of cowardice on Amir's part changes his life and one sin leads to another and then another.

It is easy to relate with Amir in some sense, when he tries to push away the bad memories by retreating within him and evading all painful reminders. On the one side is his conscience and on the other is his longing for his father’s attention and affections. Amir is all that his father does not want in a son, while Hassan is everything he wants in his son. When Amir and his father escape to America the father-son equations seem to change for the better. America, always playing the symbol of freedom and optimism, heralding the triumph of immigrants of struggling against hardships, in so many books by Asian authors, seems to bury the old wounds
below the surface for Amir. Until one phone call brings back the memories, the feelings of remorse but also the hope to make amends.

Hosseini writes beautifully, bringing a character to the stark Afghan countryside and its culture. He portrays Amir’s characters and deepest fears candidly, so that even though you know Amir is doing wrong, you cannot help but empathize with him at times. A father’s agony over burdens he carries in his heart, Amir’s conscience that drives him to insomnia, Hassan’s innocence and willingness to forgive – everything is written about with insight and empathy. When I began the book, a friend told me I would cry when I finished it. A page turner that it was, I kept hoping Amir would achieve retribution. So did I cry in the end? I’m not telling. I will just say that I’d recommend this book to anyone for a touching and enjoyable read and to appreciate the coming of age of Asian writing.
Title: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini

Friday, November 30, 2007

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

It's about this kid who wants to go to the lighthouse.

There. I've got the story out of the way. That's pretty much what it is. And it takes genius to write 200 pages of that.

Woolf is one of those absolutely rare, once-in-a-generation writers who have such mastery over words, and therefore over the reader, that it's almost a surreal experience to be reading her works. You recognise thoughts and feelings and emotions that you felt but could never imagine in ink and paper, even about such mundane things as the kitchen table. Reading Woolf is the literary equivalent of getting high.

'To the Lighthouse' is set in two days, separated by many years and many events. It's a wonderful play of tenses, thoughts oscillating to and fro, blurring the past from the present. As always, Woolf's power of observation is showed off in her acute understanding of the man-woman relationship, the triumphs and the glory, the fire and the ice.

The novel reads like a vision, almost untrue in its clarity. None but her own words, describing a painting in the story, can describe the beauty of her prose:
"Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent; one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly's wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses."

Verdict: Virginia Woolf is traditionally high-brow - a lot of people who've tried her novels find it hard to make sense of them, which increases the snob-value drastically and therefore finds special place on our blog. I would still maintain that she writes the most enchanting prose I have ever read, after Shakespeare. (I expect that to change once I learn Russian and read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy like they wrote it.)
As always, the strength of the novel is not so much in its plot, but in the lyrical beauty of the narrative. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The View From Up Here - Litsnob Updates.

Greetings plebs! You’ll notice we have new hands on board. After some observing we found another being nearly listnob enough to join us.

Adi’s a classic rock fan with a penchant for great (as well as really bad) movies and is the proud owner of a really loud orange shirt. On litsnob he’s going to be reviewing books belonging to a slightly different genre than what you’ve seen so far – of course, that’s the point of having him on board, ain’t it?

You’ll be seeing some sci-fi, fantasy and more non-fiction related to science. And since he seems to identify bad movies, he will be able to warn you off some bad books too! He isn’t without his dose of sadistic humor too, and if you end up reading a bad book thanks to him, then you probably deserved it!

Hammer Of The Gods : Led Zeppelin Unauthorized

The Hammer of The Gods, will drive our ships to new lands,
Fight the horde, Sing with Pride, Valhalla I am Coming!!!
- The Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin

Little did Led Zeppelin know that this iconic track would provide the title for one of the most controversial biographies and a rather interesting cobweb :-). And this would be my first book review of any kind. I had actually wanted to write a review on this since 2005, but couldn't due to reasons not known to me.
Hammer of the Gods: Led Zeppelin Unauthorized is "about" one of the most influential bands in Rock n Roll history. Their music has served as basis for many super-groups, such as Aerosmith, Nirvana, Foo Fighters. Ok! Enough of showering praises on my favorite band. It’s now time to rant about the book.
Written by Stephen Davis, HOTG chronicles the rise and fall of Led Zeppelin, their legendary drug and alcohol abuse, their antics at the Continental Riot (Hyatt) House, Page’s connection with the occult, and wherever paper space available, their music. The book starts with the introduction of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, how they met and formed Led Zeppelin (named so because The Who band-members Keith Moon and John Entwhistle jokingly remarked that the new band Jimmy wanted to form with them would go down like a lead balloon.) goes on to describe the incidents that made the band the epitome for the cliché – Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll.
On the whole the book is overloaded with sensationalism. Instead of telling us more about the band and how they went on to make some of the best music I have ever heard, Stephen Davis tries his best to sell the notion that LZ were actually in cahoots with Satan! Yes, Jimmy Page was a big fan of Aleister Crowley, but that cannot become the core subject of a book meant to deal with the band and their music. Also, the authenticity of most of the information provided in the book is questionable. None of the band members were consulted during the writing of the book. Instead, Davis chose as the source, Richard Cole, the band’s former manager, who was fired shortly before the band broke up and was jailed. I smell vendetta here! My biggest disappointment with the book was the fact that so little was written about the music of the band. Yes, there are mentions of Dazed and Confused, Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same and Achilles Last Stand. Then again, when Davis mentioned Stairway, he preferred to talk about how it was accused of containing hidden messages to Mr.666.
So is there anything positive to take away from this book? Surprisingly, yes. Despite all the waffle, Stephen Davis has somehow managed to capture in words, the aura and the mystique that surrounded Led Zeppelin during their hey-days. And for that alone, I shall give this book a rating of 2/5.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One Red Paperclip

This is a bizarre book that I first heard of through another blog that I visit often. It took me to Kyle MacDonald’s site, and although I didn’t get exactly what it was all about, it just seemed really weird. Cut to 2 months ago when I first spotted the book at the store and decided it would be worth a read. Cut to a month ago, where after going through Kyle’s blog I had finally decided I had to have it.

Well, bizarre does not even begin to describe this story. And since you know that it is no fiction, not by the meanest stretch of imagination, it gets stranger. A little piece of stationary becomes a big, brick-and-mortar house – all 1100 sq ft of it!
For the uninitiated – I say that because nearly every news and radio channel covered this guy and his remarkable journey – this book is by Kyle McDonald about his Bigger-and-Better-game-gone-Biggest-and-Bestest!

At the start of this book, Kyle is an unemployed, cheerful twenty five year old, who decides to use the red paperclip that is holding his resume together to trade up to a house. Well the house part does not come first, only the trading idea does. So a few craigslist postings later, Kyle has someone who is willing to trade him for a wooden fish-pen. And so the trades go on. From a beer keg to a cube box and even to a movie role! Kyle keeps nothing for himself and gives it a year to trade up to a house. Along the way he meets some fantastic people, who help him along on his journey, with lots of goodwill and of course, a trade item. Kyle travels across Canada and the USA in his adventure, involving his whole family and his girlfriend, Dom. In the end, Kyle is still unemployed, but now a proud homeowner as well!

The book is a real feel-good read. Kyle is a simple guy, not too bright – thankfully! - and his writing is just like him: simple. No fancy words, no territorial jokes, no I-got-lucky sermons. He tells it like it happened, and peppers the books with tid bits of learning – most of them could have sounded like management lessons (because that’s pretty much what they are) but don’t. I am all for a book with pictures and this one has plenty of them, so that made me really happy! Kyle comes through as a fun guy, with immense faith in the goodness of all people. In the end he writes, that this journey that he undertook was not so much about trading up to a house as it was about meeting great people along the way. Even in the people he chooses to trade with, he ensures that the person he is trading with has real need for his item. This is especially obvious in the way he decides the person he would trade the recording contract with.

I’ll just say this: if you want to know the entire sequence of the trades, then you can just go to his website or google it out. You don’t need the book for it. But what you do get in the book is the journey, and that is what is more enjoyable.
Visit Kyle’s page at:

Title: One Red Paperclip
Author: Kyle MacDonald

Friday, October 12, 2007

How Starbucks Saved My Life

You’re probably wondering how I came to read this book; then again you’re probably not, but I want you to know anyway! It was on the new releases shelf, that’s how! And it cost me all of a hundred and ninety five bucks (excluding 10% discount).

So back to the point… What this story is about is most obvious. But what is not is the fact that it’s a really simple story. No major management sermons, no major sob story. Nothing much really. Except that here’s an endearing geriatric (yes, it’s called the arrogance of youth!) who writes this book with humor and lots of honesty.

At the risk of repeating what’s on the blurb, here is the context. Michael Gates Gill is a really successful creative director at JWT. One fine day he gets fired by a woman less than half his age, and one he mentored. The reason? He was too old and therefore dispensable. Michael then starts his own firm which is anything but a success. On the personal front, Michael fathers a son in an extra-marital affair, and his wife files for divorce, his children no longer want to see him. His affair does not last long. So he is verging on broke, has no fancy home and as an icing on the top, he has just been diagnosed with a non-terminal brain tumor that is causing him to lose his hearing in one ear. Michael meets Crystal in a Starbucks and she offers him a job as a barista. Michael becomes Mike and the rest is what this book is about.

The nicest thing about this book was that there was never any self pity. Mike does cry, more than once, but it is never out pity for his life. There are bits where he rambles on about his father and his father’s father and all the luxury that he was brought up in. He never mentions it explicitly, but I also suspect he was quite dyslexic. So at the ripe old age of 60 and wearing his expensive loafers, he commutes an hour and half to his Starbucks store everyday to be a barista. If I say more then I’ll really give away the story – at 260 pages in large typeface, this isn’t much of a novel.

Mike and his style of narration don’t allow you to take everything too seriously. It could have been a sentimental, sympathy-evoking tale, but it’s not; even in the parts where he is describing his sometimes dysfunctional upbringing, it seems more matter-of-fact than sorry. Mike and his rediscovery of the joys of living and life are more about keeping the faith, and learning to make use of whatever opportunity that comes your way. Mike learns at the end of it all that in all his years at JWT he was never as happy nor as respected as he is at Starbucks. This is more of a feel-good story. I read recently, that these days it’s very rare to find books that you can read on an overnight journey. Well, you need not look further!

Title: How Starbucks Saved My Life
Author: Michael Gill
Published by: HarperCollins