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