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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Ogden NashThe Collected Works Of Ogden Nash by Ogden Nash

Have you ever wondered if it would be possible to write something funny without delving into the realms of satirical social commentaries, absurdist views of cultural flaws, vitriolic trashing of populist beliefs and just plain mean criticism of art? Is it just possible to say something funny for the sake of humour and not an opinionated comment? A tickler: The firefly’s flame is something for which science has no name, I can think of nothing eerier than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person’s posterior. Let me introduce to the deliciously wacky world of Ogden Nash. A sprawling madhouse where rhymes meet nonsense halfway in the corridor and giggle incorrigibly at everything else. Another tickler: Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long. While Ogden Nash also dabbled in writing for Broadway musicals, his passion, time and patience were saved for “humorous poetry”. One more tickler: The cow is of bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other is milk. Decorated with some of his finest one-liners and limericks, The Collected Works Of Ogden Nash is a perfect companion during those lonely train journeys. Even when the humour takes a breather and the rhymes get all Hemmingway-ish on us, it still makes for pleasantly introspective digestion. Last tickler: How pleasant the salt anesthetic…we vegetate, calm and aesthetic, on the beach, on the sand, in the sun.

Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

patrick mccabeFor almost an entire year when I frequented British Council library at Anna Salai, I got myself hooked on to Irish literature. Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory put this thought in my head that Irish writers, much like Korean film directors, were a messed-up lot who suck the light out of day and save the rest for the night. Ultra-talented writers who craft barbaric forms of art only to lull unsuspecting readers towards fear and insecurity. Despite the flimsy basis on which these notions were formed, I desperately kept an eye out for such novels. My sense of delirium also had a role in my fortunate ‘stumbling upon’ of Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy, the harrowing tale of Francis ‘Francie’ Brady. With the troubles of a broken home working overtime on young Francie’s mind, he often retreats to his “violent fantasy world” where pigs go beyond bacons and sausages; matter of fact, they give the Iain Banks’ wasps a good run for their money in terms of being truly fucked up living, breathing literary metaphors. The scene involving the killing of a piglet at the abattoir is somewhat of a personal landmark. I flinched for the first time while reading a novel. Read The Butcher Boy only if you like being disturbed (if don’t. you could watch Neil Jordan’s film adaptation).

The Crystal World by JG Ballard

jg ballardI grabbed this book from the counter at Blossoms (Bangalore) only because a little voice told me that it probably inspired Jim Morrison to write my favourite Doors’ composition – Crystal Ship. Before you slip into unconsciousness, allow me to talk a bit about JG Ballard, the writer. His vision, as evidenced by the new wave, sort of science fiction-ish stories he writes about, is apocalyptic and dreamlike at once. There is also a hint of discomfort in most of his novels; something that he uses against the readers and quite naturally, for the readers. Whether it was the sexual fetishism in Crash (no not that shitty Oscar-winner), the scathing brevity of The Atrocity Exhibition or the sheer weightage of psychoanalysis in The Drowned World, something has always crept up in JG Ballard novels to cause a slight disorientation of our senses. In The Crystal World, he weaves a story around an English doctor (Edward Sanders) who lands in Port Matarre (Africa) to meet his friends at a secluded leprosy treatment center. To do that he must cross the treacherous jungle in Gabon, which for some apparent reason is slowly crystallizing itself and the inhabitants. I must warn you, this is not a page-turner; it moves slowly like a mythical beast, as Ballard describes in detail the process of crystallization and the pop science that governs it. Thankfully, more of the latter than the former. I later found out that Jim Morrison wrote Crystal Ship for his first love, Mary Werbelo. I can’t seem to find an intelligent connection between the song and the book to summarize this review, so I will tell you this …you should totally give Ballard a try if you share equal fondness for science fiction and the English language.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Keseykesey_ken1_med

Fewer movies have done greater injustice to literature than Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Not in an aesthetical sense since it was a decent movie; I mean, it was a relatively fresh breath of cinema in 1975 and also kudos to Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif for tuning in average to sort of great performances during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, having read the book and imagined the scenes that took place within the walls of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem from the brooding Chief Bromden’s point of view, I was disappointed with the way the director told the story from the perspective of rebellious loudmouth Patrick McMurphy. Wait a second, this is not a film review. Ahem. My train of thought has wrecked itself beyond redemption, I’m going to let someone else take the reigns and opine about this fantastic novel.

iCE cUBEUhmmmm thank you, Mr Ice Cube…but I think I was talking about The Brothers’ Judd review of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Read it here

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Filth, Ecstasy, Porn, Acid House, Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh

I have long since realized that reading Irvine Welsh novels and consuming hallucinogens are both fantastic experiences when done separately. Together they are quite the force to reckon with. Sort of like gulping down chicken soup for the soul…of course, granted that the soul’s purpose is to fornicate in filth and die slowly under a sweltering bleached sky. But don’t get the wrong idea, Irvine Welsh never sold packaged grime, he merely chronicled the extremities to which humans would go to achieve what they presumed to be contentment. From Ecstasy and Porn to Filth and junkie epic Trainspotting, each novel surpassed the other in terms of sheer audacity in story telling and to my satisfaction, made me feel dirtier in the process. And no matter what people tell you, you don’t need an Irish slang dictionary to figure out the conversations between his characters. You just need to have once had the urge to damage public property. I could put my grandma in a shitty old age home, bathe in the Coum River and kill a few orphaned puppies while watching Ingrid Bergman’s finest works on a satin bed and I’d still be nowhere close to experiencing the harmony in which filth and beauty exist in Welsh’s sordid tales.

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Planet Earth is a terribly dull place to read the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Not enough multi-purposeful towels, depressed robots and two-headed presidents, I guess. The galaxy he created in this novel was immense in dissimilarity to everything that science has bored us to tears with. Not since stumbling upon Lewis Carroll during pre-school have I know any author with such an affinity for absurdity. And even Carroll himself couldn’t have caught my attention if Alice In Wonderland had meandered on for over a thousand pages. With Douglas Adams’ novel, it was either ‘get bored with life or continue reading”. I read. And how.

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Still Life With Woodpecker – Tom Robbins

During one of my visits to Blossoms in Bangalore, Tom RobbinsHalf Asleep In Frog Pajamas was thrust and my face with a familiar voice demanding that I read it or at once suffer the consequences. It was the same chap who once recommended that I give James Thurber a chance, so I had to trust him. The title however turned me off big time. I thought it was forcibly incoherent. Then I picked up another Robbins’ novel – Still Life With Woodpecker. Sounds less pretentious, I thought as I paid the money over the counter. As months flew by, I delightedly ate crow and a few of my shoes while devouring each one of his novels. As far as I’m concerned, Tom Robbins is one of the best hippie writers ever to crawl out of Americana. He didn’t just do it, holding a joint in his hand and saying, “hey man, the lights flicker like pink flamingoes having sex with Rolling Stones, man”. He poises himself and proceeds to hijack our attention with hilarious stories of love, lust, redheads, corporate bars, cigarettes, open-tops and ancient pyramids.

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Electric Kool-Aid Test was the only book review I have ever published. That was six years ago. I tried reviewing Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide a few summers ago, but sobriety’s delayed response sort of killed the effort. With much love and at her Satanic Majesty’s request, a few of my favourite novels…

dostoevsky-cropCrime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

If memory serves me right, this is the first novel I have ever devoured that wasn’t written by an Englishman. My dad’s swank hardbound version of this Fyodor Dostoevsky classic caught my attention with its ‘black sheep’ status amongst sea of Britannica Encyclopedia volumes. A few nights of reading later, it occurred to me that I was a sick bastard with a fetish for fictional depression. At that point, no other work of art came close to influencing my perception of reality as much as Crime and Punishment did. Kafka’s Metamorphosis was devastating in the way it dealt with alienation, but Dostoevsky…well, he took pleasure in baiting the devil out by elaborating on the details. I’ll put it this way…a large dosage of Prozac could have helped Gregor Samsa retain his sanity, but as for Romanovich Raskolnikov…all the happy pills in the world couldn’t cure the sickness that had pervaded his life. And like any self-respecting reader, I reserved my sense of voyeurism for the utterly hopeless.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

Reading Sophie’s World was akin to getting hit by a freight train loaded with Pre and Post- Socratic philosophy books. In fact there’s so much information that you almost forget that you are reading a novel. Remember all the interesting bits and pieces that often hid in the corner of our textbooks? Information that makes you feel good about being er…informed. That’s Sophie’s World in a nutshell. I could almost picture Ms Amundsen and Mr Knox sitting on two adjacent armchairs inside the 10 C classroom at Don Bosco. I’m right there…taking notes and secretly admiring the fact that out of the eight people I used to hang out with, I was probably the only one who knew why Lego was the most ingenious toy in the world. Why post-pubescent kids aren’t tied up and forced to read this novel, I will never understand.

shepard_riverWind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

If I could only read one novel for the rest of my life, I’d choose Wind In The Willows. Hell, if I could only watch one animated series for the rest of my life, I’d still choose the animated version that Doordashan used to telecast on Sunday mornings. A bunch of lazy memories come to mind when I think about Mr Toad, Mr Badger, Ratty and the rest. Buttery chicken soup, post hair-trimming bath, the really, really loud chirping of birds, and such. All those things that were once a part of Sunday mornings during my family’s brief stay at one of Chennai’s most secretive post-modern spots – Guruswamy Road. While the television series kickstarted the love I have since had for this idyllic tale, Mr Kenneth Grahame’s novel made sure that it blossomed into a loving cancerous cyst. I swear, if there was one author whose skeletal corpse I could dig up and sing praises for the life it once held and inspired, it’d be Mr. Grahame.

waspfactoryWasp Factory by Iain Banks

The story that 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame tells us is a tortured one. His brother has just escaped from a mental asylum and his impending return to the town where Frank and his dad have been staying for years is one that is anticipated with an equal proportion of trepidation and eagerness. And of course, there are those wasps…dam winged devils, which accidentally keep giving him fucked-up epiphanies to endure and ponder about. And we, the reader, get pretty messed-up reading about it too. Darkness, darkness…you have found your lonesome pillow in the Wasp Factory and its creator, Iain Banks.

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stephen_leacockChuck Palahniuk’s Rant was the last novel I had the pleasure of devouring. And that was nearly four months ago. Like Chinese food, I think literature too can get a bit redundant over a period of time. This morning as I was reading The Mutt, I stumbled upon the word “Peacock” in a quirky piece called BIC HOK TAM …and for obviously limmericky reasons, I got reminded of Canadian writer and humourist Stephen Leacock.

I first heard of Leacock during those years of utter boredom in Loyola College when Bertram Hall and its library gave me solace from the sociopathic monkeys I had to mingle with during class hours. Granted the Loyola library had more cobwebs per square metre than it had decent books, but still if one looked hard enough, a fantastically obscure piece of literature was always around the corner. I came across a collection of short stories titled Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock. Three days later, the Great Group Email Frenzy of 2000 began as I couldn’t help but copy and paste Leacock’s tremendously funny anecdotes on hotmail and send them to as many people as I could.

Not many people read Leacock these days. In fact, most of them are convinced that Hector Hugh Munroe is the funniest short story writer that ever was. Well, Saki’s short stories could dance circles around O’Henry any day of the week, but I would still consider them a work in progress when compared to Leacock’s archive. Not that it matters too much, but the titles of his stories are way more intriguing than any of Dog Fashion Disco song titles; unless someone is of the opinion that Valley Girl Ventriloquist sounds cooler than than Hellements of Hickonomics In Hiccoughs Of Verse Done In Our Social Planning Mill.

My Remarkable Uncle and Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town are my personal favourites, and Sorrows Of A Super Soul Or The Memoirs Of Marie Mushenough is probably the funniest short story ever written.

And muchos gracios to www.online-literature.com for having online copies of his Stephen Leacock’s works. You can read them here.

Wiki says a rumour spread in 1911 that said, “more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada”…well, fast-forward to 2008 when public relations consultant Terry Fallis won the Stephen Leacock medal for a friggin’ political satire.

I guess, the world just isn’t funny as it used to be.

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