Books, Mum In Progress

A discovery of Munich with the Wimmelbuch

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It’s never too early to introduce your child to Oktoberfest, I say! 

Well, I did say a book a week in the new year, didn’t I? Children’s books count too. Even if they’re wordless and filled with beautifully illustrated panoramas. The München wimmelbuch by Annegret Reimann is a book I just can’t help but get lost in. Every time I open it’s cardboard pages, I spot a new character and trace their story across the city’s iconic sights.

I wrote a quick post about it on Caterpillar Cafe, my literary blog. Hope you enjoy it!

Books, The Saturday eReader

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn | A ménage of deliciously dark characters

dark-places 3Maybe you’ve read Gone Girl. Maybe you watched the film. I read the book during an uninspiring literary week and a whole lot of Oscar hype. I never ended up watching the movie.

Most people I know claim to have had their minds blown by Gone Girl. For good reason too, I realised once I started reading the book. The characters were delightful shades of grey. Some were downright dark and murky. And if you found yourself rooting for one, you soon changed loyalties, or at least caught yourself thinking of it, at some point during the book. But once it was done, and I blame the fact that I read it in the midst of a whole lot of on and offline chatter, I thought it was good, but not mind-blowing. Like, it isn’t on my list of all-time favourites in the genre. It isn’t even in the top 10, to be honest.

What did blow my mind though is Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places. Any book that spends its entirety deconstructing the build-up to a gory night in small-town America – the stuff of nightmares, this — is not a book you want to pass up. No seriously, I actually dreamed of axes and Satanic symbols painted in blood on walls two nights in a row. Could this be the 21st century version of The Shining’s flood of blood? In my imagination, it totally is!

Just like Gone Girl, we have again a set of characters who are deliciously dark with shades of grey. There’s Libby, who survived a bloody massacre that brutally killed her mother and sisters when she was 7 years old. Her brother Ben, the only person to go down for the murders even though there were several discrepancies at the murder scene. There’s Lyle, treasurer and spokesperson of sorts for the Kill Club that’s obsessively trying to find out what really went down that night. And a bunch of other very shady characters who have been constructed beautifully to give the plot depth and intrigue.

I really like Flynn’s style of writing and her knack of stitching multiple narratives together. This is actually written from three perspectives. Libby’s voice is in first person and unfolds the mystery in the present. Ben and Patty, their mom, alternate in third person, building up to the fateful ‘event’ over one single day. Flynn also weaves in intricate character details and back stories in a crafty manner that lend her novels a certain X factor that makes them impossible to put down.

Dark Places is definitely a contender for my list of most intriguing murder mysteries of all time. However, I have it on good authority that her first book, Sharp Objects is actually her best. Guess I’ll reserve my judgement until I read that one. But in good time. I want a few months of reads that are anything but fast paced thrillers to really relish this one. Mostly because I really don’t want to overdose on the genre or find myself getting Flynned out.

Also published on The Caterpillar Cafe

Books, The Saturday eReader

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw: Get the hardcover if you can!

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It’s a funny story, really. How I came to properly own this book. It was the summer of 2011 and I was looking for a gift for a friend who was going for a long vacation. I wanted her to have something inspiring to read during her travels, so for her birthday, I presented her with this book.

When I saw it up there on the bookshelf, it looked lovely! It reminded me of beaches, white sands and those twirly little globes I loved when I was younger. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect “mountain” read for the likes of Rishikesh and Manali, but it would be a stimulating one nevertheless.

Map of the Invisible World. The name itself inspired me to delve deeper into places and cultures, so an aspiring globetrotter like her would surely appreciate the cover just as much as the story bound inside.

I bought it and wrote a heartfelt dedication on the title page about hoping this would kindle that adventurous spirit she was about to unleash and yada yada yada.

One year later: We fought about something or the other. In her anger, unrelated as it was to literature, she flung the book at me and said she hoped it got me as depressed as it did her.

Wait! What?

I wasn’t to find out what she meant by that until a few months after when she confessed that she just hadn’t been in a state of mind to appreciate a dose of history with World Literature. That I had probably pitted it as a travel guide in disguise didn’t help any.

I hadn’t bought the book blindly. I did read the jacket. I knew it wasn’t about utopias, unicorns and and all that escapist stuff. But it surely wasn’t depressing, was it?

So I read the book to see for myself and decided that never again would I gift someone a book, nor would I deface the title page, without reading it first.

Because you see, Map of the Invisible World can be a little heart wrenching, yes. But really, to call it truly “depressing” is going too far! Tash Aw is a brilliant writer and it shows in every chapter throughout this book. Read my review of the book for The Caterpillar Cafe here.

I’m glad to have had this book flung back at me because I don’t think I would have bought myself another copy and read it otherwise. It isn’t depressing, thankfully. Not in my opinion, anyway. Ever read The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek? It’s a dose of depressing that doesn’t go away. Also, for someone who isn’t Indonesian or a history student specialising in colonial rules and revolutions through South East Asia in the early-mid 20th Century, how else would you truly understand the country’s historic and cultural influences if not through literature?

For a change, I’m recommending a book that deserves way more than e-space on your bookshelf. It’s a lovely book that has pride of place on my bookshelf, as do all the books I treasure. Get a hardcover if you can. Because you will cherish it too!

Books, The Saturday eReader

The Goldfinch: Would you download the e-version if you already owned the book?

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I know this (further) exposes me for the lazy person that I am, but the physical weight of the book really got to me after a while!

With a book as acclaimed as The Goldfinch by Donna Tart — that it has won the Pulitzer also helps — you just know it will make an impressive addition to your bookshelf. I know I did! And it looks good up there too. Except… I couldn’t finish it.

That wasn’t for lack of trying though. I read it greedily everywhere I went. In the bus to work, at work, at lunches I arrived to early on purpose and just before bed.

The issue was, and this is going to make me sound like a cupcake, while I loved the book immensely, my neck, arms and shoulders could NOT take the weight of it anymore. At over 850 pages, it actually made one of the straps of my handbag come loose. Sure, I could have probably bought a sturdier handbag, just appreciated the gentle workout, or been sane and unloaded things unnecessary to readers such as wallets, snack boxes and hand lotions. But after a point, I’d had enough. And now I walk by the title proudly displayed on my bookshelf every single day and think: You know, I should have really downloaded that on my Kindle!

As of now, I’m waiting for the right moment, maybe when I feel a little less guilty and more self-indulgent, to download this book I already own. I mean, seriously! Who in their right mind would buy a book and download it to their ereader just so they don’t have to work hard to hold it up to the light?

That would be me, hello, nice to meet you, I’d shake your hand but that’s too much of a workout so…

What would you do if you were faced with my situation?

This post is part of The Saturday eReader series. Read more posts here

Books, The Saturday eReader

The Saturday eReader: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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“You make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you seem to think is diminished – than anyone else in the world.”

The back cover describes Me Before You as a “heartbreakingly romantic novel”, words that, I have to admit, reel me in more often than I’d like to admit. I’m a sucker for plots starring doomed romance, star-crossed lovers and unrequited love that smells of bitter almonds.

But before I recommend that you download this lovely novel, let me just make it clear that it is not your quintessential romance novel. Not one that keeps you up at night with butterflies in your stomach and has you fancying yourself in the hero and heroine’s shoes, anyway.

Twenty-seven year old Louisa Clark, protagonist and narrator for most of the novel, is a girl who aspires to very little in life. One might even say she aspires to nothing at all given that she’s perfectly content working as a waitress in a café, living with her parents and dating a man she has nothing in common with other than the fact that it’s familiar and comfortable. But when she loses her job at the café and is forced to take up a job as a carer and companion for a man in a wheelchair, she can’t predict how much her view of the world is about to change.

Thirty-five year old Will Traynor had everything going for him – brilliant job, beautiful girlfriend, enviable list of adventures around the world – until a motorbike on a rainy day puts paid to it all. From living the high life to having his bottom wiped for him every day, you understand why he isn’t in the best of spirits confined to the existence of a quadriplegic. He is extremely angry at having to spend what now feels like eternity, living an assisted life which involves bed sores, pneumonia and daily catheter changes.

Having lived like this for two years, Will isn’t keen on sticking around much longer. Enter Louisa, who has six months to change his mind. However, don’t be naïve, expecting miracles or picture perfect endings because this isn’t a story about finding the silver lining or the triumph of true love. Or maybe it is. I don’t know. Debate it over with your book club. To me, it’s about the quality of human life just as much as its value.  Yes, it is about love as well, but it is much more evolved than the ‘girl meets boy’ and ‘love against all odds’ shebang.

Me Before You is a wonderful book that may take you a little more than a weekend to read. It can get a bit slow and at times you’re left wondering where the story might be heading. But honestly, just be patient and see it through because this is one of those rare books that explore human potential as well as limitation.

Don’t read it for the beginning, romance or just to satiate your curiosity on how it ends. Read it for the journey that Louisa and Will embark upon. To see how they discover so much more about themselves and their prospects and capabilities. But more importantly, read it because it tells a beautiful story without getting too preachy, tear jerky or adding conflict just for the sake of it.