Category Archives: My Soulmate Is A Book

An Old Book

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BOOK REVIEW: Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s possible that John Green enthusiasts already come steeled to deal with heavy duty emotional toil, given that his past books place teenagers in cancer, fatal accidents and parental neglect. Still, this book is a different kind of monster and it’s a shock when you encounter it. The last time I felt so desperately bleak was when I read 13 Reasons Why and that’s a book that really should be restricted reading. Should this book come with trigger warnings? Yes. And here they are: Mental illness, OCD, Child abuse. These are spoilers but I think the need for trigger warnings trumps the need to entertain the reader.

My complaint with John Green is his stock characters. Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns were both about the same confused, entitled girl and a confused, enamoured boy. This book arguably gives you again the starring duo from The Fault in Our Stars except instead of cancer, one has OCD and the other has some kind of parental neglect-triggered anxiety. There is even the high-strung best friend you feel sorry for, except this time it’s a girl and she’s poor, not blind.

Still, if you like your familiar characters and can handle teenagers in horrific situations, this book reads quite nicely, showing off Green’s strengths. Say what you will, but the man is good with his words. The conversations feel familiar but never trite. All his characters seem overly obsessed with literary references but they’re vulnerable and grey.

True to his formula, the book does not end on the expected happy ending but still on a positive note. Also, if you’re wondering what the title means, you get the reference in the last quarter of the book (again on formula, just like Paper Towns and The Fault In Our Stars). Maybe teenagers and other audiences for YA novels need a certain level of formula, especially to deal with the kind of gristly themes Green takes on. And in that, he manages to pull off another successful story that warms your heart, makes you cry a little and wish the world were kinder and then get up and move on.

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BOOK Review: A Column of Fire [Kingsbridge no.3] – Ken Follett

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge, #3)A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received this book for an honest review and my first thought was about its physical form. 919 pages are crammed into tiny font on thin paper in a voluminous paperback that makes it really uncomfortable to hold and hard to read. If this had been a standalone book, I would not even have picked it off the bookshelf. But I read and enjoyed ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ and the slightly less romantic ‘World without End’. As book 3 in the series, I had to start this one and once I did, true to Ken Follett style, it had me gripped.

‘A Column of Fire’ is set in the 1500s in a Kingsbridge now torn by conflict. Here’s where you get to see how religion goes from being a spiritual guide to a dangerous political machine. In the past two books (and centuries), monarchs battled over land, property and wealth. In this one, they begin to battle over something even bigger – people’s belief and loyalty. Protestantism and Catholism go head to head in vicious, intolerant massacre. Overlaying these are the political machinations of the surrounding regions like France, Spain and Scotland.

History buffs will enjoy the references to the major Queens of England. Kingsbridge, having grown from the little village of the 1100s of The Pillars of the Earth, is evidently a bustling city by the 1500s and it produces several people who go onto play key roles in the fates of these kings & queens (Mary of the Scots, Elizabeth of England, Felipe of Spain, James of England). The Pope & the Catholic Church come across as just as powerful political forces as each of the monarchs.

These fictitious characters play major roles with Mary, Elizabeth and the others being support characters. That said, the Kingsbridge books have started to feel less and less about intimate stories of ordinary people and more about chronicling history in a fictional setting. While ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ was about small, unimportant people (of their times) like a stone mason, a woman of the forest and a monk, ‘A Column of Fire’ deals with the decisions and tribulations of successful traders, landed peers and political advisors.

I also saw a few modern phrases/references slip in which seemed incongruous to the timeline of the story. For instance, Page 99 had a mention of ‘a few Native Americans’ when I’m not sure if they were called that in the 1500s before the colonisation of America.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous two (especially the first!). The plot seemed more important than the characters and I found it easy to skip past entire pages. Given how long the book is, at some point of time it became about identifying what parts of the story were going to meander into things I’ve read about in history already, rather than where the plot itself was going to take me next. I do however want to mention that this is an extraordinarily clear-headed look at the exploitation of women & other races by a white male author. It’s also good to read a book that doesn’t pull any punches when it addresses the unfettered greed for power by the Catholic Church as well as the Protestant community, when it addresses history.

If you are new to the Kingsbridge series, don’t worry about not having read the previous two. Each book in this series stands by itself, being that they’re each set 200 years apart. But going through them in order allows you the additional enjoyment of watching regular lives turn into history and then legend and then be forgotten.

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Sex Stories

The crazy fucking of true crime
The elaborate lovemaking of literary fiction
The steady sex of drama
The quickies of comedy
The romantic touches of tragedy
The slow strokes of horror

Every story is a sex story with its reader.

Biblios

Biblios

Dreamdust will always smell like ink and paste

The library is where all dreams begin, sculpted in paper cuts

Turn the page. 

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Flinch, Harriet

It’s a good thing June’s here. April was awful. May was better, in comparison, but not actually good. I’ve spent the first ten days of June realising that I survived my personal goal of two months of the Anti-Flinch ban. What have I learnt? That flinching is not all bad.

I read ‘Harriet the Spy’. A 11-year-old girl writes her thoughts and (sometimes snoopy) observations in a notebook. Her friends find it and read the book, hate what they read and proceed to attack her systematically. The family and system gets involved, take away her books and force her into therapy. Only a writer who has been gagged will ever understand the horror of that. I have experienced this before, when I was much younger and worse off and it was bloody.

Since the horrible incident in March, I’ve been silenced and lashed with statements like ‘Everyone thinks you’re a man-hater’ and ‘You’re just being silly, honey’. I’ve barely been able to breathe and not realised it. And the words stuffed back into me, turned into something poisonous (just like with Harriet) that made me sick. I was being suffocated.

Come first of June, I switched off my phone in a lot of pain. It hurt so much, too much to make sense of what why where who. Literally a minute later, I could suddenly breathe. I slept well for the first time in months. The next morning when I awoke, I reached for the phone. And then I thought, this feels so good, let me have just a little more. The phone stayed off 13 hours. I am not talking about freedom from social media notifications but freedom from a different sort of poison. Till I dared switch off my phone, I didn’t realise exactly what I was fearing.

I interrupt sleep, work, social occasions to respond immediately, fearing violent reactions from a few people in my life. I keep my phone on through the night, sometimes getting up at 4AM, just to show, ‘I’m there for you, 24 x 7′. In those 13 hours I realised, none of those people do the same for me. What’s more, in the past few months, they’ve been dismissive of my problems, lied to me, blamed me for things that have nothing to do with me, just not been there and shrugged it off with the excuse of ‘I’m having problems’. It was adding starvation to suffocation.

Perhaps this is my own fault. There is an ego-stroke by way of feeling needed, a grandeur in being the saviour. That same ego notices that it is being battered by being made to feel terrible for being there. No more. I can give this up, like I can give up other potential addictions. And I do those by quitting cold turkey. If that is like a flinch reaction, hallelujah, the anti-flinch ban has been lifted.

Shutting my phone off was the first step to throwing off both suffocation and starvation. Lifting my anti-flinch ban has let me just move away from situations that are detrimental to my wellbeing. I bring my best to people (as much empathy, respect and hope as I can muster). And when they let me down or disappoint me, I move on. That’s labelled as reckless, cruel, impulsive and other things that made me mistake them for wrongful. But I need to be able to do this because if I don’t, I am trapped in situations with my unexpressed emotions turning poisonous.

My flinch reactions help me move out of detrimental situations or ones that have outlived their purpose. I am not a thoughtless, impulsive person. Quite the contrary. I invest a lot in people, situations and actions. Which means, if I do not give myself the permission to cease when I say stop, I imprison myself. My flinch reactions are inconvenient to other people, not to me. Especially when these are people who demand from me what they do not feel the need to give, it’s time to take my power back. I’m reclaiming the flinch.

June has been neither lonely nor sad. I’ve slept better than I have all year. I’ve rested easier. My garden grows well and I’m feeling easier in my mind. I can suddenly read again. And now, I’m writing.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

BOOK Revi: Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher

ewThirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after hearing everyone talk about the television show (which I still haven’t seen). The Wikipedia entry promised that this would be dark and it wasn’t lying. It’s nowhere close to Gone Girl but I’d say Gone Girl’s Amy may have been something like this book’s Hannah Baker when she was younger.

The things that happen to Hannah expose the brutal gendered violence and hostility meted out to women all over the world, even in privileged groups like white urban America. Slut-shaming, fuckboy manipulation, bullying, stalking, harassment, rape…all of these find graphic mention in the story. These are important issues that do not get addressed enough and worse, are invalidated by even the legal systems across nations.

The blurb already tells you about the dead girl’s suicide note via cassette tapes. There is a whiny, accusatory tone throughout, which I suppose stays true to this being a diary entry style confessional about a suicidal (now dead) teenager. There is a very specific point where Hannah’s narrative goes from shocked victim to mentally unstable. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing since it seems to indicate that depression could be caused by external events rather than being an illness of its own kind.

It’s not very clear why Clay is part of this story at all, given there’s absolutely no foreshadowing or indication that she even knows of his existence. Similarly, Tony is a bit too deus ex machina. All the characters other than Hannah and Clay appear one-dimensional. I’m not sure that this is a deliberate attempt to establish an unreliable narrator. It just seems like poor characterisation. Even given the first person narrative, it’s interspersed with enough of Clay’s point of view to balance out the other characters. The book does not do this.

I guess in sum, I’d say this book could have been better but considering there isn’t one mainstream one addressing these issues among teenagers in an easy-to-read way, this is as good as it gets. It’s quite readable.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Aren’t You Glad I’m Not Carrie?

I tell people being an only child made me a reader because there was nothing much for a kid in 80s to do. I tell them I grew up in an environment surrounded by books so it was inevitable I’d become a reader. I say being a writer is a subset of being a reader and I’m even more voracious than I’m prolific. But the truth is, like the category of this post is called, my soulmate truly is a book. Books have appeared, like guardian angels or fairy godmothers (whichever mythical being you like better) in my life at opportune times with appropriate messages. People and situations now feel like illustrations of whatever the books I’m reading are trying to teach me.

A fortnight ago, Vivek Jejuja put out a call asking for people with whom to discuss Stephen King’s Carrie. I haven’t been a fan of Stephen King for a number of reasons I’ll explain later. But I have been dying for a book conversation and I have been wanting an inroad to get to know the magnificent Vivekisms (who is already a good friend, only he didn’t know it yet). So I bought the book.

In the same week, an old school classmate called to tell me about a high school reunion. These two events are significant but only if you know what the book is about. So if you haven’t read the book and plan to, here’s your SPOILER ALERT.

I was far from being the popular kid in school. By far I mean, the exact opposite. I know a lot of people now who lament that nobody knew them in school. That’s really not the worst thing to happen to a child. The worst thing to happen to a child is other children who know you but not as someone they want to be nice to.

I am not going to lament the tortures I suffered in classrooms. I know that children have no perspective on the future or morals. I know a lot of them grew up to be pretty decent adults. And like the characters in ‘Carrie’, many of them probably didn’t even realise what was happening and if they’d thought about it, they’d be as remorseful. The big problem with bullying and harassment is that they look disproportionately different depending on which side of the fence you’re standing on.

Last year I was added to a school Whatsapp group and I had a firsthand experience of why this is a groanworthy ordeal for us digi-nerds. My phone was pinging at all hours of the day and night with 768 notifications from people from all over the world, the messages ranging from “HELLO GM! Sooo great to see everyone here!” to selfies to “Who’s here? Oh him!” I bore well with it for 2 days, setting it on mute even as it annoyed me. I am one of those people who only relaxes when all notifications have been cleared, unread emails/messages read and responded to and so on. Then one more member was added and the string of “Hi!”, “What’s up with you?”s began before he asked the inevitable “Who else is already here?” (honestly, can 37 year olds not figure out how to go to the Members list on a Whatapp group?). I groaned at the slew of repeat introductions, repeat-repeats and interruptions that would follow. Someone said “Ramya’s here too.” To which he responded,

“What? Buck-teeth Ramya?”

I stayed on the group another hour, long enough to read people’s sniggers, someone else say, “Dude, she’s here and can read your message” and his “haha, just kidding” followed by awkward silence on a group that had been pinging nonstop for 2 days. I shouldn’t have wasted even that hour before I took myself off the group.

I have learnt that people have zero empathy. I have learnt that people like to play ‘My woes are worse than yours’ which is the death of that thing called empathy. And I can tell that that boy (if I think of him as a man, it will make thinking about the human race too sad) doesn’t even think he did anything wrong. Who is laughing at a joke about somebody’s bad teeth? Everybody. Because this is not about bad teeth, body shaming or any of those things. It’s about getting used to treating people one way and logic, empathy or even human fairness be damned. It’s about robbing a person of who they want to be and forcing them into an unpleasant role for your own entertainment.

I’ve been troubled ever since I received the invitation to the school reunion, not wanting to seem petulant, wanting to be that ‘good sport’. But I realised as I read Carrie, that this was never going to change. People who saw me a certain way as children, are never going to see me differently. They will react badly if I try to get them to do so. High school reunions are for those who were cool in school. But if their lives continue to be so wonderful, why do need to go back to their childhood/adolescent selves? And how are they going to behave in order to fulfil that need?

chool was possibly the worst time of my life and that’s counting abusive relationships, dirty politics at work, unemployment and people I know dying. I had agency in all those cases, even if only over how I could respond. I had none in those horrible years between 3 and 16. I have no desire to relive it.

I do not have Carrie’s powers and that’s a good thing for the world. It’s time life started being things that were good for me too. So on Saturday, I chose not to go to the school reunion and spent it reading Carrie instead. Thank you, Vivek, for two new friends – you and a book. 😊

Here’s my review of the book:

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CarrieCarrie by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been skeptical about Stephen King for over a decade now, mostly because I read ‘Misery’ at 20 during a breakup and just when I was working to be a writer. Years later, I read ‘Dreamcatcher’ which even King fans tell me is not one of his good ones. A friend asked me to read ‘Carrie’ so I could discuss it with him, so I decided to give King novels another chance. I’m glad I did.

Much has been made about the first period experience, which triggers off the plot of this story. Stephen King does a commendable job, as a male writer, of highlighting girl/women’s trauma. Parts of it still had me thinking, “No, that’s not what a period feels like. A man obviously wrote this.”

For me, the more interesting parts were the rabid religious beliefs and the effects of toxic/abusive upbringing on a child. What set this story apart for me is that it tells of such a child who did rebel and break out of it (even if, with disastrous results).

The bullying aspect also felt realistic, not painting the bullies as bad people but just people caught up in things that they don’t think about and regret later.

And finally, there was the semi-epistolary narrative (the story switches between excerpts of news reports and actual plot). It felt like a bit too much emphasis on Carrie, the WEIRD one. But perhaps the novel wouldn’t have been as impactful without it.

I can see why Stephen King is considered one of the best popular fiction writers of out times. And I definitely intend to check out his other books now.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

BOOK Review: Looking For Alaska – John Green

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first John Green was ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ which I came to reluctantly, assuming it would be soppy and shoddily written. I was wrong. Falling in love with that book led me to rush out and buy ‘Paper Towns‘. And that was a HUGE letdown (with a great title). I also bought ‘Looking for Alaska‘ but after ‘Paper Towns‘, I put it away, my taste for John Green’s neurotic teenagers soured.

I picked it up again this week, meaning to clear my unread shelf and we’re back in love. Just like ‘Paper Towns‘, the heroine of this novel is self-absorbed, flaky, impulsive and just plain bad for you. But unlike in that one, she’s glorified a little less and the protagonists are a bit more self-aware of how destructive she is for them.

The ending (or should I call it the middle, since the book is roughly split into Before, During and After) is a shock in a good way because it makes you realise just how much you care about the characters. The lines are funny and then tragic but always poignant in that teenage way where everything is intense but also true. The plot transitions smoothly too even if it takes awhile to get started.

John Green’s writing is warm and intimate and makes you feel close to the situations and characters even if you don’t like them or relate to them much.

I don’t know what went wrong with ‘Paper Towns‘ but ‘Looking for Alaska‘ gets it right in all the ways that ‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ did. If you liked the latter, you’ll definitely like this one. I’d even go so far to say this is the better book, because it manages to touch you without all the cancer melodrama of TFIOS. Skip ‘Paper Towns‘, move right on to Alaska and the stars.

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