Friday, December 31, 2010

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Book Review

This is a book written just so it can be made into a movie and surely, the little blurb on the paperback I am reading says “Now a major motion picture”; which also means that I am reading it probably a few years after it showed up in bookstores and became a bestseller. Written by Sophie Kinsella in the typical breezy chick-lit genre, it another Bridget Jones, in the guise of Becky Bloomwood, a twenty-something with a job she can barely tolerate but needs desperately to pay for her addiction.
Retail-therapy is what works for our heroine, as the title suggests. As you flip through the pages, you find her acquiring objects with a frenzy that is mind-boggling. From her penchant for cappuccino and chocolate to her obsession with branded clothes and shoes, she comes across as an air-head with a credit card but no concept of living within her means. As all addicts, she lies and cheats to feed her weakness but instead of dark drama , the narrative is light-hearted and downright funny.

Situated in the happening city of London, we come across names of all major retailers including Harrods and some that may not be as familiar to readers from other countries. But it is hard to not be reminded of the predicament of damsels in distress across centuries from the time of Jane Austen, who need to be rescued by knights in shining armor. In times of fiscal crisis as Becky finds herself in with her credit cards confiscated and accounts that are penniless, she comes across not one but two prospective knights of the new millennium who have the potential to save her.

The book is an easy read, funny and light, good to take while awaiting that delayed flight or to take along on a holiday.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Women Who Dared

Edited by : Ritu Menon
Price : Rs. 75-00

Women who dared is a modest but sincere attempt to record the contribution that a few representative women have engineered in the socio-cultural landscape of the country over the last fifty years. The readers will get glimpse of the nation's own biography as it is reflected in the lives of women through their brief cameo autobiographies. The anthology features women who, in their diverse way, have not only left a mark of their own, but in some significant ways represent the struggles and aspirations of the entire womenfolk.

There are many many women who became very famous in their chosen fields. But this book gives just 21 women for the present. May be there are many omissions but the list itself is also good. Few of the 21 women is as below.

(1) Karanam Malleswari: She has the pride of place as an international weight-lifting champion. Weight-lifting for women has become synonymous with her name. She has won 25 golds over the years nationally and internationally. She has awarded many awards including the Padmashri award.

(2) Preety Sen Gupta: She exemplifies the invincible traveler! She has been traveling across the world, always alone, for over three decades and visited more than a hundred countries on all six continents of the world-and the seventh Antarctica , as well. She became the first Indian and first vegetarian to reach the Magnetic North Pole in the high Arctics. She travels without any prior reservations or bookings. It is very fantastic to read her adventures.

(3) Padma Ramachandran: She was the first woman IAS officer in the early 1950s and retired as Chief Secretary of Kerala Government. She is the President of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development, Trivandrum.

(4) Sonal Mansingh: She is an unparalleled representative of the ancient but ever new art dance traditions of India. Her role as a social activist, thinker, researcher, orator, choreographer and teacher combines with her dancing, further enriching the tradition. She is a leading exponent of Odissi, the ancient traditional dance style of Orissa. She has won many many awards.

Very interesting and inspirational book.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Life in Music

Name of the book : M S A life in Music
Author: T.J.S.GEORGE
Cost : Rs.295-00

M. S. Subbulakshmi, the famous name of Carnatic music is to known to all music lovers of India. To know how music transcends all barriers, all one has to do is to listen to MS Subbulakshmi sing. Her mellifluous voice, her phenomenal diction and above all, her emotional and aesthetic appeal held audiences worldwide spell bound. Her long and fascinating odyssey began in the south Indian temple town of Madurai and took her to various places including Madras, New York and London. She became famous because of her concerts for charitable causes. Her first charitable cause Kasturba Gandhi. If her repertoire was legendary, so was her humility, despite having won the Magsaysay Award ( 1974 ) and the Bharat Ratna ( 1998 ).

She is married to Sri T.Sasasivam , who guided her career and made her famous. They are very closely connected to the famous personalities of that time like Sri C.Rajagopalachari, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Babu Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan to name a few. They also maintained close rapport with North Indian Hindustani Ustads such as Bismillah Khan (Shehnai), Ravi Shankar (Sitar), Alla Rakha (tabla) Alladiya Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan are her idols. Nehru is a great admirer of MS. At one of her concerts where Nehru is the chief guest he said " who-am-I-a-mere-Prime Minister-before-a-queen-of-songs ".

This authoritative biography unravels the saga of one of India's most revered and respected musicians, whose name became synonymous with bhakti.

This is a very good book worth reading.

Friday, December 24, 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life - Book Review

I picked up the book at Evening Hour attracted by the title - coffee is definitely classified as a stimulating beverage but lifesaving? I was intrigued by the description that it was "the riches to rags story of a man who had it all, then lost it all and found it again."

The book is a memoir of Michael Gates Gill, a man in his sixties, living in New York, who finds himself in unexpected circumstances after a life of privilege. Son of a prominent writer and blessed with a picture-perfect life; prestigious job at a respected advertising agency, wife and kids, houses and corporate perks, Michael loves the life of luxury that he is blessed with. But with sudden job loss, followed by other personal misfortunes, he finds himself without a job, a home and all alone.

That is when he walks into a Starbucks for a latte and is asked by a young black woman whether he wants a job. On a whim and clutching the offer as a last straw, Michael begins a new life as a "partner" at Starbucks. He literally learns a new way of life and begins by cleaning the toilet and floors. Over a period of time, Michael learns not only how to start a new career from the bottom of the ladder but also interacts with people who were never part of his social sphere and learns about respect, dignity of labor and most importantly, how to find happiness in life. Starbucks provides a supportive work environment which respects guests and partners (as customers and employees as called in Starbucks lingo) and provides the ideal space for Michael to have his epiphanies. He builds a relationship with his grown children on an equal footing and regains his self-esteem.

The book is written in a light, narrative style with broad glimpses of life in upper-class New York society, a time in US history where Michael is fortunate enough to meet the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Ernest Hemmingway and others. There are personal insights along the way including advice on how precious moments of life are bypassed in the quest for career success, fame or money.

As the story chronicles Michael's life for a period of almost a year, the book appears to be not just the story of one person but of Starbucks as an organization that truly strives to be different in its approach towards both its partners as well as its guests.

I particularly liked the quotes at the beginning of each chapter which are quotes printed on the side of coffee cups at Starbucks, either extracts from songs or by guests at Starbucks. My favorite one was "The human catalysts for dreamers are the teachers and encouragers that dreamers encounter throughout their lives. So here's a special thanks to all of the teachers." Micheal describes his school teacher, Miss Markham, who kept faith in Michael who as a boy who could not read until he was in sixth grade and wrote him a prediction "Michael Gates Gill is destined to be great."

For most of the book, the teacher's prediction seemed redundant considering that a child born into the lap of luxury, graduate of Yale, top brass at a prestigious ad agency, pretty much had lived a live preordained through his birth until his sixties. But at the end of the book, Michael acknowledges all the significant influences in the writing of the book and the fact that it was chosen to be made into a film by the incredibly talented Tom Hanks.

Michael Gill attained his greatness as predicted by Miss Markham, but only when he rewrote his fate by starting over, at the place where most of us live all our lives.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Confession by John Grisham

Page-Turner is an adjective that is often used to describe John Grisham novels. The latest book by John Grisham, The Confession, published by Arrow books turned out to be another of those page-turners right from the first few pages. The story starts with just another visitor, though he seems peculiar with no coat and shoes, to the Church wanting to talk to the minister. No sooner is it revealed that this visitor is one who had been in the prison many times and many years for rapes, assaults, and now on parole but also has an inoperable brain tumor.

The visitor to the Church, Travis Boyette abducted, raped and killed Nicole, a high-school cheerleader. Not knowing the true murderer, the city police arrested Donte Drumm, a local football star and sent him to the death row. After nine years, when Donte Drumm is just days away from execution, Travis Boyette feels the guilt and decides to confess and set Donte Drumm free. As a first step, he approached Keith, the Minister of the Church. At Donte Drumm's end, there is a lawyer Robbie Flak who believed Donte and had been fighting for all the nine years, in every way possible. Though it felts like a straightforward mystery, what follows is a journey of twists, and an ending that is least expected.

John Grisham took a lot of effort in establishing the case, the characters, their attitudes, preferences, and even the smaller details including the body movements. While the beginning seems to move at a slow pace because of the character establishment, and describing the case background, soon after, the story picks up speed and the plot unravels.

Surely another good mystery by John Grisham!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Readers Guild Book Club Meets

EveningHour launched new programs on its first anniversary, October 23rd. One of it is the Readers Guild Book Club! The club meets once a month, on every second Saturday at 4 PM. The members discuss the key aspects that they learnt from the book, any observations that they made, how they are applicable to the regular life style, any character that they have liked or the sequence of events that has impressed them. The list can go on. At the end of the meet, the group decides on the next month's book as well.

Readers Guild Members have met twice so far, Nov 13th and Dec 11th. For the first meet, the group read and discussed about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People written by Stephen R. Covey. Though it was a small group of 5, the discussion was highly informative and lasted for a whole one hour. The group talked about all the seven habits and understood the significance of the habits. The habits cover both personal victory as well as public victory.

Since the first book was a non-fiction, the decision was that the second book should be a fiction so that we can cover all the genres one after the other. Catcher in the Rye is a highly acclaimed, loved and also a controversial book where the main character is an anti-hero. When the book was released, while the teenagers loved the hero,  parents, schools and libraries banned the book and any talk of it. It indeed turned out to be quite an interesting read. The members said they completed the book in one go. The 20+ loved the book while the 30+ thought it was an interesting book. On the whole, the book was well received.

At the end of the meet, the team decided to expand the next month's meet to not just one book but to all the books written by the famous 'John Grisham'. His latest book 'The Confession' is out and this will be a good time to read it and also talk about his famous works. Join us Jan 8th for the next Readers Guild Meet.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Catcher in the Rye

Lots of people have told me that Catcher in the Rye is a 20th century classic and a good read. Though I always wanted to read the book, the language was a little '20th century-ish' and I ended up postponing for another time. But, now that EveningHour Book Club's month-of-the-book is 'Catcher in the Rye', I picked it up again.

The story is about a teenager who had been ousted from school, his life-style at the hostel, friends, girl-friends, the measures he takes to hide it from the parents and a whole lot more - all in his own words. He was ousted from the school because of the marks in the exams, and because of the altercation with the roommate in the hostel, he vacated it immediately. What he does from then on until he reaches home is the major part of the novel.

The novel's protagonist and antihero, Holden Caulfield, became an icon for teenage rebellion. A very controversial book, banned from schools and libraries for the bad influence on the children. 

Many books have taken 'inspiration' from this Catcher in the Rye. Surprisingly, the book has never been made into a movie!