2016: My Year in Books

January 9, 2017

For the second year running, I managed to average one book every two weeks. Not bad, huh?

For the record, here’s the list:

  1. Kafka on the Shore by Harumi Murakami – Off to a flying start, one might say. One Murakami down the hatch and things can only get better. I mean, Murakami is awesome… but one per year is about all one can manage without losing one’s marbles.
  2. Revival by Stephen King – He’s the boss! Every book of his is a masterpiece!
  3. The Green Mile by Stephen King – Ok, he’s still the boss, but it’s difficult to take two slightly similar books of his one after the other. Still, an unforgettable book.
  4. The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry – I picked this one up at the library just because I liked the title and the blurb. Weird but interesting book.
  5. Disgrace by Jussi Adler Olson – Good book, but not great. I’ve read others by this author (Mercy, Redemption), and all of them are good, but not great.
  6. The Help by Kathryn Stackett – Oddly enough, I enjoyed this very much. Again, I picked it up at the library in a “what’ve-I-got-to-lose” kind of way because I don’t really go for this period nor for serious black/white discrimination kind of themes… but it was extremely interesting and kept me hooked.
  7. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – I read this only because it was by JK Rowling, and I enjoyed it immensely.
  8. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri – Not such an enthralling book.
  9. The Third Twin by Ken Follet – Ok, I picked this one up at the library only because it had “twin” in the title. And after all, Ken Follet, so it should be ok. It turned out to be too old-fashioned and rather superficial – both characters and plot lacked depth. At the time it was written, it might have been more cutting-edge, I suppose.
  10. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon – I’d read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time more than a decade ago, and I picked up this book just to see what the author was up to these days. Turned out to be quite an interesting book about a somewhat weird (but believable) family.
  11. Flesh and Blood by Jonathan Kellerman – A run of the mill serial murderer book.
  12. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud – I loved the Bartimaeus series, so I was looking around for something by the same author and this is what I found. Once I read the first of the series, I was hooked. Fantasy, but such fun!
  13. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie – Another slightly-weird-family with a wedding in the offing book. The third this year! Quite interesting.
  14. Gone by Lisa Gardner – Apparently I quite enjoyed this book, but I can’t for the life of me remember anything about it, so it must have been rather forgettable. I read it in July.
  15. Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud – A delightful book a step up from Enid Blyton. Well, I don’t think one ever entirely outgrows Enid Blyton, so why not? A 14-year-old boy runs away from his protected and sheltered home to fight a war and cover himself in glory.
  16. Tar Baby by Toni Morrison – Good lord, why do I even try to read these literary books? This book drove me crazy. Started off so well, I loved it, and then it went on and on and completely lost the plot and my interest as well. And ended with a whimper, to top it off.

17, 18, 19. Lockwood & Co by Jonathan Stroud – Ah, great, back to light, easy, fun reading. And like desert after veggies, I got myself a triple helping. The Whispering Skull and The Hollow Boy and then, to my chagrin, I had to wait several weeks for The Creeping Shadow. In fact, not all the books are equally good… but all of them are good.

20. Good Omens by Neil Gaimen and Terry Pratchet – Two fabulous fantasy writers collaborating on one book? How can it not be awesome?

21. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith – The third book in the series. I didn’t like this one that much – too much relationship stuff going on and too little whodunit.

22. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – Again, an odd choice for me, because I stay away from books about the Second World War. This one wasn’t depressing (the war was just in the background, really) but it was just way too weird with way too many lesbians. Why do I even pick up these books?

23. The Gunslinger by Stephen King – I’d been waiting to get my hands on the first of the Dark Tower series but when I finally did, I didn’t like it. Most upsetting, given that I was expecting to like it. The combination of Western and Fantasy (or plain weird, in Stephen King’s case) just didn’t work for me.

24. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – Probably the most memorable book of the year (which is saying a lot, given that it’s competing with Lockwood & Co, to say nothing of Kafka on the Shore). I loved the first half of the book, but then it began to demand a little too much willing suspension of disbelief even for Sci-fi. The first half was so interesting, though, that I will probably pick up the next book in the series.

25. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin – Alright, this really is a children’s book, but it’s a delightful read. I loved the way the story was woven in and out of a fairy tale, complete with dragons and kings and the man in the moon. Beautiful!

26. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Another amazing book and possibly a contender for most memorable book of the year. Fantasy again, yes, but the setting is fabulous. Also, along with Good Omens, it’s a book that I need to go back and read a second time to understand all that’s going on. A great book to end the year on.


A Night to Remember

December 22, 2016

What a night.

I went to bed at 10 p.m. as usual, but was kept awake by the sound of water running out. You should know that we’re a bit fanatic about water around here. There’s nothing that Amit won’t do to save half a cup of water – and this is our lovingly harvested rain water contributed by a scanty monsoon and a cyclone that I’m talking about. Ordinarily, after the November or December cyclone, we have sufficient water to see us through a clear two months. After that, it’s back to Cauvery water until the April thundershowers arrive. And if you think Cauvery water is good, well, you certainly haven’t tasted rain water then.

So when we hear water running out, we tend to be a bit paranoid about it. Had we left a tap running somewhere? Was there a leak? We tried to convince ourselves that it originated somewhere across the road, but couldn’t refrain from further investigation. So we got ourselves out of bed, stumbled downstairs and went all the way out into the street, where we discovered (to our relief) that the neighbours appeared to have left a garden tap running. It being 10.30 by this time, we didn’t think it wise to knock on their door and tell them this. Anyway, the flow had pretty much stopped; perhaps their tank had emptied.

We went back to bed and fell asleep, only to be awoken three hours later by the sound of water gushing somewhere close at hand. It’s not the rainy season anymore, there’s absolutely no reason for water to be gushing anywhere closer than the Cauvery itself (if even that can bring itself to gush after the miserable monsoon we had this year). The sound had unobtrusively entered my dreams but it was Amit who jumped out of bed first. I guess the gushing had been part of the background for quite a while by then.

This time, it was in our house. A tap had broken and fallen off the wall. That’s right – apparently such things can happen, and since they can, they will … at 1.30 a.m. when you’re peacefully asleep, leaving the water to run for ages before you wake up and do something about it. Of course, it could have been worse. It could have happened while we were away. Or while we’d inadvertently left the pump on.

As it happened, we were only asleep not away and the pump was off, so the broken tap drained our overhead tank (which had about 600 litres of water at the time) but didn’t have an opportunity to drain the underground tank (which stores around 12,000 litres when it’s full – and it was pretty close to full, thanks to the cyclone).

So, at 1.30 a.m. Amit goes charging out to turn off the water supply to that tap, leaving me to hold the tap in place as tightly as I can to prevent the last few of the 600 litres from going down the drain with the rest of it.

And then all we have to do is mop up the mess and get back to bed.

We can still hear the water gurgling merrily through our reed bed, into our gray water tank, and out into the drain – because our gray water tank wasn’t expecting a sudden influx of close to 600 litres and so it overflowed, of course.

Added to that, the street dogs barking endlessly, thrilled to bits at our predicament or just exchanging the news of the night with friends near and far; either way effortlessly (and possibly unintentionally) keeping us awake and miserable for a very long time.

I fell asleep eventually, but the night wasn’t done with me just yet. The next time my sleep was broken – rudely, at that – by the howling of the burglar alarm. And when I say howling, I actually mean shrieking like a banshee. I’ve never heard a banshee screaming – ok, let’s be honest, I don’t actually know what a banshee is – but I’m convinced it can’t sound any worse than our burglar alarm. It was 4.45 a.m. by now, so it was unlikely to be a burglar trying to get into the house; more likely just the wretched pesky cats triggering the motion sensor; but I had to leap out of bed to shut off the infernal racket before it woke the entire neighbourhood and also drove me insane, which it can do in 15 seconds flat. It had to be me leaping out of bed this time, mind you. Unless there’s water running, Amit’s no good at leaping out of bed.

Grumbling and swearing, I declined to search for imaginary intruders and fell back into my bed – only to be awoken 15 minutes later by the neighbours washing their driveway. What the…??? I simply do not understand what drives people to do this futile thing at this ungodly hour of day. To add to my woes, the dogs were barking again (perhaps they had never stopped) and the neighbours’ running tap was running again (not the same neighbours who were washing their driveway, mind; we have neighbours on every side around here). Perhaps, now that it was early morning and Cauvery water would have started flowing, it had a fresh stock of water to send in a rivulet down the lane.

Fifteen restless minutes later, my alarm went off.

Naturally, as soon as I’d turned off the wretched thing, I fell blissfully asleep, only to leap out of bed 20 minutes later with a curse when I realized I was late for tennis. Of course I went for tennis. Since it’s still dark at 6 a.m. these days, there’s nothing amiss in going a few minutes late. I jumped into the car, drove off, and started the windshield wiper to clear the fog. With a clunk, one wiper fell off and landed on the bonnet.

Never in my long and eventful life (in a manner of speaking) have I had a more entertaining night than last night.

 


Ten!

August 25, 2016

Yes ten. That’s how old the kids are today.

I can’t believe it.

Nine odd years ago, in the first few days after these bundles of infinite energy had just come home with us, I remember wondering how I would even make it to the end of the week, let alone the next so many years! The prospect was unthinkable, unimaginable, beyond unbelievable. Overwhelming.

And shameful. After all, this was what I’d signed up for, hoped for, prayed for. And I was so, so lucky. Twins. For someone who couldn’t even conceive, what are the odds?

Confused? Well, it was confusing, I can tell you that. I was lucky, but exhausted. Satisfied, but … was that depression around the fringes of what should have been fulfillment?

The days crept by. They learnt to walk. I learnt to breath (yes, I’d forgotten how, for a while there). We got by. We had fun, sometimes. We tore our hair out, a lot. We were a family, like any other. Despite the odds.

And now they’re ten. Not babies, not toddlers, not kids, not even children any more. My girls. My daughters. Almost grown up. Sometimes I can see the grown up in them – just a fleeting glimpse.

When they were small, people used to tell me, once in a way, how lucky I was to have kids that age. Time goes by so fast, they’d say. Enjoy it while it lasts, they’d say. Of course, this was from people whose kids were now in their twenties or older. Those days were safely in the realm of ancient, sepia-tinted memories to the giver of those words of wisdom. To the receiver? I didn’t feel lucky, most of the time. Given the circumstances of how our family came to be, I never forgot, can never forget, how lucky I really am. How blessed. But that doesn’t mean that I actually felt lucky all the time, every moment of every day. Does that ever happen? Can every moment of a parenting journey ever be one of unmitigated joy, happiness, and good fortune? Surely not. We all have those moments of tiredness, frustration, wretchedness, when the kids do their best to drive us up the wall and succeed.

But ten.

When they were small, the problems were small, but at that moment, they were overwhelming. Toilet training for instance. Twins, remember? Tantrums. Trying to get them to just bloody go to sleep! Illnesses and war wounds. Sunday evenings spent hunting for a doctor, any doctor. And when they couldn’t properly talk… just trying to understand the need of the moment. The constant worrying – is she hot, is she cold, is she sleepy, is she hungry, is she sick, is she about to fall sick, does something hurt…

All of that’s gone away.

But who said it would be easier? That was just a hope we clung to, desperately, to get through those years. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets different.

There are the battles we fight these days, and there are the battles waiting to be fought in the years ahead. But right now I know this: I no longer worry about making it through the next week. And I can’t wait to see what happens over the next ten years… and beyond.


Because All Good Things Must…

September 17, 2015

And so, this lovely break too comes to an end. Sigh.

I have to admit that I didn’t achieve nearly as much as I thought I would. On the other hand though, I did the main task, which was to write a book, and I did it faster than I thought I would.

Three months ago, I had a rosy notion that I would spend mornings researching and writing my new book, and in the afternoons I would edit some of my existing drafts. No such luck. It turns out that I really can’t write one thing in the morning and edit another in the afternoon. The writing had me completely immersed in that world, and I must say it was wonderful.

In the past, I’ve never had the luxury of being able to focus completely and entirely on the book I’m writing. I’ve always had something else take the role of Job Number One. It was usually work, but when I wrote the adoption book, it was looking after twin toddlers – and what a Job Number One that is! So this time, apart from the usual, mundane household chores, the fact that writing my book was Job Number One was a wonderful experience. I don’t know if the book has turned out any better for it, but the writing experience was definitely much more delightful.

The book itself is perhaps not quite as way out and fantastical as I would have wanted it to be. I”m satisfied with what it is, but it’s not way out there. I somehow don’t think I can write something that’s completely way out there – like fantasy or magical realism. I’m far too grounded to really let go and fly. Pity, but that’s the way it is. Still, it says all I wanted it to say (I think), and that’s a nice feeling.

On the publishing front, I don’t have much hope for any of my languishing masterpieces. I’ll keep pegging away at trying to get an agent or a publisher, but I’m not optimistic. I’m going to set a timeout and after that, I’m just going to give up on the whole endeavour as a lost cause. Oh well. At least two of them saw the light of day, however briefly. (And there’s always self-publishing to consider. My heart is not in it, but it is an option. Let’s see.)

Meanwhile, my long list of other things to get done while I’m on a holiday just didn’t happen. I did manage to organize the tons of data that I’ve accumulated on scattered devices over the years. You know – 2000-odd photos and videos of the kids, another few hundred photos of recent travels, articles that were published online many years ago and have since disappeared, the only remaining copy now on an ancient hard disk that is on the verge of becoming unusable. I had to rush it over to a data recovery lab where they managed to extract 40 GB of data from it, including photos from the kids’ birthday last year, which I had somehow managed not to replicate anywhere else. I didn’t, however, get around to painting the metal spiral staircase outside, or the lamp posts that line the garden, or polishing the teak dining table, or scrubbing the tiles, or any of that fun stuff. I haven’t even managed to shop for some new music online, which I’m hoping I might still get around to in the tiny sliver of time I have left before the madness of work swallows me up once again.

I did survive two whole months of five-days-a-week yoga, without missing too many classes. On the whole, having got this far, I’m inclined to say that I like it – it is nice, that all-stretched-out feeling. It helps that I can actually do most of the asanas that I’ve tried so far (and of course, I can ignore the ones that I can’t do at all). I’m going to try and keep it up at least three days a week after I resume work… but let’s see how that goes. It is tiring.

And that’s about it. A mixed report card, some good, some not so good. Either way, it’s been a fabulous break. I’ve enjoyed taking a long leisurely hour over my breakfast with a book. I’ve enjoyed being around when the kids get home from school, starting homework at the happy hour of 5 instead of the cranky hour of 6.30, sometimes sneaking off to the library to get us a fresh set of books. I’ve gone through ten books in this break… fabulous!

And now, I’m looking forward to getting back to work… but I know life is going to go back to being crazy hectic when I do. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.


More than half way… or less?

August 27, 2015

So, obviously, I’ve lost track of the days. I think I’m at Day 43, but to be honest, I can’t really count that far. 🙂

I do know that 43 is not more than half way to 90. But then, the thing is, I’m not counting up to 90 anymore anyway. Being the restless sort, when I realized that my book was coming along lickety-split*, I promptly informed my boss that he could have me back sooner, if he had some work for me. Of course he did. And so I’m to join back in just over three weeks from now.

(*That’s an actual word, by the way. You wouldn’t have thought it, but Webster’s says it is. You could also, apparently, say lickety-brindle, or lickety-cut, but those I’ve never heard of.)

Originally, I’d planned to go on holiday if I managed to get my book written before my leave ran out. I wasn’t at all sure I would get the thing written in 90 days, but then, I’m never sure of any writing project until it’s half done. When it became clear that it was half done, I planned a nice ten-day trip to (where else?) Leh. But, sigh, I had to give it up in the end.

Why? Well… I have to admit that I’m not optimistic about finding a publisher for this book, much less one who’ll give me a nice fat advance. It’s not exactly mainstream, this one. (Not that the others have been mainstream either, but this one is a little further out.) I’ve looked very briefly at the self-publishing options, but I’m not enthused by them. All the same, how long can you wait and hope?

And so, I’ve set myself a deadline. If I keep trying to find a publisher and nothing happens by the end of next year, I’m going to take all four of my unpublished books and go the self-publishing way. And that costs money – quite a bit of money. More than I’ve made from my books so far (which is a pittance, actually).

As I’ve said before, taking unpaid leave to write a book that you’re fairly certain is never going to make you money is pretty stupid… well, we’ll call it a labor of love, but it’s still pretty stupid. Spending more money to make that manuscript an actual book is… well, never mind. In short, it makes sense to skip the holiday and get back to work.

Meanwhile, I haven’t done any work on the books I had planned to edit. As it turned out, I wasn’t capable of writing one book in the first half of the day and editing another in the second half. I was so utterly involved in the book I was writing that I practically couldn’t think of anything else. So there’s still some work to be done, that I thought would keep me busy for the next three weeks.

But then… I sent my book to my mother to read and she came back with so much feedback that it seems I will need to do a major revision to it right away. There goes the next three weeks. And I have a long to-do list (more of a wishlist, really) of things I’d like to get done while I’m on “holiday”.

So while I seem to be more than half way through my leave, it turns out that I might well be less than half way through my work. This is where things start to get interesting.


Here We Go Again…

August 21, 2015

I thought it would take me three months at least, but I did it – working all day, practically – in exactly a month. Which is the fastest I’ve ever written a book.

Reason to be thrilled, I suppose. And I was. On Wednesday, when I had the end I wanted, I was pretty happy – the kind of writer’s high you get when you’ve written something and you know it’s good.

The trouble with writing a book, though, is that writing the book is the easy part. That’s the fun part, the picnic. It’s only after the book is written that you start the long, hard slog to find a publisher.

You’d think it’d get easier after the first one, even easier after the second or third. But it doesn’t. Sigh. Not only is each barrier a brand new barrier, it sometimes (apparently) becomes a tougher barrier. This, I hadn’t expected.

My agent, who told me bluntly that he’s not interested in this or any other of my future endeavours unless I hit the jackpot, explained that when your published books don’t do well, then publishers don’t want to look at any of your new work.

At one level that makes sense. Publishers have a business to run and they want to print books that will sell.

However, it also makes you wonder. What about all those authors whose first one or two or three books went nowhere and they finally became international bestsellers with their nth attempt? If I recall correctly from her autobiography, Agatha Christie was one of those. So, clearly, her publisher thought it worthwhile taking a chance on several of her books before she made it big.

Of course, I’m no Agatha Christie, I know that. I’m just saying. I’m prepared for each new book to be judged on its own merit (though, going by the latest yawn-inducing offerings of some erstwhile awesome authors, that’s not always the case either). But for a book to be summarily discarded because previous books by the author – although superb pieces of writing in their own rights (ahem!) – didn’t make it big in the market would mean that someone whose first book is not a bestseller is just doomed. That can’t be right?

But my agent is supposed to be the best in the business. He should know. And so it is certainly disheartening to know that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with my upcoming works of genius.

It’s also disheartening because it means I have to do the whole business of sending out my manuscript to publishers all on my own. And that’s so not fun. It’s tedious and tense and discouraging.

And yet… here’s the good part about your nth attempt at fame and glory. I know there’s no fame and glory to be found at the end of the tunnel. But I also know that I’ve been here before and I’ve got through it. I struggled for years to get my first and then my second book published. Well, they finally did get published. So I know that – win or lose – it’s a question of persistence, of not losing faith in yourself. I’ve been in this lonely place before, where no one knows what you’ve written and no one thinks it’s worth publishing. This work of mine might never in fact get published… but I’ve looked that disappointment in the face before and survived. It can’t be so bad the third time around, can it?


Yoga

August 14, 2015

For quite a while now, I’ve been thinking I should take up yoga. You know, getting old, getting stiff, getting fat(ter), the usual reasons.

Also, I must admit, I thought yoga might be something I might be good at. Or at least, not exactly good at, but better than my better half, who’s better at all things physical than me, hence the need for one-up-man-ship.

So what is this extremely unlikely belief based on? The mere fact that I can bend and touch the ground and the better half can’t even reach his ankles. Haha. Plus I can almost do a full split, and I can bend sideways and grab my ankle and suchlike awesome stuff without even trying (much). (Of course, I generally try to do such things only after a challenge and a couple of drinks – but it says a lot that I can even do such things after a couple of drinks.)

However, there is also, on the other hand, the sad fact that I can’t even sit cross-legged for more than five minutes at a stretch, far less do a padmasana (or a half padmasana – and if you don’t know what that is, you’ll have to look it up, because it is fairly impossible to accurately describe that or any other asana in words). In fact, when I was about 5, they made us, for a very brief period of time, do yoga at school and I seriously sucked at it. (I guess that’s because I didn’t have a couple of drinks in me in those days. Huh. Totally unfair.)

So anyway, I decided to take a stab at it and I signed up for a two-month course. Which is not a very good idea, because after two days I wished I hadn’t.

Now, after a month, I’m somewhat conflicted about it.

On the one hand, there is a certain thrill in being able to bend and twist your body in all manner of odd ways that it was never designed to bend and twist in. And I can’t deny that that all-stretched-out feeling is nice. And everyone says it does wonders for your general health and fitness, so I’ll just assume they’re right about that.

It’s just the actual doing of it that I have trouble with. You know – the aching arms, the gasping breath, the sweat and toil. I mean, I have most of that with tennis as well (not the aching arms though) but tennis is just fun, you get the thrill of whacking the ball and also, if you’re good, of making the other guy run. (If you’re not good, you get the thrill of chasing after the damn ball, which is not so much fun, but is major motivation to become good.)

Yoga is all the pain with not so much of the thrill. I particularly hate it when the instructor makes me do abs in the guise of yoga. Hey, I’ve been into enough gyms by mistake over the years. You can’t fool me. Abs is abs, it’s not yoga. Yoga should be all relaxed and fun, not hard grunt work like abs. Making me do abs is a human rights violation, if you ask me.

And I don’t like the back exercises much either, mainly because I can’t do them.

Also the ones that require padmasana or anything that needs the knee to fold inwards while standing or sitting, such as the tree (vrikshasana).

So it’s a mixed bag for sure. I do get to show off with the exercises that require straightening the leg and bending in any direction at the waist, and there are quite a few of those, which is good.

Oddly enough, I think what I like the most is being bossed around by the instructor. I mean, it’s so comfortable. If I were to do yoga at home, I’d have to worry about which exercises to do and when. I’d have to make sure I didn’t just avoid the ones I don’t like and only do the ones I like. I’d have to make sure I do the damn breathing stuff at the end in a disciplined way. (I don’t like the breathing stuff – it’s boring.)

With instructor-led yoga, I don’t have to worry about a thing. He tells me what to do, and I follow obediently. That’s so nice! Of course, he makes me do horrible things and I hate him too, but… well, that’s ok.

So it’s easy enough to make myself go to yoga class for another month, knowing that I might not like what it entails, but I’ll probably be good at most of it, and it’s probably good for me, and in any case, it’s all the instructor’s responsibility.

Will I be able to keep it up after the class ends? Unlikely… but let’s see.


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