The Reading Spree: October Yellow Cover Month!

I decided to pick a strange, albeit colour coordinated, theme for this month!

It was an impulse decision that came out of random coincidences converging to make my desk very yellow this month!

Thus, I embarked on reading books that had a yellow cover!

These are the books I managed to read in this very yellow month!

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  1. Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko by Patrick Neale: This humorous and satirical novel is based on a a fictional African country, Zambawi, that is riddled with dictatorship, revolutionaries and one lost musungu or white man, Jim, who has come there to teach. Check out my review!
  2. Bara by U.R. Ananthamurthy: This short novella reads almost like a short story. Set possibly in Bidar in Karnataka, it unravels the problems of that district which is facing severe drought and how one civil servant is trying to help but is caught between various conflicts. Read my review here.
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht: This was my favourite novel from the list. Again this novel is set in a fictional place but one that closely resembles Eastern Europe or even possibly Yugoslavia. It narrates how parallel stories of a woman’s relationship with her grandfather and his stories particular the one about the titular tiger’s wife.
  4. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: This novel is quintessentially a Dahl story with it’s signature child hero, James, who has had a bad childhood and who, because of a strange turn of events, is able to meet the strangest of friends and go on a peculiar ride on the titular giant peach. Read my detailed review here.
  5. Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu: Told from the point of view of an Ethiopian immigrant, Seppha Stephanos, the novel traverses his present in which he is an owner of a crumbling grocery store, and his past in which he still owned his store but also had the company of Judith and her daughter, Naomi and they had fun reading sessions. Read the Guest Post review here!
  6. The Best of Laxman: The Common Man Watches Cricket: This is a fun, breezy delight through R.K. Laxman’s iconic cartoon series featuring his ubiquitous common man. Despite what the title says, it is not only about cricket but his satirical cartoons broach all kinds of subjects particularly politics. They leave no stone unturned to lay bare the hypocrisy and idiosyncrasies of our country and politicians. What is surprising is that several of the cartoons included in this collection are relevant even today which simply goes to show the vicious circle politics traps citizens in.

Stay tuned next month for the next Reading Spree List! In November, we will focus on Women Writing in India in English. Don’t forget to check out what titles we pick for next month!

Happy browsing!

James and the Giant Peach

I picked up a Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach, after what seems like an eternity. And I only did it because it seamlessly became part of the October Yellow Book Cover Month. And what an absolute delight the book was! Not since reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have I read a Dahl book and this one was equally quirky and fun. It felt like going back to my childhood. What a fun, childlike and nostalgic read it was!

So what is James and the Giant Peach about?

It is about the eponymous James who had an absolutely terrific life living by the sea with his parents but in an unfortunate yet bizarre incident, (getting eaten by a pair of rhinoceros, no less) his parents die and now James has to live with his terrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They treat him poorly, making him constantly do chores, starving, abusing and punishing him. Worse still, they live on top of a hill, far away from his beloved sea and his dastardly aunts do not allow him to go down this isolated hill and meet or play with other children. And that is the worst kind of treatment any child can be given – to cut a child off from other kids his age is nothing short of abuse and exploitation.

One fine day, James comes across a rather strange man in the garden. The man hands him tiny yet colourful beans and gives precise instructions on how to use them. But as luck would have it, James slips and the beans scatter about and he is too slow in retrieving them.

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Devices and Desires

P.D James’ bestseller, ‘Devices and Desires’ is unlike any detective/thriller I have read. It is a completely atypical crime story that breaks away from tried and tested detective story conventions. Yet James manages to create an equally thrilling and compelling read.

Taken from filmizer.com

At the core of the story is a creepy serial woman killer who goes by the name of Whistler. The killings have rocked the fictional Norfolk coast and have scared the women from venturing alone at night. Then the killer strikes at Larkosen- a picturesque town of Norfolk-with one of the female workers at the Larkosen Nuclear Power Station murdered. Adam Dalgliesh of the New Scotland Yard was on a holiday at Larkosen to settle all the affairs of his aunt’s death-including blowing her ashes and taking care of the the fortune and the windmill she bequeathed him. He invariably gets enmeshed in the murders despite Norfolk not being his patch. When a 2nd murder hits Larkosen, the mystery deepens and fresh troubles surface for Terry Rickards, the Chief Inspector of Norfolk in charge of solving the case, who is desperate to find the elusive killer at all costs.

The plot of ‘Devices and Desires’ sounds like the countless detective stories that come packaged in cheap paperbacks. Yet it is vastly different. Firstly, the pace is much gradual. James takes her own sweet time to build the story, to create tension and take it to a thrilling climax.  She is as interested in the characters and setting as the plot itself which is why the reader peruses pages devoted to establishing the desolate, wild yet beautiful atmosphere of the Norfolk coast in general and Larkosen in particular and to fleshing out characters who are not merely stock characters but individuals with their own unique viewpoint and thoughtful insights.For ex. Dalgliesh is often depicted as pondering over his melancholic and contradictory thoughts about his aunt. The novel is thus very descriptive which burdens it and thus tends to slow down the story’s pace. This may not be appealing to all kinds of readers especially those who are used to their weekly doses of fast paced thrillers. Nonetheless, the novel is still worth the shot because James makes sure that the reader is both aesthetically as well as sensationally pleased with her descriptions and intricate plot.The depth in characterization and the landscape gives this genre fiction novel a literary touch (which is heightened by several references to works of literature such as ‘Dover Beach’, a poem by Matthew Arnold.

James also creates skillful contrasting moods. One moment the reader is plunged into an anxiety ridden chapter of the Whistler’s to-be-victims’ thoughts and in the next the reader dives into the cool, organized thoughts of Dalgliesh or the thoughts of the other numerous inhabitants of Larkosen. James skillfully depicts the gruesome and horrifying aspects of murder and violence as well as manifests the vicious desires and passions of ordinary humans. She has a deft writing touch that marvelously depicts both with a talented ease.

What is jarring is the sudden burst of fast paced and unexpected thrill close to the end that awakens the reader from the stupor brought on by the book’s lulled pace itself. Here James style of alternating moods begins to fail. Its as if she has realised that she needs to quickly finish the story and reveal the murderer and not go on rambling about Larkosen’s beauty or its inhabitants’ idiosyncrasies. The continuation of the same smooth and lulling pace as the whole story would have been more appropriate rather than thrusting the reader into action and more murders that seem blatantly out of place. They seem to be there only to shock the reader or to create the conventional twists in the story.

Yet, apart from these few unexpected jolts, the actual unraveling does happen in a controlled, casual way almost as if a picnic was being discussed and not a murderer’s confession. ‘Devices and Desires’ is still a good, the narrative powerful and stimulating enough to hook all detective fiction lovers and fans.