Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Aren't books amazing? I mean, they're nothing but squiggles on paper but somehow as your eyes gaze on the squiggles, they make a whole new world come alive inside your head. And with a good book, you come away a better person, with a tad more empathy and a little more wisdom than you did before you started . Well, here are some hits and misses from the last few months.

Sometime in 2012, I started seeing ads for a new mini-series on PBS (the public broadcasting channel), named Call The Midwife. Always interested in issues of women's health, I sought out the book that this TV series is based on. The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth was one of my best reads of 2012.

The author was a young woman from a comfortable middle-class home who, when the time came to make a career decision, did something very unlikely- she left her nice life and went to live in a convent and work as a midwife in the slums of London. This memoir is hilarious and devastating in equal parts. Her case studies are snapshots of what life is like on this planet- so wretched, so hopeful, so tender and so cruel all at once. If you've read and enjoyed James Herriot's stories of being a vet, you will appreciate how this memoir is written by someone who clearly loves her work and clearly respects the people that she serves. And at the end of the book, there is a completely enjoyable essay on  the Cockney dialect of English. Truly, read this book if you can find it. You'll probably stay up half the night to read it (I did) and sob uncontrollably once or twice (I did this too). By the way, I did see some of that PBS mini-series based on this book and thought the book is SO much better. Your mind will do the dramatization, there's no need for actors and television here.


Around the same time, I read another memoir called My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock. Hancock was a celebrity-gossip blogger who wanted more from life and took on a year of taking on her fears and trying new things, based on a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, "Do one thing every day that scares you". Now, I do appreciate the author's desire to face her fears and get out of her comfort zone. But the whole thing came off as being shallow and gimmicky- like learning to swing on a trapeze, or swimming with sharks or learning to do dangerous maneuvers in an aircraft. To me, this had a whiff of that awful awful TV show Fear Factor. What's the big deal with doing stunts? The person who doesn't settle for an easy life (like that midwife up there) is the one who is truly fearless, not the person who overcomes her stage fright by doing crude stand up comedy for one night. I'm probably being too harsh but reading these two books around the same time definitely made me roll my eyes while reading this one.

Along these very lines of conquering one's fears and taking on adventures is another very fascinating memoir, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed describes her life in her early 20s- a very troubled life with all reckless decisions around drugs and men. Out of nowhere, she gets the idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the US West Coast and actually goes on to do an 1100 mile solo hike. I got completely sucked into her story. This woman was so desperately ill-prepared- she could not life her backpack even off the ground, she ran out of money and water, her toenails fell off one by one while hiking- but she just literally puts one foot in front of the other. This is one story worth reading for the unique adventure that it is.



I was so fascinated by Wild that this week I read yet another memoir of an author who goes hiking on a long trail. A Walk in The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Similar to Strayed's book, this one has a new and inexperienced hiker who takes on a very ambitious trail, but there the similarity ends. The book has its comic moments, and the author has many things to say about the park service and the history of wilderness preservation in the US. It was an interesting read but not something I would call particularly memorable for me. I'm adding this book to the What's in a Name reading challenge for "Lost or Found" because there's the word "rediscovering" in the subtitle.

Reading books about ill-prepared people who get up and go for months-long hikes is tempting me to go off and do long hikes too. Just kidding. I'll be right here on this couch if you need me.

All of these books were non-fiction but I've been reading a couple of novels too. I did start J. K. Rowling's (yes, that J. K. Rowling) much-awaited novel, A Casual Vacancy. Found it too casual and vacant and didn't finish it. I just did not find myself caring enough about the characters in this book. It was relentlessly petty and depressing and I just gave up. Not that I have anything against depressing books (as the next book will illustrate) but I have to care about the characters.

Image: Goodreads
Last week I read Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. This book first appeared on my radar when its movie adaptation won several awards a couple of years ago. What made me want to read it is that the book is set in rural Missouri and in the years that I lived in MO, I heard several descriptions of life in the Ozarks, and it was mostly negative- the poverty, the meth labs. This short and intense novel tells the story of a teenager who's having to grow up too fast and specifically, about an episode in this teenage girl's life where she has to find her father who has skipped bail (and risk losing her home if she doesn't find him). The author succeeded in transporting me to this bleak landscape for a few hours and to a life and culture completely foreign to me. I'm adding this book to the Monthly Key Word Reading Challenge where "Winter" was one of the key words for January.


So, tell me, what are you reading? I'm linking to It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

52 comments:

  1. 'The Midwife' sounds like a book I'd love to read!

    I've been reading Paul Farmer's 'Haiti After the Earthquake' for the past few weeks now. I am looking forward to reading 'The Influencing Machine' (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9588023-the-influencing-machine), a graphic account of the history and state of media.

    If you are looking for a book to read, I would highly recommend any of the works by Scott McCloud. They are comics on comics, and they are brilliant!

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    1. I have one of McCloud's book on my to-read list and now I really want to get to it soon! The other two books you mention also sound very interesting- I've been meaning to read something by Paul Farmer.

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  2. I'm sorry you didn't find Walk in the Woods particularly memorable. That was my first Bill Bryson, as also my first travelogue of sorts. You might like James Herriot's series, if you haven't read him already.
    I am always looking for suggestions myself.

    Have fun, Ruma

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    1. Ruma- you know, I'm probably being too harsh with Bryson's book when I say it wasn't memorable. Even though it did not strike that same emotional chord with me that some other books did, it really was a most interesting read, and his points about the state of national parks and wildlife were very thoughtful. But I did roll my eyes when he mentioned lighting up a cigarette every time they stopped on the trail :D
      I've read Herriot's books and enjoyed them very much.

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  3. Hi Nupur - long-time reader, first-time commenter. First of all, condolences on Dale's passing. Hope you are all doing fine.

    I love these reading posts of yours! I just finished Inspector Ghote's First Case by Keating - found it interesting, but found the language odd and quirky, was it meant to replicate Indian English in the 60s? Before that, I read Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is an engaging, non-fiction read of life in a Mumbai slum. Before that, was The Color of Water - the subtitle of which is quite fitting "A Black Man's Tribute to his White Mother".

    Just put The Midwife.. on hold at my library, and Wild is almost ready off my hold list! Have a good week.

    RS

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    1. Thanks RS. Yes, we're slowly adjusting to Dale's absence.
      All the books you've mentioned sound very interesting. I want to read Beyond The Beautiful Forevers but I know it will haunt me something awful. I'd like to read one of the Inspector Ghote books to see what it is all about!

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    2. I hear you on Behind the Beautiful Forevers - I grew up in India (as I believe you did), and it gave me a lot to ponder/digest.

      Happy weekend!

      RS

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  4. I read Wild recently too. It's a great book. The Midwife and My Year with Eleanor sound really interesting. I will have to check them out!

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  5. Just finished reading a book called Jack & Harry : no turning back / by Tony McKenna & Mervyn Davis. It is based in Australia of the 1950s. I loved this book. The story is about 2 teenage boys who leave home over a misunderstanding to try their hand at opal mining. The strength & characted of these boys, the goodness of people out in the bush to take care of 2 teenage boys - this book has helped restore my faith in humanity.

    Off to the library catalogue to see if I can find 'the midwife' and 'wild'. I'm also trying to read Bill Bryson's brief history of nearly everything.. Trying being the key word here.

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    1. How very interesting- I've put No Turning Back on my to-read list. It sounds like a great story.

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  6. Also, want to recommend The Happiest Refugee by Ahn Do. Another book based in Australia. Ahn Do came to australia on a leaky boat from Vietnam as a refugee and went on to study law, become a widely acclaimed comedian and motivational speaker. Changes your perspective on those less fortunate then you and is altogether a delightful read.

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    1. Sounds like an excellent book- putting this one on my to-read list too.

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  7. Not only do your recipes agree with me your books match my taste too! Casual vacancy,agree. Winters bone agree. I am reading,or attempting to read William Faulkners The sound and the fury. I have promised my son I will complete it who says everyone who loves book has to read it. I just finished Alfred Bester's The stars my destination. Scifi brilliant....

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    1. The Sound and The Fury- I've heard about it but have not read it. Bester's book sounds interesting too- sci fi is not typically a genre I read but there are some gems there, I know.

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  8. This post was like a soup of comfort :)The Midwife sounds really good.
    Ancy

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    1. The Midwife was certainly a wonderful, memorable read.

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  9. Watch 'call the midwife' - it's a BBC production and brilliantly adapted and brought to life from the book. Of course it is limited in scope being a mini series but its a brilliant rendition nonetheless. Do not miss it - it will be better now that you have read the book. I've done both and that's my two pence recommendation.

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    1. I did watch Call The Midwife and completely agree with you that it was a high quality production, but you know what, I still did not like it, because what I saw on screen did not match the pictures in my head :D my problem, not theirs!!!!

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    2. Ah, I went the other way - watched the series first, then went for the books! :)

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  10. Winter's Bone was one of those well made movies. If you have not watched it you should.

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    1. This movie has been on my to-watch list for a while, Indo, but the thing is I never get around to watching movies. And when I do, I gravitate towards less serious ones.

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  11. Finished reading 'Cleopatra' by Stacy Schiff. Loved the author's skill in writing a historically detailed, accurate and yet engaging story. - Ashwini

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    1. Sounds very interesting and something I'll recommend to my history-devouring husband! I don't know if this is my kind of book :D

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  12. Reading Pride and Prejudice right now. Next in line in Cranford( characters knit) by Elizabeth Gaskell.

    Sapna

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    1. Ooh Cranford sounds like it would be a really fun read- thank you for mentioning it!

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  13. What an interesting assortment! And you had me at James Herriot--the midwifery book is going straight to my TBR.

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    1. I think you'll find it a worthwhile read, Niranjana!

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  14. I have discovered a series written by Miss Read which tells of bucolic life in an English village in the 1950s. The stories are simple, funny. Lots of references to wildlife and nature. This series really soothes my soul especially when I've had a hard day.
    Mysteries- I finished another Dalhousie mystery, pd James s an unsuitable job for a woman ( too dark and depressing for me however well written) and Ngaio Marsh's a man lay dead ( I liked this one and will read the rest of the series). I am having difficulty finishing crispin s case of the gilded fly- the book is insanely witty in bursts but the narrative is not fluid enough.
    I have the midwife on my radar- will definitely read that.
    You mention Herriot- do you enjoy Gerald Durrell? My family... Is one of my favorite books.
    Arpita.

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    1. Miss Read sounds wonderful- going to look for that right away. Agreed about PD James, she has a way with words but it can be very heavy. I enjoyed Gerard Durrell SO much- even bought that book a few times as gifts. Marsh is also going into my to-read list.

      Thanks so much for sharing your recommendations, Arpita. Our tastes in books seem to match so I enjoy hearing from you.

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  15. I loved The Midwife as well and didn't finish The Vacancy either. What a disappointing book!

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    1. Yeah, I rarely give up on books but The Casual Vacancy just seemed like a waste of time after a while. Oh well.

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  16. Reading a simple cookery book by Tarla Dalal "Soups and Salads" and also "Taming of Women" by P.Sivakami.
    I prefer cookery books with pictures so that I can have a visual satisfaction. I try them too.
    The second book is a light read but just reminds the power men have over women just because he is a man. Since the story is set in a village, it gives a vivid picture about how cooking is carried on by women in an elaborate way everyday even though she faces harassment and is unappreciated for everything. Not a bad read..

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    1. Yup, I read cookbooks too, cover to cover while admiring pictures :)

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  17. I saw "Winter's Bone" and liked it quite a bit, but haven't read the book. I am currently reading 8-part graphic novel series Buddha by Osamu Tezuka. I think BBC did a series on the Midwife... adding it to my list of "To read books."

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    1. Very interesting- I've barely read any graphic novels at all.

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  18. Hi Nupur, I've reserved Winter's Bone and Wild at my library. I'm not in the least interested in JK Rowling's latest and, after your review of My Year with Eleanor, I'm not going to bother with that either :) The other two books I HAVE read - "Call the Midwife" is a series of books, all of which I bought and devoured. Very interesting, as you say.

    And here's one from me which, if you like psychological thrillers, is a MUST READ - "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. It's the most unpredictable book I've read and the ending was a complete shocker! You should totally, absolutely read it!

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    1. Yes, I have to go find the next two books by Jennifer Worth! Glad you thought they were good. I have Gone Girl on hold in the public library, and I am number 531 probably :) but one day I shall read it.

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  19. It's actually Tuesday and I am catching up on your blog. Which means I came to know about Dale only now. My heartfelt condolences to you. Though I've never seen him, your regular write-ups made him a part of our lives too. I will definitely miss reading about him! God rest his sweet little soul in peace!

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    1. Thanks for the kind condolences, Anu. We miss the sweet guy, my whole routine centered around his needs/wants!

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  20. Just finished reading "Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood" another gem by Michael Lewis

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    1. Sounds like fun- I've never read anything by that author.

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  21. I love your Reading Posts Nupur! I just finished reading No Easy Day and saw the movie too. The book is much much better than the movie. I am about to read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain since that's my book club pick for next month. I am trying to collect and read all Sahitya Academy Award winning novels (in Tamil as well as those translated into English from other Indian languages too)

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    1. Very interesting books, Viji. I also enjoy reading award winning books- just because I sometimes find hidden gems that way. But I don't think I have read any of the Sahitya Academy ones.

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  22. Hi Nupur! Thats quite a variety you were reading... I am trying to get back on the reading wagon - Albert of Adelaide by Howard Anderson started me back. I relate coming to the US with the exploits of Albert (and Kalki has a bright orange platypus stuffed toy we call Albert :) ). In progress I have Bodies of Motion by Mary Ann Mohanraj (a Sri Lankan author), The Death of Shiva by Manil Suri (a little depressing) and Bourne Ultimatum by Ludlum.

    Cheers!
    Bala.

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    1. Albert of Adelaide sounds absolutely wild! I agree that Death of Vishnu (not Shiva :)) was depressing and a tough read.

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    2. Haha - I did mix up the titles - his other book is age of shiva! Hopefully thats not as depressing as this one.

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  23. Hello Nupur,

    Been reading your blog for a while now.. but have not left many comments...

    Like you, I too love to read and cook (and eat of course)...
    You had me at Herriot.. one of my favourite authors... the lovely English village.. and the pure humanity of it all.. magic!!

    I am going back to the classics currently with Jane Eyre.. trust the Bronte sisters.. this is one book I can read again and again, together with Pride and Prejudice.

    The movie has also made me want to read Anna Karenina - have you read that one?

    Meenal

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    1. Meenal- reading your comment makes me want to go back and read the classics too! And read some classics that I've not gotten to yet, like Anna Karenina. Putting them on my to-read list :)

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  24. Hi there..

    I have been reading Sara Gruen's - Water for Elephants..half way through the book now & so far so good.

    I am going to pick up "Rebecca" next, based on some of the suggestions here.


    -Saylee

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    1. I loved Rebecca- you'll have to tell us whether you liked it! I've heard so much about Water for Elephants but I don't think I will read it- books about animals in the circus are too upsetting for me.

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  25. I couldn't get into the casual vacancy initially(too many characters to keep up with) but as I forged on, I realized I loved the way everything seemed to tie together in the end. It is a very depressing/mean book....but not everything in the world is rosy :-)
    I have 'wild' and 'walk in the woods' waiting on my bookshelf for almost a year. I really need to get to them.

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