Five life-changing books

Credit : booksaboutlife.com

Books can be the best possible source of constant companionship. They come in all different sizes and stories to suit each of our tastes and needs. But a book can sometimes be more than just an instrument to alleviate boredom. Sometimes they can one’s outlook in life. They are the grand category of books often referred to as ‘Life-changing’.

As a bibliophile and a book addict I’m happy to say I’ve seen my share of such books. Sometimes these are confused with self-help books but I’m referring to works, born out of the imagination of genius’ of writers. But don’t get it wrong. I’m not one against self-help books and I have my favourites in this section too. But how impactful they are to life is questionable according to me. For a truth put straight seldom is received in the way it should and so are secrets. And when it comes to life it’s one big secret and one big truth as well.

So, the first in this line that comes to my mind is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s got a beautiful philosophy underlying all the adventure. It teaches a most important lesson in life- Let go. And there are anecdotes aplenty to take as the escapade progresses.

Here’s a beautiful line from the book:

 The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

Holden is the quintessential urban yogi of sorts whom I personally try to emulate in terms of outlook towards life and Salinger is the typical genius of a writer whose writing amazes me.

The next book that flashes in my mind is Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It’s a one of a kind book and I’m only too happy that I was able to read last year. It was instantly my favourite the time I read it. Short and crisp though it is the point is nailed so very clearly. Even if the theme is not one that can so easily be said or understood. Only a writer who has felt it can impart such clarity of thought and fact to the reader and the reader in turn can capture the essence quickly. One needs a little spiritual spark to get anything out it; read the book at the least. But such a reader is bound to get a seed of the truth vital to his quest. I can say that with conviction for I did get a lot out of it. For others who simply want to get a glimpse into Buddha you get more than that. Herman Hesse has Buddha demystified for the commonest of people. I wouldn’t say it’s the most precise chronicling of Lord Buddha’s life and teachings but the essential extracts are set on a platter and hence the life-changing quality.

Oftentimes a book cannot be anything if it is a bestseller. A bestselling book is now a book which has reached its saturation level of popularity and its universal acceptance has sometimes invariably rendered it a clichéd image. It is a sad reality which won’t keep me from listing Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert here. Everything’s said and done and what’s more even shown in this case. Its honesty is pivotal to its success and reach and so is its passionate telling instrumental in striking that personal connection with me. The same lesson re-surfaces: Let go.

Now I come to another important book which is quite interesting in that I’m impelled to list it now but asked a year ago I would have fiercely detested its very mention. The book I’m referring to here is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. For an Austen fan much accustomed to happy ending and sweet twists reading this one felt like chewing a big chunk of raw bitter gourd. But after exactly one year I feel there was much truth. It wasn’t a waste of labouring over seven hundred pages of one heavy and gruesome book after all. Interestingly I also noticed having noted down just three lines from the book. And here the golden lines are:

“In the end, it’s all a question of balance”

“You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair”

“…Please always remember, the secret of survival is to embrace change, and to adapt”

They may be lines we’ve heard over and over but that doesn’t reduce their truthfulness in the least. And put in their context and storyline they make one big, impactful picture.

Finally the last one that I’m going to name here, assuming that I’m to name only five books, is Wuthering Heights. Yes, the gothic romance by Emily Bronte gave to me understand what a hero can actually be at the age of thirteen. I read the book twice immediately after my first reading to just make sure that I didn’t make any mistake in discerning the story. One thing, it strangely made me braver in matters of death and other grim aspects of life. On a more philanthropic level it taught me what love can be. It can be dark. It can be grim. It can be excruciating. But it can be true too. Heathcliff is a one of a kind hero whom I’ll always turn to at some point of time in life repeatedly.

So, there’s a cherry picked version of books that strike me as life changing. As of now.

I hope to turn this into a feature where we have other book lovers talk about books that changed their lives and the lessons they imbibed from them. As always I look forward to your support and suggestions.

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Austen January: The Final Chapter

Jane Austen SOURCE: Google

It feels a bit disheartening not to be able to complete the fourth book in my attempt to read four of Austen’s fantastic novels this January. But what with tight writing schedules, other readings to get done, a bit of health issues too I’m happy to have experienced three delightful books by ‘The Lady’- Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice.

What I learn from Austen every time I read is the credibility of characters more than anything. The stories just seem like normal love stories but beneath them lies the world that I so take pleasure in knowing and understanding. I love the bows, the dinners, the manners, the ribbons, the dresses, the manners, not to mention the wonderful suitors. Though live back then is touted to have been boring by the children of technology of today’s world, in my view it is quite the contrary. With grand and elegant pianoforte’s to be mastered, room full of books by the masters of English Literature to be devoured, long and insightful letters to be written to the dear, courteous notes and calls to be given to neighbours, breathtaking parks and mansions to visit where was the time to be idle? Living like that has always been one of my many utopian dreams.

But Austen more than sufficiently provides for my fancies. Whatever views literary critics may take I for one will always admire the novels and turn to them for comfort and camaraderie.

Now I thought I might share some of my favourites out of her six popular novels.

Favourite Setting: Barton Park from Sense and Sensibility

Enjoyably Annoying character: Mrs. Jennings from Sense and Sensilibity

Favourite Non-heroine Sibling: Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Favourite Notorious Character: Frank Churchill from Emma and Lydia from Pride and Prejudice

Favourite Stately character: Sir Thomas Bertram from Mansfield Park

The character(s) I laughed my off reading: Collins and Catherine De Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice

Favourite hero: Fitzwilliam Darcy( I know, very typical, but that’s that)

Favourite heroine: I just cannot zero in on one. It would be pointless to cherry pick for the Austen fan that I am.

Favourite lucky character(s): Fanny Price from Mansfield Park and Wickam from Pride and Prejudice.

Favourite Parent/ Parents: The Morlands and Mr. Woodhouse

Favourite Saint: Anne Elliot from Persuasion

Favourite kids: The Musgroves pack from Persuasion

And the list is endless I think, so it would be best if I just let it be.

And now it feels like I have come to the end of something so enjoyable and invigorating. Nonetheless, I will continue to read them in the future. And it was a bang-up start for the year and thanks to all of you who joined in to make it an even more pleasant experience.

On Fear of Graves

Gloom

As a child, I was very scared of tombstones. The very knowledge of the existence of a graveyard in the vicinity would daunt me and give me a feeling of insufferable unpleasantness. I would strive to the best of my abilities to steer myself, and when possible, the others too away from the
place. And keeping the fear a secret was of utmost importance to me for I thought that being afraid of dead people was silly. Even as I write, I wonder
how I write so easily about these morbid things which tortured me so much once.

One cold evening, while out on a walk near a friend’s we had to pass along the grey walls of a cemetery and the shivers wouldn’t let me proceed. At the gate a strange odour of an assortment of flowers on the stones drifted towards us and I haven’t forgotten the fright it gave me. I can even feel the same smell sometimes. I believed staunchly that I would never go close to another one in my entire life.

And now at twenty-something I realize that my aversion has almost completely disappeared. One may call it the effect of growing and maturing but I know that my fear had not just been a silly childhood fear. My mind, as a child, drilled much deeper into the stones than anyone can possible imagine. It was a psychological taboo for me to think or see anything related to the departed. Every time life forced on me such an instance as having to experience my fear I felt like I was being literally torn apart. The little joys that I saved within me would vanish instantly leaving me forlorn and shaken. I realize now that I felt that such encounters with the unpleasant were the end of everything. My little timid self could not hope for happiness after that. It would take several days for me to forget and recoup.

Life has always been very benevolent with me in terms of irony and humour. Every place I have lived so far has had atleast a tiny graveyard close to it. And I can’t imagine going through the juvenile pangs of sorrow over again. As years progressed, I adapted to the vicissitudes of growing up and feel distinctly the changes in my likes and dislikes. A natural phenomenon I agree. It astonishes me that I have completely lost my fear of graves, the dead and the like. I grappled with the mystery behind the cause for the change for a while and I now believe that time has been teacher. There is a universe of difference between the working of the mind of a seven year old pampered child to a mature, weather-beaten woman.

The primal reason for my boldness is that now I can look beyond the graveness of life. There is an implicit sense of hope that is instilled in my mind now as a result of sustaining the vagaries of growing years. Pain, I have learnt is a good thing. It is a great tool, an indicator sign to the subtly ubiquitous peace and happiness. It has been my instructor rather. But it has also been very unassuming and quiet for it has taken me almost a decade to understand its importance. I now look at graves with ever so calm a mind. I have even taken to liking them in a small, curious way. By curious I don’t look at them with the eye of a philosopher or seeker. I am a worshipper of the Almighty and believe that the answers to all my questions lie with him. But when I do look upon a grave, these days, I strangely perceive peace and stillness.  I even want to visit the grave of my favourite writer and role model, Jane Austen. Now, that also gives me a hunch on another plausible reason for the change. Perhaps even the Victorian writers like Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte have had their
share in phasing out my fear through their marvellous, timeless works.

***********************************************************************************

Jane Austen

RIPVI: The House of the seven gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne has been of my favourite writers since my schooldays. His short stories are a great source of inspiration for writers and readers alike. The simplicity in his style combined with the uniqueness in his voice makes him a remembered writer even today. ‘The Scarlet Letter’ published in 1850 was a highly acclaimed work of his along with several others like ‘The House of the Seven gables’.

The dark romanticism evident in his works attracts a lot of varied readers. So, I chose to read ‘The House of the Seven gables’ as my second book for the RIP VI reading challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings.

The story revolves around a mansion that was built after a prosperous landowner Pyncheon kills Matthew Maule, the resident at a piece of land which captures his fancy. The owner too dies mysteriously on the opening day of the mansion and people conclude that the place is cursed with Maule’s blood. Then the prosperity of the mansion slowly dies out and Hepzibah Pyncheon, the cousin of a Pyncheon descendant lives alone an old maid. The rest of the story takes shape along the lines of romance with a tinge of darkness always in the background.

I always look out for Hawthorne’s signature extracts which delight and astonish at the same time.

“We read in Dead Men’s books! We laugh at Dead Men’s jokes, and cry at Dead Men’s pathos! . . . Whatever we seek to do, of our own free motion, a Dead Man’s icy hand obstructs us!”

Hawthorne always has a good balance of morbid thoughts and very wise observations of life. It is this aspect of his writing that I really love and admire.

“…Life is made of marble and mud”

This is especially one of my favourite lines from the book:

“I find nothing so singular in life as that everything appears to lose its substance the instant one actually grapples with it. So it will be with what you think so terrible”

I was balled out by this line and it kept me thinking about its truth for a long time. Nothing in life is so horrific or great after one has had an encounter with it. These observations make Hawthorne’s books a very valuable read.

His marginally political comments are also equally exceptional. This is one such line that kept me nodding for far too long than necessary.

“These names of gentleman and lady had a meaning, in the past history of the world, and conferred privileges, desirable or otherwise, on those entitled to bear them. In the present- and still more in the future condition of society- they imply privilege, but restriction”

The eerieness that flows with the story also satisfied my craving for the Ghoulish. On the whole, I really enjoyed another of Hawthorne’s genius creation.

Reading : RIP VI Challenge

I will be participating this year in the RIP VI reading challenge hosted at Stainless Steel Droppings. A good thriller is always enjoyable and being part of this challenge comes with the advantage of being able to share the experience too. I’ll be taking up the Peril the Second challenge which requires you to read two books in thriller/mystery/suspense/horror/gothic genres.

Gothic themes have always captured my fancy and re-reading Wuthering Heights would be great, I thought. But there’s always a new book to devour. So, I’m keeping my options open.

While I decide on the books, you may want to enter this cool challenge too. You may do so here.

Happy Reading!