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.

 

 

 

 

 

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The month in books: April

On the personal front April was a tiresome and trying month. I had very little or rather no time at all for myself and it seemed an unsettling period. The little hours of solitude that I snatched for my reading had me read these wonderful books which truly sustained me through those distressing days.

Firstly I owe the revival of my spirits to none other our beloved Rowling. Reading Goblet of fire sort of rekindled those feebly glowing embers of enthusiasm. It was my second time I think. The first time I read it, I remember clearly, was many years back and under a thick blanket, shuddering at the death of poor old Frank. I felt the very same fervour in this reading too. And I am pretty sure that it will never die out. My love for the Harry Potter series will definitely be with me throughout my life.

While there are many critics who argue that Rowling’s writing is too logical than fantastic I can but only detest that argument. Stories can be logical, magical, anything! That’s what stories are- impossible, possible, imaginative, real… The fact that as a child the book awed me and as an adult it remains a true and faithful friend, who sees me through tough times, even provides an unparalleled escape is a testimony to its brilliance. Only very few books have that power and the Potter books have it in them.

And with the alleviation of cloudy moods I even ventured headlong into ‘Pottermore’ and had loads of fun buying my wand and getting sorted. Mine’s a beautiful Sycamore with unicorn core wand and to my surprise I found myself in Hufflepuff house. Ouch! But the hat never goes wrong.

The other book that completely aided in my healing was Mr. Oliver’s Diary by Ruskin Bond. It’s a short and sweet book that will stay with me forever. It tells the endearing tale of a perfect school teacher, the strict and bendable, Mr. Oliver. It’s a children’s book and I loved it. Somehow I am never comfortable calling books as ‘Children’s books’ because I enjoy them wholly as any child would do and I am strictly way past my childhood. I never tire of them and it isn’t surprising that I turned to these very books in a very troubled time. Not intentionally though, but perhaps instinctively.

This also tells a very good principle to keep in life if you ask me. Stay a child at heart. When a book meant for kids can cheer one up so well, keeping your heart and mind like a child’s can certainly go a long way to leading a happy and fulfilling life. Yes and the book also has many a treats on the platter to cater to every imaginable childish craving- from croaky, slimy frogs to hot, savoury snacks to snow, ghosts and a cute love story.

And then I read a painting. Yes, I can only describe that book as a work of pure art painted in words. How else can anybody discuss about a work by the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore? ‘Shesher Kavitha’ a Bengali masterpiece by Tagore was recently translated to English by Dilip Basu. I recently read a little review of the translated version, ‘The Last Poem- A novel’ and instantly ordered it online. It was a long wait of forty eight hours before I held it my hands. This one is a true feast for the romantic sort. It is tragic, in a way, mind you yet it is not. That subtlety in its storyline kept me in a trance for hours later. Once taken up it is next to impossible to put it down. The story pulls you into its mire of poetry, nature and love; the three very elements that I live on. It is a beautiful little novel and in a way renders true beauty to the word beautiful.

Here’s a tiny eloquent poem, one of the many poems that bridge the romance :

Waterfall, in the crystals

of your flow,

The sun and stars

See each other

And here is another favourite of mine:

Let the shadows swing and play

Upon your waters,

Let the shadows mingle

With the music of your laughter,

Give it a voice

The voice of eternity.

The last poem in the book, from which the book derives its name, is a classic. There are several surreal illustrations, by a very talented Dinakar Kowshik, interspersed between the pages and they are great tools that aid in gluing to mind the quintessence of the characters. All in all, one marvellous book that I can just look at and feel happy.

 

 

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.

Jane Austen January: A tale to relish

Via Google

“The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex”

These are the opening lines of one of my favourite novels of all time. At first when I read I thought it a very unassuming starting and that elusiveness is what I like most about it now. It was indeed a very happy excuse for me to read Sense and Sensibility so slowly, allowing for other hum drum things to get in the way, while I thoroughly took in the tale one bit at a time, once again. But nevertheless it was fresh as ever. I never stop being amazed with the little astonishing dialogues and other tit bits that I missed last time.

I love stories where there’s less crowd and more action. This is exactly one such story. Though I’m easily provoked to declare every one of Austen’s novels as my favourite, I completely reserve my total love to Sense and Sensibility. Elinor and Marianne, are just the two sisters who can capture my interest- one all composure, the other all passion. I’ve always admired how much their characters do justice to the title, the words- Sense and Sensibility. I suppose that’s the beauty of a classic- you love it through and through from its title to the font of the print in various versions.

But this isn’t just about the superfluous beauty for the story is well entrenched into the ways and workings of the society which makes it a perfect mirror to project love and despair in all its intricacies. Elinor and her sister, poles apart in their personas eventually set their hearts upon men who are equally different from one another. But strangely their hearts are broken in an arguably similar manner- in that they both have other women who are in the way, for quite dissimilar reasons though. While Elinor secretly suffers her losses, Marianne, whose love for Mr.Willouby, was openly known to the world, is mortified to know that he was to marry another lady Miss Gray. A typical heartbreaking twist yet the reasons for the betrayal that unfold and the way in which they are introduced to the reader sets its mark as a work of Jane Austen. Elinor’s disappointment in Mr. Edward Ferrars’ secret engagement to Miss Lucy, her short time companion, is borne by her with so much of natural virtue.

Of course the sisters meet with happy endings in the end, as all of Austen’s lucky heroines. But the intermediary trials and lessons of Elinor and Marianne are certainly endearing. Marianne’s notions of love and wild passion are subdued by her shockingly disappointing relationship with Willouby and she learns to love sensibly in the end and finds happiness in her long time admirer and well wisher, Colonel Brandon. For Elinor it’s more of a test of her fortitude and constancy that she triumphs to be rewarded with a happy life with Edward Ferrars.

I love the book for three others reasons apart from the beauty of the tale. Firstly it is the ironies that are aplenty and very humourous to note, as always. The most important one bring that Edward who couldn’t read with feeling for the entire world, wished to take orders. I constantly kept imagining the annoying Mrs. Palmers saying, “Oh! How droll Mr. Ferrars sermons are!” Secondly, the characters with whom I instantly got used to than I usually do interested me. Thirdly, the beautiful parks and walks that Marianne so enjoys earnestly made me yearn, once again, to live in that fanciful era.

I must also admit that I have myself learnt a few vital lessons for Elinor represents the kind of person I certainly wish to be and Marianne’s character is nearly what I am.  If I have to recommend a great read now with delightful people, well plotted story with romance too, one that you would want to read over and over, it should be this.

Admirable Women

I am a people person who loves to know what the other person’s life is like and their desires, dreams, struggles, passions, dislikes intrigue me. My inquisitiveness will see no end and this drives the sympathiser in me. Every now and then I find myself in depths of some person’s story, hoping and hating with them. Wikipedia is my constant companion that I turn to during my leisurely hours and read on endlessly about people who I’ve heard and not. Biographies are like friends to me. The people in them seem more like one of my own and I treasure the experience.

Women who veer off the conventional margins of life are the one’s who most amaze me. And every time I hear or see them I feel invigorated to strive for more. The reason these woman evoke such reverence is because they have transcended their personal and social limitations and combats and have dared to look beyond. More often than not we find people who say a lot about them and some are even cynical about these achievers. But then again these women have shown that only look straight ahead of them.

Oprah Winfrey

In my list of favourites, Opera Winfrey figures surely at the top. The hardships she faced in her early years are shocking and sad. For someone who was abused at the age of nine she has really showed the world, this chauvinistic one, the power of a woman. We all love her show and have been following it very dearly. It is her courage and empathizing nature that has brought her where she is today. She has been a great inspiration for me ever since I stopped watching Blue’s Clues. Even her voice has something very genial and genuine about it that one can listen to her for hours. And combined with stories she brings to light it’s just one amazing ride. Another thing for a book lover like me is her book club and its recommendations. I have sincerely read most of her recommendations. The acclaimed book, The road by Cormac McCarthy, The Heart is a lonely hunter by Carson McCullers, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen are some of my favourites from her recommendations. Yet another aspect that I really admire in Oprah is her spirituality. The spiritual journey of an individual is often fleeting and inconsistent and I take every opportunity to nourish my spiritual hunger from every source I can get. Her web posts are very convenient to get to and read and ponder about. Oprah is one amazing woman who I shall always love and admire. Ironically I haven’t got to her autobiography as yet and I sincerely hope to read it very soon.

Samantha Brown

Then the other woman who comes to my mind when I think of the admirable sort is Samantha Brown. At her age I wonder if I’ll be able to do my groceries decently! Though many like to term her life as ‘lucky’ I refrain from it. I believe that she is truly blessed by God Almighty for getting to travel the world like that only happens to one in a million. It requires extreme physique, mental stamina for a woman to hop about from continent to another. I wouldn’t be surprised if Travel Channel aired a new series, “Passport to Pluto” with Samantha gleefully going on about it “icy surface”. Again her voice is magnetic and is my absolute favourite too. I just realised that I seem to love women with great voices. Or maybe it’s a coincidence, But whatever it is Samantha is simply admirable. I do not think I have watched any other show as many times as I have watched, Great Hotels, Passport to Europe and Girl meets Hawaii. I love her language which is as exotic as the places she visits and of course her dressing style. Her sense of humour which is perfect in timing and meaning as well sets her apart from the rest of the clan. Most of all its her courage that truly exhorts me. For a to-be journalist this is the first thing that I take from her.

Barkha Dutt, the super-charged, intrepid Indian journalist is another one in my list. She has every high honour to her name that a woman can possibly be garnered. Her passion for journalism purely has taken her from her humble beginnings to national fame. Fear is something Barkha I assume has never seen for where have you heard of a young woman from a conventional society report from a war live. This commendable feat brought her a lot of acclaim and popularity. She has a clever way with words and a compassionate way with people. These are the two foremost qualities that I see in her and wish to imbibe. In an era where journalists are scorned as being political and corrupt Barkha sets an example for clean news making and reporting.