The Guardian 1000 Novel Challenge

Yay!! My very first reading challenge. From what I've seen by scouring others blogs, reading challenges are the best way to read those books you've wanted to read for so long, but haven't really gotten down to. And they are fun. The first challenge I signed up for turned out to be the first hosted by Jennie. She says:

"Well, here I am, hosting my very first challenge!

The British paper, The Guardian, has come up with a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read Before They Die. (In case they take that link down, I've also posted the list here.)

So, the challenge is to read 10 and review read and review 10 books off the list (that's 1%) between February 1st of 2009 and February 1st of 2010.

Of these 10, you must read 1 from each category and, if possible, 1 should be a book you have never heard of until you saw it on this list.

Feel free to complain about certain books being included or not included.

Also, they have broken the list into smaller sections, with annotations, so you can see what a book is about before you check it out.

I'll have a post every month rounding up your reviews and it'll be lots of fun, so sign up below!

UPDATE There will be prizes! I'm not sure what yet, but at the end, there will be a prize drawing for everyone who finishes, and probably a drawing or two along the way..."

My Reading List:
1.The curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime-Mark Haddon
2. Three Men in a Boat-Jerome K. Jerome
3. The Godfather-Mario Puzo
Family and Self:
4.The God of Small Things-Arundhati Roy
5. Catcher in the Rye-J. D. Salinger
6.Atonement-Ian McEwan
Science Fiction and Fantasy:
7. Fahrenheit 451-Ray Bradbury
8.Foucault's Pendulum-Umberto Eco
State of the Nation:
9.Midnight's Children-Salman Rushdie
War and Travel:
10.Slaughterhouse Five-Kurt Vonnegut

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REVIEW Twilight:Stephenie Meyer


The best thing I can say about this book is that its cover is nice. That, actually, was what drew me to the book (that, and a status message on Facebook saying "I LOVE Twilight"). I read this book while taking breaks while studying before a test, and frankly, I found my textbook way more interesting.

Bella Swan is the narrator in Twilight, a high-school girl who moves into the rainy town of Forks to live with her father. On the first day of school, she sits next to Edward Cullen, who seems utterly repulsed by her, but Bella is irresistibly drawn to him. After a series of incidents, Bella starts having doubts about him and does a little snooping around, and what does she discover? Her Mr. Perfect is a vampire!!! But nothing can stand between her and her true love, and her ensuing relationship drags her into a deeper mess, as a rival vampire coven sweeps into the town, with its leader baying for her blood.

There is too much reliance on adjectives and adverbs: Bella is always swooning, her heart is stopping, running, thudding or racing. Her voice is so irritating; she goes on and on about how perfect Edward is, how gorgeous his features are, till you are ready to tear out her hair. Girl, we get it, he's hot, now get on with the story. The concept of forbidden romance and star-crossed lovers could have been fleshed out a bit, the conflict between human and vampire natures could be detailed. For me, the arrival of James' coven and the resulting plot twists were too late, and the action not really engrossing. I agree, I don't have much patience with young adult romance, but I thought that this book was dragging and annoying, and I'm not really sure how people can compare it to Harry Potter. Mills and Boon would be a better fit.

Read another review at: Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?

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REVIEW To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee


I hardly mentioned this to my friends, but I hadn't read To Kill a Mockingbird. Atleast, not till a couple of days ago. But I am sort of glad I waited this long, because I am able to better appreciate the significance of the novel and the situations.

Scout, who narrates the book, is a tomboy just starting school. She has hours of fun with her brother Jem and her friend Dill, playing pranks, enacting stories and trying to lure their reclusive neighbour "Boo" Radley out of his mansion. They are motherless, living with their lawyer father Atticus Finch, and cared by their black maid Calpurnia. They are subject to much scrutiny when Atticus defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. Through the trial, Scout and Jem learn much about the nature of people, and imbibe the values that drive Atticus.

What I absolutely loved about the book is the innocence of all the children. In Scout's narrative, there is no heaviness to overshadow the child's voice. Scout's words and actions are fresh and uncomplicated, as in the scene where she faces a mob out to lynch Tom. Her relationship with Boo is lovely, from the initial stages where she teases the man she has never seen, to the final meeting and poignant separation.

The novel has many themes: courage, compassion, prejudice, justice and equality. The racial prejudices that coloured American society are clearly depicted, in the everyday actions of people towards blacks and in the attitude of the "tired old town" to Atticus' championing of a black man's rights. Atticus' unwavering sense of justice and his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right makes him a memorable character. Also, Lee explores the stringent rules on women and gender and class prejudices through people's reactions to Scout's innumerable scrapes. She uses satire and irony to address complex issues, weaving an elegant tapestry which gives a peek into the Southerner's lives. To me, many of the issues that the novel addresses have particular significance; as an Indian girl in a male-dominated engineering college, I see many of the prejudices being played out in our so-called enlightened youthful country. To Kill a Mockingbird has been called "a book every adult should read before he/she dies", and rightly so. I'll leave you with one of my favorite paragraphs from the book, when Scout escorts Boo home, reflecting on their relationship, in what I think is a melancholic allusion to life as such.

"Neighbours bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbour. He had given us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of goodluck pennies, and our lives. But neighbours give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it:we had given him nothing, and it made me sad."

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Man Booker International Prize: Shortlist

The Man Booker International Prize announced its list of contenders a couple of days back. It's different from the more well-known Booker Prize: it is awarded every two years, recognising the lifetime contribution of the writer rather than judging him/her based on his latest work. This year's contenders are diverse in their writing, with two Indians in the list. We have Mahasweta Devi, one of my mom's favorite authors with a rich body of work in Bengali, and V.S. Naipaul. Other authors I recognise on the list are Alice Munro (read a couple of her stories in the New Yorker), E. L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates and Arnost Lustig (winner of last year's Kafka prize). The winner will be announced in May, and will join Ismail Kadare and Chinua Achebe, who won the inaugural edition and the 2007 prize respectively. I am rooting for an Indian win(obviously), which would be great after Aravind Adiga's 2008 Booker, and my vote (for what it's worth) goes to Mahasweta Devi. Yes, it is because mom loves her books, but also because I think that though her writing is as nuanced as Rabindranath Tagore or Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, she isn't that famous outside Bengal, and the award would be a fitting recognition for her contribution to Indian literature.

Read more about the prize here.

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REVIEW The Colour of Magic: Terry Pratchett


I haven't laughed out loud while reading a book for a long, long time, but I did so, multiple times throughout this one. Pratchett's vivid imagination, and witty quotes sprinkled throughout The Colour of Magic, make for an entertaining read.

Rincewind is a wizard in Discworld, expelled from the Unseen University for reading one of the Eight Great Spells, which was permanently lodged in his mind. He is incompetent, cynical and cowardly, all ingredients of the basic anti-hero soup. By a twist of Fate, he ends up as guide to Twoflower, a naive tourist to Ankh-Morpork. Escaping from a fire that consumes the city, they travel the Disc, passing through the Temple of Bel-Shamharoth, an entity more evil than Evil; Wrymberg, an upside-down mountain housing "imaginary" dragons, before ending up at Krull, at the very edge of Discworld. And did I tell you that Discworld is borne on the backs of four elephants which rest on the shell of the Great Turtle, who ambles gently through space? I told you it was funny.

The book is full of dry humour, biting sarcasm and quotable quotes. Sample these:
"The only reason for walking into the jaws of Death is so's you can steal His gold teeth"-Hrun
"I've seen excitement and I've seen boredom. And boredom was best"-Rincewind
The writing is crisp, the action unending and the situations so exquisitely ridiculous they actually seem real. Rincewind is really cool, for once you don't see a brave young warrior striding into the face of the unknown, but a useless wizard out to save his skin by running the other way. This is just the first in a series of 36 (and still counting) novels, so I'm going to be posting reviews as and when I get my hands on them. For now, I'll leave you with a quote about Death (a regular fixture in Discworld novels)
"If words had weight, a single sentence from Death would have anchored a ship"

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I've read that one: Have you Really??

A survey done to mark World Book Day revealed that two out of three Brits claimed to having read a book they actually haven't. George Orwell's 1984 tops the list, with 42% admitting to having lied about reading the book. Here's a list of the top 10 fibbed about books.

1. 1984-George Orwell (42%)
2. War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy (31%)
3. Ulysses- James Joyce (25%)
4. The Bible (24%) (!!!)
5. Madame Bovary- Gustave Flaubert (16%)
6. A Brief History of Time-Stephen Hawking (15%)
7. Midnight's Children- Salman Rushdie (14%)
8. In Remembrance of Things Past- Marcel Proust (9%)
9. Dreams from My Father- Barack Obama (6%)
10. The Selfish Gene- Richard Dawkins (6%)

Read more about the survey here.

Well, there is no such list for India, but according to me, the most fibbed about books would be God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Midnight's Children. A lot of people I have met claim to have read the first, but can tell me nothing save "Oh, her writing is very good, but I didn't like it that much". I frankly admit, I haven't read anything out of the above list except 1984 and Brief History of Time, and and an abridged form of the Bible. I started Midnight's Children, but haven't got beyond the grandfather's marriage.

I don't really think there's any point in lying about what books you have read: you'll get caught anyways. You're thinking of impressing the other person, but if all you have to say about the book is that the writing is "great", rest assured, the other person is going to be on to you. Then you'll be in a worse state than you would have been if you had spoken the truth. I won't be high and mighty and say I've never done it, but a couple of awkward experiences( one forgetful one with Anna Karenina: I'll share it sometime) have taught me that it is better to keep my mouth shut than try to appear literary. Yes, I have read more Jeffrey Archer than Leo Tolstoy. If you are going to judge me for that, I'm not really sure I want to talk to you. What say you?

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REVIEW Rich Dad Poor Dad: Robert Kiyosaki


I am kinda going through a management book-reading phase right now, got a whole list of books to read. I first picked up Rich Dad Poor Dad, and frankly speaking, I was bored halfway through it and managed to plough through with great difficulty. Kiyosaki encourages you to get up and get a hold on your finances, but doesn't give any concrete steps on how to do it.

Kiyosaki talks about his two dads: his real one who was a superintendent of education who worked hard his whole life yet died penniless, and his friend's father who dropped out of school yet ended up one of the richest men in Hawaii. Kiyosaki keeps harping on how people work for money, while what they should be doing is making money work for them. he talks about building assets so that cash inflow outstrips liabilities, but gives contradictory views on how to do it. For example, he talks about real estate being an asset, but fails to tell the reader how to raise the initial investment without being swamped by mortgages and loans. He advises you to start your own corporations, but doesn't touch on the ups and downs of starting out on your own. He says that putting all your money into one or two stocks is the way to go, while every financial expert worth his salt advises people to invest in multiple companies to reduce the risk. He doesn't address the problems of coping with debt, nor does he help you understand the basics of personal finance management. When he delivers his "pearls of wisdom", it sounds like he's talking down to you, saying that if are foolish enough to be poor, you'll be idiotic enough to buy the book (note: I read an ebook, and rued the time I wasted over it)

The book tries to stand on a couple of shaky theories and gets repititive, running circles around the same bush till your head spins. At the end of the book, I walked away with the feeling that to get rich, I had to start off by being rich.

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REVIEW 1984: George Orwell


I first read 1984 in Class 9, and I admit, I was not exactly at my perceptive best. I missed many of the allusions, didn't really get the bleak ending. But in the aftermath of 9/11, with the U.S. government using its sweeping powers and world sympathy to "protect the country from the evil forces of terrorism", I identified a watered-down version of the novel. Since then, I have read bits and pieces of this book over the years, but it was only a few days back that I actually sat down and read it from cover to cover, and decided that it would make a perfect post for my blog's one-month anniversary. Many of the elements of this novel, written in 1949, are visible around us today, though not to the extent portrayed in the book ( and I hope it'll never reach that state). This novel presents a searing description of a revolution gone wrong, a totalitarian regime which permeates every living moment of the citizens.

Winston Smith is an insignificant Party member working in the Ministry of Truth, erasing and editing records to fit the Party's version of events. The year is 1984 (or so he thinks), and the Party's control rests on three main pillars: Newspeak (reducing human vocabulary so that people can't think rebellious thoughts); thoughtcrime and doublethink (accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs). There are four departments: Ministry of Truth which concerns itself with news and entertainment, Ministry of Peace concerned with war, Ministry of Love which maintains law and order, and Ministry of Plenty responsible for economic affairs. Winston secretly rebels against the Party's doctrine, and finds a soulmate in Julia, another Party worker. In a world where romance is an offence, their love is destined to be shortlived.

1984 has many thematic similarities to Animal Farm, namely a failed revolution, individuality crushed under collective power, and mind control. Though based on Stalin's rule, many concepts are similar to what we see after 9/11 and have come to accept today: censorship, intrusive surveillance and government encroachment on individual rights. The Party slogans are chillingly familiar: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength; slogans which are the cornerstone of many dictatorships. If you haven't read this book, go buy a copy. You'll find something new in every reading.

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The Prestige of an Illusionist

THE PRESTIGE- Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson
THE ILLUSIONIST- Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell

Two movies, two stories, one theme. Both Prestige and Illusionist, set in the early twentieth century, explore the world of stage magicians and the people behind the tricks we love to see.

The Prestige traces the rivalry between Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale), assistants of the same magician, who go their separate ways after an accident involving Borden kills Angier's wife. Borden becomes 'The Professor' and Angier 'The Great Danton', each desirous of upstaging the other. Borden's new trick 'The Transported Man' astonishes Angier, who first tries to duplicate it, then is fixated about learning the true secret. Themes of obsession, sacrifice and secrecy interweave the story, building up to a truly awesome climax. The narrative moves fluidly back and forth in time, with mesmerizing music complementing the story. Though Scarlet Johannson is more eye-candy than anything else, Jackman is great as the jealous, obsessive magician, but Bale steals the show, with his classic brooding act.

The Illusionist begins with the secret affair between the Duchess Sophie (Biel) and Edward Eisenheim (Norton). Separated due to their difference in position, they meet years later, when Eisenheim is a famous illusionist, and Sophie engaged to marry the Crown Prince (Sewell). Their ensuing affair has tragic consequences owing to the ruthless Prince's jealousy, and Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) brought in to investigate the matter. The storytelling is fantastic, with superbly shot scenes which build to a shocking crescendo. Norton is perfect as the inscrutable magician, and I really want to see more of him on screen.

Adapted from books, both these movies give a sneak-peek into the magician's world, and their Victorian setting definitely adds to the story. They are both richly textured, alluring and suspenseful, and the twists and turns of the tale lead up to a mind-blowing finish. In my book, Prestige wins by a whisker, not because of anything missing in Illusionist, but because I am a huge Christian Bale fan. So, grab a DVD or book your place in front of the TV the next time either movie is shown. Abracadabra!!

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